Posts Tagged ‘FAA’

Operations specifications

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

If you talk to pilots from different airlines, it becomes pretty apparent that they are very different in many ways, and in other ways, they are exactly the same. The reason is that they each must operate under their specified operations specifications, commonly called their ops specs.

Every Part 135 and 121 airline has an ops spec, which is essentially the blueprint that has been approved by the FAA for that airline. Ops spec C55, for example, deals with certain required weather criteria for determining the suitability/requirement for an alternate.

Every airline has some form of C55, but there may be exceptions within the ops specs. The details are negotiated between the airline and the principal operations inspector, or POI, the individual at the FAA who is responsible for the oversight of the airline. As you might imagine, that alone is a huge job, and it’s one that requires a staff of experts in all areas of airline operations. There are folks who work in flight operations, maintenance, in flight (the flight attendants), security—you name it. The POI is the head honcho.

How much latitude an airline gets depends on a number of things. If the POI is comfortable with the managers of the airline, he or she is more likely to grant some leeway and relax some of the restrictions. However, if the airline is fairly new, or has a questionable safety record, or is staffed by relatively inexperienced pilots, expect the requirements to be a bit tighter. Likewise, if the company is mature and has a long history of solid operations, you’ll see less resistance in doing more complex operations.

Some POIs are just conservative and are very reluctant to approve of changes that the airline believes it needs. Others are pretty progressive. The pace at which airlines are moving toward electronic flight bags, or EFBs, often is a reflection of the personalities of the POIs and whether they are willing to do away with paper charts.

Another good example might be Category II ILS approaches. CAT II approaches are much riskier than CAT I, and they have a slew of extra maintenance requirements, along with pilot training needs that need to be met. Financially, it’s an expensive program to have, and so many regional airlines opt not to pursue the CAT II certification, even if the equipment is capable. I was at Comair for nearly 10 years before we finally pursued CAT II operations. When we started doing a lot of flights into Atlanta, we experienced a lot of delays, cancellations, and diversions caused by fog that had the ILS approaches down to CAT II. Delta owned us, and finally agreed that it was costing more money not to have the option than we were saving, and the investment was made.

But we didn’t just start flying 1,200-foot runway visual range (RVR) approaches right away. We had to train pilots, dispatchers, and mechanics.The pilots had to fly a certain number of approaches at 1,600 RVR to test the equipment in the airplanes in real-world conditions. It was months before we could fly CAT II without restriction.

Ops specs also spell out everything from approval for EFBs to what airports an airline can use, and for what purpose. Some airports may not be approved for regular service but can be used for refueling or diversions. Still others can’t be used at all except in an emergency.

If you pursue an airline career, you will become intimately familiar with ops specs, POIs, and the relationship they have with your carrier. Most sections of the ops specs will mean little to you as a pilot. Others will be your bread and butter, and you’ll memorize them chapter and verse. After all, we’re talking about the FAA here!

Fly safe!—Chip Wright

Record foul-ups

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

A friend of mine was recently terminated while in training with a regional airline. In the regional sector, it’s not unusual for an airline to terminate a new-hire without giving a specific reason. That was the case here, and the only explanation he received was that “there was something in [your] application.”

That’s vague, and he was convinced that it was bogus. One of the reasons he was so sure is that he had been employed by another airline for over a decade with no problems. He had disclosed his lone Part 121 checkride failure. But, just to be sure, he began a dialogue with the FAA. He was shocked at what he found.

To make a long story short, he had started an oral exam for a checkride, but he had been sick. The event was going well, but he had to bail out because of his illness. The next day, he finished the oral (and passed), and took the checkride (and not only passed, but got high praise from the examiner). However, that event was almost 20 years ago, and he had forgotten that he had signed a second 8710 for the oral. The first one was recorded as a failed event. Right or wrong, agree or disagree—that’s what went into his file.

Fast forward to now. The records that he had in his possession prior to starting this job did not include the 8710s and did not indicate that he had a failure of a checkride (remember, it was the oral, not the ride), and it cost him.

