Archive for July, 2009

eAPIS – Coming Home

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

eAPIS Customs TrainingNo safety this week—just an international story. If you’re leaving the continental U.S. by now you’ve heard of eAPIS, Electronic Advance Passenger Information System. If not, don’t leave home without going through the ASF eAPIS Customs Training course first. Here is my experience with the system.

Took a trip to Canada two weeks ago for a conference in Toronto with collegiate aviation educators. Before going I went to AOPA’s flight planning web area to see how things might have changed since my last trip north. There is an excellent brief on how to get out and back into the country without irritating the TSA or Customs.

First, register with CBP and only after doing that, can you put in a passenger manifest for outbound and inbound legs. It is a bit cumbersome and documents are needed so assemble them first: Passport, pilot certificate and aircraft customs sticker numbers. The government site is typically stodgy and not very nimble but you can get through it. I’d recommend registering a week before the trip to make sure you complete the process. After the first time, when they know who you are, it should go much faster.

Don’t ask me why CBP needs an outbound manifest but that’s the way it is. I also filed my return manifest into Buffalo to clear customs—you still have to stop at an airport that is a port of entry.

The Canadians were wonderfully efficient-call the central 800 number for CANPASS, tell them who, when, where and why with an ETA and call again on arrival. They welcomed me to Canada by phone and that was it! Wonder when U.S. might get to that point.

Coming home, I called Buffalo customs the day before. The officer knew exactly who I was and when I planned to clear through—apparently the government computers were inexplicably linked-odd! The next morning I flew across the lake and landed at KBUF. Before I could get out of the aircraft the officer was there. He glanced at my passport, pilot and medical certificate and wished me a nice day—less than two minutes and no paperwork to fill out.

Wish I could tell you that it was ugly but in this case the system worked very well. There are non-government eAPIS websites that likely will ease the way through for a small fee. Coming from the islands where web is not available, file both outbound and inbound manifests before leaving. If you get delayed or there is a change let customs know by phone. Apparently, CBP understands that there may be some flex as long as the contents of the manifest haven’t changed.

Other experiences – Good or not so?

Going to Oshkosh? Read this!

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

090716aopaeaa2Oshkosh is a pilgrimage for many pilots. Percentage wise, the number of accidents relative to the number of aircraft participating is pretty good but when one happens, it detracts from one of aviation’s’ showcases.

A few observations that seem to be perennial:

1. Read the blooming NOTAM about how to get into and out of the busiest aviation environment in the world. Ya gotta know the territory BEFORE arriving within 100 miles of OSH. ASF has some guidance for you and a link to the official notam.

I am always amazed at the casualness of some pilots in not knowing the arrival routes, radio procedures, etc. There’s a time to talk and a time to just listen – very intently.

2. Be proficient in slow flight and landing. Anticipate that some of your fellow drivers will be unable to comply with routine speed restrictions – 90 knots at 1,800′ and 135 knots at 2,300′ for OSH arrivals. For some of us that’s faster than we used to flying and for others it’s slower.

If the guy or gal in front of you is unable to do 90 knots and your aircraft is starting to get wobbly at 80 knots don’t push a marginal or impossible situation. Break off – advise ATC and reenter the flow. Every so often someone tries a hover in a fixed wing – hasn’t worked yet and the results are usually discouraging

3. Fuel reserve is not optional. ASF normally recommends a one hour reserve and that means to be on the ground – not starting to think about where to go. Going into this maelstrom of aircraft anticipate delays of at least 30 -45 minutes. On airshow arrivals I always plan a fuel stop that allows :45 of loiter time, before my diversion fuel allowance and before getting to the “golden hour” of reserve. If you get into a bind declare ” minimum fuel” early and, if needed, an emergency before things get too far.

Almost every year someone comes up short. Neither you, your insurance agent nor the FAA inspector will be looking forward to the subsequent discussion.

OSH is a great show to enjoy and I’ll be up there to support the AOPA and ASF effort Monday afternoon and Tuesday – stop by the AOPA tent – we’ll have some surprises.

If you’ve flown into OSH in prior years share your observations here.

JFK, Jr. at 10 Years

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

JFK copyIt’s been 10 years ago this week since John F. Kennedy Jr. took a fatal plunge into the waters off Cape Cod along with his wife and sister-in-law. If you’ve forgotten the details, you can read the landmark accident report and some supporting articles. The NTSB ultimately determined that spatial disorientation leading to a spiral was the probable cause.

That accident was truly a landmark , not because it was particularly unusual but because of who was involved. Media loves celebrities as we’ve seen recently and coverage is often non-stop until some bigger fiasco emerges or the chattering classes run out of things to say. There were congressional hearings to ask if VFR at night should be eliminated and after much debate, the decision was to leave the rules as there were.

From a safety and training perspective the message is as it was a decade ago. Night flight over water or in sparsely populated areas is instrument flight. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and Kennedy was said to be about half way through his instrument training.

That he was flying a fully equipped Piper Saratoga and managed to get insurance says something about the risk mindset of an underwriter and that’s another conversation.

Here’s what I took away from this accident:

  • Individual Metars may easily mislead in micro-climates like the Cape Cod islands. Temperature and dewpoint should always be looked at with suspicion when over water.
  • Autopilots are not substitutes for instrument proficiency but they might (but not always) save your bacon in a spatial disorientation situation.
  • Night compounds orientation problems tremendously because of widely scattered areas of dark (with apologies to George Carlin)
  • If you are not quite up to the flight in terms of skill (a hard thing to admit) have a plan B in mind and be willing to use it.

So, I haven’t come up with any revelations since 1999 but perhaps some of you have additional observations.

Read more commentary about the accident in “Remembering the Kennedy accident” by AOPA Pilot Editor in Chief Tom Haines.