Archive for June, 2011

Airports–The media gets it right!

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Too many times the local newspaper or TV station  routinely sensationalize a story about aviation accidents. When the local entities come out to state their opposition to the airport after an accident occurs, the media often report the controversy but just as often never say anything about the merits of the case. This week, an unusual thing happened.

At Sikorsky Airport in Bridgeport, CT a Piper Saratoga clipped the top of a blast fence on approach to landing. The impact ripped off  part of a wing and the wreckage slid onto the runway. Both the pilot and his wife were injured.

For years the city, the airport and the FAA have wanted to remove the blast fence and install a runway safety zone with a special collapsible surface that would stop an aircraft that was overrunning and remove the fence hazard to both arriving and departing flight. Connecticut Post – Online offered  this editorial:

“Since no one was killed this time, it’s fine that bickering over removal of that fence and replacing it with a safety zone can drone on for a few more years. Urgency will come, apparently, when the next pilot or passenger is actually incinerated in a wreck on the fence — as happened in 1994 when a plane crashed into the fence and eight people died in the ensuing inferno.

That this fence stands is simply shameful. That the Federal Aviation Administration has not taken control of the situation is shameful. That critics fight against safety by misrepresenting creation of a safety zone as “expansion” of the airport is most shameful of all.

What has been proposed is replacing the lethal metal fence with a stretch of EMAS — the acronym standing for engineered materials arrestor system — which is material that would crumble under the weight of an airplane, bringing the plane to a halt with little risk to humans and the plane. It adds not one inch to the length of the runway, hence the “expansion” accusation is a false one.

Putting an EMAS zone at the end of the runway in question at Sikorsky would require rerouting Stratford’s Main Street. Rerouting Main Street would indeed be a substantial project. Nowhere near as substantial, though, as burying the victims of the next crash into the lethal fence.”

This is the 4th accident involving the fence in 17 years according according to Reporter Tim Loh  writing the day before the editorial appeared, ” …Opponents, however, have blocked that plan for years by raising environmental concerns about the surrounding area and by stoking fears that such a remodeling would attract larger, louder planes to the airport.

The runway, meanwhile, has not been upgraded since 1982. And though it is deemed safe, it no longer complies with FAA standards. Bridgeport and Sikorsky officials maintain that the safety upgrade would not lengthen the runway by an inch…..”

Bravo for Reporter Loh and the Connecticut Post for telling the truth! Mark Twain said, “Always tell the truth because it will amaze your friends and confound your enemies.” I am amazed and most appreciative!

Just what IS this Foundation?

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

When an organization asks for financial support (polite term for money) potential donors sometimes ask some tough questions. Normally, in the blog we discuss safety and the other challenges that face GA but this week I’d ask your forbearance to explain why this Foundation was created and what it does. Many of you understand and donate–others may wonder. This is my response to an email from a member.

“Thank you for your open and honest response. It’s always helpful to hear from the membership and not to believe our own press releases!

In 2007, the leadership felt there was a need to expand the philanthropic opportunities beyond safety to include growing the pilot population, preserving airports and improving the perception of GA. AOPA has been asked to do much more and we only recently raised dues which doesn’t begin to cover all the challenges. Since the Air Safety Foundation (ASF) was running so well, the decision was to leave that alone and create a new Foundation, the AOPA Foundation (AF) that would handle the funding for all four areas.

Several things happened along the way. There was a change in AOPA leadership, the economy tanked, and we established two non-profit entities that shared much of the same name. This created confusion and extra expense. A year ago, in 2010, AOPA’s trustees decided to combine the two organizations, AOPA Foundation and ASF into one organization. The Air Safety Foundation became the Air Safety Institute and resides under the bigger AOPA Foundation. Donors have the option to specify donations for safety or for the other three areas that fall under the broad category of preserving the future of GA. All funding that was designated for safety remains so dedicated.

As a non-profit, AF cannot lobby or get into advocacy issues. Education in the four initiatives is allowed and essential. With airports, for example, it’s much better to work with the community to educate them on the benefits of GA, and to address irritation areas so that political forest fires never get started. Economic impact statements, flying friendly (noise reduction) , and safety all fall into that category.

Why can’t AOPA fund much of this, as it has in the past? Two reasons: Mainly, the needs have expanded tremendously as have AOPA’s efforts. Thirteen years ago the Airport Support Network and Airport Watch didn’t even exist. The decline in the pilot population had not been recognized as the well-defined issue that is has become and the explosion of media miscues and need for response explains why that is now essential. The second reason is that non-dues revenue has declined somewhat with print advertising in the magazine down (as it is with most print media) and electronic media not yet picking up the slack.

Given the tax laws, it makes sense to use charitable dollars for the critical education issues mentioned. PAC donations to AOPA (not the Foundation) are also welcomed and are used for advocacy, as they always have been. The future of GA, as we know it, is under massive pressure so there is strong justification for this effort.

Most importantly, thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain, perhaps in too much detail, the logic of our appeal. We hope that you will still consider the Foundation worthy of your charitable gifts and by all means, feel free to designate them as you desire.”

I’m pleased to say that this pilot responded with a nice donation–once he understood what was being done and why. At this writing, about 10% of the AOPA membership makes a contribution to the Foundation. If we could get 25% to just donate the equivalent of one hour of flight time annually that would make a huge difference in the fight to preserve the future of GA. Please visit the AOPA Foundation website  to make a donation.

Aerodynamics – Next Monday

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

This is a plug for next Monday’s Air Safety Institute’s free aerodynamics webinar. What with airliners having difficulty with stalls these days and the usual carnage that surrounds GA it’s a hot topic. I will be joined by two experts in the field: Rich Stowell, who runs a first class training operation out of Santa Paula Airport in California and literally wrote the book on stalls and spins and Brian Smith, an aeronautical engineer who works for NASA and is a private pilot. He says a barn door can be made to fly and might actually tell us how that works.  We’ll review a number of accidents from the aerodynamics perspective and will be accepting questions from the audience.

We’ve looked at the GA stall-related accidents back to 2003 and plotted them on a map which you’ll see – year by year. As basic as this might seem, too many pilots and their passengers are dying because they don’t quite understand Alpha. Everybody regurgitates the mantra for the checkride and for the knowledge test that an aircraft can be stalled at any airspeed and pitch attitute but somehow they haven’t internalized it.

Some questions that might be answered are:

  • Pitch & power – which controls airspeed and which controls altitude? We guarantee a good time with that one!
  • Why using power in stall recovery isn’t always a good idea?
  • How about teaching spins that aren’t really spins?
  • How can we, as CFIs, better prepare our students to stay alive?
  • Should we practice the “impossible turn” – engine failure after takeoff?
  • Why not use AOA instead of Airspeed  as the measurement?

After the revelations regarding the Colgan accident and now that Air France 447 is beginning to reveal some of its secrets,  it’s a great time to study. This is probably not the program to invite a non-pilot to watch but for the rest of us, it will either be something new or a great refresher. We will be working with a leading edge software program that demonstrates state of the art webinars – with luck it will work seamlessly – at the least – you’ll be entertained. If you don’t have a better offer for an hour next  Monday, join us.