As North Korea launches ballistic missile FAA shuts down all flights on west coast for seven minutes

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • FAA orders ‘full ground stop’ at ALL West Coast airports for seven minutes after North Korea fired suspected ballistic missile into Sea of Japan
  • The Federal Aviation Administration stopped every plane from taking off or landing at all West Coast airports for seven minutes after North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea off Japan.
  • No details are available of how far the projectile flew and no details have been made public of the launch.
  • North Korea previously gloated that it successfully launched a hypersonic missile last week.
  • North Korea has rejected offers to meet with the Biden administration in its first year, citing sanctions and joint military drills by United States and South Korean forces

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U.S. lawmakers demand training for air crews to address violent passengers

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers urged major airlines to back mandatory training for flight crew members to address violent incidents amid a record number of disruptive onboard incidents.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Wednesday it has received a record 5,779 unruly passenger reports this year, including 4,156 incidents related to a requirement passengers wear masks to guard against the coronavirus pandemic.

The FAA, which has pledged a “zero-tolerance” approach, said last month it had referred 37 unruly passengers to the FBI for potential criminal prosecution. The FAA has initiated 1,054 investigations and 325 enforcement actions.

On Wednesday, House of Representatives Homeland Security chair Bennie Thompson and Transportation and Infrastructure chair Peter DeFazio and two key subcommittee chairs sent letters to the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines urging them to require crew members to attend the Transportation Security Administration’s Crew Member Self Defense Training Program.

The lawmakers want to ensure “they are equipped with the necessary skills to deter and mitigate dangerous situations as unruly passenger behavior spikes across the country.”

They want airlines to provide crewmembers with paid time, travel and accommodations to participate in the training led by federal air marshals.

TSA resumed offering its free self-defense program in July after pausing the course due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the lawmakers noted.

American Airlines said on Wednesday it holds “the safety of our frontline team members as our highest priority, and we appreciate these lawmakers’ commitment to helping protect it. We are reviewing the letter.”

The push comes amid a holiday travel surge. The TSA says it has screened 1.98 million or more passengers in each of the last six days.

The FAA and TSA announced on Tuesday that unruly passengers facing fines may be removed from TSA PreCheck screening eligibility.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland directed federal prosecutors to prioritize prosecution of airline passengers committing assaults and other crimes aboard aircraft.

To date, the FAA has issued more than $1.4 million in fines for unruly passengers. Many passengers who refused to wear masks have been hit with $9,000 or higher fines.

On Oct. 8, President Joe Biden instructed the Justice Department to “deal” with the rising number of violent incidents onboard planes.

U.S. prosecutors in Colorado have charged a 20-year-old California man with punching a flight attendant on an Oct. 27 American Airlines flight bound for Santa Ana, California, that forced the plane to land.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Howard Goller)

Airlines, unions urge U.S. to prosecute ‘egregious onboard conduct’

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A group representing major U.S. airlines and aviation unions on Monday wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Justice Department to crack down on the growing number of disruptive and violent air passengers.

The Justice Department did not immediately comment on the letter, first reported by Reuters.

The letter from Airlines for America, which represents American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others, along with major unions said the “incidents pose a safety and security threat to our passengers and employees, and we respectfully request the (Justice Department) commit to the full and public prosecution of onboard acts of violence.”

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Steve Dickson, in January imposed a zero-tolerance order on passenger disturbances aboard airplanes after supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump were disruptive on some flights around the time of a Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack.

Monday’s letter added that the airlines and unions hope the Justice Department “will commit to taking action, along with coordination with the FAA, to ensure that egregious onboard conduct is fully and criminally prosecuted, sending a strong public message of deterrence, safety and security.”

The letter to Garland said that since the FAA’s zero- tolerance policy was announced, the agency has received more than 3,039 reports of unruly behavior and has opened 465 investigations into assaults, threats of assault or interference with crew members.

More than 2,000 cases included passengers refusing to wear face masks as required on all airplanes.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on April 30 extended a federal face mask mandate on airplanes and in airports through Sept. 13.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Howard Goller)

Mobile air traffic control tower aids in California wildfire fight

By Nathan Frandino

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Amid a worsening drought emergency and fires already blazing across California, Titus “Stretch” Gall is gearing up for another long wildfire season.

