Top 25 Aviation Stories of 2017

New Delhi, December 29, 2017: As we do at the end of each year, the editors of Flying have compiled a list of the most important, compelling and industry-shaping news stories to emerge in the preceding 12 months. As always, the year was jam-packed with major news stories, from the political battles that gripped Washington to new airplane introductions and more, all of which makes covering the general aviation industry so exciting. We expect several of these stories to continue to generate headlines well into the new year and beyond.

25. Cessna Launches SkyCourier Utility Twin

Defying decades of rumors claiming Cessna would never again build a twin-engine propeller aircraft, the company announced the SkyCourier, a clean-sheet, high-wing utility machine capable of carrying three standard LD3 shipping containers through a large cargo door, making it a perfect feeder aircraft solution.

As part of the launch announcement, FedEx Express placed a firm order for 50 SkyCouriers and options for 50 more. The all-new Caravan sibling is on a fast development track with entry into service planned for 2020.

The SkyCourier will be powered by a pair of 1,100 shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-65SC engines. Textron Aviation opted not to select GE’s new Advance Turboprop engines due to the short development timeline, driven by FedEx’s operational needs. Preliminary performance specifications call for a 6,000-pound max payload capability, 200 ktas cruise speed and 900 nm max range, all numbers that put the new model in the operational sweet spot for FedEx demands. In a commuter configuration, the Cessna 408 will seat 19 passengers. The 19-passenger variant will include crew and passenger doors for smooth boarding, as well as large cabin windows for increased natural light. Both configurations will offer single-point pressure refueling to enable faster turnarounds.

24. Airvan 10 Enters the Market

One of the most international airplanes to hit the market this year was a utility 10-seat single-engine turboprop – the Airvan 10. The airplane comes from India’s Mahindra group, which bought Victoria, Australia-based GippsAero in 2009. In June, the Airvan 10 achieved both FAA Part 23 certification and the equivalent under Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

GippsAero also designed the original Airvan – the GA8 – a piston-powered, eight-seat utility airplane of which GippsAero has delivered more than 240 around the world, serving missions such as cargo hauling, medevac, surveillance and charter, mostly in remote areas. Powered by a Rolls-Royce M250 engine producing up to 450 shaft horsepower, the Airvan 10 serves similar needs for companies requiring more space and power for short-range missions. The typical cruise speed is 150 ktas for a range of 700 nm with an hour’s fuel reserve. At around $1.7 million, the Airvan 10 is priced lower than other utility turboprops, such as the Cessna Caravan and Quest Kodiak, though these two competitors have greater performance numbers according to flyingmag.com.

23. Diamond Launches DA50

Designed to give the successful Cirrus Aircraft company’s SR22 series a run for its money, Diamond Aircraft Industries GmbH last spring announced the new DA50 diesel-powered high-performance single. Diamond says the DA50 represents the most modern and efficient single, with the widest body and highest payload in the high-performance piston class. The company expects DA50’s certification in 2018.

The Austrian company says it will produce the four-place DA50-IV, five-place DA50-V and seven-place DA50-VII with 230, 260 and 360 horsepower Safran SMA diesels. The -VII will also be available with a 375 horsepower Lycoming engine or an Ivchenko Progress/Motor Sich AI-450S turboprop. The new flagship singles won’t be powered by engines sourced from Diamond’s own Austro Engines subsidiary, but rather by French producer Safran SMA. Versions will also be offered with a Lycoming gasoline engine and a Ukrainian-made turboprop.

Diamond’s website claims the new DA50V will seat five adults and be capable of a 173 knot maximum speed and a range of 1,000 nm. The DA50’s maximum payload will top out at 1,257 lbs. The DA50’s maximum gross weight is expected to be 3,968 lbs., or approximately 500 pounds heavier than the Cirrus SR-22. Cabin access will be easier through two gullwing doors on the left side of the aircraft. The company chose the Garmin G-1000 Nxi avionics suite with a fully integrated autopilot.

