Bad Actors

July 27, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

In all walks of life there are some real jerks. On the highways or around airports they cause a disproportionate amount of grief.  Sign language between pilots is not as effective in the air as on the highways and usually doesn’t change the behavior anyway except to make it worse.

A friend operating off a small country airstrip remembered having a rogue pilot problem. This character was a very good stick with more than 20,000 hours and had flown all over the world. Arrogance was his specialty and he carved up the traffic pattern with some regularity. Cutting people off was normal behavior and he was known to takeoff before the previous aircraft had cleared the runway.

Polite interventions had no effect and a more direct approach caused him to become belligerent. Finally, a group of the pilots got together and went to the county, which owned the airport, to get him barred. Tar and feathers was considered but making it look like an accident was problematic. The pilot figured out there was strength in numbers and the odds were not good for bullying his way out, so he left to become somebody else’s problem.

While this may be an extreme case, it’s instructive. There are things that can be done with appropriate peer pressure. Let’s be clear that we’re not talking vigilante justice and occasional differences of opinion in the traffic pattern. I have always found that a little courtesy is far preferable to a potential paint swap and a bad outcome for both of us when somebody cuts into the pattern. Discuss it afterward, in calm quiet tones, which is easier said than done.  There is a fine line between an enlightening and intelligent discussion and being a busybody. We’ve talked about the pattern police before and that can be almost as bad as the rogue.

To broaden the discussion, remember that GA pilots are always watched by the media and the local community. Excessive noise, aggressive or clueless behavior that may result in an accident puts your airport that much more in the spotlight. While it gives AOPA Airports division and the Foundation much more to do—and we’re always appreciative of job security—there are better ways to accomplish that.

Epilogue to last week’s fuel mismanagement discussion.

A comment to last week’s blog mentioned the possibility of water contamination for a variety of reasons and wondered why an AD had not been issued. Air Safety Institute reviewed five years from 2005 – 2009 finding 20 fuel-contamination accidents in high-wing Cessnas.  Eight had carburetors or fuel screens clogged by substances other than water, and in three more water was found in the carburetor and gascolator but was no longer present in the tanks.

At least five of the accident aircraft had not been flown for a long time (weeks or months) before the accident, and at least three were being flown out of annual or with other known deficiencies.

Seven of the accidents were in 172s and four were in 150s.  There were two each in 152s and 182s, and one apiece in models 177RG, 180, 185, 206, and 210.  There was also one accident in a 152 that appeared to be the result of the tank outlet to the fuel lines being blocked by an unknown substance.

One of the 20 accidents was fatal, and two more caused serious injuries. The prevalence of these accidents seems to be decreasing. That could be due to any number of factors: actual change, decreasing flight hours, older aircraft moving out of the fleet. The possibilities are endless.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Robert Scovill


    Slightly, non academic of you to quote your own study, but that being the case, where can I access this peer reviewed publication for further information on your 20 accidents?

    You make no mention why NTSB can write off engine failures in General Aviation Aircraft engines 6,418 times as UNDETERMINED. You make no mention how a pilot can take off again , after an UNDETERMINED engine failure and defy gravity. No mention of the simplicity of air, spark and UNCONTAMINATED fuel.

    Unknown substances in aircraft fuel tanks, what ever they might be, can only move to the fuel screen pick-up or for that matter anywhere else in the fuel system, only in the PRESCIENCE OF WATER.

    Apparently, you have not tested what debris in the bottom of a tank do in fuel only and when water is added. It’s another simple real world test, just like, testing for positive detection of water in the fuel tanks of Cessna high-wing aircraft for the positive detection of water during the preflight.

    What you have mentioned is the Cessna 172, Cessna 150, Cessna 152, Cessna 182, Cessna 172RG, Cessna 180, Cessna 1285, Cessna 206, and Cessna 210. On July 30, 2010 FAA SAIB CE-10-40R1 mentions the hazards associated with water contamination of fuel tanks systems of the 100, 200 and 300 Cessna series aircraft.

    March 10, 200 the FAA issued the following:


    Information: FAA Safety Recommendations 99.283 and 99.284

    Date: March 10, 2000


    Associate ACO, Manager Airframe and Services ACE-118W

    Reply to J. D. Janusz
    Attn. of:


    Manager, Recommendation & Quality Assurance Division, AAI-200

    We have completed our review of the subject recommendations. The subject recommendations cited an example of a Cessna Model 172P that had experienced one incident of a rough running engine and 3 separate in-flight shutdowns, which resulted in forced landings. This particular airplane was equipped with the original standard single wing fuel drain, located in the aft inboard section of each integral wing fuel tank (1 LH & 1 RH). Following the second in-flight shutdown, this operator had Cessna Service Kit SK182-100 installed, which added 4 additional drains at various locations throughout each integral wing tank. The operator experienced an additional in-flight engine shutdown following the kit installation, and has since determined his airplane to be unairworthy, and identifies it as such.

