FAA-Industry Initiative Will Expand Small UAS Horizons

On 06/05/2015, in UAS, by steve

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced a partnership with industry to explore the next steps in unmanned aircraft operations beyond the type of operations the agency proposed in the draft small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) rule it published in February.

“Government has some the best and brightest minds in aviation, but we can’t operate in a vacuum,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This is a big job, and we’ll get to our goal of safe, widespread UAS integration more quickly by leveraging the resources and expertise of the industry.”

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced the initiative today at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Unmanned Systems 2015 conference in Atlanta, Ga.

The FAA is working with industry partners on three focus areas, including:
• Visual line-of-sight operations in urban areas
CNN will look at how UAS might be safely used for newsgathering in populated areas.
• Extended visual line-of-sight operations in rural areas
This concept involves UAS flights outside the pilot’s direct vision. UAS manufacturer PrecisionHawk will explore how this might allow greater UAS use for crop monitoring in precision agriculture operations.
• Beyond visual line-of-sight in rural/isolated areas
BNSF Railroad will explore command-and-control challenges of using UAS to inspect rail system infrastructure.

“Even as we pursue our current rulemaking effort for small unmanned aircraft, we must continue to actively look for future ways to expand non-recreational UAS uses,” Huerta said. “This new initiative involving three leading U.S. companies will help us anticipate and address the needs of the evolving UAS industry.”

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The end of the association of european airlines?

On 06/05/2015, in Airline corner, by steve

aeaAEA’s and IATA’s European office are located in the same building in a fancy neighborhood of Brussels. The IATA office moved to the European capital from London several years ago to be nearer to the EU institutions and Eurocontrol and co-locating it with AEA looked like a good idea. It was. I was an Assistant Director with IATA at the time and one of the first things we all learned was how the tasks between IATA and AEA were distributed. After all, the membership of AEA and IATA was partially common and it was fair to surmise that both organizations would have the same position on the different issues airlines were struggling with.

This was not completely true, however. IATA was looking at the big picture with world-wide implications while AEA was responding primarily to the concerns of its European members. Every now and then we would come up against a conflict of interest. Especially when the issue was money to be spent by the airlines, like a mandate for some kind of new equipment, big, influential airlines with fewer flights in Europe would put up a spirited resistance, questioning the benefits which for them would always fall out to be less than for airlines flying mostly in Europe. Luckily for us, many of the proposed mandates had questionable benefits for any airline, so getting a common position was usually not too difficult.

Once we knew what to say and why, AEA would take upon themselves to speak on the political level while we at IATA would man the guns firing the technical underpinning supporting the political statements. Anyone who remembers the war around Mode S Enhanced Surveillance will know what I am talking about.

Of course IATA and AEA were only two, though possibly the most vocal, associations representing airlines in Europe. For the low-cost guys there is ELFAA (European Low Fare Airlines Association) while IACA (International Air Carrier Association) and ERA (European Regions Airline Association) brought to the table the interests of charter and regional operators respectively.

Obviously, one may question whether it was really necessary to have so many organizations but looking at their respective clienteles, it is easy to see that properly focusing on their diverse interests was only possible via an organization that had both the understanding and the time to deal with their specific problems.

Personally, I would divide the history of airline associations into three phases. There is to-day, to which we will come back in a moment, then there was the pre-ELFAA time and the post-ELFAA time.

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How do you regulate drones in the sky?

On 01/05/2015, in UAS, by steve

droneOne thing is certain. The seemingly amazing but actually quite simple technology that made drones, these small and not so small aircraft, accessible to almost anyone caught the regulators responsible for keeping our skies safe unawares. Once it was no longer possible to ignore the presence of the new kind of flying machine or threat to other machines, as you like, the response of the regulators was swift and predictably variable. In some countries they were banned outright, in others almost impossible-to-meet conditions were imposed and yet others tried to make them unattractive both to make and to operate. There are of course countries where they can operate freely while in others only a minimum of requirements need to be met.

The above less than logical or in fact less than effective measures reflected not the actual risk drones represented but the perception of the regulators concerned of the kind of risk a drone could possibly pose as well as the perceived discipline of would-be operators to keep their machines on a short leash.

