Archive for January, 2012

Initiating change

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Big problems require big actions. This has been AOPA’s modus operandi behind the Flight Training Initiative, an effort the association thinks is vital to the future of flight training and general aviation. Since the beginning of the project a few years ago, we have focused on how to improve the flight training experience and ensure that more student pilots are able to make it from start to finish. For decades, aviation ignored this problem, instead relying on a steady flow of prospects through the flight training door. But now that the economy has faltered, the prospects don’t come like they used to, and when someone drops out of training it is having a significant effect on the pilot population.

To try and combat the problem we and others in the industry have begun a number of programs and projects, all of which we consider to be just the beginning of the effort. Today AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller announced the newest, and most exciting related project to date–the AOPA Flight Training Excellence Awards. This is not just another awards show. The hope is that far from simply having a nice dinner and a few trophies, the AOPA Flight Training Excellence Awards will be the catalyst for significant sea change within the industry.

The awards are meant to shine a bright spotlight on the flight schools and instructors that embody the ideals laid out in AOPA’s research report into the ideal flight training experience. The research showed that successful flight schools maintain a common set of practices and values that are irrelevant of size and location. Winning schools will be chosen as a direct result of customer feedback as it relates to the criteria.

Nowhere else in the industry is there a way to objectively grade your flight school. Thus the awards not only highlight those schools that are doing well, they will also form the backbone of the industry’s most extensive source of information yet on how customers feel our flight schools are performing. To participate, simply take a survey. It only takes a few minutes, and your results will make your school eligible for an award, and contribute to changing the industry for the better.

AOPA’s hope is that as schools examine what it takes to win an award, the institutional leaders will judge their own business against the criteria, and adjust accordingly. Given that the winning criteria is a set of objective measures that is scientifically proven, in doing so there is a real chance that the school will change for the better. Clearly the student is the biggest winner in this, as flight training becomes a more professional, more predictable endevaour. Through the students, our industry will ultimately benefit as we see schools get better and better at keeping those who dream about flying in the sky.

Please take a few minutes to complete a survey. Any customer, whether student pilot or ATP, can participate.

–Ian J. Twombly

Your first flight with a passenger

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

If you’re a student pilot reading this, I hope you have not taken your first flight with a passenger–because that would be a violation of the FARs. But we all know that the privilege to take a passenger flying is something we anticipate when we’re in the throes of training, performing our umpteenth power-off stall or plotting yet another flight and squinting over yet another weather forecast. There’s just something special about the prospect of sharing the joy of flight with someone else–hopefully someone who will come to love it as much as we do.

In the March issue of Flight Training, just gone to the printer, we bring you a story of a brand-new pilot who chose his dad and a good friend to be his first passengers. What happened on that flight made it memorable in more ways than one. I’ll say no more, except to tell you to read it when your issue hits your mailbox or your digital device.

And when you’re finished, if you’re a certificated pilot, please share your memories of your first flight with a passenger. Was it everything you thought it would be? Was it scary to have that responsibility–or was it fulfilling–or maybe a little of both? Please share your memories in the Comments section.–Jill Tallman

What are your most common emergencies?

Friday, January 13th, 2012

It’s an unusual question, but it isn’t. And I’m sure that somewhere, someone actually keeps track of this sort of stuff. It just doesn’t happen to be me. I’ve been asked this several times, and the question came to mind the other day when I had to declare an emergency.

First of all, one has to define what an emergency is. My company manual says that a flight emergency is “any situation, such as a malfunction of the aircraft, that requires immediate decision and action for the safety of flight…[and] requires special procedures to be taken beyond those normally utilized in flight operations.” Note that none of this includes various other emergencies, such as medical emergencies. Basically, what it says, is that…well, it’s so clearly written that it’s pretty obvious what it says.

