Virgin Galactic Inaugurated Its ‘Gateway to Space’ by Flying ‘Eve’ Over Spaceport America

SPACEPORT AMERICA, N.M. — Virgin Galactic’s newly refurbished home base now has a flight under its belt.

The spaceflight company, which aims to start launching paying customers to suborbital space in the near future, declared its “Gateway to Space” building here operational yesterday (Aug. 15).

During a media event, Virgin Galactic showed off the completed interiors of the structure’s first and second floors, which house communal social areas and the spaceflight-operations sector, respectively. (The third floor, which will harbor an astronaut lounge, should be done in the next few months, company representatives said.)

Related: How Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Works (Infographic)

Yesterday’s festivities included a flight by VMS Eve, the carrier aircraft that hauls the six-passenger VSS Unity space plane to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters). At that point, Unity drops free and engages its rocket motor, powering itself upward. (“VMS” stands for “Virgin Mother Ship,” by the way, and “VSS” for “Virgin Spaceship.”)

Eve and Unity have flown many test missions together over the past few years. The most recent two liftoffs — in December 2018 and February of this year — saw Unity reach suborbital space, earning four Virgin Galactic pilots and chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses their commercial astronaut wings.

Those flights all originated from the Mojave Air and Space Port in southern California, where Virgin Galactic’s test program was based. But after the back-to-back spaceflight successes in December and February, the company announced that the test campaign’s final phases would take place here in southern New Mexico, the site of Virgin Galactic’s future commercial operations. (More than 600 people have already booked a ride to suborbital space with the company; a ticket currently costs $250,000.)

Eve flew alone yesterday — Unity remains in Mojave, getting its cabin touched up — but the 90-minute flight was no stunt. Virgin Galactic wanted to give pilot Kelly Latimer and co-pilot Mark “Forger” Stucky more familiarity with southern New Mexico’s airspace and landscape, and to make sure there was solid data exchange between Eve and mission control, among other objectives.

And things went well, team members said.

“All of that looked really, really good today,” Virgin Galactic flight director Bill Kuhlemeier told reporters shortly after Eve touched down.

Eve has flown such solo sorties from Spaceport America before, but not since 2016, said Virgin Galactic president Mike Moses. And yesterday’s flight was the first to use the newly installed mission control center.

“Every other time, we brought a trailer of stuff with us,” Moses told, referring to the temporary mission control the team had to set up here.

“The big change is, home is here now,” he added. “That’s a big mental shift for the team.”

Eve will perform a few more flights here over the coming weeks, Moses said. Sometime in the next few months, the carrier plane will fly back to Mojave, grab Unity, and haul the spacecraft here to its new home.

VMS Eve is the first of Virgin Galactic’s carrier planes, which go by the generic name WhiteKnightTwo. VSS Unity, meanwhile, is the second of the SpaceShipTwo space planes flown by the company.

The first, VSS Enterprise, broke apart during a rocket-powered test flight in October 2014, a tragic accident that killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and wounded pilot Peter Siebold. Investigators traced the cause to Enterprise’s “feathering” re-entry system, which was deployed too early in the flight. Virgin Galactic redesigned SpaceShipTwo to ensure the same problem would not happen with VSS Unity or any other future spaceships.

And Unity will have company, if all goes according to plan. Two additional SpaceShipTwo vehicles are currently being built, and one of them should be ready to start test flights next year, Moses said. The two in production have informal internal names, he added, but Virgin Galactic isn’t ready to tell us what they are.

“They’re Serial Nos. 3 and 4 for now,” he said.

The Gateway to Space can accommodate these planned vehicles and more. The cavernous hangar that occupies the building’s center space can fit two WhiteKnightTwos and five SpaceShipTwos simultaneously, Virgin Galactic representatives said.

FAA funds will help airport with taxiway lights

The city airport may have had some setbacks with budget cuts to projected upgrades, but a federal grant is making up for the losses.

Tahlequah City Municipal Airport Manager Kelly Crittenden was hired in July 2018 to replace retired manager Greg Blish.

“I’m new to the job as an airport manager, but I’m not new to aviation,” said Crittenden. “I worked as a professional pilot for about 35 years.”

He received his aviation education at Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology and has more than 13,000 hours of flight experience.

The city airport has 63 based aircraft and a 5,000-foot runway that accommodates almost all light jet traffic.

While the airport brings in people for tourism and pilot practice, it also serves as a relief outlet for Tulsa and Fayetteville. Although it’s a rare occurrence, when those planes experience an emergency, they are diverted to Tahlequah.

