Tom Haines Archive

Was Cirrus wrong to accept Chinese investment?

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

In an AOPA Live video, Cirrus Aircraft CEO Brent Wouters decries the short-sighted nature of the U.S. investment community and explains why the company began talks with CAIGA, a Chinese firm that ultimately bought Cirrus in a deal that closed June 24. Despite its Chinese ownership (and the fact that Arcapita, an investment group in Bahrain, has owned a significant percentage of Cirrus since 2001), Wouters insists Cirrus is still a U.S. company that uses American workers and American vendors to build products for the U.S. and world market.

Still, some have criticized the move as a selling-out of U.S. leadership in aviation, one of the few American-dominated industries that still generates a positive trade balance. Meanwhile, Cessna builds the Skycatcher in China.  Many U.S. aviation companies have subassemblies built in Mexico and other countries. Continental Motors was purchased by a Chinese company earlier this year.

What do you think? Are U.S. aviation companies not trying hard enough to find American investment before selling out to foreign buyers or is the U.S. investment community too short-sighted in their strategies? Or, does none of it really matter in this global economy?

I’m looking forward to reading your perspective in the comments.

The Meaning of Aviation

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

My Waypoints column in the February 2011 issue of AOPA Pilot is already getting lots of e-mail comments and it’s only been out for a few hours.

Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at writing to fit the available space in the magazine, but this subject–how mean and cranky everyone has gotten in aviation–was tough and I actually wrote two versions. One for the magazine and one that is longer. The longer version,  which explores the subject more thoroughly, follows. I hope you will share your comments and insights.


Just a heads up on the meaning of the headline: This is not a feel-good, warm-and-fuzzy column about the philosophical meaning of aviation. Nope, this is about how mean aviation has become. Let me explain.

I’ve been in the media business in one way or another for 27 years, 25 years covering general aviation. As a great consumer of information, I’ve noticed over the years the trend in newspaper letters to the editor and more recently online comments to newspaper articles toward the negative. Where at one point, people could respond to an article with an articulate, well-thought-out argument, today people seem to resort to name calling and rude, thoughtless comments and taunting right out of the box.

Here’s one well-documented example: The St. Petersburg Times noted the hit-and-run death of a 48-year-old man on a bicycle. He was killed pedaling home after his shift washing dishes at a restaurant where he had been employed for 10 years. Shortly after the story posted online, a person wrote a comment saying: “A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.” The newspaper quickly took the comment down and in response, sent a reporter to check out the dead man’s past. Turns out he was a simple, quiet man who was revered by his co-workers, loyal to the core to his employer, and not a bother to anyone.

Unlike the general public, general aviation pilots used to be more civil The fraternity of pilots enjoyed robust discussions in person, in print, and online, but, for the most part, respect prevailed. Over the years, I have observed that pilots, in general, are good folks—more patriotic and more respectful than the average citizenry. When my daughters were young, we spent a lot of time around airports and I felt comfortable telling them that if they ever got lost near or on an airport to look not just for a policeman, but anyone with a headset or chart bag or hanging around a pilot lounge. Pilots, I said, could be trusted to get you help.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I would still offer that same advice. Somewhere along the way, pilots have become as mean-spirited and spiteful as the rest of the population. I find that disheartening.

Over the decades, I’ve developed a thick skin as people often disagree with things we write, but the recent trend toward personal attacks and the destructive nature of comments is wearing, for sure. A few examples:

One member took the time to write an e-mail decrying the hairstyles of several AOPA staff members pictured in the magazine—his only reason for the e-mail. One woman’s hair he described as “a cross between an Alabama trailer mom on welfare, a Puli [I’m not sure what that is], and [a] wig….” According to this member, a senior executive here has a “1975 SuperCuts hackjob, likely inspired by Sal in the film Dog Day Afternoon.”

Thanks much for the constructive comments….

Personal attacks are not limited to hairstyles. Another member wrote in to complain that several people pictured in various articles in a particular issue were overweight. I guess we should only feature thin, handsome, well-coiffed pilots going forward. And white, well-groomed ones too.