The lesson from this for any pilot is two-fold: Never lie on an application, because it will be found. He didn’t lie; he simply didn’t realize the full ramification of what was going on when it happened. But, the point is the same. If you try to hide something, it’s going to get uncovered. Second, when you start the process of applying to airlines, whether it’s a regional, a major, a foreign carrier, or anything in between, get in touch with the FAA in Oklahoma City, and get copies of everything that might be in your file. Ask questions.

You should keep your own detailed records with regard to ratings, certificates, et cetera. Whenever you take a checkride, make a note of the date, time, place, and examiner. If there is a mistake found later, you will know where to start. In this case, the school was long gone, and the examiner had passed away.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not impossible to get a job with checkride failures, even after the Colgan accident. The thing to remember is that you need to fully disclose your past, and you need to own up to your mistakes. If you aren’t sure of something, get it taken care of.

In a case like this, if it happens to you, your best recourse is to write a detailed description of everything that happened. As you apply to airlines, you can attach this to your application or take a copy to the interview.—Chip Wright

The best and worst of 2013

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Hard to believe an entire year has rolled by since I last posted a Best and Worst of Flight Training blog (you can read the 2012 one here). This is my fourth annual Best Of/Worst Of list, and while I fully expected to see some of the same names on the roster (Hello, City of Santa Monica!), this year’s tally brings some brand-new players to our flight training game.

On an uplifting note, it took some digging for me to find five “worst” candidates for 2013.  In previous years, it seems there was more bad than good.

Worst:

  • Federal budget cutbacks prompted the U.S. Air Force to reduce flying time071014-N-5476H-721 for pilots, meaning fewer training hours. A Wall Street Journal article maintains they’re flying fewer hours than military pilots in some European allies, India, and China.
  • The same budget cutbacks kept the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds from making appearances at airshows across the nation. What does this have to do with flight training? Well, I may be grasping here, but we know military aircraft are a huge draw at airshows, and it’s likely that reduced attendance means fewer people (children in particular) got to forge bonds with aviation that could pay off down the road with the creation of new pilots.
  • Another “self-taught pilot” a la the Barefoot Bandit was accused of flying a stolen airplane that belonged to a soldier on deployment in Afghanistan. What makes this story doubly sad is that the 18-year-old who allegedly took the Cessna 150 was studying to be an airframe and powerplant mechanic. The teen has pleaded guilty, and sentencing is set for Jan. 6.
  • Santa Monica Airport makes the list for the third year in a row. A fatal accident in which an airplane crashed into a hangar (but did not cause any fatalities among people on the ground) has added fuel to the City of Santa Monica’s ongoing campaign to close the airport, which is home to at least six active flight schools. The city is now involved in a lawsuit to gain control of the airport.
  • The FAA has decided that overweight pilots are a cause for concern, even though there apparently aren’t any safety statistics to back this up, and has issued a proposed rule that would require pilots with a neck size of greater than 17 inches or a body mass index greater than 40 to be screened for and possibly treated for sleep apnea. [UPDATE! The FAA announced it is putting the rule on hold—but that doesn’t mean the issue is going away.]

Best:

  • Thousands of student pilots told us the good, the bad, and the ugly aboutDisneys planes their flight training experiences, and helped us to find the Best Flight School and Best Flight Instructor in the Flight Training Initiative Awards. The winners—San Carlos Flight Center and Conor Dancy of Aviation Adventures—are profiled in the upcoming February issue. We’ll be doing it all again in 2014, so make sure you vote!
  • After the FAA stonewalled repeated requests from AOPA and EAA to consider a movement toward a driver’s license medical for private pilots, two members of Congress introduced a bill that would allow pilots of noncommercial VFR flights to use the driver’s license medical standard to fly aircraft of up to 6,000 pounds and no more than six seats.
  • The airlines are hiring. This means regional pilots will have an opportunity to move to the majors, and flight instructors will be moving on to the regionals, leaving flight instructor openings for new CFIs.
  • Disney’s Planes landed in theaters in August (and a real-life Dusty Crophopper visited EAA AirVenture). We’ll take any opportunity we can get to introduce children to aviation. A sequel is planned for release in 2014.
  • Shell Aviation has been working on a lead-free “performance drop-in” replacement for 100LL that could power any aircraft in the piston fleet. The new formula has passed preiminary tests on Lycoming engines on the ground.