During a June 3 meeting, the City Council approved a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration that will provide a taxiway lighting system to make it easier for pilots to maneuver after they land.

“We basically have a five-year program and we use that grant money for the projects that we come up with or we think we need improvement on,” said Crittenden. “We get $150,000 every year from the grant program that the federal government puts out, and we can bank that money for about three or four years and build it up to where we can do some nice projects.”

The current grant dollar amount for the lighting system is $119,000, with a match from the FAA. The FAA will pay 90 percent, while the city pays 10 percent, or $11,900. Estimated construction cost is between $500,000 and $600,000.

“Usually the city doesn’t have the money to maintain these little airports, and the feds want to maintain a federal airway system, so they provide this grant money and the airports can keep their facilities in good shape,” said Crittenden.

The airport did see a few cuts in its budget this year, and Crittenden said he will adapt and make ends meet. Funds from the FAA grant cannot contribute to a fuel system upgrade that made the cut.

“The city spends money on more of your day-to-day expenses and the big projects are taken care of with the grant money. We were planning on an upgrade to our fuel system because we put this in about 20 year ago. There’s definitely a need to upgrade, and that all got cut,” said Crittenden.

The manager said he feels comfortable having to make the changes and plans to do what he must do to keep the airport growing.

NBAA working with FAA to ensure ADS-B flight-tracking Opt-Out continues

Given the long-standing recognition by government and industry of the need to maintain in-flight security, NBAA is working with the FAA and other stakeholders to identify the most effective means to ensure that operators continue to have the ability to opt out from having their flights tracked in real time, following a conversation many aircraft will make to new ADS-B technology, starting Jan. 1, 2020.

NBAA – through its involvement with the FAA’s Equip 2020 working group, as well as engagement with the FAA’s Surveillance and Broadcast Services, System Wide Information Management and System Operations Services groups – is working with the agency and other general aviation associations to develop an opt-out solution, based on providing operators an alternate 24-bit ICAO (Mode S transponder) code.

Under this solution, operators would retain their permanent transponder code tied to an aircraft’s N-number, but would also be able to use a secondary, non-published code, assigned and managed by the FAA, which would not link to the specific aircraft tail number. It is expected that operators could request a new secondary code at least once every 30 days.

The addition of this new, secondary ICAO code program to the existing FAA Blocked Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program would address not only what information managed by FAA is shared under BARR, but also the data transmitted by the aircraft itself to determine its identification throughout the NAS. While private ADS-B receivers could still detect an aircraft flying overhead, they would not see any information allowing them to match that aircraft to the owner listed in the FAA Registry.

“Everyone agrees that a person shouldn’t need to give up his or her security when boarding an airplane,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “We remain committed to working with the FAA and others to ensure that operators are given an ability to opt out from having their flights tracked in real time, basically by anyone, anywhere in the world, who happens to have the appropriate equipment for doing so, and whose intentions may be unknown.”

Since 2000, Congress has repeatedly passed legislation mandating that the FAA provide a means for opting out from real-time flight tracking, regardless of the technology involved. While such a provision has long been in effect in the U.S., it does not necessarily apply to international flights.


“FAA Publishes New 2020 ADS-B Pre-Flight Policy”

When the FAA’s ADS-B Out regulation becomes effective next year, operators will need to predict the availability of the GPS constellation along their planned route and comply with a number of operational stipulations the FAA has outlined in its newly published policy on pre-flight performance requirements.

The new policy comes six months prior to the Jan. 1, 2020 ADS-B Out airspace mandate taking effect. Under the new policy, the FAA is requiring operators to assess how their aircraft’s position-reporting avionics will perform along their filed flight plans.

In the pre-flight planning process, the FAA is requiring pilots to use a preflight availability prediction tool to asses whether or not their aircraft’s GPS receivers can meet the navigation integrity category (NIC) performance requirements outlined by the technical standard order used by the agency to define the accuracy of position reporting equipment. NIC refers to the containment radius around an aircraft’s reported position, which must be accurate within less than 0.2 nautical miles of its actual airborne position.

Under the new policy, the FAA is specifically targeting operators of aircraft GPS receivers that are not wide area augmentation system (WAAS) compatible. Operators who equip with non-WAAS receivers are more likely to experience performance outages that limit their access to the airspace defined in the rule.

When assessing the GPS performance for their intended flight plan, if an operator determines that the predicted performance will support the proposed flight, the FAA will require the pilot to adjust the route to avoid the area where degraded performance could occur.