22. Trump TFRs Impact Busy Airspace in Northeast and Florida

The only consolation for pilots and aviation business owners impacted by the “Trump TFRs” is that the commander-in-chief spends his winter weekends at the southern White House in Palm Beach, Florida, and summer weekends at his golf club in New Jersey, with some visits to his Virginia golf club sprinkled in for good measure.

President George W. Bush used to shut down the airspace around his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and President Barack Obama the airspace around Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard while he was on vacation, but no presidential TFRs have wreaked more havoc on the East Coast than Donald Trump’s. The flight restricted airspace shuts down Lantana Airport in Florida and Somerset and Solberg Airports in New Jersey while the president is in town, and puts a halt to normal flight training activity in some of the busiest airspace in the country.

The frequent TFRs also impact business aircraft operators, who must deal with airspace closures and, in the case of New Jersey, the total shutdown of Morristown Airport when Trump arrives and departs in Air Force One, in this case the powder blue and white Boeing 757 (or C-32 in military designation) rather than the more famous 747 the president flies.

21. Diesel Skyhawk Achieves Certification

While Cessna gave up on its factory delivered Diesel Cessna 182 Skylane, the 172 Skyhawk program saw a lot more success. The Wichita, Kansas-based Textron Aviation-owned company achieved certification for the Turbo Skyhawk JT-A early this summer. Cessna stepped away from SMA, which was the OEM that produced the 227 horsepower engine that powered the diesel Skylane, and opted for Continental’s 155 horsepower CD-155 turbodiesel.

According to the reports published in flyingmag.com the airplane is particularly important for the European market where 100LL fuel is scarce and expensive. But JT-A owners also get the benefit of Garmin’s latest edition of the popular G1000 system, the G1000 NXi. The price tag for the Skyhawk JT-A is about $450,000, which may seem like a lot. But considering that diesel fuel is cheaper and the engine is more efficient, it is a good value.

The range for the JT-A is 963 nautical miles, about 50 percent better than the 100LL powered Skyhawk. The max speed is 134 knots, about 10 knots quicker than the 180 horsepower, 100LL burning Lycoming IO-360 version.

19. HondaJet Wins Inaugural Flying Innovation Award

The first-ever Flying Innovation Award went to the team that created the HondaJet, a revolutionary business jet design that entered the market this year and quickly became the most produced light jet in the world.

Innovation Award nominees were automatically selected from among the ranks of Flying’s Editors’ Choice Award winners for 2016, which in addition to the HondaJet included the Piper M600 single-engine turboprop, Garmin G5 and Dynon D10A flight displays, SiriusXM portable weather receiver and the CubCrafters XCub.

This year’s Innovation Award nominees feature another strong class of contenders, including the 2017 Editors’ Choice Award winners: Garmin G1000 NXi avionics system, Lightspeed Zulu 3 headset, ForeFlight Scout ADS-B portable receiver, Cirrus Vision Jet and Mooney Ovation Ultra.

18. uAvionix Introduces Low-Cost Wingtip ADS-B Solution

As the clock ticks closer toward the FAA’s January 1, 2020 ADS-B Out compliance date many pilots are still expecting to see a last minute reprieve that will keep them in the air past that date. They’re also expecting a last minute flurry of inexpensive solutions.

Just in time, uAvionix released the skyBeacon wing-tip ADS-B Out system. At $1,499, it’s not only affordable, but it’s also easy to install. Think a screwdriver, a pair of wire cutters and perhaps a few bits of electrical tape simple. The skyBeacon’s secret to easy installation is it’s a direct replacement for the teardrop shaped red position light already attached to thousands of U.S. aircraft. The skyBeacon system only works here in the states.

Right now, the uAvionix skyBeacon’s wingtip unit is only available for experimental aircraft. The company says certified aircraft can expect the product by spring of next year through an STC uAvionix is finalizing with the FAA.