    At this time the Wichita Aircraft Certification Office (ACO) has determined the following:


    Safety recommendation 99.283: We have reviewed the water/contamination egress capability of the Cessna model 172P, and find that it is not adequate. Our findings indicate that this operator’s airplane was designed and manufactured in such a manner as to not provide adequate water/contamination egress capability. Based on our review, we have determined that other Cessna high wing airplanes use a similar design and construction method for their integral wing fuel tanks. Therefore, we believe this condition may exist on other integral fuel tank equipped Cessna high wing airplanes with gravity feed fuel systems.


    Safety recommendation 99.284: We have reviewed the effectiveness of Cessna Service Kit SK 182 -100 and found that it is not adequate to perform it’s intended function of assisting in the detection and removal of water and/or contaminants in the integral wing fuel tanks when the airplane is in a normal ground attitude.

    Based on our findings, the Wichita ACO will take the following action with Cessna
    Aircraft Co:


    Advise them we have determined their design does not comply with the requirements of CAR 3.444 for the model 172P, when equipped with integral fuel tanks.


    Advise them we have identified an unsafe condition, which exists on the model 172P aircraft equipped with integral fuel tanks, and that this condition is likely to exist on other airplanes of the same type design.


    Advise them that we will be taking Airworthiness Directive action based on the above findings.


    Advise them the Administrator has determined that design changes are necessary to correct the unsafe condition, and requests their submittal of appropriate design changes for FAA approval within 30 days.


    Advise them we believe this condition may exist on all Cessna high wing integral fuel tank equipped airplanes, and request their identification of applicable models and serial numbers and submittal of appropriate design changes for each model for FAA approval within 60 days.


    Advise them that we will be making a Specific Finding to the requirements of 14 CFR part 23.971 on the current Model 182T and T182 programs.


    Advise them we will request a full review of compliance substantiation for the model 172, 182 and 206 series airplanes manufactured since the restart of production (type certificated since 1996), with respect to the requirements of 14 CFR part 23.971.


    Take any other action deemed appropriate based on the above actions.

    We thank you for bringing this situation to our attention and trust that our action plan is considered sufficient to close the subject safety recommendations.

    If you have any questions or need additional information regarding these issues, please contact Mr. Jeff Janusz, ACE-116W at (316) 946-4148.

    David Ostrodlea
    Ronald K. Rathgeber

    May 1983
    Safety Board says flaws allow undrainable water in fuel

    Reprinted from Aviation Safety Magazine, Vol 3, No. 5. Reprinted by permission.

    Visit Aviation Safety Magazine’s web-site at the following URL:

    Copyright 1983, Belvoir Publications Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part is strictly prohibited.

    Safety Board says flaws allow undrainable water in fuel

    One article of faith for every careful airman has always been that if he conducts his preflight inspection religiously, particularly by [observing] the age-old rite of sumping the fuel tanks for evidence of contamination of water, he should not have a power interruption.

    The National Transportation Safety Board has recently issued a sweeping series of recommendations that may shake that faith.

    If taken to heart by the FAA, the recommendations would result in airworthiness action involving tens of thousands of aircraft.

    In a nutshell, NTSB has asserted that with certain aircraft, even if the pilot performs a careful preflight, and even if he were to go to extreme additional measures, he still could not remove all the water that may have seeped into his fuel tanks.

    The aircraft cited by NTSB are mainly Cessna single-engine models with bladder type fuel tanks, including the Cessna 180, 182, 185, 188, 206 and 207.

    Bruce last week you stated, “First – I’m not sure that this is entirely germane to the topic – at least according to the pilot’s account.
    Secondly, FAA action and NTSB recommendations are frequently at odds because their missions are different. NTSB can recommend anything but FAA has to take into account the probabilities and economic factors.”

    Safety is germane no matter the topic!

    Why and Who set the FAA action and NTSB recommendations at odds? The mission of both agencies should be to save lives and address flaws in aircraft, despite the economics!

    And lastly, just how much is a human pilot and his passengers lives worth, economically speaking?

  • Eugene Letter

    Thanks for your information and comments which we all need for safety’s sake.
    The bottom line in my opinion is a preflight that is done by the book especially
    draining fuel sumps with special attention to what has occured recently , like maybe work done while painting a wing that would possibly cause water intrusion from pressure washing before the job. or just a heavy rainstorm if parked outside.

