Archive for March, 2014

Look out for Big Blue!

Monday, March 31st, 2014

I remember watching with amazement as a rather large (in comparison to other aircraft in the pattern) silhouette of a JetBlue Airbus A-320 lumbered onto final during the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In last year.  It startled more than one uninformed show-goer as it settled to the runway.

The flight, which had come from Orlando International Airport, was full of teenagers, some who were flying in an airplane for the very first time. It was the brainchild of JetBlue and a host of other aviation youth organizations and aviation academies and public schools throughout the country. The 70 students on board that day were released to tour the Sun ‘n Fun grounds, to discover what aviation was about, from the ground on up.

“When we were coming down on the airplane, they [kids] wanted to sit on the wing to actually look at the wing as it operates in flight so they could see what we talk about in school; flaps moving, thrust reversers moving,” said Anthony Colucci, a teacher at Aviation High School, in Long Island City, New York, who brought several teens.

The kids were easy enough to spot in the crowd, wearing their JetBlue caps. But they weren’t alone. Mixed into the general attendance were a few other teens, some older, some younger, brought in by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (which sponsors an aviation summer

JetBlue brought an Airbus full of teens to Sun 'n Fun to teach them about aviation.

JetBlue brought an Airbus full of teens to Sun ‘n Fun to teach them about aviation.

camp and aviation high schools in several locations around the country), several Aviation Explorer groups, Civil Air Patrol youth divisions, the Air Force Academy, Build-A-Plane, Eagle’s Nest youth groups and the charter school Central Florida Aerospace Academy, founded right on the grounds of Sun ‘n Fun itself.

That school has grown prodigiously with the opening of its building (privately funded) just a few short years ago. It is pumping out young men and women who are well-prepared for technical careers as avionics repair specialists and mechanics, and is sending others on to universities around the country for additional education in aviation management, air traffic control, flight and meteorology. It’s a plan for re-energizing aviation through direct recruitment and education of youth, and its working.

I’ve heard word from one of JetBlue’s vice president’s of talent, Bonnie Simi, that another A-320 full of teens is expected on-site Wednesday, April 2, for Sun ‘n Fun 2014. Watch for it in the pattern, and be sure to thank the volunteers and various outreach groups participating to bring these impressionable teens, our hope for tomorrow, into the event in such a grand way.

And while you are at it, consider what you might be able to do to contribute. Have a morning you could spend in a classroom talking aviation?  Are you a flight instructor who could take on one pro bono student? Do you have an aircraft kit or project you could donate to a youth group?  If you are reading this blog you’ve probably got something you can contribute. Consider it your bequest to the continuation of a good thing: aviation as we know it. Here’s to the next century, and the next. It’s up to us.


Winning the uphill battle

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Let’s face it, trying to get non-aviation people to jump on the aviation bandwagon isn’t easy. Yet, this is no time for despair. It can be done. Here in my neighborhood we’re doing it. Not without resistance, not without sacrifice, and not without a few bruised egos and dented reputations. But it’s happening. Wanna know the secret to making progress at city hall?

The key to making real progress is finding the resources and using the creativity that allows you to speak in a language the non-aviation community understands. That’s right. Don’t waste another minute trying to figure out how to make the benefits of aviation apparent to them. Flip the game-board over and take a whole new look at how we communicate with the non-aviation audience – an audience that far outnumbers our flying brothers and sisters, incidentally.

In a very real sense, we need them more than they need us. Oh sure, they do need us. But they won’t know that unless aviation dies completely, and that’s not an experiment we need to play with. So let’s look to success. Let’s speak their language on their terms and get right into their comfort zone.

It’s working here in central Florida. Truly it is.

When I was tasked with presenting to the city commission a five point plan our airport advisory committee developed, I didn’t spend one minute of my valuable podium time trying to teach the five politicians and assembled staff why aviation matters. Similarly, I didn’t talk about the potential aviation has to help people reach their potential, or how tourism might benefit from a more vibrant airport. Nope, I talked about real estate. Commercial real estate. That’s something the non-aviation consumer understands.

I said this, essentially. Imagine the airport isn’t an airport. Imagine that it’s a mall. A large piece of commercial property that you own and manage. It’s underperforming. You have no anchor stores, only a single outlet in the food court, a couple kiosks and a storefront or two rented – but overall you’ve got a lot of empty space to lease and no tenants lining up to sign contracts.

