Archive for the ‘GA community’ Category

Community Events Make Airport Good Neighbor Pt.1

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

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

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

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

Friends of Oceano Airport Toys for Tots

Friends of Oceano Airport, Toys for Tots

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

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

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

Make airport events fun

Make airport events fun!

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

‘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!

 

 

In support of Light Sport Aircraft (LSA)

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Only days after the final AOPA Summit in 2013, Cessna dropped the news that the Skycatcher was history. No longer would the GA giant put their significant corporate muscle into developing a following for their C-162, the only aircraft the company produced that was aimed at the light sport market. In keeping with the international flair of the airplane which was designed by an American company and built in China, when Cessna CEO Scott Ernest said the airplane had no future he might as well have used the German expression, “Es ist tot.”

The Skycatcher is dead. At least it’s dead as far as Cessna is concerned.

That’s not the end of the story, however. Not by a long shot. This is Cessna we’re talking about after all. The big dog of the general aviation industry. The company by which virtually all other general aircraft manufacturers are measured. There’s hardly an airport in North America that doesn’t sport a wide a assortment of Cessna aircraft on the ramp, in the hangars, and in the sky above. When the news broke that Cessna was pulling out of the light sport market, tongues started wagging.

Contributing to the overall sense of curiosity in the industry was that the announcement came only weeks prior to the US Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida. That event has been growing and finding new converts for more than a decade now. Unique among aviation events, it’s not an airshow and it’s not a fly-in. It’s a product exposition that puts potential customers in close proximity to the machines they’re thinking of buying. Demo flights are undertaken, questions and asked and answered, tires are kicked and aircraft are sold. Yes, aircraft are sold. That’s the whole point of the show, really.

So what’s a general aviation pilot to think of the light sport market these days? The mixed messages I’ve just given you are really all the majority of the pilot population has to go on. Cessna’s out, and a whole bunch of little known names are in.

Feel free to scratch your head in wonder. You won’t be alone, I assure you.

The reality is, Light Sport is alive and well. The aircraft are increasingly finding their way on to flight lines across the continent and the world at large. Those who fly them find the meager fuel burn and the lighter touch of reduced regulatory intrusion to be a beneficial factor in their decision making. Yet still, Light Sport Aircraft and the light sport pilot certificate remain largely misunderstood by the majority of the pilot population. So let’s dispel some rumors and get on with the business of growing the industry, shall we?

Light Sport Aircraft are not flimsy, poorly designed, poorly built tin cans. In fact, the ASTM (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) standard for the design and construction of light sports is in many ways superior to the old CAR 3 standard that so many of our legacy aircraft were designed and built under. For the purposes of comparison, it’s worth noting that both the Piper Cub and the Cessna 172 were originally CAR 3 certified aircraft.

The sport pilot certificate is not a dumbed down version of the private pilot certificate. For those who wish to verify this claim you need look no farther than an FAA Sport Pilot PTS and compare it to an FAA Private Pilot PTS. Because the sport pilot is prohibited from flying at night or in instrument conditions, there are fewer tasks for the sport pilot to perform during their practical test – but the completion standards for every task that is common to both certificates is identical. Yes, identical. A short field landing for a sport pilot applicant is evaluated using the exact same criteria and tolerances required of a private pilot applicant.

Light Sport Aircraft do not all employ unreliable 2-stroke engines. In fact the most popular engine on the market today is the Rotax 912 family of powerplants. They’ve proven to be tough, reliable, fuel efficient, and capable of running just fine on unleaded auto fuel. Mogas. For those who are unfamiliar with the terms, that means the Rotax burns fewer gallons per hour while using less expensive fuel than the more traditional aircraft engines in the 80 – 100 horsepower range. Unleaded fuel. We can assume the EPA is pleased with this development.

Certificated flight instructors with an airplane rating are perfectly legal to instruct sport pilot students, and perform flight reviews for sport pilots. In fact a review of sport pilot privileges and limitations are a requirement of the FIRC (Flight Instructor Refresher Course) designed to bring CFIs up to speed on regulatory changes and instructional insights every two years.

