Archive for September, 2014

Backdoor Rule Making?

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

On February 10, 2014, the Cessna Aircraft Company did something quite unprecedented in the history of piston GA: It published a revision to the service manual for cantilever-wing Cessna 210-series airplanes that added three new pages to the manual. Those three pages constituted a new section 2B to the manual, titled “Airworthiness Limitations”:

Cessna 210 Service Manual Section 2B

This section purports to impose “mandatory replacement times and inspection intervals for components and aircraft structures.” It states that the new section is “FAA-Approved” and that compliance is required by regulation.

Indeed, FARs 91.403(c) and 43.16 both state  that if a manufacturer’s maintenance manual contains an Airworthiness Limitations section (ALS), any inspection intervals and replacement times prescribed in that ALS are compulsory. FAR 91.403(c) speaks to aircraft owners:

§91.403(c) No person may operate an aircraft for which a manufacturer’s maintenance manual or instructions for continued airworthiness has been issued that contains an Airworthiness Limitations section unless the mandatory replacement times, inspection intervals, and related procedures specified in that section … have been complied with.

and FAR 43.16 speaks to mechanics:

§43.16 Each person performing an inspection or other maintenance specified in an Airworthiness Limitations section of a manufacturer’s maintenance manual or Instructions for Continued Airworthiness shall perform the inspection or other maintenance in accordance with that section…

Sounds pretty unequivocal, doesn’t it? If the maintenance manual contains an ALS, any mandatory inspection intervals and replacement times have the force of law.

The new ALS in the Cessna 210 maintenance manual mandates eddy current inspection of the wing main spar lower caps. For most 210s, an initial spar inspection is required at 8,000 hours time-in-service, with recurring inspections required every 2,000 hours thereafter. However, for 210s operated in a “severe environment” the inspections are required  at 3,500 hours and every 500 hours thereafter:

Cessna 210 inspection times

For P210s, the new ALS also imposes a life limit of 13,000 hours on the windshield, side and rear windows, and ice light lens.

What’s wrong with this picture?

To be fair, the eddy current inspection is not that big a deal.  An experienced technician can do it in a few hours. The most difficult part is that most service centers have neither the eddy current test eequipment nor a trained and certificated non-destructive testing (NDT) technician on staff. So most Cessna 210 owners will need to fly their airplane to a specialty shop  Since most airplanes will need to do this only once every 2,000 hours and since most of them fly less than 200 hours per year, one could hardly classify this recurrent eddy current inspection as Draconian. Similarly, not too many P210s are likely to reach the 13,000-hour life window life limit.

No, the issue isn’t the spar cap inspection or window life limits themselves—it’s the extraordinary method by which Cessna is attempting to make them compulsory.

Normally, if the manufacturer of an aircraft, engine or propeller wants to impose a mandatory inspection interval or a mandatory replacement or overhaul time on the owners of its aeronautical product, the manufacturer goes to the FAA and requests that an Airworthiness Directive (AD) be issued. If the FAA agrees and decides to issue an AD, it does so by means of a formal rule-making process prescribed by the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Ultimately, the AD is published in the Federal Register and becomes an amendment to Part 39 of thee FARs. That’s what gives the AD its “teeth” and makes it compulsory for aircraft owners to comply with it.

§91.403(a) The owner or operator of an aircraft is primarily responsible for maintaining that aircraft in an airworthy condition, including compliance with part 39 of this chapter.

The APA governs the way that administrative agencies of the federal government (including the FAA) may propose and establish regulations. It has been called “a bill of rights” for Americans whose affairs are controlled or regulated by federal government agencies. The APA requires that before a federal agency can establish a new regulation, it must publish a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) in the Federal Register, provide members of the public who would be impacted by the proposed regulation an opportunity to submit comments, and then take those comments seriously in making its final rule. The APA also establishes rights of appeal if a person affected by the regulation feels it is unjust or should be waived.