That’s entirely true – and because it is, it got their attention. It doesn’t really matter if the management team understands aviation. I don’t really care if they can differentiate between an AWOS installation and the PAPI lights. They have to understand this much simpler message – they have no idea what the positive attributes of the property are. They also have no idea what the negative attributes of the property are. But I do. The members of the airport advisory committee do. We’re professional aviation geeks. We not only know how aviation works, we know who works in the field. We have contacts, known in the real estate business as leads. If dealt with appropriately leads can turn into tenants. Tenants provide jobs and economic value.

The message is subtle, maybe a little subliminal, but it’s there. The commissioners think to themselves, “I don’t know how to find leads, but these aviation nuts hanging out at the airport do. They’re willing to help. Heck, they fleshed out a five point plan to revitalize the airport and breathe new life into our local economy. Maybe it’s time we let them have the ball and run with it for a bit. Maybe.”

It’s not a perfect solution, admittedly. There is still lots of work to do. But we’re in the door, we’re being taken seriously, and the five point plan is being adopted as our new method of doing business. That’s a win in my book. We could use more success in this business. So consider the unconventional act of speaking like they speak rather than wishing they could talk like we do. It’s easier. It’s faster. And at least in our case, it’s been a more successful approach to a problem that goes back decades at our airport.

Good luck. And be sure to come back and let the rest of us know how it went for you. We’re all in this together. So let’s all get into the game and work together to achieve some real victories.

Instrument Changes: Approaches without IAFs and Vectors to Fixes

Monday, March 24th, 2014



My article about a “new” third way to start an approach, by flying to the intermediate fix (IF), drew many comments, including one asking “wouldn’t it be best to establish yourself earlier on the approach earli
er than the IF.” Another flight instructor explained that, in the case of the GPS 31 approach into Palo Alto, the IAF locations are inconvenient (unless you’re flying in from Japan!) and are over mountainous terrain, which is why most pilots start this approach at the IF. Now, even the FAA doesn’t consider an IAF a necessity and many approaches are charted without any IAFs!

First, my thanks to longtime friend Hilton Goldstein, for pointing out a number of approaches that lack an IAF. Hilton is the brains behind WingX, an integrated aviation app for the iPhone and iPad that provides just about every function a pilot might need for planning and flying a flight. He reviews every new instrument procedure chart before it goes into WingX, which is how he spots interesting procedures.

But first let’s go to the source, the Air Traffic Control Handbook, Order 7110.65U. Last year, section 4-8-1 Approach Clearance, was updated and now says in part:

“Standard instrument approach procedures (SIAP) must begin at an initial approach fix (IAF) or an intermediate fix (IF) if there is not an IAF.” [emphasis added].

Newark Liberty International (KEWR) is a great example. By my count, they have a total of 14 approaches that lack an IAF; all begin at an IF. An example is the RNAV (GPS) RWY 11 approach, which starts at the IF, MUFIE. Note the chart is marked RADAR REQUIRED, as are all charts for procedures starting at an IF.

Looking for the RADAR note is one possible clue that an approach might lack an IAF and start at an IF. At KEWR, 14 approaches have that restriction and all start at an IF. Well technically, one of them doesn’t have an IF, but it was probably an oversight.

If you look at the VOR RWY 11 at KEWR, you’ll note it starts at PINEZ. The next fix, LOCKI, can be identified as the Final Approach Fix (FAF) since it shows a Maltese cross at LOCKI in the profile view. An intermediate segment begins at an IF and terminates at an FAF, in this case LOCKI. Thus PINEZ should be an IF, though it’s unmarked. So technically, the FAA cannot clear an aircraft to start this approach at PINEZ, since per JO 7110.65U, an approach must begin at “an intermediate fix (IF) if there is not an IAF.” My guess is “IF” will be added to PINEZ in a future chart revision.

Why don’t these approaches have an IAF? Probably because it simplifies things in what’s already some of the most congested airspace in the United States. Besides, per the FAA Instrument Procedures Handbook, “The purpose of the initial approach segment is to provide a method for aligning the aircraft with the intermediate or final approach segment.”