Don’t let misconceptions, misunderstandings, and erroneous assumptions color your perception of what Light Sport is, and what it isn’t. Yes, Cessna got out of the Light Sport Aircraft business. That is no more relevant than it would be to assume that small, fuel efficient cares would disappear from the roads because Volkswagen stopped building or importing air-cooled Beetles into the United States in the mid-1970s. The Beetle still exists of course, in an alternate form. And there’s no guarantee Cessna won’t see a new opportunity to enter the LSA market somewhere down the road. In the meantime there are numerous manufacturers, both American and foreign, that are producing some excellent aircraft that fit well into the Light Sport Aircraft market. And pilots are transitioning into sport pilot at an encouraging rate, whether they’re new to aviation and logging their first PIC time, or they come from the cockpit of a transport category aircraft and are facing the reality of paying their own fuel bill for the first time in their lives.

Don’t count Light Sport Aircraft out. Don’t even consider the category to have the sniffles. LSAs were sold at the Expo in Sebring this year, as they do every year. The industry might in fact be considerably healthier and more viable than you ever dreamed. Truly!

Freedoms of the Air

Friday, February 7th, 2014
Bonnie, Laura, Camille ready for lift off

Bonnie, Laura, Camille ready for lift off

Recently I got the chance to talk with a good friend and Ambassador for General Aviation, Mike Jesch.  Mike is an American Airlines Captain, pilot for Angel Flight, LightHawk, and Cessnas to OSH, FAAST speaker, CFII, board member of Fullerton Pilots Association, you get the drift.

He and his family are hosting some foreign exchange students from the Agricultural University of Beijing, China, for a two week US holiday. Mike secretly hoped that it would work out to take the kids for a short ride in his Cessna 182, and indeed was a question he asked of the exchange program coordinator: Would it be okay to take the kids for an airplane ride? He was very relieved to receive an affirmative answer. The three girls, Bonnie, Camille, and Laura, were all very enthusiastic about this idea.

The day dawned clear and bright, and as they approached the airport and the airplanes came into view, he could see the excitement level increase on each of the girls’ faces.  He recalls, “When I opened the hangar door revealing my 1977 Cessna 182Q, the excitement reached a fever pitch. I walked them around the airplane, explaining my preflight inspection procedure, sampled the fuel, checked the oil, then showed them the cabin interior and gave them my passenger briefing. I reassured them that, at any point, if any of them were nervous, or scared, just let me know, and I’d land the airplane as soon as possible. They were still eager and willing, so we saddled up and started off.” As he lifted off the runway at Fullerton, CA [KFUL] and announced “…And, we’re flying!”, the pitch of their voices went up further still, and the smiles stretched from ear to ear! ”  The plan was to fly around the LA area, showing them the downtown area, Dodger Stadium, Griffith Park, the Hollywood sign, Malibu, Santa Monica, through the Mini Route down to Redondo Beach, around the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the Queen Mary, and back to Fullerton. From shortly after takeoff, their noses were pressed to the windows, and excited chatter passed back and forth, each pointing out one sight or another, and cameras clicking away.

The next day, Mike got a call from one of the other host parents of two freshman boys. Apparently, the girls had been communicating with their friends! The boys had expressed an interest in also going for an airplane ride.  So, on that night, after dinner, he drove all the kids back over to the airport.  He said, “The boys  were amazed when they saw the airplane for the first time.”  The usual pre-flight inspection and briefing ensued, and they were off.  Kelvin and Owen (joined by Mike’s daughter, Karen) were audibly excited, too, as they defied gravity and launched into the night sky. Astounded by the beauty of all the lights of the LA area, they were instantly transfixed. Mike negotiated a transition through the Los Alamitos Army Air Base to the shoreline, then turned right to fly over the port of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Spectacularly lit up at night, the boys appreciated the sight of the world’s largest port complex, where most of the goods imported from China arrive and are unloaded and shipped all over the country.

