Archive for 2010

No Runs, No Hits, No Errors

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Whenever there is a big aviation event I’m always torn between anticipation and trepidation. Great that we have lots of pilots flying into an airport – but the collision potential, both in the air and on the ground,  goes up. AOPA just concluded a very successful Summit in Long Beach with 1,101 aircraft flying into LGB. There were about 2,600 operations during the three day period with no significant problems.

There were a few cases where people got lost -

Pilot: I’d like to taxi to parking.

Tower: Where are you?

Pilot: I haven’t a clue.

Tower: What direction are you facing?

Pilot: West, I think.

Tower: Describe what you see out ahead of you…..

And so it went – might sound silly but this is so much better than having a “deal” as the controllers like to call it. We can work it out, as the Beatles famously said. During an LGB runway safety evaluation years ago we actually got an LGB tower controller disoriented driving around on the surface at night. Seems that the view from 180 feet up is a little clearer than when viewed at light aircraft cockpit height.

Why is this important and who cares? It speaks well of all who participated and to our friends in ATC.  LGB has one of the most complex airport layouts in the country and used to hold the dubious distinction as one of the worst locations for a runway incursion. Through a major education effort by FAA, the Air Safety Institute and special assistance from the tower we have gotten through two Expos and one Summit with NO runway incursions. It shows what can be done if people concentrate.

Air Safety Institute has a first class online course, flash cards and Safety advisors. But in the final analysis there are only a few critical things a pilot needs to know – cold: The red and white runway entrance sign, the yellow on black location sign and the black on yellow direction sign.

“Line up and wait”  and “Taxi to …” are significant changes. One thing we are now recommending at non-towered airports is to actually stop at the runway entrance or prior to crossing the crosswind runway to get in the habit of stopping at the red and white sign unless cleared.  It’s a technique you could live with. CFI’s – start teaching it!

But as the warm glow of LGB fades, the most important runway crossing or entrance is the next one. Think about it.

Hobson’s Choice?

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Wikipedia: ” A Hobson’s choice is a free choice  in which only one option is offered. As a person may refuse to take that option, the choice is therefore between taking the option or not; take it or leave it.”  Too much of life is like that.

Once again, the bad guys are targeting the aviation system.  Package bombs cleverly disguised as printer cartridges made their way on to at least two cargo aircraft a few weeks ago.  I’ve often thought of computers and their peripheral devices (such as printers)  as being nefarious but this raises aviation paranoia to a new level.

GA remains, as ever, under the watchful eye of the security folks and it raises the question of just how reactive and protective we should be. Let’s be honest – the external locks and ignition switches on most light aircraft would slow down a thief about as long as it takes to read this blog. Is GA a target? Does it matter?

On new aircraft,  I’d really like to see the aircraft manufacturers incorporate some smart technology for throttles, controls or ignition to render an aircraft unflyable. This is not rocket science and doesn’t even rise to aeronautical engineering but it’s something that might be considered.

A question:

  • If the government provided your choice of prop lock, throttle lock or wheel boot,  and in exchange, required that it be used whenever the aircraft was left unattended (not a quick turn fuel stop) on other than a secured ramp, would this be a good trade off?

There are two sides to this  – It makes it significantly harder to steal an aircraft, is highly visible and is relatively unobtrusive. It has high value from a public perception perspective and may keep the government from fencing GA airports since locks are far more cost effective. It  may also keep them from implementing other more onerous procedures. Seems like we’re constantly on the defensive

The other side is that it’s  over-reactive and gives up another freedom.  And, are we prepared to deal with a public and political firestorm if a GA aircraft is stolen and used inappropriately?  Hobson’s choice?

Give us your thoughts.

Delays and Tar pits

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010
Delays are a fact in aviation life. Last week’s near hurricane in the upper Midwest made for an interesting trip to Grand Forks, ND (GFK) and back. Ironically, I was presenting a safety seminar on Real World IFR and it doesn’t get much more realistic than last week’s weather. While I always prefer to fly GA, under those extreme conditions it seemed better to leave this to those with the right tools. The outbound airline flight from Minneapolis (MSP) to GFK was canceled with refugees packed into every remaining flight.  The Delta Connection Skywest crew was extremely professional and deplaned two passengers after determining that about 400 pounds more fuel was needed to reach a suitable alternate in this massive storm system. The 90 degree crosswind landing at GFK was likely close to the limits of the RJ and a thing of beauty.

In the safety business we typically focus on the negative and forget that tens of thousands of flights operate successfully in all kinds of weather. The regional airlines are collectively taking a lot of heat because of the Colgan accident. No question that some things need to be fixed but the system, as a whole, works well. No corners were cut this day.

My return the following day from GFK was fraught with delay as flight after flight canceled largely because MSP had only one runway that was within wind limits. I’m wondering how NextGen is going to improve major weather delays like this? Concrete becomes the limiting factor –  not the ability to wedge a extra few aircraft closer to one another with more precise navigation. When the big hubs go down the wheel comes off the wagon and remains that way for at least a day or so. GA may be slow relative to jets but we don’t usually don’t get stuck in the hub tar pits for a day either.That’s what reliever airports are all about and it behooves everyone to protect them.

My options out of GFK ultimately evaporated after 6 hours of trying so it came down to renting a car for a drive and an overnight in Fargo. First flight out the next morning sounded good. You know what’s coming! More delays although the storm was long gone and creaming the Canadian Maritimes.

The inbound RJ that was to be the escape vehicle back to MSP whacked some birds on the way in and was taken out of service for inspection. The savior was an old Northwest Airlines DC9 that was sent to liberate us. Bondo and doubler plates were in much evidence on the airframe and the only glass in the cockpit was in the captain’s spectacles but the old bird did the job with grace.

This episode reminded me that way too many GA pilots come to grief by pushing on. The professionals have procedures and minimums. Rules are followed and options discussed. Weather delays cost time and money – it’s a fact of aviation life no matter what you’re flying. Novices push – the pros wait. They may get there late but they get there.