Archive for the ‘Business aviation’ Category

Time for a Shakeup

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Last November the Federal Air Surgeon, Fred Tilton, unilaterally declared that mandatory screening for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in pilots would begin “shortly.”

The initial BMI threshold would be 40, with an ominous vow that “once we have appropriately dealt with every airman examinee who has a BMI of 40 or greater, we will gradually expand the testing pool by going to lower BMI measurements until we have identified and assured treatment for every airman with OSA.”

Tilton noted that “up to 30% of individuals with a BMI less than 30 have OSA”. Between the fact that people with normal-range BMIs have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and his apparent zest for uncovering “every” airman with OSA, logic dictates that the eventual threshold would be in the mid-20s, if not lower.

The aviation community was up in arms pretty quickly, and for good reason. For one thing, the mid-20s are the upper end of the normal BMI range. It’s also worth noting that even the World Health Organization acknowledges that the BMI scale was never designed for application to individual people, but rather for statistical modeling of entire populations. BMI is based solely on weight and height, so it does not account for differing body types. Nor does it obey the law of scaling, which dictates that mass increases to the 3rd power of height.

In plain English, a bigger person will always have a higher BMI even if they are not any fatter. This penalizes tall individuals, as well as bodybuilders and athletes who are in prime physical shape by assigning them absurdly high BMI numbers. Likewise, short people are misled into thinking that they are thinner than they are.

Nevertheless, Tilton declared his intention to press on anyway, without any industry input or following established rulemaking procedures despite the fact that this scavenger hunt would break invasive new ground in aeromedical certification.

Then, even the Aviation Medical Examiners objected to the new policy, noting that “no scientific body of evidence has demonstrated that undiagnosed obesity or OSA has compromised aviation safety” and that providing long term prognoses is not part of the FAA’s job. The medical certification exists soley to “determine the likelihood of pilot incapacitation for the duration of the medical certificate.”

Without the support of the civil aviation medicine community, Tilton was literally standing alone. At that point, Congress jumped into the fray on the pilot community’s behalf and eventually forced the Air Surgeon to back down… for now.

While the battle may have been won, the war is far from over. Mark my words, this is not the last you’ll hear about this bogeyman. Tilton may be forced to consult with the aviation community or follow a rulemaking procedure of some sort, but his zeal for the topic means OSA screening will be back in one form or another.

To effectively combat such overreach, we’ve got to attack the problem from its true source. In this case, the Air Surgeon’s ammunition came from National Transportation Safety Board recommendations issued in the wake of a 2008 regional airline flight which overflew its destination by 26 miles when both pilots fell asleep.

… the National Transportation Safety Board recommends that the Federal Aviation Administration:

Modify the Application for Airman Medical Certificate to elicit specific information about any previous diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea and about the presence of specific risk factors for that disorder. (A-09-61)

Implement a program to identify pilots at high risk for obstructive sleep apnea and require that those pilots provide evidence through the medical certification process of having been appropriately evaluated and, if treatment is needed, effectively treated for that disorder before being granted unrestricted medical certification. (A-09-62)

The NTSB serves a useful purpose in assisting transportation disaster victims and investigating accidents, but when it comes to safety recommendations, the agency operates in a kind of vacuum, divorced from some of the most pressing realities of the modern general aviation world. The reason is simple: their mission statement. It calls for the Board to “independently advance transportation safety” by “determining the probable cause of the accidents and issuing safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents.”

While there’s nothing objectionable about their mission, note how there’s no mention of the cost these recommendations impose on those of us trying to make a go of it in the flying industry. Since it’s not part of their mission statement, it is not a factor the Board takes into account. It doesn’t even appear on their radar. The Board’s federal funding and their lack of rulemaking authority negates any such considerations. So a sleep apnea study costs thousands of dollars — so what? If it prevents one pilot from falling asleep in the cockpit in next half century, it’s well worth the decimation to an already down-and-out sector of the economy.

