Archive for November, 2012

Ice Education

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Ice EducationThe Air Safety Institute’s newest Real Pilot Story is now online—just in time for a winter flying refresher. The ice-coated Cessna 182 depicted is sobering. The pilot is wiser for his experience, and so are we.

The number of reportable icing accidents isn’t large—the latest Nall report shows a total of 12 in 2010. However, I suspect that the number of icing encounters is much higher—we just don’t hear about them. Remember that ice has the potential to nail much larger aircraft than just C182s, and assertiveness with ATC may be needed in working to get out of it. Most controllers are very understanding—but you have to advise them of your predicament.

If the weather is clearly unsuited for non-ice approved aircraft, have a backup plan. In more than a few cases, you have to wonder what the pilot was thinking. In others, there’s a plausible reason as ice forecasting is still as much art as science. That said, the NWS Aviation Weather Center has a great tool for showing pilots the probability of icing across the country at a chosen altitude.

From now until April, in many parts of the country, we just have to have a viable Plan B.

Here’s a synopsis of my first ice encounter: Piper Arrow headed south out of New Hampshire with Mom on board. We were IFR at 8,000 feet in solid IMC. The freezing level was at 6,000, and MEAs were around 3,000- 4000, but there were no reports of icing. My out was a descent, if needed.

About 10 minutes after leveling off, it became obvious that rime ice was starting to build. Called Center—no response. Called again—no response. Several more calls—no response. I started to transmit in the blind that I needed to descend when another pilot in the vicinity said that the primary center frequency was down and to try a different one—which he happened to have.

Switched freqs and ATC was most accommodating to let me descend to the warmer air. Note to self: try other surrounding ATC frequencies or 121.5 (they don’t charge you for using that, I’m told).

Mom just kept reading her book and never said a word.

The Air Safety Institute is able to bring you educational tools such as Real Pilot Stories and the Nall report through contributions from generous pilots through the AOPA Foundation. If you value these programs to help keep us all safely flying, please consider a contribution today.

Now it’s your turn. Tell us briefly about your first ice encounter and, most importantly, the lesson learned?


Over the River and Through the Woods

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

The title is the opening line from the famous Thanksgiving song, and it’s our hope that everyone will actually be over the woods as well on their holiday travels. If you’re flying by GA this week, remember that there is no place you have to be, and while it may be disappointing if you miss the turkey dinner, there will be other turkey dinners, and besides—leftovers are always good!

We came across some NTSB reports to think about—some may be fictitious, and some may be real:

“The airplane was loaded with six 5-gallon (plastic) fuel containers of diesel fuel, a 150-pound iron stove, the mechanic’s tools, several bags of groceries, and a large cooler/ice chest…..”

“The VFR pilot took off into a 200 foot overcast and one half mile visibility….”

“The pilot did not perform a preflight inspection; he told the passengers that he had enough fuel for the 5-minute flight.”

“The pilot, holder of an expired student pilot certificate, departed with a load of whale meat…”

“The Baron 58 pilot exceeded the design stress limits of the airplane while performing aerobatics in a non-aerobatic airplane with 4 passengers on board.”

“The private pilot stated that…he landed on runway 27 with a 20-knot tailwind and was unable to stop before the end of the 1,100-foot runway.”

“The forecast was for moderate mixed icing and there were several pilot reports confirming the ice was there. The Cessna 172 departed on an IFR flight plan.”

“The aircraft touched down a second time, but then ballooned even higher. According to the pilot, when the aircraft touched down the third time, he ‘...added some power to stay on the ground.’  This resulted in the aircraft lifting off the runway for a third time. ”

So, which are fictitious, and which are real? Do not scroll down until you’ve made your choices.








Perhaps you saw this coming—they are ALL true, proving that truth is stranger than fiction. Have fun, be safe, and live to fly another day. Enjoy your holiday and join us next week.

The Air Safety Institute relies on donations from generous pilots through the AOPA Foundation to help keep us all flying safely throughout the year. If you appreciate our efforts, please consider a tax-deductible donation today.

Not exactly the intended destination

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

The Wall Street Journal has suddenly realized that a lot of regional jets may wind up parked, and marginally profitable airline companies may become even less so. Many a small town may find itself without airline service, and the reason is what many in the industry say is the wrong fix. Congress passed a law that said new air carrier first officers must have at least 1,500 hours total flight time and an ATP rating. They also stipulate that some of that time must be in air-carrier environments, which is really tough to be exposed to in light GA aircraft.

My crystal ball is always muddier than most, but in the November 2010 Safety Pilot column, I wrote:

The law grew out of the tragic Colgan Q400 accident in Buffalo, New York, in 2009 where the NTSB determined “that the probable cause of this accident was the captain’s inappropriate response to the activation of the stick shaker, which led to an aerodynamic stall from which the airplane did not recover. Contributing to the accident were (1) the flight crew’s failure to monitor airspeed in relation to the rising position of the low-speed cue, (2) the flight crew’s failure to adhere to sterile cockpit procedures, (3) the captain’s failure to effectively manage the flight, and (4) Colgan Air’s inadequate procedures for airspeed selection and management during approaches in icing conditions.”

Crew fatigue because of extensive commuting, a captain with a weak training record, both before and after he came to the airline, Colgan’s poorly implemented training to rapidly transition crews into new aircraft types, and a lack of appropriate oversight by the FAA for transitioning pilots round out my list.

Nowhere in any of this are the first officer’s flight-hour qualifications mentioned as a cause or a factor, yet a law has passed addressing a non-issue. This non-sequitur was caused by the understandable grief and outrage of the families who lost loved ones on the flight. They somehow were led to believe that the FO was under-qualified and she was a proximate cause.

The unintended consequence is that many aircraft will likely be parked until the training system somehow catches up. This may come as a shock, but the pay and lifestyle of regional airline FOs is somewhat less than sumptuous. Yet the required and expensive training comes with no expectation that upon satisfactory completion of all the hurdles, a reasonably stable and well-paying job awaits. Quality of training and proper air carrier oversight is essential, not simply requiring an arbitrary number of hours. Delaying potential airline candidates by another year and significantly increasing the cost is going to result in too few qualified people in critical seats.

The Colgan accident was tragic and avoidable. There was a systemic failure that needed to be addressed, but this result is disappointing. A blunt instrument was used when a scalpel would leave fewer scars and promote faster healing. Sometimes even good intentions result in an unintended and undesirable outcome. There are better ways to address the Colgan disaster. If you’re interested, read the full story in the November 2010 Safety Pilot column.

For those planning an airline career, be patient and persistent. For airline passengers hoping for a seat—the same message applies.

Most airline pilots get their start in general aviation. A strong GA pilot population feeds a strong airline population, and that’s good for both industries. With a contribution to the AOPA Foundation, you can take part in our efforts to help grow the pilot population and ensure a thriving industry for us all.