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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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Boeing says 737 MAX software update is done

Boeing CEO in 737 MAX cockpit
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg sits behind pilots during a 737 MAX airplane flight that demonstrated the performance of a flight control software update. (Boeing Photo)

Two months after a pair of catastrophic crashes led to the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX jets worldwide, the company says it has finished work on a software update aimed at heading off future safety issues with an automatic flight control system.

Boeing announced the completion of software development today, and said it’s working with the Federal Aviation Administration to finish the process of getting the plane certified for its return to flight.

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Acting FAA chief admits fixes are needed

FAA chief Daniel Elwell
Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell testifies at a congressional hearing. (House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee via YouTube)

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged during a congressional hearing today that his agency will tighten up its regulatory procedures as a result of the investigation into two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 MAX jets.

Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell said he was concerned to hear that Boeing waited more than a year before informing the FAA that a cockpit indicator known as the AOA Disagree alert didn’t work as designed, due to a software gap. The agency was told about the gap only after a Lion Air 737 MAX crashed in Indonesia last October, killing all 189 people on board.

“I’m concerned that it took a year, and we’re looking into that, and we’re going to fix that,” Elwell, a former airline pilot, told Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., during a hearing before the House Aviation Subcommittee. “It shouldn’t take a year for us to find out that that discovery was made.”

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Wing wins FAA go-ahead for drone delivery service

Wing drone delivery
Wing’s drone makes a delivery. (Wing Photo)

Alphabet’s Wing venture has stolen a march on Amazon’s plans for drone domination by winning air carrier certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Air Carrier Certification means that we can begin a commercial service delivering goods from local businesses to homes in the United States,” Wing said today in a Medium post celebrating the milestone.

Wing was spun out last year from Alphabet’s X tech incubator (formerly known as Google X), and has been taking part in an FAA-backed pilot program to push the envelope for drone operations in Southwest Virginia.

The company has also conducted a test program in Australia that involved more than 3,000 drone deliveries to doorsteps, backyards and driveways. In all, Wing’s drones have flown more than 70,000 test flights, and is starting up delivery operations in Finland.

Wing said the data submitted to the FAA for certification showed that “a delivery by wing carries a lower risk to pedestrians than the same trip made by car.”

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