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Qatar Airways Flies New Navigational Approach into Tribhuvan International Airport in Nepal

Aviation is a very interesting industry.  Aircraft contain some of the most advanced technology in the world.  Most of the new planes could quite literally land themselves in many cases.  Many aircraft now use fly-by-wire technology where the pilot uses a joystick that sends electronic commands to manipulate the plane’s control surfaces.

It is all absolutely amazing stuff, and a far cry from the wood and canvas Wright Flyer that started it all.  Yet with all of this new technology, most of the airways in the world are directed using decades old equipment.

VORs, TACANs, VORTACs, and even NDBs in some cases, are still used all over the world as radio navigation aids for these multi-million dollar jets.  Despite their age they still do an amazing job keeping the airways safe.  In tandem with air traffic controllers, they keep flying as the safest way to travel period.

Safety is of course at the top of the priority list, but creeping increasingly closer is money, and these old navigational aids don’t offer a whole lot to make flying more efficient.

Enter GPS.

GPS has been around for quite a while, and is already used in diverse ways in aviation.  However, it is not being used to its full capacity, and it is costing everyone money.

GPS has the ability to improve aircraft navigation in ways that will not only make flying more efficient, but make it safer for everyone involved.  Qatar Airways recently flew the first approach into Kathmandu’s airport in Nepal using a RNP-AR (Required Navigation Performance – Authorisation Required) approach in an Airbus A320.  (Airbus’s press release of the occasion can be found below.)

The unique mountainous terrain of the region has always required complex, difficult approaches that can challenge even the most seasoned pilot.  Using this new approach pilots are able to reduce their workload leading to a much safer, and more efficient approach.  The increased efficiency is what makes this approach so valuable for every single airport out there.

The airports in the New York/New Jersey region are not exactly troubled with terrain issues, but it is some of the busiest airspace in the world.  By using the increased accuracy that GPS provides, these airports can utilize their airspace more efficiently, and in turn more safely.

Implementing these procedures is not as simple as having everyone turn on their GPS, but it is imperative that the newly confirmed FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta, do everything in his power to get these procedures in place immediately in order to further improve the safety of the industry, while at the same time providing some financial relief to the airlines.

Press Release
21 January 2013 A Qatar Airways-flown A320 has made this carrier the world’s first to operate an aircraft into the Nepalese capital’s Tribhuvan International Airport within the Himalayan mountain range using a new navigation approach.

The milestone flight took place with the Doha-based airline’s A320 performing an RNP-AR (Required Navigation Performance – Authorisation Required) approach to landing.  RNP-AR enables an aircraft to automatically fly accurate trajectories without relying on ground-based navigation aids, while also optimising airspace utilisation and reducing diversions in difficult weather conditions.

Located in Kathmandu, Tribhuvan International Airport has one of the world’s most complicated landing approaches due to surrounding challenging terrain at its location in the Himalayas.  Flying an RNP-AR approach considerably reduces pilots’ workload and allows them to take full benefit of the advanced navigation equipment installed in the Airbus A320 to easily circumnavigate difficult terrain.

Qatar Airways partnered with Quovadis, the Airbus-owned flight operations services company, and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to design and implement the Kathmandu RNP-AR procedure.

Yannick Malinge, Airbus’ Senior Vice President and Chief Product Safety Officer, recognised Qatar Airways on the achievement.

“Airbus always promotes and supports initiatives contributing to improving safety. New technological capabilities like RNP allow aircraft to improve descent trajectory and reduce non-stabilized approaches,” Malinge explained. “Airbus would like to congratulate Qatar Airways and Nepal Authorities for the outstanding results achieved for this RNP-AR project in Kathmandu and we are delighted to have contributed to this major milestone.”

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said safety was the top priority for the airline. “We pride ourselves on adopting the latest technology across our fleet and operation to ensure we maintain our high standards, vital for any business of our nature,” he added.

January 21, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Michael Huerta Confirmed by the U.S. Senate as FAA Administrator

Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Senate is capable of getting something done.  Today, on New Year’s Day nonetheless, they confirmed Michael Huerta as FAA Administrator.  Huerta has been serving as the acting administrator since Dec. 2011, and previously served as deputy Administrator starting in June 2010.