“After an operator receives a satisfactory preflight availability prediction for an intended operation, there may be certain conditions that warrant a subsequent prediction. For example, a change in departure time or a change in the GPS satellite constellation as indicated by a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) may have an effect on the predicted GPS performance for the intended operation,” the policy statement said.

There is also an acknowledgement by the FAA regarding its Exemption 12555 policy, a one-time grant of exemption for aircraft from 14 CFR § 91.227 requirements for operators using GPS receivers when their performance falls below the requirement and backup surveillance is unavailable. The FAA established that exemption to address the performance characteristics associated with the three different variants of GPS receivers that are currently found in air transport category aircraft.

Operators that have qualified for Exemption 12555 do not need to perform a preflight availability prediction. Those who fall outside of the exemption and are flying aircraft with GPS receivers that do not meet the necessary NIC and NAC performance requirements must use either their own preflight availability prediction tool or the FAA’s Service Availability Prediction Tool (SAPT).

Additionally, when pilots receive NOTAMS indicating that planned government GPS interference testing impacting ADS-B Out airspace occurs, they will not require operators to avoid that airspace. A technical evaluation of such occurrences by the agency determined that they have no way of guaranteeing whether an aircraft flying through affected airspace would actually experience GPS performance degradation.

The new pre-flight policy is the latest in a series of new guidelines established by the FAA to help airspace users transition from relying on ground-based radar to ADS-B as the primary air traffic surveillance source in the U.S. In April, a new policy for non-equipped aircraft was published noting that air traffic controllers will only approve non-ADS-B flights when they’re convenient. Avionics manufacturers and installation facilities have also been working to ensure operators know how to deal with ADS-B failures.

As the 2020 mandate draws closer, the commercial airline segment of the U.S. flying community appears to be on track to have nearly all of their aircraft requiring upgrades equipped. The general aviation community remains the lowest equipped segment, with the U.S. registered helicopter fleet remaining the lowest equipped segment.


“FAA Issues Update on Unleded AVGAS Research”

A fuel under evaluation as a replacement for leaded avgas for the 170,000 aircraft in the piston-powered general aviation fleet will need “additional refinement,” and three new fuels have undergone preliminary testing in 2019, the FAA said in an update on its Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative.

AOPA participates in the PAFI program as a member of the PAFI Steering Group (PSG), and supports the ultimate goal of approving a high-octane, unleaded avgas that will be “environmentally safer than leaded fuels, yet as operationally safe as leaded fuels in the current fleet of piston engine aircraft.” In October 2018 the FAA had forecast a completion-of-testing target date of mid-2020. The timeline estimate was based on testing a fuel under development by Shell—now the lone participant in the PAFI process after another entrant, Swift Fuels, withdrew. At the outset of the PAFI process in 2014, 17 fuels had been submitted for analysis, which the program “screened down” after a rigorous evaluation process.

According to the June 2019 program update, “PAFI’s focus during the first 6 months of 2019 has included testing at the William J. Hughes Technical Center of an optimized Shell fuel and screening testing of 3 fuels not previously part of the PAFI program. The scope of PAFI has continued to evolve with the preliminary evaluation of 3 other fuels representing PAFI’s commitment to research and evaluate all candidate unleaded fuels. Test results with the optimized Shell fuel were not successful with testing indicating additional refinements are required.”

As the program to bring about a safe transition to an unleaded avgas has evolved, experience “has served to accentuate the extent of the challenge to identify an acceptable unleaded fuel for general aviation. Accordingly, it is recognized that the scope of PAFI must expand to support the necessary research and development while engaging other candidate fuels for evaluation,” the FAA said, calling for continued support for PAFI as “a collaborative government and industry process.”

The FAA update concluded by noting that “the FAA and industry members of the PAFI Steering Group continue to work with multiple fuel offerors to find the very best unleaded avgas solution for the GA fleet.” It said its determination to find an environmentally friendly fuel has not wavered, “regardless of the amount of time and effort it may take to achieve.”

Airlines Avoid Iran Airspace After FAA Order

US Federal Aviation Administration, The FAA, has issued an emergency order prohibiting US carriers from flying in the over water area of Iranian airspace until further notice.

The main reason for this decision is the escalation of tensions and military activity within close proximity to high volume civil aircraft routes, as well as Iran’s willingness to use long-range missiles in international airspace.

