Archive for May, 2011

Texas takes flying seriously

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

I spend a lot of time talking to elected and appointed government officials who routinely make decisions affecting general aviation, but it’s rare that I can get a lot of them in one room at the same time. This morning was the exception. I had nothing to do with getting them there, but I am not beyond taking advantage of such an opportunity.

The event was the Texas State Aviation Conference. For 29 years, aviation leaders and decision makers from around the state have been getting together to talk about the issues affecting general aviation. And Texans take their aviation seriously. In a state that’s larger than France and which has major population centers in places like Dallas and Houston as well as vast areas of open ranchland, GA makes a lot of sense.

Quite a few states hold events like this and I wish even more would follow suit. Just as we at AOPA believe in collaborating with others across aviation, state and local aviation leaders can get some great ideas when they talk to each other about what matters to pilots, airport operators, aviation businesses, and other stakeholders.

Dave Fulton, director of TxDOT Aviation Division, gave an overview of the state of aviation in Texas, and I was impressed by the gains the state has made in terms of runway repairs, new terminals, new towers for congested urban areas, new AWOS, and more.

Speaking to the Texas State Aviation Conference in Austin.

Then it was my turn to talk about AOPA’s work in Congress and the national issues that are affecting GA now and into the future, including avgas, NextGen, and ADS-B. And, of course, we talked about the importance of growing the pilot population and staying engaged and informed.

Pilots in Texas are fortunate their state aviation officials were sufficiently forward looking to launch this event 29 years ago and keep it going ever since. And I am lucky to be here, sharing the GA perspective with decision makers who know that general aviation matters.

Flying with Redbird

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
I’m in Austin, Texas, this week for the Texas State Aviation Conference, and I took some time out to visit the Redbird Flight Simulations’ manufacturing facility where I was joined by John and Martha King and we received a tour from founder Jerry Gregoire.
It was remarkable to see how this relatively new company is lowering the cost and improving the quality of flight simulation. From desktop sims to full-motion units, they can recreate just about any aircraft. In fact, a flight school can change its full-motion simulator from a Cessna 172 to a Cirrus SR20 simply by turning a few hand screws and swapping out components–no special skills or tools required.
 Redbird is also making owning a simulator more affordable for flight schools by lowering the cost of acquisition and making it easy to for schools to update and repair their sims. Fully interchangeable components make it inexpensive to swap out just about any piece of the simulator from the control yoke to the monitors.

Cessna Pilot Centers are taking advantage of this technology as are King Schools and numerous aviation universities. Insurance companies are using them to understand accident causes and even the FAA is putting them to work with an order for King Air sims. 

Innovation has always been a hallmark of the GA community, and Redbird is a great example of how creative thinking can improve the flying experience. It’s exciting to see what’s going on at aviation businesses around the country, and I can’t wait to see how today’s developments change the way we fly tomorrow. 

The view from the cockpit of a Redbird full-motion simulator.


One of the things that’s so exciting about the Redbird simulators is the way they’re being put to use to make training more affordable and effective. For example, a “student key” allows instructors to give each student access to specific scenarios appropriate for their training level. The student can use the key to fly the scenarios, then the instructor can use the key to review how the student performed. That lets the student practice exactly what they need to know on the ground and without their instructor present–a major cost savings. 

A specialized crosswind simulator can let you experience the toughest landing conditions without endangering yourself or the aircraft. And, because you can focus your time on the trickiest part of an approach, they estimate you can simulate a decade of crosswind landings in about 2 hours. Of course, expect to be tired when you’re finished–the experience is very realistic and just as exhausting as wrestling the plane through the real thing.

NextGen Advisory Committee at work

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

This morning I am in New York for a meeting of RTCA’s NextGen Advisory Committee–a group tasked with addressing NextGen implementation issues and making consensus recommendations to the FAA. As a member of the committee, I had a chance to make a presentation to the group about issues affecting the general aviation community.

Breakfast at Gracie Mansion.

While we come from different backgrounds–the airlines, the FAA, air traffic control, airports, military aviation, and GA–we all want to find the right path to modernize our airspace and air traffic management. At the top of our list of priorities is ensuring that we continue to have the safest aviation system in the world. And while we may differ in some areas, we are all hard at work trying to find the best solutions to the challenges of modern flying while taking full advantage of the benefits new technology has to offer.

New York is the perfect venue for today’s discussions, considering not only the busy and complex airspace in the region, but also the personal interest of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an avid general aviation pilot himself. Mayor Bloomberg hosted a breakfast at Gracie Mansion this morning, where I had a chance to chat with him, Committee Chairman and Jet Blue CEO Dave Barger, and FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta, among others. Despite the many other responsibilities of each of these participants, it’s clear that they are fully committed to finding not only solutions, but the right solutions to the challenges of modernization.

Today’s discussions have been productive, but there’s much more  to do, and small working groups will sort through many more details before our next full committee meeting. Many of those working groups include AOPA staffers, so you can be certain that the interests of the GA community will be considered at every step along the way.

NextGen, and the way it is implemented, will affect every single pilot–and just about every American–in the nation. It’s such a big issue, with so many technical details and practical implications, that it may sometimes seem impossible to get your arms around it. But I think it’s important to keep pilots in the loop. I want you to know that we are diligently working to resolve all the issues modernization presents, and, just as important, that we are making real progress. As always, the AOPA team is fully engaged in ensuring that–whatever final recommendations we reach–the needs of general aviation, your needs, are taken into account.

Type clubs: A bonanza for pilots

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

I have to confess that I really love my Bonanza. Like most aircraft owners, I’ve bonded with my plane over the course of hundreds of happy flight hours. When you spend enough time in a plane, you begin to see it as more than a machine. It becomes a friend of sorts, with its own personality and quirks.

American Bonanza Society

Whit Hickman (left), ABS executive director, and Tom Turner (right), the executive director of the ABS Air Safety Foundation, were exceptional hosts.

Feeling as I do about my plane, I really enjoyed spending some time with members of the American Bonanza Society in Tullahoma, Tennessee, this week. I was invited to participate as the keynote speaker on Friday night at the First Annual Spring Fly-In Dinner, and I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more.

Nearly 100 Bonanzas—including mine—flew in to attend three days of events that included safety and maintenance seminars, tours of the Beechcraft Heritage Museum, social events, and plenty of hangar flying.

A high percentage of Bonanza Society members are also AOPA members, and I was delighted to see how engaged and informed this audience was about the issues that affect our flying, including NextGen, FAA funding, avgas, and the need to grow the pilot population. They had some great questions to ask and some wonderful stories to share about their own flying experiences.

Spending time with pilots who care so much about general aviation and their airplanes was invigorating for me. If you own a plane, regardless of the make and model you choose, I encourage you to consider taking part in a type club. It’s a great way to get to know your airplane better, enhance your safety, and Rally GA! Not to mention that it’s a whole lot of fun, too.