The response in the US was at first leaning towards severe restrictions but this was later changed, under pressure from the industry concerned, to a more rational but still restrictive approach.

It now seems that Europe, and specifically the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is for once taking the lead to a sensible solution to this thorny problem. Their risk-based approach would ensure safety while also minimizing restrictive regulations on this fast growing industry.

Before dwelling into the details, let’s get a few things clarified. When one says “drone” people, even professionals, tend to imagine all kinds of things, from the tiny machines you by in supermarkets to the monsters used to smoke the bad guys. Actually, the very term drone is something that does not bear much of a relationship to the large variety of machines we are talking about. The current official terms are UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System and RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) used in the US and Europe respectively. One may argue that UAS is the better term, since it indicates the main characteristic of a drone, namely that there is no flight crew present on board when it is flying; RPAS puts the emphasis on the machine being piloted remotely but this would leave out drones that actually perform operations without being piloted from the ground. Funnily, in the original edition of the EASA Concept of Operations for Drones, the term drone is used not only in the title but throughout the text. In view of the less than crystal clear meaning of the abbreviations UAS and RPAS, drone is probably a good compromise.

So what risks do we need to consider?

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Foxx Announces Completion of Major NextGen Foundational Technology

On 30/04/2015, in ATC world, by steve

eramU.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced a significant NextGen milestone with the completion of En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM), a highly advanced computer system used by air traffic controllers to safely manage high-altitude traffic.

“Looking at the future of air travel, we know that there will be more planes in our skies and more people in our airports, and in order to meet this challenge we must integrate cutting-edge technology into our aviation system,” said Secretary Foxx.  “ERAM is a major step forward in our relentless efforts to develop and implement NextGen.  With this new technology, passengers will be able to get to their destinations, faster, safer, and have a smoother ride – all while burning less fuel to get there.”

ERAM is the backbone of operations at 20 of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) en route air traffic control centers.  The system, a crucial foundation for NextGen, drives display screens used by air traffic controllers to safely manage and separate aircraft.

“ERAM gives us a big boost in technological horsepower over the system it replaces,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.  “This computer system enables each controller to handle more aircraft over a larger area, resulting in increased safety, capacity, and efficiency.”

The first ERAM system went online at Salt Lake City Center in March 2012.  The final installation was completed last month at New York Center. 

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Up Close and Personal – Meeting the NAVYA Driverless Shuttle

On 17/04/2015, in The future is now, by steve

navyaHaving written about the NAVYA driverless shuttle I was of course very keen to meet the beast in person and to try her out in a real, down to Earth environment. Last Wednesday it was so far…

In fact the NAVYA we got to see was a first generation prototype but if this version is anything to go by, V2, due out in the fall of 2015, will be a smash hit worthy of consideration by even the most demanding user.

Before we launch into Wednesday’s adventure, let’s just recap what we are talking about here. NAVYA Technology, a French start-up located in Lyon, has put together an all-electric vehicle which is capable of navigating along a predetermined track with stops also pre-programmed, doing this all without a driver on board. What is more, the shuttle operates on existing roads or inside existing corridors of buildings without any kind of new infrastructure being needed. No driver, no expensive new infrastructure and you can see why it is easy to make the business case for a fleet of NAVYAs…

It is interesting to draw the parallels between automation as we know it on aircraft and the automation needed to make NAVYA work. While aircraft demand a very high degree of reliability, they do work in what I would call a friendly environment. Take the case of an automatic approach to land. Other aircraft are kept away by air traffic control, the descent angle is such that the aircraft is kept at a safe vertical distance from ground obstacles and the aim is to make the wheels touch down in a predetermined zone of a runway that is typically 60 meters wide and in excess of 3000 meters long. The automation “knows” how to fly and where it needs to go and that is about it.
Now take the NAVYA shuttle. The desired reliability is still very high but of course she can always stop if something goes wrong. But until then she is operating in a definitely hostile environment. There are other vehicles that move around in the same space our shuttle also calls her own, there may be obstacles on the roadway that need to be bypassed, pedestrians will turn up unexpectedly and when she has to stop, she must stop with centimeter precision…

