Archive for December, 2013

Flying Careers: Choose Wisely!

Monday, December 30th, 2013

One of the things I love most about aviation is the incredible diversity of jobs and experiences available to those of us who venture into this exciting world. There are so many disparate flying gigs out there that referring to them with the generic “pilot” moniker is almost deceptive.

I’ve got friends who are professional aerobatic coaches, bush country explorers, test pilots, flight instructors, fire fighters, sightseeing tour specialists, military aviators, ISR (Intel/Surveillence/Recon) pilots in Afghanistan, banner towing experts, ferry pilots, VLJ mentors, formation sky typing team members, and more.

I even know a few who fly for airlines.

Float planes are just one option for those seeking a career in the air (and/or on the water!)

Float planes are just one option for those seeking a career in the air (and/or on the water!)

There are countless nooks and crannies in the flying world! An example from my own life: I spent several years working for Dynamic Aviation on a sterile insect technique contract here in Los Angeles. If you’ve never heard the term, you’re not alone. The shortest description I can think of would be “cropdusting in a dense urban environment”. What made the job unique is that we were dropping live sterilized fruit flies instead of chemicals, and the aircraft we used were restricted category, ex-military King Airs.

But we had many of the other elements you’d find in any other cropdusting operation: light bars, AgNavs, low-altitude flying, and certification as an aerial applicator. I wrote a “day in the life” of the operation a few years ago if you’re interested in reading more about it.

Every flying job requires a different combination of talents and abilities. The iPad-specific P1 Aviation Magazine recently completed an interesting three-part series on the unique skills required by pilots in corporate flying. This happens to be my current niche, and it echoed an early realization that not everyone is cut out for this line of work.

You might think “hey, flying is flying — they’re all airplanes!”, but there’s so much more to it than just manipulating the flight controls. At a Part 121 airline like United or JetBlue, someone else prepares a weather package, computes weight & balance, files the flight plan, handles security, greets the passengers, loads the bags, organizes the catering, restocks the galley, and cleans the cabin.

In charter and corporate flying, the pilots are responsible for all those tasks — and much more. The actual flying is almost an afterthought. That’s not to say the aviating is not important — obviously it’s our primary job! But corporate aviation is less of a transportation business than it is a service industry. It requires a specific mindset, and the fact is, there are plenty of outstanding aviators who just don’t fit into that mold. It’s simply not in their DNA to futz with those things, to spend hours waiting for passengers, and to roll with the punches when the schedule invariably changes. Somehow I’ve developed a knack for it.

On the other hand, I’d be a poor fit at an airline. While the monthly schedule would be attractive, the limited route network, large terminals, long lines, compensation issues, mergers and bankruptcies, unions, and seniority system are not for me.

So when someone tells me they’re interesting in flying professionally and want to know what it’s like… well, that’s a tough question to answer. A day in the life of a Alaskan fish spotter bears no resemblance whatsoever to that of a cruise pilot on an Airbus A380. The guy in the Gulfstream at Mach .80 isn’t in the same league as the one flying the blimp at 40 miles per hour.

I think the key to happiness as a professional pilot is to “know thyself”. Forget Hollywood films and dreams of financial riches. Those things are fleeting no matter what your career choice. Instead, explore the market to see what’s out there, and then pick something that fits your personality and natural talents. As my father once said, “Life is too short to do something you hate every day.”

So… where do you belong?

Humanity, Philanthropy, and GA

Saturday, December 21st, 2013
Photo Credit: Ross Mayfield

Stearman ready to inspire flight!

Ah humanity.  For those of us committed to growing the pilot population we often scratch our heads and wonder how we can reach the youth, the college-aged kids that might share the dream of aviation. This generation of twenty-somethings is deeply steeped in technology and many times and perhaps in some instances, rightly, gets labeled as a self-centered lot with little frustration tolerance or ability to delay gratification. On first blush, maybe not the best target audience for a future aviation mechanic or pilot.

Philanthropy is a word commonly understood from its root to mean the love of humanity, further defined as work that is meant to advance mankind and quality of life  though good works and deeds.  Years ago I was approached by a Lambda Chi Alpha member from our local university regarding our annual Friends of Oceano Airport Toys for Tots event.

Founded in the early 1900s, Lambda Chi Alpha was built on the following guiding principles:

  • Loyalty

    Connor Strong (left) and Chris Battaglia (right)

    Connor Strong (left) and Chris Battaglia (right)

  • Duty
  • Respect
  • Service & Stewardship
  • Integrity
  • Personal Courage

Look at these principles and you can’t help but be impressed. These are the same standards that serve us as aviators.   Year after year we have 15 to 30 Lambda Chi brothers who donate the first Friday and Saturday of December to Toys for Tots.  They come prepared to work, are eager, prompt, communicative, enthusiastic and engaged.  The Lambda Chi Alpha chapter at Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo California was established in 1979.  Since then the chapter has managed to win their most prestigious award, the Grand High Alpha,  a total of 5  times.

