Good News, Aviation Dept.

By James Fallows

As always, we take our good news about aviation, the aerospace industry, and the general fun of flying wherever we can find it. This is in part an attempt to offset the distinctly non-fun aspects of flying that now make the very term "airline travel" an occasion for despair. (Links to past good-news-in-the-sky items when "categories" function is restored, which will be .... any day now, I am told.) Here is the recent harvest:

1)  The Eclipse airplane company, whose ups and downs are described here, is back in business, sort of. The original firm had a spectacular rise in the early 2000s and equally spectacular financial collapse last year. The innovative (if anything, too ambitiously innovative) very small jets it produced probably still have a future. That at least is the bet of the new Eclipse Aerospace company that took over the assets last year. Its latest activities, including maintenance of the existing fleet of several hundred EA500 jets, are described here.

2) Yesterday the all-solar-powered, zero-emissions Solar Impulse airplane completed its first full-fledged test flight, in Switzerland. It stayed aloft for an hour and climbed to nearly 4,000 feet. Several months ago I mentioned its tentative, barely-off-the-runway first trial run. (Solar Impulse, AP photo via FastCompany:)

Solar-Impulse-First-Flight_APPhotoKeystone_Dominic-Faver-9.jpg

3) In the same vein, check out this Colorado-based initiative for cleaner, greener aviation possibilities, with more coverage here.

4) The Federal Aviation Administration recently said it would relax its longstanding blanket ban on even considering pilot certificates for anyone who takes prescription anti-depression drugs. Now, on a case-by-case basis, it will consider applications from people who take Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, or Lexapro and their generic counterparts. The flat ban meant that any pilots (certainly more than zero) who were on the drugs had to lie about their situation; it also of course implied an old-fashioned stigma about mental health issues and the widespread problem of depression. The Wall Street Journal story had this "let's face reality" observation from affected parties.

The Air Line Pilots Association, the world's largest pilot union, backed the move. "This policy change should improve aviation safety and pilot health," it said in a statement.

The FAA says it can't estimate how many pilots might come forward but believes pilots' depression rate doesn't differ much from that of the general population, about 10%.

As for what this might mean to individuals, I got this note from a reader who had enjoyed flying (I believe as a private pilot), with the subject line, "Imagine my joy":

I've been grounded for 20 years because of chronic depression which has been controlled very capably and without side-effects.  I'd resigned myself to the kinetic memory of flying as all that would be available to me.  And now, if I could only afford it, I can go back up.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/04/good-news-aviation-dept/38423/