Because of the APA and other federal statutes, it is difficult for the FAA to issue ADs arbitrarily or capriciously. The agency first has to demonstrate that a bona fide unsafe condition exists, and that its frequency and severity of the safety risk rises to the level that makes rule making appropriate. It has to estimate the financial impact on affected owners. It has to provide a public comment period, give serious consideration to comments submitted, and respond to those comments formally when issuing its final rule.

As someone who has been heavily involved in numerous AD actions on behalf of various alphabet groups, I can tell you that the notice-and-comment provisions of the APA is extremely important, and that concerted efforts by aircraft owners and their representative industry organizations have often had great impact on the final outcome.

Through the back door?

That’s what makes Cessna’s action last February so insidious.

The addition of an Airworthiness Limitations section to the Cessna 210 maintenance manual was done without going through the rule making process. There was no NPRM and no comment period. Affected owners never had an opportunity to challenge the need for eddy current inspections of their wing spars. Cessna was never required to demonstrate that a genuine unsafe condition exists, nor weigh the cost impact against the safety benefit.Cessna 210 service manual By adding an ALS to the maintenance manual rather than ask the FAA to issue an AD, Cessna is attempting to bypass the APA-governed AD process and impose its will on aircraft owners through the back door.

Granted that the initial contents of the new ALS is not excessively burdensome. But if Cessna’s action is allowed to go unchallenged, it could set a terrible precedent. It would mean that any aircraft, engine or propeller manufacturer could retroactively impose its will on aircraft owners.

And if that happens, Katy bar the (back) door!

That’s why I’ve been working with my colleague Paul New—owner of Tennessee Aircraft Services, Inc. and honored by the FAA in 2007 as National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year—to challenge what Cessna is doing. On September 15th, Paul sent a letter that we jointly drafted to Mark  W. Bury (AGC-200), the FAA’s top regulations lawyer in its Office of General Counsel at FAA headquarters, asking him to issue a formal letter of interpretation as to whether compliance with the so-called mandatory inspection intervals set forth in section 2B of the Cessna 210 maintenance manual is actually required by regulation. We specifically ask Mr. Bury to rule on the question of whether retroactive enforcement of such a maintenance manual amendment by the FAA would constitute an APA violation.

The wheels of justice turn slowly at FAA Headquarters. We have been advised that AGC-200 has a four-month backlog of requests for letters of interpretation, so our request probably will not be looked at until the first quarter of 2015. But at least our request is in the queue. I am cautiously optimistic that AGC-200 will see things the way Paul and I see them, and will rule that a manufacturer’s publication of an ALS cannot be retroactively enforceable against aircraft owners unless the FAA issues an AD making it so.

Reflections on Being an Aviator

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Serious aviators share a common characteristic—their passion for flight. Whether he or she is a professional earning a living in Business Aviation or a private pilot enjoying the magnificent foliage of a fall weekend, aviators go aloft to experience something very special and fulfilling. Aviation is a meaningful motivator for their way of life. It is an expression of how they feel about themselves and about their confidence to perform. I know no one who became a professional pilot because their parents forced them into that career. Similarly, when asked why they earned a pilot’s certificate, most individuals say they always wanted to fly. Such is the magnetism of aviation.

Thomas Watson, Jr., CEO of International Business Machines from 1956 until retiring in 1971 on his doctor’s advice following a heart attack, reflected the role that aviation can play in a person’s life. From his first solo (which he proudly noted in his autobiography Father, Son & Co. that he accomplished after only 5.5 hours of instruction) until his death in 1993, he maintained a passionate attraction to flight.

In 1977 I met Mr. Watson at Norwood Memorial Airport, a few miles southwest of Boston, Massachusetts, where he had just completed his first solo flight in a Bell Jet Ranger. After being introduced and photographing him flying the helicopter, I boarded his North American Sabreliner and watched him pilot (as captain) the business jet to Knox County Regional Airport, about 85 miles north of Portland, Maine, where he was the principal benefactor of the Owls Head Transportation Museum. There he parked his business jet, donned goggles and cloth flying helmet and took off in a restored Newport WWI fighter. After a few low passes, he landed and proceeded to get into a beautifully rebuilt Spad, also a survivor of the Great War, and piloted the aircraft through its paces. After lunching on Maine lobster, he mounted a Spitfire for a dust-up of the field. That sortie complete, Mr. Watson excused himself, boarded his Sabreliner and flew back to his home north of New York City.