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BluSky Services 12 years young

On 01/04/2015, in Anniversaries, by steve

If I recall correctly, 1 April 12 years ago was a nice spring day, quite unlike what we are facing this year. For us, the founders of BluSky Services (the owner of the Roger-Wilco blog) in any case the sun was out and we were full of enthusiasm and hope. The future looked bright indeed. Our optimism was perhaps a bit out of place, after all we were launching a new aviation consultancy in the middle of the deepest crisis aviation has ever faced… the negative effects of 9/11 were still very much with us and the airlines (our future clients…) were fighting for survival. But we had this feeling, this conviction that for us, for BluSky Services, the time was right. And indeed it was.
Looking back on the past 12 years we see ups and downs but the overall trend-line is definitely up. Alongside aviation, we have branched out into the beauty industry and strengthened our multimedia capabilities; we have successfully developed our activities in the training field with highly successful courses delivered in places as diverse as Dubai and Naples.
Of course these successes would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of our friends and associates, to whom a thanks for all they have done for us… from day one, and even before!
What about the future? BluSky Services will continue its drive to be a center of excellence and a leader in new technologies in aviation and beyond. Drone sourced image processing, intelligent driverless vehicles, even more powerful eLearning tools, new clients… all in the picture for the coming months and years.
It may be windy and cloudy outside on this anniversary but for us at BluSky the name says it all: blue skies mean trust in the future, trust in ourselves.
Happy Birthday BluSky Services!

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Driverless vehicle demo in Lyon on 8 and 21 April 2015

On 21/03/2015, in The future is now, by steve

repriseNAVYA Technology will be hosting a demo of their driverless vehicle on 8 and 21 April at their test facility in Lyon, France. You can read more about the NAVYA shuttle here.

BluSky Services has been invited to attend the demo on 8 April and we will be more than happy to be present there and experience the driverless vehicle fist hand.

I am sure many of our readers will have read about the experiments being conducted by the likes of Google and others with driverless cars… It all sounds futuristic and possibly even far away in the future.

NAVYA Technology is a French startup with a dynamic and future oriented crew whose motto seems to be: we can do it! And they can indeed.
The NAVYA shuttle is perfectly capable of operating on public roads, recognizing road signs and traffic lights, avoiding obstacles and tirelessly plodding along the route it was told to follow. All this is done without any additional infrastructure. NAVYA knows the score without the need for wires or other expensive stuff on the road. Being all electric, the vehicle is also squeaky clean.

Airports are of course prime areas of operation for driverless vehicles. Repetitive routes, high frequency and perfect safety is what one needs there and NAVYA delivers. For the time being the targets are land-side and in-terminal operations but we see no reason why one day intelligent vehicles should not be a common sight around aircraft too.

The business case for operating the NAVYA type vehicles is compelling, regardless of the environment concerned. The fact that the vehicles do not need a driver in itself ensures cost savings that start generating a tidy return on investment in a very short time.

We will bring you a full report about the demo. But why not come and join is? There is still time to register. Send an email to Viktoria Fontanel if you would like to attend the demo on either 8 or 21 April or if you would like to have more information about the cute little NAVYA shuttle.

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Speaking in a new environment

On 18/03/2015, in Shop floor talk, by steve

speakerIn my long and varied aviation career I have had the extraordinarily good luck of working in practically every niche and corner of this wonderful industry. Air traffic controller, ATC system builder, ICAO officer, IATA assistant director, consultant… you name it. Over the years this meant a slow but very effective accumulation of knowledge and experience in air traffic management and airline operations with the added flavor of both the private and the government parts of the industry.

I was thinking about this last week when gingerly approaching a new area yet again… The Passenger Terminal Expo in Paris. Being invited as a speaker to this event is an honor in itself but the chance of meeting the folks whose business it is to make sure millions of passengers pass through the airports safely and comfortably felt like an additional special treat, as it was indeed.