The skyBeacon makes the aircraft not only UAT ADS-B Out compliant, but includes an integrated WAAS GPS, a wireless connection to any Mode C transponder, support for autonomous mode and, of course, an LED nav-light replacement. A version of skyBeacon with an integrated strobe light is also planned.

The smartphone app simplifies setting up the unit once it’s installed by automatically configuring the ICAO address, emitter type, aircraft length, width and GPS offsets, as well as accessing the aircraft registration information stored online. Read one experimental aircraft owner’s story on installing and using his new skyBeacon. He called it a brain-dead simple project.

17. Mooney Ramps Up Production in Kerrville, Texas

Legacy airplane manufacturer Mooney is back. After the M20U Ovation Ultraand M20V Acclaim Ultra achieved certification in March, the company is slowly ramping up production at its factory in Kerrville, Texas. Mooney expects to deliver 24 Ultra airplanes in 2018.

The Mooney factory, which has been located in Kerrville since the 1950s, has received a major facelift and equipment upgrades to make improved the production process. With deep pockets provided by the Chinese Meijing Group, which bought Mooney in 2013, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested in new lighting and paint, which has made the factory look a lot more modern, and an increasing number of computerized machines to make parts production more accurate and efficient.

Mooney produces the majority of the parts for its airplanes in-house and has also begun producing parts for other manufacturers to increase its revenues. Mooney is also expanding its composite production capabilities. While the exterior of most M20-series models were made completely with metal, the new Ultra models have composite cowlings and mid-sections, and several smaller pieces, such as some fairings, are made of composite materials.

16. Uber Explores Flying-Taxi Concept

The ultra successful alternative to taxi service, Uber, hopes to revolutionize transportation in congested cities with a new on-demand air taxi conceptcalled UberAir through its Uber Elevate program. The idea is to use VTOL-capable aircraft to pick up and drop off passengers, eliminating the need for the large infrastructure of airports with long runways.

Flyingmag.com further added that as with the ground-based Uber, passengers would hail a ride with the Uber app. The concept may seem far-fetched, but several companies have partnered with Uber to help make the concept take off. NASA will help develop a traffic management system and several manufacturers are developing light VTOL aircraft, including Pipistrel, Lilium and Aurora.

Uber’s chief production officer, Jeff Holden, hopes to have UberAir up and running by 2023. The first test phase is planned to begin in Dallas and Los Angeles as soon as 2020.

15. FAA Redefines Slow Flight and Stall Training Procedures

With loss of control still the primary cause of aircraft fatalities, the FAA last year replaced the practical test standards for pilots with the new Airmen Certification Standards for both private or an instrument rating applicants hoping to create a better-trained pilot in the long run. The agency also released a new guide SAFO 17009 specifically to address how designated pilot examiners will evaluate applicants during slow flight and stall-related maneuvers.

The agency believes applicants must become proficient in slow flight through practice at a safe altitude, while also mastering an understanding of the aerodynamics associated with various aircraft configurations and attitudes. The FAA believes the desired slow flight characteristics should be learned while climbing, turning, descending and performing straight and level flight again, all without the stall warning blaring. Training must include recognizing aircraft cues and smoothly managing coordinated flight while maneuvering without sounding a stall warning alert. If a stall warning should sound, the applicant is expected to make a prompt and appropriate correction.

The FAA says a pilot will not be evaluated on the ability to maneuver an airplane in slow flight while disregarding a stall warning, however. To address community feedback, the FAA modified the phrasing of the requirement to read: “Establish and maintain an airspeed at which any further increase in angle of attack, increase in load factor, or reduction in power, would result in a stall warning.” The agency believes stall training should build on knowledge and skill acquired from slow flight maneuvers and cover the period from the initial stall warning to the actual stall.

Under this change to the ACS, applicants must verbally acknowledge aircraft stall warnings, whether it’s the buffet or a warning horn and be prepared to successfully demonstrate a complete stall recovery procedure.

