Archive for the ‘Amy Laboda’ Category

Nearly Empty Skies

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

This morning I heard an airplane take off. It was a throaty roar of a single engine piston airplane, and though I didn’t see it, I’d swear it was a Cessna 182. It was a wonderful noise. It was a noise I associate with home.

You see, I’ve been traveling on the Iberian Peninsula for a month, and in that time I saw or heard general aviation aircraft less than a half a dozen times. It was the oddest sensation, asking locals if there was an airport in the area for small aircraft, and seeing faces draw a complete blank. The question wasn’t being lost in translation. The small airports are so quiet these days that the people had no real experience with light aircraft.

I’d researched general aviation in Portugal and Spain before I left the U.S., and had high hopes of encountering at least some aeroclub flying, similar to what I had found traveling in South Africa, but it was not to be. Even the flight training going on in the countries seemed anemic in comparison to the activity here in the U.S. Sad, too, because in both countries the GA airports were there. They were just seriously under utilized.

In Spain the complaint is that handling fees, a combination of security restrictions and onerous, unnecessary services (bus rides on the ramp to and from the general aviation terminal) are strangling general aviation pilots. Even though mandated tariffs are relatively inexpensive, the companies providing the services are padding these fees so much that, according to AOPA Spain, they approach the cost of operating the airplane for the cross country flight.

The most aviation I saw over the course of a month traveling the peninsula north to south, was in the little town of Evora, where Skydive Portugal had a Cessna 206 running all day one Saturday, taking neophytes up for tandem jumps. It was great to watch the airplane head off, climbing to 13,00o MSL, and then disgorging its load. There is nothing quite like the snap and swoosh of a chute opening above you, followed by the hoots and laughter of the tandem riders, who seemed unanimoScreen shot 2014-10-10 at 4.48.04 PMusly thrilled both by the freefall and by the fact that the chute opened on command. They’d live to jump another day!

But other than the Cessna 206 hauling skydivers there was just one or two general aviation movements on the field over the four days I was there. This, even though Embraer has a large, modern metal and composite factory just off the north end of the runway, where it is making parts for its Legacy 450/500 aircraft, along with parts for military aircraft.

I have to admit that it made me sad to see so few aircraft flying in two countries where the weather and the terrain is perfect for general aviation. It seems that onerous fees, combined with struggling economic trials have put serious challenges to pilots in Portugal and Spain.

My hope is that they can overcome the trials and re-emerge as great countries for general aviation flying in Europe. That way, the next time I visit, I can see the Iberian Peninsula the way I most enjoy, from the air.

 

Judgment, and the Day

Monday, August 18th, 2014

It was windy yesterday—blowing hard out of the south and gusting to near 40 knots, according to the anemometer mounted on the top of the FBO building that sits midfield at our little airport tucked into the Mad River Valley, near Warren, Vermont. Weather was inbound. But for the day conditions were still high overcast, with just a few scattered, scraggly cumulous. Nothing towering. Maybe some wave action from the wind flowing over the undulating Green Mountains and White Mountains to the south and east.

Sometimes it is better to be on the ground than in the air.

Sometimes it is better to be on the ground than in the air.

Definitely some turbulence.

All that, and I wanted to fly. No, seriously, I was aching to fly. Just two days before I’d had the opportunity to get back into a Schleicher ASK-21 two-place fiberglass sailplane. A sexy ship if there ever was one, with an excellent 40:1 glide ratio and plenty of capability (even for aerobatics, if you are skilled in that realm).

Sunday’s flight with Rick Hanson (who has been with Sugarbush Soaring so long no one I know can remember the place without him and his wife, Ginny) was all about re-familiarization. I’d flown a ship just like her the year before, in Minden, Nevada. Vermont’s conditions, on that Sunday, at least, were tame compared to the way I’d gotten my butt kicked by rising thermals and developing dust devils in the high Nevada desert. This year staying behind the tow plane, even boxing its wake was just an exercise, not a wrestling match.