Piloting sophisticated aircraft was nothing new to Thomas Watson, Jr. Since his days as a student at Brown University, to being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 102nd Observation Squadron of the New York National Guard (an assignment he sought when he learned that a civilian pilot with more than 300 hours of flight time could be designated a pilot without going through Army Air Corp training), to his 2,500 hours flying a Consolidated B-24 throughout WWII as personal pilot for General Follett Bradley, to being checked out the IBM’s business jets, Watson was the consummate aviator.

During lunch at the Owls Head Museum, I asked Mr. Watson why he devoted his time and resources to the preservation of old aircraft. His response was simple: He owned his carrier at IBM to aviation.

Claiming to be a mediocre student and lacking experience in business, he said the only endeavor where he felt successful was flying. In fact, as WWII was concluding, Watson lined up a piloting job with United Airlines. Discussing his post-war plans to join the airlines with General Bradley, his war-time boss’s response was “Really? I always thought you’d go back and run the IBM company.”

Mr. Watson said he had no sinecure at IBM. His father owned too few shares at the company to dictate who would succeed him. Thus he responded with a question. “General Bradley, do you really think I could run IBM?”

“Of course”, was the General’s response.

Mr. Watson said General Bradley’s answer, so positive, provoked his introspection. He had accomplished many challenging tasks while serving as the General’s pilot. Yes, he thought, I can take on unknowns and be successful. Without the confidence that being an aviator installed within him, he said he would not have gone to IBM. He felt he owed his career to aviation.

As a footnote to this blog, Mr. Watson told me not to relate our conversation in the publication that had asked me to meet him on that date in 1977. Subsequently the reason for his command was clear: Thomas Watson, Jr. recounted his discussion with Follett Bradley in Father, Son & Co., published first in 1990.

Mandate-ON!

Friday, September 19th, 2014
Complaint to Mandate

Complaint to Mandate

I was listening to NPR on the commute home from work a few weeks ago. The commentator was talking about complaints. She had a rather novel idea. Listen to yourself and hear what you complain about most. Take that item and commit yourself to becoming part of the solution.

What if we, as aviation lovers and airport protectors, took a self-inventory and came up with our biggest gripe? You know, the thing that we are most sarcastic about. The phrase we mutter under our breath at the airport board meeting, or the gas pump, or while watching the nightly news coverage of an aircraft accident.

I envisioned a complaint box that took in the complaint and shot a MANDATE out of the bottom. Sort of like the cost of the complaint is the requirement that you expend energy becoming part of the fix.

I tell you, I have the best friends and acquaintances in aviation. A quick query of a dozen or so Facebook friends yielded me an honest list of their biggest complaints. They ranged from the high cost of becoming a pilot, to lack of community awareness of the value of an airport, to 3rd class medicals and the price of fuel. But you know what was top on the hit parade? Dum dum dum dum….TSA. So I am going to follow my own advice and tell you a bit about some folks who went from complaint to mandate to success with TSA Directive 1542-04-08G.

I am a pretty lucky girl.  My husband, Mitch Latting is not only a Mooney pilot and GA advocate, but has become passionate about fighting the over-reach of the TSA directive.  I was able to interview him over dinner last week.  “Over 400 airports across the country that provide commercial air service have been negatively affected by TSA Security Directive 1542-04-08G” he says.   We both noticed implementation of SD-08G at our Santa Maria [KSMX] and San Luis Obispo [KSBP] CA airports was overly exaggerated by the airport managers, making the entire airport the Airport Operations Area [AOA], thereby imprisoning General Aviation, including businesses, museums, restaurants and hangar tenants.

