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Dealing with odd behavior

Having worked in the airlines for more than 20 years, I’ve seen a few things that have made me scratch my head—be it management decisions about company strategy, policies that are ill-advised, or passengers who act out in ways that are not only unusual, but unacceptable. Unfortunately, I’ve also witnessed a few employees conduct themselves in ways that are both professionally and socially unacceptable.

Most companies of any size will eventually deal with an employee who acts bizarrely or out of character. Most of the time, it doesn’t get any play on the local news, let alone CNN. However, the airlines are different, and when somebody does something that garners attention, it often goes viral within minutes. Too often, by the time the company hears about it, the incident has been disseminated to millions.

So, what to do? What not to do? Within an airline, the only two work groups that are required to pass an FAA medical are the dispatchers and the pilots. While the company can (and will) have certain expectations about your fitness when you show up to work, only pilots and dispatchers are required to meet a minimum established by the FAA, and are therefore expected to self-monitor their mental and physical well-being. Being sick does not mean you have to be down with the flu or a broken leg. It simply means that for any number of reasons you may not be up to the task. You may be overwhelmed by a problem at home: divorce, new baby, even a sick dog. If in your own judgment you can’t call yourself fit for duty, you are obligated to call in sick. It is, in fact, a federal aviation regulation.

But what happens when somebody chooses to come to work anyway, even though they shouldn’t? Or what if they don’t even realize that they shouldn’t come to work, or if they act…strangely? FAR 117 helps put the onus on the captain to vouch for the fitness of the first officer, but the rest of Part 91 helps make it clear that the FO does the same if he or she believes that the captain or one of the flight attendants is sick. As an FO, I once had to tell a captain that he was in no shape to fly and needed to call in sick. He thanked me then and later, and told me that I had done the right thing.

In recent years, there have been several instances of pilots acting in strange ways. On the ground, the first thing an FO should do is try and talk to the other pilot, especially if they’re working the same flight. Often, a simple conversation will provide valuable insight into the other person’s mood and state of mind. If the individual starts to put up red flags, try to ask another nearby person to speak to them. But if it’s clear that something is wrong, such as incoherent speech, random thoughts that don’t correlate to the conversation, the odor of alcohol or drugs, or apparent physical instability, then more drastic action needs to be taken. Every airline has a different specific plan of action, but the generalities are pretty common.

In such a case, the first call needs to be a manager on duty, such as a chief pilot or the head honcho for the day in scheduling. Even calling dispatch is sufficient. All you need to do is reach someone who can delay a flight long enough for you to allay your concerns to those up the chain of command. Phone calls to scheduling are almost always recorded, so calling via the scheduling department may not be a bad way to get started.—Chip Wright

Reunited

When I asked Tom Johnson, the former owner of our Sweepstakes 172, if he’d like to fly the airplane, he had a question of his own.

Tom Johnson (right) takes a photo of his son, Jeffrey, in front of their former Skyhawk.

“Will I be able to recognize any old parts?”

There wasn’t much for Tom to recognize of the former N739HW. But he had a great time flying N172WN.

Josh Cochran captures Tom Johnson getting acclimated to his former Skyhawk.

Tom brought his son, Jeffrey Johnson, along to check out their airplane. Jeffrey had a photo of himself as a 10-year-old standing in front of 739HW at EAA AirVenture.

Young Jeffrey Johnson with N739HW at EAA AirVenture.

That was one of N379HW’s last trips to Oshkosh. With a growing family, Tom acquired a Cessna 182 and says he flew it to AirVenture in 2004.

With Dave Hirschman in the right seat, Tom put the 172 through its paces. He was especially interested to see how the Micro Aerodynamics vortex generators would affect performance, and was pleased at the 172’s slow-flight and stall performance.

“It truly is an example of keeping older airframes flying by incorporating newer technologies to improve performance, safety, communications, and pilot situational awareness,” Johnson told me later.

We’re happy you like how it turned out, Tom. Thanks again for your wonderful donation.

Learn more about how you could win a Cessna 172 in the AOPA 172 Sweepstakes.

Overcoming Spanish Airports

It took some introspection to understand my reticence to land at another airport in Spain, until I realized that I was still a bit unnerved by a forced landing in the USA not too long before the intercontinental move, and then flying in Germany’s oppressive environment after that. It was one trauma after another, and flying across Europe as part of the intercontinental move actually made it worse, as opposed to curing the problem. For months, I stayed in a radius of La Cerdanya that could be flown without refueling, progressively introducing more adventure, including the French coast and the highest point in the Pyrenees, yet I couldn’t shake the utter lack of desire to land anywhere else.