In most cases, an aircraft can start at an IAF from any direction. Depending upon the angle of arrival at an IAF, an aircraft may need a lot of space and time to get turned around and straightened out, hence the need for the initial segment.

But airliners flying into a major metropolitan airport like Newark are usually vectored in an orderly line more than 100 miles out from the start of an approach. Thus they’re well lined up and hairpin turns aren’t required as they start an approach. In that kind of structured environment, there’s no need for an initial segment to get lined up and hence no reason not to start at an IF. So what do you think? Will the IAF slowly fade away in the future, except in non-radar environments?

Vectors to Fixes Outside the FAF
Another change last year in section 4-8-1 of 7110.65U says that aircraft can now be vectored to start an approach at any fix, as long as it’s 3 NM or more outside of the FAF. Typically in the past, vectors have been to join the final approach course along a leg, not to a particular fix (except for the IAF and IF). Here’s the exact text:

“Where adequate radar coverage exists, radar facilities may vector aircraft to the final approach course, or clear an aircraft to any fix 3 NM or more prior to the FAF along the final approach course in accordance with Paragraph 5-9-1, Vectors to Final Approach Course, and Paragraph 5-9-2, Final Approach Course Interception.”

Looking at Paragraph 5-9-2, one finds that controllers must assign a heading that cannot exceed 30° from the final approach course. Thus we end up with the following maximum intercept angles for joining the final approach course at a fix:

  • 30° when at fixes outside the FAF, except for:
  • 90 ° for intercepts at the IF, and
  • any angle for intercepts at an IAF.

I’d venture to say that the majority of approaches don’t have any other fixes outside the FAF, other than the IF and IAF, which were covered by prior rules. Yes, you’ll find lots of feeder fixes outside the IAF, but you can typically join these at any angle. So while this rule change may give pilots and controllers another option on some approaches, it’s not clear to me that it offers much new benefit. If you’re aware of an approach where having this option offers a significant operational advantage, please share it with readers in the comments.

One thing we know for sure that’s constant is change. And that the rate of change is accelerating. Which means pilots and controllers alike will need to spend even more time learning about future changes and how they affect they way we fly. Perhaps that’s why a pilot certificate is often called a license to learn.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

For as long as I can remember, “no news” has been “good news” when it comes to rules and regulations in the world of aviation. From field approval policy to sleep apnea to CBP searches and security theatre, any diktat emanating from Washington or Oklahoma City was sure to involve increasing demands of time and money while diminishing the usefulness and enjoyment of general aviation. That was the trend.

What a breath of fresh air it is, then, to hear of a well-suported and coordinated effort in both houses of Congress to enact legislation which would eliminate formal medical certification for many aviators.

Like the House bill, the new Senate legislation would exempt pilots who make noncommercial VFR flights in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds with no more than six seats from the third-class medical certification process. Pilots would be allowed to carry up to five passengers, fly at altitudes below 14,000 feet msl, and fly no faster than 250 knots.

When the bill was first offered in the House of Representatives as the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, it seemed like a long shot. Congress is not a known for acting boldly to free Americans from the heavy yoke of regulation, so one could be forgiven for not getting their hopes up. But now things are different: there’s a matching bill in the Senate, the House iteration has 52 co-sponsors, and the Congressional General Aviation Caucus has grown to more than 250 members.

Is it a done deal, then? Not at all. There’s no guarantee of passage or that President Obama would even sign the bill into law. But the sponsors and caucus members represent a good mix from across the political spectrum, and there are no special interests of any significance who benefit from the medical certification machinery, so I believe the prospects are encouraging.

This Pilot Protection Act is exceptional for several reasons. First, it goes far beyond even the historically pie-in-the-sky proposal fronted collectively by AOPA and EAA. When was the last time that happened? I can’t recall a single example. Typically we’ll ask for X and end up feeling extraordinary fortunate to get even half of it.

That AOPA/EAA submission, by the way, has languished on the FAA’s desk for two years and has yet to be acted upon by the agency. If one needed proof of just how sclerotic the bureaucratic machine has become, this is it. The delay is egregious enough to have warranted an official apology from FAA Administrator Huerta.

