Archive for the ‘Trends and analysis’ Category

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.

The Waddington Effect

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
Conrad Hal (C.H.) Waddington

C.H. Waddington (1905-1975)

In 1943, a British scientist named Conrad Hal (C.H.) Waddington made a remarkable discovery about aircraft maintenance.  He was a most unlikely person to make this discovery, because he wasn’t an aeronautical engineer or an aircraft mechanic or even a pilot.  Actually, he was a gifted developmental biologist, paleontologist, geneticist, embryologist, philosopher, poet and painter who wasn’t particularly interested in aviation.  But like many other British scientists at that time, his career was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War and he found himself pressed into service with the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Waddington wound up reporting to the RAF Coastal Command, heading up a group of fellow scientists in the Coastal Command Operational Research Section.  Its job was to advise the British military on how it could more effectively combat the threat from German submarines.  In that capacity, Waddington and his colleagues developed a series of astonishing recommendations that defied military conventional wisdom of the time.

For example, the bombers used to hunt and kill U-boats were mostly painted black in order to make them difficult to see.  But Waddington’s group ran a series of experiments that proved that bombers painted white were not spotted by the U-boats until they were 20% closer, resulting in a 30% increase in successful sinkings. Waddington’s group also recommended that the depth charges dropped by the bombers be set to explode at a depth of 25 feet instead of 100 feet.  This recommendation—initially resisted strongly by RAF commanders—ultimately resulted in a sevenfold increase in the number of U-boats destroyed.

Consolidated B-24 "Liberator" bomber

Consolidated B-24 “Liberator” bomber

Waddington subsequently turned his attention to the problem of “force readiness” of the bombers.  The Coastal Command’s B-24 “Liberator” bombers were spending an inordinate amount of time in the maintenance shop instead of hunting U-boats.  In July 1943, the two British Liberator squadrons located at Ballykelly, Northern Ireland, consisted of 40 aircraft, but at any given time only about 20 were flight-ready.  The other aircraft were down for any number of reasons, but mostly undergoing or awaiting maintenance—either scheduled or unscheduled—or waiting for replacement parts.

At that time, conventional wisdom held that if more preventive maintenance were performed on each aircraft, fewer problems would arise and more incipient problems would be caught and fixed—and thus fleet readiness would surely improve. It turned out that conventional wisdom was wrong. It would take C.H. Waddington and his Operational Research team to prove just how wrong.

Waddington and his team started gathering data about the scheduled and unscheduled maintenance of these aircraft, and began crunching and analyzing the numbers.  When he plotted the number of unscheduled aircraft repairs as a function of flight time, Waddington discovered something both unexpected and significant: The number of unscheduled repairs spiked sharply right after each aircraft underwent its regular 50-hour scheduled maintenance, and then declined steadily over time until the next scheduled 50-hour maintenance, at which time they spiked up once again.

Waddington Effect graph

When Waddington examined the plot of this repair data, he concluded that the scheduled maintenance (in Waddington’s own words) “tends to INCREASE breakdowns, and this can only be because it is doing positive harm by disturbing a relatively satisfactory state of affairs. There is no sign that the rate of breakdowns is starting to increase again after 40-50 flying hours when the aircraft is coming due for its next scheduled maintenance.” In other words, the observed pattern of unscheduled repairs demonstrated that the scheduled preventive maintenance was actually doing more harm than good, and that the 50-hour preventive maintenance interval was inappropriately short.

The solution proposed by Waddington’s team—and ultimately accepted by the RAF commanders over the howls of the maintenance personnel—was to increase the time interval between scheduled maintenance cycles, and to eliminate all preventive maintenance tasks that couldn’t be demonstrably proven to be beneficial. Once these recommendations were implemented, the number of effective flying hours of the RAF Coastal Command bomber fleet increased by 60 percent!

Fast forward two decades to the 1960s, when a pair of gifted scientists who worked for United Airlines—aeronautical engineer Stanley Nowlan and mathematician Howard Heap—independently rediscovered these principles in their pioneering research on optimizing maintenance that revolutionized the way maintenance is done in air transport, military aviation, high-end bizjets and many non-aviation industrial applications.  They were almost certainly unaware of the work of C.H. Waddington and his colleagues in Britain in the 1940s because that work remained classified until 1973, when Waddington’s meticulously-kept diary of his wartime research activities was declassified and published.