Thermaling came back to me pretty quickly, too. Last year the thermals were leaning towers, tilting with the afternoon valley winds. This year, though they moved with the prevailing flow, they seemed a little wider. Finding that ball of rising air in the middle seemed easier, more intuitive. Maybe it is just that I’ve only let a year go by. Before Minden I’d had a two year hiatus from soaring. It could be that two years is just too long, leaving me just too rusty and out of practice.

In any case, by Monday’s flight I was feeling competent. My instructors that day were John and Jen, and they were a dream to fly with (as they all have been, really). It was an excellent day for soaring, with light winds and towering cumulous streets of clouds that did not over develop. One expert soaring pilot riding a capable steed made his way to Stowe, Vermont, and back. And yes, someone else called (actually he had his wife call for him, hmmm…) to ask for an aero-retrieve from 40 miles east. The good news was that he’d landed at an airport.

Landing out. That’s soaring-speak for not making it back to your point of origin. An aero-retrieve means you pay the tow plane to fly to you, and then give you a tow home. Some pilots combat this problem by flying a motor glider, firing up the engine when they get to the point where they are too low to return to their home base, perhaps because they misjudged the lift conditions, or how long the lift would hold out at the end of the day. Other pilots use better judgment to make sure they get back to home base every time.

My instructors on Monday spent plenty of time helping me “see” all of the possible acceptable off-airport landing sites in the valley, and just beyond. We were high enough to see the Adirondacks looming over Lake Champlain, and hear the Québécois’ French chatter in Canada, which I could see clearly to the north with every circle as I climbed to cloud base, rolled out, pushed over for speed, and commenced to glide to the next decent thermal.

We crossed the valley practicing wing-overs, crazy-eights, stalls and steep turns, until they felt I knew all the possible quirks of the fine machine I’d chosen to master. Landings required another skill—understanding that I was much closer to the ground at flare than in my usual ride, the RV-10. That took a bit of coaching, too, but ultimately I got the visual picture and our touchdowns were smooth and on the mark. The thing about sailplanes: though you can control your trajectory to landing nicely with dive brakes, you don’t get to go around if you come up short or long. Making it back to home base from altitude is all about calculating your inertia, choosing your descent speed, setting your trajectory with your dive brakes, and making your initial pattern entry point, downwind, base, final and landing spots on speed and on altitude. Add airport traffic into the mix and you’ve got a great scenario for teaching any pilot great judgment skills.

By day’s end on Monday I’d thermaled, reviewed primary skills, proven my pattern, landing, and even emergency landing prowess, and received my sign-off for solo in the ASK-21. Tuesday’s conditions, however, were nowhere near what I’d proved myself in, and I knew it. The sailplane sat ready for me at the end of the runway, and the tow plane pilot, Steve, eyed me, waiting to know what I wanted to do. The wind was whistling through the gaps in the window frame of the not-ready-for-winter FBO. Sure, I’d flown in some gnarly winds in Minden. But not solo. In fact the last time I’d soloed a glider was in benign conditions over flat land.

“Um…no. I’m not going up today,” I said definitively.

Steve smiled. Good call.

That afternoon I hiked up a cliffside to sit on a sheltered hunk of granite that provided me a view of  half the Champlain Valley. It wasn’t quite as splendid as my perch in the sailplane, but it did sooth. The clouds streamed by, harbingers of the rain that would follow. I was happy to be on terra firma, and ready to fly another day.

Money Well-Spent

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

I won’t lie to you, owning an airplane will lighten your wallet. As the owner of multiple types of light airplanes over multiple years I consider myself an expert on flying budgets. To minimize the pain and angst involved in budgeting I separate my expenses into known and unknown, fixed and variable, and I do my rough budgeting by calculating an equation on an annual basis, with quarterly check ups. That way I don’t fret over expenses on every flight, because, frankly, fretting takes the fun out of flying. 

My fixed budget items for my light single engine aircraft include insurance and maintenance, oil and storage. These are items I can easily get an annual bead on. I add them up and call them “F”. Variables include fuel and miscellaneous trip costs, plus unexpected maintenance; but even these I can rough out a year in advance based on prior knowledge (I’ve been at this for two and a half decades, which helps). These each get their own designation in the equation, since they can change independently.