Just as importantly, though, is the fact that this is a legislative move rather than a regulatory one. It’s an important distinction, because regulations are instituted with relative impunity by agencies like the FAA, while Congress passes laws that are not nearly as vulnerable to bureaucratic vagaries. In other words, if the FAA instituted the very same change in medical certification through regulatory channels, they could alter or reverse those improvements just as easily. A law, on the other hand, should prove far more durable since the Feds must comply with it whether they like it or not.

It’s a shame that this common-sense change requires a literal Act of Congress. And what does it say about the FAA that a body with 9% approval rating is coming to the rescue of the private pilot? Were it to remain in the FAA’s corner, this medical exemption would probably never see the light of day. I don’t just mean that it would not be approved, I mean it would never even be acted upon at all.

There is a certain schadenfreude which comes from watching the FAA, which is known for soliciting comments from the aviation industry only to ignore that input, suffer the same fate at the hands of the House and Senate. My only question is: what took so long? The last time Congress lent the industry a helping hand was with the General Aviation Revitalization Act. That was in 1994 — twenty years ago. While I’m thankful they’re finally getting off the bench and into the game, this boost is long overdue. I sincerely hope they will not only see it through, but look for other ways to help bring a uniquely American industry back from the brink.

An easing of the medical certification requirements will not fix all of GA’s woes. But if the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, perhaps this will at least get us headed in the right direction.

One final note: if you haven’t called your Representative and Senators to express strong support for H.R. 3708 and S. 2103, respectively, please do so! Unlike FAA employees, these folks are up for re-election in eight months. The closer we get to November, the more likely they are to listen.

Do Piston Engine TBOs Make Sense?

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Last month, I discussed the pioneering work on Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) done by United Airlines scientists Stan Nowlan and Howard Heap in the 1960s, and I bemoaned the fact that RCM has not trickled down the aviation food chain to piston GA. Even in the 21st century, maintenance of piston aircraft remains largely time-based rather than condition-based.

mfr_logo_montageMost owners of piston GA aircraft dutifully overhaul their engines at TBO, overhaul their propellers every 5 to 7 years, and replace their alternators and vacuum pumps every 500 hours just as Continental, Lycoming, Hartzell, McCauley, HET and Parker Aerospace call for. Many Bonanza and Baron owners have their wing bolts pulled every five years, and most Cirrus owners have their batteries replaced every two years for no good reason (other than that it’s in the manufacturer’s maintenance manual).

Despite an overwhelming body of scientific research demonstrating that this sort of 1950s-vintage time-based preventive maintenance is counterproductive, worthless, unnecessary, wasteful and incredibly costly, we’re still doing it. Why?

Mostly, I think, because of fear of litigation. The manufacturers are afraid to change anything for fear of being sued (because if they change anything, that could be construed to mean that what they were doing before was wrong). Our shops and mechanics are afraid to deviate from what the manufacturers recommend for fear of being sued (because they deviated from manufacturers’ guidance).

Let’s face it: Neither the manufacturers nor the maintainers have any real incentive to change. The cost of doing all this counterproductive, worthless, unnecessary and wasteful preventive maintenance (that actually doesn’t prevent anything) is not coming out of their pockets. Actually, it’s going into their pockets.

If we’re going to drag piston GA maintenance kicking and screaming into the 21st century (or at least out of the 1950s and into the 1960s), it’s going to have to be aircraft owners who force the change. Owners are the ones with the incentive to change the way things are being done. Owners are the ones who can exert power over the manufacturers and maintainers by voting with their feet and their credit cards.

For this to happen, owners of piston GA aircraft need to understand the right way to do maintenance—the RCM way. Then they need to direct their shops and mechanics to maintain their aircraft that way, or take their maintenance business to someone who will. This means that owners need both knowledge and courage. Providing aircraft owners both of these things is precisely why I’m contributing to this AOPA Opinion Leaders Blog.

When are piston aircraft engines most likely to hurt you?

Fifty years ago, RCM researches proved conclusively that overhauling turbine engines at a fixed TBO is counterproductive, and that engine overhauls should be done strictly on-condition. But how can we be sure that his also applies to piston aircraft engines?