Image

Owen ,Camille, Karen, Bonnie, Mike, Laura and Kelvin

Mike reflected on the differences between general aviation in the United States versus China.  “All the kids were absolutely amazed that a private citizen such as myself could own an airplane, go and visit it at any time, take it up in the air whenever I want, even flying directly over the top of a local military base and weapons depot and the largest port complex in the world, at night, all without a mountain of paperwork and permission from the authorities. In all of China, there are not more than a couple hundred airplanes in private hands, yet here at my home base Fullerton Airport alone, we have over 200 airplanes. And we have hundreds of airports across this country that have even more.” He pondered this difference between our countries, and says he gained a new appreciation for the freedoms of the air that we enjoy in this country. Certainly we have issues to deal with, perhaps chief among them cost and regulation, but in spite of all the issues, the system of aviation we have here is still pretty darned good, and worth protecting. Worth celebrating. Worth using. And perhaps most importantly, worth sharing it, especially with those who live in a place where this is not possible. “I harbor no illusions that these young Chinese students will themselves have the opportunity to become pilots, or to own airplanes. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll have a conversation with some friends, perhaps even future leaders in China, and tell them about the time – you won’t believe this! – when they got to fly in a small private airplane in California, on a clear and beautiful winter evening” he says.

The conundrum of modern life

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

In all my years in aviation, I can’t recall ever visiting an airport or an aviation business that hasn’t been the object of noise complaints at some point. Some suffer the indignity of public outrage on a regular basis.

I find this odd.

Bear with me now. There’s a point to this.

I live in a suburban neighborhood less than two miles from the downtown of my small city. There is a train track that runs past my house. It lies roughly 200 yards from my bedroom window. I can truthfully report in all sincerity that a train has never woken me up or intruded on my daily routine. For a guy who often works from an office that’s tucked away in that railroad adjacent house, that’s saying something. On the other hand, with three crossings within a half mile of my house, the train whistle has woken me up literally hundreds if not thousands of times.

That whistle has woken up my wife, my kids, the neighbors, and anyone who might be visiting in the neighborhood, too. So what? As much as I dislike being woken up from a sound sleep, and as much as I wish it didn’t happen–I can’t say I didn’t see it coming.

I had to drive over that railroad track to get to the house when my wife and I were house shopping all those years ago. It didn’t escape our attention that the existence of tracks was a pretty good indicator that trains might travel along those rails now and then. We took the noise in stride, because the irritation factor of the train whistle was offset by the lower cost of the home.

There was a similar home for sale less than half a mile away. It was on a lake that connected to other lakes via a chain of canals. It was beautiful. It was also listed for twice as much as we paid for our current home.

Life is full of trade-offs. It just is. There’s no malice intended. The railroad is not at the heart of an evil plot to wake me and all my neighbors up from a deep sleep. Yet they do. And still we do not build barricades on the tracks; we don’t shine lasers in the engineer’s eyes as he passes. No matter how often we find the annoyance of freight trains a bother, we know our driveways are filled with cars that were transported to this far flung location on a train. The trusses in my roof were built of lumber that arrived here by train. In fact so many products and raw materials arrive in my general area by train that I can’t even begin to envision them all. But that’s no big deal. Those same products and materials arrive in your general vicinity by train, too.

My choice is clear. I could protest the whistle. I might choose to file petitions with the courts. I suppose it’s even possible that I might go so far as to assassinate the character of railroad executives in the press. But to what effect? If I am successful I’ll simply find it harder to get lumber, or a new automobile, or any number of necessary items. If can I find them, they’ll cost me more. And they’ll cost my neighbors more, too.

Would the trains really stop? No, probably not. The economy of population and need would require them to find another route. The train wouldn’t wake me up anymore. But the noise wouldn’t stop. It would just be transported to another part of town, another neighborhood, where it would rankle the residents of a new neighborhood.

Aviation is no different. There is an irritation factor for the neighbors. At least occasionally, we have to admit that’s true. But what of it? The air traffic isn’t descending into the local park and knocking over the ice cream stand. It’s headed for the airport, a confined area that’s designated specifically as the hub of air traffic for a given area. The neighbors knew there was an airport there. Just like my experience with the railroad, the existence of an airport is a reasonably good indicator of the likelihood of arriving or departing air traffic in the near future.

That’s the trade-off. In exchange for a convenient flight to vacation and business spots. In order to have overnight freight shipments available. To provide educational opportunities for the next generation of pilots, mechanics, administrators, and more – there is an airport. And the airport creates noise. Not insufferable, constant, unrelenting noise. No. It brings with it occasional, potentially irritating noise that we all recognize as being associated with airports.