An ad in this magazine for one of AOPA’s products included a photo of a dark-skinned man who was not clean shaven, causing one member to call AOPA President Craig Fuller’s office to complain. He felt we were presenting a poor image of general aviation with such an image. Apparently, in this member’s mind, general aviation consists only of clean-shaven white men. Some members have been equally riled by photos of a well-known pilot/celebrity who has an earring. With so many issues facing general aviation, do we really have the time to deal with such trivial matters?

Another “Instrument-rated long-term member” (no name given) was selected to participate in an online survey after AOPA Summit. Rather than complete it, or simply stop, he took the time to write us a letter (with a footnote) where he said he started the survey. “I answered two screens full of pages, but then said ‘to hell with your survey,’ because: [this in 48 point bold, underlined capital letters] Your survey is just too damned long!”

He continued: “Hope this feedback helps. You’ll get crap from your survey, and you’ve shown your discourtesy and thoughtlessness.”

Really? By asking for your input?

In response to us replacing “Test Pilot” with a staff-developed quiz, a member who describes himself as a middle school special education teacher wrote in to tell us to “take that staff-developed quiz, print it out, and shove it squarely, yet ever so firmly, up your rear end.” To his credit, the member later wrote back to apologize and acknowledge he had crossed a line. Still, I’m not sure I want this guy educating my kids.

As with online forums in many locations, the AOPA forums attract plenty of people with strong opinions. They make for entertaining reading, but it’s a shame when people spout off without even bothering to gather any facts. One member on the AOPA forums started a new thread called this: “AOPA beats the hell out of sweepstakes airplanes.” The thread generated 41 responses and was viewed by 1,348 people as of early January. The poster eventually deleted his initial baseless comments and replaced them with simply “never mind” after other posters reminded him about all the productive ways we use the sweepstakes airplanes over the course of the year, educating nonpilots and pilots alike about general aviation airplanes, including with our Remos, providing a wounded warrior with sport pilot training. Occasionally sanity reigns, even on the forums.

The annual awarding of our sweepstakes airplane brings out the conspiracy theorists. The forums, letters, and e-mails we get suggest some people believe that AOPA doesn’t really deliver the airplanes. We apparently squirrel them away somewhere for some other purpose. Although, I’m not sure what that purpose would be given that because of their distinctive paint jobs it would be difficult to fly them anywhere without being noticed. (I often think these are the same people who believe that the Apollo moon landings were shot in a Hollywood studio.) But that’s only the beginning. Others believe that we somehow hand select the winners for some purpose, as if we care who wins the airplanes. Some argue that it seems that only aircraft owners win the airplanes. Half of all AOPA members own an airplane outright or in partnership. Statistically, then, about eight of the winners of our 17 sweepstakes airplanes should have been owners. In fact, only five have been owners.

Sore losers in all seriousness often suggest that we somehow put restrictions on the sweepstakes to only allow people meeting certain criteria to win, such as non-owners, those of only certain financial means, those without any sort of letters attached to their name (such as MD, PhD, Esq., etc.). Not so coincidently, the people remaining in the pool often look a lot like the letter writer. Never mind that strict sweepstakes rules that vary from state to state and that are carefully monitored by attorneys general nationwide prohibit any such restrictions.

As I ponder what brings out the general crankiness of pilots, several things come to mind. The dismal state of the economy, especially as it pertains to general aviation, may contribute to the foul mood that drives people to fire off thoughtless and destructive messages. Perhaps it’s the political landscape that causes people to fear the future and frustration to well up. Maybe it’s the impersonal way we communicate today. It’s easy and quick to fire off an e-mail or post a forum comment without taking the time to reflect on the fact that a real person is going to read what is written. Those e-mails don’t go to some blind e-mail box. There’s a human being on the other end.

Toni Mensching, who heads up the AOPA team of specialists that answer the technical questions in members’ e-mails and calls summed up the mood and our frequent response recently in an internal e-mail a few months ago: “General member frustration and intolerance is beginning to seep into everyday contacts. The cause seems less to do with AOPA specifically and more to do with upcoming elections, economic turmoil, and an overall stress on aviation from all directions. There is increasing pressure from members contacting us venting about problems very distantly related to AOPA.  This is an unavoidable result of high AOPA accessibility. Easily getting a live, caring person on the line at AOPA gives members the ability to immediately share their frustrations with us, when they would otherwise hit a few barriers at other companies. Compassion is the only product we have for these members.”

