Archive for August, 2011

Another user-fee horror story

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

If you live in New Zealand, you’ve been asked since August 1 to pay $100 per year for weather briefings from private companies. That’s because the New Zealand government cut off funding to private briefing services–and we all understand the world is coming up a dollar or two short these days. Everybody has to cut back. However, one of those private weather briefing companies saw its subscriber base shrink from 5,000 to 277. It could affect general aviation in several ways. One is to see an increase in the number of weather-related accidents (and an increase in costly government accident investigations). Another is to reduce interest in flying, leading to loss of jobs in aviation in New Zealand, leading to a still lower tax base and greater economic problems for the New Zealand government. Then the government will have to cut something else, unless it spots the cause-and-effect in time.

It’s over when it’s over

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Not every company had a bad second quarter in the recent aircraft delivery report by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.  Diamond went from 35 deliveries in the second quarter of 2010 to 50 in this most recent quarter. Pilatus went from 13 aircraft deliveries to 17. Piaggio Aero delivered two aircraft instead of just one in the second quarter of 2010, so that still counts. But most companies saw a decline in deliveries, and suprisingly it was single-engine piston aircraft joining with business jets to rack up the more dramatic second-quarter declines. In the United States, single-engine deliveries dropped from 210 in the second quarter of 2010 to 133 in the most recent quarter. If piston aircraft are the canaries in the coal mine, is the aviation economy once again on its death bed? My thought is to predict neither doom nor salvation. As I recall, we here at AOPA and many others proclaimed an end to the recession in mid-2009. That didn’t happen. It won’t be over until it’s over, and no one knows when that is, but this, too, shall pass. Chill.

Boots on the ground

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Jon Short and Cowboy

Jon Short (far right) and Cowboy to his immediate left prepare to head out with the team.

After an early departure from Cullman, Ala., at 1:45 a.m. Central time Aug. 30, Jon Short, Cowboy (Brian Ferguson), and his crew rolled into Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport around 7 a.m. to be part of the Bahamas Habitat fly-out to different islands in the Bahamas. Cowboy and two volunteers will be working on Cat Island for a week, and Short is ferrying supplies in his Aztec. He flew several missions on Tuesday before clearing U.S. Customs about 7 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale. But that still wasn’t the end of his day, which was already pushing 16 hours. He had to get reloaded with supplies for Wednesday. (His mission isn’t scheduled for 1:45 a.m., so maybe he’ll catch a few extra winks.)

By mid-morning Tuesday, Cowboy and his two volunteers had already assessed many of the needs on Cat Island. We met up with them after clearing Bahamian customs on Great Exuma Island, which seemed to weather the storm with mainly damage to trees.

Damage on Cat Island.

Cat Island, and particularly the Orange Creek area of the island, was hit hard. Much of the fencing in front of the FBO at Arthur’s Town Airport on the island was leveled. But that was minor. In some places, asphalt was washed off the roads like sheets of tar paper. Trees were twisted, and power lines were in the streets. Hurricane Irene’s storm surge washed through the back of one woman’s house, pushing her refrigerator out the front and across the street. Everything two feet and lower was ruined. She plans to move her furniture outside to let it dry. Cowboy said one of his team’s goals will be to help disinfect her house to prevent mold.

Annie Burrows, a janitor at the FBO at Arthur’s Town Airport, has been cleaning the airport facility and helping move relief supplies that are being flown in by Bahamas Habitat. She’s putting her needs last. Her house is still standing, but she lost everything. “I lay on the floor and keep the door open,” she says of living at home now. The water ruined her mattress and the lack of electricity makes being inside without a fan unbearable. Residents in Orange Creek should get power later this week or early next week, one local estimates.

Unloading supplies on Cat Island.

After unloading half of the supplies from a Baron and Aztec at Cat Island (and stacking them in a truck and van, unloading the van where supplies will be sorted, and then reloading the van from another aircraft that had flown in), we wish Cowboy and his crew luck with the big task ahead and head to our next destination. We survey Long Island from the air and then fly to Governors Harbour on Eleuthera Island where Bahamas Habitat has a base camp.

A Piper PA-23-250 at Governors Harbour International Airport was ripped to shreds. The tiedown, chalks, and three 100-lb sandbags that were meant to hold it in place were still in their places. The aircraft, however, had flipped over the airport’s perimeter fence, both engines torn from the aircraft, and the fuselage cut in half behind the baggage door.

Twin destroyed by Irene at Governors Harbour.

We should have known that would foretell the destruction we would soon see.