I finally realized that, if my spring and summer European flying ventures are going to happen, I am going to have to get over myself and fly more than 75 NM from home. In a moment of indignant fury, akin to a Scottish Highland war cry (albeit with an iPad, behind a desk), I decided enough was enough and I was going to figure it out. Thus, I set out to methodically call airports one by one until I found a suitable candidate.

That started an interesting adventure, as I began to realize the magnitude of reasons why I don’t land anywhere else. Perhaps it has less to do with my own nervousness and more to do with an utterly inconvenient, disjointed, and aggravating network of airports. Should I start with the two fields up the valley in France? Nope. Licence du site francais required, at the cost of €500 each and an afternoon of training. Ok, maybe I’ll go to La Seu. Well, it’s 20 miles away, and a flight plan is required, which is silly. Other airports within reasonable range had no avgas, only mogas, for which nobody seemed to know or care if it was ethanol free. As my STC (and the desire to not crash) requires no ethanol, I crossed those airports off my list. Others had silly landing fees (€80+), or were hiding under the record-breaking inversion that fogged in the Catalonian Central Depression for months on end. France? I was not in the mood to go to France, as I live in Spain, though my analysis does show that France has a far more robust airport network, albeit coupled with an epileptically disorganized airspace system. Even more so, flying in any of the following directions is an entirely different climate zone with at times completely different weather on the same day: SE & S (Spanish Mediterranean), SW (Catalonian Central Depression), W (Pyrenees), N (French Midi-Pyrenees), NE (South of France).

Identifier Airport Distance (nm) Dealing with the French Flight Plan Site License No Fuel Prior Notice for Fuel Absurd Landing Fee Overhead Restricted Airspace Control Tower Winter Inversion No S or N Wind
LFYS La Llagonne, France  8.73 X X X
LFNG Saint Leocadie, France  16.16 X X X
LESU La Seu d’Urgell, Spain  19.58 X
LEMS Manresa, Spain  35.70 X X
LECF Calaf, Spain  39.22 X X
LFDJ Pamiers – Les Pujols, France  44.43 X X
LEIG Igualada, Spain  47.28 X
LEGE Girona, Spain  48.92 X X X
LFMP Perpignan, France  50.52 X X X X
LFCG Saint Girons, France  51.19 X X
LELL Sabadell, Spain  51.63 X X
LEAP Ampuriabrava, Spain  56.21 X
LFCB Bagneres de Luchon, France  61.55 X X X
LENA Benabarre, Spain  64.46 X X
LEDA Lleida, Spain  70.33 X X X
LEHC Huesca, Spain  98.53 X X X
LECI Santa Cilia, Spain  115.39 X

Finally, I settled on one option: Ampuriabrava on the Mediterranean coast. While fuel was $12.16 per gallon and the landing fee was €25, I decided to swallow any sense of fiscal rationale and hop in to at least get one flight over with. The first obstacle was fighting with my flight planning software, which uses the ICAO format and has strict validation rules. I have not yet found an equivalent to phone-based Flight Service. With that out of the way, I needed to get to the airport, find someone to refuel, preflight, take off, and clear the 7,000’ ridge to contact Barcelona Approach to activate the flight plan, all before the allotted time when the flight plan evaporates. The entire time climbing up to the Cadí-Moixeró ridge, I was conversing with myself how silly the whole process was, as the last time I talked to Barcelona Approach, it took eight minutes to respond to my request (yes, eight!), and by then, they handed me off to another frequency, which lost reception “down” at 8,500 feet due to terrain, requiring me to abandon controlled airspace and forget my intentions. Fortunately, the flight plan was activated quickly, and I settled into a cruise configuration over the foothills of the Pre-Pyrenees.

Geologic terminus of Pyrenees meeting the Mediterranean.

I asked Barcelona Approach if I could activate and go VFR, and they did not seem to understand what I was asking. I was handed an altitude and heading clearance and that was that. Since then, I have come to understand that if a flight plan is involved, it is normal to expect flight following and traffic advisories. Each time I have tried to get around it, including in France, controllers don’t seem to understand and continue to offer radar service. In conversing with Spaniards on the matter, it seems there are two camps: flight plans are required for all VFR flights or “shut the transponder off.” The reality, as far as I have researched, is that flight plans are required for flying in controlled airspace, though optional for uncontrolled; however, activating in the air triggers an assumption that flight following is desired.

