Hi, I’m Bruce Landsberg and welcome to the Leading Edge. We’ll discuss safety-of-flight issues, procedures, techniques, and judgment. With the convective nature of Internet misinformation, and so much content that is over weight and out of balance, you need an experienced and trusted source. So, strap in and let’s go fly!

Of iPads, Certificated Avionics, and Arguments

February 25, 2015 by Bruce Landsberg

ipad in cockpit usePerhaps you heard a few weeks ago that a couple in a Piper Comanche suffered a total electrical system failure. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does all of an aircraft’s installed certificated radios and electrical components become inoperative, including the landing gear. Unless, of course, there’s a backup supply—which many of us do not have.

This happened at night, which compounds things significantly, but a trusty iPad got them to an airport. The mostly happy ending was that they landed safely. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the pilot was unable to extend the landing gear manually but no injury resulted. Good!

The relatively inexpensive (as much as anything Apple is inexpensive) uncertified technology really helped. Anyone who has flown with an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) app (which I believe are mostly “uncertified”) will have a hard time going back to paper. They have become so good that the FAA has approved EFB-use in airline operations (as long as there is more than one unit). Maybe that should help guide the FAR Part 23 rewrite where we look for lower cost alternatives to the low volume, high price certificated items. With internal or supplemental GPS, the EFB’s ability to navigate is more accurate and far more versatile than VORs—but it’s not perfect.

I had an earlier model iPad where the system locked up several times and refused to do anything until going through the dreaded iTunes reboot. This takes an internet connection, the patience of a saint, and about 20 minutes to accomplish—not so good for cockpit apps. Replaced the unit six months ago and so far, so good—but I still carry paper charts. So, as in all things in life, there is a balance point.

There was an ATC save last year involving an EFB pilot who ran out of juice on his pad and thus was chartless in IMC. ATC gave him progressive instructions to get to a runway. That’s putting too much blind faith in batteries—especially when the length of flight exceeds the available power.

Having redundancy in uncertified units might be better than putting all the eggs into just one super electronic basket—no matter how good. There have been some well-publicized meltdowns with ultra-sophisticated airline equipment proving that the disastrously infallible HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey was eerily prescient.

Back to reality: After the above iPad rescue story was published, one of the CNET pundits—who has likely never been in a light aircraft—made some ignorant and disparaging remarks. Some of our pilot audience chimed in to attempt some education. Two of them proceeded to get into a public squabble about what happened and which of them was better qualified to hold forth on the topic!

Reminds me of the guidance never to get into an argument with a skunk as it’s hard to tell who smells worse after the fight. Without discussing any of the merits—far better to be respectful to each other and not give the media anything more to shoot at. As Mark Twain eloquently said, “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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Trumped in Palm Beach?

February 11, 2015 by Bruce Landsberg

Mar a lago club_with arrow edited_croppedDonald Trump, always the media hound, just sucks us in (and I’m guilty here), but for entertainment value this is hard to top. The latest Trump titillation is the $100 million lawsuit he’s filed against Palm Beach County. In a recent interview he said, “I am saving one of the great houses of this country and one of its greatest landmarks, and it’s being badly damaged by the airplanes.” He claims noise and emissions from aircraft are damaging the stone construction and disrupting “the once serene and tranquil ambience.” Perhaps Mr. Trump hasn’t noticed that most of South Florida is anything but “serene and tranquil” with the population influx over the last half century.

That’s understandable. He’s been distracted with multiple lawsuits against the Palm Beach International Airport (PBI). The first one in 1995 was settled when the county agreed to lease him some land to build Trump International Golf Course. Very shrewd business deal. He sued again in 2010 but that case was dismissed. Undaunted, he’s back!

Never one to be overly self absorbed, Trump claimed that he was being deliberately targeted by having most flights fly directly over his house. The suit apparently claims that the county’s airport director, who has been named in previous litigation, asked air traffic controllers to direct almost all flights due east, over Mar-a-Lago. These actions are called “deliberate and malicious. “Even Trump’s own Boeing 757, with his name modestly splashed over the side in gold, has been forced to rumble over Mar-a-Lago. It should be mentioned that the runways are aligned with the prevailing winds, east and west, which makes it operationally necessary for east arrivals and departures.

Too many other airports around the country are besieged by neighbors who move in afterwards and belatedly discover that aircraft make noise. The estate was built in 1927, and Eastern Airlines started operating DC-3’s out of PBI in the mid 30’s. Trump bought Mar-A-Lago in 1985 but apparently was unaware that a major international airport was less than three miles to the west. Who knew?

