The latest FAA rules on UAVs are so broad that they class adorable toy quadcopters as drones and require special permits to operate them. Meanwhile, hot air balloons and unpiloted model aircraft are fair game for unlicensed play. The drone hobbyists are pissed:
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In The Magazine, writer Liana Aghajanian has a feature on the Amelia Rose Earhart—yep, that's her name—who plans to fly across the world next week, like the famous aviator after whom she was named.
Amelia Rose Earhart’s family always told her she was distantly related to Amelia Mary Earhart, the aviation and women’s rights pioneer who disappeared during a journey around the world. Speculation about precisely what happened persists. Expeditions are still organized to find her plane, and teams have claimed to have found its remnants.
Now, Amelia Rose is sitting in a nearly pitch-black garage, just a year before she planned to embark on her own round-the-world flight following the same route as her name-alike, something she announced at the aviation world’s premier event, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin. She spends so long in the garage with her tears and her shoes that the small motion light fails to sense anyone in the enclosed space. The light goes off.
In many ways it feels as if the light is going out on her life too. Has she built her budding aviation career on a misunderstanding, a genealogical error, a falsehood she had believed to be real? How was she supposed to continue with this flight, continue with her job as “Denver’s own Amelia Earhart.”
"Amelia Reincarnated: A young pilot retraces her namesake’s journey." [The Magazine]
You can follow Amelia on Twitter, and check out her website: flywithamelia.org.
There's a gorgeous feature in this month's Vanity Fair on the "new jet age" opulence of Dubai International Airport, which has surpassed London's Heathrow as the world's busiest global hub.
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My ZOMGTERRISTSGONNAKILLUSALLRUNHIDE TSA tee-shirt (of Poop Strong fame) is available in tote-bag form, a fact I had somehow missed!
Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the United States Customs and Border Protection agency for his own travel records, including the notoriously comprehensive "Passenger Name Record" -- what he got was '72 pages of shit,' a redacted jumble of arbitrarily collected and retained nonsense. He didn't get his PNR. If you want to give it a try, he's signposted the procedure.
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Snapped yesterday at the Mykonos, Greece airport: the UK Home Office's terrorist detection checklist for spotting existential threats to the human race before they can board. It's grimly fun to imagine the brutal false-positives this inane document must generate. My favourite (for sufficiently perverse definitions of "favourite") is a refugee who's just attained citizenship, but now has to rush away to attend the funeral of a brutalized relative.
Normally technology migrates from prisons to schools to airports -- think CCTVs and Pre-Check -- but for the late and unlamented radioactive pornoscanners that the TSA had to give up on, the technology path went the other way
-- if you're lucky enough to be incarcerated in the USA (which incarcerates more people than any other nation on Earth), you may be treated to one or more TSA-surplus pornoscans.
A suit brought by four Muslim-American men with no criminal records asserts that the FBI put them on the no-fly list in order to pressure them to inform on their communities. Brooklynite Awais Sajjad, one of the plaintiffs, says that he was denied boarding for a flight to visit his sickly grandmother in Pakistan in 2012, and that subsequently, the FBI told him they would remove him from the no-fly list only if he worked as an FBI informant. Sajjad's has tried all the official means of getting himself removed from the no-fly list, without any success. Sajjad's co-plaintiffs tell similar stories.
The case echoes that of Dr Rahinah Ibrahim, the first person to successfully appeal being placed on the US no-fly list. In her case, it emerged that she had been put on the list due to an administrative error (an FBI officer ticked the wrong box on a form) and that subsequently the DHS, Justice Department and FBI conspired to use state secrecy to cover up their error, even though they knew that there was no conceivable reason to keep Ibrahim on the no-fly list.
Sajjad and co will have to overcome the same secrecy privilege and the same culture of ass-covering indifference to innocence from the FBI and its allies in government. I don't like their chances, but I wish them luck.
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BCnF (build, certify and fly) hobbyists make their own airplanes from scratch or out of kits, extensively customizing them, and then get them certified by the FAA and take them into the air. The US has more than 32,000 registered homemade airplanes. BCnF makers produce everything from racers to fabric-covered biplanes. This post is a good introduction to the fascinating world of BCnF, and is a great place to start if you're thinking of kit-bashing your own flying machine.
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In the ACLU's new paper U.S. Government Watchlisting:
Unfair Process and Devastating Consequences [PDF], the group describes strange world of terrorist watchlists, including no-fly lists, where it's nearly impossible to discover if you're on a list, and nearly impossible to find out why you're on a list, and nearly impossible to get removed from a list. As the ACLU points out, this is Orwell by way of Kafka, where we're not allowed to know what surveillance is taking place or why surveillance is taking place -- and we're not allowed to know why we're not allowed to know.
The ACLU says that the national terrorism watchlist has 1.1 million names on it, and an AP report from 2012 found 21,000 people on the no-fly list. Recently, Rahinah Ibrahim became the first person to be officially, publicly removed from a no-fly list, after the government was forced to admit that she'd been placed there due to a bureaucratic error. All through the Ibrahim case, the government argued that disclosing any facts about her no-fly status would endanger national security, but ultimately it was obvious that the only potential risk was that the government's sloppiness would be disclosed. The state was willing to spend millions of dollars and ruin an innocent person's life rather than admitting that an FBI agent literally ticked the wrong box.
In the 13 years since 9/11, one person has managed to successfully challenge the system of secret and unaccountable watchlists. It's clear that she wasn't the only person who deserved to be removed, though. This is Big Data Kafka: the algorithm says you're guilty, and you're not allowed to see the data or the algorithm because it was not designed to work if the people who it judged knew about its parameters.
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Davi Barker was flying from Manchester, NH when, he says, he was stopped by two men who identified themselves as "managers" for the TSA, who claimed they had seen Bitcoins in his baggage
and wanted to be sure he wasn't transporting more than $10,000 worth. When he asked them what they thought a Bitcoin looked like, they allegedly said that it looked like a coin or a medallion. (via Hacker News
DC resident Ashley Brandt was surprised to meet a TSA agent at Phoenix airport who didn't think that DC drivers' licenses
were valid ID, because DC isn't a state.
An airline passenger with a medical condition requiring small amounts of food at regular intervals was stymied when the LHA TSA declared his peanut butter to be a "liquid." But he cleverly spread the peanut butter onto some saltines, whereupon it was no longer a liquid and was
allowed on the flight
. USA USA USA.
An article in the Swedish newspaper Expressen documents the human rights abuses suffered by the woman flight attendants on Qatar Airways. These abuses are part of a larger pattern of deplorable labor conditions in Qatar, but Qatar Airlines has the distinction of being a business through which westerners interact with women living under deplorable circumstances. The senior management of QA, including CEO Akbar Al Baker, are accused of sexual harassment, and exercise near-total control over the flight attendants' personal lives, literally locking them in overnight and setting guards on their doors. It's reminiscent of stories of the stories told by women who've escaped abusive husbands, except that the "husband" is a millionaire airline executive and the wives are the vulnerable young women who are made to simper and fetch for passengers travelling to the Qatar.
The contract mentioned in the article is reproduced in part here.
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