The 72-year-old former air traffic controller is the president of Tower Tech Inc, a mobile air traffic control tower company that helps agencies like the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) and the National Forest Service control the airspace over wildfires.

“They need to come and go as quickly and efficiently as they can,” Gall said, referring to aircraft used to dump flame retardant or water on wildfires.

Five years before retiring, Gall began designing what would become a nearly 14-foot-tall air traffic control tower on a trailer pulled by a truck.

The tower cab is equipped with everything an air traffic controller would require: weather-monitoring sensors, iPads to show air traffic, satellite dishes for the internet, phones and antennae for radios.

The cab is also fitted with special glass and shades so Gall and his colleagues can see clearly out across the tarmac at airfields. Amenities to keep the controllers comfortable can be found in the trailer, such as a refrigerator, toilet and shower.

Gall says his company is the first mobile air traffic control company certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a process he said took more than five years.

As of May, California authorities had documented over 1,000 more wildfires across the state this year than had erupted by the same time last year, Governor Gavin Newsom said last month.

In 2020, the state marked its heaviest wildfire season on record in terms of total acreage burned. More than 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) and over 10,000 homes and other structures were laid to waste and at least 33 lives lost.

Gall has seen conditions worsen since moving to California in the early 1980’s.

“The fire season is becoming much longer. The temperatures are getting a little bit warmer,” he said. “So we’re steadily busier and busier.”

Despite the gravity of the mission, Gall enjoys his job.

“Man, it makes me feel great,” he said, describing the thanks he receives from tanker pilots. “You can imagine that that makes you feel good because this is not a game.”

(Reporting by Nathan Frandino; Editing by Karishma Singh)

U.S. downgrades Mexico air safety rating

By David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government on Tuesday downgraded Mexico’s aviation safety rating, an action barring Mexican carriers from adding new U.S. flights and limiting airlines’ ability to carry out marketing agreements.

Plans for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgrade were first reported on Friday by Reuters.

The FAA said it was “fully committed to helping the Mexican aviation authority improve its safety oversight system to a level that meets” international standards and “ready to provide expertise and resources” to resolve issues in the assessment process.

The agency had held lengthy talks with Mexican aviation regulators about its concerns.

On Monday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said U.S. authorities should not downgrade Mexico’s air safety designation, arguing his country was complying with all relevant norms.

“We have been complying with all the requirements. We feel that this decision should not be made,” Lopez Obrador said at a regular news conference when asked about the possibility.

The FAA said its reassessment of the Agencia Federal de Aviacion Civil from October 2020 to February identified several areas of non-compliance with minimum international safety standards.

The Category 2 rating means Mexico lacks “necessary requirements to oversee the country’s air carriers in accordance with minimum international safety standards, or the civil aviation authority is lacking in one or more areas such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping, inspection procedures, or resolution of safety concerns,” the FAA said.

Downgrading Mexico to Category 2 means current U.S. service by Mexican carriers are unaffected, but they cannot launch new flights. U.S. airlines will no longer be able to market and sell tickets with their names and designator codes on Mexican-operated flights and the FAA will increase scrutiny of Mexican airline flights to the United States, the agency said.

Delta Air Lines said on Tuesday an FAA downgrade was not about partner Aeromexico and will have little impact on customers.

“This is not about Aeromexico. This is about the Mexican version of the FAA not having some of the right protocols in place,” Delta president Glen Hauenstein said at a Wolfe Research conference.

Delta has a codeshare arrangement with Aeromexico enabling the two air carriers to sell seats on each other’s flights.

Delta will be forced to remove its codes on Aeromexico flights following the downgrade, though Aeromexico could continue to code on Delta flights and members of Delta’s loyalty program could still receive SkyMiles on Aeromexico flights that would normally carry the code, Hauenstein added.

This would not be the first time the FAA downgraded Mexico’s air safety rating. In 2010, the agency downgraded Mexico due to suspected shortcomings within its civil aviation authority, then restored its top rating about four months later.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Howard Goller and David Gregorio)

New rules allowing small drones to fly over people in U.S. take effect

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that final rules announced in December took effect on Wednesday allowing for small drones to fly over people and at night, a significant step toward their eventual use for widespread commercial deliveries.

The effective date was delayed about a month during the change in administration. The FAA said its long-awaited rules for the drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, will address security concerns by requiring remote identification technology in most cases to enable their identification from the ground.