Huerta was originally nominated to become the FAA administrator by President Obama in March 2012, but had to wait nine months for his confirmation to go through.  I am sure this was no surprise to Mr. Huerta as he had to wait over five months to be confirmed as deputy Administrator.

This confirmation, which carries a term of five years, will provide some much-needed stability for the FAA in tandem with the FAA reauthorization which was signed by President Obama last February.  Based on his success in his previous roles there is great reason for optimism.

His first real claim to fame was as a managing director for the 2002 Olympics overseeing the transportation outlets for the Games.  Having lived through the transportation mess that existed before the Olympics, and enjoyed the improvements afterward, I can personally attest to the success of his efforts.

His confirmation is already being applauded by aviation organizations such as GAMA.

January 1, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Teaching Kids Math and Science Through Flying

Last week I posted a speech given by the FAA acting administrator, Michael Huerta.  In that speech he made the following remark:

To continue our transformation, the FAA is working with many partners to develop and foster a workforce that is schooled in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math.

This is not a matter of focusing on high schools or junior colleges. To do this, we must reach down into middle school and start fostering the kind of attention on STEM disciplines early on.

There’s both a huge demand and a huge shortage for these kinds of skills in the United States.

To promote STEM education, we are mentoring teachers and working with others to hold boot camps for educators. We encourage teachers to give their lessons with an aeronautical twist. For example, when we teach the laws of Sir Isaac Newton, we ask them to consider using the four forces of flight as an example – lift, weight, thrust and drag.

If they are going to talk about navigation, we ask, why not use a visual flight rules sectional chart to teach the lesson rather than the typical road atlas?

There’s a myth that aeronautics is so difficult that the average teacher can’t handle it, and we want to bust that myth.

The Aspen School District is answering this call, and taking it one step farther.  They are proposing a program that would teach students to fly as part of the math and science curriculum.  I wish my school had offered something like this, then I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

It is based on a program in Albuquerque, NM that was started in 2005.  The program allows students in grades 4-12 to take flying lessons towards their pilot’s license along with classroom work in aerodynamics and applied mathematics.

The program even has an initial investment from a local couple, Lawrence and Joan Altman, in the form of a $50,000 donation.  They made the donation because of their concern with the declining level of education in America.  According to the National Academy of Sciences over half of the engineering degrees awarded by American universities are given to foreign-born students.

With further cuts on the horizon for the Aspen School District, the Altman’s are hoping other concerned residents will follow their lead and help raise the level of education in the area.  If this program is to really take off it will require a good amount of outside funding.

In 2009 the Albuquerque schools spent about $70,000 on the program, and students were required to pay about $50 per hour of flight training.  That is a fraction of the price that normal flight training costs, which could help inspire more kids to pursue flying which is a very good thing.

Throughout all of my years of education I continually asked how I would use information in the real world.  By teaching math and science in a setting where it is actually applied, students are more likely to enjoy it, as well as continue to pursue it.

We can only hope that programs like this will continue to pop up throughout the country in all the industries that rely on math and science.

January 25, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

FAA Reauthorization Still on Hold Thanks to Politics

Millions of people step onto planes all around the world without a single thought of the regulatory agencies that control the industry.  In the US we are lucky to have the safest airspace in the world, but no one thinks of that while they ignore the pre-flight instructions from the flight attendants.

The vast majority of people will never talk to the air traffic controllers at airports and en route control centers throughout the country, but they are there everyday to keep fliers safe.  People are probably even less likely to ever meet the countless inspectors who ensure that aircraft, pilots, mechanics, and dozens of other professions do their job properly.

According to Michael Huerta, acting administrator of the FAA, civil aviation contributes $1.3 trillion to our economy and generates more than 10 million jobs.  The FAA oversees all of that, but for almost five years they have been working on temporary time.

Since 2007, when the last authorization bill was passed, there have been 22 extensions, and we stand poised on the edge of number 23.  Congress has until January 31 to get a new bill passed, but based on their inability to do pretty much anything I do not have my hopes very high.

Apparently the whole bill is hung up on one portion which specifies voting procedures for unions.  While it is an important point of discussion, it is something that should simply be taken out of the bill for now so that everything else can move forward.

The lack of an authorization bill is not only keeping everyone in the FAA on their heels, but pretty much everyone involved in aviation.  Airports are not starting some projects they other wise would because they are waiting on funding from the FAA.  Funding that the FAA cannot hand out until they are authorized to do so.

