Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

Trumped in Palm Beach?

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Mar a lago club_with arrow edited_croppedDonald Trump, always the media hound, just sucks us in (and I’m guilty here), but for entertainment value this is hard to top. The latest Trump titillation is the $100 million lawsuit he’s filed against Palm Beach County. In a recent interview he said, “I am saving one of the great houses of this country and one of its greatest landmarks, and it’s being badly damaged by the airplanes.” He claims noise and emissions from aircraft are damaging the stone construction and disrupting “the once serene and tranquil ambience.” Perhaps Mr. Trump hasn’t noticed that most of South Florida is anything but “serene and tranquil” with the population influx over the last half century.

That’s understandable. He’s been distracted with multiple lawsuits against the Palm Beach International Airport (PBI). The first one in 1995 was settled when the county agreed to lease him some land to build Trump International Golf Course. Very shrewd business deal. He sued again in 2010 but that case was dismissed. Undaunted, he’s back!

Never one to be overly self absorbed, Trump claimed that he was being deliberately targeted by having most flights fly directly over his house. The suit apparently claims that the county’s airport director, who has been named in previous litigation, asked air traffic controllers to direct almost all flights due east, over Mar-a-Lago. These actions are called “deliberate and malicious. “Even Trump’s own Boeing 757, with his name modestly splashed over the side in gold, has been forced to rumble over Mar-a-Lago. It should be mentioned that the runways are aligned with the prevailing winds, east and west, which makes it operationally necessary for east arrivals and departures.

Too many other airports around the country are besieged by neighbors who move in afterwards and belatedly discover that aircraft make noise. The estate was built in 1927, and Eastern Airlines started operating DC-3’s out of PBI in the mid 30’s. Trump bought Mar-A-Lago in 1985 but apparently was unaware that a major international airport was less than three miles to the west. Who knew?

The irony of Trump’s whining is as epic as the man himself. Let me get this straight: Here’s a man who flies a heavy jet and helicopters around the country, who buys real estate (his business) located in the arrival and departure path of a large airport and then somehow feels he deserves to be compensated because of noise? Equally plausible, perhaps, is a new aviation “reality” TV series where the Kardashians will make a guest appearance as they get into aviation. What could be better?

How about recognizing airports as noise producers for the foreseeable future and zoning/purchasing property accordingly?

P-56 is prohibited for UAS too!

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

aircraft-drone02 noaa govP-56 is the prohibited area around the White House and the Capitol. It long predates the Washington D.C. Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) but it had to happen—a UAS/drone crashed onto the White House grounds this week. Fortunately it was a benign event. An insomniac (or perhaps a somewhat inebriated) government employee, who was up at 0300 EST, lost control of the machine and ‘fessed up about six hours later. Probably should’ve taken Ambien instead of alcohol.

Aside from the entertainment value for some and the great concern it caused for others, how does this impact our flying activity? Finally, it may just be the wake-up call needed to get the UAS industry and the FAA to move more realistically on the challenges that the devices pose. They have potential to do serious aeronautical harm as well as great things. Where is the balance?

The FAA and various partners have been discussing this since 2007 and the AOPA staff has been discussing this with FAA working groups since 1992. Let’s just say that the rule-making process has been “deliberate.” There have been a number of close calls reported by airliners (and a few anecdotally with GA) where only luck avoided a collision. Now is the time to address it.

The UAS is a force for good or evil perhaps rivaling the Biblical Apple or nuclear power. A drone can be a huge help after a natural disaster or it can cause a man-made one by mistake or on purpose. Deliver beer and pizza to the grandstand and packages to your front door, find missing persons, take pictures of real estate or your sunbathing neighbor versus delivering disaster from above—it’s all in how it’s being operated and by whom.

The technological rabbit has way outstripped the regulatory turtle and despite how the fable turned out, it’s time for the turtle to strap on a JATO bottle and get ahead of the problem.

Those of us who fly aircraft understand the need for balance between industry-choking regulations and complete chaos. So what’s reasonable? The work group certainly has ideas and those of us unencumbered by facts or political pressure will certainly have others. Having a proven talent for stating the obvious let me offer a few thoughts that will surely irritate both sides:

Manufacturers of such devices must take at least some responsibility on how they are to be used as they pursue phenomenal potential profits. Since technology got us into this perhaps it can get us out.

