Unmanned Aircraft, See and Avoid?

UAS NPRMThe first proposal for unmanned aircraft regulations appeared in the Federal Register yesterday.  A small unmanned aircraft, less than 55 lbs, could fly for commercial purposes up to 500 feet above the ground.  I am in favor of adopting new technologies, and I took the time to write some constructive comments for the official docket.  This is just a summary.

Unmanned Aircraft at Class G Airports:  I asked the FAA to add coordination procedures for unmanned aircraft operating on or near uncontrolled airports.  It is nice to allow unmanned aircraft to use these airports, but the “see and avoid” rule seems like a bad idea for these tiny machines.

Unmanned Aircraft at Towered Airports:  I asked the FAA to disallow unmanned flights at controlled airports when the ceiling is less than 1,000 feet.  I did not see a reason why manned airplanes should share an airport under instrument flight rules with a visually operated unmanned aircraft.

Flight Instructors Accepting Certificate Applications:  In granting the CFI privilege of accepting certificate applications, the FAA would create an authority similar to a pilot examiner.  I think it is interesting that the assumed price for this application process is $50.  Even without a practical test requirement, the CFI may be obligated to devote time to adequately research the regulations, to evaluate the applicant, and to assist the applicant in this process beyond what might be worth $50.

Detroit Airspace Redesign

Diagram of the proposed Class B airspace configuration
Proposed Airspace Configuration

This is a heads up for anyone interested in commenting on the new Detroit airspace.  NPRM comments must be received by the FAA deadline next Monday, October 15.

I was able to get a sneak peek of the proposal back in March, so I’m already psyched up to start flying in a much larger and more complex terminal area.  Here are a few observations about the changes:

Over Ann Arbor, 3,400 ft will be the only usable level without a clearance.  On the bright side, the ambiguous sector where Class B at 3,000 ft overlaps Class D at 3,300 ft will be eliminated.

At Willow Run, it will no longer be possible to depart the Class D airspace VFR to the south without a clearance to do so.

The FAA makes an interesting remark about Eastern Michigan University training traffic.  According to the NPRM, “the FAA does not agree, therefore, that the proposed Class B airspace area would render the EMU training area south of ARB unusable or force a concentration of VFR training aircraft in EMU’s north training area.”

I think both EMU and the FAA have good points here.  The FAA suggests training may continue in the south practice area so long as a Class B clearance is obtained by each pilot operating above 4,000 ft.  This is true, however those clearances are issued on a workload-permitting basis, and Detroit is sometimes unable to take VFR requests even in the current configuration.  EMU may be correct that this would occasionally lead to congestion north of Ann Arbor.

There is also one statement I have to disagree with, where the FAA says, “the other half of EMU’s training area remains completely useable; either under a proposed Class B airspace shelf with a 6,000-foot MSL floor or outside the lateral boundary of the proposed Class B airspace area altogether.”  The only portion of the training area that is actually outside the proposed airspace is a tiny triangular corner, approximately 1.5 miles on each side.  I hope for a more precise consideration of this point if it gets mentioned in the final rule.

Next Post: New Detroit Airspace Effective April 2014

First Officer Epoch Next August

Rob visiting the captain's seat in a 747.
What are airline pilots really made of?

Pilot employment qualifications are changing.  For the potential first officer at a regional or major airline, this change will be huge.

Currently, the requirements for acting as a first officer or second in command (SIC) of an airliner are simple.  All it takes is a commercial pilot license.  The captain is required to have an airline pilot license, but not the first officer.  This is all laid out in the two paragraphs of the applicable regulation number 121.437.  A commercial pilot license can be obtained after meeting the minimum 250 hours of flight time experience.

Starting on August 1, 2013, the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 will remove all commercial pilots from domestic, flag, and supplemental operations.  By itself, sec. 216(a)(2)(B)(i) of this Act would require “all flight crewmembers” to hold an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate, which in turn requires at least 1,500 hours of pilot time experience.  That’s six times the current requirement to become a first officer.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is wisely using the time before August to develop a regulation that does not require 1,500 hours.  Its latest proposal, dated February 29, 2012, allows graduates of a 4-year degree program to obtain the needed license by meeting the following requirements:

Continue reading First Officer Epoch Next August