Arguably more important than that, is the inability of the FAA to really push forward with the NextGen air traffic control system.  Again, most people don’t think much of it, but the reality is that the new system will create jobs, save on fuel costs, and make air travel for efficient for everyone involved.

This Congress seems to be content with doing nothing simply to spite the members of the other parties, but that is completely unacceptable.  They were elected to do a job, and so far they have completely failed to do it.

January 19, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

“NextGen: Transforming our National Airspace System into the Next Century of Flight”

Below you will find the full text of a speech given by Michael Huerta, the acting administrator of the FAA, during the New Horizons Forum.  The Forum was held in conjunction with the AIAA Aerospace Sciences meeting in Nashville, TN.

He brings up a lot of interesting, and incredibly important topics that I will discuss further in the coming days, but I felt the full text was valuable.  With all of the confusion in the government, and the FAA in particular his comments are very thought-provoking.

January 10, 2012

New Horizons Forum


Thank you for that kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here in Nashville with all of you today.

This is truly a pivotal time in aviation history.We are moving into the Next Generation air transportation system, or NextGen – transforming from the ground-based navigation of the last century to the satellite-based navigation of tomorrow.

We are also moving towards an aviation system that will be safer, more efficient and environmentally sustainable – with more direct routes, fewer delays and more predictability.

It’s not just the United States. The entire world is changing the way it handles air traffic.

Now, we know that in order to meet the challenges of transforming our air traffic control system in the next 15 years, the FAA as an organization must also evolve.

Our agency grew around 1950s-era technology and software systems. And, I might add that these systems are extremely safe and work very well.

During that same time period, the computing power of a mainframe that took up an entire room now fits in a light-weight tablet. Cameras have evolved from film to digital. And the number of Web sites has grown exponentially from hundreds in the early 1990s to hundreds of millions today.

Likewise, we need to transform our system for managing air traffic too; NextGen is the way of the future. We cannot afford to be left behind, and it’s important that all of us embrace this process.

In many ways, the FAA is at a tipping point where we have a lot of things happening at once.

We have the immense technological change of NextGen on the one hand, and we have a generational change in our workforce on the other.

Change of this magnitude is not easy, but it is a unique and exciting opportunity for all of us. We are facing a whole new way of thinking and operating. And we are positioning ourselves with stretch goals to meet these challenges in the months and years ahead.

We have taken a good long look in the mirror and we know we need to make certain changes that will serve as the foundation for our success in years ahead.

We’re focused on streamlining shared services within the FAA to avoid duplication and increase efficiency.  We’re studying our current governance model to ensure we’re prepared to manage issues across the FAA as effectively as possible.  And ultimately, what we do comes down to people, 47,000 FAA employees. That’s why we’re also updating our human resources model to ensure we are attracting and retaining top-notch talent across the board.

As I talk about the FAA’s strongest asset, its people, let me briefly describe the changes that are taking place in our workforce, in terms of generations, to illustrate the degree of change we are undergoing as an agency.

We are going from baby boomers to GenXers and Millennials in air traffic control and other areas.

The FAA hired a substantial number of controllers in the years immediately following the 1981 air traffic controllers strike. Those workers are now coming to the age where they are ready to retire.

Last year, about 18 percent of the air traffic controller workforce was eligible to retire. And we estimate that we’ll need to hire about 1,000 controllers per year for the next 10 years.

Already in the last five years, we’ve hired more than 7,800 controllers.

The percentages for potential turnover are even more pronounced in other areas of the agency.

Let’s talk about aviation safety inspectors. About 47 percent of aviation safety inspectors will be eligible for retirement within the next five years. And about 41 percent of our acquisitions workforce will be eligible as well as 31 percent of the agency’s engineers.

I know many of you have studied engineering, science and math – or you are in school now – so let me tell you – all of those skills are a good fit for those jobs and the needs we have at FAA.

People are our strength, and we need a workforce that has, above all, a core commitment to safety and professionalism. But we also need to make sure we have people with the skills and talents needed for the NextGen air traffic system.

It turns out that what has been an ongoing and profound change in the FAA workforce has a positive side in terms of moving the workforce towards embracing new technology.

We have noticed that the Millennial workers have a very different orientation to technology. They are much more comfortable with all kinds of technology and they are demanding that we use it.