Bahamas Methodist Habitat Executive Director Abraham McIntyre and Rev. Kenya Lovell, minister for the Central Eleutheran Region of the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church, brought us to Cupid’s Cay near the airport while they continued to survey damage, assess needs, and hand out tarps. Trees, mattresses, and appliances were piled in between houses along the one-lane roads. A family worked to erect one side of a room that had collapsed. Another man sat on a downed telephone pole, his head down as he rested his elbows on his knees. But he paused for only a moment before getting back to work.

That’s how resilient all of the Bahamians have seemed on this trip.

Diana Demeritte

Even Diana Demeritte, whose husband of seven years died in March and whose house was almost completely destroyed by Irene, is picking up and moving forward. She’s cleaning out her house, surviving with a makeshift plywood roof and a tarp, two gallons of clean water, and some nonperishable food. Amid the cleanup and heartbreak, she takes some time for herself—coloring her hair.

John Gaitor’s house was farther inland than Demeritte’s, but the shingles on his roof lifted, allowing the hurricane’s rains to flood several rooms. Sometimes he needs a little motivation to continue the cleanup effort after a long day at work with Bahamas customs. Without any electricity, he gets a little creative. One evening, he turned on his car radio. Music streaming from the car put him and his neighbors in cleanup mode. “It keeps that community spirit,” Gaitor says of joking with friends and playing music.

The Bahamians are taking Hurricane Irene’s destructive path in stride, but they still need help—especially those in underserved areas far from the resort towns. Many of the docks on the islands were damaged, making it difficult for ships to deliver supplies. General aviation has played a key role in getting food, drinking water, and tarps to the Bahamians quickly. And with the long days of logistics calculations and flight time, these pilots and volunteers seem as resilient as those they are serving. In just a few hours, they’ll be at it again. Nine flight activities are scheduled to various islands on Wednesday, as half a dozen pilots or more are volunteering to help. Another 1,000 pounds of supplies will be dropped off at Fort Lauderdale Executive to be delivered. Short will be flying around the islands delivering food and water, and Cowboy is scheduled to get some much-needed roofing supplies on Cat Island.

Reaching forgotten islands

Monday, August 29th, 2011

I’ve always dreamed about visiting the Bahamas Islands. Romantic walks on the beach at sunset. You get the picture. I never dreamed that my first trip to the Bahamas would be as part of a disaster relief effort. Yet in less than 12 hours AOPA Staff Photographer Chris Rose and I will be participating in relief flights with Bahamas Habitat. A Baron and Aztec are just two of the aircraft that will be flying supplies over multiple days to Cat Island, Eleuthera, and Acklins Island.

The Bahamas were hard hit by Hurricane Irene, a category 3 storm, but attention quickly shifted from the Bahamas to the East Coast of the United States as many feared the devastation the hurricane would cause if it hit multiple highly populated areas along the coast.

According to Bahamas Habitat Aviation and Disaster Relief Coordinator Cameron King, no deaths were reported from the storm in the Bahamas. However, some of the smaller, non-tourist-attraction areas with weak or little infrastructure are suffering.

King says relief operations typically fall into three categories: “stop the bleeding,” as in major disasters such as the Haiti earthquake; “come up for air”; and the long-term rebuilding process. These relief flights to the Bahamas fall into the last category. King, who has flown many missions to Haiti, says it is a blessing that no lives were lost because of Hurricane Irene and that the greatest need right now is to meet basic human needs: food, water, and shelter. On some of the islands, there is no power and no way to sanitize drinking water. Since Aug. 26, Bahamas Habitat has been working with volunteer pilots to fly food, water, and materials to help create temporary fixes to damaged houses. Generators and roof tarps are essential. Acklins Island, one of the southern sparsely populated islands, was hardest hit and sustained major damage to nearly all of the homes.

On Tuesday morning, Aug. 30, volunteer pilots and a work group will team up to deliver supplies to many locations and help on the ground with the cleanup effort. I’m looking forward to meeting these generous volunteers, like Jon Short, who is not short at all, King jokes, and Cowboy (that’s the only name King gives for him) who will help lead the first Bahamas Habitat work team on the islands. Both have helped with Haiti relief efforts. One group will be leaving Alabama at 2 a.m. Central Tuesday to arrive in time for the 7 a.m. meeting to get the day started.

This trip will be pretty much the opposite of what I had dreamed about the Bahamas; but participating in mission aviation and the relief effort will, no doubt, make my dream pale in comparison. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

New Cub on the scene

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Super Legend

I should have reported on this long ago, but the Super Legend will be overlooked no more. The American Legend Aircraft Company’s 115-horsepower Super Legend has the same power-to-weight ratio as a 150-horsepower Piper Super Cub, yet it remains in the light sport aircraft category–meaning it is one of those planes you can fly with a driver’s license instead of an FAA medical certificate. A Lycoming O-233 engine powers the $147,000 aircraft. It has carbon fiber doors, cowling, and interior panels. It also has a baggage door, a folding and removable rear seat, and an adjustable front seat. With 32 gallons of fuel, it can stay up there for five hours, or go 486 miles in no wind conditions.  The payload with full fuel is 283 pounds.

