Archive for August, 2011

GA Missionaries

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

The season of politics will be with us through the presidential election next year. We might expect that aviation, corporate jets specifically, but general aviation in general will be singled out as targets for additional revenue and as something that we should somehow be ashamed of.

The irony is that some who complain the loudest about others using non-airline aircraft use jets to go about government business. Why the hypocrisy? They use them for exactly the same reasons: efficiency, security, the ability to travel where and when needed without having to get a quorum together to meet the airlines’ schedule. Simply—they couldn’t do the job expected of them in the time available without having the leverage provided by non-airline aircraft.

The so-called class warfare has begun but rather then getting into all the negatives perhaps it’s time to focus on the positives. It doesn’t hurt to point out the hypocrisy but don’t dwell on it. There’s a bigger story to tell!

We’ve talked before about taking people flying, or at the very least, sharing with them the joys and benefits of GA flight. While some will naturally gravitate toward the business use of aircraft, remember that the dream of flight is almost universal. Most people start on the path with just the dream. Maybe we shouldn’t fill their heads with all the practical reasons to fly. Few new pilots will get any real transportation utility out of an airplane until they’ve flown for several years and gotten an instrument rating. (There are exceptions in the Southwest)

Is it time to start a new mission? Is it time to promote the personal growth that comes from becoming a pilot—light sport, recreational  or private? The commitment, skill and knowledge that’s needed to become a pilot means it isn’t for everybody. When you become a pilot you become part of a special group. Anytime there’s another pilot nearby they are part of the brotherhood or sisterhood.

For young people, it helps them to establish an identity—way beyond anything else that they could do. For older people it blows out the cobwebs that too many of us develop going through the  life’s mundane activities. It’s not just a new skill—it’s a new lifestyle and a completely new self-perception. Others will not look at you the same way. This is better than plastic surgery!

Are you able to help pilot prospects find a good CFI and assist with the training experience? That could be tremendously rewarding.  Only ten percent of the pilot population needs to mentor someone and see them through the process each year.  It would make all the difference. What do you think?

Meeting the NTSB

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

The Air Safety Institute has always had a solid working relationship with the NTSB. We depend on their investigations of GA accidents to provide, unfortunately, a steady feed to the ASI database. Annually, we do a deep dive into the data to produce the Joseph T. Nall Report which looks back a year to see where the problems are and where they are not. That helps us to decide where to invest our time and donor dollars to help GA pilots fly more safely.

Earlier this week, the vice chair of the NTSB, Chris Hart, and member, Dr. Earl Weener, spent the day at AOPA in Frederick reviewing ASI programs and discussing how we can enhance an already strong relationship. Both Chris and Earl are active GA pilots, flying a DA40 and a Bonanza A36 respectively. This is extremely helpful because both truly understand the nature of the challenges facing us.

As you may have heard, NTSB has put GA safety on its Most Wanted List. This is not something that you’ll find in Post Offices but rather on NTSB’s website and on the minds of many safety advocates. The list encompasses “The most critical transportation issues that need to be addressed to improve safety and save lives.”

Excerpting some thoughts from the Most Wanted List :  “Perhaps what is most distressing, is that the causes of GA accidents are almost always a repeat of the circumstances of previous accidents…but the best aircraft in the world will not prevent a crash if the pilot is not appropriately trained and prepared for conditions. GA pilots should take initial and recurrent training on the various weather information sources and learn what to do when they inadvertently encounter adverse weather. As aircraft become more sophisticated with glass cockpits, GA pilots need to be more than just familiar with the technology; they need to also understand how it can malfunction.”

We couldn’t agree more and think that targeted interventions will help. More regulation will not help, as member Hart and Weener acknowledged, since in almost every case there was some violation of the rules and not just in a technical sense. Decision-making continues to be problematic for some pilots and the Air Safety Institute has over 20 programs and products that directly address that. Every AOPA employee who flies company aircraft must have an annual proficiency check and participate in a safety program quarterly , either online or attend a live seminar.

Both Board members also understand that GA is not a monolithic activity, like the airlines, and thus a one-size-fits-all mentality just won’t work. In September’s AOPA Pilot we remind people that there are more differences than similarities between the airlines and GA.

Your safety and those of your passengers depend upon you and your mindset.

You might just have a chance to meet Chris and Earl at AOPA Summit in Hartford in September.

Aircraft Theft = Media Attention

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Stealing aircraft is an unusual line of work and somewhat dangerous. Not since the Barefoot Bandit crashed a perfectly good Cessna 400 into the waters off the Bahamas have we had this much activity—fortunately. Just this week, however, someone stole a Piper Saratoga from Horace Williams airport in Chapel Hill, NC.

Like the “Bandit” however, they were not quite up on the rudiments of flying more complex aircraft. It appears when the Piper came down, with one tank full and another empty, that the engine stopped and the ‘toga’ settled in a forested area. The ELT went off about 0700 and the wreckage was located about four to five hours later.

The pilot escaped but not unscathed, leaving behind a trail of blood. The Sheriff’s department called out the dogs and they soon identified the thief although he’s still at large at this writing. Now, read carefully what the local TV station reported.

The sheriff said “…He’s never dealt with a stolen aircraft in his 40-year-long law enforcement career…at least one media outlet and a federal agency had contacted investigators wondering if the theft might be terrorist-related…there’s no indication of that at this point in the investigation.”

A Raleigh TV station spoke with an aviation attorney who said the lightweight doors and windows and lack of heavy locks on planes make them easy targets. “The aircraft itself is ripe for being broken into. Aircraft are not made to be secure; they are meant to fly in the air.”

First, the Sheriff notes that this is an exceedingly rare event but then there is the immediate question about terrorism, although not by the Sheriff. Although there was nothing to link this to any nefarious activity, it seems to be a prevailing mindset that GA aircraft could be used as weapons. As we approach the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, anticipate possible trouble and increased paranoia.

How best to prevent this sort of problem? At this early stage we don’t know how the aircraft was secured but obviously it didn’t work but a few thoughts for your consideration:

1. We need to be looking out for each other and our flying machines. I’m not a big fan of airport fencing but rather making the aircraft more difficult targets.

2. We need to secure them carefully so that they can’t be used as propaganda tools against us. I’ve blogged before on securing the aircraft and with the advances made in automotive security these days you think some of that could trickle up, at least into new aircraft.  AOPA’s Airport Watch program is a low cost and common sense approach to help protect against just such incidents.

3. It’s much better to implement our security voluntarily than by government mandate.

Prevention is far more effective at protecting the image of GA than our protestations that light aircraft are unlikely to be used for terrorism. Never underestimate the paranoia of security agencies or the opportunistic desires of an ever-hungry media.