Archive for 2012

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

It was a superb Sunday in the Mid-Atlantic area, and I had the rare opportunity to just go flying. Most of the time it’s for business (business flying is fun—no question—but one doesn’t get to pick the times, places, companions, or weather—any one of which can make a potentially joyous outing seem more like, well, work.)

The skies were blessedly busy, and the tower was sorting out the traffic as we waited for departure. Some controllers keep you waiting even when the aircraft on final is still only imaginary, and others will approve an immediate departure when you might have preferred to let the other guy or gal play through.

Sometimes the flight plan needs a bit more tweaking or an overlooked checklist item needs attention—however, when you’re ready, it’s nice to be on the way. I’ve made mistakes in rushing which is always a bad idea, and then after hurrying to comply with the request, remembered thinking that was dumb. A simple, “unable” or “We’ll wait, thank you,” would have allowed things to be on my terms, which is always better.

The 30-minute cross-country flight was uneventful with lots of low altitude traffic. The traffic avoidance gear and my eyes were well exercised. I’ve really come to appreciate that equipment and hope that as it becomes more affordable and widespread, the incidents of close-calls and mid-air collisions will decrease. It’s true that just one really can ruin your whole day.

Accurate position reporting is essential for the tower to sequence everyone. On this day, several directionally-challenged pilots knew they were somewhere and dutifully reported it only to later figure out they were somewhere else. Surprises are great for birthday parties, but not so much in flying. The tower was not amused.

Tower: “62X I cleared you to land and you did a touch-and-go.”

62X: “I requested a touch-and-go.”

Tower: “Next time, if what you wanted isn’t what you got, let’s have that conversation—it just makes it easier for everyone.”

On returning home, the field was buzzing. Helicopters were hovering on the infield, gliders were gliding with the occasional tow plane returning for the next haul, and numerous transients were out and about. Add in practice IFR approaches and students doing circuits. The choreography was working pretty well until a Hawker bizjet, inbound from the east and going twice as fast as everyone else, needed the long runway, while the crosswind dictated the short runway for most of us. The Cessna we were following needed to go around because he was too high. The tower asked me for a position report (about a mile final) and was contemplating the complications with the jet. Racing him to the intersection is like racing trains to a grade crossing—the results could be both spectacular and discouraging (but what a thrill before impact!). A go-around might be good for the soul, and so that’s what we did and advised the tower.

Pulse rate in multiple aircraft and one ATC facility returned to normal. We followed the preceding Cessna, and as number three, were cleared to land. All-in-all, a very satisfying day and lots of subtle lessons.

So, how are things in your high-density VFR neighborhood?

The AOPA Foundation is committed to helping protect our aviation freedoms, so that all of us pilots can enjoy the opportunity to just go fly. Your donations help make this possible. If you haven’t already, please consider donating to the AOPA Foundation today to help us in our efforts.

GA after the Storm

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

There’s just no trying to reason with hurricane season, according to Jimmy Buffett. It was all about Sandy and will be for some time. The coming, the passing, the going, the aftermath, the political effects, the economic effects—you name it—it was all reported at least a few hundred times.

One thing that you won’t hear much about is how quickly GA recovered and how it will help in the recovery. There will be hundreds, if not thousands, of humanitarian flights that will touch thousands of people. That story needs to be told, and we’ll work to tell it where appropriate. Now is the time to tell your friends about how GA is helping.

The GA system will be largely back to normal now, moving people and goods, expanding commerce, and doing all the things it does every day in this country. Having been subject to a few airline SNAFUs in the past, I know they will take days to unsnarl. Our system is simpler with huge flexibility, and that’s a tremendous strength in critical times.

I had the pleasure of missing the storm on a trip down the East Coast. The only concession to Sandy was to depart half a day early on a business trip. It may have made a slight difference that we were headed south. The flight was into overcast skies and some light turbulence, but nothing ominous. Flying the western edges and out the southern side of the storm gave perspective to the monster that could only be appreciated from the air. We went about our business quietly and efficiently. That’s as it should be after the “storm of the century.”  Of course, the century is still a bit young, so wait a few years.

The recovery efforts that general aviation brings are only possible with a strong GA industry. Consider donating to the AOPA Foundation as we work to keep GA healthy and a vital part of our community.

If you have a good GA Sandy story to tell on how GA worked, let us know.


First, Do No Harm

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

It’s something that all pilots should embrace, but especially those who fly for charity.  Offering your aircraft to transport people in need of medical attention, moving animals to new homes, carrying wounded and aging veterans, or conducting environmental assessment flights is a higher calling and one that we heartily endorse.

It happens all over the country with little fanfare. The vast majority of the time everything works as it should, but occasionally there will be a mishap or worse, a fatal accident. In the summer of 2008, there were three bad accidents involving charity transports (Boston, Iowa City, and Tampa) which led the NTSB and FAA to look more closely at the activity. The Air Safety Institute moved quickly to assist the groups, working in conjunction with an umbrella organization known as the Air Care Alliance. It represents many different charitable flight activities, and a joint effort in funding allowed the creation of a special online course for volunteer pilots.

The Institute designed some safety management guidelines for pilots, weather conditions, and currency. It would be a bit of an overstatement to say that there was unanimous agreement on what those guidelines should be, or that one set would be appropriate for all flight operations or circumstances.

For example, the Air Safety Institute recommends fuel reserves of at least one hour. VFR flight minimums should be no less than 2,000’ ceiling and five miles visibility—higher in mountainous terrain. How about crosswinds? The arbitrary call was 75% of the demonstrated component. However, that might be tempered by pilot experience and currency. An active ATP, familiar with the aircraft, might be quite capable of handling crosswinds up to the demonstrated maximum. A relatively new private pilot should be more conservative.

An annual flight review was recommended with more stringent IFR currency. Part 91 served as the starting point, but we felt that since the charitable clients would not be knowledgeable about the nature of their pilot or the trip, a somewhat higher standard of care might be applied. These recommendations serve as guidelines, not hard and fast rules. The safety officers of each organization should apply appropriate wisdom. Charitable good works by GA are held in the highest regard, and we pilots have an obligation to take commensurate care. As with doctors, humanitarian pilots should also take the Hippocratic Oath.

Charitable good works for GA can also be as simple as donating to a good cause. The AOPA Foundation is dedicated to promoting GA and its varied uses, but we need your help. Consider a donation today.