With the start of a new year, how about we all take a deep breath and recognize that no matter how difficult today’s general aviation situation, we are still so much better off and freer to fly than pilots in just about any other country. Careless and destructive comments only tend to divide our ranks. Instead, we should be providing constructive comments that help us all get behind the big issues that threaten to derail general aviation as we know it. User fees have gone quiet, but not away. Avgas faces an uncertain future. Airport funding at the federal and state level will be thoroughly challenged in coming years. Our aging air traffic infrastructure is stuck in the 1940s. The pilot population is in decline. These are all issues that require focused, creative solutions. Together we can solve these problems. Or we can bicker among ourselves about hairstyles and the length of surveys. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather work together to assure a positive future for general aviation.

A state of transition

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Unless you regularly attend industry conventions, you may not have an appreciation for how much goes on behind the scenes and in advance to make them a success. Even after 25 years of going to aviation conventions, I am amazed seeing the transition from cavernous, empty exhibit hall to bustling center of commerce over the course of usually only a couple of days.

AOPA Aviation Summit is no different. Today the exhibit hall is abuzz with cranes, fork lifts, and workers hanging signs, lights, and displays; and laying carpet. Tomorrow the exhibitors arrive and with the help of hundreds of contract workers, they will set up 450 booth from small 10X10 displays to massive booths that seemingly need their own zip code.

Meanwhile, out at the Long Beach Airport, preparations are underway to position dozens of display aircraft and park hundreds of member airplanes. Look for our 2010 Fun to Fly Remos on site (and a very special announcement Friday morning on AOPA Live) and our 2011 Crossover Classic Cessna 182 with its macho TCM IO-550 engine.

The weather is terrific and is forecast to stay that way. I hope to see you at the show!

Hard lessons learned 25 years later

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

August 2, 2010, was the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of the most influential aircraft accidents of all time. The 1985 accident occurred when I was a newspaper reporter. But a few months later I was in my first job in aviation journalism, reporting for an aviation magazine and the accident investigation was fodder for many articles.

Looking back today, it’s hard to imagine an airliner sucumbing to windshear the wayDelta Flight 191 did that stormy day as it approached Dallas-Fort Worth. The Lockheed L-1011plowed through a thunderstorm at the edge of the airport headed for a landing. Instead, the airplane flew into windshear and crashed short of the runway, hitting a car on a highway and plowing through fences before breaking apart and burning. 135 people died. Dallas television station WFAA did a reflective piece on the anniversary and includes video and stills from the accident.

Of course, part of the reason it’s so unimaginable that an airplane would crash from wind shear is because of all that was learned from the 191 crash. Scientists investigating the crash “discovered” wind shear and as a result, airliners were required to be equipped with wind shear detection systems. Dozens of airports now have low-level wind shear detection systems and Doppler radar has been tuned to pick up the nuances in the atmosphere that suggest wind shear. Who knows how many accidents have been prevented because of what was learned from this one landmark accident.

For more on wind shear and its affect on aircraft, see“WxWatch: Shear Threats”  from the September 1997 issue of AOPA Pilot.

Going three wheeling

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Where are you landing this weekend? Somewhere other than pavement, I hope. Last week we quietly introduced a means to help you find new places to land. The AOPA Airports section on AOPA Online now includes the ability to search for “unpaved” runways. As I wrote in my Waypoints column in the July issue of AOPA Pilot, my most memorable and rewarding landings have occurred on other than paved runways. I think you’ll find that to be true too.

Other than pavement, grass runways are most prevalent, but there are many other options, including gravel, coral, sand, and water. It’s hard to believe here on this 95-degree day in Maryland, but snow and ice are other options in parts of the world.

To use the new AOPA Airports search feature, go to the AOPA Airports page and click on the Advanced Search option. From there, click the “unpaved” box and then in the Query window type what other search criteria you might like to include–your state, for example, to show all of the unpaved runways in your state.