How brilliant is this?  A fraternity or sorority has requirements for philanthropic work during the year and an airport needs volunteers to help at events.  This is a match made in the heavens.  Add to the mix JR Smith and his 1943 Boeing Super Stearman. Based in Oceano, JR’s Banner Airways’ yellow bi-plane is a fixture up and down the coast on weekends.  It was JR’s idea to offer a highly discounted rate to each of the 30 Lambda Chis present on Saturday for an aerobatic ride.  Nearly all of them took him up on his generous offer.  College aged kids donate ten plus hours of service and then are treated to a taste of general aviation at one of the most picturesque airports in the country. But don’t take it from me, here are some of the testimonials.

Flying in that plane was hands down one of the craziest things I have ever done.  I am mad I have never volunteered at this event before because that was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.–Connor

This was my first time volunteering at the Toys for Tots event.  Travis would get up in our chapter meetings and talk about how much fun this event is every year so I was excited to get the chance to volunteer.  When we got there and I saw that JR was giving out plane rides I jumped at the opportunity.  The experience was awesome and if I had the chance to do it again, I absolutely would.  This was my first time volunteering at this event and, based off how much fun I had, I plan on doing it again next year.–Chad [the guy in the video!]

The only time I have ever been to a small airport like that was when our fraternity volunteered at previous Toys for Tots events and I have never been flown in a small plane like that before.  In fact, I have only flown in an airplane three times in my life.  Initially, I had no intention to fly in the plane with JR, but after every single person that flew raved about how awesome it was, I could not resist.  I could not be more happy with my decision to fly with JR, as it was an experience that I will never forget.  Regarding the Toys for Tots event itself, we volunteer at the event every year and always have a great time.  This is an event that Lambda Chi Alpha plans on volunteering for for many years to come.–Travis

The brothers of Lambda Chi Alpha with Jolie and Mooney Lucas

In short, don’t forget the young philanthropists that might be in your hometown.  Bring them to your airport. Educate them about its value to the community. Get them in an airplane.  Stand back and watch them squeal with childlike delight and end with “That was awesome!” Click to see Lambda Chis Fly High

How to Obtain More Business Benefits From General Aviation

Friday, December 20th, 2013

The vast majority of General Aviation aircraft –be they as basic as a Cessna 172 or as sophisticated as the Gulfstream G-650-—offers the advantages of swift transportation. While a Gulfstream obviously is much faster than a Cessna and can transit far greater distances, a vehicle that flies direct between departure point and destination reduces travel time compared with autos and, depending upon travel distance, usually consumes less door-to-door time than a similar trip via the scheduled airlines. Furthermore, a company or entrepreneur is expected to choose appropriately between a simple GA four-seater and a high-performance business jet to fulfill the desired travel mission. When owners and operators apply a modicum of imagination and creativity, however, even the simplest GA aircraft can be used successfully to expand business opportunities.

Business requires that people interact. Internet and email are impressive, but nothing replaces face-to-face communications to facilitate relationships, develop trust and make “the sale”. Such face-to-face dialogue has been inhibited by the nature and business model of scheduled airline service.

In the previous 30 years, the number of US airports offering scheduled air service has fallen from about 700 to somewhere around 500, a reduction of nearly 30 percent. Further reflecting the focused nature of airline service, less than 40 US airports account for more than 70 percent of all enplanements of airline passengers. Since 2007 the airlines have made a concerted effort to reduce flights between all hubs, especially at secondary and tertiary cities, in order to achieve higher load factors. Thus locating a scheduled flight to many locations where business opportunities exist is nigh-on impossible. Consequently, business persons are using automobiles to cover distances ranging up to several hundreds of miles.

A simple GA aircraft can cover in one hour the miles traveled in two hours by an automobile cruising at legal speeds on our nation’s Interstate highways, and not all locations are connected by the Interstate system. Higher performance GA types can easily exceed highway speeds by a factor of three, and turboprops and jets are considerably faster. Considering that aircraft fly direct, travel by GA require less transit time. Trips that would consume two or three days by car or regional air carrier can be completed in a day.

Our nation has more than 5,000 public-use airports with adequate facilities to accommodate the typical GA aircraft. In round numbers, GA has access to 10 times the number of airports that are served by any form of scheduled air travel and 100 times the locations with convenient, business-friendly scheduling. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has shown that the vast majority of the U.S. population is located with 20 miles of an airport from which a typical GA aircraft can be operated safely. NASA also has noted that a typical GA aircraft can provide faster door-to-door transportation than the airlines on trips up to about 500 miles, even when scheduled service exists.

