Authorities suspended operations at Dubai International Airport for nearly an hour on January 23 when recreational users flew drones in the terminal airspace, the official Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported. Flights were diverted to Al Maktoum International, Dubai's second airport, during the suspension.
Air traffic "came to a standstill" between 3 p.m. and 3:55 p.m., "as a result of malpractices of some members of the public who flew unmanned aerial vehicles in the air navigation passages of planes," WAM said. The news agency did not specify the number or types of drones that were flown.
Mohammed Abdulla Ahli, director general of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and CEO of Dubai Air Navigation Services "warned that these undeliberate, irresponsible acts could lead to serious consequences as these UAVs pose a threat to the safety of air navigation and to passengers," the news agency said. "These UAVs are strictly prohibited in Dubai air space for any purpose without a prior permit from the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority," Ahli stated.
Dubai International ranks as one of the world's top busiest airports for international passengers. It served nearly 64 million passengers during the first 11 months of 2014, according to Dubai Airports. Passenger numbers are projected to reach 78.4 million this year.
On January 19, Dubai Air Navigation Services became the first air navigation service provider in the Gulf Cooperation Council region to sign a cooperation agreement with Eurocontrol. The two organizations will collaborate on research and development, beginning with wake vortex research and spacing concepts. Dubai's airports expect to see 665,000 annual aircraft movements by 2020, a Eurocontrol press release noted.
Fourteen aviation groups are calling on FAA to work with industry to help bring down the cost of installation of ADS-B equipment on general aviation equipment. In a joint letter sent to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on January 23, the groups noted that only 8,800 general aviation aircraft have equipped with ADS-B so far and they expressed concern that the high cost of the equipment is a "serious obstacle" for many aircraft owners to equip well in advance of the 2020 mandate.
"We believe that it is in the best interests of the entire aviation community to see full participation in ADS-B equipage by 2020," the organizations said, but added, "We do not support limiting access to airspace that pilots and aircraft owners enjoy today."
According to an AOPA study, 81,564 aircraft are valued at $40,000 or less. Installation price of ADS-B equipment for a 1967 Cessna 150 valued at $34,000 could be $5,000, or 15 percent of its value "just for the aircraft owner to continue to fly in the same airspace he or she uses today," the groups said. The regulations also are confusing for light-sport and experimental aircraft because ADS-B compliance requires a supplemental type certificate. "But since experimental aircraft, by definition, are one of a kind and do not have type certificates, no supplemental type certificate can be issued," the groups noted. "The problem is very much the same for factory build light-sport aircraft."
The FAA's Flight Standards and Technical Operations offices must make it a priority to work with the manufacturers and operators to ensure general aviation can meet the mandate, according to the groups. "Failure to do so will hamper participation in ADS-B, prevent the full realization of safety benefits, reduce general aviation activity and create economic hardships," they said.
Organizations signing the letter range from national trade associations such as NBAA, NATA, EAA and AOPA, to operator and specialty groups such as the American Bonanza Society and the Cessna Pilots Association.
Unmanned aircraft system (UAS) manufacturer Aurora Flight Sciences filed for an official world endurance record for its fixed-wing Orion UAS, which performed an 80-hour flight in early December. The company awaited recognition of the feat from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) in Switzerland.
The flight originated from the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division range at China Lake, Calif., in the Mojave Desert, and was conducted at altitudes between 4,500 and 10,000 feet above msl. Observers from the National Aeronautic Association, the U.S. representative of the FAI, observed the flight, which took place from December 5 to 8. Four pilots, or "air vehicle operators," flew the aircraft during that time.
Northrop Grumman set the previous unmanned aircraft endurance record, flying an RQ-4A Global Hawk for 30 hours, 24 minutes from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on March 21, 2001.
The twin-engine, 11,200-pound-gross-takeoff-weight Orion landed with approximately 1,700 pounds of fuel remaining, "with endurance being limited by range availability," according to Aurora. The aircraft has potentially 120 hours of endurance. Its useful payload capacity is 2,600 pounds.
Aurora, based in Manassas, Va., started work on the Orion in 2007 after the Air Force Research Laboratory through contractor General Dynamics selected the design for its "Ultra Long Endurance" study program. The aircraft was chosen for a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration in 2009. Built at Aurora's Columbus, Miss. facility, it performed its first flight on Aug. 24, 2013, staying aloft for three hours and 31 minutes. The record-setting flight in December was its 18th.
Aurora hopes to interest the Air Force in acquiring additional Orions for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. "The need for persistent surveillance in areas far from U.S. bases is a geopolitical fact of life," said CEO John Langford. "Orion can do this at operational costs significantly below any competing system. There are also important applications for this airplane in areas such as communications relay and Internet service provision."
The drone pilot who in 2013 incurred the first fine the FAA levied for alleged reckless operation of an unmanned aircraft has settled with the agency without admitting to any violation. On January 22, Swiss national Raphael Pirker and his attorney Brendan Schulman announced that Pirker will pay $1,100 to settle the charges, a fraction of the FAA's original $10,000 civil penalty.
The FAA's June 27, 2013, enforcement action against Pirker for operating a Ritewing Zephyr at the University of Virginia in October 2011 was dismissed by an administrative law judge with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) last March, calling into question on the agency's authority to regulate either model or unmanned aircraft. However, the full NTSB board in November overturned the judge's decision on appeal by the FAA, in effect confirming the agency's contention that Pirker's aircraft was an unmanned aircraft subject to regulation.
The two-page settlement agreement, signed by Schulman and FAA supervisory attorney Brendan Kelly, states that Pirker "does not admit to any allegation of fact or law" contained in the FAA's assessment order, and that he settled "to avoid the expense of litigation."
In a lengthy statement that came with the settlement document attached, Pirker said: "We are pleased that the case ignited an important international conversation about the civilian use of drones, the appropriate level of governmental regulation concerning this new technology, and even spurred the regulators to open new paths to the approval of certain commercial drone operations. The decision to settle the case was not an easy one, but the length of time that would be needed to pursue further proceedings and appeals, and the FAA's new reliance on a statute that post-dates Raphael's flight, have diminished the utility of the case to assist the commercial drone industry in its regulatory struggle."
The statement refers to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, in which Congress instructed the FAA to open the national airspace system to commercial drone operations by different means. The FAA did not immediately respond to Pirker's announcement, which was made late on January 22.