Archive for October, 2012

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.

Trolling for TFRs

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

‘Tis the final run for the political silly season, and what’s that got to do with aviation? Plenty.

The omnipresent VIP Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) abounds. The average for this campaign season has been 15 to 20 per week. Let’s take one thing off the table—the need for VIP TFRs. Unfortunately, asymmetrical warfare is prevalent. GA remains a perceived threat, although the probability is highly unlikely. This discussion is best had over adult beverages, but for the foreseeable future, we’re probably stuck with it.

However, in this day of instant notification via multiple means, why the FAA’s disclaimer on the TFR website, to wit: Depicted TFR data may not be a complete listing. Pilots should not use the information on this website for flight planning purposes. For the latest information, call your local Flight Service Station at 1-800-WX-BRIEF?

There are multiple government agencies involved, including the FAA, TSA, the Secret Service, and DoD, which compounds coordination. Is it too much to ask that key dissemination vehicles of critical information, and that includes websites and uplinked data, be timely and accurate? DUAT, DUATS, and most of the commercial sites should have current data that show that the pilot has made a good faith effort to stay informed. Naturally, a tail number log-in is needed for verification, but that’s a small concession.

Way too many needless intercepts and the associated hassles have been made because of the need to contact FSS. They are glad for the business, but that’s not the point. This is almost like posting a pseudo speed limit sign on the highway and saying that it may be correct, but you have to pull over and call the Speed Limit Control Desk (SLCD) to verify.

An additional point is that many businesses lose lots of revenue since the following operations are excluded in parts of the TFR: flight training, practice instrument approaches, aerobatic flight, glider operations, seaplane operations, parachute operations, ultralight, hang gliding, balloon operations, agriculture/crop dusting, animal population control flight operations, banner towing operations, sightseeing operations, maintenance test flights, radio controlled model aircraft operations, model rocketry, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and utility and pipeline survey operations.

Should the government have some formula for compensating them for lost revenue? In the interim, you might consider AOPA’s Pilot Protection Plan—just in case.

Lastly, a big thank you to Robert Goyer of Flying Magazine who said, “We’re all in this together. Let’s do our best to join our voices so that the non-flying world hears one voice, big, loud, and clear.” One way you can add your voice is by donating to the AOPA Foundation as we fight to preserve our freedom to fly. Donate today at