That’s been the logic for the NTSB since it was conceived by the Air Commerce Act in 1926. It worked well when aerospace safety was at its nadir — but that was nearly ninety years ago. As air transportation evolved during the 20th century, attempts at increasing safety have reached the point of diminishing returns and exponentially increasing cost. At some point the incessant press toward a perfect safety record will make aviating such a sclerotic activity that it will, in effect, cease.

It’s a problem for any industry, and it’s especially so for one that’s teetering on the edge of oblivion the way ours is. The good news is that this can be fixed. It’s time to shake things up at the NTSB by revising their mission statement to make cost analysis a major part of the Board’s function. They should work with stakeholders to carefully study the long-term effect each recommendation would have on the health and size of the aviation industry before they make it.

For what it’s worth, the FAA needs this mission statement adjustment just as much as the NTSB. More, in fact, because the NTSB can recommend anything it wishes, but the regulatory power to act upon those suggestions is outside their purview and rests with the Federal Aviation Administration. From medical approval to burdensome aircraft certification rules, the FAA is the hammer. We have to start somewhere, though, and the NTSB is in many ways the top of the heap, the place where these ideas get their start. It would be nice to see the industry’s lobbyists in Washington, D.C. suggest such a bill to members of Congress.

One final thought: if government’s power really does derive from the “consent of the governed”, this should be an idea even the NTSB (and FAA) can get behind. Otherwise, they may convene one day and find that there’s not much of an industry left for them to prescribe things to.

Flying Careers: Choose Wisely!

Monday, December 30th, 2013

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

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

I even know a few who fly for airlines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So… where do you belong?

Expectation Bias

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winning the Common Battle

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Aviators have many things in common. We all deal with the unrelenting force of gravity, no matter what we fly or why we engage in the technology of flight. When we enter the airspace, the elements of wind, moisture and density treat us the same. Whether motivated to go aloft by pleasure or profit, we all need the proficiency to win our battle over the forces of nature.

Business Aviation garners much attention these days as the scheduled airlines engage in a practice they call capacity discipline, which is designed to increase airline load-factors and profitability on available flights. Anyone who has booked a trip on scheduled air carriers recognizes that there are fewer choices now compared with several years ago. In the last five to six years, even as the economy has improved, departures from major hub cities have been reduced by nearly nine percent. Secondary and smaller airports with scheduled service have been hit more dramatically, with departures reduced by over 21 percent. Finding seats on flights is difficult without ample lead time, and airliners often are full (if not overbooked). Furthermore, scheduled airlines service can be found only to about one out of every 10 airports in the entire USA. More important to business travelers, convenient schedules are available to approximately 50 hub cities.

Thus it is understandable that Business Aviation—the use of a General Aviation aircraft for business transportation—is starting to grow once again. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) just admitted its 10,000 member company, TCB Air, LLC, which serves two manufacturers that jointly own a Beechcraft King Air C90A for the transport of sales, engineering and other Staff to customer sites thought out the country.

Unlike AOPA, NBAA focuses on company membership rather than offering membership status to individuals. It is significant, however, that many of the companies that belong to NBAA have one or more aviation personnel who also belong to AOPA. Fortunately for the entire General Aviation community, AOPA and NBAA have an honorable and successful tradition of working together to assure access to airports and airspace and to guard against unwarranted user fees.

The two associations also have active programs to promote safety. AOPA’s Air Safety Institute provides a wealth of educational materials that are applicable to all aviators, regardless of hours flown or type ratings earned. Embracing the ASI’s pamphlets and seminars is an excellent way to learn and stay current. NBAA’s leadership role in promoting the International Standard-Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) offers a process-management approach to safety that provides insightful direction to everyone who flies. The pleasure pilot can benefit greatly from developing his or her own personal operations manual along the lines promoted by IS-BAO for sophisticated flight departments.

In our quest to fly safely, efficiently and successfully in all aviation endeavors—be the purpose business or pleasure—we are wise to understand the resources of our aviation associations such as AOPA and NBAA. These organizations are our best means of maintaining a friendly relationship with the forces of nature.