Mitch reports “TSA’s own written material recognizes that treating General Aviation areas as if they are Security Identification Display Areas [SIDA] causes a hardship to General Aviation.  TSA actually recommends physical separation of the two areas.”

TSA Card needed to get to GA Hangars

TSA Card needed to get to GA Hangars

With this over zealous grab at both Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo airports, pedestrian gate access codes have all been removed.  Once you leave the airport, you cannot return to your airplane unless you have an airport specific TSA [FBI background check, annual fee] approved access badge, or you have the cocktail waitress at the local restaurant let you back into the airport.  If you return late at night to get to your airplane and your cocktail waitress has gone home, or your local FBO is closed, you are quite out of luck.  Well, if you’re willing to pay an exorbitant fee, you can call the FBO to come out and let you in, or you can call the airport administration office and hope someone will respond.

At our airport, you cannot drive your car to your private aircraft hangar unless you flash your TSA airport specific badge at the kiosk located at each vehicle gate, which is monitored by overhead video cameras.  Once through the gate, you are required to stop, blocking all other vehicles or persons from entering or leaving until the gate is fully closed, lest you are subjected to a $25,000.00 fine.  If you want to drive out of the airport later after your flight, you won’t be able to unless you flash your TSA badge at the inner kiosk.

SIDA Gate around GA Hangars

SIDA Gate around GA Hangars

Now, here’s someone who took the mandate!  On behalf of their General Aviation airport, Colorado Grand Junction [KGJT] pilots Steve Wood and Dave Shepard formed Grand Junction Airport Users and Tenants Association (GJAUTA].  This group went into battle a few years ago, with the intent of returning reasonable freedoms to General Aviation.  It’s been a long hard fight, but they won!  A main effort of GJAUTA was to separate the SIDA from the AOA area, while keeping general aviation [including hangars, museums, and businesses] outside the AOA.  Gone are the highly restrictive and unnecessary TSA restrictions upon Grand Junction Airports General Aviation.

With their tremendous efforts, freedom fighters Steve and Dave were awarded AOPA’s annual Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award.  The award is presented to those who have made the most significant contributions to the advancement of General Aviation.

Think about what you complain about in regard to aviation or airports. Be honest. Then change that complaint into a mandate. Mandate is an action word. If you don’t have enough activities at your airport, plan one. Not enough speakers in your community to promote aviation? Be one. For me? I am going to be part of the solution at KSMX and KSBP and to push back those barbed wire fences and cameras where they belong. Mandate-ON!

A little decorum can go a long way

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

It may not surprise you to know that I spend a good deal of time using social media each day. It’s a tool. Think of it as a digital Leatherman, or a Swiss army knife that thrives on the binary system. But like any tool, social media can be used for good, or it can create a lot of damage. It’s the user’s choice.

Because I’ve been fortunate enough to have a remarkably interesting life (at least from my perspective) that has allowed me to be a musician in Greenwich Village, a pilot in Florida, a political office holder, and even a novelist, I am connected to a tremendously varied group of people via social media. Some are musicians, but most are not. Some are actors, or writers, or pilots, but that’s not the mainstream of my social media network any more than it is the mainstream of American life. Yet this disparate group of individuals have all come together through the Internet to lurk, or comment, or make plans because we all have at least one thing in common. One thing that binds us together, gives us a sense of connection and maybe even an impression of a common purpose.

Last night, quite late, one of those connections threw their last straw onto an already strained camel’s back. They crossed the line. As a result, I unfriended someone on Facebook. This is perhaps only the second time I’ve done that. The first was because someone I had never met, but had a professional connection to, became abusive and argumentative with other friends who took a position that differed from their own. This second instance was similar. Being abusively arrogant is not attractive, not in any realm.