Now it’s your turn. What would you add? How was your 2013, flying-wise? Please let me know in the Comments section. Thanks for reading the Flight Training blog, and I wish you blue skies and lots of flying in 2014.—Jill W. Tallman

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Wet is dry

Friday, September 6th, 2013

wet runwayAs you move into bigger and faster airplanes—especially jets—you need to become aware of things that didn’t necessarily matter as much before. There are new definitions that you need to learn. Besides the various V speeds—V1, V2, V-REF, et cetera—there are terms that probably didn’t really catch your attention before.

Take the runway, for instance. In the United States, most every airport that provides airline service has runways that are grooved. The grooves run perpendicular to the runway direction (that is, across the runway) and are evenly spaced from one end to the other. Further, whenever possible, there is a bit of a crown to the runway. The purpose of the grooves is to provide drainage and runoff for rain, snow, and deicing fluid that flows off aircraft upon takeoff.

This is need-to-know information for pilots, because performance data takes into account whether or not a runway is wet or dry, or if it has standing water. To add to the confusion as well as to the paychecks of the engineers, the standing water (and snow) categories are broken down into various depths, each succeeding level of which will further degrade the performance (read: payload) of the airplane.

What initially might catch you off guard is the seriousness with which these terms are defined. For instance, a runway that is grooved but has water on it is not necessarily wet. Depending on the airline and the aircraft manufacturer definitions, a wet runway may be defined as dry if it is grooved, and a runway that is physically dry is dry (you can’t make this stuff up). Generally speaking, if a grooved runway has water on it, it is considered wet only if the surface is reflective or if a certain percentage of the surface has standing water. Otherwise, it is considered damp or dry because the grooves carry away the water that might induce hydroplaning.

When it is raining hard enough that there is clearly standing water, performance numbers begin to suffer. There are three major concerns. The first is rejecting a takeoff without skidding or hydroplaning. The second is continuing a takeoff after an engine failure on a slick runway that is not only slick, but produces drag thanks to the puddles. The third is the use of reduced thrust. It is common for jet aircraft to take off at well less than full power, but in certain circumstances, full power is required. Contaminated surfaces are one of those circumstances.

As I mentioned, in the United States, this is rarely a problem. However, if you go to Canada or Mexico, most runways will not be grooved. This is also a common problem overseas. Don’t be lulled into a trap. Pay attention to the wet versus dry issue, and know when—and when not—to apply the various penalties.

It may not be the dictionary definition of the words as you know them, but you will learn that the industry and the FAA can be very specific in how words are used or defined.

In fact, I think they have a specific definition of “used…”—Chip Wright

Handling a failed checkride

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Overcoming FearFor any training that you complete as a pilot, you will be evaluated on a checkride. The ride represents the culmination of a lot of hard work on the part of both you and your instructor. People are often their own worst critics, and it must be part of a pilot’s DNA to get that characteristic in double doses. Whenever pilots get ready to take a checkride, it seems that they begin to develop a lot of doubt and concern about how prepared they are.

It is imperative that you trust your instructor here. If your instructor is telling you that you’re ready, you can be sure that you are (it’s very, very rare that an instructor will send a student for any kind of evaluation if that student is not ready). Likewise, if the instructor is telling that you are not ready, then rest assured that you really do need more practice. Just because you have done a maneuver to the Practical Test Standards once or twice may not matter. It needs to be consistent.

Once you begin a checkride, your nerves should calm down. If they don’t, then just slow down a bit and take your time. Relax. The examiner wants you to pass. More than one has been known to help a bit more than they should, so long as they have overall confidence in the applicant.

