Archive for January, 2010

Soaring in LIT

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Hawker2As you’re reading this I will be attending my first Soaring Society of America (SSA) Convention in Little Rock, AR. These are enthusiastic users of the airspace and most of the time powered aircraft and sailplanes co-exist quite nicely. Rarely is there a collision but as we’ve seen in the Hudson River Corridor Collision, sometimes there are some precursors that forecast bad things if all the right factors line up in just the wrong way. Back in August 2006 a Hawker XP Bizjet and a Schleicher ASW 27-18 Sailplane collided as the Hawker was descending out of 16,000 feet.

HawkerThe jet was equipped with TCAS but since the sailplane transponder was not in use at the time of the collision, it didn’t show up on ATC radar or the on board equipment. Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt but the sailplane was wiped out after it lost a portion of the wing and spun in. The sailplane pilot bailed out. The Hawker did not fare well either and limped to an engine out /gear up emergency landing in Carson City, NV.

I am part of a safety panel that will be discussing safety in general and how airplanes and sailplanes can play well together. The Nevada incident is worthy of discussion because high density soaring operations are interspersed with high density airport arrivals and departures. Here at Frederick, MD the soaring group is typically out on the weekends. Generally, everyone gets along well. The main thing is to look and listen. I suspect that transponders and ADS-B will be likely topics of conversation.

Would like to hear from any of you on what works in your area and what doesn’t. ASF and SSA will be looking for ways to make an unlikely event even more remote.

UPDATE: Courtesy of the winter storm working its way across the South and into Little Rock, we canceled our GA flight and booked with Delta Airlines yesterday. This morning ( Friday) Delta canceled their flights into LIT for the rest of the day – good decision – so we’ve started the discussion here and it needs to continue. My debut at SAA is momentarily postponed. Your comments are greatly appreciated as this dialogue moves forward.

Pattern Police?

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

CopWe’ve all been in the pattern at non-towered airports where there is more traffic than can be comfortably handled. This typically happens on a flying season weekend, between the hours of 1000 and 1800 in good VFR weather. That, not coincidentally, describes exactly when and where most midair collisions take place. Prophetically, “final” approach is where most of the final flights take place. What to do – if anything?

At busy road intersections, traffic control devices such as stop lights, stop signs or traffic circles are used. At many airports with air carrier service we get a control tower. But what about non-towered airports that are really busy at certain times and don’t warrant a tower most of the time? Control towers, while a great amenity, are expensive to build and staff. You may have noticed that neither the government nor the GA community is exactly flush with cash these days.

The Hudson River corridor went 45 years before a collision last summer between a helicopter and a Piper Saratoga. Of course, there was an immediate call to close the corridor. Was this accident a statistical oddity? Not when you start, to use the over-used phrase, to connect the dots. AOPA, FAA, ATC and the helicopter tour operators spent months delving into this and discovered that there were a number of procedures that could be employed that would have minor impact on corridor users but would significantly reduce the chances of a collision. After a collision quite a number of pilots will comment that it was only a matter of time. That’s hindsight and perhaps a bit fatalistic.

Without regulation, could there be some sensible procedures employed to reduce collision potential? Back in my full time CFI days, our airport manager had a rule that there were no touch and goes with more than 5 aircraft in the pattern or on weekends. This allowed transients to get in and out after a reasonable wait and still allowed student landing practice. Woe be to the errant aviator who broke the “rules.” There was an immediate tirade on the CTAF from the old gal with the warning that they’d be “sent on down the road” if they didn’t abide. I should point out it was a privately owned, public use facility. It was traffic control at its most basic and we never had a collision.

There is always bad mojo in a community after a collision and pressure to close airports, although it isn’t usually successful. It does reinforce the perception that GA is dangerous and doesn’t endear us to local politicians. Should we consider voluntarily employing some sort of traffic management that would be used only on condition – when the pattern was full? Maybe there’s a better idea. Another view is that there really are very few collisions annually ( typically less than 10) and that is an acceptable loss for the millions of flight operations that occur at non-towered airports.

Your thoughts – either way?

Smile – You’re on Camera!!

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Flight-RecorderIn the heavy iron world there is a push for better flight data recorders. FAA and NTSB has asked for more accuracy, more recording time and more robustness to the hardware. It helps tremendously with accident investigation but also in identifying precursors. There are now so few accidents in the scheduled airline world that to move the needle appreciably we have to study non-accident flights and look for patterns that indicate a weakness or consistently poor operational procedure.

It’s also happening in the GA world that Flight Data loggers are becoming more prevalent. They aren’t nearly as sophisticated as what the airlines use but they are helping to identify accident causes and to protect manufacturers from spurious product lawsuits. One major GA manufacturer has started installing them, standard on new aircraft, since the pending suits have tripled in the last several years although NTSB seldom finds fault with the aircraft.

In case you weren’t aware, almost every car built in the last decade or so has a “black box” or event recorder that is used in accident reconstruction to determine what really happened. It’s significantly changed how often a manufacturer is considered culpable. Since other drivers are often involved in car wrecks, unlike aircraft, it really helps to sort through selective memory and objectively determine what really happened.

Will this help to GA’s product liability issues which raise the cost to all pilots and companies? How do you feel about having a box on board your aircraft that is keeping tabs on your behavior? Good idea or just another intrusion on privacy?