The irony of Trump’s whining is as epic as the man himself. Let me get this straight: Here’s a man who flies a heavy jet and helicopters around the country, who buys real estate (his business) located in the arrival and departure path of a large airport and then somehow feels he deserves to be compensated because of noise? Equally plausible, perhaps, is a new aviation “reality” TV series where the Kardashians will make a guest appearance as they get into aviation. What could be better?

How about recognizing airports as noise producers for the foreseeable future and zoning/purchasing property accordingly?

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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P-56 is prohibited for UAS too!

January 28, 2015 by Bruce Landsberg

aircraft-drone02 noaa govP-56 is the prohibited area around the White House and the Capitol. It long predates the Washington D.C. Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) but it had to happen—a UAS/drone crashed onto the White House grounds this week. Fortunately it was a benign event. An insomniac (or perhaps a somewhat inebriated) government employee, who was up at 0300 EST, lost control of the machine and ‘fessed up about six hours later. Probably should’ve taken Ambien instead of alcohol.

Aside from the entertainment value for some and the great concern it caused for others, how does this impact our flying activity? Finally, it may just be the wake-up call needed to get the UAS industry and the FAA to move more realistically on the challenges that the devices pose. They have potential to do serious aeronautical harm as well as great things. Where is the balance?

The FAA and various partners have been discussing this since 2007 and the AOPA staff has been discussing this with FAA working groups since 1992. Let’s just say that the rule-making process has been “deliberate.” There have been a number of close calls reported by airliners (and a few anecdotally with GA) where only luck avoided a collision. Now is the time to address it.

The UAS is a force for good or evil perhaps rivaling the Biblical Apple or nuclear power. A drone can be a huge help after a natural disaster or it can cause a man-made one by mistake or on purpose. Deliver beer and pizza to the grandstand and packages to your front door, find missing persons, take pictures of real estate or your sunbathing neighbor versus delivering disaster from above—it’s all in how it’s being operated and by whom.

The technological rabbit has way outstripped the regulatory turtle and despite how the fable turned out, it’s time for the turtle to strap on a JATO bottle and get ahead of the problem.

Those of us who fly aircraft understand the need for balance between industry-choking regulations and complete chaos. So what’s reasonable? The work group certainly has ideas and those of us unencumbered by facts or political pressure will certainly have others. Having a proven talent for stating the obvious let me offer a few thoughts that will surely irritate both sides:

Manufacturers of such devices must take at least some responsibility on how they are to be used as they pursue phenomenal potential profits. Since technology got us into this perhaps it can get us out.

How about a robust command and control system that “helps” UAS pilots remain clear of prohibited airspace? Equip the devices with GPS databases that allow them to go no higher than 400 feet agl and not closer than five miles to designated airports. The District of Columbia is off limits to UAS and other restricted airspaces can be added. The codes for greater access may be unlocked with proper vetting and qualifications. Depending on operators “to behave” hasn’t worked with lasers and it’s not working here. Sadly, this will raise the cost of the hardware significantly but the first big accident or nefarious event will do likewise. Prevention is much cheaper than attorneys!!!!

FLASH — this just in — The drone manufacturers apparently DO have the technology as noted in the this release from DJI, the producer of the device in discussion. 

All unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operators should abide by all regulations from such organizations as the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and their own national airspace regulations. In order to increase flight safety and prevent accidental flights in restricted areas, the Phantom 2 series includes a No Fly Zones feature to help users use this product safely and legally.These zones include airports worldwide and have been divided into two types, A and B……  

Sophisticated evil state players and our defensive team will fight this out indefinitely, but the development of the perfect system shouldn’t delay some progress to managing the majority of users. As for the terror aspect (seems like the world has come to this), depending on the nature of the hardware, there may need to be some security vetting of the operator. The upside is that if you’re a certificated UAS operator, you should automatically qualify for the TSA prescreening lanes when flying commercial. The same privilege should be extended to GA pilots. Believe it: The government already knows who we are.

I’m not convinced that one needs to hold full FAA pilot credentials to operate small UAS, but one needs to demonstrate solid control skills, understand airspace/good neighbor concerns, and carry some level of financial responsibility to protect against mishaps.

The White House incident is a much bigger deal than deflate-gate and it may be just the impetus the regulators and the industry need to prevent what is currently heading toward an inevitable aeronautical catastrophe.

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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