Poke around among the airport options to find some interesting locations and try them this weekend. I look forward to hearing about your experiences back here on these pages. And if the heat is getting to you, you can always go back and revisit our feature from the January 2010 issue of AOPA Pilot about the ice runway at Alton Bay in New Hampshire. Happy flying.

Editor in Chief Tom Haines ready to launch for skiplane flying in a Cub at Cadillac, Michigan.

Who’s on first? Cessna wins Piper award

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

More than a little irony that the Cessna 162 Skycatcher is the winner of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Piper General Aviation Award for 2010.

And, yes, the Piper is that other major aircraft manufacturer, Piper Aircraft, and one of Cessna’s biggest competitors.

AIAA presents the Piper General Aviation Award annually for outstanding contributions leading to the advancement of general aviation. The award honors William T. Piper, Sr., who was founder and first president of Piper Aircraft Corporation.  The first recipient of the Piper General Aviation Award in 1989 was Fred Weick of the Piper Aircraft Company; you’ll recall that Weick was one of the designers of the famed PA-28 Cherokee line of products that completely modernized Piper’s fleet and soldiers on today. In fact, the PA-28 turns 50 this year. It was the Cherokee line that gave Cessna’s 100-series of airplanes a run for its money in the important training market, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

Beyond the competitive irony of Cessna winning an award fostered by Piper, the award this year is for Cessna’s entry into the light sport category–the same year that Piper has introduced it own LSA, the Piper Sport.

What next, the Gulfstream 650 wins the Cessna award for fastest civilian aircraft? It’s no secret that Cessna’s Jack Pelton is pained losing that title to Gulfstream after the Citation X at Mach 0.92. has held it since the Concorde retired. The 650 will cruise at Mach 0.925.

Our story on the Skycatcher, titled “Fun at Mach 0.162” takes some license with that Cessna speed title.

One pilot sparks GA in an entire country

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

You don’t know HaeWoon Lee’s name, but he is to Korea what instrument flight pioneer Lawrence Sperry or pilot extraordinaire Frank Kingston Smith is to general aviation in the United States. Lee isn’t a pioneer in general aviation in South Korea, he is the pioneer. He literally brought GA as we know it to his country, and only a dozen years ago.

Lee, an electronics entrepreneur, brought a ragtag, crashed Cessna 210 into the country in 1998  and through sheer willpower and a lot of cash and determination, rebuilt it and convinced the authorities to set up a means by which he could register it in the country. That task alone took nearly five years. Prior to Lee’s intervention, the only thing close to GA flying in the South Korea was that done by ultralights. The ultralights could not fly higher than 500 feet agl or more than 3 nm from the airport. With his introduction of the 210 and a Cessna 172 a friend of his bought to start a flight school, they launched what is still a fledgling and fragile GA industry in the country.

Today there are 18 rental aircraft in Korea. Lee, determined to grow GA in his nation, is the president of AOPA Korea and was a speaker at the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association’s World Assembly in Tel Aviv in mid June. He is just one of many pilots from around the world who told tales of overcoming remarkable odds to promote general aviation.

Aviation as a diplomat

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I’m sitting in the Sheraton Hotel on the lovely Mediterranean Sea beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, as delegates to the IAOPA World Assembly debate resolutions. This part of the biennial meeting is like watching paint dry, but it’s just a small part of the meeting that brings pilots together from around the world. This assembly, the twenty-fifth one for the group, includes representatives from 18 of 68 AOPA’s around the globe and four continents.

Throughout the week we have heard presentations from the delegates on their successes and challenges. As I listen from the perspective of a U.S. pilot, I am relieved to know that we, at least as yet, don’t face any where near the hurdles to aviating as do many of those from other countries. Ridiculous bureaucratic challenges and extreme fees hassle pilots from some of these countries in a way that those of us from the States can’t imagine. Many of the European pilots, for example, must take English language tests on a regular basis at fees from around $40 to several hundred dollars. In Japan, for example, we have learned that while hangar fees at public airports are only about $220 a month, there is an annual airwothiness fee of about $6,500 for an aircraft the size of a Cessna 172 and fuel costs $10 per gallon.
While there are differences among the group, it is amazing to watch as pilots with such diverse backgrounds and cultures come together seemingly as old friends because of the one thing they have in common–aviation. That common bond seems to trump any differences, causing strangers to become instant friends.
One of the aviation successes in Africa is Botswana–mostly because the president of Botswana is an active, enthusiastic general aviation pilot. Perhaps we should seek out a U.S. presidential candidate who is an active GA pilot.
Aviation is a wonderful diplomatic tool. Let’s deploy it worldwide.