In a perfect world, Continental and Lycoming would study this issue and publish their findings. But for reasons mentioned earlier, this ain’t gonna happen. Continental and Lycoming have consistently refused to release any data on engine failure history of their engines, and likewise have consistently refused to explain how they arrive at the TBOs that they publish. For years, one aggressive plaintiff lawyer after another have tried to compel Continental and Lycoming to answer these questions in court. All have failed miserably.

So if we’re going to get answers to these critical questions, we’re going to have to rely on engine failure data that we can get our hands on. The most obvious source of such data is the NTSB accident database. That’s precisely what brilliant mechanical engineer Nathan T. Ulrich Ph.D. of Lee NH did in 2007. (Dr. Ulrich also was a US Coast Guard Auxiliary pilot who was unhappy that USCGA policy forbade him from flying volunteer search-and-rescue missions if his Bonanza’s engine was past TBO.)

Dr. Ulrich analyzed five years’ worth of NTSB accident data for the period 2001-2005 inclusive, examining all accidents involving small piston-powered airplanes (under 12,500 lbs. gross weight) for which the NTSB identified “engine failure” as either the probable cause or a contributing factor. From this population of accidents, Dr. Ulrich eliminated those involving air-race and agricultural-application aircraft. Then he analyzed the relationship between the frequency of engine-failure accidents and the number of hours on the engine since it was last built, rebuilt or overhauled. He did a similar analysis based on the calendar age of the engine since it  was last built, rebuilt or overhauled. The following histograms show the results of his study:

Ulrich study (hours)

Ulrich study (years)

If these histograms have a vaguely familiar look, it might be because they look an awful lot like the histograms generated by British scientist C.H. Waddington in 1943.

Now,  we have to be careful about how we interpret Dr. Ulrich’s findings. Ulrich would be the first to agree that NTSB accident data can’t tell us much about the risk of engine failures beyond TBO, simply because most piston aircraft engines are voluntarily euthanized at or near TBO. So it shouldn’t be surprising that we don’t see very many engine failure accidents involving engines significantly past TBO, since there are so few of them flying. (The engines on my Cessna 310 are at more than 205% of TBO, but there just aren’t a lot of RCM true believers like me in the piston GA community…yet.)

What Dr. Ulrich’s research demonstrates unequivocally is striking and disturbing frequency of “infant-mortality” engine-failure accidents during the first few years and first few hundred hours after an engine is built, rebuilt or overhauled. Ulrich’s findings makes it indisputably clear that by far the most likely time for you to fall out of the sky due to a catastrophic engine failure is when the engine is young, not when it’s old.

(The next most likely time for you to fall out of the sky is shortly after invasive engine maintenance in the field, particularly cylinder replacement, but that’s a subject for a future blog post…stay tuned!)

 So…Is there a good reason to overhaul your engine at TBO?

Engine overhaulIt doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering) to figure out what all this means. If your engine reaches TBO and still gives every indication of being healthy (good performance, not making metal, healthy-looking oil analysis and borescope results, etc.), overhauling it will clearly degrade safety, not improve it. That’s simply because it will convert your low-risk old engine into a high-risk young engine. I don’t know about you, but that certainly strikes me as a remarkably dumb thing to do.

So why is overhauling on-condition such a tough sell to our mechanics and the engine manufacturers? The counter-argument goes something like this: “Since we have so little data about the reliability of past-TBO engines (because most engines are arbitrarily euthanized at TBO), how can we be sure that it’s safe to operate them beyond TBO?” RCM researchers refer to this as “the Resnikoff Conundrum” (after mathematician H.L. Resnikoff).

To me, it looks an awful lot like the same circular argument that was used for decades to justify arbitrarily euthanizing airline pilots at age 60, despite the fact that aeromedical experts were unanimous that this policy made no sense whatsoever. Think about it…

Community Events Make Airport Good Neighbor Pt.1

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

On Valentine’s Day I was happy to read that a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit brought about by the city of Santa Monica to take control of the airport with a goal of closing it and developing the land for other purposes. While this is happy news, it is also a temporary reprieve from the vocal minority of residents who oppose Santa Monica airport and who must be completely uneducated about its value in our national network of General Aviation airports.   As a psychotherapist for 25 years, I believe I have come to understand the psychology of life.  In my experience there are three kinds of people:
• Those who watch their life happen;
• Those who make their life happen;
• And those who wonder, “How does life happen?”