Below is the full statement from The FAA:


#FAA issued #NOTAM warning pilots that flights are not permitted in the overwater area of the Tehran Flight Information Region until further notice, due to heightened military activities and increased political tensions. …


#FAA Statement: The FAA has issued a Notice to Airmen (#NOTAM) prohibiting U.S.-registered aircraft from operating over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. The NOTAM applies to all U.S. air carriers and commercial operators.

11:53 AM – Jun 21, 2019
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United Airlines has suspended all flights between New Jersey’s Newark airport and both Indian cities, New Delhi and Mumbai, until at least September 1st.

“Given current events in the Middle East and the continued closure of Pakistani airspace, we have decided to suspend our service between EWR and Mumbai and New Delhi in India, resuming on Sept. 1, 2019.”

The U.S. ban does not apply to airlines from other countries, but OPSGROUP, which provides guidance to operators, said carriers globally would take it into consideration.

Airlines like British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, and KLM said they will re-route their flights to avoid the area.

Sam Chui recently flew Singapore Airlines flight SQ345 from Zurich to Singapore. The flight had an almost 2 hour delay in departure due to the latest Middle East conflict and air traffic clearance in the Middle East. The flight track on the left photo took place on 22/04/19 and the one on the right photo on 22/06/19. The current flight route is avoiding flying over the Persian Gulf.

We Are Proud of Our Team!

We are extremely proud to announce that the Cincinnati Municipal Airport FCT has been named the 2018 Willie F. Card Contract Tower Service Award winner! Air Traffic Manager, Andy Reynolds and his team have consistently and solidly represented the facility, the airport and Midwest ATC. Great job, Team!

Westmoreland air show will feature Pearl Harbor simulation

Arnold Palmer Regional Airport will recall the “date which will live in infamy” — the Pearl Harbor attack that brought the United States into World War II — when it hosts performances by the Texas-based Commemorative Air Force during the 2019 Shop ‘n Save Westmoreland County Airshow.

The show will be Memorial Day weekend, May 25-26, at the Unity airport.

Combining a simulated aerial attack by replica Japanese warplanes with explosive effects on the ground, the “Tora! Tora! Tora!” program will return to the local air show for the first time since 1983.

“This is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” said Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, which operates the airport. “We were just never able to get the scheduling to work out. But this time it just clicked, and it’s going to be amazing.”

The program based on the pivotal Dec. 7, 1941, attack began in 1972, with six replica Japanese aircraft that had been used in filming the eponymous war movie.

Most of the aircraft are trainer planes that were modified to resemble Japanese “Zero” attack planes or bombers, according to program spokesman Bill Mount.

To accompanying narration, “aircraft will be flying overhead in multiple patterns,” he said. “You have fighter aircraft, torpedo bombers and dive bombers all criss-crossing and occupying the same space.”

More than 60 pyrotechnic effects will simulate machine gun fire, bombs and torpedoes. “The finale is a wall of fire,” Mount said.

“It’s a 1,000-foot wall of fire. You’ll feel the heat,” Monzo promised. “It’s truly a spectacle.”

“It’s going to be quite a different air show,” said Don Rossi, chairman of the county airport authority.

A vintage B-17 bomber also will take part in the program.

The performance is presented as a living history lesson meant to honor soldiers on both sides of the conflict who gave their lives for their countries.

“We’re honoring the people that let us live the life we’re living now,” Rossi said of America’s World War II forces.

A memorial service is being planned for the second day of the air show.

VIP tickets for the show cost $150 for adults or $50 for ages 6-12 accompanied by an adult. They will be available at beginning Dec. 1.

The VIP ticket includes free parking, cart and limousine service to a VIP tent, an air-conditioned private rest room, a commemorative program and food and soft drinks.

General admission tickets will go on sale in February at $25. The tickets will be available for $15 at Shop ‘n Save supermarkets.

This year’s air show was held July 28-29.

or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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Why airlines are happy settling for stability after high hopes at start of Trump administration

by Conor Shine and Tom Benning

Dallas News: Oct 8, 2018

On Feb. 9, 2017, CEOs from the country’s largest airlines met with President Donald Trump at the White House, optimistic about advancing several of their priorities — from air traffic control reform to cracking down on unfair foreign competition — under the new administration.

Twenty months later, with Congress putting the finishing touches last week on a sweeping aviation policy and spending bill, airlines’ lofty aspirations have largely been grounded.

The bipartisan five-year bill’s defining feature is the stability and consistency it will provide to the aviation industry after years of repeated short-term extensions that accomplished little beyond keeping the lights on at the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal agencies like the Transportation Security Administration.