It helps that my operating hours are pretty consistent every year. I know I’ll probably put 150 hours on the traveling machine, and 50 hours on the “kick-around-the-patch” bird. That gives me another constant in my equation.

Yes, fuel is a sticky variable. It goes up, it goes down. Even my best estimate can fly out the window when world politics play havoc with supply and demand (or the perception of supply, in many cases). That’s why I tend to go fat on my estimate. This year, for instance, I ball-parked my fuel costs at $6 per gallon, even though the fuel at my home base runs more than a dollar a gallon less. By overestimating by about 15% I give myself a little room.

Same goes for maintenance. If I ball park using a 15% markup on my mechanic’s hourly rate to pad for unknown costs on the road I’m in better shape. Parts, well, that can get interesting. Best to throw, say $3,000 in the pot and if I don’t use it, well, that’s $3,000 more in the reserve for the “next engine pile” next year.

FBO costs are next. I know some FBOs waive parking fees with a fuel purchase, but rarely for every night of your stay. And there are times, particularly when weather threatens, that you want your airplane in a hangar. That’s gonna cost you. By building those costs into my flying budget ahead of time I take the stress out of saying “yes” when I’m offered the protection of a hangar on a stormy night in the hinterlands.

Frankly, the entire exercise each spring is about eliminating my money-stress around flying. That way I can simply enjoy the privilege of being airborne in my own private craft, as PIC. It’s a privilege I worked long and hard to afford, then to qualify for, and, finally, it is a privilege I cherish and advocate for. The last thing I want to do is let the anxious smell of money to get in the way of the very activity that brings me peace and serenity.

Want to take the sting out of your operations? Here’s my formula:

Flying cost = (Time aloft x Fuel used)+ (FBO cost x Trip legs) + (Parts + maintenance cost) + Fixed costs (insurance, oil, storage)

Don’t forget to keep that pile of money growing for your next engine, too. Happy contrails!

Prepping the long X-C

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

It is now one month before my annual summer airborne trek and, yes, preparation has already begun. In fact, my task list for these long summer outings starts a few months ahead, if you want to include the time I spend reserving hotel or condo space and cars in the most popular places (I use AOPA’s web discounts to help make it all affordable). That’s just good planning.

I double check all the paperwork for the year is good with my airplane. It generally goes through its condition check—the equivalent of an annual inspection—in April, and by late May any sore points have have been completely worked out by my A&P. In June it is time to ensure that all of my GPS and MFD databases will stay up to date throughout my journey.

It’s also when I start a push on my own pilot currency, to make sure that I’m ready for any of the weather my long cross country is liable to toss at me.  I never want to feel as if my skills aren’t up to the conditions. I hit the PC sim in my office to practice my procedures. Then I rustle up my flight instructor and torture him with a couple sessions of practice approaches, navigation, holding patterns and emergencies.

The emergencies are something I always have in the back of my mind. By the end of June, once I know

Emergency kits come in all shapes and sizes. Alternatively, you can build your own.

my general routing for the summer trip, I start gathering fresh supplies for my emergency back pack, which sits just behind the pilot’s seat (not in the baggage compartment where I can’t reach it without getting out of my seat). The back pack holds packaged water, a mylar blanket and first aid supplies for dealing with cuts, scrapes and “bleeders.” It also has a strobe light, signal mirror, emergency cryovac food and a multipurpose tool. We’ve got a tiny two-person tent that barely weighs five pounds packed, and if we’re going over a lot of wide-open space that’s worth tucking in next to my husband’s emergency tool kit, too.

That tool kit has come in handy more times than not. These adventures put more hours on our airplane than it often flies in the three months after we return. And hours mean wear and tear. We have, on occasion, even been seen to carry a spare part or two in our cargo area. Overcautious? Depends on where you are going. Do you know how much it costs to replace an alternator on Grand Cayman, or Roatan?

Once I’ve got my emergency back pack, tool kit and any spare parts together I can begin thinking about

AOPA's airport information web application can help you pick a fuel stop.