So why do I bring all this up? Simple. I’m suggesting we change our tune, stop making the argument that airports aren’t noisy, or shouldn’t be noisy, or perhaps should adopt radical noise mitigation procedures to reduce noise levels. Rather, we should admit that airports are industrial areas that emit noise. Much like the railroad, or the highway, or shipping warehouse, or a police station, or a fire station, or a garbage truck. Yet no one would expect to be taken seriously if they suggested we should close all those other services down rather than accept the noise they make.

No. We like garbage pick-up, fire protection, crime prevention, independent travel over safe roads, and good paying jobs too much to shut all that down. Modern society just wouldn’t exist without all that–or the airport.

Let’s get off defense and start playing offense. That’s where we’re going to start putting points up on the big board.

Aviation in Pop Culture: Our First Step in Recruiting

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

talespin

How does one develop into an aviation geek? Is it something that develops as we grow up or is it that, to quote noted philosopher Lady GaGa, we are “Born this Way?” I’ve been pondering this issue over the last few weeks as I’ve recently been reunited with one of my favorite childhood movies, The Rocketeer. A comic book movie released before the onslaught of comic book movies, aviation makes up a large part of the setting and storyline. While not on the epic scale of The Avengers, the film is a fun trip to a fictional 1930s art deco California. Aviation was prominently featured in another integral part of my (limited by childhood) pop-culture life around the time of The Rocketeer‘s release: the television show TaleSpin. Re-imagining Jungle Book characters into bush pilots, the 43-episode series and its catchy theme song continues to hold a place of wonder and nostalgia in my heart.

My primary exposures to aviation came from two outlets: these two popular culture favorites and a bedroom window in a house under the approach path to Centennial Airport in Denver. I wasn’t lucky enough to have family that were pilots…but I was lucky enough to have family that supported my interest in the field. The Rocketeer and TaleSpin were a “hook” for my young mind, broadening my interest beyond toy cars to toy airplanes. That interest led to a sixth birthday party at the Stapleton Airport in Denver and an introductory flight lesson on the day after my tenth birthday at Centennial Airport.

In the months after Top Gun was released in 1986, the US Navy saw increased interest in naval careers, especially those in aviation. A recruiter at the time summed up the effect of the movie: “There seems to have been a big rush in those categories that I have to attribute to the movie. I’ve asked several of these individuals if they’ve seen the movie and if that’s why they came down to talk to us again and they’ve said ‘yes’.” A different audience than that of Saturday morning cartoons, yes, and another example of aviation in popular culture driving interest for people that otherwise wouldn’t had exposure to the field.

In some measure, my entire professional life can be tied back to a moderately successful comic book movie and 43-episode television series. Thanks to the mainstream success of Disney’s Planes and its associated merchandising, we now have another captive audience of young people that have been exposed to aviation. The stories of Baloo the bush pilot and Cliff the Rocketeer were enough to captivate my attention at a young and impressionable age, just as the story of Dusty Crophopper captivate many kids today. In 1986, the US Navy took the unusual step of setting up recruiting booths outside of movie theaters to build on the increased interest from those leaving screenings of Top Gun. Were it not for a family that actively supported my interest in aviation at that young age and enabling further experiences, the Rocketeer and TaleSpin toys might have ended up relegated to the same place as my wannabe construction worker hard hat. We are lucky now to have Planes and the upcoming Planes 2 to draw interest in the field to our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandkids and family friends. See the movies, support the kids’ new interests in aviation and we’ll hopefully recruit a new generation of hobbyists and professionals both.

Why I Don’t Talk About “General Aviation” Anymore

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Back in the 1950′s, Cessna Aircraft produced this gem… “Wings for Doubting Thomas

This little documentary clearly spelled out the value proposition for Private Aviation 2 generations ago.

I rarely talk about “General Aviation.”

Like most people who read this blog, I’m much more interested in, “Private Aviation.”

You might think quickly that it’s the same, thing, but it’s not. General aviation is broadly defined as as all aviation except for military and airlines. That’s great, but I’m not a, “General Aviation enthusiast.” Frankly I don’t care much about, “General Aviation.” I don’t fly biz jets, cargo, fly much for hire, (Though I have the certificate for, it’s just not a big part of my life these days.) spray crops, perform in air shows, whatever…

While I may aspire to sit in the back of a something with turbines, drinking Cristal… It does not inspire me. I’d rather be up front flying the jet.