After handoff to Girona Tower (even though I was far from their Class D airspace), I was told, if not lectured, three times that I must contact Ampuriabrava Information if I lose Girona Tower, as there are “actually” parachute operations today, which I agreed to do each time. My protocol was to call Information anyway, as it is required and noted on the map, and in a moment of American-centric selfishness, I thought pilots obeyed controlled airspace. Perhaps they do not in Spain?

Flying along the coast.

After a flight along the coast and around the cape where the Pyrenees geologically meet the Mediterranean, I made an uneventful landing, with an Information controller that seemed like he couldn’t be bothered to say much, at least in the pattern. When on the ground, he became insistent that I taxi to the Jet A-1 area, despite 100LL signs elsewhere. After power down, the fuel attendant, who doubles as an Information controller, told me I had to push the plane over to the 100LL area as I was in the wrong spot.

After paying an emasculating fee to refuel and land, I asked if a flight plan is really required. “Oh, yes it is.” “Do you file one for every single flight, including local ones?” “Oh no, for local flights, we don’t need one.” Nobody has really explained that one to me, and other pilots have told me that Information Service airports truly do not legally require a flight plan, though they think highly of themselves and reprimand pilots that fail to file. Between this and other antics of the day, I came to realize that Spanish aviation is as confused and disorganized as every other aspect of daily life here, and nobody cares except foreigners.

A bit hazy.

Haze near the coast, with Pic d’Canigou, France on the horizon on the left.

Haze on this particular day was awful in areas, which turned out was a precursor to an apocalyptic Saharan dust storm that blew in the next day (all the way to the Pyrenees), so I opted to climb above the layer and straight to Pic d’Canigou, a tall snow-covered prominence over the border in France, and then head back via the mountain ridge. Girona Tower didn’t believe my original intentions and asked a few times as I flew to the border, and then gladly deposited me with Montpellier Approach in France, who couldn’t understand why I was not flying in a straight line to my destination. I was asked multiple times when I was going to fly to the Spanish border, and after explaining twice that I was going to take photos of Pic d’Canigou, I was told to “advise when you’re done with your little tour and heading to the Spanish border.” Montpellier Approach was more than happy to hand me back to Barcelona Approach well before the border who, in turn, could not understand why I was asking to close the flight plan with La Cerdanya in sight, though agreed to do so after asking twice, even though he sounded like my chances of crashing and dying in the final 6 minutes of flight without an active flight plan were akin to jumping off a bridge. Remember that all of this is happening in VFR uncontrolled airspace.

My “little tour” around Pic d’Canigou, France (9,137′). It is amazing to go from palm trees to this in 40 minutes.

After a successful flight, I decided three days later to conquer Santa Cilia and the length of the Pyrenees. I called the airport asking three questions: do you have avgas, how late are you open, and do I need a flight plan? The answer was satisfactory on all fronts, including that a flight plan was not needed (even though there was Information Service). Five hours and thousands of photographs later, I had one of the most amazing and memorable flights in my life, and I did it American-style: I hopped in the plane, announced upon arrival, refueled without a reservation, and returned how I wanted and when I wanted, and it felt great.

Pre-Pyrenees

Western Pyrenees – I have about 95% less concern flying here than in controlled airspace.

Saharan dust on Pyrenees snowpack at 10,000′.

On a separate note, I have finally completed another book from the good old days of flying in Wyoming, wild and free of bureaucratic nonsense. Flying Jackson Hole is a compendium of aerial imagery taken from the Cub – including Grand Teton, Jackson, and wilderness areas and mountain ranges around town, taken without worrying about flight plans, national borders, radar service coverage, site licenses, $12 avgas, or any other silliness. (Available on Amazon.com or at the author’s site)

Augmented weather reports to be reduced in Alaska

As pilots, we rely on weather reports to decide whether to fly—or not.  Yet not all weather reports are equal.  While most aviation surface observations are generated by a machine, in some cases humans still confirm or correct the observations–making them more trustworthy than totally automated reports.  Recently proposed changes by the National Weather Service (NWS) to reduce their role in collecting weather data will lessen the quality of these reports at some of our weather stations in Alaska—with fewer stations being “augmented” by a human to provide a more complete and representative weather report.   This is a concern both for the reports that pilots use to make those critical go-no go decisions, and possibly for the quality of the forecasts that we rely on to anticipate changing conditions while inflight.