AOPA’s airport information web application can help you pick a fuel stop.

the routing. I know how far my airplane can safely go in one leg, and I know how long I can safely go, say, before I have to “go.” In early July I begin checking flight planning software and comparing possible fuel stops. Because I don’t know what the weather will be on my day of departure, and because fuel prices fluctuate, I always have two or three potential airports planned for each fuel stop. I’ll narrow it down the night before I leave, and even still, I might not make a final choice until I’m airborne and I see what the real flight conditions are like.

It sounds like a lot of work, getting ready for an epic trip. It can be, if you look at it as work. I see all the prep as part of the build-up, the anticipation that is half the fun of going. With that attitude, starting flight preparations early is all part of the fun.

Ghosts, GA and Other Oddities Affected by an Airline Pilot Shortage

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Last week I was privileged to attend an aviation conference I’d never been to before: the Regional Airline Association (RAA) Convention, held in St. Louis, Missouri. That’s where I learned that I am a ghost pilot. My ghostly status, and what I plan to do about it, has direct bearing on several phenomena currently effecting smaller airports around the U.S. and the general aviation pilots flying from them. Read on. You may discover you are a ghost, too!

The strange revelation was unveiled during an open discussion between Bryan Bedford, CEO of Republic Airways Holdings, one of the largest regional conglomerates in the U.S.;

Dan Akins, Andrew Von Ah and Bryan Bedford discuss pilot shortages

Dan Akins, Andrew Von Ah and Bryan Bedford discuss pilot shortages during the 2014 RAA Convention

Andrew Von Ah, of the Government Accountability Office; and Dan Akins, a transportation economist with more than 20 years of industry experience.

Let me add some context to the conversation to help set the scene. Eleven of 12 regional airlines can’t find qualified pilots. New rules require airline pilots to have an ATP before they can carry passengers. An ATP requires 1,500 hours total time and special training (there are few exceptions). That has raised the cost and the duration of training for would-be regional pilots by as much as $100,000 over what it used to cost to go through a four-year university program, flight instruct, acquire about 500 hours experience, and finally qualify for an interview at a regional.

Data from the University of North Dakota show that airline track students are dropping out at the rate of 50% by senior year. Interviews by Dr. Kent Lovelace are telling: these kids have done the math and realize that they won’t be on earnings par with their peers (graduating as nurses, software engineers, accountants) for years. And how, exactly, does one service upwards of $100,000 in student loan debt when only bringing home $25,000 each year? Cape Air starting pay, for example, is a cool $15 per duty hour. I made $15 per hour as a flight instructor and charter pilot in 1986.

To cap the immediacy of the problem for the regionals the feds have issued new pilot duty and rest rules that have forced airlines to pad their pilot ranks by about five percent. Bedford can’t find qualified pilots to make that happen, and has, to date, parked 27 airplanes, he stated.

Von Ah cited the recently released study by the GAO that said there was no airline pilot shortage developing (much contested study, I might add). He acknowledged that regionals might be challenged filling pilot slots, but pointed to government calculations that used FAA pilot statistics to determine that there were adequate “pools” of U.S. commercial and airline transport (ATP) rated pilots ready to be tapped by regional airlines for hiring. He suggested these pilots weren’t adequately incentivized.

Bedford scoffed, positing back, “Last year we looked at 2000 and offered jobs to 450 pilots. This year we vetted 1000 and only got 90 we could offer jobs to. It is a quickly diminishing pool.” He went on to point out that he was trying to negotiate a new contract with his airlines’ pilots; one that includes pay raises.

That’s where Akins chimed in, “The idea that we will have a big rush of ghost pilots wanting to be hired by regional carriers? These pilots are doctors and congressmen. They are not getting in line for those jobs!” he sighed, exasperated.

So true! I’m an ATP-rated pilot with thousands of hours in my logbook, including the requisite turbine experience and I’m not the least bit interested in flying right seat for Silver Airways, our new United feeder. My days of flying for $15 per hour are long past.

The discussion, however, was a fascinating window into why airlines have been pulling out of our area this past year, leaving routes under 500 miles for general aviation, including Part 135 charter, to cover. The phenomenon even caused some local companies to ramp up their Part 91 flight departments again. Now I understood the issues that caused American Eagle and Cape Air to bail on my town, and quite a few others.