Fly it Forward! The Williamson Flying Club inspires the love of flight & educates their business community.

Friday, October 25th, 2013

It is not every day that we hear about dedicated volunteers who think outside the box to inspire the love of aviation and to educate members of the business community. However that is just what the Williamson Flying Club has done in western New York. I dare you not to be inspired after reading about this engaged group of volunteers at KSDC Williamson-Sodus airport. Take their lead and find ways at your local ‘drome to get into the spotlight.

The Williamson Flying Club

Founded in nearly sixty years ago by five local pilots, the Williamson Flying Club [WFC] purchased land in the nearby town of Sodus to establish an airport in 1957.  Beginning as a small grass strip, the airport now is the 7th largest General Aviation airport in New York State, with approximately 70 based aircraft, 50 hangars, a 3800′ runway with GPS RNAV approaches, AWOS and a fuel farm. Managed by the Board of Directors of the Williamson Flying Club, the airport is a public-use reliever airport and is the only hard-surfaced runway in the county.  It boasts over 25,000 operations per year.  On field business include the club-managed FBO, and two maintenance facilities.  According to New York State economic development reports, the airport contributes $2.3 Million to the local economy and $115,000 in school, property and state and local taxes.  All of this comes at no cost to the local towns, county or county taxpayers.

In 2013 the Williamson Flying Club created the Williamson Flying Club Aviation & Aviation Sciences Scholarship awarded to a graduating high school student who chooses post-secondary study in an aviation-related field at a college, university or trade school.  The scholarship is $1,000, payable in $250 amounts each year over four years, or $500 each year for two-year programs.

Williamson Flying Club

Pictured, left to right, Jake DeGroote (Founding Member), Stephen Murray (Secretary), Sheila Sperr, John Sperr, Paul Sperr (Scholarship Winner), Joe Ebert (President) and Bob Herloski (Treasurer).

Scholarship winner Paul Sperr received a certificate and will be receiving $1000 over the course of his four years of study at the University of Buffalo. Paul is a 2013 graduate of the Williamson High School.

Paul was valedictorian and he will be majoring in Aerospace Engineering.  In addition to the scholarship funds, Paul also received a membership in the Williamson Flying Club, and they have invited him to use his membership to learn more about aviation, meet pilots and mechanics and maybe some day, start taking flying lessons.

 

 

The WFC shows the value of an airport to the business community

Photo Credit: Joe Ebert

Attendees received a promotional bag, pen and wine with custom label.

Williamson-Sodus Airport [KSDC] was invited by the Wayne County, New York, Economic Development/Industrial Development Agency to present an overview of the airport’s economic impact to the region to a group of about sixty decision-makers which included local town and government leaders, state and federal representatives, county tourism, planning and economic development officials.  Local business leaders,bankers and real estate developers also attended.

The day-long event began at the airport, with County Supervisor Jim Hoffman welcoming the attendees.  The airport presentation followed, which discussed the size, scope and capabilities of the airport, the airport land that is available for compatible non-aviation development, as well as the obligations the airport has to remain an airport “in perpetuity”, due to grant assurance obligations.  As club President Joe Ebert remarked, “from an economic development standpoint, it’s important that potential investors who make decisions based on the presence of an airport have confidence that the airport will be there in 5, 10, 20 or 30 years or more!”

Each attendee boarded the bus that took the group on a tour of the region to learn more about the region’s economy and opportunities for economic development.  Attendees were given a canvas airport logo’d bag to carry all the items they would gather that day, a copy of the presentation and a nifty airport logo’d pen.

Custom wine labels featuring airport

Custom wine labels featuring airport. Photo Credits: Joe Ebert

When the group returned to the airport, having just completed a wine tasting at Young Sommer winery just a few miles down the road,  each participant was surprised with a split of an award-winning fruit-blended wine from the winery, custom labeled for the airport.