Previously, small drone operations over people were limited to operations over people who were directly participating in the operation, located under a covered structure, or inside a stationary vehicle – unless operators had obtained a waiver from the FAA.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday the rules “are an important first step in safely and securely managing the growing use of drones in our airspace, though more work remains on the journey to full integration” of drones.

Drone manufacturers have 18 months to begin producing drones with Remote ID, and operators will have an additional year to provide Remote ID.

Companies have been racing to create drone fleets to speed deliveries. As of December, the United States had over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots.

For at-night operations, the FAA said drones must be equipped with anti-collision lights. The final rules allow operations over moving vehicles in some circumstances.

The new rules eliminate requirements that drones be connected to the internet to transmit location data but do require that they broadcast remote ID messages via radio frequency broadcast.

One change, since the rules were first proposed in 2019, requires that small drones not have any exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

U.S. to allow small drones to fly over people and at night

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Small drones will be allowed to fly over people and at night in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Monday, a significant step toward their use for widespread commercial deliveries.

The FAA said its long-awaited rules for the drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, will address security concerns by requiring remote identification technology in most cases to enable their identification from the ground.

Previously, small drone operations over people were limited to operations over people who were directly participating in the operation, located under a covered structure, or inside a stationary vehicle – unless operators had obtained a waiver from the FAA.

The rules will take effect 60 days after publication in the federal register in January. Drone manufacturers will have 18 months to begin producing drones with Remote ID, and operators will have an additional year to provide Remote ID.

There are other, more complicated rules that allow for operations at night and over people for larger drones in some cases.

“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. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”

Companies have been racing to create drone fleets to speed deliveries. The United States has over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots.

For at-night operations, the FAA said drones must be equipped with anti-collision lights. The final rules allow operations over moving vehicles in some circumstances.

Remote ID is required for all drones weighing 0.55 lb or more, but is required for smaller drones under certain circumstances like flights over open-air assemblies.

The new rules eliminate requirements that drones be connected to the internet to transmit location data but do that they broadcast remote ID messages via radio frequency broadcast. Without the change, drone use could have been barred from use in areas without internet access.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said Remote ID will function as “a digital license plate for drones … that will enable more complex operations” while operations at night and over people “are important steps towards enabling integration of drones into our national airspace.”

One change, since the rules were first proposed in 2019, requires that small drones not have any exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin.

United Parcel Service Inc. said in October 2019 that it won the government’s first full approval to operate a drone airline.

Last year, Alphabet’s Wing, a sister unit of search engine Google, was the first company to get U.S. air carrier certification for a single-pilot drone operation.

In August, Amazon.com Inc’s drone service received federal approval allowing the retailer to begin testing commercial deliveries through its drone fleet.

Walmart Inc. said in September it would run a pilot project for delivery of grocery and household products through automated drones but acknowledged “it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Howard Goller)

U.S. ends Boeing 737 MAX flight ban after crash probes

By David Shepardson and Eric M. Johnson

WASHINGTON/SEATTLE (Reuters) – After nearly two years of scrutiny, corporate upheaval and a standoff with global regulators, Boeing Co won approval on Wednesday from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to fly its 737 MAX jet again after two fatal disasters.

The FAA detailed software upgrades and training changes Boeing must make in order for it to resume commercial flights after a 20-month grounding, the longest in commercial aviation history.

The 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people within five months in 2018 and 2019 and triggered a hailstorm of investigations, frayed U.S. leadership in global aviation and cost Boeing some $20 billion.

The U.S. plane maker’s best-selling jet will resume commercial service facing strong headwinds from a resurgent coronavirus pandemic, new European trade tariffs and mistrust of one of the most scrutinized brands in aviation.

Families of the Ethiopian crash victims said in a statement on Wednesday that they felt “sheer disappointment and renewed grief” following the FAA’s decision to return the aircraft to service.

“Our family was broken,” Naoise Ryan, whose 39-year-old husband died aboard Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, said on Tuesday.

The 737 MAX is a re-engined upgrade of a jet first introduced in the 1960s. Single-aisle jets like the MAX and rival Airbus A320neo are workhorses that dominate global fleets and provide a major source of industry profit.

Of the U.S. airlines with 737 MAX jets, American Airlines plans to relaunch the first commercial MAX flight since the grounding on Dec. 29, followed by United Airlines in the first quarter of 2021 and Southwest Airlines in the second quarter next year.