The world is a wonderful, weird, and thoroughly engaging place. It is made no less amazing by the fact that none of us, and I mean absolutely none of us agree on everything. In fact, a case could be made that it is our diversity of thought that makes life so fascinating. Yet there are those who cannot tolerate a difference of opinion. They cannot allow someone else, even if it is someone they know nothing about, to voice a perspective that differs from their own. No, when presented with such a circumstance they empower themselves with the responsibility of judging the rest of us, convicting us of thought crimes, and punishing us by blathering away incessantly about how wrong we are.

To be honest, I could live with that. I don’t like it, but I could live with it. But then a small number of these types step across that line in the sand and transition from being judgmental bullies into truly mean spirited soldiers of righteousness. It’s not enough to let the world know they disagree with someone else. No. They have to try to ruin the opposition’s life. They hurl insults. They question motives. They pull out all the stops to make it clear to all who might read a given post, that the person who disagrees is evil, vicious, stupid, racist, ignorant, malicious, and possibly even dangerous.

That’s where my button gets pushed. But as in life, I have learned there is a truth in social media. You can unplug. There is no rule that says you must engage these people. You can simply stop reading their posts, stop replying to their taunts, and even close the door to them lurking into your life. On Facebook at least, you can unFriend them.

This matters to the aviation community for reasons that should be obvious, but apparently aren’t. We are a large, diverse group of people. Yet we account for only a small fraction of the larger population. We are largely misunderstood and to some degree, distrusted. That’s unfortunate, but it is true.

As with any large group, we disagree on many points, which is healthy. However, the method of disagreement is important. We each, like it or not, represent the aviation community in some way. Perhaps our thoughts and impressions are noted by only a dozen or so family and friends. Others entertain or enrage thousands, even tens of thousands with ideas, commentary, and visions of what is, or what might be. It is incumbent upon us, all of us, to welcome those differing ideas, even if they fly in the face of our own beliefs. We can discuss ideas. We can share opposing views. But we should not go to battle with each other. After all, each of us at some point has realized that we are occasionally wrong. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong, and sometimes the topic is too subjective to be able to establish right and wrong.

I will concede that it is at least possible that you, the reader, is the owner of the most powerful, insightful, and creative brain to have ever been produced by human kind. And yet, that does not excuse you (or me) from the basic rules of social grace. Be polite. Even in disagreement, show respect for the other party or parties you are engaged with. In the long run, we are much more respected for our willingness to politely entertain a boor, than we would ever be for our efforts to silence or squash them.

The social network has long arms. They wrap all the way around the world. What you put there will come back to you one day as a representation of what kind of a person you are. Do your best. Accept that all of us err from time to time. But try not to be mean spirited. That’s unbecoming. It’s generally counter-productive, too. And that is a true statement no matter what business you’re in, regardless of what the topic of conversation might be.

It’s all on your head

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014
0917daqri_smart_helmet2

Photo used with permission from DAQRI.

I read about a new product recently that clearly could dramatically change the pilot experience in the future. DAQRI LLC, with offices in Los Angles and the Bay Area, has developed an augmented reality helmet for industrial applications that could also revolutionize the communication and display of information in the cockpit.

Billed as the world’s first wearable human machine interface, it has been designed initially for machinery-rich environments where a great deal of information is needed (and potentially available) about the surroundings . . . wherever one is.

This helmet is loaded with electronics – GPS, inertial system, Wi-Fi, displays – and is able to download everything that is available (from databases anywhere), that is applicable to the current situation. It is probably the most advanced commercial, augmented reality product around.

DAQRI says that the “Smart Helmet bridges the gap between potential and experience, enhancing human abilities in industry by seamlessly connecting the human being to the work environment and providing relevant information instantaneously.”

They suggest, that “For the first time, a world class sensor package has been fused with an intuitive user experience, driven by native augmented reality software and DAQRI’s Intellitrack™ system for the most precise display and tracking possible, and providing users with unprecedented levels of information about the world around them.”

Does that sound like it could be adapted to piloting an aircraft one of these days? It certainly does to me.

Photo used with permission from DAQRI.

Photo used with permission from DAQRI.