Urban vs. rural America and the airport debate

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

In a pivotal moment in U.S. politics, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan said to President Jimmy Carter, “There you go again.” This time instead of debating health care reform as Reagan and Carter were (how’s that for irony from 1980?), it’s the Air Transport Association once again feeding disinformation about general aviation to a naive general media. ATA, which represents the airlines, spun up a few statistics about funding for general aviation airports and USAToday gobbled them up without bothering to question the source, resulting in a far less than balanced story that has done incredible damage to general aviation and the jobs it creates. The USAToday reporter did bother to contact AOPA, but then chose to ignore any input from our media relations staff. Be sure to read the comments on the USAToday story. Many of them are from pilots critical of the inaccurate reporting.

Of course, other media picked up the story, including USAToday partner, the NBC Today Show, which aired a nearly as misbalanced piece.

AOPA responded immediately with a statement and a story on our Home page.

Fortunately, as noted in the AOPA story, some local media also picked up on the story and then found out that their local airports really are an asset.

Unfortunately, what the major national media like to focus on is the perceived class war between “rich pilots” and the rest of the world. Never mind that pilots every day fly thousands of volunteer mercy missions from GA airports for man and animal. Firefighting flights depart from remote strips to reach forest fires. Yes, those airports–along with the airline airports–receive funding from the FAA–most of it provided by fuel and passenger taxes paid by GA pilots and airline passengers. Little of it from the general fund. Similar formulas fund the U.S. highway system.

To a certain extent, this is a case of not just a misperception about “rich pilots,” but also a misperception by the majority of people who live near urban centers about the rest of the population, which lives outside the beltway.

For rural communities many highway miles from the nearest airline airport, small airports are their only link to the rest of the world. As pointed out in the USAToday comments, a mile of highway gets you a mile. A mile of runway gets you anywhere. Ask the taxpaying U.S. citizens in rural America which they would rather have and I’ll bet the answer will universally be a mile of runway.

System overload–Meridian training days three and four

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

One difference between a single-engine piston airplane and a pressurized turboprop is the level of sophistication among the systems. While your average piston airplane has a simple electrical system and basic hydraulic system if any at all, a turbine airplane is likely to have multiple electrical busses, hydraulics driving numerous systems, and, of course, the pressurization system itself and redundancies.

While I knew all of this at a certain level, it wasn’t until going through the SimCom course for the Piper Meridian that I understood how sophisticated the systems are in the turboprop. Day three of the training was mostly spent wading through the systems. The thick training manual includes colorful system outlines, diagrams, and schematics. But it was instructor Bill Inglis who made it all come alive and made it relevant. Along with discussions about the systems, Inglis included right from the start points about how to deal with failures of those systems and the consequences. While checklists are stressed, there is also emphasis on cockpit flows–ways to move through checklist procedures in a logical path in the cockpit. Pilots can more easily move through flows and then follow up with the checklists to make sure no items are skipped.

In addition to the deep dive into systems, we spent time in the flight training device (FTD) practicing for failures. A Garmin G1000 trainer–basically a panel with the system installed just for practicing using the system–also proved helpful.

By day four–last day–it was time to go flying again. For that, we set off from Vero Beach, Florida, to Florence, South Carolina. The climb to FL270 gave me time to run through normal checklists and manage the systems. While en route we practiced running through checklist flows for a dozen imaginary problems. Of course, there were multiple approaches at each end.

Day five is the long anticipated flight home. Piper’s Bob Kromer handed me the keys to the $2.2 million airplane on day four. The plan is to fly it home solo today. Stay tuned.