Archive for 2013

“Weather Wise: VFR into IMC”—Now Optimized For iPad

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Weather Wise-VFRintoIMC_Splash smallIt’s a moderately common problem, averaging more than 20 fatal accidents per year. Epidemic? No, but particularly deadly. Roughly 90 percent of these entanglements result in fatalities. The average for all GA accidents is about 20 percent. This is because of CFIT or UFIT—controlled or uncontrolled flight into terrain.

Some of these accidents are extremely high profile, such as John Kennedy Jr’s loss of control near Nantucket. A dark night over a large expanse of water means being on the gauges. That particular accident took a lot of explaining to the media, the public, and the regulators as to why we shouldn’t require one to be on an IFR flight plan after dark, as so many other countries do. The point that we made, on camera, was that ALL of the other thousand or so flights that were operating that night all over these United States made it to their destinations safely.

Aviation magazines, blogs (this one included), and the Air Safety Institute’s Pilot Safety Announcements and Accident Case Studies have all constantly reminded pilots to not get in over their heads. That drum beat continues, and it was something that we also explained to the media and the public: Don’t do clouds if you haven’t been trained and are not proficient flying in clouds. JFK Jr. was part way through his IFR training, but hadn’t quite gotten to the necessary level.

Education, assessment of risk, and understanding what to do and what not to do are all part of a new program that the Air Safety Institute has published, and it runs on iPads—something that some of ASI’s older courses do not always do. (Editorial comment: I mean why standardize on a basic format when it is so much more entertaining to let consumers fumble through with various pieces of equipment—did I mention GPS navigators?) ASI’s Weather Wise: VFR into IMC online course prepares pilots for the real world by providing basic weather knowledge required to anticipate poor weather conditions, explaining common weather scenarios that can trap unsuspecting pilots, and helping pilots understand the complexity of decision making and pilot judgment and how these can be compromised. Our thanks to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service for helping to fund the program and to the pilot donors of the AOPA Foundation.

Good Thanksgiving! Apparently last week’s blog on turkey flights that resulted in catastrophe had the desired effect. Clearly one of my best blogs because, according to early reports, there were very few accidents last weekend. We always warn the correlation does NOT imply causality but in this case I’ll shamelessly take the credit.

Over the River & Through the Woods II

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

TurkeyThis blog worked well last year and seemed like a good candidate for a reprise.

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!

Here are some NTSB turkey 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 four 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. Perhaps some of these seemed like a good idea at the time—perhaps.  Have fun, be safe, and live to fly another day. Enjoy your holiday and join us next week.

Forget Black Friday & Cyber Monday…

GT2013 blue stripe block 300x250Giving Tuesday is on December 3rd this year. Are you happily wrapped up (sorry) in the spirit of the season to find perfect gifts for loved ones?  Giving Tuesday reminds us that sometimes it is better to give than receive—especially if you have all the stuff you really want or need.

Consider making a gift to preserve our freedom to fly. Donate to the AOPA Foundation on December 3rd. As a 21 year member of the Hat in the Ring Society, I try to put my  money where my mouth is. AOPA President Mark Baker has joined the President’s Council, and many of our staff take part in Giving Tuesday as well. Give at whatever level makes sense for you. Safe flights!

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.

Fat Necks—the Latest Safety Bogeyman!

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

iStock_000004024837SmallOne more thing to be concerned about—but not to worry, a solution is at hand.

By now you may have heard that the federal air surgeon has decreed that someone who is overweight with a fat neck is a hazard in the cockpit. That’s not the diplomatic way of putting it, but there it is. I am more concerned about fat heads and the occasional lack of judgment, but that’s not what this is about. One could surmise all kinds of potential hazards, but the fear is that a large person with a 17-inch neck will (my emphasis) suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is a condition where someone does not sleep well at night and therefore is likely to fall asleep almost anywhere, anytime. Reminds me of many college students, but I digress.

This is not to make light of the condition or the individuals who suffer from OSA, but to point out that pilots—as a group—have exercised good judgment relative to medical hazards. There are exceptions, but regulation by anecdote is a bad idea and unfair to the vast majority who play by the rules.

Never mind that there is no general aviation accident or incident data that supports this level of intervention. The NTSB investigated a regional airline crew falling asleep and overflying the destination. Here is what the NTSB said, “Contributing to the incident were the captain’s undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and the flight crew’s recent work schedules, which included several consecutive days of early-morning start times.” There are some air carrier ASRS reports on file regarding OSA but these are few and far between.

So this and some other anecdotal evidence is the basis for such a sweeping change? The airline industry has been under the gun for sometime about work schedules, but instead of addressing Part 121 operations, the blunt tool is used and we take in all pilots.

A friend, Dr. Brent Blue, who is a senior aviation medical examiner said, “So let us say this pilot has a neck size over 17 inches and a body mass index (BMI) over 40. (BMI was developed and only supposed to be valid for use with populations of people, not individuals. Use with individuals has been shown not to be valid. Tom Cruise’s BMI is 26 putting him in the ‘fat’ category. LeBron James is 27.5—fat as well!) Now the FAA says that I must delay his medical until he sees a ‘sleep specialist’ and either does not have OSA, or is treated successfully.” 

At the Air Safety Institute we keep close tabs on GA accidents, and the number of pilot incapacitation accidents does not appear to support keeping the 3rd class medical in its entirety, let alone adding OSA as a major incapacitation hazard. And if it was such a big problem, how come the GA safety education community wasn’t notified much sooner before an edict was issued? Was this just  a failure to communicate?

Another case of the bureaucracy creating a solution in search of a problem? Maybe the FAA should just work on the backlog of 50,000 special issuances that they claim is overwhelming them.

Don’t misunderstand—we are all for reasonable safety and regulation but the adjective describes all. OSA can be a problem and should be dealt with, but there are other conditions as well that might need attention. We give individuals the latitude to make the right choice. One-off events just are not the basis for good regulation. AOPA is opposing this until compelling and valid data is forthcoming. Join us in this effort, won’t you?