Obtaining greater benefits from GA requires little more than the proficiency to operate safety and knowledgeably within our National Airspace System. Today’s electronics (e.g., Global Positioning Satellites for navigation, XM weather for locating thunderstorms, advanced aids such as Automatic Dependence Surveillance for traffic information and data flow, numerous apps for flight planning, and highly reliable nav/comms) add capability and peace-of-mind to today’s GA operations.

GA offers business men and women the means to reach more customers, expand markets and use time productively. A General Aviation aircraft, either owner flown or operated by a salaried pilot, provides unmatched transportation. Take a fresh look at what such travel capability can do for you and your company. You will be pleasantly impressed.

It’s Time to Change Our Image (part 2)

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

The perception disparity between aviators and the rest of our society is serious business. To start with, it’s serious for our business, because all of the things mentioned last month have largely eliminated the opportunity to easily engender the joy and wonder of aviation in young people – and right now, at least, we need people who like airplanes to pilot them. In its great wisdom, our government has built fences around even small airports which completely eliminates the ability of kids to hang around the places and learn about flying and airplanes. (I always thought there was a bit of irony in the commendable programs out there to give airplane rides to kids . . . who then are kept locked out of airports and away from airplanes by the government.)

And if you fight your way through the fence, you should bring a wad of bills. Ask the first person you meet on the street about what they think about flying small airplanes. A hundred bucks says that they respond: it’s hard and expensive to learn how to fly, it’s dangerous (you could kill yourself), and to own an airplane really costs a lot.
We in the airplane business really need to work on all of this. Our future is tied up in our being able to change this general perspective. In some kind of systematic, strategic way, the industry must come together around a set of common images, messages and communications that begin to offset the almost universally corrosive image we have with the public at large. Understand that this is not about slogans on lapel pins that are handed out at aviation conventions to the already converted.

This is about changing our image with the outside world.

This issue needs to be engaged at two levels:

• We need to work on the current image. We’re not talking about a magic act here – companies and industries do this all of the time. It’s about coming up with a new, very carefully considered concept that can be translated into easy-to-understand words and graphics that quickly and effectively offset the commonly perceived problems. Well placed, the new ideas begin to show up in movies, articles, on TV, in computer games . . . and, in time, people begin to see GA flying in quite a different way.

• We also need to change airplanes and flying. Our industry needs to come up with innovative solutions that give lie to the common perceptions. We should take away the noise (electric airplanes}, make flying easier (people friendly software on top of fly-by-wire systems), eliminate our pollution (new propulsion systems), find ways to make learning to fly affordable (computer games that teach the skills and count towards license requirements), and figure out how kids can play inside of the fence (find a homeland security leader who isn’t myopic). There are numerous ways that these things can be done and already some initiatives, like the Lindbergh Foundation’s Aviation Green Alliance, which provides a place where the industry’s environmental leaders can work on common problems, are beginning to sprout up.

We really should have been hard engaged in this repositioning when things were good and there was a lot of money around – but we didn’t. Now, we don’t have any alternative. I think the future of general aviation is at stake. We need to remake ourselves . . . soon.

Look Up, Look Out!

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
Asiana 214 in an NTSB diagram of the accident sequence.

Asiana 214 in an NTSB diagram of the accident sequence.

This I know: if you see something with your own two eyes, you can avoid it. Happened to me just this morning. I began a turn off a road I use quite often (that’s important) and nearly encountered a concrete berm the engineers felt was important to add since I’d been there last. Fortunately for me, I was looking outside and forward. And lucky for me the car’s brakes are new. No damage done.

It works the same in an airplane. Even in instrument (IFR) conditions I scan outside the airplane as a cross-check of my instruments, looking for traffic, towering clouds I prefer to fly around and of course, the runway.

I do this even though I fly what the FAA calls a “technically advanced aircraft” (TAA). I’ve got nearly as much information in my cockpit as the Asiana Airlines guys who, despite more than 20,000 hours of experience and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of TAA allowed their B777 to fly into a rock berm at San Francisco International airport last July. After an all-day hearing on December 11, and despite the fact that the NTSB refused to state a cause for the accident (pending even more research) the reason these pilots hit that berm instead of landing is appallingly clear: they relied on their TAA and not on their pilot instincts; instincts borne in the seat of their pants and through interpreting what their eyes were telling them.

After reading a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder I’ll cut the junior first officer a break. He was sitting on the jumpseat, and pointed out the excessive sink rate and deteriorating airspeed to his captains no less than four times in the last three minutes of the flight. His comments were acknowledged, but no changes were made. Hmmm….