And my local flight schools? The ones that can handle foreign students are thriving. But they aren’t teaching a lot of younger locals, the guys who used to work their way up to airline flying by flight instructing and flying charters or night freight. The new ATP rule has been like a shot to the ribs for those guys, and they are rethinking career aspirations, just at the moment when airlines are about to need them the most. How ironic.

At the crux of the problem is who will pay for this new, expensive training. It is clear that the young pilots aren’t interested in carrying the student loan debt forward into the first or second decade of their working lives. Who would be?

The idea of paying pilots more for the experience was broached once more, but ultimately the panel concluded that adversity and much lobbying will force Congress to pressure FAA to create more exceptions to the new ATP rules.  I’m skeptical—how about you?

Lindbergh and Embry-Riddle Team up on Electric Flight

Monday, April 28th, 2014

That is, Lindbergh and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) are teaming up to research and develop electric light aircraft if the FAA will come around on its recent proposal to practically exclude electric powered aircraft completely from the general aviation experience (see report from AOPA by clicking here) in the U.S. It’s an odd restriction, given the push for more sustainable and affordable propulsion technologies going on in general aviation around the world.

Need proof? Take a look at the excellent reporting on the recent Aero Friedrichshafen air show, held annually in Friedrichshafen, Germany. If you want to see aircraft teetering on the bleeding edge of alternative energy propulsion, that is the place to go.

Lindbergh flies the E-Spyder

Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles and Ann Morrow Lindbergh, tapped into that energy years ago because it dovetailed nicely with the green emphasis of his family’s foundation, the Lindbergh Foundation. Yet, his Powering Imagination initiative takes a new step.

“It is critical to create a sustainable future for aviation,” he said, announcing the new program. “Emissions and noise are issues that are causing increasing restrictions on aviation around the world. Solving these challenges will ensure that future generations can share our dreams of flight.”

ERAU’s Professor Pat Anderson, Director of the Eagle Flight Research Center at Embry-Riddle and his students have been working on green flight for years in their Green Flight Program, so the new alliance is a natural for them. They’ve had experience with both a Swiftfuel powered Piper and an electric and solar powered Stemme.

The students and faculty at the ERAU Daytona Beach, Florida campus plan to swap the piston-engine in a Diamond HK36 motorglider to electric power and test it in noise-sensitive areas to demonstrate the potential benefits of electric or hybrid-electric propulsion for significantly reducing noise. The aircraft, which they expect will fly in mid-2015, will also be used for testing new components of electric engines under real-world flight conditions. This airborne test lab will enable more efficient R&D on electric power systems.

In 2016 Lindbergh plans to follow in the footsteps of his grandparents, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, by retracing their 1931 adventure across the United States, Canada, Siberia, Japan, and China, covering 8,000 nautical miles in a modern floatplane powered by alternative fuels.

It’s a wonderful plan, but first we need to make sure that electric powered and hybrid powered aircraft can do more than just be flying testbeds in the U.S.!

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.

 

‘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!

 

 

Preflight Your Passenger, Too!

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

I know you preflight your airplane before you fly. I know you even preflight your flight, by creating a flight plan of some sort (even if it is sketched on a Post-it or punched into your iPad app for a run around the neighborhood). You think over the length of the runways you intend to use, and, at the very least, ballpark the amount of fuel you have, versus what you need, and weight and balance on your intended aircraft. That’s in the good book, the FAR/AIM, and we all have to do it.

But did you know that preflighting your passengers is also in that book? And why not? According to NTSB data, the best thing that ever happened to passengers who survive aviation accidents worldwide was that passenger safety briefing they heard at the very beginning of the flight. They say, to a man, that in the midst of the chaos of the event they remembered something from that safety briefing, complied, and lived. Simple as that.

Airlines know it. In fact, airlines these days are so sure that the passenger safety briefing is an effective tool that they have handed the task of keeping the briefings interesting enough to grab passenger attention over to marketing. The results are some pretty funny passenger safety briefings—some kitschy enough to garner mention in the New York Times and go viral as YouTube videos.