The “Fab Five” who created the Williamson-Sodus airport had vision, passion and perseverance.  It seems to me that nearly sixty years since its inception, the flame has not flickered.  The scholarship entices the youth, the wine might entice the long in the tooth, but the educational and economic value to the community is boundless.  Airports such as KSDC prove that they are good neighbors and an asset to the surrounding communities.

Now it is time for you to think out of the box.  As I am fond of saying, there are three kinds of people: those who watch their lives happen, those who make their lives happen, and those who wonder how life happens.  The Williamson Flying Club made it happen.  You can too.

 

News Flash: Stick & Rudder Skills Are Important

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

AVweb’s Glenn Pew interviewed Embry-Riddle professor and former Northwest captain Jack Panosian in a podcast entitled “Avionics — Good Pilots Not Required?”.  It’s an inflammatory title, no doubt to encourage people to dive for that “play” button.  Obviously it worked, because I listened to the whole thing.

Panosian has an impressive resume:  20 years at Northwest, 5 years at ERAU, and he’s got a Juris Doctorate as well.  Nevertheless, while I agreed with some of what he said, certain portions of his thesis seem way off base.

I’ll summarize his points:

    • automation used to monitor human pilots, but today it’s the other way around: we are monitoring the computers these days, and we’re not very good at it
    • computers are good monitors, they do it the same way every time, with the same level of diligence
    • stick & rudder skills are less important than avionics management skill and we need to teach with that in mind

The first two points may be correct (I’ll get to the third one later), but computers don’t “monitor”, they simply execute programming.  There’s a big difference there. It’s true that when people monitor the same thing over and over again, we cannot maintain the same vigilance ad nauseum. But when humans monitor something, they’re capable of doing so with thoughtful and reasoned analysis.  Humans can think outside the box.  They can adapt and prioritize based on what’s actually happening rather than being limited by their programming.

Computers are not capable of that. Remember, system failures are not always covered by the aircraft operating procedures or training, and that’s why safe flight still requires human input and oversight. We are also capable of putting more focus on our monitoring during critical phases of flight. For example, I watch airspeed and flight path with much greater attention during approach than I typically will during cruise.

It’s also worth considering that, despite all the automation, humans still manually perform the takeoff, landing, taxi phases, as well as fly the airplane when the computers get confused or take the day off.   These are the areas where most accidents happen.  Air France 447 stalled up in the flight levels and remained in that state until reaching the ocean.  Colgan 3407 was another stall accident.  Asiana 214 was a visual approach gone wrong. Better manual flying skill might very well have made the difference in at least some of these accidents.

Glenn Pew asked, “How much of flying the airplane is flying the avionics?”, and Panosian replied that “the greatest innovation was the moving map”, giving an example of synthetic vision showing terrain at night.  In my experience, a moving map is no guarantee of situational awareness.  I’ve trained many pilots to fly VFR and IFR in glass panel Cirruses, DiamondStars, experimentals, and so on.  I can’t tell you how many of them had no idea where they were, even with a 10″ full color moving map directly in front of them. When asked the simple question, “Where are we right now?”, you’d be surprised how many have a tough time coming up with an answer.

Does that seem odd to you? It shouldn’t. Situational awareness is not about the map in front of your eyes, it’s about the moving map inside your head.  If you want evidence of that, look at the 2007 CFIT crash of a CAP Flight 2793, a C-182T Skylane which ran into high terrain near Las Vegas.  That flight was piloted by two highly experienced pilots who were familiar with the area, had a G1000 panel in front of them, and still managed to fly into Mt. Potosi.

Panosian made the point that the Airbus was designed to be flown on autopilot “all the time — it was not designed to be flown by hand.  It was designed so that it’s a hassle to be flown by hand”.  Some business jets have similar characteristics. Who would want to hand fly the airplane straight and level for hours on end anyway? The light GA arena has an equivalent as well, the Cirrus SR20 and SR22. I enjoy hand flying them, actually, but the airplane has a somewhat artificial feel due to the springs in the flight control system. It was purposefully designed to fly long distances on autopilot. It’s very good at that mission. It’s well equipped, and has plenty of safety equipment aboard. TAWS, traffic, CAPS, a solid autopilot, good avionics… and yet the Cirrus’s accident rate is not better than average.