But what if you totally blow something? What if you are doing an emergency landing and come up short of the runway? What if you totally screw up an ILS?

The beauty of the system is that you can finish the rest of the tasks that require evaluation, and that’s what you should do. If you know you failed something, or even if you just think you did, then put it behind you and press on. Get as many items done as you can, so that when you are re-examined you can just concentrate on the one or two areas that need to be revisited.

It’s very rare that an examiner will not allow an applicant the opportunity to finish the balance of the ride. If the rest of the ride is stellar, you may get a free pass on something that was otherwise questionable. If you totally blew something, you will have to retrain on it, and go back up. But if you’re lucky, you may be able to finish that day.

I’ve always made it a point to enjoy checkrides. Not everyone can do that, but if you can, you should. It’s a chance to show off your hard-earned skills, and the best examiners will also try to genuinely teach you something.

And there is nothing like having a new certificate in your wallet!—Chip Wright

Chasing the PIN, part 1

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Flight Training Technical Editor Jill Tallman is applying for a personal identification number that will permit her to fly into the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) and land at historic College Park Airport. It’s a three-part procedure involving visits to the FAA, the TSA, and the airport within the FRZ.—Ed.

The FAA’s Baltimore Flight Standards District Office doesn’t resemble a barb-wire-fenced fortress so much as a plain-Jane industrial-complex office building, which it is. The clay-colored, one-story complex is located not far from Baltimore-Washington International, and occasionally a Southwest jet rumbles by overhead.

When you enter the FSDO’s main entrance, you’re asked to present a photo ID and sign in. You cannot just drop by to see the FAA inspector who will review your paperwork for the PIN. You have to make an appointment.

After you’ve signed in, do you then gain entrance to the FAA’s inner sanctum? You do not. You wait in a sort of a hallway outside the main office while the FAA inspector is summoned. You also transact your business in this hallway.

In my case, the FAA inspector arrived promptly and waited while I presented the required documents: my pilot certificate, original copy of my medical certificate; a government-issued ID; and a copy of a certificate indicating that I had completed the FAA’s online course that explains the Special Flight Rules Airspace and the Flight Restricted Zone. As he gathered these things, he asked, “Why do you want to fly to College Park?”

I must’ve looked askance at him, because he said, “It’s not against the law to ask.”

College Park Airport…then

No, and I guess he wondered why anyone wants to fly within the FRZ, knowing as he does that, if you break the rules, the consequences are severe. The airport, built in 1909, is the oldest continuously operated airport in the United States. It’s also a nice little place, the type of airport that, in the days before Sept. 11, 2001, would’ve been a favorite hangout. The folks who manage and operate the airport work hard to keep it open, in spite of the restricted access. They wrote and posted a plain-language, step-by-step guide to getting the PIN, which I have followed from the moment I first decided to do this.

My daughter attends the University of Maryland’s College Park campus and often jogs

College Park Airport…now

or rides her bike near the airport. Her friends are often startled and intrigued when she tells them her mother is a pilot. Even if I can’t take them all up sightseeing, as I would if they were to come out to my home airport, I can still fly in and out, purchase fuel, and help keep this historic piece of aviation remain where it is.

The FAA inspector took my paperwork into the office to make sure I had no violations on my record and came back a few minutes later. We talked for a few more minutes about airspace violations, and that was that.

Next stop: The Transportation Security Administration’s offices at National Airport, where I will be fingerprinted.

 

A brief explanation of the Whitlow Letter

Monday, February 4th, 2013

It is common practice to want to pick on the FAA, and often with good reason. However, there are times when the feds do something that is most definitely for the greater good. Most pilots, for example, are aware that in the wake of the Colgan crash in Buffalo, N.Y., the FAA has created new rest rules designed to make it easier for pilots to be adequately rested during their trips. This is a win-win for the companies (though, to hear them tell it, they will all go bankrupt), the pilots, and the traveling public.