What is augmented weather?
Today most aviation weather reports (METARS) are generated by a machine, either an Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) or Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) depending on who owns it.  These machines operate 24 hours a day, and can generate “specials” when weather conditions are changing, but have limitations that have been recognized since they first became operational.  For example, even though the beam of light that measures cloud height is more precise than a human just looking out the window, the extent of a cloud layer isn’t known until enough of it has drifted across the sensor to allow a computer to determine if the sky condition is FEW, SCATTERED, BROKEN or OVERCAST.  It also doesn’t alert the pilot to the fog layer that has been approaching the station for several hours, and is about to make an airport go IFR.  Visibility is another case where very local conditions can trick the system.  The estimate of visibility is computed from the number of particles that break a one meter beam of light.  It can be fooled by local disturbances such as a patch of fog, or exhaust from a vehicle. And it can’t report the reduction in visibility as a weather system approaches until it envelopes the station.  For a pilot on a cross country flight—this may be too late!

If there were enough weather reporting stations distributed over the landscape, they would tend to fill in the gaps, and provide a good spatial picture of the weather. But with the large size of Alaska, and general lack of infrastructure, we are woefully short of reporting stations.  Even in the “lower 48” the limitations of automated stations are recognized, and the US has adopted a system of service levels so that the larger, more heavily used airports have human observers who double check the automated stations. In these locations, trained weather observers augment the reports to overcome system limitations, and can back them up when components of the system fail. Here again, Alaska loses out, as our traffic counts often don’t qualify for augmentation services.  Fortunately, the FAA recognized this when they consolidated Flight Service Stations in the 1990s.  In response to push-back from the aviation community, they kept either a part-time Flight Service Station, a contract weather observer, or in some cases NWS staff at locations formerly served by a Flight Service Station to perform the augmentation task.  Today, we are being advised that the NWS is shifting the responsibility for this function to the FAA, and withdrawing this service at eleven locations across the state, which is the current source of concern.

Which stations are augmented?
There are several entities that can augment weather reports. Flight Service Station staff are trained to make weather observations, and may augment them.  Tower controllers and NWS weather staff in some locations also perform augmentation, as well as contracted weather observers.  Some stations are augmented 24 hours a day, while others only during hours when an FAA facility is open—either daily or seasonally.  To see a list of stations and times, see the Alaska Augmentation Sites.pdf  file.  For a more visual form, see the map below.

This image shows METAR locations at the end of 2016 across Alaska in green. Sites with a yellow circle are augmented part-time, orange circles show sites with 24-hour augmentation.

 

What is the change?
Recently the NWS came out with a public notice indicating that the responsibility for aviation weather augmentation and back-up is transitioning to the FAA. The NWS plans to discontinue augmentation at eleven stations across the state.  In some cases, this would merely reduce the hours the observation is augmented.  In four locations augmentation would be eliminated entirely—Yakutat, Saint Paul, Kodiak and Annette Island.  McGrath would have no augmentation from October through April.  Reductions in augmentation would be seen in an additional six locations, including Nome, Kotzebue, King Salmon, Cold Bay, Bethel, and Barrow.  The FAA has already suspended the contract weather observer at Gulkana, which is another former Flight Service Station location, and regional hub in the Copper River Basin. AOPA has asked to have the Gulkana observer re-instated, given its importance as a regional cross-roads in the Copper River Valley.

Who cares about augmentation?
I hope all pilots consider whether the METAR they are evaluating is augmented or not.  Especially when conditions are changing, one should be wary of unattended, automated sites.  If the METAR is augmented, you can place greater reliance on its being accurate, and to capture hints of change, which are often recorded in the REMARKS section.  While IFR-capable operators can generally handle more weather than VFR pilots, even they are subject to minimums and need decent alternates in their hip-pockets.  As primarily a VFR pilot, I am always looking closely at the reports available, to see that I will continue to have a suitable place to deviate, if needed. Remember, the term AUTO in a raw METAR means that the station is NOT being augmented!