Leading regulators in Europe, Brazil and China must issue their own approvals for their airlines after independent reviews, illustrating how the 737 MAX crashes upended a once U.S.-dominated airline safety system in which nations large and small for decades moved in lock-step with the FAA.

When it does fly, Boeing will be running a 24-hour war room to monitor all MAX flights for issues that could impact the jet’s return, from stuck landing gear to health emergencies, three people familiar with the matter said.

Shares jumped in premarket trading and were on track for their highest level since June.

LONG RUNWAY AHEAD

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order lifting the flight ban early on Wednesday and the agency released an airworthiness directive detailing the required changes.

“We’ve done everything humanly possible to make sure” these types of crashes do not happen again, Dickson told Reuters, saying he felt “100% confident” in the plane’s safety.

The FAA is requiring new pilot training and software upgrades to deal with a stall-prevention system called MCAS, which in both crashes repeatedly and powerfully shoved down the jet’s nose as pilots struggled to regain control.

The FAA, which has faced accusations of being too close to Boeing in the past, said it would no longer allow Boeing to sign off on the airworthiness of some 450 737 MAXs built and parked during the flight ban. It plans in-person inspections that could take a year or more to complete, prolonging the jets’ delivery.

Boeing is scrambling to keep up maintenance and find new buyers for many of its mothballed 737 MAXs after receiving cancellations from their original buyers. Demand is further sapped by the coronavirus crisis.

Even with all the hurdles, resuming deliveries of the 737 MAX will open up a crucial pipeline of cash for Boeing and hundreds of parts suppliers whose finances were strained by production cuts linked to the jet’s safety ban.

Numerous reports have faulted Boeing and the FAA on the plane’s development. A U.S. House of Representatives report in September said Boeing failed in its design and development of the MAX, and the FAA failed in its oversight and certification.

It also criticized Boeing for withholding crucial information from the FAA, its customers, and pilots including “concealing the very existence of MCAS from 737 MAX pilots.”

The chief executive of Boeing urged staff to speak up whenever they see behavior going against values of safety, quality and integrity. “We have implemented a series of meaningful changes to strengthen the safety practices and culture of our company,” Dave Calhoun told employees in a letter.

The House on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill to reform how the FAA certifies airplanes, while a Senate panel is to consider a similar bill on Wednesday.

Boeing faces lawsuits from crash victim families.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Tracy Rucinski in Chicago, David Shepardson in Washington, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Nick Zieminski)

House to vote on FAA reform bill after Boeing 737 MAX crashes

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on Tuesday on bipartisan legislation to reform the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) aircraft certification process after two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes killed 346 people.

The 737 MAX has been grounded since March 2019 but the FAA is set on Wednesday to approve the plane’s return to service after a lengthy review, new software safeguards and training upgrades.

The House bill requires an expert panel to evaluate Boeing’s safety culture and recommend improvements, and mandates that aircraft manufacturers adopt safety management systems and complete system safety assessments for significant design changes. It also requires that risk calculations be based on realistic assumptions of pilot response time, and that risk assessments are shared with regulators.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the measure unanimously on Sept. 30.

Representative Peter DeFazio, the panel’s chairman, told Reuters in a statement that the measure is “a strong bill that has support from both sides of the aisle and addresses something we all agree on — keeping people safe. There’s no reason to wait until the next Congress to get this done.”

DeFazio, a Democrat, said the FAA failed to properly ensure the safety of the 737 MAX, and called aircraft certification “a broken system that broke the public’s trust.”

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment on the legislation.

A report released by DeFazio found the 737 MAX crashes were the “horrific culmination” of failures by Boeing and the FAA and called for urgent reforms.

The House bill would extend airline whistleblower protections to U.S. manufacturing employees, require FAA approval of new workers who are performing delegated certification tasks, and impose civil penalties on those who interfere with the performance of FAA-authorized duties.

The panel’s top Republican, Representative Sam Graves, said the bill “will help ensure the United States remains the gold standard in aviation safety and maintain our competitiveness in the aerospace sector because we were able to leave partisan politics at the door (and) adhere to the experts’ conclusions that our system should be improved but not dismantled.”

It is unclear if the U.S. Senate will take up the measure before the current Congress expires this year.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)