Archive for August, 2008

Thunderstorms and ATC -It’s Working*

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

NTSB recently issued a safety alert on IFR flights and thunderstorms. Back in 2004 we had  10 accidents ( 9 fatal) involving aircraft on IFR flight plans that tangled with thunderstorms.  ASF, FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, Flight Standards, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association ( NATCA ) and the National Weather Service worked together to help produce ASF’s online course  Weatherwise: Thunderstorms and ATC. So far, more than 32,000 pilots have completed online but that’s still not enough!!

ASF also produced a controller’s version of the course, jointly funded by FAA and ASF, to help controllers understand the challenges faced by pilots. This was required training for Center controllers this year. Additionally we sent out almost 200,000 CDs to IFR pilots and thousands of safety advisors on how to use the system intelligently and safety.

Preliminary numbers

2004:    10 accidents, 9 fatal
2005:    6 accidents, 4 fatal
2006:    5 accidents, all 5 fatal
2007:    3 accidents, all 3 fatal
2008:    2 accidents to date, 1 fatal

We are doing much better for two reasons. Pilots are asking for information about the weather and ATC is providing it. But we’re not at 100% yet as the Scott Crossfield accident in 2006 showed ( hence the asterisk) but there is much improvement.

Three points for discussion:

  • ATC is REQUIRED to advise pilots of significant precipitation ( the radar shows precip not thunderstorms per se) when they see it on the scope.
  • Pilots should ASK for information on precip if there is any uncertainty.
  • YOU are PIC and must make the decisions regarding safety of flight. ATC can assist but it’s your choice – this also means that you do not have to accept routing into weather that would jeopardize your safety. However, a significant disruption may require some explanation.

We’ve all had ATC interactions regarding weather and it’s critical to understand how the system works. For VFR pilots, even though this is geared to IFR, you can learn a lot. If you haven’t taken this course – I strongly recommend it. Many, if not all, of the accident pilots would be alive today if they had.

Watch This!

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Those are not good words to hear from the left seat of automobiles or aircraft because it usually means the software is about to do something stupid. It seems to be happening less than it used to but the incidents of low level maneuvering, aka buzzing, are one of the most publicly irresponsible acts pilot do. Flying over a friend’s house with a sharp pull up or tight circles, all done at low altitude, are popular forms of foolishness. Obviously, it’s annoying to people on the ground and things can spin badly out of control, if you’ll pardon the pun, when there’s a crash.

Roseville, California, a suburb of Sacramento, witnessed a particularly egregious accident in 2006 when two pilots in a Glassair spun into a subdivision incinerating themselves and a sleeping college student in one of the houses. The media attention was massive and unfortunate for GA.

ASF followed up with a safety seminar within two weeks on the hazards of maneuvering flight. We did not comment on that particular accident but addressed maneuvering issues in general. Over 400 pilots turned out and it took some of the sting out of the media response. BUT, the people who most needed to be there weren’t. They are, of course, the ones who are so sure of their skills and judgment that training and safety discussions are for all the lesser pilots.

Preaching to the choir is not bad because the choir is gradually growing and we all need guidance, but how should we reach those who don’t think they need it? Pilot Safety Announcements (PSA) are modeled after public service announcements – short video clips that run a minute or less. It’s a new concept for ASF and we tried it out on fuel mismanagement first first. Now we’re going after the buzzers. You’ll start to see these PSAs and others popping up in various places on aviation websites to “ambush” the non-believers who way on their way to some other place on the web. Cynics will doubt that this will make a difference. I’m curious at this point — Let’s see what happens.

The PSAs are deliberately edgy. A little dark humor may be just what’s needed to get the medicine to go down but give us your comments. And please pass these along to those who may be prone to say ” Watch this.”

School Daze

Real Aviation Heroes

Big Sky – Little Airplane(s)

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

The theory that wide open spaces generally preclude two aircraft from swapping paint or worse was put to the test this past weekend when a Cessna 172 collided in VFR conditions with a Cirrus SR22. Random events have been happening with some frequency (see last weeks blog) and yet they remain statistically unusual. In 2006 there were 6 midairs, in 2005 there were 10 according to ASF’s Nall reports.

As we tend to look at these mishaps a bit clinically, perhaps to maintain a level of objectivity and sanity, my condolences go to all – family and friends. These events are reminders of the responsibilities that we carry as PICs. This also applies to students since the C172 pilot was a student. Again, we are in the preliminary stages so little detailed information is available. The Cirrus was on an IFR flight plan, and had been in communication with ATC, planning to land at Rock Springs, Wyoming (KRKS). The aircraft was likely on a visual approach and had been released to the CTAF when it collided with the Cessna who was not on the ATC frequency, nor was he required to be.The parachute system on the Cirrus was partially deployed but it’s too soon to know if that was a function of the collision or whether the pilot activated it.

This midair fits the collision profile perfectly of being within a few miles of a non-towered airport in VFR weather. I’ve flown into RKS before. It’s not exactly high density traffic, which reinforces the point that other aircraft are where you find them, not where you expect them to be.

I’m a big believer in getting off the IFR communication line and on to the VFR CTAF party line as soon as possible. If neither frequency is too busy, you can multi-task by listening on both but it can get really garbled when both freqs are alive together. As IFR pilots, we operate in both worlds and have to play by two sets of rules simultaneously. It’s also too soon to tell if one aircraft ran down the other or turned inappropriately. That will be settled by NTSB.

There will probably be some comment regarding glass multi-function displays with traffic avoidance capability and parachute escape systems since the Cirrus was so equipped (parachute – yes; traffic display – maybe). These are intended as aids, not as replacements to the primary tenets of airmanship. I’ve used traffic avoidance systems to good effect on many occasions, but until we get all aircraft equipped with ADS-B or some equivalent, remember that VFR bogeys may not always show up on the glass. Transponder operation and radar coverage play into that. VFR or IFR – look (outside) and listen. It’s really important – even in Big Sky country (with apologies to Montana.)