Rather than being nervous about new technology, they are anxious for the next upgrade. They are waiting in line for the iPhone 2 and 3 and 4 and 4S.

These new workers don’t want to be handed a memo at work, they want to receive it automatically on their phones. And we’re listening and changing. Several months ago we released MyFAA Mobile – which makes basic information from the FAA employee Web site completely available to employees.

And just yesterday, we took another step. We released a mobile phone optimized version of FAA.gov which provides much of the most popular information and services that pilots and industry stakeholders and the public at large are looking for. This will make all kinds of public FAA information easily accessible.

To continue our transformation, the FAA is working with many partners to develop and foster a workforce that is schooled in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math.

This is not a matter of focusing on high schools or junior colleges. To do this, we must reach down into middle school and start fostering the kind of attention on STEM disciplines early on.

There’s both a huge demand and a huge shortage for these kinds of skills in the United States.

I am very proud of our partnership with AIAA in this effort. And I thank you for your support. We rely upon you to help us meet the challenges we face in this area.

To promote STEM education, we are mentoring teachers and working with others to hold boot camps for educators. We encourage teachers to give their lessons with an aeronautical twist. For example, when we teach the laws of Sir Isaac Newton, we ask them to consider using the four forces of flight as an example – lift, weight, thrust and drag.

If they are going to talk about navigation, we ask, why not use a visual flight rules sectional chart to teach the lesson rather than the typical road atlas?

There’s a myth that aeronautics is so difficult that the average teacher can’t handle it, and we want to bust that myth.

Our partner in this effort, NASA, has developed an “app” for that.

We will be assisting with the launch this month of the “app” called Smart Skies, which teaches children basic algebra through a simple air traffic control simulation.

Instead of playing “Angry Birds,” they can play air traffic control.

This is an ongoing effort and we very much appreciate the partnership with AIAA, the Air Force, NASA and others to continue to foster aerospace and astronautic education.  It’s in everyone’s interest to support STEM.

And now I want to turn your attention to another issue that really does deserve everyone’s support, and that is the upcoming reauthorization of the FAA.

The FAA’s current spending authority expires on January 31. We have now had more than 20 extensions. We need an FAA reauthorization bill in order to give the taxpayers and the traveling public the aviation system this country deserves. When Congress returns to work later this month, the House will have only six days in session before this important legislative work needs to be accomplished.

This is something that is of extreme importance for the nation’s economy.  Civil aviation contributes $1.3 trillion to our economy and generates more than 10 million jobs. And NextGen is vital to protecting these contributions. The current system simply cannot accommodate anticipated growth.

In closing, I want to give you an update on a great NextGen project we kicked off in Houston yesterday.

We talk about NextGen as something in the future. But there are many benefits of satellite-based navigation that we are deploying right now.

And in the Houston metro area we are creating NextGen solutions at two major airports and the surrounding airspace. These are part of President Obama’s effort to fast-track needed infrastructure projects to help the economy and spur growth.

The FAA is creating Performance Based Navigation procedures, along with environmentally friendly Optimized Profile Descents, which allow aircraft to make managed descents at reduced engine power settings, thus saving fuel and generating fewer emissions.

These are part of the “invisible,” but very real infrastructure of our aerospace system.

Yesterday we had our version of a groundbreaking on these important infrastructure projects.

These changes are forecast to save millions of dollars in fuel per year and also cut greenhouse gas emissions by thousands of tons.

We expect these “green” procedures to be completed in the next two years.

To do this, we are streamlining our process for environmental studies.  And this streamlining is going to save a lot of time.

Rather than designing and engineering a set of procedures and working until all the “I”s are dotted before sending it over for environmental review – we are doing much of the preliminary environmental work concurrently with the design process.

This way we are able to identify and mitigate environmental issues earlier in the process.

We expect to shave a year off the process this way, and make these NextGen solutions available all the more quickly by doing this kind of workflow change.

That is what is happening in Houston and we hope it will serve as a model for other metro areas around the country as we redesign airspace nationwide.

This is just one example of the improvements we’ll see through NextGen.

As we move forward, our goal is to reach the next level of safety and prepare our workforce for the future. This is a very exciting time in aviation. Together we are creating the template for a new system.  I appreciate your help, your energy and your bright ideas as we embark on the next century of flight.

January 18, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.