How does this pertain to GA flight? Consider it a cautionary tale. If you fly with what I like to call “pretty pictures,” more often known as EFIS, PFDs or MFDs, or even Garmin / iPad GPS moving maps on your lap or clamped to your yoke, please remember this: those are just representations of the world outside. GPS isn’t always reliable. Maps of terrain can be offset slightly (do you test this by occasionally flying directly over an obstacle?), RAIM can fail. I’ve seen the pretty boxes of my virtual glideslope on my EFIS not consider the trees that have grown up and into a runway’s clear zone. And ADS-B or even active traffic systems can’t pick up aircraft without transponders. I know from looking out my windscreen that plenty of traffic opt out. And autopilots, auto-throttles, FADEC and the like? They are only as good as the pilot’s knowledge of their intricacies and fallacies (this is what really bit the Asiana pilots in their collective butt).

Bottom line, my TAA gives me wonderful capabilities, but they are only as good as my complete understanding of how to use them, and when. Above all, I was taught to use my kinesthetic senses and my eyes looking outside the aircraft when I fly, no matter the conditions. Call me old-fashioned, but it works.

Oh, and I listen to my co-pilot when he tells me there might be a problem. Even pinch-hitters (non-pilot co-pilots who fly with you all the time) can perceive issues before they become big problems in flight. They are great traffic and ground-spotters, and they’ll tell you when they think you are fatigued, too. So listen and respond.

Want to know more? Don’t just read the pundits. Look over the raw NTSB records at www.ntsb.gov. There’s plenty for a GA pilot to learn there.

Glimpse GA’s future by hanging out with some ‘Millennials’

Monday, December 16th, 2013

We in the aviation family spend a great deal of time discussing how to bring young people into flying, so they can grow up, get their tickets, and eventually become the aviation consumers and advocates of tomorrow. As our senior pilot population goes west, it is the responsibility of what society has dubbed the “Millennial” generation (roughly 13 to 30 years old today) to step up and lead GA into the next few decades.

While it is far too easy to take the pessimistic, “cup half empty” road to ruin, after interviewing three young pilots, I have seen the future of GA, and it looks quite good. All it takes to know this is to spend a few minutes with some brilliant teenage aviators on their way up to realize we might just be all right.

I felt privileged to witness this unbridled enthusiasm that the next generation of fresh pilots possesses last summer at Oshkosh as I enjoyed a ridiculously fine burger with two of the Twitter #Avgeek community’s most active participants, Neil Reagan, aka @Ntr_09, and Thomson Meeks, aka @THM_18. In this article, I will introduce you to them, along with another of their brethren, Trevor Wusterbarth, known on Twitter as @Wustypilot16.

Thomson Meeks

Thomson Meeks

Meeks and his father, along with Reagan, picked me up at the Appleton Airport as I flew in for #OSH13, and we accepted vectors direct to Oshkosh’s famed Ardy and Ed’s Drive-in for burgers. The drive-in’s patio sits directly under the approach end of KOSH’s runway 27, and as we sat there enjoying crazy-good food and “Black Cow” floats, I was able to get inside the head of these young aviators, and I liked what I saw.

Remember that feeling you had when you first soloed…when the CFI cut the tail off your t-shirt? Remember the way you fell in love with flying, and with wide-eyed optimism, propelled yourself onward and upward at warp speed, eager to see what is behind the next cloud? Yes, that was Reagan and Meeks on this day. Their cups are 15/16ths full, and the noise of pessimism that we hear too much of out at the airport has not yet entered their lives. To them, the sky is still the limit. And had Wusterbarth been there at the table too, he probably would’ve shown an equal amount of the abundant joy for all the things we love about flying.

This is not to say these young men are naive, they most certainly are not. They know what is going on in the aviation world, and have just chosen to repel the urge to drag pessimism into their unbridled desire to complete a life of flying. These are the decision makers of tomorrow, and as current and future pilots who have achieved their goals in an environment riddled with both chutes and ladders, they are perfectly positioned to be proactive in finding solutions to the problems plaguing the GA world.

The first of the three young aviators I introduce is Meeks, who at age 14 is not yet a pilot, but has all the enthusiasm of anyone with a private pilot’s license. He’s flown in a 1945 Piper J3 on floats at the Airventure Seaplane base during OSH12, and numerous C172s at his flight school, and has firm plans to earn his ticket.

When he earns that ticket - and spend five seconds with him and you know he will – Meeks plans “to make this world a better place” by donating time to the Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). In three years, he expects to be flying left seat in a Cirrus SR22, and in 10 years, he hopes to have a vintage Cessna 152 in his hangar. He’s very active on social media, especially in the X-Plane sim community, where he’s been “flying” since he was six-years-old.

Neil Reagan finishes his private pilot solo flight  with the ceremonial cutting of the t-shirt tail

Neil Reagan finishes his private pilot solo flight
with the ceremonial cutting of the t-shirt tail

Reagan is a bright, motivated and completely pleasant 17-year-old student pilot from Jamestown, TN who plans on becoming a corporate pilot after earning his ratings all the way to ATP. He currently has about 30 hours flight time, mostly in various Piper Cherokees and Cessnas, and clearly remembers his 100th landing. “It was the last landing on a three-hour solo cross country, and it really made me have that ‘hey I’m actually a pilot’ moment which felt great!”