Still, there is room for interpretation. For instance, we would all probably agree that an issue with a failed elevator would constitute an emergency, which would justify declaring the same. What about a flap failure—specifically, one in which the flaps simply failed to deploy? This was a not-uncommon issue on the CRJ for several years. If flaps fail to move, is that really an emergency? It depends on your definition. Some operations will dictate that if a flight control of any form is involved, then it is an emergency, no matter how minor or severe the situation. The no-flap landing speed on the CRJ is 172 knots indicated. The max groundspeed for the tires is 182 knots. If this scenario were to occur at a high- elevation landing, those two numbers could wind up eyeball-to-eyeball with each other. Besides, 172 knots on final is fast–real fast. Almost 200-miles-an-hour fast. That’s approaching space-shuttle-on-final fast.

But when it comes to “common” emergencies, I’m not sure that there really is a one-sized-fits-all approach. At least, there doesn’t appear to be one for me. I’ve had the flap failure. I’ve had gear issues (this, to me, is the ideal emergency if there is one). I once had a hydraulic failure that forced a diversion. One flight required an engine to be shut down because of improper maintenance done on the airplane after a bird strike the day before. My most recent one was a spoiler that did an uncommanded deployment in flight. An uncontrollable fuel transfer system once caused two emergencies in one day. I used to joke that the tower would just declare an emergency on my behalf every time I took off.

As you can see, there really isn’t a pattern, and that is a testament to how well airplanes are designed and built these days. The redundancy alone is a lifesaver. In fact, sometimes, a redundant system can save the day automatically, and the crew doesn’t even know there was a problem until the airplane says, “Hey, I had this issue, but chill, because I already fixed it.” If I had to pin down the most common issue, it wouldn’t be the airplane. It would the carbon-based units being transported on said airplane. Medical emergencies take place every day. In fact, at least three times a week, I hear a crew calling either ATC or the company about a passenger having a problem.

Of those, my own unscientific analysis seems to indicate that losing consciousness or having what appears to be a heart attack or a stroke top the list. I don’t know this, of course, but I hear an awful lot of discussion about those symptoms (it’s pretty hard to misdiagnose someone as passed out when they are out cold). Some of these get interesting too. Seizures can be dangerous not just for the victim, but also for those around them. They can be messy as well (use your imagination). Ladies going into labor get everyone’s attention. Guess how I know that?

Some emergencies you can practice for, and some you can’t. Some you shouldn’t just because it isn’t very safe to do so. But in your own mind, you should have a definition that suits your equipment and your experience. Should you find yourself within the bounds of that definition, then declare an emergency. As for the rumored “mountains” of paperwork? There is no such thing. ATC may ask for your contact info, but nobody is going to fault you, and nobody is going to be having you filling out piles of forms in triplicate or even in double-icate. Honestly, it’s no big deal. As a matter of fact, if an emergency situation clears itself (say your landing gear had a gremlin, but then acted normally and went to the commanded position), you can “undeclare” your emergency. If you want to, you can fill out a NASA ASRS form, but you are not required to fill anything out, so long as the airplane is not damaged.

Just don’t do what one crew did, and declare an emergency because the FMS/GPS quit and they didn’t think about navigating from VOR to VOR. I won’t say which airline it was for, but yes, it did happen. Once.—Chip Wright

Your aviation goals

Monday, January 9th, 2012

When we asked the Flight Training Facebook community “What are your aviation goals for 2012?” the wall lit up with responses. Fifty people took the time to write what they wanted to achieve. Not surprisingly, a lot of those people wrote “Get my private pilot certificate.”

Congratulations! Believe it or not, those who took that simple first step of jotting it on our Facebook wall are on their way. I’d love to see every single person achieve their aviation dream in 2012, and so I feel compelled to share motivational speaker Zig Ziglar’s goal-setting strategy. Let not another year go by without having taken that introductory flight, finished your training, or started your next certificate or rating.

