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2015: The Year in Aviation

2015: The Year in Aviation

The year 2015 has ended, and with the end of a year typically comes a slew of retrospectives reviewing what has been accomplished during the year. We would like to come at the topic from a slightly different angle – what was 2015 like for the aviation industry?

We’ll take a look at what aviation news sticks out and see what role pilots and those who hold airline jobs played in the year. Without further ado, here is 2015: The Year in Aviation.

General Overview

You might think 2015 was one of the deadliest years in aviation since the Wright Brothers began flying if you include two high-profile crashes that resulted in the death of 374 people. But, those crashes – a Germanwings A320 in March and a Metrojet A321 in October – were both caused deliberately, and they account for the vast majority of fatalities in 2015.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, there were 14 other fatal crashes during the year for a total of 186 other deaths. Without the two deliberate crashes, then, 2015 ranks as the safest year ever for flying by number of fatal accidents.

With worldwide air traffic of 34 million flights, this makes an accident rate of one fatal passenger flight accident per 4.8 million flights.

Below are some of the top stories in aviation news in 2015:


A volcanic eruption in Tonga spews so much ash into the atmosphere that international flights to and from the country are cancelled for days.

Jet fuel prices drop to almost half the level of prices of the previous 12 months, but airline prices do not drop, bringing an investigation into collusion.

SkyMall files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The first Mooney M20TN airplane is manufactured in China and comes off the assembly line in the Henan province.


U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) introduces the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 (PBOR 2). This legislation is designed to expand the 3rd class medical exemption for recreational pilots. It also widens the protections set forth in the original Pilot’s Bill of Rights, also authored by Inhofe and signed into law in 2012.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation confirms Christopher Hart as the next chairman of the NTSB. Since Deborah Hersman left the post last year, Hart had served as the acting chairman.


New legislation is introduced in the U.S. House and Senate to allow private pilots to use a driver’s license in certain instances instead of an FAA medical certificate.

Pilot Harrison Ford crashes a PT-22 recruit on the Penmar golf course in Mar Vista, Ca. He survives and sustains only moderate injuries.

The full U.S. Senate confirms Christopher Hart as the chair of the NTSB in a unanimous vote.


The New York General Assembly passes a significant tax reform measure that exempts general aviation aircraft from the state’s use and sales tax.

The NTSB issues four Safety Alerts highlighting safety issues that arose from several recent accident investigations. The alerts go to general aviation pilots and mechanics.

The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) submits formal comments on the NPRM for FAR Part 107 to the FAA regarding regulations to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).


The FAA selects Harris Corporation for an eight-year single-award IDIQ contract to design and put into use a system to send out real-time, comprehensive weather pictures to all aviation users in the National Airspace System. The contract has a potential value of $238 million.

The FAA also plans to work on the next step in a multi-year effort to update scientific evidence detailing the relationship between airplane noise exposure and its effects on communities around airports.

UPS gives a $10,000 grant to Women in Aviation, International. The UPS Foundation works on global citizenship and philanthropic programs.

A Safety Alert from the NTSB urges pilots to be vigilant in watching for other aircraft and in making their own presence known.


The FAA makes progress in improving runway safety at U.S. airports. The progress has come over the past 15 years by working with the aviation community to educate, train, mark and light runways, add standard runway safety areas, use new technology and improve airfields.

After devastating floods in Texas, Redbird Skyport supports the rescue, victim treatment and cleanup for local relief efforts.

The FAA and general aviation (GA) groups educate the GA community by launching the Fly Safe national safety campaign. The campaign focuses on how to prevent Loss of Control accidents during the flying season.

The FAA begins to plan its transition to the new Airman Certification Standards (ACS) as a framework to certify pilots. This starts with the Private Pilot Airplane, Commercial Pilot Airplane, and Instrument Rating Airplane in the next 12 months.

In a partnership with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the FAA initiates a safety reporting program called the Safety Review Process (SRP). Open to all bargaining-unit employees, this 18-month long pilot program will allow FAA employees who work in the Aircraft Certification Service (AIR) to bring safety concerns to the attention of superiors without fear of retaliation.