This student pilot is wise when it comes to knowing that his young age could be used to motivate others. “I think one of the best things a young pilot can do is spread the passion for aviation to the upcoming generations,” he said. “Helping to keep GA alive and well by volunteering at fly-ins and conventions doesn’t even require a license to fly. In my mind, the largest impediments to my demographic getting interested in flying is people saying flying is for the rich and for young people to think they don’t have the time to take lessons. The acronym groups need to prove to young people that they CAN do it, and they do that by using people like me as examples.”

In three years, Reagan will be on his way to the left seat of a corporate jet, but there will be “some sort of Piper Cherokee” in his hangar. But in 10 years, you’ll find a “larger, faster Cherokee” in his hangar, and he’s “especially attracted” to the PA-28-235 for its price to performance ratio. Nice choice. I own a 1964 Cherokee 235, and can confirm his opinion of that airframe is right on.

And the last young student pilot you will meet today is Wusterbarth, a 17-year-old from Fond du Lac, WI who has been going up the road to Oshkosh since he was a toddler. He plans on starting flight training during Christmas Break, and will earn all ratings including PPL, instrument, commercial ASEL and AMEL, CFI, CFII, MEI, and ATPL on his way to becoming an airline pilot. Some of that training will happen at Minnesota State University – Mankato where he will major in Professional Flight with double-minors in Spanish and Business Administration.

His training received a major boost recently when EAA awarded him the $7,500 Gathering of Eagles Flight Training Scholarship thanks to the Young Eagles Program. “Trevor is a fantastic young man,” said Bret Steffen, EAA Director of Education, “and we are excited that another Young Eagle has been able to qualify and win a flight training award from EAA and the Young Eagles program. Trevor is well on his way to earning his wings after passing his FAA written exam and fulfilling the ground school component.”

Trevor Wusterbarth

Trevor Wusterbarth

In three years, you’ll find Wusterbarth flying left seat in a Piper Seminole or Warrior, but a decade from now, there will be a V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza in his hangar.

Sitting there in Oshkosh on a warm summer evening watching really low airplanes in close trail arriving at the world’s biggest airplane party and family reunion with these young aviators…I saw myself. It was like looking in the mirror. But the big equalizer that made this particular meal an aviation memory I will cherish always was that it was not a 57-year-old pilot chowing down with two teenagers. It was three guys sharing a common love for airplanes, savoring the opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie of aviators that at times seems truly magical.

When you are trying to find some hope to help you feel like the future of GA is going to be bright, go spend a few hours with a young pilot or flight student who has not yet even made the ripe age of 21. You will see that if we can just recruit this demographic to step inside our world, they will bring with them the enthusiasm, the passion and the tenacity to fill the left seats of the GA fleet for many decades.

 

The Big Three Rules For Conflict Resolution

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

As aviation enthusiasts we can be sure with a very high degree of confidence that we will have disagreements with non-aviation enthusiasts from time to time. Maybe the issue will be user fees. Perhaps it will be about funding of an airport project. It might even be about safety, often in the aftermath of a high profile accident or incident that has shaken the non-aviation enthusiast to the bone. Whatever the case, conflict will come our way. It’s a given. We know it will happen. The only questions revolve around when and what the specific topic of concern will be.

So let’s take that knowledge and get ourselves ready. Like it or not, when the discussion gets going every aviation enthusiast who speaks up, jots a line on a social media site, or writes a letter to the editor of their local paper is going to become a target. Perhaps of greater concern is the likelihood that they’ll be perceived as the official spokesperson for all of aviation.

Few if any of us are prepared to take on that role with any confidence.

There are a few key points to keep in mind during times of concern that have the potential to turn into confrontations. They’re pertinent to a discussion of aviation issues, but they’re just as valid when you’re in the workplace when conflicts arise, or at home when spousal differences of opinion occur. Let’s go ahead and call these points what they are; the Big Three Rules For Conflict Resolution.

1. Be respectful. We all learned this one on the playground as kids, but when tempers flare it can be forgotten in the blink of an eye. Always be respectful of your counterpart. Their fears may seem baseless to you, but they’re real points of concern for others. So take their worries seriously. Acknowledge them. That doesn’t mean you have to agree or accept their concerns as valid, but your willingness to at least admit the other person’s concerns are legitimate and understandable can become the first step to diffusing those fears and replacing the knee-jerk response of non-aviation enthusiasts with more thoughtful and well reasoned reactions.