Trends and the future of aviation weather reports
Zooming out to the bigger picture, this proposed change is yet another reduction in weather information available to pilots.  In the past few years, we have seen A-Paid observers eliminated, leaving holes in the weather picture, vital for cross country flights to remote parts of Alaska.  We continue to have weather-related accidents, and now the quality and quantity of reports from some of the automated weather stations are  eroding. AOPA has written a letter to the NWS and FAA challenging this recent proposed change, and asking that, at a minimum, a safety risk analysis be conducted, with aviation community input, prior to reducing these services. We also want to see a comprehensive review of the overall weather reporting system needed to support aviation in Alaska.

Stay tuned for further developments!

I don’t care how you get there, just get there if you can.

AOPA Regional Fly-Ins offer Friday intensive education series.

In regard to the newly announced two-day AOPA Regional fly-ins I am going to paraphrase Oleta Adams song Get Here, I don’t care how you get there, just get there if you can. Ongoing education is vital to the pilot population. Statistics are clear that when we attend continuing education our ability to safely operate airplanes increases. According to national safety seminar presenter Mark Grady, “Several years back it was determined that pilots who participated in the FAA’s Wings Program regularly did not have as many accidents, incidents and even violations as other GA pilots. It simply makes common sense that pilots who take time to do more than the minimum of a flight review are going to be safer. After all, we react the way we are trained in an emergency, so the more up-to-date training we have, the better we handle things that may go wrong.” When AOPA adopted a regional fly-in format versus a multiple day format, I missed the comprehensive educational seminars offered. And though the regional fly-in format is wildly successful, the opportunity for intensive classes was not available. Well, all that changes with the new Friday,  hands-on workshops being offered at all four AOPA regional fly-ins across the country.

Each fly-in offers four subjects to choose from for a Friday seven-hour intensive clinic with excellent presenters. Pre-registration is required. Tuition fees apply: $105 for members, $155 for non-members, and $75 for spouses. I am thrilled to have developed Pilot Plus One which will be offered at all four regional fly-ins. Check out the offerings below:

Owner-Guided Maintenance: Managing Your Aircraft Maintenance
Interested in taking on a larger role in the maintenance of your aircraft?   Join aviation adventurer, JetBlue pilot, and around-the-world adventurer, Adrian Eichhorn and A&P/IAs Mike Busch and Paul New help you determine what you, as the aircraft owner, can do to keep your plane in top condition. Get hands-on with changing the oil in an actual aircraft engine, cleaning and gapping spark plugs, and examining the insides of an aircraft engine to determine its health with the help of these three FAA Aviation Technicians of the Year.

 

IFR Refresher: Getting Back to Instrument Proficiency
Hear from Jim Simon, chief flight instructor and director of Rainier Flight Service. Simon’s motto is “Safety first,” and he’ll be putting his more than 5,000 hours of flight instructing experience to work so you can get back into the cockpit as pilot in command under instrument flight rules.

 

Overcoming Mountains & Water: Flying in the Extremes
Join renowned mountain flying specialist Lori MacNichol and AOPA Pilot magazine editor-at-large Thomas A. Horne to learn the skills necessary to fly safely in mountainous terrain, or over water, and learn what items these experts suggest you should have on-hand to survive after a forced landing in mountainous terrain, or after a ditching at sea.  You’ll gather around a general aviation airplane, pull a life raft out of storage, deploy it, inflate it, and don your personal flotation device in a real time run-through of a ditching emergency.

 

Understanding Aviation Weather

For September 8th-9th Norman, OK you will have a unique chance to tour the National Weather Center for a seminar called Understanding Aviation Weather.

 

Pilot Plus One©

Pilot Plus One is a comprehensive daylong educational seminar designed to educate, inspire, and encourage adventure pilots and non-pilot companions. The idea is simple, when we recognize the unlimited possibilities for using the airplane for recreation, vacation, business and charitable flights, we will all start flying more now. Pilot Plus One is a lively seminar with ample opportunities for audience participation. At the close of the day, we will have fabulous door prizes from Lightspeed Aviation and Flying Eyes Optics. Our schedule includes leading experts in the aviation.

More Than Just the $100 Hamburger: Fun destinations to Fly by George Kounis, Publisher/Editor in Chief, Pilot Getaways Magazine.