How about a robust command and control system that “helps” UAS pilots remain clear of prohibited airspace? Equip the devices with GPS databases that allow them to go no higher than 400 feet agl and not closer than five miles to designated airports. The District of Columbia is off limits to UAS and other restricted airspaces can be added. The codes for greater access may be unlocked with proper vetting and qualifications. Depending on operators “to behave” hasn’t worked with lasers and it’s not working here. Sadly, this will raise the cost of the hardware significantly but the first big accident or nefarious event will do likewise. Prevention is much cheaper than attorneys!!!!

FLASH — this just in — The drone manufacturers apparently DO have the technology as noted in the this release from DJI, the producer of the device in discussion. 

All unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operators should abide by all regulations from such organizations as the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and their own national airspace regulations. In order to increase flight safety and prevent accidental flights in restricted areas, the Phantom 2 series includes a No Fly Zones feature to help users use this product safely and legally.These zones include airports worldwide and have been divided into two types, A and B……  

Sophisticated evil state players and our defensive team will fight this out indefinitely, but the development of the perfect system shouldn’t delay some progress to managing the majority of users. As for the terror aspect (seems like the world has come to this), depending on the nature of the hardware, there may need to be some security vetting of the operator. The upside is that if you’re a certificated UAS operator, you should automatically qualify for the TSA prescreening lanes when flying commercial. The same privilege should be extended to GA pilots. Believe it: The government already knows who we are.

I’m not convinced that one needs to hold full FAA pilot credentials to operate small UAS, but one needs to demonstrate solid control skills, understand airspace/good neighbor concerns, and carry some level of financial responsibility to protect against mishaps.

The White House incident is a much bigger deal than deflate-gate and it may be just the impetus the regulators and the industry need to prevent what is currently heading toward an inevitable aeronautical catastrophe.

Pilotless Planes? Perhaps we’re nearly there!

Friday, January 16th, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s tantalizing (perhaps) to think that pilotless aircraft may soon be plying the skies. We’re not talking about UAS or drones but those with passengers on board. Of course, some will argue that we’ve had that for years with someone occupying the pilot’s seat but with the autopilot doing most of the work. Most of the time it works flawlessly.

I’m not aware of any incidents involving Category III landings with airliners or corporate jets but perhaps some of our jet readers can weigh in. There’s also been a test with a Bonanza that did a selfie landing at Beech field in Wichita a number of years ago.

The Asiana accident at SFO where two very experienced pilots managed to get sideways with the automation got me to thinking about the ways one could get into a bad spot with the electrons. Mode confusion is a problem when the box is doing exactly what we unwittingly programmed it to do. Frequently the designers know exactly what they intended but the users often are not so lucid.

Personally, I prefer simple automation so as to be at least partially involved, especially during the approach phase. In my aircraft, which has a basic two axis autopilot, the horizontal legs are preprogrammed by selecting an approach and the equipment will follow. It’s up to me to manage and direct the vertical automation for each leg.

That sounds so old school and it is! But being mentally engaged, if not physically, and needing to know exactly what’s going on now and what happens next is a pretty good survival strategy.

When everything is done for us, complacency often sets in. The hardware is so good that “the touch” is lost. One of the best examples predicted the future well before it arrived. See the Landmark Accident story on the American Airlines Boeing 757 accident in Cali, Colombia, in 1995.

According to the accident report, “Human factors researchers have written extensively on the potential risks that have been introduced by the automation capabilities of glass-cockpit aircraft. Among those identified are: overreliance on automation; shifting workload by increasing it during periods of already high workload and decreasing it during periods of already low workload; being ‘clumsy’ or difficult to use; being opaque or difficult to understand, and requiring excessive experience to gain proficiency in its use. One researcher has observed pilots on numerous occasions, even ones experienced in the systems, asking, ‘What’s it doing now?’ in reference to an action of the FMS that they could neither explain nor understand.”

Profound observation—well documented, observed repeatedly in the decades since Cali, and yet we still fall into the trap. Why?