2. Listen. We often assume we know the position of people who have taken a position that’s not in line with ours. Often that assumption is wrong. Be sure to take the time to listen, even encourage the other person to express their concerns. You may find that your argument in favor of the point you felt most central to the issue isn’t even something the other guy is thinking about at all. The best way to understand the other person’s perspective is to listen, learn what they’re worried about, or afraid of, and work productively with those issues rather than the ones you assumed were the most important.

3. Choose your words carefully. Your initial response can set the tone for the discussion as it moves forward. You can make points and begin the process of bringing your opponent over to your side, or you can drive a wedge between the two parties by saying the wrong thing. For example, when a non-aviation enthusiast rails against the reliability of aircraft engines after reading about a crash caused by a stall, don’t blurt out, “Oh that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” While it may seem a less than insightful position from your standpoint, the non-aviation enthusiast is reacting to the news from their own specific frame of reference. Those who don’t fly think of a stall as a mechanical issue having to do with the engine. Pilots know it as an aerodynamic event having to do with the airfoils on the aircraft.

Try something more diplomatic for a first response, such as, “In aviation the term, “stall” has a completely different meaning than it does in the automotive industry. If you’d like I can explain the difference. That might help you understand what happened a bit more clearly.”

Because our perspective on aviation and the aerospace industry is likely to be very different from that of our friends, co-workers, and neighbors, we are uniquely positioned to make others feel more comfortable and accepting about aviation – or build a wall between us that will be difficult to tear down again in the future. The choice is ours. Personally, I prefer to use the Big Three Rules For Conflict Resolution. I just don’t have the bone structure to carry off a fat lip or a black eye well, and I’d rather make friends than enemies any day. How about you?

Join an Aircraft Type Club and Save Your Life

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Type Clubs Save LivesAircraft type clubs are General Aviation’s best-kept secret weapon. While there are more than a hundred of them, they fly stealthily below the radar of most pilots, who seem to be blissfully unaware of their existence and benefits. Only a fraction of pilots belong to any of them, yet they offer the best value proposition in aviation: they’re cheap and they could save your life.

No, I’m not talking about AOPA, EAA and the other large industry associations that have hundreds of thousands of members. Type clubs are smaller, usually only a few hundred or a few thousand members, and they play a very different role. While the large organizations champion industry-wide issues, type clubs are dedicated to helping owners and renters of specific aircraft makes and models.

Most type clubs offer a newsletter or magazine and many have a web site loaded with aircraft details. But no two clubs are alike; each seems to have a slightly different emphasis. For example, the Cessna Pilots Association (CPA) is focused heavily on maintenance. Each time I had a maintenance issue with the Cessna T210 I owned ten years ago, I phoned the CPA before seeing my mechanic. Invariably, their experts were able to narrow down the issue so I could point my mechanic to the specific problem that needed fixing. That saved hours of troubleshooting and lots of money.

Some clubs, like the Cirrus Owner and Pilots Association (COPA), have a strong emphasis on pilot training and safety. In addition to a very active online forum in which training and accidents are discussed in detail, they offer training at locations around the world in their weekend Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Programs (CPPP). Half of the weekend is spent in seminars on subjects like avionics and engine operation. The other half is spent in the air with a flight instructor, often factory trained, who specializes in teaching in Cirrus SR20 and SR22 aircraft.

The payoff is that the Cirrus fatal accident rate, which was originally higher than the GA fatal accident rate, has declined steadily in recent years and is now slightly lower than the overall GA fatal accident rate. Not surprisingly, COPA members have far fewer fatal Cirrus accidents than non-COPA members.

According to Rick Beach of COPA, the type club has over 3,700 members representing 2,900 Cirrus tail numbers, which is 55% of the 5,400 aircraft that have been produced. About 3,200 of the clubs members are certificated pilots, which is 40% of the total estimated 8,000 Cirrus pilots (including owners and renters).

Beach says “In the history of the fleet, 25 COPA members were involved in the 103 fatal accidents or 24%. If Cirrus pilots were uniformly likely to be involved, then we would expect 40% to be COPA members.” Not only are COPA members about half as likely to be involved in an accident, active COPA members, those who participated in a BPPP or were active in online forums, are even less likely to have an accident. In the history of the fleet, 11 active COPA members were involved in fatal accidents or 11%, about one quarter of the accident rate for all Cirrus aircraft.

Beach continues “If we just look at the past 36 months, as fatal accident frequency dropped considerably, the results are more emphatic. Of the 36 fatal accidents in the past 36 months, 7 were COPA members (20%) and 3 were active COPA Members (8%) instead of 40%.”

On the flip side, COPA members are more likely to have pulled the Cirrus parachute handle and floated down to safety. “Over the lifetime of the fleet, there have been 38 CAPS [parachute] saves. Of those, 17 involved COPA members or 45%, slightly higher than our guesstimate of the proportion of COPA members in the Cirrus pilot community. In the past 36 months, there have been 16 CAPS saves. Of those, 6 involved COPA members or 38%, almost the same proportion of COPA members in the Cirrus pilot community, and certainly a higher percentage than in fatal accidents.”