I don’t believe the answer is to make the pilot a better manager of automation. This will not stop CFIT, stall/spin, weather, and takeoff or landing accidents.

“The Good news is that we have a generation of pilots that have grown up with this technology, these tablets, etc. and they grab hold of these things better than the older pilot who was trained on the round dials.  That’s a good thing because now you’re just molding them into the aviation world and this is how you’ll operate the aircraft.”

I’m a big proponent of glass panels, tablets, and technology. They’re great. But they do not make one a good pilot. If you want a better pilot, start primary students off in a tailwheel airplane and ensure they know how to fly before doing anything else. Everything should flow out of that. I wouldn’t expect this to be a revolutionary idea, but perhaps it is.

“You are not going to be hired because of your stick and rudder skills.  You will be hired because of your management skills.”

A good aviator needs both sets of skills.  Management ability is important, but no more so than stick-and-rudder capability.  If you can’t physically fly the airplane during any or all phases of flight, you don’t belong in the cockpit because any equipment issues during those phases can leave the aircraft without someone capable of safely operating it.  Pilots who can’t proficiently hand-fly are passengers.  Console operators.  Button pushers.  System monitors (dog not included). But they’re not pilots.

“In other words, can you manage all these systems, can you manages the information you’re getting and make sure that the airplane is doing what it’s supposed to do?  The fact of the matter is that we’ve see this in other industries.  It’s hardly unique to the airline industry.  A robot can do a better job of welding than a human.  An autopilot has many more sensors than a human hand does.  They can be done better and safer than a human being, but they must be monitored properly. That’s where the training comes in.  We have to change from the stick & rudder skills to the manager skills.  That’s what we’re trying to do.”

The problem with his comparison is that flying an airplane is not like welding.  Welding does not require you to manage the energy state of a large chunk of metal hurling through the air while maintaining situational awareness, staying ahead of the aircraft mentally, and adjusting for countless variables ranging from weather to traffic to equipment failures to controllers, often all at the same time and at the end of a long work day. Doing all those things does constitute “management”, but I don’t think it’s the kind Mr. Panosian is referring to.

And as far as the autopilot is concerned, it’s extraordinarily simplistic to compare a full autopilot system to a single human hand.  What about the rest of the body? What about the vestibular labyrinthine system and resultant equilibrioception?  There’s proprioception, thermoception, etc. (Look ‘em up — I had to!). And that’s to say nothing of our sense of sight, hearing, touch, and smell.  We use those when we fly, even without direct knowledge of what our body is doing.  How many times have you noticed a subtle vibration from a prop or engine, the sound of a leaking seal around a door, the sense of something just not being quite right?

Autopilots do some things better than a human. Automation is helpful and absolutely has it’s place. But it is no substitute for a flesh-and-blood pilot who knows how to fly the machine.

What say you, readers?

Proficiency: A way of life

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Some clichés contain solid truths.  Regarding Business Aviation, a saying attributed to Confucius comes to mind:  Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.  Rarely—never might be more accurate—will you find an aviator who flies for a living saying that he or she became a salaried pilot because of family pressures or the expectation to make millions.  They choose aviation out of a passion for the field.  Furthermore, that love of flying most likely began at an early age.

Being a professional pilot is not easy.  Those who pursue that field must pay their dues—intense training, long days laboring in the vineyards (so to speak), selecting areas of operation that often are far removed from home and hearth.  Obtaining the knowledge and skill to be successful in professional aviation is expensive in money and time.  Those sufficiently fortunate to be admitted to a military aviation program commit to a decade or more of service.  Aviators who enter the profession from a civilian track invest considerable funds as well as years of “building time”.   Their commitment is Confucius’ wisdom personified.