Private aviation is the part of civil aviation that does not include flying for hire.”

“In most countries, private flights are always general aviation flights, but the opposite is not true: many general aviation flights (such as banner towing, charter, crop dusting, and others) are commercial in that the pilot is hired and paid. Many private pilots fly for their own enjoyment, or to share the joys and convenience of general aviation with friends and family.”

– Wikipedia

You see “General Aviation,” is doing just fine. Ask anyone running a jet charter business these days. Business is up, folks who choose to afford it are buying jet cards and getting to where they want to go in style, and plenty of people are making a good living helping them get there. I’m fine with all that. “General Aviation,” is not dying. It’s growing.

But “Private Aviation” is the community that inspires me. It’s Private Aviation that’s what we’re really talking about when we fry bacon at Camp Scholler, or eat pancakes at the fly in. The ability to climb into a plane and fly myself and my friends or family someplace is like a magic power.

It’s Private Aviation that we built OpenAirplane to serve.

So you see, I don’t talk much about General Aviation. When I speak to the press about OpenAirplane. I explain that it is a marketplace for Private Aviation. I get asked all the time if OpenAirplane will let them hail a jet like they can hail a cab, or if we can help them charter a flight. My answer is always, “Not yet.” It’s just not the business we’re in right now. There are plenty of smart people working to offer charter for businesses and pleasure. That part of General Aviation is well served. I explain that we are focused on Private Aviation, because that’s where the opportunity lies today to unlock more value than anywhere else right now. General Aviation is a competitive, well served market with a healthy ecosystem. But Private Aviation hasn’t seen much innovation since Cessna commissioned that film. This is strange to me, because GPS, iPads, and composites sure have made it a lot easier. Private Aviation can create entirely new use cases for the over 5,000 airports, thousands of aircraft, and hundreds of thousands of certificates in the wallets of  pilots across the country.

Private Aviation has been in decline since the airlines we’re deregulated in 1978. The value proposition of Private Aviation has been evolving ever since. The industry and the community need to both step up to communicate the value proposition for Private Aviation to a new generation of “doubting Thomases,” updating what you see in the old documentary film above to speak to the value proposition we can offer today.

For most of us, the conversation isn’t about General Aviation, it’s about Private Aviation. Let’s call it what it is. I have no time sit back and complain. I believe we can make it better than ever.

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.

Lighting up the Brain for Aviation

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Male/Female BrainRecently I was having a discussion with a pair of aviation magazine owners and editors. We were talking about how many female pilots have been featured on their magazine’s cover over the years. We reasoned that since the female pilot population is 6-7% of the overall pilot population, that 6-7% of aviation magazine covers should be of women pilots. Yet they certainly weren’t, so we talked about why it seems to be so hard to get girls and young women interested in aviation.

Last year at Oshkosh, I presented a seminar for Build-a-Plane Teacher’s Day on the differences in male and female brains, and how those differences could influence the way students learn about aviation. I thought it might be interesting to touch on some of the highlights of that seminar and perhaps illuminate what I see as some of the challenges of getting females involved in flying.

I will start off by saying that I am not a brain researcher, and this is a basic review of the current science, and is by no means exhaustive. Yet as a practicing psychotherapist for 25 years, I think that I do have some insight in this subject. You should also know that there are exceptions to the facts and we can train our brain to do less than innate activities.

Here is the short story: I versus We:  Competence versus Connection.  The male brain is organized and focused more on him as an individual, striving for mastery.  The female brain is wired for communication, connection and cooperation.

Men have slightly larger brains even when adjusted for their larger heads. They have larger parietal cortices (in charge of space perception), and amygdalas (which regulates sexual and social behavior). This might explain why visual-spatial tasks are easier for men. They tend to be able visually manipulate things in their brain, whereas women tend to need to see spaces and shapes on paper.

Men also have more gray matter in their brains, which is full of active neurons. This might explain why there are more men in physically or mentally active professions like airplane pilots, bush guides, racecar drivers, and mathematicians. Men also tend to be more systematic in their thinking.

