Archive for January, 2013

Fuel Rules

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

gas pumpLast week we discussed how there is too much extraneous information in the FAR/AIM book, and many of you agreed. One area that is very straightforward pertains to how much fuel is required. The FARs are unambiguous for both VFR and IFR operations. Two recent accidents illustrate the wisdom of having enough gas to go the distance and then some.

In January, a relatively new instrument pilot crashed after his Piper Arrow ran out of fuel on approach to Dover AFB. This was after attempting approaches at four other airports in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The preliminary report did not show the forecast or how widespread the low IFR conditions were, but it reinforces the point that flying 50 or even 100 miles to an alternate may not get you to a place where you can get on the ground with certainty.

On one of my flights in a Cessna 182 into a low weather system, it was prudent to land short before even burning half a tank. Taking on additional fuel made it possible to fly back out of the entire system if needed. It also provided great peace of mind and steadied the hand when shooting a low approach.

Last week another flight involved a Cirrus SR-20 that came up short on a VFR flight. The CFI pulled the parachute. There were no injuries, although the aircraft was much the worse for wear. It was a familiarization flight and the aircraft was about three miles from the runway when the engine quit. Less than a quart of fuel remained on board. I spoke with Mary Grady on an AVweb podcast about this issue and these two accidents.

Some say parachutes are for sissies, but in this case perhaps three lives were saved, whereas in the Arrow the pilot died. With the Cirrus accident, there will be some explaining to do, but sacrificing the aircraft is always the correct choice.

I shamelessly promote two fuel management Pilot Safety Announcements which you may find amusing: Hybrid Power and Would You Fly This Airline? Better yet—pass them along to anyone who thinks fuel rules are foolish.

Lest you think that these are isolated incidents, take a look at our incident/accident map.

These Pilot Safety Announcements from the Air Safety Institute are just part of what the AOPA Foundation does to help general aviation improve its safety record. And your support keeps those efforts alive. Consider a donation today so that we may continue providing these free educational resources for pilots everywhere.


Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Jeppesen manualThe first time I heard that acronym, I wondered why anyone was talking about Three Mile Island before some smartphone-savvy type patiently explained that it was code for Too Much Information.

There’s much talk these days about how the government has made things too complex. Many pilots would agree, and President Obama has asked for a review of regulations to see what might be reduced. I’m not holding my breath as far as the FARs are concerned, but come along on my fantasy.

On a rainy afternoon recently there was just no better way to prime for a nap than by reading the Federal Aviation Regulations and the Aeronautical Information Manual, known affectionately as the FAR/AIM. Published annually and updated constantly, the latest volume is a weighty tome. The new version is 1,331 pages, up from 1,074 last year which was up from 1,049 the year before. To be fair, this includes Parts 105, 119, 135, 136, 142, and some other esoterica.

There’s lots of flight-critical safety information included, but some pruning is clearly in order. Some industry and most government publications just can’t seem to let go of things that may have been important once but have long been overtaken by events. Or, it was someone’s pet project and legacy.

Some examples from the AIM:

Table 1-1-4 Frequency Pairs Allocated for ILS: Shows how localizer and glide slope frequencies are paired—never had occasion to know that.

1-1-11 Microwave Landing System (MLS): A 2-page detailed system description that 99.999% of the aviation community can’t use because they don’t have the equipment on board and need special authorization—spare the rest of us.

1-1-15 Loran goes on for nine pages, five of which are in full color, outlining the various chains with the pulse and pulse groups—the system is not in much use these days, and this description is something only an engineer could use. Please explain why I need to know the amplitude and frequency of the 100 kHz pulse. Back in the years when I flew Loran, I never found the “tuning function” on the unit and it seemed to work just fine.

The other thing that would help tremendously is to stop speaking in the tongues of legalese and put the regs into normal English. For example, why does it take six paragraphs to tell pilots that except when nature calls, you should be at your seat with the seat belt fastened? For takeoff and landing, shoulder harnesses should be worn unless the aircraft is exempted from having harnesses or controls can’t be reached when the harness is in use.

You can certainly come up with other examples—so let’s hear ’em, and submit them to the FAA for consideration. Don’t hold your breath, but perhaps some sanity would preserve both tree and electrons.

After we tilt this windmill, it’s on to the tax code!

Now it’s your turn to tilt some windmills. A donation to the AOPA Foundation can go a long way toward making positive changes for general aviation as we seek to grow the pilot population, increase our safety record, and move GA forward. Consider a tax-deductible donation today.

Singling out Young Pilots (and Old)

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

young pilotThe Safety Pilot column in the January issue of AOPA Pilot was “Curb Their Enthusiasm.” Two accidents citing judgment errors brought an enthusiastic response from some younger pilots asking why I was drawing attention to such things when the aviation business was doing everything it could to attract young people. Great question!

I learned to fly young, while in college, and pursued aviation with great enthusiasm throughout my young adult years and beyond. This column was written knowing that it would stir some different views, and that “telling it as it is” would be uncomfortable for some readers.

As a young pilot I desperately wanted to prove that I could do the right thing. Frequently got the benefit of some old pilots explaining, sometimes not too gently, that what I was about to do was not safe. It kept me alive and made me smarter.

Young pilots don’t know what they don’t know—of course, that applies to older aviators as well. However, youthful optimism is well-documented. It’s been well-researched that the human brain does not truly develop its cognitive skills until the mid-20s. (There are some people I know who are well beyond 25 and are still lacking in the cognitive area.)

Here is just one source, and you can find dozens of references on the web:

The primary message of recent groundbreaking neuroscience is that cognitive maturity develops last, after physical and mental maturity, for all adolescents. This research shows that cognitive maturity occurs in the mid-twenties…

Surprisingly, incomplete cognitive development of the brain lasts well through college years and, therefore, has enormous implications for the responsibility of parents and university administrators to that group. We fail young persons when we give them “just the facts” and say “you decide” without guiding them to and supporting them in making the best decisions. We fail them when we expect them to control their impulses and avoid risk behaviors, when we abandon them at critical decision-points to their own minds—minds with a limited capacity for abstract thinking…”

Higher car insurance rates for young people is just one example of addressing risk-taking behavior and is documented beyond any question. Try renting a car below the age of 25. The rental companies have had too much bad experience. Does this apply to flying? I think in a broad sense it does—people are people. Individuals will certainly vary, but that’s not how systems address problems.

There was another disaster involving a 17-year-old student pilot from Alabama who went joyriding in the last week or so with two friends in IMC that adds credence.

Because we do everything possible to educate pilots about safety and to encourage people of all ages to fly responsibly, there is also the responsibility to point out when someone uses really bad judgment to serve as a bad example. AOPA and the Foundation are strong proponents of having young people fly, but doing it responsibly is essential.

Balancing public relations desires and aviation safety is never easy!

Now to the “mature” pilots—don’t get too smug.

Just last year the Air Safety Institute mounted a major education campaign to deal with the safety of older pilots, so we cover all sides of the age question. Older pilots have their problems as well, and they’ve been documented.

Identifying what happened, to whom, and under what circumstances lets us put limited resources to the greatest effect. Some readers may not agree on this point, but perhaps this explains the motives. Chainsaws and aircraft make no allowances for enthusiastic misjudgment regardless of age.

When you see something that may be ill-considered regardless of age, speak up respectfully. Continue to mentor and encourage young people to fly and to learn from the mistakes of those who went before. You’ll last a lot longer.

Your contribution to the Foundation helps AOPA in its efforts to attract more pilots to our community and keep them flying safely. Consider a tax-deductible donation today.