    In my memory bank I observed the boss telling the pilot to get this plane over to another field and was told not to spend too much time as they wanted the aircraft now., Well this pilot took his time and he found over two quarts of water in each wing . He did an extensive runup and felt comfortable in flying it .
    thank God I am still here to talk about it.

  • Bruce Landsberg

    Bob ….

    I understand your passion. A few thoughts. You can review the ASI accident database anytime – that is the source of our information which is based on NTSB investigations. “Undetermined” means just that and to assume any particular cause is probably stretching the definition of the word.

    The topic last week was based on the pilot’s own admission that he felt that he had taken off with the fuel selector in the off position. You can speculate that water was the problem, contrary to his admission, and I’m fine with that.

    Unfortunately, economics is one of those immutable laws of nature and perfect safety is both unknown and unaffordable, even in the airline world. The hard part is determining where the acceptable level comes.The FAA is required to look at all aspects of an AD. Probability of mishap and cost are considerations. NTSB is not bound by those constraints so it’s not surprising that both agencies may not always get to the same conclusion.

    According to Will Rogers, ” It’s good we don’t get all the Government we pay for” and cost of operation is always a factor. Given the attention this has generated , the FAA is likely watching high wing Cessnas to determine when the issue crosses the “acceptable” line. In the meantime, use good fuel caps, try not to park in the rain and follow factory recommendations on maintenance and sumping procedures. Will it work every time with every aircraft under all circumstances? No.

  • Timothy John

    Bruce, in regard to the sumping thread, said “Will it work every time with every aircraft under all circumstances? No.” I don’t get it. What is the meaning or value of “Certification” if the certification appears to be false or some may say, fraudulent? Certifying the tanks to be able to rid water as required, when it can’t really be done is like saying there are dual magnetos but actually installing only one. So then what IS the meaning of certification? Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t? And how is the FAA’s weak oversight any different from those buffoons who were “overseeing” the BP disaster in the Gulf–before it happened? Did those inspectors and regulators even READ the hideously flawed emergency management plans referring to BP experts or consultants on their team some of whom had been dead for years? Does the FAA actually even read the NTSB document that essentially says something that is certified to be in place and APPROVED by their agency, the FAA is NOT accurate? For decades, pilots have been led to believe that the ritual of sumping offered some additional margin of safety, when in fact is as useful, maybe less so, than a quick prayer before flight. Without being able to definitively detect and or eliminate water as “certified,” it’s just a crapshoot every time we take off… And we are just now learning about this? Now I’m wondering how long AOPA has been sitting on this knowledge without telling us… and if so, for what reason? It seems like such a fundamental SAFETY issue yet you, Bruce, appear to be doing all you can to downplay or minimize the concern. The ultimate question is how can something be “certified” to be true when it is not? Sumping, it seems is about as relative to safety as a baseball players batting average is to his testicle adjustment upon entering the batters box. Just like sumping, it does nothing but everyone continues to do it. I too am interested in your or AOPA’s economic valuation of our pilot and passenger lives. When we discover a problem we owe it to one another to inform our community and/or pursue the truth and FACTS–Why not drill down on the facts rather than continue the conjecture about the relationship between the FAA and NTSB Bruce? Is it too much to ask you, for our safety’s sake to actually look into or query why the FAA is not addressing this deficiency or improper certification and ask THEM to speak for them selves? Let THEM tell us that shareholder dividends are more important than lives. It seems AOPA ought to do a little better than merely parry or obfuscate facts. We get enough of that from our government representatives and politicians, and plenty of it without paying dues. Let the FAA tell us it’s a cost issue. You don’t need to be conjecturing their defense. After all it’s an association of pilots we pay into, not a civil service union. As our supposed leader of aircraft safety and an Institute purporting to promote just that , is there any reason you appear to be so unwilling to place any credence in the actual “real world’ test witnessed by and reported on by NTSB? Seems your responsibility is to make the information available to all of us rather than to discount it because for some reason the FAA can’t get its act together. For a sterling example of the FAA’s quality, other readers may want to check out this link to You-Tube Here’s hoping he has nothing to do with certification. But on the other hand it would explain a lot!

  • Bruce Landsberg


    Two points. All the conversations you with FAA, NTSB and Cessna took place and AOPA /FAA determined this did not rise to the level of AD. One thing that AOPA does is to evaluate the probability of a mishap based on the numbers. See my post above.

    Nothing that humans design will be perfect – nothing. I’m not defending gov’t ineptness and there’s plenty of that but the numbers just don’t support the thesis in this case. If this is a major concern for you, get a modification approved for your aircraft.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this particular issue:

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