When it comes to General Aviation and the promotion of G.A. airports, we need to be firmly in the “make it happen” camp. Hopefully this blog will help inspire you to bring the fun back to your airport and illuminate to your community that airports indeed make good neighbors.

Positive aspect of promotion, inspiring the love of flight
Let’s bring the fun back to the airport. What are your earliest memories of aviation? Perhaps your Dad took you to the airport so you could watch airplanes take off and land. Remember your first flight? How can you make those memories for someone else?  Aviation is magical, yet we know the science behind the magic.  Inspiring the love of flight means going back to the magic and sharing it with others. You don’t have to focus solely on children. At our Mooney Ambassador events we meet adults who have always wanted to fly, and with encouragement, might take the first step.  Your enthusiasm is contagious.

Friends of Oceano Airport Toys for Tots

Friends of Oceano Airport, Toys for Tots

Community outreach a.k.a. fun ways we can get folks out to your airport:

•    Airport Day:  Does your local airport have a Celebration Day, Airport Day or Open House?  Have you thought about helping to volunteer versus just attending?  If there is no event, why not look into having a “Good Neighbor Day” or Airport Day?  Perhaps your airport used to have an event, but not now?  Have a small event to start with. AOPA publishes a wonderful guide to hosting an open house. In the photo below, we brought an inflatable kiddie swimming to a hot summer event, and our airplane display was the most popular by far!

•    Toys for Tots:  A lovely way to bring the community to your airport is to have a Toys for Tots event.  Contact your local T4T/Marine Corps representative and talk with them about the idea.  Folks can drive in, walk in or fly in bringing new unwrapped toys. Due to increased need for programs like Toys for Tots, toys and dollars donated helps local kids directly.
•    Fly-In Movie Night
Fly-in, walk-in, drive in, it doesn’t matter!  If you have a hangar, campground or open area you can host a Fly-In movie night, you can make a theater!  I suggest the event be free of charge.  Offer hot dogs, beverages, popcorn, and s’mores on a donation basis.  Show a family-friendly movie that has an aviation theme.

Make airport events fun

Make airport events fun!

Check back next month for the final installment.  Until then, be on the look out for an excuse to have an event at your airport. Remember everyone loves a good party.

You and User Fees

Friday, March 7th, 2014

President Obama’s recently released budget for the federal government’s 2015 fiscal year, which proposes a $100 per flight fee for turbine-powered aircraft using air traffic services, prompts reminiscence of President Reagan’s frequent phase: “There they go again”. This is the fourth year that the Obama Administration has called for such user fees, and Congress has turned down that request in each previous attempt.

Regardless of the party that occupies the White House, user fees seem to be included in early discussions of revenue sources for the government. During my tenure as President of the National Business Aviation Association, 1992-2003, we joined with AOPA and other associations to counter the threat of user fees three times. During the next 10 years, the issue surfaced frequently. So far, thanks to coordinated and skillful lobbying by the aviation community, Congress has refused to follow the Siren’s call. The associations have successfully argued that a fuel tax is the most efficient and fair way to participate in compensating the taxpayer for Business Aviation’s use of the Air Traffic Control system. The point has been made, and rightfully so, that all of General Aviation is carrying its fair share.

Beware! Another phase we often hear is “Past performance is no guarantee of future results”. Just because our community has been successful in countering past arguments in favor of additional fees for using the nation’s airspace, we cannot ignore this latest attempt to tax GA’s turbine fleet. Each of us needs to be mindful that user fees could become a reality, particularly if we take for granted that dealing with this issue is someone else’s responsibility.

While the Obama budget proposal exempts (that’s the wording in the Administration’s document) piston aircraft and aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace, the imposition for fees on turbine aircraft opens the door to taxing other users of the National Airspace System. That which is exempted today may be included tomorrow.

Nor should we overlook the negative impact on safety that fees for accessing ATC services might have. Aircraft operators are not anxious to open their wallets without just cause. There will be those aviators who may attempt to avoid ATC services by operating outside of controlled airspace. While such actions are highly unlikely in the congested regions along our coasts and near major cities, in remote areas we might see turbine aircraft dashing from place to place at altitudes just below FL180. We should be careful not to invite unsafe practices, no matter how remote the possibility.