The new document shows the agency held fast to the commercial standards first released last year, such as recovery from accelerated stalls in a multi-engine aircraft, but showed flexibility when it came to recovery from power-on and power-off stalls. Initially, the agency wanted to see applicants initiate a full stall recovery at the first indication of the loss of lift, no matter what.

After considerable industry criticism, the agency eventually modified the language to read, “Acknowledge the cues and recover promptly at the first indication of an impending stall (e.g., aircraft buffet, stall horn, etc.).”

14. Wave of Retrofit Autopilots Hits Oshkosh

The past two years are turning out to be the best ever for GA aircraft in need of an autopilot upgrade. First came Dynon in 2016. The EAA gained STC approval for the formerly Experimental-only EFIS D10A, leading the way for it to be added to certified aircraft. Following that victory, autopilot makers immediately began work to bring the safety-enhancing gear to other Part 23 aircraft.

Just prior to the AirVenture this past summer, Garmin announced the GFC500 and GFC 600. A week later came word that Genesys Aerosystems (formerly S-TEC), BendixKing, TruTrak and Trio Avionics also planned to add new systemsin the under-$20,000 marketplace. Here’s a glimpse at what’s available:

Genesys Aerosystems new S-TEC 3100 Digital Flight Control System (DFCS) was developed for FAA Part 23 single- and twin-engine aircraft. Initial research identified the Cessna 182, 210, Beechcraft Bonanza and Piper Saratoga as the four lead candidates to earn FAA STCs.

The company wanted to ensure the S-TEC 3100 would easily integrate with both legacy analog avionics such as HSIs and DGs, as well as complete EFIS displays. The S-TEC 3100 features envelope protection and straight and level recovery, the option for a 2- or 3-axis autopilot system with flight director and optional built-in yaw damper.

Trio Avionics received STC approval for its Pro Pilot autopilot in the Cessna 172, 175 and 182. Installation kits are available for $2,000, while the Trio Pro Pilot autopilot kit runs $5,000. The STC includes the autopilot, servos, harness, circuit breaker, power switch, and override switch.

BendixKing’s KFC 230 AeroCruze allows owners of analog BendixKing autopilots to upgrade to digital capabilities including a straight and level button and a touchscreen interface. The unit fits within the existing space of the legacy KFC 150 flight computer, but can also be remote mounted to operate with KFC 200 and 250 installations.

TruTrak Flight Systems autopilot cost with installation kit is $5,000, with the EAA STC adding an additional $100 to the tab.

13. FAA Begins Process of Eliminating Unnecessary Regulations

The election of Donald Trump as president set into motion a major executive-level initiative to cut burdensome federal regulations wherever possible. Through a sweeping executive order, the White House directed all federal agencies, including the FAA, to eliminate two old regulations for every new regulation they create.

The FAA formed a committee to identify regulations for elimination, and invited the aviation industry to comment on the endeavor as well. A final report sent to the committee in late August creates the framework for reducing old and unnecessary regulations, but it remains to be seen how the FAA will implement the policy given the wave of new regulations that will likely be put into effect in the coming years.

Some have called for elimination of rules requiring airline pilots to hold an ATP license, put into effect after the 2009 crash of a Colgan Air commuter plane in Buffalo, New York. Families of the victims of that crash strongly oppose the move, but airlines are pushing for relaxed pilot-qualification standards as they face a growing pilot shortage.

12. Solar Eclipse Captivates GA

The transcontinental solar eclipse that crossed over the United States on August 21 ended up being a big boost to general aviation operators across the country. Pilots from far and near flocked to the narrow pathway to watch in awe as the moon completely blocked the sun’s rays, turning day to night. Temporary towers were erected at some airports, such as the Madras Municipal Airport in Oregon, where hundreds of airplanes of all shapes and sizes landed.

There was also a special app created specifically for pilots called EclipseFlite, which showed more than 150 airports along the 70-mile-wide path of totality, including weather data for each airport. The app also showed the local time at which totality would occur at various locations along the path of totality.