Next time, I’ll discuss the fascinating work of Nowlan and Heap on what came to be known as “Reliability Centered Maintenance.” But for now, I will leave you with the major takeaway from Waddington’s research during World War II: Maintenance isn’t an inherently good thing (like exercise); it’s a necessary evil (like surgery). We have to do it from time to time, but we sure don’t want to do more than absolutely necessary to keep our aircraft safe and reliable. Doing more maintenance than necessary actually degrades safety and reliability.

GA Needs a New Story

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

If you’ve ever worked in the White House and near national politics, as I have, you know immediately and intuitively why political leaders pick on GA in general and business jets in particular – because it works. Senators and presidents don’t single out jets as examples of “tax loopholes”, etc., without knowing, with great certainty, that there is nothing that is iconic of fat cats and the 1% as corporate jets. The research and surveys are unambiguous: it’s the big hot button that generates popular negative reaction.

Even young people, competing for jobs with aircraft manufacturers in Wichita, admit that the product that they want to be a part of producing is antithetical to their basic sense of general equity and benefit a very small number of people – but they need a job, please.

There’s more to the story than that, but as long as we let others define who we are, they will continue to magnify the differences between those who own and fly aircraft . . . and the rest of the world.

Few automobile owners, for example, realize that there is no way (unless you own a taxi cab company), that you can directly justify the economics of owning a car. Easily the second most expensive purchase after a home, we continue to buy these vehicles (how many dozen have you owned?), not because they generate more income, but because they allow us to do other things that are economically and socially beneficial.

The same can be said about aircraft. Just as your Chevy gets you to more places (like your job) much faster than walking or taking the bus, airplanes provide the same benefits for individuals and companies that effectively utilize them to increase the efficient use of the available time and leverage their ability (like cars do) to access locations that otherwise would be hard to get to. They increase productivity. They are tools. They allow us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. And the benefits are much broader than for just the individuals riding in the front or back.

Try thinking about what kind of world this would be without aircraft in general and GA in particular. What kind of things wouldn’t work? How many injured people would die? How would the whole system slow down?

That’s a story that needs to be the framework for a great movie . . . and needs to show up on the news (juxtaposed to the story about the airplane crash that producers rush to air) . . . and needs to be explained to young people so that they have a context for assessing the value of private aircraft.

We need an industry-wide campaign that speaks about the benefits of aircraft, in very sophisticated and effective terms, to multiple segments of the larger population, rather than talk inwardly to the aviation community about the gains (primarily economic) that aircraft enable.
This is not necessarily an easy sell, particularly in light of the well-established fact that income disparity is growing larger in this country. But like many other activities that are embedded within much larger trends, the benefits of general aviation are a story waiting to be told. We need to enable the storytellers.

John Petersen is a former naval aviator, a professional futurist and the chairman of The Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation.

It’s Time to Change Our Image (part 2)

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

The perception disparity between aviators and the rest of our society is serious business. To start with, it’s serious for our business, because all of the things mentioned last month have largely eliminated the opportunity to easily engender the joy and wonder of aviation in young people – and right now, at least, we need people who like airplanes to pilot them. In its great wisdom, our government has built fences around even small airports which completely eliminates the ability of kids to hang around the places and learn about flying and airplanes. (I always thought there was a bit of irony in the commendable programs out there to give airplane rides to kids . . . who then are kept locked out of airports and away from airplanes by the government.)

And if you fight your way through the fence, you should bring a wad of bills. Ask the first person you meet on the street about what they think about flying small airplanes. A hundred bucks says that they respond: it’s hard and expensive to learn how to fly, it’s dangerous (you could kill yourself), and to own an airplane really costs a lot.
We in the airplane business really need to work on all of this. Our future is tied up in our being able to change this general perspective. In some kind of systematic, strategic way, the industry must come together around a set of common images, messages and communications that begin to offset the almost universally corrosive image we have with the public at large. Understand that this is not about slogans on lapel pins that are handed out at aviation conventions to the already converted.

This is about changing our image with the outside world.

This issue needs to be engaged at two levels:

• We need to work on the current image. We’re not talking about a magic act here – companies and industries do this all of the time. It’s about coming up with a new, very carefully considered concept that can be translated into easy-to-understand words and graphics that quickly and effectively offset the commonly perceived problems. Well placed, the new ideas begin to show up in movies, articles, on TV, in computer games . . . and, in time, people begin to see GA flying in quite a different way.

