Archive for 2012

‘Twas the night before…hey, wait a minnit!

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

The night before

At the Air Safety Institute, we are well known for post-accident “armchair piloting.” There is pontification and speculation on what can be learned– because in each accident is a tragedy and a lesson.

With Santa Claus, however, we’re a little flummoxed. He has a perfect piloting record: no ASRS reports, no violations, and nothing in the NTSB database that we’ve discovered.

His Air Safety Institute transcript did reveal that perhaps his perfect record is largely due to ongoing safety education:

Santa is thriving and doing it safely, but would more regulation strangle his operation?  He does his homework (how else would he know you wanted a new iPad Mini?), and operates within the legal framework (Part 91) for his operation.

All that said, the upcoming annual flight got us wondering about some of his skills and equipment. All of these are questions, and some obstacles, that face nearly every GA pilot. How does he cope with these? If you’re looking for answers in this blog post, we don’t have any. But if you have any other questions, we encourage you to add to our list:

  • Is Santa a “through the fence” operation?
  • Is he paying user fees in those other countries where they charge for such things?
  • Is the sleigh FIKI certified and does reindeer exhaust serve as an anti-ice system?
  • Does eApis apply?
  • Would Santa be intercepted for busting a TFR if NORAD is already tracking him?
  • Should Santa subscribe to AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services for the medical benefits (as an aging pilot)? He’ll definitely need legal services.
  • North Pole takeoffs must be over gross weight, so has he ever been ramp-checked?
  • Since Santa only flies once a year, is that enough to maintain proficiency, especially for a long night cross-country? When was his last IPC?
  • The sleigh was certified without an electrical system…it’s been around a while. So how is Rudolph’s nose as an anti-collision light powered? Is there a 337 form for the mod?
  • How does one calculate fuel reserves when it’s measured in hay bales per hour?
  • Has he implemented ADS-B, or is he waiting for manufacturers to lower their prices a bit?
  • Could Santa be replaced by a UAS, and would the old guy get the same kick out of flying?

Add to the list in comments below, and the best entry (one per pilot) will win a fabulous prize—decision of the judges is final. (Submission deadline is midnight EST on Sunday, Dec. 23.)

In closing, remember that Santa represents the best in GA flight operations—perfect safety and a professional attitude! This trip could not take place on the airlines—getting all the toy sacks through security alone would take days, the connecting flights would invariably be delayed this time of year (assuming he could even get a seat), and the rental car bill would dwarf the size of the federal deficit! GA is the ultimate time machine for people who want /need time-effective, point-to-point transportation!

Reflect on what GA means to you and on the challenges facing our continued freedom to fly. We hope you will consider a tax-deductible contribution this year to help us keep our skies free and safe, our airports open, and work to help more people join the wonderful ranks of GA pilots.

From the entire AOPA Foundation team, we wish you and yours a happy, safe, and memorable holiday season.

Time to spare – go by air!

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Go by air!

Had a business trip scheduled to the Northeast. The first meeting on Tuesday was scheduled for 1100 near the GA airport. There were additional meetings throughout the day and a breakfast meeting on Wednesday. The return was planned for midday to make a Wednesday afternoon commitment back at the office—the perfect use of GA aircraft! Our schedule was for an 0700 Tuesday departure to arrive at 1000 for an 1100 meeting.

The aircraft we were supposed to fly developed a nasty prop seal leak three days before. I like oil and grease as much as anyone but much prefer them on the inside of the engine. No alternative GA aircraft was available, so grudgingly it was over to the airline alternative. You know where this is headed.

The schedules into Boston pretty much required a night-before departure to be sure to get in for the Tuesday morning commute from downtown to our outlying airport meeting location. This meant extra hotel nights and meals, but all those loyalty programs must be worth something. The irony is that by the time you’ve flown enough miles or accumulated enough room nights, the last thing you want to do is get on another airliner and spend another night in a hotel!!!! (Although the affinity programs often let you go to undesirable places at times you’d never want to go.)

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1930 for a reasonable arrival time. At 1300 the airline very nicely called to say that our departure was now rescheduled for 2220 and a midnight-something arrival with a one-hour drive to the hotel. Plan C: try a different satellite airport—Manchester, N.H. Well, the earlier flight has only one seat—sorry, how about the 2100 flight? Wellll, that one was also delayed. Again, you know where this is going, so we arrived at 0000 anyway.

I’ll spare you more gory details and the usual TSA indignities, but even we, as pilots, sometimes take the tremendous benefits of GA for granted. It’s good to share those with non-pilots, and perhaps a few may be interested enough to try it themselves. We all know that GA doesn’t always work especially with smaller weather-limited aircraft, but some of my really serious delays have been on airlines where it took the system a day or two to unsnarl because of the interdependent nature of hub and spoke. I’ve never been delayed more than a day when flying GA (after getting instrument rated and proficient).

One last thought—every one of the presidential candidates during the primaries relied on GA. In the general election, both the president and Mitt depended on aircraft to cover vast distances in short periods of time to see who they needed to see. Government executives and generals use taxpayer-funded GA to conduct the nation’s business. Why aren’t some of the non-government economic drivers of the economy given a bit more understanding?

We need to do a better job in conveying this story to the public at large—I’m getting a picture here. I hope you are as well.

A gentle reminder that your AOPA Foundation needs support. Currently less than 10% of the AOPA membership is making a tax-deductible contribution to help save GA. We need to do better than that!  Putting my money where this mouthpiece is, I have been a Hat-in-the Ring society member for 20 years. Not everyone can contribute at that level and some can do far more, but everyone should be in the game. Are you in the fight?

Be sure to tune in next week for our special holiday blog post…with a prize!


A Road Runs through It?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Two weeks ago, a statistical outlier occurred. Mishaps involving aircraft colliding with automobiles are rare. Two in the space of a week is highly unusual!

At a privately owned airport in Texas, a student pilot soloing managed to clip the top of an SUV that failed to yield the right of way on a road that runs right off the end of the runway. There was apparently no signage other than the word Stop reportedly painted on the road. It should also be noted that the runway does have a displaced threshold, and there’s usually a good reason for that.

The road does not belong to the airport, but is also privately owned. In retrospect it seems like this could have been better marked because the driver of the SUV appeared to have no idea that his SUV could become an instant convertible. Fortunately there were no injuries other than the student deciding that he may not continue to get his Private certificate. The financial injury, however, will be significant.

The other accident, in Maine, unfortunately had a very sad ending. A Cessna 172 on takeoff struck a pickup truck that was crossing the runway. According to the NTSB preliminary report, the pickup driver, “subsequently saw something grayish in color, continued to cross the runway, and then got out to inspect what he saw at which time he observed an airplane attempting to climb. He continued watching the airplane drift to the left of the runway and make a left turn as if attempting to return to the airport. Subsequently, the airplane was then observed in slow flight, and then it began to spin.” There were three fatalities. The pickup driver, a pilot and CFI based at the airport, stated that he made a call on the CTAF and crossed the runway.

Runways are dangerous places, and it’s incumbent on pilots and drivers alike to beware. It’s hard to know if a driver will understand or even be aware of an aircraft’s presence. I suspect there are two airport managers who will be reviewing procedures in the coming weeks to determine what, if anything, might need to be changed. Other airport managers and pilots should do likewise.

This type of mishap is exceedingly rare, and yet it is not the first time, nor will it likely be the last car-airplane encounter that results in a very bad outcome.

Your donation to the AOPA Foundation helps contribute to the ongoing aviation safety education efforts by the Air Safety Institute. Please consider a donation today so that we may continue to make GA as safe as it can possibly be.