But the real breakthrough for this came around 2000, when the FAA issued what is commonly called the “Whitlow Letter.” At that time, the standard practice at the airlines with regard to reserve pilots was to work under the assumption that if a pilot was on reserve, he was not technically on duty until he actually reported for an assignment. This meant that if a pilot woke up at 7 a.m. and went on reserve at noon for a reserve window of availability of 14 hours (which was, and still is, common practice), the company could call him up at the tail end of his window—2 a.m. in this case—and keep him on duty and flying until 4 p.m. the following afternoon. This pilot faced the possibility of being awake for 32 consecutive hours. No rational person would consider this to be safe.

Fortunately, one of those rational people was James Whitlow, then-chief counsel at the FAA. He was responding to a letter of inquiry from Rich Rubin, a captain at American Airlines who was requesting specific guidance on FAR duty and rest rules when he turned the industry on its ear.

Whitlow’s response was a body blow to the old practice, and it was met with fierce resistance by the Air Transport Association (ATA), the airline trade group. The ATA immediately went to court to try to get the interpretation thrown out; they lost. The new interpretation forced the airlines to consider the start of a reserve period to be the start of duty. In the example above, the pilot would start his reserve at noon and would be released from all duty at 2 a.m., even if he did not report to work until 6 in the evening. In practical terms, in many the duty day was also shortened by virtue of the fact that a pilot who is at home and gets called needs to have time to get to the airport, park, get through security, and check in. Common policy is a 90-minute report time window.

Further, Whitlow also said that in any given 24-hour period, a pilot needs to have at least eight hours of uninterrupted rest.

The airlines realized right away that the Whitlow letter would force them to hire more pilots, and schedulers and pilots both became adept at doing 24 look-backs calculated down to the minute.

While the Colgan crash was the event that forced the FAA to develop a more scientifically based rest rule that takes into account circadian rhythms and the effect of crossing time zones, it was the Whitlow letter that gave the pilot bloc the momentum to start pushing for serious change. Unfortunately, as is so often true in aviation, the rules are often written in blood–in this case Colgan Flight 3407.—Chip Wright

Got a medical coming up?

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Is it time to put in your medical application? Whether you’re a first-timer getting ready to solo or a long-timer who’s been around the pattern a few times, take some time to familiarize yourself with the form, the information you’ll need to provide to the FAA, and what you can expect throughout the process. I’ll provide links to AOPA resources throughout this blog that hopefully will help grease the skids a bit.

  • Need an aviation medical examiner? We’ve got a searchable database of AMEs. If none is in your area, ask other pilots or flight instructors whom they visit. A good, knowledgeable AME is like owning a bar of gold. Some are better than others; a bad one (that is, somebody who doesn’t really understand how the FAA works) can trip up the proceedings and delay the issuance of your medical. And in general, your family physician should not be your AME.
  • Is that medicine OK? Some prescription and over-the-counter medications are fine. Some are not fine, and you won’t fly if you’re taking them. Some are permissible once you provide documentation to the FAA that you can function safely while taking the medication in question. Our comprehensive database of medications can be accessed here.
  • It’s all electronic. Did you know that once upon a time, you filled out a paper form and took that to the AME’s office? As of Oct. 1, 2012, it’s all done via the FAA’s MedXPress website. AOPA Director of Medical Services Gary Crump explains how you get online in this article.

Everybody’s health situation is different, and it’s impossible for me to address all the possible permutations of health scenarios in this blog. But a single piece of advice holds true for all pilots: Know before you go. If you have a health issue, find out how to address it to the FAA’s satisfaction before you make that appointment with the AME. If you have questions, call AOPA at 800-USA-AOPA. AOPA Pilot Protection Services can be especially helpful for complicated issues; find out more on the website.—Jill W. Tallman

When to speak up

Monday, December 17th, 2012

I recently read a story in a nonflying publication about a group of people on a resort boat going scuba diving. The tale is related that at one point the captain had to leave his post at the wheel to go below to find his sunglasses. While he was doing so, the boat began to drift off-course enough that it was clear it would crash.

