FAA releases B4UFLY App Beta Test For UAS Users

On 28/08/2015, in UAS, by steve

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today released the beta version of a new smartphone application called “B4UFLY” for testing by up to 1,000 unmanned aircraft users.

sampleThe B4UFLY app, aimed primarily at model aircraft enthusiasts, is designed to give users information about restrictions or requirements in effect at their current or planned flight location. The FAA expects the beta test will yield valuable data on how well B4UFLY functions, as well as uncovering any software bugs.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta first announced the initiative in May, asking for volunteers to test the app. The FAA has notified those who previously signed up and will be pushing the app to them directly in the coming days.

Many unmanned aircraft users today have little or no aviation experience, and some of them are flying where they could endanger manned aircraft. B4UFLY will give these flyers the tools and knowledge they need to operate safely.

Key features of the B4UFLY app include:
• A clear “status” indicator that immediately informs operators about their current or planned location.
• Information on the parameters that drive the status indicator.
• A “Planner Mode” for future flights in different locations.
• Informative, interactive maps with filtering options.
• Links to other FAA UAS resources and regulatory information.
Screenshots of the app are available here.

B4UFLY complements the Know Before You Fly educational campaign, which provides prospective UAS operators with information and guidance they need to fly safely and responsibly. The FAA is a partner in the effort with the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and the Small UAV Coalition.

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Take the survey!

On 21/08/2015, in ATC world, by steve

Dear Roger-Wilco Fans,

surveyThis does not happen often, but I am asking for your help. Current and former air traffic control professionals are invited to take a survey, which should take no longer than 10-15 minutes to complete.  Your feedback is important and will be used in the completion of the Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership Degree of our good friend Bob Mullennix.

Your help would be very much appreciated and it would be good if you could ask also your friends and colleagues to complete the survey and so help Bob.

The link to the survey is here.

Let’s show what Roger-Wilco can do!

We are required to provide an Informed Consent Form, which you can find here. This is a formality meant to help you decide whether or not to participate.



FAA Passes 1,000 UAS Section 333 exemption approvals

On 04/08/2015, in UAS, by steve

In its continuing effort to safely expand and support commercial unmanned aircraft operations in U.S. airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration has now granted more than 1,000 Section 333 exemption approvals. As of today, the agency has issued 1,008 such exemptions.


Companies and individuals from a broad spectrum of industries are taking advantage of the Section 333 exemption process. Many of the grants the FAA has issued allow aerial filming for uses such as motion picture production, precision agriculture and real estate photography. The agency also has issued grants for new and novel approaches to inspecting power distribution towers and wiring, railroad infrastructure and bridges

Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 gives the Secretary of Transportation authority to determine if an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the national airspace system.

To address the demand for Section 333 authorizations, the FAA recently streamlined the process to make it easier for operators to access the nation’s airspace.

Click here to read the full article


Wildfires and Drones Don’t Mix

On 29/07/2015, in UAS, by steve

Responding to recent incidents in which unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as “drones,” interfered with manned aircraft involved in wildland firefighting operations, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is supporting the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service in their simple message to drone operators: If you fly; we can’t.


“Flying a drone near aerial firefighting aircraft doesn’t just pose a hazard to the pilots,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “When aircraft are grounded because an unmanned aircraft is in the vicinity, lives are put at greater risk.”

Often a temporary flight restriction (TFR) is put in place around wildfires to protect firefighting aircraft. No one other than the agencies involved in the firefighting effort can fly any manned or unmanned aircraft in such a TFR. Anyone who violates a TFR and endangers the safety of manned aircraft could be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties. Even if there is no TFR, operating a UAS could still pose a hazard to firefighting aircraft and would violate Federal Aviation Regulations.

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Are Air Traffic Controllers Passé?

On 19/07/2015, in ATC world, by steve

Well, not quite… not yet anyway. But it is a profession that can expect to face major changes in the coming decades.

disruptDuring the definition phase of SESAR I was the “owner”, on behalf of the airline group, of the concept of operations we were developing under the expert guidance of a colleague from KLM. The airlines were pushing hard to have the concept of free flight included. In case you are not familiar with this concept, let me just say that in free flight the responsibility for providing separation is transferred to the pilot. We do have something like this in traditional ATC also when, for instance, an aircraft is instructed to cross a level “maintaining own separation and VMC”. In free flight this is the normal operating mode and not only in VMC.

Controllers were long of two minds about free flight. Some saw this as a natural development, others as a threat to their jobs. Some controller unions embraced this second stance and in the SESAR work back then it were the latter we had to contend with.