Lest you think COPA is unique in its safety results, look at LOBO, the Lancair Owners and Builders Organization. In 2008, the worst accident year in Lancair history, seven crashes resulted in 19 fatalities. In October 2008, LOBO was formed to address the high accident rate. In 2009, there were only four accidents with 7 fatalities and by 2010 there were only two fatalities, the lowest accident rate in ten years. Per their January 2011 newsletter, “since the inception of LOBO, there has only been one serious accident involving a LOBO member.”

Give yourself an early Christmas present: Join the type club for the aircraft you fly most frequently. But don’t just write a check; become an active participant. Whether you own or rent, you’re bound to learn more about the intricacies of that aircraft model. And if your family is lucky, what you learn as a type club member may someday save your life…and possibly their lives too.

“Moneyball” for General Aviation

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Flight time is the secret sauce to success.

It’s like getting runs on base.

I wrote that headline because, “Sabermetrics for Flight Schools, Flying Clubs, and Anyone Who Wants to Make A Buck In Aviation,” just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

I find the movie “Moneyball” inspiring. It’s a movie as much about business as it is about baseball. Anyone managing an aviation business can find inspiration here too. Its how the business model of OpenAirplane came to be.

“It’s about getting things down to one number. Using the stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players that no one else can see. People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality. Bill James and mathematics cut straight through that. Billy, of the 20,000 notable players for us to consider, I believe that there is a championship team of twenty-five people that we can afford, because everyone else in baseball undervalues them.”

– Peter Brand in “Moneyball”

The book, and the movie are the story of how the Oakland A’s, a team out spent and out gunned by it’s competitors, finished 1st in the American League West with a record of 103 wins and 59 losses, despite losing three free agents to larger market teams. They built a championship team like, “an island of misfit toys,” using sabermetrics.

Sabermetrics is the term for the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity. So let’s look at how this discipline, which demystified the voodoo of the business of baseball, can be applied to the business of aviation.

Jason Blair, former Executive Director at NAFI, has spent a lot of time researching what makes flight operations tick. He offers up what he’s learned in his seminar for industry folks called, “Skills for Flight Training and Aircraft Rental Operators to Increase Profitability.” Using one of the handy spreadsheets Jason has been gracious enough to publish can be enlightening, (sometimes scary) and very useful.

Modeling profitability of rental aircraft yields our industry’s version of sabermetrics. It’s flight time. More specifically, its flight hours flown on an airframe, or utilization that makes or breaks the business. Like the focus on getting on base make a baseball team a winner, optimizing the business on number of flight hours flown by each airframe is the secret sauce to success in flying business.

To grossly oversimplify this…

Fly more hours = make more money.
The cost of getting the airplane doesn’t matter near as much.

Utilization is the single biggest influencer on price and profitability for airplanes. It’s this single metric that has the biggest impact on the business. The effect of utilization is significantly more influential than the effect of the acquisition cost of the airplane.

For example, let’s model utilization vs. cost…

If we decrease the hours flown by 25%, the rate for profitable rental increases by 17.3%. If we increase the hours flown by 25% the rate for a profitable rental falls by 9.4%.

but…

If we decrease the acquisition cost of the airplane by 25% the rate for a profitable rate drops by 3.7%. If we increase the acquisition cost by 25%, the required rental rate also only bounces up by the same percentage.

This example shows the asymmetrical influence flying more hours per year has on profitability and affordability of the airplane.

Flight hours flown per year really is the single most influential metric on the profitability of the business that you can manage. This is why we built OpenAirplane from the ground up to do one thing at scale, which is to drive up the number of flight hours and drive better utilization of the fleet.

Operators who optimizes their business to create more flying hours will win.

 

Expectation Bias

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

I don’t know who first described flying as “hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror”, but it wouldn’t be shocking to discover the genesis was related to flying a long-haul jet. I was cogitating on that during a recent overnight flight to Brazil. While it was enjoyable, this red-eye brought to mind the complacency which can accompany endless hours of straight-and-level flying – especially when an autopilot is involved.

This post was halfway written when my inbox lit up with stories of a Boeing Dreamlifter – that’s a 747 modified to carry 787 fuselages — landing at the wrong airport in Wichita, Kansas. The filed destination was McConnell AFB, but the crew mistakenly landed at the smaller Jabara Airport about nine miles north. The radio exchanges between the Dreamlifter crew and the tower controller at McConnell show how disoriented the pilots were. Even five minutes after they had landed, the crew still thought they were at Cessna Aircraft Field (CEA) instead of Jabara.

McConnell AFB, the flight's destination, is the Class D airport at the bottom of the chart, about nine miles south of the non-towered Jabara Airport.