The employee sitting next to the captain began to display obvious knowledge of the impending situation, but did nothing to react, even though all he had to do was put his hand on the wheel to keep the boat going straight. The author explains that it was clear that such action by an employee in the past had led to a pretty severe dressing-down, if not outright embarrassment in front of a boatload of customers. Further, when the captain finally resumed his post, there was no discussion about the danger the boat had been in.

In a crewed environment of any sort—airplanes, in our case—the most important asset is trust. Each pilot must not only trust that the other knows how to fly, and that he or she knows what the job is, but the first officer especially needs to trust that the captain will welcome input that could be necessary but a bit embarrassing.

Now, there is speaking up and there is speaking up. In the simple version, the FO might point out something mundane and obvious. For example, the controller issued a descent clearance and the altitude was set, but the captain forgets to actually start the descent. The FO then pipes up, the captain realizes what he didn’t do, starts to descend, and all is well. That’s easy.

What’s harder is when a judgment call is required. Maybe the controller named Victor gave some bad vectors, and the approach is going to be steeper and faster than it should be. Or, maybe there is some questionable weather ahead. Or, maybe the captain is missing every radio call because he has something on his mind or doesn’t feel well. Calling for a go-around during an unstable approach sounds like it should be easy, but you’d be shocked at how hard it is for an FO to bring himself to call for the go-around.

A captain who is error-prone is a difficult scenario, especially if you don’t the person well. If he or she has a reputation for it, you can at least be prepared. If not, you have to determine if the captain usually operates this way or is just having a bad day.

I’ve always told my FOs that not only should they speak up, but that I need them to. The last thing I want them to do is wonder if it’s OK or if it will offend me. The truth is that it will offend me more if they don’t. After all, it always seems that certificate action follows the dumbest mistakes that are left uncorrected. I hope everyone I flew with will agree that speaking up with me was never an issue.

It’s a harder skill—and it is a skill—to develop than you think. When I first upgraded, many of my captains were my age or older, and they had less reservation about pointing something out, even if it was not a big deal. But as time passed, and my FOs became much younger than me, I noticed that I had to really emphasize that my feelings would not be hurt if they said I was being dumb, or if they wanted a go-around because they didn’t like what they saw. It always seemed to me that being able to talk about it after the fact was better than the NTSB and FAA talking to my family about instead.

But there are some pilots who are just “plane” jerks, and take on a very dictatorial attitude. In my personal experience, these are actually easier to deal with in some respects. Get them alone, and tell them flat out how they are coming across and that they are not being conducive to a safe environment, and (this is important) give them examples of negative behavior that they have displayed. Being called out often makes people realize that they have crossed a line or two, and often brings about the sort of behavior modification you need.

Don’t be the guy sitting next to an empty chair as the ship (or plane) heads for trouble. Be assertive but respectful, and fix the problem now. You can deal with the other person’s attitude later. If things are bad enough, you can always find another job.—Chip Wright

Got a checkride this weekend?

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Whenever we ask our Facebook friends what their flying plans are for the weekend, invariably they report they’ve got a checkride scheduled. (Makes sense; we are, after all, a community for student pilots.) So here are some tips for doing your best and nailing that ride.

  • The night before: Get plenty of rest. Review for your oral exam and prep if you need to, but don’t burn the midnight oil with late-night cramming. This isn’t college. You’ll need to be fresh and your mind clear.
  • The morning of: Eat a good breakfast. See the above part about feeding your brain and your body. Watch the caffeine intake; you don’t want to be jittery (or worse).

If your checkride is a few days off, take a moment to read this excellent piece by Ron Levy, an ATP and veteran of 11 certificate or rating checkrides, including four with FAA inspectors. It first appeared (to the best of my knowledge) on the Pilots of America web board. Click here or cut and paste this link (  http://www.pilotsofamerica.com/forum/showthread.php?t=15706 ). And good luck!—Jill W. Tallman