At a certain point in time I was asked to make a presentation at a meeting attended also by controller representatives, explaining what the benefits of free flight were as seen by the airlines. It was interesting by the way that pilots and pilot unions were not generally opposed to free flight. Somehow they felt (I presume) that this was the kind of paradigm change that would help make their operations more efficient and hence help their companies survive.

Anyway, I made my presentation making extensive use of the excellent free-flight related material available from the Dutch NLR. Obviously, the whole thing was in the early research phase but the results were not only encouraging but totally convincing also. To us, dreamers anyway.

The controllers were not impressed, nor were we expecting them to be. One of them went so far as to actually inform me that what I was saying was nuts (he used a less polite word by the way).

Click here to read the full article


Automation – NOT an option, an inevitability

On 02/07/2015, in ATC world, by steve

For many years, theses on automation in both the air traffic management and the cockpit context used expressions like “human in the loop”, “human centered”, “human the final decision maker” and so on. Air traffic control and pilot unions liked these expressions because they saw in them an assurance that their jobs would be preserved also in the future. For automation experts the very same expressions sent a different message: you are only allowed to build systems that are limited to what the humans can do. This is a very serious limitation but luckily we are finally about to round a corner beyond which a completely new world beckons.

We have all heard and read about UAS, an acronym that stands for Unmanned Aerial Systems. Sometimes they are called RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems). Whatever the name, it refers to a new type of aircraft which does not have a pilot on board. Commonly referred to as “drones”, these aircraft fly with the “driver” on the ground, often thousands of miles away. They can accomplish many types of missions from seeking out and neutralizing bad guys through border patrol and checking oil pipelines. It is easy to see that integrating such operations with the civil air traffic management system is a task that needs some thought.

But the real disruptive development comes when UAS start to fly with no pilot involved at all. Autonomous UAS… Don’t think that these are small, innocent vehicles. If people like the box shifters have their way, we will have wide-body cargo planes flying as autonomous UAS in the 2030-2050 time frame. By aviation development standards, that is tomorrow, so it is probably a good idea to have a closer look to what such a disruptive technology really means for pilots and air traffic controllers.

What is driving these developments?

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Flashback – Part 1. Margaret

On 21/06/2015, in Flashback, by steve

BluSky Services is a successful consultancy that looks back on a history of more than a decade. It is customary to look back on the history of a company by listing the most important events that formed its shape over the years, to present old and not so old photos showing how the company premises and its products evolved. This flashback about BluSky will be unusual. We will look at the people who built the company and who continue to be the spirit of our undertaking. It is a family story as you will see. I have selected photos which capture moments from our lives, moments both special and run of the mill… but all of them significant in one way or the other. Welcome to our world!

At first there were just the three of us… then Daniel came along, although on this photo he is not yet part of the outside environment. In case you are wondering, that license plate is a French consular plate that I was using as an ICAO officer… except that it should have silver letters. I liked the orange letters (reserved for diplomatic plates) better and a few franks in the shop where they made the plates worked wonders to change the colors.



At a certain point in those old old times we had to move house. Something like this is best left to the experts but we did it ourselves. The result? We did look like a bunch of refugees…


We will come back to the story of the kids but first I would like you to meet Margaret. She is currently running a beauty salon in Brussels that is hugely popular and an important profit center in the company. She has always been one of the mainstays of our efforts to go forward while also keeping the family going… and 2extraordinary girl if ever there was one. She is beautiful, smart and kind. Being able to put up with me all these years is an achievement in itself. This photo was taken during a visit to St. Tropez. She was actually invited to visit one of the big yachts tied up in the port but she refused… Some time later we were on a boat but it was just a regular scheduled run to one of the island near the French coast. The engines sent a very nice buzz all through the body of the boat…









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FAA, EU Plan to Extend, Expand NextGen Pact

On 19/06/2015, in NextGen, by steve

The FAA and the European Union have announced their intention to extend and expand their cooperative work toward providing seamless air traffic services for aircraft flying between the United States and Europe.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and the EC’s Director General for Mobility and Transport, Mr. Joao Aguiar Machado, signed a Letter of Intent on air traffic management modernization at a  ceremony in Paris.

“I’m extremely proud of our partnership with the European Union,” said Administrator Michael Huerta. “Today’s signing validates the collaborative work that began three years ago and confirms our commitment to enhance our relationship even further.”