Women’s brains are 8-10% smaller than the male brain, yet on average, are much more active. Women have larger volume in both the frontal cortex (the inner CEO) and the limbic cortex (involved in emotional responses). This, in conjunction with speedy connections facilitated by the white matter, is another reason why women’s brains work faster. Renowned brain researcher, Dr. Daniel Amen’s research shows that women have greater activity in the brain’s hippocampus. If you wonder why your wife or girlfriend never forgets anything, here’s your answer: The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps store memories.

In addition, the female brain has a larger corpus callosum, which is a bundle of nerves that connects emotion and cognition. As a result, women are better with language abilities and rely more heavily on oral or verbal communication. They also tend to have a better time controlling emotions, although they are more emotional. Women, on average use four words to every one word a man uses. The female brain secretes more serotonin and oxytocin, which connects them further to the emotional world.

These differences relate to aviation because when we know what lights up the brain for each gender we can tailor our sales pitch to the crowd. In sum, boys or men will be excited about the individual mastery, competition, or competence in aviation. Girls or women will be excited to be part of a collaborative group of women pilots. Boys or men might be better with conceptualizing basic principles of flight. Girls or women would learn better by hands-on demonstration.

When I display at airport events with the Mooney Ambassador group, we get lots of kids and grown ups in the airplane. I never fail to say to the girls, “have you thought about becoming a pilot? I am and I love it. We need more girl pilots.” You should see their eyes (brain) light up.

Brain Lit!

Brain Lit!

Future Aviatrix

Future Aviatrix

 

The Dream Delayed

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump as well as many other best sellers, released last year a factual account of three famous pilots; Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle and Charles Lindbergh.  Titled The Aviators, Groom’s book is a fascinating read, especially for those of us who enjoy flight and participate in the adventure of being aloft.  As well as most of us know the stories of those famous flyers, there is more to learn and much to admire.  I am impresses by the discipline exhibited by each of Groom’s subjects.  Each believed strongly in the value of aviation and the role this form of transportation would play in the development of our nation.

While Groom offers many interesting vignettes of those three famous men, one involving Eddie Rickenbacker in particular resonated with me.  Emerging from World War I as the leading US “ace” with 26 enemy aircraft downed, he continued in aviation and eventually became an unstoppable force within the emerging airline industry as long-time head of Eastern Airlines.  Rickenbacker was too old to be a military aviator when the US entered WWI, however.  He obtained his chance to fly through the intervention of aviation pioneer Colonel (soon to be General) Billy Mitchell, the officer Eddie served as an enlisted man assigned to be Mitchell’s personal driver during the initial US efforts in war.  Those who wish to fly do not take no for an answer.

The initial exploits of Rickenbacker, Doolittle and Lindbergh took place during a dozen or so years when the world seemed fascinated with flight.  Prior to Lindbergh’s New York to Paris nonstop crossing of the Atlantic in 1927, the public looked on aviation as the stuff of thrill seekers and daredevils—fun to watch, but of little practical value.   Post Lindbergh’s historic feat, the public’s attitude transitioned from awed observer to anxious participant.  People wanted to be pilots, and the press wrote about airplanes becoming almost commonplace.  Everyone, it seemed, wanted to fly.

In the 1930s, reality and the Great Depression combined to inhibit the dream of everyman becoming a pilot. Post World War II, when thousands of servicemen returned home with belief in the importance of air power, the dream of a robust private aviation movement was renewed.   During the first two years following WWII, well over 30,000 light aircraft were produced.  By 1950, the production of small GA aircraft was down to a few thousand, and they were not selling.

Realizing the dream—and the potential—of private flying is still within our grasp.  Being able to fly from A to B in a straight line and at two to four times the speed of today’s automobiles is a capability of great value, whether the trip is for business or pleasure.  As a community of private aviators, however, we need to address the factors that prevent the dream from being a reality.

Costs will come down only if the number of people participating in General Aviation increases.  Even the most basic automobile would cost considerably more than a new Bonanza if they were sold to as few people as purchase light aircraft today. 

Learning to fly can be made simpler and more effective through innovative use of simulators and computerized training aids.   Perhaps talented organizers can apply their insights to create club programs were costs can be shared and participants can enjoy the comradeship of likeminded aviators.

Through training that provides competence and justifiable confidence, private pilots can use GA aircraft safely and efficiently for personal business and pleasure.  Pioneers such as those described in The Aviators demonstrated the value of believing in the value of aviation and living their convictions.