McConnell AFB, the flight’s destination, is the Class D airport at the bottom of the chart, about nine miles south of the non-towered Jabara Airport.

As a pilot, by definition I live in a glass house and will therefore refrain from throwing stones. But the incident provides a good opportunity to review the perils of what’s known as “expectation bias”, the idea that we often see and hear what we expect to rather than what is actually happening.

Obviously this can be bad for any number of reasons. Expecting the gear to come down, a landing clearance to be issued, or that controller to clear you across a runway because that’s the way you’ve experience it a thousand times before can lead to aircraft damage, landing without a clearance, a runway incursion, or worse.

I’d imagine this is particularly challenging for airline pilots, as they fly to a more limited number of airports than those of us who work for charter companies whose OpSpecs allow for worldwide operation. Flying the Gulfstream means my next destination could be literally anywhere: a tiny Midwestern airfield, an island in the middle of the Pacific, an ice runway in the Antarctic, or even someplace you’d really never expect to go. Pyongyang, anyone?

But that’s atypical for most general aviation, airline, and corporate pilots. Usually there are a familiar set of destinations for a company airplane and an established route network for Part 121 operators. Though private GA pilots can go pretty much anywhere, we tend to have our “regular” destinations, too: a favored spot for golfing, the proverbial $100 hamburger, a vacation, or that holiday visit with the family. It can take on a comfortable, been-there-done-that quality which sets us up for expectation bias. Familiarity may lead to contempt for ordinary mortals, but the consequences can be far worse for aviators.

One could make the case that the worse accident in aviation history – the Tenerife disaster – was caused, at least in part, by expectation bias. The captain of a KLM 747 expected a Pan Am jumbo jet would be clear of the runway even though he couldn’t see it due to fog. Unfortunately, the Clipper 747 had missed their turnoff. Result? Nearly six hundred dead.

"Put an airliner inside an airliner?  Yeah, we can do that."  Boeing built four of these Dreamlifters to bring 787 fuselages to Seattle for final assembly.  As you can imagine, this thing landing at a small airplane would turn some heads.

“Put an airliner inside an airliner? Yeah, we can do that.” Boeing built four of these Dreamlifters to bring 787 fuselages to Seattle for final assembly. As you can imagine, this thing landing at a small airplane would turn some heads.

The Dreamlifter incident brought to mind an eerily similar trip I made to Wichita a couple of years ago. It was a diminutive thirty-five mile hop from Hutchinson Municipal (HUT) to Jabara Airport (AAO) in the Gulfstream IV. We were unhurried, well-rested, and flying on a calm, cloudless day with just a bit of haze. The expectation was that we were in for a quick, easy flight.

We were cleared for the visual approach and told to change to the advisory frequency. Winds favored a left-hand pattern for runway 36. Looking out the left-hand window of the airplane revealed multiple airports, each with a single north-south runway. I knew they were there, but reviewing a chart didn’t prepare me for how easily Cessna, Beech, and Jabara airports could be mistaken for one another.

We did not land at the wrong airport, but the hair on the back of my neck went up. It was instantly clear that, like Indiana Jones, we were being presented a golden opportunity to “choose poorly”. We reverted back to basic VFR pilotage skills and carefully verified via multiple landmarks and the aircraft’s navigation display that this was, indeed, the correct airfield.

That sounds easy to do, but there’s pressure inducted by the fact that this left downwind puts the airplane on a direct collision course with McConnell Air Force Base’s class Delta airspace and also crosses the patterns of several other fields. In addition, Mid-Continent’s Class C airspace is nearby and vigilance is required in that direction as well. Wichita might not sound like the kind of place where a lovely VMC day would require you to bring your “A” game, but it is.

Pilots in the Southern California area have been known to mistake the former home of Top Gun, MCAS Miramar, for the smaller Montgomery Airport at the bottom of the map.

Pilots in the Southern California area have been known to mistake the former home of Top Gun, MCAS Miramar, for the smaller Montgomery Airport at the bottom of the map.

Expectation bias can be found almost anywhere. I’d bet a fair number of readers have experienced this phenomenon first-hand. In my neck of the woods, MCAS Miramar (NKX) is often mistaken for the nearby Montgomery Field (MYF). Both airports have two parallel runways and a single diagonal runway. Miramar is larger and therefore often visually acquired before Montgomery, and since it’s in the general vicinity of where an airfield of very similar configuration is expected, the pilot who trusts, but – in the words of President Reagan – does not verify, can find themselves on the receiving end of a free military escort upon arrival.

Landing safely at the wrong airport presents greater hazard to one’s certificate than to life-and-limb, but don’t let that fool you; expectation bias is always lurking and can bite hard if you let it. Stay alert, assume nothing, expect the unexpected. As the saying goes, you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you!