“Modernizing air traffic management is vital for the future of European aviation,” said EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc. “We need to invest in innovation in order to improve ATM performances. This means cheaper flights, increased safety, a lower impact on the environment, and better capacity to manage traffic. We share these objectives with the U.S. We are already doing a great job with the FAA by cooperating on SESAR and NextGen. Now that we are both heading towards deploying new systems, I fully support the idea that we should explore the possibility to extend this excellent cooperation to all phases of ATM modernization. That’s the change in culture that will take global ATM systems into the future, and will help cope with the expected traffic increase.”

The extension and expansion of the current agreement would help to ensure that passengers will enjoy safer, on-time flying over the Atlantic thanks to the benefits of NextGen and its European counterpart, the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR).

The Memorandum of Cooperation, which was originally signed in March 2011, would be expanded to enhance collaboration on the deployment and implementation of NextGen activities. It would also maintain ongoing research on the interoperability of avionics, communication protocols and procedures, as well as operational methods under NextGen and SESAR.

The Letter of Intent reflects the strong commitment from the United States and the European Union to harmonize air traffic technologies and procedures involving NextGen and SESAR. This supports the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Global Air Navigation Plan, which aims to harmonize air traffic systems throughout the world.


FAA Implements New Airport Safety Program

On 03/06/2015, in Life around runways, by steve

riaThe FAA has made significant progress in improving runway safety at U.S. airports over the past 15 years by working with other members of the aviation community on education, training, marking and lighting, standard runway safety areas, new technology and airfield improvements.

The FAA plans to build on that success by working with airport sponsors over the next 10-15 years to further reduce runway risks through risk-based decision-making. A new FAA national initiative known as the Runway Incursion Mitigation (RIM) program will identify airport risk factors that might contribute to a runway incursion and develop strategies to help airport sponsors mitigate those risks.

Runway incursions occur when an aircraft, vehicle, or person enters the protected area of an airport designated for aircraft landings and take offs. Risk factors that contribute to runway incursions may include unclear taxiway markings, airport signage, and more complex issues such as the runway or taxiway layout. Through RIM, the FAA will focus on reducing runway incursions by addressing risks at specific locations at the airport that have a history of runway incursions.

Risk-based decision-making builds on safety management principles by using a consistent approach to proactively address emerging safety risks. The FAA already has collected and reviewed data to identify specific airport areas with risk factors that could contribute to a runway incursion. The FAA has developed a preliminary inventory of airport locations where runway incursions have occurred. The FAA will work with the airport sponsors to develop strategies to mitigate runway incursions at these locations.

The FAA has kicked off the new initiative as it is wrapping up an extremely successful 15-year program to improve and standardize runway safety areas at the nation’s top commercial service airports.


Am I my Brother’s Keeper?

On 01/06/2015, in ATC world, by steve

Ever since air traffic control was invented in the previous century, the roles of pilot and air traffic controller had been clearly defined and (most of the time…) also adhered to. The pilot flies the aircraft and the controller issues clearances to ensure separation between aircraft. While this is a bit of an oversimplification, it correctly reflects the gist of the operation. In the past, neither the pilot nor the controller felt inclined to look into each other’s kitchen though no doubt they both wondered at times what the hell exactly the other was doing.

In the old days when traffic was low, pilots were able the form a pretty good mental picture of the traffic around them and it was not unheard of for a pilot to point out to the controller that a clearance he just received would create a conflict with another aircraft in the vicinity. However, as traffic grew both in sheer numbers and complexity, it was no longer evident that pilots would know what was going on around them. Then ACAS came along and pilots once again were able to figure out where most everybody else was.
The ability of the pilots to have traffic situational awareness via synthetic means like ACAS and ADS-B-in did spawn various ideas like free flight where separation would be provided by the pilots themselves without the benefit of an air traffic controller, but this is not what I am planning to write about here.

Air traffic control took a step forward with the introduction of Mode S radar which acts also as a data link and it is possible to send certain parameters from the aircraft into the ground system and eventually display some of this information to the controller.

Of particular interest has always been information on the level selected by the pilot in response to a clearance issues by the controller. Level busts happen everywhere but the problem was particularly acute in the London TMA and hence the Brits were pushing for this Mode S capability for a long time.

In case you are not familiar with how this works, here is a brief recap kindly provided to me by an expert. Although level-bust usually refers to a case where an aircraft goes right through the cleared level (whether climbing or descending), there is another, though possibly less serious, case to be considered, namely when the pilot fails to initiate the climb or descent after receiving a clearance.

Click here to read the full article


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