A significant number of pilots also reported taking off and watching this rare phenomenon from an aerial perspective. The entire event was a big boost to FBO business as pilots filled their fuel tanks and rented airplanes to get to their planned viewing parties.

11. Icon Aircraft Hits More Turbulence

By all measures it was a bad year for California-based Icon Aircraft, which dealt with a production halt of the A5 light sport amphibian, a factory move to Mexico, fallout from a restrictive purchase agreement that angered customers, a steep price hike and three high-profile crashes involving the all-composite airplane.

The company’s bad year became much worse in November when former major-league pitcher Roy Halladay was killed while piloting his A5 solo over Tampa Bay in Florida after what eyewitnesses described as very aggressive low-level maneuvering.

Icon is ready to turn the page and focus on 2018 after again restarting the A5 production line, ramping up training activities and introducing new low-level flight guidelines for buyers.

10. Garmin Introduces G1000 NXi Avionics System

Garmin launched the G1000 NXi avionics system earlier this year and announced it will eventually replace the original G1000 system in all-new production airplanes. It isn’t just a step up from the original, it is a quantum leap beyond the G1000 system many pilots have grown up with over the past 14 years.

Much faster computer processors and a boost in memory mean G1000 NXi is lightning-fast and can do so much more. We’ve come to appreciate NXi’s geographic map overlay on the HSI after initially wondering if we’d even turn it on, while features such as animated Nexrad graphics and visual approach guidance make life that much easier.

Cirrus was the first to introduce the NXi system, in the 2017 Generation 6 SR22. Since then, most manufacturers have followed suit or will add the capability soon. Just as G1000 became a de facto standard for avionics years ago, G1000 NXi is positioned to carry that legacy for years to come.

9. Runway Shortened at Santa Monica Airport

Following a multi-decades-long fight to close the historic Santa Monica Municipal Airport, the city of Santa Monica signed a deal with the FAA on Saturday, January 28, which allowed the city to shorten the runway immediately and close the airport on December 31, 2028.

Despite multiple lawsuits and amicus briefs questioning the validity of the sudden agreement, which, according to the NBAA was made “with no public input and with disregard for numerous mandatory statutory requirements,” the city went ahead with the runway shortening. Work began on the project in October, when the airport was shut down nightly from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., then completely shut down from December 12 through December 23. When the airport reopened, the runway length had been dropped from nearly 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet, rendering the airport unusable for many aircraft types, particularly business jets.

The legal fights against the agreement are still pending and, should they come out in favor of the airport supporters, the city will have to restore the runway to its previous distance, according to NBAA’s attorney Jol Silversmith. While this restoration would be costly for the city, which has already spent millions of dollars in its effort to reduce operations and eventually close the airport, the runway has been shortened through markings only rather than the destruction of the tarmac. So, the battle over KSMO continues.

8. Era of the Single-engine Personal Jet Begins with Cirrus SF50 Vision

The world has never seen an airplane quite like the Cirrus Vision Jet, and many wondered if such an innovative design would ever enter the market after a number of manufacturers tried to develop single-engine VLJs and failed.

Cirrus has succeeded in bringing the $2.3 million SF50 to a market with ready buyers eager to step up from the SR22. From the single Williams turbofan engine mounted atop the fuselage to the computer-stabilized V-tail, the spacious passenger compartment, the huge cabin windows, the full-airframe parachute (a first for a jet) and finally to the cockpit, which is designed to make pilots moving up from an SR22 feel right at home, the SF50 Vision defies convention and rewrites the rules for what a game-changing general aviation airplane can achieve.

When we flew the Vision for our pilot report last spring, everything we hoped it would be was confirmed, and then some. Cirrus has done a masterful job bringing to the market an airplane that many thought improbable: the world’s first single-engine personal jet.