Extreme Weather Magnet?

Friday, August 26th, 2011

The AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky got its nickname by surviving the Sun’n Fun tornado on March 31. But the airplane seems to attract extreme weather conditions wherever it goes.
On a recent trip to Wyoming, severe thunderstorms (the unforecast kind) blew through the night after the Tornado Husky arrived. In Montana, its arrival was accompanied by a fierce summer squall. Back at AOPA headquarters in Maryland, it recently went through an extremely rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake. And this weekend’s forecast: Hurricane Irene.

Denali Scout certified

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

The FAA approved on Aug. 24 the installation by American Champion Aircraft of a 210-horsepower Lycoming IO-390 engine on the Scout, which is now a 180-horsepower airplane. The Scout is the first certified airplane to use the engine, following its success in the Experimental market. Both the 180- and 210 horsepower models will now be offered. The aircraft literally has more get-up-and-go for those using short runways, dealing with high altitudes, or needing extra getaway power in the mountains. Just having fun is OK, too.

Would you see a film about the Barefoot Bandit?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

In the “News That Makes My Blood Pressure Shoot Up A Few Points” category, the Huffington Post is reporting that Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Bandit, has signed a deal with 20th Century Fox to do a film about his life story. The deal could be worth as much as $1.3 million. He wouldn’t get a dime of it, of course; plea bargains he made in June to the various felony charges (including stealing airplanes) prevent that. (By the way, check out Mike Collins’ account of the Barefoot Bandit saga here.) Harris-Moore is set to be sentenced in October.

He might not get a dime, but he’ll continue to get notoriety. Even if I vote with my wallet, I suppose his 80 zillion Facebook friends will make up the difference at the box office.

What about you? Would you see a film about the Barefoot Bandit?

‘That’s easy,’ yeah right

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Sometimes, the most well-meaning comments can do more damage than good. And in the aviation world, “That’s easy” can actually discourage students and already certificated pilots instead of pumping them up for that next certificate or rating.

I remember talking to seasoned pilots before I started my commercial certificate training. Everyone said, “That’s easy,” or “It’s a glorified private.” So, in my mind, getting the commercial should be a cinch. Then I tried chandelles and lazy eights. Not so easy the first time, or the second, or the tenth. I got it, but it took lots of practice (and patience) and working with two different instructors to get the maneuvers set in my head and then transferred to the cockpit.

I’ve talked to other pilots who have either thought about getting their commercial certificate or are working on it, and they share one commonality. Everyone told them it would be easy but they’re either discouraged or wonder why it they can’t master the maneuvers right off the bat. Some might just give up instead of sticking it out because it’s not as easy as they were led to believe.

That made me think. If those two words can discourage pilots who already have their private pilot certificate and, in many cases, the instrument rating as well, how damaging can they be to a student pilot? If a pilot calls a maneuver easy that students don’t understand, they might fear that they aren’t cut out for flying.

There’s no “easy button” in aviation. Even the most naturally gifted pilot has to work at it. While some maneuvers may be less complex, that doesn’t make them easy. And what is easy for one pilot isn’t easy for another.

So how about we stop telling future pilots and students “that’s easy.” Really, our intent is to give them a pep talk. Instead, why not say, “You can do it! It’ll take practice, but you’ll get it”? Then, when the going gets rough, as it always does at some point in the training process, they might not get as discouraged because it isn’t coming “easy” to them.

What do you say to encourage pilots instead of “That’s easy”?

Commander Premiere to be evicted

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Cape Girardeau, Missouri, city officials have won the cooperation of a Texas bankruptcy court in evicting Commander Premiere Aircraft from its hangar at the Cape Girardeau airport, according to a story in the Southeast Missourian. The company until recently had hoped a Canadian investor could win funds from an European bank to complete the purchase of the company. Founder, investor, and former Commander President Joel Hartstone essentially told the newspaper he is tired of begging the city to help him bring a new industry to the town. Now he must find a new buyer, but will suggest to the owner that the company not remain in what he sees as hostile territory. The city, meantime, claims the company has not made any lease payments on its building since 2007. It might take as few as two weeks for the eviction to occur. The city built the building for Renaissance Aircraft, which also failed to prosper, but paid it off with casino funds. So far the eviction saga has lasted nearly a year.