Mostly, the professional aviator must develop a proficiency in aeronautical knowledge and skill that is sufficient to deal with the many challenges of flight.  Mastering the latest in technology found in today’s business jet requires in-depth training and understanding.  Possessing the skill to smoothly (and obviously successfully) negotiate an instrument approach at an unfamiliar airfield is the stuff of real-world accomplishment.   Knowledge and skill, maintained at the highest level of currency, are necessary requirements for the professional aviator.

Similarly, a high level of proficiency is required for all who fly.  While the private pilot enjoying the pleasure of flying a Top Cub on a CAVU day requires a different tool box of knowledge and skill than does the captain of a business jet operating internationally, in each case the pilot’s proficiency must be aligned with the flight’s requirements.  All aviators are wise to embrace the professional’s respect for flight and dedication to being prepared.

The “Sunday Pilot” can learn from the “Seasoned Professional”.  The need for relevant proficiency is universal.   The opportunity for professionals to serve as aeronautical role models is real and fulfilling.

It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s business

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

As one who flies everything from light singles to large-cabin jets for a living, I’ve wondered why American business is so timid about extolling the virtues of corporate aviation. They know the benefits better than anyone, yet it’s virtually unheard of for any firm large enough to have a corporate aircraft to crow about what it does for them.

Despite programs like “No Plane/No Gain” and “GA Serves America”, a solid defense of business aviation to anything other than an aviation-friendly audience is rare. It’s perplexing, because the facts are wholly in their favor.

The most egregious example of a missed opportunity was in 2008. Incidentally, it was also the event which started the mainstream vilification of business aviation in the first place. If you recall, CEOs of the Big Three automakers — Ford, GM, and Chrysler — appeared before the House Financial Services Committee to appeal for a $25 billion dollar federal bailout.

They had each flown to Washington via private jet and were excoriated by the committee for it. So much so, in fact, that the next time they testified before Congress, they drove themselves from Detroit to Washington, D.C.

Imagine if, instead of remaining silent, Ford CEO Alan Mulally had explained that Ford Motor Company has assembly plants, parts warehouses, suppliers, dealerships, design centers, test tracks, and racing teams all over the planet. The company operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and when an engineering fault is discovered on a factory floor, it can idle that entire plant until the flaw is fixed. It requires engineers, and how are they supposed to get there? On an airliner?

Sure, send your team to the airport to take an inconveniently timed flight. They’ll have to be there two hours in advance so they can clear security, then if they’re lucky and the flight is not delayed, they eventually arrive at a major hub and then transfer to another aircraft that still won’t get them as close to the plant as a business jet could (fact: there are more than 10 times as many GA fields as there are airports served by the airlines). That makes no sense when an idled plant can cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars every hour it’s shut down. Unless you’re a politician, of course.

Or when a NASCAR, NHRA, Grand-Am, or rally team sponsored and/or powered by Ford calls needing a part or because they’re having trouble with that Ford engine before a race, forget about sending support personnel and parts on the corporate jet. Send it UPS. Sure, it won’t get there until it’s too late to qualify, but hey, there are only a few million fans watching that race on TV. So the Ford logo won’t appear, who cares. It’s not like that costs money, right?

Ford is competing against increasingly efficient companies from South Korea, Japan, and many other places. They have to turn out the best designs and put them into production as quickly and efficiently as possible. Time is money, and business jets give Ford it’s edge (no pun intended), to say nothing of the fact that Ford has been involved in the aviation industry for as long as that industry has existed.

The Ford Trimotor was the first really successful airliner and is an important enough part of aviation history that one hangs in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Ford manufactured thousands of airplanes during World War II, at one point cranking out a B-24 bomber every hour. Ford started an airline and had its own airport (which by the way hosted the first paved runway in the world). In 1909 Henry Ford helped build his first airplane. The Thunderbird and Mustang were named after airplanes.

You can’t separate Ford Motor Company from the history of aviation, past or present. They wouldn’t have been successful without it in the past and cannot achieve greatness in the future without it, either. That’s what Mulally should have said.