Overcoming Fear Unleashing Potential: Addresses common fears of pilots and right-seat flyers by Robert DeLaurentis, Pilot, author, and philanthropist

Picture Perfect: Tips and techniques to get the best in-flight and at destination photos by professional aviation photographer, Jim Koepnick

Right Seat Ready! This companion safety seminar by Jolie Lucas and Jan Maxwell provides familiarization for non-pilots including airframe, instruments, radios and avionics, aircraft control, emergency communications, navigation, heads-up flight display, and landings. It is a fun, fast-paced, hands on class sure to inspire confidence to be ready on the right.

 

So make a plan to get to Camarillo, CA., Norman, OK., Groton, CT., or Tampa, FL in 2017. I will look forward to meeting many of you.  Your attendance and participation will make you a more informed pilot.  Bring your Plus One and let us inspire you to have more fun adventures in the airplane.  From educational opportunities to exhibits, displays and camaraderie, these events should not be missed.   For registration please go to:  AOPA 2017

Alaska aviation motor fuel tax increase under discussion

Alaska’s fiscal crisis is again in the news. As oil revenues decrease, lawmakers struggle to make ends meet for almost 90% of the state’s operating costs. In January, the Alaska Aviation Advisory Board (AAB) passed a resolution supporting the Governor’s bill to increase motor fuel taxes to help cover the costs of maintaining the 240 airports operated by the state. This year’s bills call for a two-stage increase, which would result in rates of 14.1 cents per gallon for avgas, and 9.6 cents for jet fuel.  While larger than last year’s proposal, which was not adopted, these rates are still in the middle of the pack of what pilots in other states pay for fuel taxes.  If adopted, the total income from motor fuel tax and other revenue streams that support airports will cover about half the cost of operating the rural airport system.

Will our tax money go to aviation?
When the state collects motor fuel taxes, they are deposited into the state’s General Fund, which the legislators decide how to spend.  There has been a concern that our fuel taxes would go to programs other than aviation.  Last year, however, a separate account was established within the General Fund which treats aviation fuel tax money as a restricted fund, to be spent on airport maintenance and development.  Provisions in this year’s bill set up a similar situation for the other modes of transportation.

Is this the best way to support the aviation system?
Over the past year and a half the Aviation Advisory Board worked with DOT to evaluate options for supporting the rural airport system (excluding Anchorage and Fairbanks International Airports that are operated as an enterprise fund, which pays its own way). Landing Fees and an aircraft registration program were both explored. After looking at the details of these other options, both would cost more to implement, and make life more complicated for aircraft owners.  Consequently, the AAB again this year adopted a resolution to support the motor fuel tax bill.  Based on the AAB’s recommendation, AOPA, the Alaska Airmens Association and some other aviation groups have supported the Governor’s proposed legislation.

What is the impact?
If the proposed increase in motor fuel tax is implemented, what will it cost?  Adam White, Government Affairs Manager for the Alaska Airmens Association computed the potential costs for several different GA aircraft types, using 50 and 100 hours of operation per year. If you own aircraft in these categories, the increase in cost would range between $40 and $140 per year.

Type A/C Hours flown GPH Current Tax Proposed 2018 Tax Difference
$0.047 $0.141
C180/185 50 15 $35.25 $105.75 $70.50
C180/185 100 15 $70.50 $211.50 $141.00
C172 50 12 $28.20 $84.60 $56.40
C172 100 12 $56.40 $169.20 $112.80
PA18 50 9 $21.15 $63.45 $42.30
PA18 100 9 $42.30 $126.90 $84.60

 

Since 2015, DOT has reduced its operating budget by 62 million dollars which is a 22% reduction.  So far the impacts have been limited. Several highway stations have been shut down, and at least one airport will not get winter maintenance this year.  Several airports have been handed off from DOT to other entities.  DOT is also making changes that should allow them to better account for the levels of service they provide—measured in how long it takes to restore service after a storm, or how many hours a Part 139 airport is staffed to support operations.  It will take some time to find the right balance between services and revenues to keep this component of Alaska’s transportation operating. We must all watch closely as the Governor and Legislature work through these challenging times.

Changing job applications

I’ve covered the topic of filling out job applications in several posts, but a recent incident has me wanting to discuss the topic again.

Pilots trying to get a job with an airline—especially, but not limited to—a major carrier will use whatever advantages they can. Know the CEO? Check. Have letters of recommendation from several vice presidents? Check. Are you a female or a minority? Check….carefully.

