Archive for November, 2013

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?


A Sensible Man?

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

1107_shiplandingWho are we to judge our fellow humans as to what makes sense and what’s dangerous? If you’ve seen the AOPA Online article by Sarah Deener and YouTube video of Dutch pilot, Jaap Rademaker, landing on a cargo ship at sea in a microlight aircraft, you might wonder.

It is a remarkable piece of flying, and I give him credit for his skill and perhaps just a touch of luck. But it got me wondering about how we categorize risk. Everyone has a certain tolerance. Pilots have perhaps just a bit more than the average bear—and some pilots have a lot more. Good for Homo sapiens that there are risk takers—otherwise airplanes and big cargo ships might never have been invented. We need people to experiment, to move things forward.

Does it change your thoughts that this was a planned publicity stunt? “Rademaker, a 600-hour pilot who flies a microlight, had no military flying experience that might prepare him for a carrier-type landing. He did have experience on short fields and an incentive to promote the ship building and operating company in which he invests. What better way to spotlight a new ship designed for high-volume, low-weight cargo than to land on the aircraft-carrier-style deck?”

Quite properly, some limited precautions were taken for an inherently risky project. Was the risk worth the reward? Will it sell any more ships?

Is our perception situationally based? Here are some common GA scenarios:

  • Land in a greater-than-demonstrated crosswind
  • Tackle an area of widespread thunderstorms
  • Land with minimum fuel
  • Fly in to an area of icing with a non-approved aircraft
  • Land out of an instrument approach “right at” minimums
  • Take off or land at a really short strip

If everything works out you’re the ace of the base, but foul it up and we think of you as a dummy! How many times have you done something in past flight experience that you reflect on afterward and think, “That just may not have been my finest aeronautical moment.”

“Weeks after the landing, Rademaker marveled at how the stars had aligned: a willing and capable crew on the boat, camera crews in the air, and weather that made it all possible. ‘It was quite an operation in the end,’ he said. Still, it was harder than he expected. ‘I won’t do it again,’ he said. ‘I will be a sensible man in the future.’ But, he added, he’s glad he did it.”

There’s an old European saying, “We grow too soon old and too late smart.” Life is like that, especially if you’re a pilot.

Safe pilots are always learning, and the goal of the Air Safety Institute is to ensure pilots have a wealth of information to keep them flying safely. Our education programs are funded through donations from pilots dedicated to forwarding that mission. Show your support by donating to the AOPA Foundation today.