• We also need to change airplanes and flying. Our industry needs to come up with innovative solutions that give lie to the common perceptions. We should take away the noise (electric airplanes}, make flying easier (people friendly software on top of fly-by-wire systems), eliminate our pollution (new propulsion systems), find ways to make learning to fly affordable (computer games that teach the skills and count towards license requirements), and figure out how kids can play inside of the fence (find a homeland security leader who isn’t myopic). There are numerous ways that these things can be done and already some initiatives, like the Lindbergh Foundation’s Aviation Green Alliance, which provides a place where the industry’s environmental leaders can work on common problems, are beginning to sprout up.

We really should have been hard engaged in this repositioning when things were good and there was a lot of money around – but we didn’t. Now, we don’t have any alternative. I think the future of general aviation is at stake. We need to remake ourselves . . . soon.

The Big Three Rules For Conflict Resolution

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

As aviation enthusiasts we can be sure with a very high degree of confidence that we will have disagreements with non-aviation enthusiasts from time to time. Maybe the issue will be user fees. Perhaps it will be about funding of an airport project. It might even be about safety, often in the aftermath of a high profile accident or incident that has shaken the non-aviation enthusiast to the bone. Whatever the case, conflict will come our way. It’s a given. We know it will happen. The only questions revolve around when and what the specific topic of concern will be.

So let’s take that knowledge and get ourselves ready. Like it or not, when the discussion gets going every aviation enthusiast who speaks up, jots a line on a social media site, or writes a letter to the editor of their local paper is going to become a target. Perhaps of greater concern is the likelihood that they’ll be perceived as the official spokesperson for all of aviation.

Few if any of us are prepared to take on that role with any confidence.

There are a few key points to keep in mind during times of concern that have the potential to turn into confrontations. They’re pertinent to a discussion of aviation issues, but they’re just as valid when you’re in the workplace when conflicts arise, or at home when spousal differences of opinion occur. Let’s go ahead and call these points what they are; the Big Three Rules For Conflict Resolution.

1. Be respectful. We all learned this one on the playground as kids, but when tempers flare it can be forgotten in the blink of an eye. Always be respectful of your counterpart. Their fears may seem baseless to you, but they’re real points of concern for others. So take their worries seriously. Acknowledge them. That doesn’t mean you have to agree or accept their concerns as valid, but your willingness to at least admit the other person’s concerns are legitimate and understandable can become the first step to diffusing those fears and replacing the knee-jerk response of non-aviation enthusiasts with more thoughtful and well reasoned reactions.

2. Listen. We often assume we know the position of people who have taken a position that’s not in line with ours. Often that assumption is wrong. Be sure to take the time to listen, even encourage the other person to express their concerns. You may find that your argument in favor of the point you felt most central to the issue isn’t even something the other guy is thinking about at all. The best way to understand the other person’s perspective is to listen, learn what they’re worried about, or afraid of, and work productively with those issues rather than the ones you assumed were the most important.

3. Choose your words carefully. Your initial response can set the tone for the discussion as it moves forward. You can make points and begin the process of bringing your opponent over to your side, or you can drive a wedge between the two parties by saying the wrong thing. For example, when a non-aviation enthusiast rails against the reliability of aircraft engines after reading about a crash caused by a stall, don’t blurt out, “Oh that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” While it may seem a less than insightful position from your standpoint, the non-aviation enthusiast is reacting to the news from their own specific frame of reference. Those who don’t fly think of a stall as a mechanical issue having to do with the engine. Pilots know it as an aerodynamic event having to do with the airfoils on the aircraft.

Try something more diplomatic for a first response, such as, “In aviation the term, “stall” has a completely different meaning than it does in the automotive industry. If you’d like I can explain the difference. That might help you understand what happened a bit more clearly.”

Because our perspective on aviation and the aerospace industry is likely to be very different from that of our friends, co-workers, and neighbors, we are uniquely positioned to make others feel more comfortable and accepting about aviation – or build a wall between us that will be difficult to tear down again in the future. The choice is ours. Personally, I prefer to use the Big Three Rules For Conflict Resolution. I just don’t have the bone structure to carry off a fat lip or a black eye well, and I’d rather make friends than enemies any day. How about you?

“Moneyball” for General Aviation

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Flight time is the secret sauce to success.

It’s like getting runs on base.