Nobody wants to discuss the possibility that preferences may be given to women and minorities, but any large corporation needs to be in compliance with a number of federal laws when it comes to hiring. While “quota” is not a word often heard, you’d be naïve to think that certain groups aren’t actively pursued in order to avoid getting sued for discrimination.

And that brings me to how to handle this on your application. With computerized applications the rule nowadays, companies can track the changes on applications. I recently had a discussion with a pilot who was questioned in an interview about changing his ethnicity on the application after the invitation for the interview had been extended. He had selected a minority background initially, and changed it later to White/Other. To the airline, it looked like he had made the initial selection to try to expedite getting called for an interview, then tried to be honest after the fact. It didn’t look good, and he was denied the job because it looked like he was trying to game the system.

It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: When you’re filling out the application, be honest on everything, and when it comes to the very basics of who you are, make sure you get it right the first time. If you can legitimately claim to be a certain something, then by all means, say so. But if you think you’re going to get away with something, think twice. Just because you may get through the interview while hiding a checkride failure or a deceptive background, you’re not off the hook. Airlines have terminated pilots even after their probationary year is up if they lied to get the job, and there’s nothing to stop them from doing so in the future.

If you discover that you’ve made an honest mistake, take the initiative and address it first yourself. You can either deal with the HR folks on the phone (the smart move), or you can wait until the interview and bring it up first on your own before they get a chance to start questioning you. The last thing you want to do is to put yourself in a situation where you are forced to defend your integrity.—Chip Wright

Painted or polished?

Some of you, noticing the new look of our Sweepstakes 172, want to know: Is the airplane sporting polished metal?

It looks like polished metal in Chris Rose’s photos. But what you see here is paint. Specifically, it’s Sherwin Williams Ice Silver Acryglo.

The base coat is a subtle metallic. In the hangar, it looks…well, almost battleship gray. (“Looks like a stealth airplane!” a member told me a few weeks ago.) In the sunlight, however, it’s a different story.

N172WN got the base coat at Cimarron Aircraft Corp. in El Reno, Oklahoma. She’ll wear the special decals designed by Scheme Designers through April. Then it’s off to KD Aviation for a final paint scheme. Ken Reese of KD Aviation has shepherded several of our sweepstakes airplanes through final paint, notably the Millenium Mooney and the Win-a-Twin-Comanche, so I’m confident he’ll bring that same level of excellence to our Sweepstakes 172.

Learn more about how you could win a Cessna 172 in the AOPA 172 Sweepstakes.

Why change the oil?

Aeroshell W100 PlusContinental and Lycoming tell us that we must change the oil in our engines every 50 hours or 4-6 months, whichever comes first—and that’s if we have a full-flow oil filter installed. If we have only an oil screen, then the oil change interval goes down to 25 hours. Did you ever wonder why we need to change the oil so often?

It’s not because the oil breaks down in service and its lubricating qualities degrade. The fact is that conventional petroleum-based oils retain their lubricating properties for a very long time, and synthetic oils retain them nearly forever.

Consider, for example, that most automobile manufacturers now recommend a 7,500-mile oil-change interval for most cars and light trucks. That’s the equivalent of 150 to 250 hours of engine operation. In fact, oil analysis studies have shown that a synthetic automotive oil like Mobil 1 or Amsoil can go 18,000 miles without appreciable degradation, and that’s the equivalent of 400-600 hours.

Filth

No, the reason we change oil in our aircraft engines every 25 to 50 hours is not because it breaks down. It’s because it gets contaminated after 25 to 50 hours in an aircraft engine. In fact, it gets downright filthy and nasty.

DHMO

Dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) is a highly corrosive chemical that is produced in copious quantities during combustion, and can cause great harm to costly engine components when it blows by the piston rings and contaminates the engine oil. You may be more familiar with DHMO’s common chemical formula: H2O.

Compared with automotive engines, our piston aircraft engines permit a far greater quantity of combustion byproducts—notably carbon, sulfur, oxides of nitrogen, raw fuel, partially burned fuel, plus massive quantities of the corrosive solvent dihydrogen monoxide or DHMO (see graphic)—to leak past the piston rings and contaminate the crankcase. This yucky stuff is collectively referred to as “blow-by” and it’s quite corrosive and harmful when it builds up in the oil and comes in contact with expensive bottom-end engine parts like crankshafts and camshafts and lifters and gears.