  • Write it down (Done!)
  • Put a date on it
  • List the obstacles you have to overcome (Time? Money for training? Medical concerns? Spousal support?)
  • Identify the people, groups, or organizations you need to work with (Your CFI, your flight school, your spouse, your aviation medical examiner…)
  • Spell out a plan of action (If, say, you’re finishing up your cross-countries before taking the checkride, sit down with your CFI and look over what’s left to complete so that nothing comes as a surprise. Similarly, if you’re just starting out on the road to a certificate, ask your flight instructor to go over the syllabus with you so that you have a working understanding of what lies ahead.)
  • Set a time limit.
  • Identify the benefits that you will obtain.  That’s an easy one for most of us! Freedom, adventure, travel, and greater self-confidence are just some of the benefits that you may experience when you become a pilot. Good luck in 2012!–Jill W. Tallman


No more falling asleep on the job

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Late last month the FAA gave pilots a truly needed-and long awaited-Christmas present. For the first time since the 1960s, the government instituted a major overhaul of pilot rest and duty rules, known as flight time/duty time (FTDT). While the impetus was the crash of Colgan 3407 in Buffalo in 2009, pilots, both individually and through the voices of their various unions, have been pushing for changes for decades. Specifically, they have been advocating for changes based on valid scientific research on the effects of changes in the circadian rhythms of the human body, and on pilots in particular. The major factors that needed to be studied were the changes in wake/sleep cycles, both in the home base and after crossing time zones, as well as the changes brought on by being in a different bed every night. Constant pressurization cycles also fatigue a pilot, as their bodies have to go from ambient pressure altitudes as low as sea level to a cabin altitude of several thousand feet, and do this several times a day.

The new rule, which runs more than 300 pages, also creates a new FAR section-Part 117.

Under the old rules, pilots could work a 16-hour duty day, defined as the point at which the pilot reported to work until he was released from duty by his company. The time of day was not taken into account, so it was possible to work 16 straight hours whether you started at 8 a.m. or 8 p.m. This alone led to serious concerns and complaints. If a pilot was on a normal circadian cycle, woke up at 8 a.m., and did not need to report to work until 8 p.m., he might face a 16-hour day that would end with him being awake for nearly 30 hours before he set the brake.


I love the radio

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

I love YouTube. Some of the videos will leave you in stitches from laughing so hard. Other don’t have video, just audio. One I was pointed to recently was “JFK Bad day at the office –ATC.” It runs about nine minutes, and it is but a snippet of a typical day in New York. Having flown in and out of there for years, I recognize the controller’s voice and his frustration.

As much as I dread the delays and issues of flying into New York, some of the funniest transmissions have come from there. When you fly into John F. Kennedy International from the south, a common clearance is to cross the HOGGS intersection at FL180. One of the Mexican airlines (I don’t recall which one) was given that clearance, which he read back. A few minutes later, the controller, stunned that the flight in question was still at the previously assigned altitude, said, “Hey, I told you to cross HOGGS at one-eight-oh.” The response? “Some days you make it, some days you don’t.”

What can you say to that?

An Air China 747 once was taxiing at night at JFK and seemed to be determined to just bully his way to the runway. I could hear him making his way around the airport while I not-so-patiently waited to get out of the ramp. The final straw was when he cut off a Delta flight that was also exiting the ramp. The Delta crew queried, “What the hell is Air China doing?” The frequency—and this is truly rare at JFK—got totally silent. A second later, it was the controller cursing. “I don’t know what the hell Air China is doing! Air China doesn’t know what the hell Air China is doing! All aircraft just stop. Air China, taxi to the end of the runway, and you are cleared for immediate takeoff. Just get out of here!” It could only happen in New York.

Proof that controllers have a sense of humor came from the JFK ATIS one day: “Attention all airmen. Managers and supervisors working radar. Speak slowly and succinctly please.” Classic.

Others have circulated lists on the Internet over the years of things that have supposedly been said on the radio. Some I believe, some not so much. Some have been so distorted that the airports involved are clearly wrong. Some are urban legends. Some controllers are also famous. There was one at La Guardia for years who had a reputation among pilots for being a horrible ground controller. Airplanes would somehow end up facing each other, or getting farther away from their gate, or just parked somewhere for no apparent reason. One time the airport was a parking lot for airplanes hit by weather delays, and everyone was trying to ask a question. At one point, there were no responses from Ground, so it got quiet for a few seconds. A different—but all too familiar–voice came on: “All aircraft please stand by. Controller change in progress.” A second or so later, a pilot keyed the mic and said what we were all thinking: “Oh, boy. Here we go.” That had to hurt.

I’m sure you all have your tales of things said and heard. Send them in, so we can all share a chuckle or two.–Chip Wright