Tom Haines Archive

An Air Force One colossal screw up

Monday, April 27th, 2009

I don’t know whether to be furious or amused by the, um, snafu the federal government created when an F-16 and a Boeing 747 flew at low altitude over Manhattan April 27 striking understandable fear in the minds of a still shell-shocked city. People scrambled from high rises. Construction workers raced from their perches. Even the stock market took a dip at about the time the seemingly perilous scene unfolded in the crystal blue skies remarkably similar to those on Sept. 11, 2001 when airliners also flew low over the skyline and ultimately changing the course of history.

The New York Times reports that the feds went to some length to let New York officials know that the photo shoot involving a VC-25, the Air Force version of the 747 used to transport the president, and the fighter was planned for over the city. While many agencies were informed, none bothered to alert the public or the media and according to one report, the police department was warned not to tell anyone.

Here’s a quote from the NYT article:

The Police Department confirmed that it had been notified about the event but said it had been barred from alerting the public. “The flight of a VC-25 aircraft and F-16 fighters this morning was authorized by the F.A.A. for the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it but to direct any inquiries to the F.A.A. Air Traffic Security Coordinator,” the Police Department said in a statement.

Even with the notification, it was a stupid and tasteless stunt by the White House Military Office. While it infuriates me that they would be so clueless about the possible impact on the city, it amuses me that not even the federal and city officials can coordinate such a simple thing and then they wonder why average general aviation pilots occasionally screw up and mistakenly enter a TFR, causing confusion for those at the same agencies.

As happens when a GA pilot stumbles into airspace where he is not supposed to be, I hope someone in charge of the VC-25 operation gets a good talking to by someone wearing a badge . Makes me wonder if the VC-25 pilots were forced to lie face down on the tarmac with a gun pointing at them as we’ve seen happen to GA pilots.

A deal you can’t refuse

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Amidst all the economic and political turmoil and the seemingly endless torrent of threats to general aviation, I feel the need every once in a while to get away from it all, don’t you?

I have a plan. Maybe you can help. I’ve discovered this cozy little 17th century place in Normandy, France, that is just the sort of escape we’re all pining for. Of course, it includes a 3,000-foot grass runway with hangar, nine buildings, a golf course, 300-yard polo field, stables, and more on 105 acres. Good news! It’s for sale. Price? If you have to ask….

But, I know that a few of you out there are in a position to not just afford, but also NEED a place like this. So, you buy it and I’ll come visit. I drive a mean lawnmower, so I can even help out a little. Let me know when the deal closes and I’ll start packing.

Need a few details before sending the deposit? Check here:

Looking forward to hearing back from you soon.

Missing Meigs

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

The Garmin GNS 530 reported a groundspeed of 119 knots while reporting a true airspeed of 162 knots–43 knots of wind on the nose, adding a full hour to the trip from Frederick, Maryland, to Chicago. Even running lean of peak exhaust gas temperature, I was beginning to wonder about fuel reserves. The 530 was showing more than an hour and 15 minutes of fuel on landing, but that’s a straight line to the destination of Chicago Executive, Palwaukee (PWK). And I knew that Chicago Approach wouldn’t allow us a direct route over the city and Chicago O’Hare to PWK.

As predicted, the first Chicago Approach controller had a re-route for us, but at least a choice. Either over the southern end of Lake Michigan–a bit more direct, or south and west of the city before turning back toward PWK–longer, for sure. I chose the longer route because that lake is COLD this time of year in particular and we would be at relatively low altitude by then.

So around Robinhood’s barn we went and ultimately landed with about an hour of fuel on this VFR day, so plenty. Then it was nearly an hour car ride downtown where we really wanted to go. If only there were a GA airport nearer downtown. What a concept!

Standing on the lake shore looking out at Northerly Island, I felt as if I were at a wake–missing an old friend. Once the site of embattled Meigs Field, a perfect GA airport only blocks from the heart of Chicago, the island is now just another park among dozens along the lake shore. Mayor Richard Daley cowardly bulldozed the airport under the cover of darkness, knowing he couldn’t get away with it any other way.

For pilots, the Meigs legacy has become the poster child of the dangers of backroom politics and lack of federal protection for key airports. Legislation since then may reduce the likelihood of such a deed occurring again, but it won’t stop those of us who enjoy Chicago from wishing we had a more convenient choice.

Don’t let this happen to your airport. AOPA has lots of resources to help you protect your airport from the Mayor Daleys of the world and others who would do general aviation harm. But most important, get involved.

Another breakthrough for women pilots

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Women pilots made the news again this week, just a few days after Karoline Amodeo won AOPA’s 2008 Get Your Glass Sweeptakes Archer at the Women in Aviation Conference. Atlantic Southeast Airlines announced that the first all-female African American crew in commercial airline history piloted a Canadair CRJ 700 from Atlanta to Nashville and back on Feb. 12, 2009.

The crew included Capt. Rachelle Jones, First Officer Stephanie Grant, and flight attendants Diana Galloway and Robin Rogers.

The flight comes 36 years after Emily H. Warner became the first woman pilot for a major U.S. scheduled airline when she was hired by Frontier Airlines in January 1973.