The subject of my presentation was something that took form in a brainstorming session in Germany last year after having languished in an amorphous but insistent form in my mind for some time. Were the lesson learned and the methods used in aircraft trajectory based operations (TBO) applicable in the passenger terminal? Or putting it differently: do passengers have trajectories that could be managed to increase capacity?

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Aircraft seats and overripe tomatoes

On 17/03/2015, in ATC world, by steve

Old hands out there will not find much news in this article, though if you have not yet happened on my rumblings about airline behavior, you may in fact find it interesting. In fact, I am aiming for the attention of the many young air traffic controllers and others who still come to work every day wondering whether airlines are actually sane and who also believe that their main (or possibly only…) business is to ensure safety.
I do not blame them for thinking that airlines are irrational and the fallacy of being the key to aviation safety is also something that can be forgiven. It is a matter of education and in that respect, there is a lot that is lacking in to-day’s system.

May be, just may be, after reading this their view of the world will be slightly different, closer to reality and perhaps even better suited to adopting to the larger world (as opposed to their control center) in which they operate.

Let’s get this safety issue out of the way. All of us, working in aviation, has an important role in maintaining the extremely high level of safety the travelling public has come to expect. We do this by following rules and regulations, using approved parts and materials and apply our skills when an unforeseen event comes our way. When Boeing builds an aircraft, they are creating a very expensive business tool using which an airline can in turn create shareholder value. The aircraft must be fuel efficient, environmentally friendly and of course safe to operate. In that order. I know that we all grew up with the motto: safety first, but this is a misleading thing to say. If an aircraft is supremely safe but has lousy fuel economics, nobody will buy it. In other words, the aircraft must do its work supremely well and must do it safely.

The same is true of air traffic control. Although ICAO still puts the word “safety” as the first in the set of tasks of air traffic controllers (maintain a safe and efficient flow of traffic…) in to-day’s environment it means that the controller must do everything to ensure efficient operation of the airspace users and must do it in a way that is safe. The pre-determined procedures, airspace structures and what have you are designed to make this possible. The key to safety is in the system, not the controller. Use the system right and it will be safe… Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. It is not that I am trying to degrade the value of what controllers do. On the contrary. But if we are not careful, the “safety argument” can quickly become a block to progress and we end up with a system that is supremely safe but everyone forced to use it goes bankrupt. Ok, OK, this is a slight exaggeration but you get my drift.

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Single European Sky – Treading water, sinking… or?

On 16/03/2015, in SES News, by steve

There is a very interesting article in the 2-15 March issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology. They launch the story by saying that “after more than 10 years of talks, a single airspace in Europe is no closer to reality”. For someone new to this game, this would sound ominous indeed. For us veterans, the first thing that comes to mind is: so what else is new? I can recall many such articles published over the years and each time it was the same complaint: lots of words, little action, zero results.

I have written about the subject many times and in each case I tried to hint at what may be, just may be, the root cause of this lack of progress. I will try once more, not that I expect anyone to listen. But is I fun to go back in time and bring together a few salient facts that I think amply illustrate why we are where we are to-day and why it is going to be awfully hard to make real progress until some hard facts are in fact accepted… and something is done about them.

The concept of the Single European Sky is excellent and European aviation needs it more than anything else!

Back in 1984 it was a sunny fall afternoon when I arrived in Paris, to take up my new job at ICAO: technical officer RAC/SAR.

Airlines in Europe were in deep trouble. With a fragmented ATC system run almost like independent fiefdoms on the State level and traffic rising, scant attention was paid to creating new capacity. Instead the “solution” was to protect everyone’s home turf and limit the number of flights allowed in the airspace at a given time. Most flights were running with delays in excess of 30 minutes, various industrial actions were disrupting the ATM system even more and the old, also hopelessly fragmented flow control system was strained to the limits. Sectors loaded over capacity were a daily occurrence and it was not surprising: controllers deeply distrusted the system that was supposed to protect them from overloads. The result? The actually existing capacity was kept a secret and only a part was offered for use in the expectation that things will get overloaded anyway and with this trick at least the absolute maximum would not be exceeded. Delays went through the roof.

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