Now, I’m not saying that you need to hire an ad agency to create a passenger safety briefing that will have your precious cargo chuckling as the buckle up, but, hey, most of us do fly with friends and family, and we do want them to survive any incident or accident that might happen. And if you are one of those pilots who is absolutely positive that an accident could never happen to you? Well, then, consider the passenger safety briefing as a means for getting your passengers to become a helpful part of your crew.

A typical GA aircraft briefing card.

A typical GA aircraft briefing card.

Sure, you could create a pre-fab card, as some companies have done, and just tell them to read it, but extensive data shows that the best safety briefing is a demo. So, show them how to buckle and unbuckle their seatbelt, how to adjust the seats (upright for takeoff and landing for a better egress). Make sure passengers sitting by a door or emergency exit are capable of opening the door (and in the case of a light airplane where doors sometimes pop open in flight, how to close it!). Point out the location of the fire extinguisher and first aid kit, and talk about how to use them, too. Got oxygen onboard? Go over it with your passenger, and mention what hypoxia looks like and feels like. Tell your passenger that you don’t want idle conversation during taxi, takeoff, approach and landing, but that you do want to be notified if they see conflicting air traffic. And make sure they understand and can demonstrate to you how to operate any passenger entertainment system you might carry onboard, so that you won’t be called on to operate it, distracting you from your real mission of flying the airplane.

Finally, vary your script according to the mission. If you are flying overwater, be sure t0 demonstrate the use of personal flotation devices (you’ve got them, right?). Got a raft? Designate a capable passenger to make sure it comes out of the airplane with them, as you’ll be pretty busy. Flying over mountainous terrain? Carry a survival kit, and again, designate a passenger to make sure it gets out of the airplane with you.

As much as we like to think we fly for our own pleasure, many of us, I’d say most of us love sharing the experience with others. You might think that a thorough passenger briefing will frighten a newbie to private flying, but my experience has been just the opposite. My passengers tell me that the briefing is empowering, and that having the information it imparts makes them feel safer, because they know, if there’s a problem, they can contribute to the solution.

 

Getting 2014 Off to a Flying Start

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
Sometimes a pilot just needs to be airborne to realign his / her perspective.

Sometimes a pilot just needs to be airborne to realign his / her perspective.

It’s breezy, bright, and marvelously chilly outside. It’s my favorite time of year, and the air makes me want to go fly. Sometimes the pilot in me just needs reminding that the world, when seen from above, is an amazing place. Days like today, especially when they arrive at the first of a new year, can really adjust one’s attitude in a meaningful and lasting way.

I know my airplanes love this weather as much as I do, too. The dry, cool, dense air is better for engines to gulp and burn, and even provides more lift (that stiff breeze on my nose for takeoff doesn’t hurt, either).

But where to, and why? On a perfect VFR winter day in Florida the destination possibilities are many. A 20-minute jaunt north and I can be walking distance from a Venice beach. A 30-minute skip south puts me on the lip of the Everglades National Park and in range of some of the best stone crab in the country. If I need something more exotic or action-packed I can be in Key West or Miami in an hour (less with today’s north wind). As for why – it’s because I need to fly. After all, proficiency is perishable.

For that reason I try and pick venues for my little winter cross countries that can test my skills in a variety of ways. One flight might be to a well-maintained turf runway, or could include a little crosswind practice or short field work. On another I’ll take a safety pilot so I can practice a bit of IFR navigation, steer through some holding patterns and perform an approach or two at the airport before landing there for a tasty lunch at the on field restaurant.

To keep the costs of my winter excursions from cutting into my summer long cross-country funds I often pull the throttle back and lean wisely. That’s especially true when strong winds are concerned. With careful power / mixture management I can easily fly these short routes at 50 % power. It costs me just a little time. I think of it this way: if I’m practicing a holding pattern and an approach as part of the flight I clearly have some time to spare. I also pick my destinations carefully, looking for airports where landing and parking fees are low, or are waived with a small fuel purchase, or if you have a meal at the airport restaurant.

As I write this I hear the throaty rumble of a big Continental engine roaring through a takeoff from the runway that sits not one-half mile away from my office. Hmmm…the day is still young…time to get 2014 off to a flying start. See you out there!