As far as C-level executives are concerned, they aren’t the primary users of corporate jets. That’s just a fact. But when executives do use the company jet, it’s not only the most efficient way to travel, but it actually saves money. For one thing, CEOs at that level don’t travel alone. They bring people with them. They work on the airplane. And when you add up the total cost of last-minute, first class round-trip tickets for all those people (don’t forget taxes and fees!), the business jet suddenly becomes much more cost effective.

Think about what a CEO makes on an hourly basis. If he works 60 hours a week, Mulally’s then-$24 million annual salary breaks down at about $7,750 per hour. He’s probably traveling with people who make another few hundred dollars per collective hour. Let’s call it $9,000/hour total. Does it make sense to have them working aboard the airplane where they have access to secured Internet, company intranet, and telephone service? Or are the firm and its shareholders better served by having them sit in a crowded airline terminal where it’s too loud and public to discuss company business?

As if this isn’t enough, while government representatives are belittling corporate America for their use of business jets, that very same government is busy buying and flying the largest and most expensive corporate jets on the planet for their own use.

In August of 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. government had three 737s, two Gulfstream Vs, and eighteen other aircraft in the Washington, D.C. area for Congressional use. The government at this point was already spending in excess of $1,000,000,000,000.00 (that’s a lot of zeros!) more than it received every single year. Government finances were in a worse place than any automotive company, so you’d think the Members of Congress would be ditching their business jets.

Au contraire. They were authorizing the purchase of eight additional jets for a cool $550 million.

It’s a shame members of the House committee weren’t queried about that. It should be brought up, along with the many benefits of business aviation, every single time the issue is raised by the media. Better yet, the very users of those airplanes should be shouting it from the rooftops, because with China, India, Brazil, and South Korea investing heavily in their aviation industries and infrastructure, it won’t be long before their competitiveness surpasses our own.

And that’s going to be a problem, my friends, no matter what you fly.

Gravity challenges all who fly

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

It is human nature, I suppose, to compartmentalize activities—to classify them as unique while discounting what they have in common.  Perhaps such segregation offers some feeling of being special.   As an example, consider aviation.  We often separate this broadly interconnected field into specific activities:  Airlines, Military, General, Utility, Sport, Ultra-light, and probably others that we have yet to pigeonhole—each with its own attributes and advocates.  The captain of an Airbus 380 ranks higher on aviation’s food chain than the charter pilot carrying passengers in a Piper Navajo.  The professional aviator somehow has more of what Tom Wolfe called “The Right Stuff” than someone who flies for pleasure.

When broaching the subject of trends within today’s aviation community, a respected colleague commented that he notes signs of separatism among different aviation groups.  If you were not operating heavy iron, he observed, some in aviation argued that you were not really in the realm of Business Aviation.  Others say, he continued, that the minimum entry requirement for the BA club was at least a twin turboprop, and aviators who flew for sport argued they had little in common with those who flew for a living.

I trust such segregating attitudes are not commonplace, and if they are we can change them before our community is hurt.  Aviators share a special respect for the privilege of flight.  The omnipresent force of gravity treats all objects equally, and countering its force requires knowledge, skill and great attention to detail.  Each aircraft presents its own challenges.   Such is the universality of aviation, and all who go aloft as pilot in command share that ethos.

Reflecting the universality of flight, Business Aviation is simply using a general aviation aircraft for business transportation.  It is not a function of the aircraft’s size or performance.  Thus, in my opinion, the owner pilot who is able to use his single-engine Cessna to cover his sales territory is a much of a business aviator as the captain of a G-650 flying to Asia.  Obviously their book of knowledge is different—it must be—but their use of aviation is similar.  And their need to be proficient also is similar.  Regardless of what we fly, we have an obligation to our family, our passengers, and ourselves to be safe and fly proficiently.

I think a separatist attitude toward aviation limits the vast opportunity that being an aviator offers.   Rather, we should look for what is common among all form of aviation and celebrate the universality of what it means to be an aviator.  As aviators engaged in an endeavor we know to have great value, we should share our knowledge and love of flight with others who fly.