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Boeing will pay $2.5B to resolve 737 MAX criminal case

Boeing says it’s entered into a $2.51 billion agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve a criminal charge related to the Federal Aviation Administration’s evaluation of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplanes.

The deferred-prosecution agreement addresses a single charge of conspiracy to defraud FAA inspectors about the safety of the 737 MAX’s automated flight control system. Investigators say changes to a component known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, were to blame in a pair of catastrophically fatal 737 MAX crashes that occurred in Indonesia in October 2018 and in Ethiopia in March 2019.

Those crashes led the FAA and other regulators to ground hundreds of 737 MAX planes operated by airlines around the world. After more than a year of investigations, software fixes and revisions to pilot training requirements, the FAA cleared the planes to return to service last November.

The agreement calls for Boeing to pay a penalty of $243.6 million, provide $1.77 billion in compensation to the airlines that purchased 737 MAX jets, and establish a $500 million fund to compensate the families of the 346 people who were killed in the two crashes. Boeing also agreed to cooperate with investigators and strengthen its anti-fraud compliance program.

If Boeing complies with the requirements of the agreement, filed today with a federal court in Texas, the criminal charge will be dismissed after three years.

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FAA rules could smooth the way for drone deliveries

After months of feedback and fine-tuning, the Federal Aviation Administration today issued its final versions of safety rules for drones that fly over people and at night — including the drones that Amazon is developing to make package deliveries.

“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a news release. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”

Draft versions of the rules were issued a year ago, kicking off a review period during which the FAA received about 53,000 comments. The final rules take effect in about two months.

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737 MAX cleared for flight — after software upgrades

Two years after the catastrophic crash of a Boeing 737 MAX jet in Indonesia touched off an aviation crisis, the Federal Aviation Administration today laid out the path for hundreds of 737s to return to flight.

But that can’t happen immediately: It’ll take months for the FAA to check the implementation of changes in pilot training procedures, and verify all the fixes that will be made. All 737 MAX planes have been grounded worldwide in the aftermath of a second crash that occurred in Ethiopia in March 2019.

“This is not the end of this safety journey,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told CNBC. “There’s a lot of work that the airlines and the FAA and Boeing will have to do in the coming weeks and months.”

Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a news release that today’s FAA directive was an “important milestone” but agreed that there’s a lot of work to be done. “We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide,” Deal said.

The key fixes involve software rather than hardware — and that part of the job is more like installing a Windows update than installing an actuator.

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FAA and Boeing complete 737 MAX flight tests

The Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing today completed three days’ worth of certification flight tests on the Boeing 737 MAX, but it’ll take weeks longer for the FAA to review the fixes that Boeing made and decide whether to end the yearlong grounding of the planes.

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FAA and Boeing begin flight tests for 737 MAX

Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration took a major step toward returning the troubled 737 MAX to full operation today with the first of a series of flights aimed at recertifying the jet in the wake of two catastrophic crashes.

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Amazon and T-Mobile to help with Remote ID

Remote ID system
The Remote ID system would require drones to broadcast an identification code as well as location data. (DJI Photoillustration)

Amazon and T-Mobile are among eight companies selected to help the Federal Aviation Administration establish technical requirements for Remote ID, a protocol that drones will be required to follow for broadcasting identification and location data while in flight.

The other companies include Airbus, AirMap, Intel, OneSky, Skyward and Alphabet’s drone subsidiary, Wing.

“The FAA will be able to advance the safe integration of drones into our nation’s airspace from these technology companies’ knowledge and expertise on remote identification,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said today in a news release.

Today’s announcement comes months after the FAA put out a set of draft regulations and a request for information relating to Remote ID.

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FAA’s Remote ID would tighten leash on drones

Remote ID for drones
The Federal Aviation Administration’s draft regulations call for drones to broadcast an electronic ID code if they operate beyond the line of sight of an operator. (FAA Graphic)

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued proposed regulations that would require virtually all drones to transmit electronic identification codes while in flight.

“Remote ID technologies will enhance safety and security by allowing the FAA, law enforcement, and federal security agencies to identify drones flying in their jurisdiction,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said today in a news release about the plan.

The FAA established a registration system for recreational drones back in 2015, and since then, nearly 1.5 million drones and 160,000 remote pilots have been registered. Earlier this year, the agency set up an automated system to authorize recreational flights in controlled airspace.

The newly proposed Remote ID system would build upon those earlier steps. It calls upon drone manufacturers to make their products capable of sending out identification codes as well as their location. The rules would apply to all drones heavier than 0.55 pounds (8.8 ounces), and manufacturers would have to comply two years after the regulations go into effect. Drone operators would have three years to phase out non-complying devices.

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UPS wins FAA’s approval for drone delivery airline

UPS drone
UPS Flight Forward has the FAA’s go-ahead to operate as a drone airline. (UPS Photo)

UPS says its drone delivery subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward, has received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate as the nation’s first full-fledged drone airline.

“This is history in the making, and we aren’t done yet,” UPS CEO David Abney said today in a news release.

The FAA’s Part 135 Standard certification means that UPS Flight Forward can fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators in command. It can expand its delivery services to new locations, with FAA approval. It can exceed the FAA’s usual limit of 55 pounds for drone and cargo weight, and it can now fly drones at night.

UPS said Flight Forward flew its first drone under the new conditions immediately after getting the word from the FAA on Friday. That drone, a Matternet M2 quadcopter, was launched from WakeMed’s hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C., under a government exemption allowing for flights beyond the operator’s line of sight.

For now, UPS is focusing on drone deliveries of medical products and specimens, based on hospital campuses with a special focus on North Carolina. The experimental phase of the effort was one of 10 pilot projects approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation last year.

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FAA puts new drone management system in play

Aerix drone
Recreational drone fliers can use a new online system to get authorization. (Aerix Photo)

Good news for law-abiding drone operators: The Federal Aviation Administration is expanding its automated online system for authorizing recreational flights in controlled airspace.

Today the FAA announced the expansion of the Low Altitude Authorization and Capability System, or LAANC, which provides authorization in near real-time.

Since May, drone operators have been required to get LAANC clearance for flights they wanted to conduct within controlled airspace, but the system wasn’t available for recreational fliers. You could still fly your drone for fun in uncontrolled airspace, but those spots tend to be hard to find in areas anywhere close to an airport.

As a stopgap, the FAA set aside a limited number of fixed sites in controlled airspace where such flights would be OK, including four sites in Washington state. All of those sites cater to model-airplane hobbyists, and may require a membership fee.

Now recreational fliers have a wider range of places to choose from, as long as they use the LAANC system. You still have to comply with all the rules for drone flights, including keeping your craft below 400 feet and within your line of sight. There are also local regulations to consider: For example, drone flights are forbidden in Seattle city parks.

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Recreational drone fliers face new guidelines

Recreational drone users will be facing new requirements. (FAA Photo)

Are you planning to take your drone out for a spin this weekend? First, you’d better check the map, and a new list of requirements from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Some of the requirements are so new that the online tools required for compliance haven’t yet been rolled out, and that could put a temporary crimp in your flight plans — at least if you’re a stickler for the rules.

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