All who participate in General Aviation—from operators of business jets and turboprops to recreational pilots, as well as all aviators between those bounds—should counter the frequent attempts of the federal administration to impose additional user fees. Consider several steps:

• Educate others about our community. Recognize that the average voter knows little about General Aviation, which we usually define by what it isn’t: It’s not Military Aviation or the Airlines—it’s everything else. Air transportation is the backbone of domestic and international business today, and GA is an integral part of that air transportation system.
• Inform the uninformed that all aviation contributes to funding the ATC system. Airline passengers pay a ticket tax; GA pays a fuel tax, with turbine aircraft paying a higher user fee than pistons. Emphasize that the fuel tax is a very efficient way to put GA money into the federal system.
• Communicate the advantages of using business aircraft to advance the ebb and flow of commerce throughout our country. The Schedules Airlines do not provide the degree of air transportation needed to serve many businesses. They do not want to provide service to locations with low levels of passenger traffic. Many locations depend upon Business Aviation for their lifeline to economic opportunity. In fact, the Scheduled Airlines and General Aviation are virtual partners in providing our nation with a safe and efficient means of air transportation. Additional user fees on GA will inhibit the use of a valuable resource.

Our community’s associations, including AOPA, NBAA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), do an excellent job lobbying our elected officials. But there is a difference between lobbying and advocating. Lobbying is directed at elected officials. Advocacy is directed at the voters who elect the Members of Congress. Congressmen and women listen to voters. By communicating knowledgably with friends and associates, you can be a significant force for advocating the benefits of all General Aviation and fighting user fees.

Why Pilots and Planes Will Become Obsolete In The Near Future . . . And What We Can Do About It (Part 1)

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

It is not at all farfetched to believe that the pilots and planes that we all know and love are, well, on their way out – that we are at the end of an historical era.  The indicators are all there, both in terms of what we know about the past and by observing the current trends that surround us.

History tells us that everything changes.  So it is inevitable that the present paradigm will give way to something new.  The only question is when and how.  To understand this, we must begin by describing the larger environment in which we find ourselves – providing a context for understanding the other forces that are in play.  As it happens, the context is unprecedented and extraordinary.

We are living in within the highest rate of change in the history of humanity.  Never before has our species (or any species, for that matter) experienced the converging exponential forces that are presently catapulting us toward the horizon. No matter which dimension you choose – technology, social values, agriculture, science, energy, climate, government, – we are confronted with situations that would largely have been considered implausible as late as five years ago.

Enabled by the global neural system we call the Internet, the increasing interaction within support systems (and our values and perspectives) are rather amazing. Changes in one area ricochet across many others, generating cascading shifts that follow each other with shorter and shorter intervals.   The metabolism of the whole human experience is amplified by the feeding of trends and events on each other, producing larger and larger impacts.

It’s within this context of rapidly accelerating breakthroughs (and the erosion of the legacy systems) that a number of trends have established themselves that will have direct impact on the future of GA.  These weak signals or early indicators are harbingers of what are sure to become larger, converging forces that will usher in a new era in aviation.


The combination of ubiquitous connectivity, increasing bandwidth, advanced sensors and decreasing cost is assuring that Autonomous Systems (aka drones and unmanned aerial vehicles) will become an increasing larger segment of the global aircraft fleet. The Navy has flown its first drone from an aircraft carrier, the Air Force is having a hard time hiring the number of drone pilots that it needs, and the Marine Corps is already using a drone cargo helicopter in Afghanistan.  Large drone cargo aircraft are already being designed and UAVs are very rapidly proliferating throughout the law enforcement, news gathering and research communities.  The FAA has certified the first commercial drone and forecasts that 10,000 of them will be in the air over the US by 2020.

Cargo Drone envisioned by Dorsal Aircraft Corp.

Cargo Drone envisioned by Dorsal Aircraft Corp.