7. Pilot Shortage Impacts All Aspects of the Industry

A shortage of qualified crews to pilot multi-pilot aircraft has grown over the past few years, especially in light of a recent Boeing study claiming the industry over the next 20 years will require an unbelievable 637,000 commercial pilots around the world, 117,000 of whom will be needed here in the U.S. The arguments from young people begin with how expensive flight training is and how meager the return, especially for pilots starting out at the regional airlines. Adding to training costs is legislation that demands all first officers carry an ATP certificate that requires at least 1,500 flight hours to earn.

Pilot shortage critics claim the only reason there’s any pilot shortage is the poor pay and benefits being offered at the regional airlines. That’s where the “pay better, get better” pilots movement began. Industry hiring sources however claim the pool of unemployed Part 121 pilots is increasingly shallow as furlough numbers decline. Mix those declining numbers with an increasing number of Part 121 pilot retirements and the writing does appear to be on the wall.

The airlines are not the only segments experiencing a shortage of trained crews. Both the U.S. military and business aviation are finding it increasingly difficult to convince young people of the opportunities that exist.

Business aviation, however, has to a degree created some of this chaos themselves through the never-ending desire to remain essentially low key to passersby. So well has the industry accomplished that mission, that many young people don’t even know business aviation exists, much less that the pay and benefits can be enormous.

6. Pilatus PC-24 Achieves Certification

Generally when major airplane projects are certified, particularly clean sheet designs, the achievements come months or years later than the originally announced target. But with the punctuality only the Swiss can achieve, Pilatus Aircraft reached not only EASA but also FAA certification for the PC-24, also known as the Super Versatile Jet, right on schedule before the year’s end – a target that was set when the airplane was first announced in 2013.

In addition to boasting terrific performance numbers with a top speed of 440 knots, a range of 2,035 nm and a maximum payload of 2,522 pounds, the PC-24 can land at unimproved airports with runways as short as 3,000 feet. This capability nearly doubles the number of available airports around the world compared with other bizjets, according to Pilatus. Like Pilatus’s highly successful PC-12 turboprop, the PC-24 has an oversized cargo door to allow for easy loading in the rear in addition to an air-stair door for the front cabin.

Pilatus’s order book for the PC-24 has been closed since it filled up at the European Business Aviation Convention and Expo in Geneva in 2014, where the Stans, Switzerland-based company took orders for 84 PC-24s. But now that deliveries are about to begin, customers around the world will have a chance to take the first Swiss-built business jet to the test.

5. General Aviation Pilots Support Hurricane Relief

2017 presented one of the worst hurricane seasons in recent memory with major catastrophes in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean Islands. The aftermath of the storms gave pilots a chance to show just how vital general aviation is to the general public as airplanes brought swift relief to the worst-hit places where ground transportation was restricted by flooding and debris.

Following the devastation by hurricanes Irma and Maria that destroyed much of the Caribbean Islands non-profit and volunteer organizations such as Aerobridge, Seaplane Crossings and the Eagles Wings Foundation brought much needed supplies to the islands and helped evacuate pets and people who were in desperate need of going to a place where medical services were available.

Similarly, pilots from GA organizations such as Angel Flight South Centraltransported patients out of the areas near Houston devastated by Hurricane Harvey. And in a truly impressive display of how the aviation community can organize to provide quick relief in disaster areas, an organization called Operation Airdrop literally popped up overnight, organizing hundreds of pilots to get involved in the relief efforts. A general aviation air force consisting of anything from Cessna 152s, to Pilatus PC-12s, to DC-3s and light jets brought food, diapers, cleaning supplies – anything that had been requested by the needy in Texas.

4. BasicMed Goes into Effect

Relaxed medical certification standards for thousands of private pilots became law in May as the FAA adopted BasicMed rules in place of the third-class medical for eligible aviators. Under BasicMed a pilot needs only visit his or her personal physician once every four years and take an online aeromedical factors course administered by AOPA or the Mayo Clinic every two years. Even pilots with special issuance medicals can fly under BasicMed.

