The past year brought some interesting changes to general aviation and here are just a few of the items I found interesting.
Pilot Fatigue and Rest Rules
Though many (including high-ranking members of the NTSB) have tried to keep pilot fatigue out of the spotlight, efforts have been afoot to change duty-time regulations for Part 121 and 135 pilots. Many pilots say the proposed rulemaking the FAA announced is actually a step in the wrong direction because it would allow, under some circumstances, for pilots to fly more hours in a 24 hour period that under the old regs. Though I currently do not fly under Part 121 or 135, I believe that all those concerned with aviation safety (pilots, passenger, operators, and the FAA) need to give fatigue the serious consideration it is due. Find a way to ensure that pilots and flight attendents have time to eat, sleep, and tend to the daily chores that the rest of us take for granted. Increasing the required rest period for all crew members to 10 hours per 24 hour period seems reasonable and the flight time rules should be left alone.
Line Up and Wait
After much to-ing and fro-ing, the FAA finally implemented new phraseology for telling pilots to get on the runway and wait for their takeoff clearance. Actually, the phraseology isn't new at all, it's been the ICAO standard for many years. Most pilots and controllers seemed to stumble with the new phrase a bit, but most quickly adapted. I did hear a pilot complain the other day "Line up and wait just doesn't sound right." As a character in a Faulkner story once said "Thems that's goin', get on the g**d*** wagon ..."
iPad and Aviation
Having tried a bunch of affordable electronic flight bag solutions over the years, including the Iliad Reader/eFlybook, the Modbook, the Dell Mini, and the iPhone, I was as alert as a Basenji hunting squirrels when the iPad was released and had mine from day one. Looking back, there was good reason to be hopeful that the iPad would be a reasonably good cockpit companion. There was a lot of aviation software available for the iPhone when the iPad was launched and Apple did a good job of greasing the works for developers adapting their apps to the iPad.
The two standout iPad EFB apps are ForeFlight Mobile HD and SkyCharts Pro. The latest release of ForeFlight has fixed a few nagging bugs and made it the go-to app for preflight weather briefings. In the cockpit, I find ForeFlight requires a few more taps than I would like for accessing charts and terminal procedures. This is where SkyCharts Pro shines: Just a couple of taps and you've got the approach or SID that you need.
Some of the other essential iPad apps for me include LogTen, Penultimate, GoodReader, Numbers, and Square. Of course as a MobileMe user, it goes without saying that the built-in Mail and Calendar apps see a lot of use, too.
The aircraft registration process was changed in 2010 from one where an aircraft only had to be re-registered when it was sold to a three year affair. The stated goals, according to FAA administrator Randy Babbitt, are to provide "... more up-to-date registration data and better information about the state of the aviation industry” and to respond "… to calls from law enforcement and other government agencies for more accurate, up-to-date registration data." No worries, the FAA will send aircraft owners a renewal notice on a staggered schedule based on the month in which each aircraft was originally registered. The costs will reportedly increase from the old one-time $5 fee to $45 every three years. Owners who don't respond to the registration requests will have their aircraft's N-number revoked.
2010 also saw renewed efforts to get photographs on pilot certificates. The FAA appears to be supporting this effort but as of this writing there's not much detail about how the photographs will be taken. Given that most FAA Flight Standard District Offices barely have the staff they needed to provide the limited oversight they currently offer, it's unclear how all this will work. With all this additional workload related to aircraft registration and pilot photographs, the likelihood for administrative mayhem seems high. But perhaps the FAA (with the help of the redoubtable Lockheed-Martin) will be able to pull a rabbit out of their hat.
Last year I opined that the integration of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) into the national airspace system was the underreported story of the past decade. Now it seems that awareness of UAVs has begun to increase, with some stories even making it into the mainstream media. Last August, an MQ-8B Fire Scout drone on a test flight from Patuxent River NAS had a "software problem" that caused the operator to lose the control link to the aircraft. The 31 foot long drone, which looks like helicopter, continued flying on its own for twenty-some miles and penetrated the restricted airspace around Washington D.C. before control was re-established. The fleet was then grounded until the cause could be identified. Good idea ...
Just last month, a small UAV operated by the Mexican government (presumably for drug interdiction) crashed into the backyard of an El Paso house. No one was reported to have been injured and the police declined to identify the exact location where the UAV crashed. The US Border Patrol transported the wreckage back to Mexico before the NTSB could investigate, which all pilots will remember is a violation of 14 CFR 49.830(10)(b). It's unclear exactly what type of UAV crashed, but it was reported to have a wingspan between 8 and 15 feet and was light enough to be carried away from the accident scene. If there was any doubt in your mind that 2010 is the year that privacy died, this should put that doubt to rest. Not to worry, NextGen will solve all life's ills.
This isn't really related to aviation, but ... Speaking of privacy and Americans not seeming to care that they have none, WikiLeaks and it's editor Julian Assange are probably the biggest story of the year. I have to confess to a feeling of schadenfreude when various governmental officials expressed outrage at their private and not-so-diplomatic dirty laundry being aired without their permission. Heck, since the introduction of Carnivore (and now Narus) and warrantless wiretaps, the average American has virtually no privacy. Of course we are all assured that we have nothing to worry about as long as we haven't done anything wrong. Right or wrong, thanks to WikiLeaks, governmental officials know how it feels to have no privacy.
What a year it's been! Here's hoping your New Year is productive, peaceful, and as private as is possible.