Swiss Pilot André Borschberg breaks Steve Fossett’s 2005 duration performance by flying solo for almost 75 hours in an airplane above the Pacific Ocean.

About 150 workers at Piper's Vero Beach campus are laid off because of an industry-wide downturn in airplane sales.


Industry airplane shipments fall 9.1 percent to 1,015 units for the first half of the year. Airplan billings also decrease by 4.6 percent to $10.4 billion. These numbers are compared to the same time period from one year ago.

The NTSB’s probable cause repot from Harrison Ford’s accident says a mechanical failure led to a total loss of engine power in his airplane.

A report from the FAA Inspector General's office shows total air traffic operations handled by FAA facilities decrease 19 percent between 2004 and 2013. Over the same time period, the FAA’s operations budget increased slightly.


United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek, along with two senior company officials, resigns as a result of a U.S. Government corruption probe investigating the link between a money-losing non-stop flight that benefitted the chairman of the NY/NJ port authority and lower lease rates for United at Newark Liberty Airport.

The Sling 2 airplane that Jean D'Assonville and Patrick Huang flew around the world arrives safely back in South Africa. This finished a circumnavigation of the globe that began in July.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) announces that he had surpassed 60 cosponsors in the Senate for his Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 (S.571). He continues to work to gather more support from outside organizations.


FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announces continuing steps in the FAA’s evolution of working with those it regulates. The goal is to increase safety in the aviation industry. Huerta was speaking at the Flight Safety Foundation’s Newsmaker Breakfast.

Aspen Avionics announces the awarding of a U.S. patent for its new Connected Panel wireless cockpit system. They system is the industry’s only FAA-certified and patented technology that allows avionics to safely interface wireless with non-certified mobile devices such as an iPad.

When massive mudslides in southern California stranded motorists after Highway 58 was completely buried in mud, a group of at least 10 local pilots from near Mojave, CA, undertake a grass-roots airlift to rescue the motorists.


A resolution is adopted by the European Parliament to increase aviation safety and efficiency by making use of global flight tracking systems.

Third quarter shipment and billing data for the general aviation manufacturing industry leads to some bad news for piston and turboprop airplanes and turbine rotorcraft.

A follow-up audit is initiated by the DOT Office of Inspector General regarding the FAA's progress in implementing capabilities of the high-priority Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).

UAS Registration Task Force recommendations are posted on the FAA’s website as the agency works toward fashioning a final rule for registration of the aircraft.


A Cessna 172 crashes with four Case Case Western Reserve University college students on board. According the NTSB’s report, the plan was likely over its gross takeoff weight.

The FAA updates airspace obstructions standards to keep users of the national airspace safe by making sure the national airspace is navigable and free of obstructions that could cause problems.

The FAA certifies the first new single engine, high wing, four-seat airplane from Tecnam, called the Tecnam P2010.

The entire United States Senate passes the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 on a unanimous vote. The bill, sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) includes 70 Republican and Democratic cosponsors.

On December 23, test pilot Len Fox performs the long-awaited first flight of the M10T Proof of Concept (POC) aircraft near the Chino Airport in California.

The United States and Cuba agree to allow scheduled air service to Cuba for the first time since sanctions on Cuba began in the early 60’s.


April – Former USPS employee Doug Hughes pilots a gyrocopter that lands on U.S. Capitol grounds. He is arrested after performing the stunt to bring attention to campaign finance corruption. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta says the gyrocopter could not be distinguished from birds, a kite or other non-aircraft on radar.

June – Melvin Carraway, the acting administrator of the TSA, resigns after media reports that inspectors did not detect more than 95 percent of mock explosives and smuggled weapons.

June – The EPA suggests that aircraft engines may contribute to air pollution that in turn causes climate change, and begins process to regulate jet engine greenhouse gas emissions.

November – The New Shepard unmanned space vehicle by Blue Origin reaches a new high altitude in unmanned flight testing at 329,839 feet high over West Texas.

December – Virgin Galactic introduces a 747 converted to an aerial space launch platform called Galactic Girl.

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