Under BasicMed, pilots can fly as pilot in command of aircraft authorized to carry up to six occupants and weighing up to 6,000 pounds maximum certificated takeoff weight; carry up to five passengers; fly within the United States day or night, VFR or IFR; at altitudes up to 18,000 feet msl; and up to 250 kias. Pilots can flight instruct under BasicMed, but they cannot operate for compensation or hire.

The rule change was a huge victory for AOPA and EAA, which pressed hard to enact the regulations. Since the change went into effect, thousands of pilots have taken advantage of the new requirements.

3. 2017 Was GA’s Safest Year Ever

This year was the safest on record for general aviation as the fatal accident rate dropped below 1 per 100,000 flight hours. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta credited safety measures implemented through the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) for the decrease in accidents. The GAJSC’s Fly Safe campaign targeted millions of social media followers with information designed to help pilots avoid accidents related to loss of control.

Also credited for the gains were relaxed certification standards for safety gear, making it easier for manufacturers to implement cockpit technologies such as angle-of-attack indicators into general aviation aircraft. The committee also worked with industry experts to update pilot training to include risk management through the Airman Certification Standards. Taken as a whole, the efforts paid off big time as fatalities and numbers of accidents for light airplanes dropped to the lowest level ever.

2. Part 23 Rewrite Adopted

The FAA in August adopted revised light aircraft certification standards aimed at speeding to the market innovative features in general aviation airplanes while reducing new aircraft development costs by as much as 50 percent. Several manufacturers are now gearing up to certify new products under the revised standards, which transform Part 23 from 40-year-old guidelines to a performance-based philosophy that allows manufacturers to develop new products how they best see fit, as long as they meet the minimum standards of the new rules.

The FAA has eliminated the commuter, utility, and acrobatic airplane categories from the old Part 23, with everything falling under the normal category. The rule establishes performance- and risk-based divisions for airplanes with a maximum seating capacity of 19 passengers or less and a maximum takeoff weight of 19,000 pounds or less.

The four levels are based on the number of passengers carried (zero to one, two to six, seven to nine and 10 to 19). Two performance levels have also been adopted, based on maximum cruising speed, the break point at 250 kcas. A special place is reserved for “simple” airplanes, defined as VFR-only Level 1 airplanes, with under 45 kcas stalling speed. The type of propulsion is no longer defined, meaning the Part 23 rewrite opens up possibilities for hybrid and electric-powered airplanes.

1. The ATC Privatization Fight

Although legislation created to slice the ATC arm off the FAA never made it to a vote in 2017, the issue is very much expected to make its return before the agency’s funding authorization expires at the end of March 2018. When Congress reconvenes in the new year, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) is expected to round up supporters to again attempt to bring the issue to the floor.

Shuster and his supporters claim that only by handing air traffic control over to a non-profit, non-governmental organization is there any hope for the system to reduce delays by taking advantage of new technologies such as ADS-B. The FAA’s deadline for aircraft to have ADS-B operating is the inflexible early 2020 date.

Interestingly, the FAA has been clear: no exceptions to the 2020 mandate. Unknown to most non-airline users, the FAA did grant a mandate exception to the airlines. While not exempted forever, the airlines have been granted a grace period to continue to use already installed GPS systems that “satisfy the ADS-B Out performance requirements, to varying degrees.”

The Airlines for America, the airline trade association supporting the split from the FAA because of the lack of progress on NextGen and airline delays, won the exemption that allows airliners to fly without state of the art ADS-B Out equipment until December 31, 2024.

Most frightening about a privatized ATC system is that precisely how the new system will create more operating efficiencies has been supported by many promises, but few facts. Until recently, general and business aviation were the primary target of privatization proponents for not paying their fair share of taxes into the Aviation Trust Fund.

Nowhere in the claims about the delays the airlines experience is there any mention of the relationship between delays and airline scheduling techniques often responsible for trying to cram too many airplanes into the same airport at the same time. A Congressional Budget Office audit said current pending legislation, expected to come alive again before the FAA’s extension expires next spring, “could add as much as $100 billion to the budget deficit.” Stay tuned.

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