To make matters worse, avgas is heavily laced with the octane improver tetraethyl lead (TEL), which also does nasty things when it blows by the rings and gets into the crankcase. (If you’re as old as I am, you may recall that back before mogas was unleaded, the recommended oil-change interval was 3,000 miles instead of 7,500 miles.)

So one of the most important reasons that we need to change the oil regularly in our Continentals and Lycomings is to get rid of these blow-by contaminants before they build up to levels that are harmful to the engine’s health.

Acid

Another reason we need to change the oil regularly—arguably even more important than disposing of contaminants—is to replenish the oil’s additive package, particularly its acid neutralizers. When sulfur and oxides of nitrogen mix with DHMO, they form sulfuric acid and nitric acid. If you remember these dangerous corrosives from your high school chemistry class, then you’ll certainly appreciate why you definitely don’t want them attacking your expensive engine parts.

OIl analysisTo prevent such acid attack, aviation oils are blended with acid neutralizer additives. These are alkaline substances that neutralize these acids, much as we might use baking soda to neutralize battery acid. These acid neutralizers are consumed by the process of neutralizing acids, so it’s imperative that we replenish them before they get used up to an extent that might jeopardize our hardware. Of course, the way we replenish them is to change the oil.

How can we tell when the acid neutralizers in the oil have been used up? It turns out that there’s a laboratory test that measures the level of unneutralized acid remaining in the oil. This is known as the “total acid number” or “TAN” test. Some oil analysis firms can perform this test on your oil samples. However, it’s not routinely done as part of the normal oil analysis report, so you need to specially request a TAN test when you send in your oil sample (and be prepared to pay extra for it).

Intervals

Tach w/hourmeterMost owners don’t bother with the hassle and expense of TAN testing, and simply change their oil at a conservative interval that’s guaranteed to get the junk out and fresh additives in before anything untoward is likely to occur.

On my own airplane, what I do (and generally recommend to my clients) is to change the oil and filter every 50 hours or 4 calendar months, whichever comes first. This means that operators who fly at least 150 hours a year can go 50 hours between oil changes, but operators who fly less will use a proportionately reduced oil-change interval.

This recommendation assumes that the aircraft has a full-flow (spin-on) oil filter installed, that it operates primarily from paved runways, and that it has decent compressions and relatively low blow-by past the rings. Engines that have only an oil screen (no filter) should have the oil changed every 25 hours. Engines that operate in dirty or dusty conditions and ones that have high oil consumption due to high blow-by should have more frequent oil changes.

My friend Ed Kollin—lubrication engineering wizard who used to head Exxon’s lubrication lab and who developed ASL CamGuard—is even more conservative. He preaches that oil should be changed no less frequently than every 30 hours, and frowns when I suggest that it’s okay to go to 50 if you fly a lot.

Insolubles

InsolublesAnother important indication of oil condition can be found in standard oil analysis report provided by some labs—notably the one I prefer, Blackstone Laboratories in Ft. Wayne, Indiana—is the “insolubles” test. This test is performed by placing the oil sample in a centrifuge to separate out all solids and liquids in the sample that are not oil-soluble.

Virgin oil normally contains no insolubles. The insolubles found in drained engine oil come from three sources: (1) oxidized oil that breaks down due to excessive heat; (2) contaminants from blow-by of combustion byproducts; and (3) particulate contamination caused by poor oil filtration. If your oil analysis report reveals above-normal insolubles, it might be indicative of an engine problem—high oil temperature, excessive blow-by, inadequate filtration—and almost certainly means you should be changing your oil more frequently.

By the way, did I mention that I’m a huge fan of laboratory oil analysis? I use it religiously, recommend it strongly to all piston aircraft owners, and believe that it’s one of the most important tools we have—along with oil filter inspection and borescope inspection—for monitoring the condition of our engines and determining when maintenance is necessary.

Alaska weather reporting survey

Weather is a constant and important topic in Alaska aviation discussions.  Our network of aviation weather reporting stations is sparse in comparison to the rest of the nation.  Today, there are twenty one airports across the state that have instrument approaches, but don’t have weather reporting.

Currently, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is doing a survey, inviting the aviation community to express our opinions regarding the priorities to provide automated weather stations (AWOS) for those airports.  Please take a moment to look at the list, and use this opportunity to help establish the needs for weather at these locations, or to nominate other locations that would benefit from additional weather reporting.

Please act today, as the survey runs through March 6th.  Access the survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/AirportWS

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