Briefing: December 2020



The NTSB hasn’t sent staff to an accident scene since last March and it’s unlikely to start doing so anytime soon. The board issued a travel ban at the outset of the pandemic and it won’t be lifted until COVID-19 is under control. “The safety of NTSB staff is the Chairman’s and agency leadership’s first concern. We have to consider not only the investigator(s) themselves but all with whom they come in contact. That could include other agency staff, as well as their families, and their communities,” said NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg. The NTSB is relying on local authorities and law enforcement to assess accident scenes and supply evidence to NTSB investigators. “The hard reality is that some ongoing NTSB investigations will likely be impacted by pandemic measures,” Landsberg said.


Airline pilots are finding work in Australia running massive agricultural harvesters as the country gets ready to bring in a bumper crop of grain when a shortage of labor threatens the harvest. Farmer Amanda Thomas saw that hundreds of Australian pilots were being furloughed so she set up a Facebook recruitment page reasoning that anyone who could fly a jet should be able to handle a grain harvester. “Pilots spend a lot of time operating machinery. That’s kind of their core job,” Thomas said. “And whether it’s an airplane or an agricultural machine, it’s all the same.” They may not be quite the same but there are some systems on a harvester, like the GPS-driven autopilot, that will be familiar to the pilot recruits. “They’ve recognized the transferability of the skillset of an airline pilot, someone who could operate heavy equipment and learn large amounts of information quickly and remain proficient,” said A320 pilot Andrew King.


The astronaut who was supposed to command the first crewed mission of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has stepped aside for undisclosed personal reasons but will be helping out on the ground. Chris Ferguson was scheduled to launch with Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann next year, after a second attempt at getting the unmanned Starliner into orbit on a test flight. Last December, the uncrewed capsule failed to reach the correct orbit when a series of communication lapses and software issues arose after liftoff. It had to be retrieved from the wrong airport and was recovered safely in the New Mexico desert. About 80 issues were uncovered. That’s apparently all been fixed and Ferguson said he’ll be rooting for his replacement and the rest of the crew. “I have full confidence in the Starliner vehicle, the men and women building and testing it, and the NASA astronauts who will ultimately fly it,” said Ferguson.


Garmin is moving all its training courses online in response to the pandemic. The company will offer instructor-led classes on the GTN, G1000/G1000 NXi and Aviation Weather Radar through to at least June of 2021. “This new format will allow customers to receive valuable product knowledge without concerns over travel and social distancing,” Garmin said. “A variety of pilot training opportunities are available ranging from Garmin pilot’s guides, PC trainers, eLearning courses, and monthly customer webinars that provide foundational knowledge about the equipment.”


Airbus expanded its study of “flapping” wingtips that could lead to more efficient and longer-range aircraft. The system is being tested on a scale model and allows the wings to flex and move in turbulent air to decrease stress on the wing structure. The result should be longer, lighter wings that improve aerodynamic efficiency. On the ground, the wingtips fold up and in takeoff, climb and landing phases the wings are held rigid, while they’re allowed to flex in cruise.


Boeing may sell Seattle headquarters … second jetpack sighting was reported over L.A … Boom rolled out its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator … Boeing deliveries declined almost 90 percent year over year … Airbus introduced the business version of the A220, the ACJ TwoTwenty … See for breaking news in general aviation.


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