The first all-female flight crew consisted of Capt. Beverly Bass, First Officer Terry Queijo, and Flight Engineer Terry Welch, flying a Boeing 727 from Washington National to Dallas-Fort Worth. Bass would go on to captain the first all-female crewed Boeing 777 flight.

Amodeo is headed to controller school. Maybe some day soon she will be guiding another all-female crew.

Nice to see those glass ceilings going the way of the ADF.

Monitoring one BIG baby

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

A blimp is like a child that never grows up. From the day its 200,000 cubic foot envelope is inflated, a Goodyear blimp is monitored 24/7–never left alone. I visited the Goodyear Spirit of Innovation today at its gigantic hangar on the airport at Pompano Beach Airport in Florida. The 200-foot blimp looks almost like a toy inside the enormous span. I’m told they can actually fit two of the blimps inside, although it must surely be tight. You can easily read the big Goodyear on the side of the hangar from space! Check out the satellite view from Google; switch to satellite view, search on “Pompano Beach Airpark, FL” and zoom:

Staff continuously monitor the gas pressure inside the envelope. Actually, an automatic system monitors the gas pressure and occasionally starts an air pump to inflate or deflate ballonets inside the envelope to maintain the proper helium pressure. Staff monitor the pump and other systems.

Look for a feature on the historic Goodyear blimps in the May issue of AOPA PILOT and a really amazing photo that we plan to shoot tomorrow. Goodyear Aviation, at 100, isn’t the only outfit to have a significant birthday this year. Stay tuned.

Business aviation finally wakes up

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Finally, aviation strikes back. Weeks after the auto executives and their PR flacks tucked tails between legs and drove to/from Washington rather than standing up and saying, “Oh, yes, business aircraft do have a place in our global companies,” and other companies canceled business jet orders by press release, aviation manufacturers are stepping up and promoting the notion that for a lot of companies appropriately sized business aircraft make a lot of sense. They improve productivity, speed commerce, and increase security.

Cessna CEO Jack Pelton kicked off the effort through ads in the Wall Street Journal that state: “Timidity didn’t get you this far. Why put it in your business plan now?” and “One thing is certain: true visionaries will continue to fly.” Pelton’s loud support for the business aviation sector caught the attention of the talk show circuit, including Rush Limbaugh, who spent a good portion of his show recently shouting about the jobs that GA creates and the benefits of business aviation. A transcript is on his Web site.

Meanwhile, Hawker Beechcraft CEO Jim Schuster also picked up the mantle in a series of ads suggesting the company’s King Air 350s are “Sensible enough to impress any Congressional Committee.” On a similar theme, another ad targeted Starbucks, the coffee giant that recently trimmed its fleet. “Dear Starbucks, You still need to fly. We can help.” The ad uses the Hawker 4000 as an example of a jet that “does most of what bigger jets do, but at half the price.” It urges the coffee company to “right-size” its flight department.

Even Cirrus Design CEO Brent Wouters hit the campaign trail, stumping on Fox Business News about the notion that private aviation is not only good jobs, but a real lifeline for small communities where airline service is disappearing and the efficiency of airline travel in general is eroding. A clip from FBN and a compelling video clip of the company’s Flying 2.0 plan is on the Cirrus Web site.

The entire business aviation community rallied on February 17 with the unveiling of an industry-wide campaign to reshape the image of business aviation through the “No Plane, No Gain” program, a tagline launched by the industry more than a decade ago. However, now the content is targeted clearly at today’s problems.

It’s not over yet, but congratulations to the industy for stepping up in support of business aviation and for reminding the public that “business aviation” runs the gamut from a single-engine pistoin airplane carrying a sole salesman or contractor intrastate to executives flying globally to close a multibillion deal.

The consequences of the sound bite

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

The law of unintended consequences is hard at work in this troubled economy. On the morning shows today, Wells Fargo Bank was being trounced for planning to go forward with a long-booked Las Vegas gathering of its top mortgage sellers. It was to be an elaborate affair, reward for a year of hard work in tough times. When the media pointed out that the company had received some $25 billion in bail out funds, Wells Fargo began back pedaling and after a couple of attempts to vindicate itself, finally caved and canceled the event. Bummer for those planning to go.

It’s hard to defend a lavish event like that when you’re on the public dole. But remember that one function of the bail out is to stimulate the economy. So, how many Las Vegas hospitality workers will be laid off or at least have their hours cut back because Wells Fargo failed to show? Those people’s livelihoods depend on people coming to town, booking hotel rooms, dropping a wad of cash at the casino, riding that roller coaster on top of the Stratosphere, and, my favorite, visiting the Star Trek extravaganza at the Hilton.

Here’s the aviation connection you’ve been so patiently waiting for: Congress and the media have been drubbing on the business aviation industry as if it were some evil cartel that needs to be stamped out of existence. Thanks to the Big Three Automakers and Citibank’s unwillingness to even attempt to justify their use of business aircraft, we have a feeding frenzy of negative attention to anything with wings or a rotor.