The military, of course, has had very high tech headgear for advanced fighters for some time now . . . at a cost of about $3 million a copy (or something like that). But now that kind of technology is working its way down into the commercial marketplace, and is going to end up being a whole lot cheaper (Moore’s Law, you know).

The DAQRI helmet is a modified hard hat for use in industrial conditions, but try to think of it – with its two different pull-down screens connected to a high-resolution 3-D depth camera, and 360° navigation cameras, which support HD video recording, photography, 3-D mapping, and alphanumeric capture, and allow the Smart Helmet to read and understand signage and instrument data – in a light weight version modified for the cockpit.

Here, watch this video that explains its design and operation . . . and then tell me whether you think it has aviation written all over it. I do.

The future is coming fast!

Combat confusion in the cockpit

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Flight instructors know this: the cockpit of an aircraft in flight is a horrible classroom. Conditions are changing by the milisecond, and through it all you are moving, most of the time in three dimensions. With so much to pay attention to, student pilots are easily befuddled, leaving them paralyzed, and unable to decide what to do next. It takes a lot of training to prevent that kind of paralysis in human pilots. Why?

Confusion is easy to create. Lion tamer Clyde Beatty lived to a ripe old age by simply bringing a perfectly symetrical four legged chair into the ring with him when he met his big cats. When he held a chair in front of the lion’s face, the lion tried to focus on all four legs of the chair at the same time. With its focus divided, the lion became confused and was unsure about what to do next. When faced with so many options, the lion’s basal instinct was to freeze and wait, instead of attacking.

confusionHumans, being mammals, have brains that work the same way when innundated with conflicting information. Imagine how that plays out in the clouds when your panel lights up with a caution light, or a series of cascading failures. How about when that beautiful Garmin 1000 multifunction screen goes blank? Ach! Can you cope quickly to save the flight?

You can if you’ve got a mind practiced in focusing. The key word here is practice.

Researchers have pinned down four different types of concentration: Broad-external attention is good for assessing the total environment. When used inappropriately, it can lead you to miss things because you’re being distracted or paying attention to something that’s irrelevant. Broad-internal attention is good for developing a game plan or strategy. When used inappropriately, it can lead you to think too much, causing “paralysis by analysis.” Narrow-external attention is good for focusing on a single, primary target and blocking out distractions. When used inappropriately, it can lead you to be so focused on one thing that you miss something else that’s important. Finally, there is narrow-internal attention, which is good for focusing your thoughts on several mental skills, such as body awareness, energy management, or imagery. When used inappropriately it can, however, cause you to “choke.”

Harnessing these four types of concentration, and tapping into the one you want in the moment is an art both studied and practiced extensively by elite atheletes, and we can learn from them. To practice concentration it is best to start in a quiet place, then work your way into practicing where there are lots of distractions (best for learning how to tune them out, and discovering when to tune them in, too).

Start by working in a flight simulator (a pc sim is fine). Fly an approach to land as slowly as you can, all the while paying attention to all the details in the movements you make handling the controls, setting the instruments and running the checklist. Do it again closing your eyes at points during the approach and note how your body feels. Pay attention to all the physical sensations throughout your body.

Next, step away from the sim and go for the Grid exercise. Take a 10” X 10” block grid on a piece of paper and randomly placed the numbers 00 through 99 in each block. While timing one minute, find and put a slash through as many numbers as possible, in sequence, starting with 00. Start at different numbers, do only odd or even numbers, or go backwards from 99 to 00 to mix things up. After you get better at this, go back to practicing in the sim with distractions such as loud noises or distracting spouse in the room.

Finally, learn to shift your attention. This is a little bit like taking the camera lense and focusing in the foreground or the background. You want to do this with both your eyes and your ears. It can be practiced in the flight sim, or at your local coffee shop on a busy morning. Concentrate on what you hear. Identify each sound in the room separately and label it. Next, broaden your focus and simultaneously listen to all the sounds together without labeling them. Then concentrate on your body. Pay attention to your bodily sensations, such as the way you feel against the chair. Label each sensation as you notice it. Next, try to experience all the physical sensations together without labeling any particular one. Lastly, concentrate on your mind. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Let each thought and feeling appear by itself. Next try to empty your mind, let go of your thoughts and feelings, and relax.

