Archive for February, 2013

The Tower is Now Closed

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

control towerThe federal government’s financial meltdown is starting. That storm has been brewing for over a year, but not being especially adept at politics, I’d rather measure the impacts on the FAA in an operational sense and get beyond what some call political theater.

Let’s be honest—there are a number of airports around the country that really don’t need a tower. We’ve all flown into them where it’s just you, the tower controller, and maybe one or a few other aircraft having a very nice discussion. Often it’s about commercial air service where a small community has a few flights a day and not much else. We’ve also been to airports that were literally buzzing with GA traffic but no tower because it doesn’t meet the non-commercial threshold. Politics, or a higher standard of safety?

In some cases the traffic density has fallen considerably from when the tower was justified. Should hours of operation be scaled back or eliminated? How about the mid-shifts where one or two controllers pull all-nighters to service a couple of cargo aircraft, often arriving around the same time?

When the Secretary of Transportation made his impassioned plea to preserve tower services, were there any questions asking Mr. LaHood, “Sir, in the case of XXX airport which you just cited, how many aircraft movements are there between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.?”

AOPA is often asked by reporters about how one can possibly operate aircraft at non-towered airports. They are usually surprised to learn that there is a complete system that works very well. When Class D reverts to Class E as the tower closes, there is also an effective transition procedure.

Safety at any price is unaffordable. There’s reasonable safety, and occasionally the safety card is played when on an operational basis, it can’t really be justified. The Supreme Court has said that safe is not the equivalent of risk-free (Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO v. American Petroleum Institute, decided in 1980). User fees are another issue, and the more unnecessary costs that are baked into the system, the stronger that pressure.

Nobody wants his ox gored, but might there be parts of the ox that might be expendable? In this fiscal environment, operational priorities need to be set and not political ones.

What do you think?

Towered or not, America’s airports are the backbone of our aviation infrastructure. Your support to the AOPA Foundation helps in the fight to keep these airports open and accessible. Consider showing your support through a tax-deductible donation to the Foundation today.

Miracle of Crossing the Pond

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

130220leading-edgeThe red-eye trip eastbound across the Atlantic in the back of a Boeing 767 is always a bit tiring. I’m always envious of those who can sleep in coach, which economics always dictates. All of my destinations seem to require an early evening departure, and then one flies on the wrong side of the clock straight through until morning. I suspect it has to do with utilization of the aircraft and economics. How come everything ultimately revolves around economics?

I was on my way to address AOPA Switzerland at their annual safety seminar in Zurich. You’ll hear more about the adventure in the magazine, but I am always reminded that with as many rules and restrictions we have in the U.S., it’s much more challenging elsewhere!

The United cabin crew was very good and helped pass the time while we experienced the miracle of long distance flight. My first flight across the pond was on a Pan Am Boeing 707 in the golden age of aviation. One actually dressed for the occasion, people were civil to each other, and legroom was included in the ticket price. The employees were treated like the professionals they were.

Have coffee or a glass of wine in your shirt sleeves while exceeding 580 knots over the ocean with an outside air temperature of minus 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s been less than 100 years since Charles Lindbergh first crossed the Atlantic solo in 1927 and that we now do it routinely hundreds of times a month is nothing less than stunning. The airplanes usually make it routine, but as you’ll read in an upcoming landmark accident, this is not a totally benign environment.

I said goodbye to the big Boeing in Zurich which would make the trek back again in about 4 hours. That’s something a seasick passenger in a square rigged ship a little over a century ago could only dream about.

It’s been said, “Never underestimate the public’s ability to be bored with miracles!”  As pilots, we are so fortunate to enjoy them regularly and from an insider’s perspective. Be sure to share aviation with someone this month! Think about how it’s changed your life. Would you do it again? I would!

Join the AOPA Foundation as we share aviation with others. A donation to the Foundation helps fund our initiative to get more folks involved with aviation and in the cockpit.

Not to Worry Folks – We’re About to Ditch!

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Seems like ditching in the Hudson River in wintertime has become all the rage. First to the polar bear swim was a US Airways Airbus, flown by Capt. Sullenberger, which suffered a twin engine bird-out.passenger briefing

Recently, GA pilot DeNiece De Priester was flying a new-to-her Cherokee Six down the Hudson corridor when the engine decided to take a powder and—well, there you are. If you’d like to hear her play-by-play, you can see it on AOPA Live. It’s pretty compelling information and her reaction is about to make my next point very clear. Watch the interview below.


A thorough pre-flight safety briefing really is essential. Most of the time it will be irrelevant, and for that once-in-a-lifetime event, we want to make sure it isn’t a last-in-a-lifetime event. Emergencies are funny things—you don’t have them until you’re having them, and they invariably occur at a most inconvenient time. In most cases, there isn’t time for a do-over on the brief.

The Air Safety Institute created a special pre-departure brief seat-pocket card which can be customized to your aircraft. We also created a short video. This was in response to an NTSB recommendation after the Senator Ted Stevens accident in Alaska. A more complete briefing might well have saved several lives. NTSB Board Chair Deborah Hersman was interviewed on AOPA Live last week to discuss the Air Safety Institute’s response.

If you’re a donor, we think you’ll be pleased with the quality of the effort and the NTSB’s response. If you’d like to become a donor, both AOPA Live and Air Safety Institute are funded by your tax-deductible donation. Will you join us? It’s for a very good cause!