Archive for June, 2008

GPS – Innovate, Standardize or Both?

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

More than a decade ago there were five GPS manufacturers making IFR-approved units. ASF asked for a group meeting, along with FAA, to discuss some level of input standardization. No two units worked the same way so we suggested that core IFR-essential functions be somewhat standardized.

The core functions were Direct To or selecting a bearing from a fix , setting up an approach, missed approach procedure, and holding. Everything else would be left to the manufacturer to innovate. A pilot, once trained on core functions, could fly any box in the IFR system without extensive retraining although they might not be able to use all the clever or advanced features that were built in to every system.

Obviously, we didn’t prevail in what I still think was a common sense human factors approach. Innovation was the goddess of the day and there is certainly merit to that argument. However, there is much to favor in commonality where flight critical operations are concerned. Many pilots do not have a monogamous relationship with an aircraft. Renters, CFIs, club pilots, pilot examiners and other assorted vagabonds who fly multiple aircraft got saddled with a complex and expensive training barrier.

“Legacy” units that are either orphaned by a defunct builder or one who has left the old boxes behind often have scant or way too much documentation. Personally, I find 200 page manuals daunting – especially for an aircraft that I may only fly every few months. It’s tough to find good computer-based simulation to practice or even a CFI who knows how to run an earlier generation unit, let alone teach it. Most installed avionics have a life span of 15 – 20 years and unless one has a generous allowance for upgrades, we’ll be living with a very mixed fleet for some time.

As it stands today, pilots who wish to fly glass models of classic aircraft will spend many hours and perhaps thousands of dollars to get back into the cockpit of an old friend. Flight management systems are wonderful devices that were originally designed for two pilot flight decks, a strong training infrastructure, and the cost is usually on someone else’s nickel.

As we start to see some maturity in the GPS market and even a few new players coming back in to broaden the field, is it time to ask the same question again or should market forces continue to hold sway?

Click here for my column on the topic.

Would appreciate your comments and experiences.

Fuel – a necessary commodity – Really!

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Tired of hearing about fuel mismanagement accidents? So am I. We’re losing, on average, several aircraft every week as pilots rediscover that adequate fuel and/or proper configuration of the fuel system is not optional.

I won’t bore you with the usual rants about stupidity, forgetfulness, or wishful thinking. So what’s left to discuss? First, BRIEFLY describe a bout you had with the fuel mismanagement virus and how close to the edge you got.

My story: Years ago, returning from the upper peninsula of Michigan to Wichita Kansas in a Cessna Turbo 210, as front seat passenger, I was party to some bad decision making. My PIC boss, flight planned a non stop IFR trip with the required 45 minute reserve – barely. The weather was good VFR but the prevailing southwesterly breeze took its toll on ground speed. The DME told the tale for over an hour as we fell below the minimum required speed to make the reserve numbers work. Several stops were passed up on the way into Cessna Field in Wichita and we landed with an estimated 20 minutes of fuel remaining. The fuel gauges were abundantly clear that this was dumb. Neither one of us hung around for the fuel truck driver to tell us how close we’d come to explaining to Cessna’s chief pilot why we’d forced landed a brand new Centurion next to the little house on the prairie.

Secondly, how should Air Safety Foundation raise the awareness for all pilots on this most basic and yet one of the most prevalent accident or incident causes? The folks who are running out of gas don’t come to ASF seminars or visit our website so to make a dent, we need to go well beyond the “choir.”

Here are some resources that might be helpful but we need distribution beyond the routine channels.

Two fuel Pilot Safety Announcements were developed last fall and we’ve been showing them at seminars – click on the links to see and to forward.

Click here to view our Fuel Awareness safety advisor.

ASF is promoting the “Golden Hour” of reserve. Had that advice been followed in 2006, we’d have 86 more aircraft that would have arrived uneventfully with no injuries or fatalities to pilots and passengers.

Fuel may be expensive but it’s dirt cheap compared to wrecking airplanes. Your thoughts are welcomed.

Cross & Descend or Just Cross?

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

There was no shortage of thoughtful response and opinion to last week’s blog on how to enter the traffic pattern at non-towered airports when approaching from the opposite side of downwind. My informal analysis of the more than 120 responses showed you were split just about down the middle between the “Crossovers” and the “Crosswinders” with a very slight edge to Crosswinders.

This is almost identical to the response we got years ago when ASF first published the safety advisor on Operations at Non-towered Airports. We consulted both with FAA Flight Standards and with Transport Canada. We looked at accident statistics on midair collisions and found by far, the most dangerous place is on final approach, not the downwind leg.

Both sides were passionate that their way provided the best separation, spacing and view of other traffic.

There were several recurrent themes of the string :

  1. Communication is the most important element, as well as LOOKING
  2. Some treated the AIM as gospel, others saw it as guidance and NOT regulatory.
  3. Pilot judgment is crucial.

Getting to the bottom line, obviously, the idea is not to swap paint. Clearly, based on your response, one size does not fit all, despite personal preferences. A thought – think like ATC – look for ways to avoid conflict, be courteous, orderly and flexible.

Next week, we’ll try to get beyond the traffic pattern. Thanks to all for participating.