Artificial Intelligence is on the horizon. Strong AI agents will act like humans – they will research, collect information (from sensors and other sources), interact with other agents and humans and make decisions.  Think of them as a pilot that knows what the weather is, is constantly aware of the state of the airframe, powerplants, communicates with ATC, filed the flight plan, and flies the aircraft. Advanced Voice Recognition will allow the AI to interact directly with humans. Augmented Reality already has the capability to superimpose information from databases located anywhere on the planet onto the synthetic image generated by the AI controller/pilot.  Advanced Materials are also being developed that will have thousands or millions of miniscule computers embedded within them that will signal the state of any aircraft component (temperature, pressure, etc.) on a real time basis to the AI pilot.   It’s not certain when this capability will become commercially available but I’d guess we’ll begin to see applications within a decade. In any case, they are certainly coming.

The integration of these capabilities (and others) present the rather real possibility of getting into an aircraft in the not too distant future, telling the techno cab driver-controller where you want to go and sitting back while it determines the ideal route and then takes you there.  If this seems farfetched, keep in mind that technological advances are more than doubling every 18 months so application in 2020 won’t be just five or ten times better than today but will be over 500 times more capable. Ponder that for a minute.

This kind of explosive development also raises the distinct possibility of the emergence of things like levitation into the civil fleet in the not too distant future.  There are a number of private efforts underway to develop this capability and an application of the technology has been reported in the major aviation press to already be an integral part of the wing design of the B-2 bomber.  In any case, levitation would obviously produce an aircraft that didn’t look like or operate like those we see at our local airport.

(To be continued next month)

‘Tis Almost The Season!

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Here’s the deal: who wouldn’t want to explore a region known as the “Mad River Valley” and its environs? Yes, I know there’s still enough snow on the ground to keep the region’s ski resort, Sugarbush Mountain’s 110 trails open for business, but already its warming up here, so I’m starting to plan my spring / summer flying adventures, and Sugarbush Soaring, set between tiny Waitsfield and Warren, Vermont, is on my list of destinations.

Why? Well, the mountains of Vermont are beautiful in late Spring. And sugarbushbecause the Sugarbush Soaring club at the Warren Sugarbush Airport (0B7), just 45 miles from the state capital, Montpelier, has posted May 17th as its opening day. Spring soaring in the valley can be marvelous, with excellent potential for wave soaring, augmented by ridge soaring and, on a warm, still day, thermals. Yep, you can get it all right there when the weather is right. In summer the soaring school operates everyday with an instruction staff,  two Schweizer 2-33s, a PW-6, an ASK-21, Grob 102 and the Schweizer 1-26, plus two Pawnee tow planes to get everyone aloft. There is even a flight examiner on staff for those powerplane pilots looking to add some fun to their certificate.

The runway is paved, 2500 X 30 feet, and gently sloped at both ends, just to make things more interesting. Glider pilots land in the grass at the approach end of the runway most of the time, making it easier to set up for aerotow takeoffs on the paved runway.

Powerplane pilots ought to also remind themselves that gliders have the right-of-way in the sky, and expect that they might need to hold or go around if a glider turns up in the pattern first, or can’t clear the runway after landing quickly enough.

The reward for your pattern etiquette and short-field landing prowess after landing is finding yourself in one of the most bucolic little airfields in all of the northeastern U.S. Warren-Sugarbush Airport feels like it hasn’t seen change in 50 years. The FBO is a farmhouse, where the Sugarbush Soaring club holds its cookouts on the deck. The wide grass fields surrounding the runway are where campers pitch their tents for the Soaring Camps held each summer by the club.

Just down the road are roiling brooks with huge boulders ripe for sliding, and of course, the Mad River, for kayaks. Up the mountain the ski resort turns mountain biker and hiker heaven once the snow is gone.

If you need a “big” city Burlington is just a 20 minute flight over Sugarbush mountain, with excellent FBOs and topnotch maintenance. The town is home to the University of Vermont and has a vibrant downtown pedestrian area chock with shops and restaurants. What’s not to love?

There is something about the “free” ride soaring in a glider offers, and the way it hones all of my other flying skills that makes the sport (and it is a sport—actually, a team sport, since you need a wing runner and a tow pilot) so good for you. Power pilots will come away from a soaring lesson with sharpened precision landing skills and confidence in their ability to judge Lift to Drag ratio, ridge-running skills, wave cloud and rotor identification and overall mountain flying competency.

Besides all that, soaring is fun!