Congress and the media want to overlook the fact that general aviation spawns some 1 million jobs and contributes about $150 billion a year to the US economy–and it has a positive trade balance. Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Cirrus, Mooney, Piper–they’ve all had massive layoffs, devastating families. In an aviation town such as Wichita, it’s not unusual to have both spouses and multi-generations working for aviation manufacturers. What if they all get the axe because some congressman spewed venom against business aviation, forcing companies that use everything from Bonanzas to Beechjets to duck for cover and ultimately sell their airplanes? Bill Garvey, editor in chief of Business and Commercial Aviation does a masterful job of laying it out in layman’s terms in an op-ed piece in The New York Times this week.

No one is advocating the willy-nilly use of business aircraft or any other expensive asset by any company, whether they’re getting public funds or not. But let’s not trash an entire industry that produces good-paying jobs and contributes mightily to America’s economy and industrial might just for the sake of a poorly thought-out sound bite. There are, after all, consequences to such posturing. Just ask the thousands of aviation workers now lining up at the employment office.

Fly the Zeppelin!

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Flying a Zeppelin is, well, a gas. Now you can experience it yourself. When I wrote the feature article in the February issue of AOPA Pilot , pricing and details of the pilot experience program hadn’t been finalized. Now Airship Ventures has the details on its Web site about how you can fly America’s only Zeppelin. For about $3,000 you can spend a day learning about the big airship and then climb aboard and fly it around the San Francisco area. Now, there’s a Father’s Day gift dad will appreciate more than that paisley tie. And don’t forget, Valentine’s Day is even sooner….(note to self, send URL to Brenda!).

Managed maintenance–the next big thing?

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

My 2009 prediction: This will be the year that “managed maintenance” goes from curiosity to mainstream for single-engine piston airplanes. Turbine aircraft owners for years have enjoyed the convenience of “Power by the Hour” maintenance agreements that cover all maintenance issues for engines and airframes. Such programs may not be cheaper than paying for individual maintenance items as they crop up, but the owners of expensive airplanes are willing to pay more for the convenience of being able to budget for maintenance with an assurance that some major gotcha won’t crop up.

Because of such maintenance programs and good maintenance tracking in general, the service life of parts for turbine aircraft is well known and understood. That’s typically not been the case in lighter airplanes. As a result, few companies have been willing to underwrite such programs and owners have typically not been willing to pay more for such convenience.

But that’s changing. Managed maintenance is starting to show up in various forms in the GA market. Cirrus Design, for example, just last week announced its CMX program that at least partially mirrors the turbine programs. Cirrus owners can sign up by paying between $2,900 and $3,900, depending on the model, and then pay between $3,179 and $3,667 for 100-hour blocks of essentially spinner to tailcone coverage for airplanes up to two to three years old. That may sound like a lot, but once you’ve paid the initiation fee it amounts to between $32 and $37 per flight hour for maintenance. Remember, you’re going to be paying something close to that for maintenance one way or another, so those are not all new costs.

SAMM takes another approach. The Savvy Aircraft Maintenance Manager was established by maintenance guru Mike Busch who has forgotten more about how to maintain an airplane than most of us will ever know. Under his program, owners pay his company a fixed annual fee that varies from about $500 for a simple fixed-gear single to $750 for a complex single, to $1,000 for a piston twin and up to $2,000 for a very light jet. For that fee, SAMM staff will manage your maintenance for you, intervening with the shop to make sure you are getting the best deals, hunting down parts, deferring what it determines to be unnecessary maintenance, and generally working on your behalf to assure you are getting a good value for your maintenance dollar. You’re still responsible for the maintenance bill, but in most cases SAMM oversight will reduce your costs enough over the course of the year to pay for itself.

Eastern Cincinnati Aviation, a sister company to Sporty’s Pilot Shop, recently announced a series of concierge services to simplify the life of an aircraft owner. Among them is the review of aircraft records and the creation of a maintenance schedule meant to maximize safety and minimize down time. Other services include such helpful items as putting the airplane into the hangar after flights and looking it over for maintenance squawks to making sure navigation data subscriptions are current and installed.

As a long-time aircraft owner, I have mixed reactions so such programs. I would enjoy the convenience of such services and the ability to budget for maintenance expenses. On the other hand, after all these years of being heavily involved in managing the maintenance–which is time-consuming, for sure–I think I would miss not being so involved.

What do you think? Will such convenience services catch on in a big way?

Aboard the Honda Super Cub

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

You may know about the business alliance between Honda Aircraft and Piper Aircraft that allows Honda to tap into Piper’s dealer network to sell the HondaJet. But did you know that Honda built Super Cubs? Me either. But a recent Twitter post by a Honda spokeswoman says that a 1959 Honda Super Cub will lead the 120th annual Rose Parade on New Years Day–you know, that big parade that occurs before the 95th annual Rose Bowl Game where Penn State is going to beat USC.

A couple of Google strokes shows me that, alas, the Honda Super Cub is not a Piper knock off, but a motorcycle–the motorcycle that launched Honda’s U.S. presence back in 1959. In fact, the model lives on today as the Honda 50.

So, all you motorcycle aficionados, did you know about the Honda Super Cub and have you ever ridden a vintage one?