“This provides five years of stable funding and the ability for the administration to really invest in its programs without concern about the next reauthorization bill,” said Paul Lewis, vice president of policy at the nonprofit Eno Center for Transportation. “In terms of policy, there are a few changes, but nothing super-dramatic.”

The result is a muted victory, one that stands in contrast to the major wins scored by the oil and gas business, the telecom sector and other industries amid a deregulatory gusher opened by Trump.

While the legislation failed to advance the airline industry’s long-held goal of spinning off the country’s air traffic control system from the FAA into a private, nonprofit corporation, several other provisions loathed by airline executives didn’t make it into the final bill.

Those included a call to regulate fees for things like checked bags and seat assignments, as well as a push to increase the cap on airport fees used to fund construction. In their place are a number of smaller changes, covering issues from pets to cellphone calls to airplane seat sizes.

It’s not the dramatic action that, just last year, seemed to have the political winds at its back.

“I’m disappointed that with a Republican Congress and a Republican administration, we didn’t make better progress with the FAA reform,” Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said recently, referring to the air traffic control privatization push.

Carriers haven’t come up totally empty-handed in the Trump era, as they have joined other businesses in enjoying steep tax cuts passed last year.

Airlines have also praised the Trump administration for brokering an agreement calling for more transparency from three Middle Eastern carriers that some U.S. airlines have said receive unfair subsidies from their home countries. But even that success has been limited in scope, with American Airlines CEO Doug Parker suggesting last month that one of the carriers was already “cheating” on the non-binding agreement.

Airlines in D.C.

Mere passage of an FAA reauthorization bill, which was signed into law by Trump on Friday, is also no small achievement.

The legislation has drawn broad support from across the aviation industry, including commercial airlines, their employees, general aviation operators and safety groups. Even consumer watchdogs found things to like in the final package, despite their calls for further passenger protections.

The new rules prohibit putting pets in overhead bins, ban cellphone calls in the cabin and prod the FAA to set minimum sizes for seats. The bill also touches on broader aviation issues, including continued work on integrating unmanned drones into the national airspace.

Five key elements of the FAA bill

  1. It orders the FAA to establish minimum airplane seat sizes.
  2. It prods the feds to create “reasonable” rules to ensure fliers aren’t improperly classifying their pets as “service animals.”
  3. It prevents airlines from bumping already-boarded passengers to accommodate other fliers.
  4. It ensures that flight attendants get at least 10 hours of rest between their shifts.
  5. It makes it illegal to put an animal in a plane’s overhead bin.

Source: House Transportation Committee.

The bill’s overall shape shows the aviation sector is a serious player in Washington. It’s spent more than $46 million on lobbying and nearly $7 million on political action committee donations to candidates so far this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But the months spent playing defense against various proposals to re-regulate aspects of the industry, and the fact that their top priority of air traffic control reform failed to get a floor vote  in the House or Senate, highlight the challenges airlines and their lobbyists face on Capitol Hill.

Original article can be viewed at:

Kandahar World’s Busiest Single Runway Airport

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This is an article from several years ago that demonstrates how our Midwest ATC team gets the job done!

September 10, 2009, With the increase in forces in southern Afghanistan, Kandahar Airfield has become the busiest single-runway airport in the world.

Peaking in late May at an estimated 5,500 flights per week, the airfield has maintained more than 5,000 flights per week through June and July, said Col. Bill Buckey, the airfield’s operations officer, a Marine augmented to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

Previously, the busiest single-runway airport in the world was the London Gatwick Airport, averaging around 5,000 flights per week.

Marine Attack Squadron 214 “Black Sheep” and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 Detachment A, both with Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, are the only Marine aviation units solely based here.

Controlling the heavy amount of air traffic is Midwest Air Traffic Control, a contracted company from Kansas City, Mo., said Buckey, who is serving a six-month tour in Afghanistan’s second-largest city.

“This is the first time NATO has ever owned a base this big. It’s really amazing how everyone is cooperating. I’m pretty impressed,” said Buckey, a native of Sacramento, Calif.

The total flights at Kandahar are also higher than some of the busiest airports in the world per runway.

London Heathrow Airport averages 4,600 flights per runway per week and Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris averages 2,700 flights per runway per week.

The numbers are skewed because unlike civilian airports, Kandahar has military fixed and rotary wing aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles as well as civilian flights and light civil aircraft, said Buckey, who is also a trained F/A-18 Hornet pilot.

As operations in southern Afghanistan continue, the tempo for Kandahar Airfield will continue in order to provide aerial support to the International Security Assistance Force’s counterinsurgency mission.