Now, take the attention-shift exercise into the flight sim with you and alternate your focus between each instrument in the virtual panel in front of you. Then shift your attention to whole systems (radios, EFIS, engine, hydraulic, pressurization or oxygen). Finally pull back and absorb the complete picture, including your situational awareness of where the aircraft is in its virtual space.

It works. You’ll notice subtle differences that could be the beginning of a big problem much more rapidly, and, if you’ve studied up, you can correct a myriad of problems in-flight, or get your machine safely on the ground before a little fault becomes a game-ender.

AirVenture: Ominous Clouds Ahead

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Like many thousands of other aviation geeks around the world, a small Wisconsin town holds a special place in my heart. Once a year my friends, former & current colleagues, former classmates, former professors, and favorite airplanes gather in Oshkosh to celebrate all things aviation. Hosted under the wing of the Experimental Aircraft Association, the annual celebration of all things airplane was this year another great time to meet up with fellow aviation fans.

For my inaugural Opinion Leaders post last year, I wrote about the demographic challenges faced by AirVenture in the future. These challenges haven’t gotten any easier in the past year. As a matter of fact, they’ve only gotten worse. While attendance was up, aviation enthusiasts were greeted with this sight in several of the display hangars:

If AirVenture is supposed to be the pinnacle event for aviation enthusiasts around the world, empty booths and non-aviation related vendors are a foreboding indication of where the future lies for our passion. This past year, the Experimental Aviation Association significantly raised prices for booth space, which priced out several aviation nonprofits from having space this year. In addition, the number of booths that one attendee I spoke with described perfectly as “carnie-type” significantly increased: those selling personal massagers, saunas, a number of pain relief/skincare creams, and most confusing, a booth selling pots and pans in the FlyMarket area of the show.

While the increase in the number of booths dedicated to pain relief and other associated problems of aging might be a better indication of the changing demographics of AirVenture, the sheer number and placement of these non-aviation booths was surprising and disconcerting. AirVenture is an understandably expensive proposition for EAA, but allowing prime real estate to go to non-aviation vendors defeats the purpose of having an event from an organization that touts itself as being the “Spirit of Aviation.”

There were apparently more attendees at Oshkosh this year than in past years, but I found it very easy to get around the display areas of the show during the second half of the week, quite unlike the  crowded throngs of years past. Something about the equation of AirVenture is off…and aviation suffers for it. That said, some basic changes could do well to reinvigorate the show and open it up to a broader audience, particularly those that will carry the show well into the future. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Devote an area of a display hangar to local/regional/national aviation nonprofits (with an emphasis on the future generation of aviation enthusaists  at a discounted display rate. If we are truly interested in fostering the future of aviation at a grassroots level, these organizations are the ones that work in tandem with Young Eagles to foster interest in our communities. A display area dedicated to these organizations could work well at promoting to attendees and sharing of best practices among other groups. This area should be either subsidized or discounted, as the current display booth rates have priced the vast majority of these organizations out of the market.
  • Better promotion of opportunities at AirVenture for middle school, high school and university students. The College Park/Education & Interactive Zone is a fantastic idea, but does not receive nearly the attention or promotion it should. While universities do their best to promote their presence at the space, EAA needs to be the one driving families looking at employment/college/other opportunities. KidVenture is prominent in materials, announcements and other promotions. Trams stopping at the College Park area rarely announced the area’s goals, mentioning the forum buildings and nothing else.
  • Innovative approaches to “weaker” days at the show and other special events. EAA said that attendance was up 20% on the Saturday and Sunday of AirVenture. Sunday’s attendance was likely reduced throughout the day by a series of thunderstorms that put a damper (literally) on activities. The last day of AirVenture continues to be a “lost” day for attendees, booth staff, volunteers and the like. The Thunderbirds were a likely draw, but they won’t be coming back to AirVenture every final Sunday. Why not get creative with a final day special? Alternatively, it might just be better to scale back the show entirely on Sunday and leave time for vendors to pack up and leave in the morning. This year’s AirVenture included a career fair and College Mixer. Neither were well promoted to attendees and the public. Instead, offer free or 1/2 price admission on the day of to those attending these events. What better way to get the younger generations and their families involved?

While AirVenture continues to be the pinnacle celebration of aviation, EAA and other partner organizations need to be aware that these warning signs for the future of Oshkosh have drastic implications for where we will be in the next 10-20 years.

Time is Money

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

One of the first things people discover about flying is that it requires an abundance of two resources: time and money. The money part is pretty obvious. Anyone who inquires about flight instruction at a local school will figure that one out before they even take their first lesson. The importance of time is a bit more nebulous.

When I began working as an instructor, I noticed that even in affluent coastal Orange County, at least one of those two assets always seemed to be in short supply. Those who had plenty of money rarely had much free time; they were financially successful because they worked such long hours. Younger pilots typically had fewer demands on their schedule, but funds were limited at best. It reminds me of Einstein’s famous mass-energy equivalence formula, E=mc2. But instead of matter and energy being interchangeable, it’s time and money. Benjamin Franklin took it a step further in a 1748 letter, concluding that “time is money”.

time_is_money2

I learned to fly during a period when both of those elements were readily available. It was a luxury I didn’t appreciate — or even recognize — at the time. It’s probably for the best, since I would have been sorely tempted to spend even more on my addiction.

After flying Part 135 for the past three years, it’s interesting to note how those same limits apply to charter customers despite being much higher up on the proverbial food chain. These restrictions are the very reason Part 91/135 business aviation exists at all.

Case in point: I recently flew a dozen employees of a large retailer around the U.S. to finalize locations for new stores. They were able to visit ten cities in four days, spending several hours working at each destination. Out of curiosity, I ran our itinerary through booking sites like Kayak, Orbitz, and Travelocity to see how a group of twelve might fare on the airlines. Would you be surprised to learn that the answer is “not well”?

Our first leg, three hours in length, would have taken twelve hours and two extra stops on the airlines and actually cost more, assuming business class seats. Some of the subsequent legs wouldn’t have been possible at all on the airlines because they simply don’t serve those destinations. Overall, chartering the Gulfstream IV-SP cost less than trying to do the same trip on an airline. As far as time saved, on an airline, each of those ten legs would have required passengers to be at the airport 90 minutes in advance of their scheduled departure time. That alone would have wasted fifteen hours — the equivalent of two business days.

A chartered aircraft waits for passengers if they’re running late. If they need to change a destination, we can accommodate them. Travelers spend more time working and less time idle, literally turning back the clock and making everything they do more productive. And once we’re airborne, they can continue to do business, preparing for their next meeting and using the cabin as a mobile office. They can conference, spread out papers, and speak freely without worrying about strangers overhearing sensitive information.

This time/money exchange is present on every trip. Since I’m based in Los Angeles, our passengers are often in the entertainment industry. Imagine an artist or band who had a concert in Chicago on Monday, Miami on Tuesday, Denver on Wednesday, and Seattle on Thursday. They need to be in town early for rehearsals, interviews, and appearances. These tours sometimes last weeks or even months. Keeping a schedule like that would be nearly impossible without chartering. Imagine the cast of big budget film needing to be at film festivals, premieres, media interviews, awards shows, and such. Or the leaders of a private company about to go public or meeting with investors around the country prior to a product launch. Franklin was right: time is money.

When I fly on an scheduled airline, the inefficiency and discomfort remind me of why charter, fractional, and corporate aviation will only continue to grow. The price point of private flying doesn’t make sense for everyone, but for those who need it, it’s more than a convenience. It’s what makes doing business possible at all.