I wrote that headline because, “Sabermetrics for Flight Schools, Flying Clubs, and Anyone Who Wants to Make A Buck In Aviation,” just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

I find the movie “Moneyball” inspiring. It’s a movie as much about business as it is about baseball. Anyone managing an aviation business can find inspiration here too. Its how the business model of OpenAirplane came to be.

“It’s about getting things down to one number. Using the stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players that no one else can see. People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality. Bill James and mathematics cut straight through that. Billy, of the 20,000 notable players for us to consider, I believe that there is a championship team of twenty-five people that we can afford, because everyone else in baseball undervalues them.”

– Peter Brand in “Moneyball”

The book, and the movie are the story of how the Oakland A’s, a team out spent and out gunned by it’s competitors, finished 1st in the American League West with a record of 103 wins and 59 losses, despite losing three free agents to larger market teams. They built a championship team like, “an island of misfit toys,” using sabermetrics.

Sabermetrics is the term for the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity. So let’s look at how this discipline, which demystified the voodoo of the business of baseball, can be applied to the business of aviation.

Jason Blair, former Executive Director at NAFI, has spent a lot of time researching what makes flight operations tick. He offers up what he’s learned in his seminar for industry folks called, “Skills for Flight Training and Aircraft Rental Operators to Increase Profitability.” Using one of the handy spreadsheets Jason has been gracious enough to publish can be enlightening, (sometimes scary) and very useful.

Modeling profitability of rental aircraft yields our industry’s version of sabermetrics. It’s flight time. More specifically, its flight hours flown on an airframe, or utilization that makes or breaks the business. Like the focus on getting on base make a baseball team a winner, optimizing the business on number of flight hours flown by each airframe is the secret sauce to success in flying business.

To grossly oversimplify this…

Fly more hours = make more money.
The cost of getting the airplane doesn’t matter near as much.

Utilization is the single biggest influencer on price and profitability for airplanes. It’s this single metric that has the biggest impact on the business. The effect of utilization is significantly more influential than the effect of the acquisition cost of the airplane.

For example, let’s model utilization vs. cost…

If we decrease the hours flown by 25%, the rate for profitable rental increases by 17.3%. If we increase the hours flown by 25% the rate for a profitable rental falls by 9.4%.

but…

If we decrease the acquisition cost of the airplane by 25% the rate for a profitable rate drops by 3.7%. If we increase the acquisition cost by 25%, the required rental rate also only bounces up by the same percentage.

This example shows the asymmetrical influence flying more hours per year has on profitability and affordability of the airplane.

Flight hours flown per year really is the single most influential metric on the profitability of the business that you can manage. This is why we built OpenAirplane from the ground up to do one thing at scale, which is to drive up the number of flight hours and drive better utilization of the fleet.

Operators who optimizes their business to create more flying hours will win.

 

It’s Time To Change Our Image (part 1)

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Let me try this on you: I’d guess that most people – obviously not including you, since you’re reading this magazine – have a generally negative view of aircraft and flying.

Agree?

Think about it: the closest most people get to airplanes is riding the airlines to go visit someone . . . and we know what kind of experience that is. Apart from those who are scared to death that the flight is the last bit of transportation they’ll ever take in this life and that what’s left of their body after the crash will never be found, I’ve never heard any of the people in the back of the bus carrying on about how cool it was to get irradiated and frisked by the TSA and then crammed into knee-knocking seats that are so tight that you can’t get into your pocket to get the money out to pay for the “food” that they want to sell you.
It gets worse, of course if they have ever been stuck on the ramp for multiple hours with the lavatories overflowing for reasons the company chose not to tell them about. The whole experience is pretty de-humanizing.

The other times when most people get near an aircraft is when one flies overhead. Although you and I probably look up and admire the machine, there are a whole lot of folks who just hear the noise and don’t think that they should have to. Some see the plane (or the contrails) and think of the pollution that is coming out of the exhaust of the engines and how aviation is contributing toward the destruction of the planet and the opportunities for their kids. (They’re generally wrong, by the way, about the relative contribution that aviation – particularly GA – contributes to the total air pollution, but for this discussion, that is moot.)

Then there’s the general attitude that just about everyone has about business aviation. I was impressed when talking to a senior executive of a Wichita-area airframe company recently about the kids coming out of college who were looking for jobs with his company. They desperately wanted to get a job with this jet manufacturer but when asked what they thought about the product that they might be working on, the almost universal reaction was that private jets were for “fat cats” and that they polluted and made too much noise.

There’s a reason why Barack Obama picks on business aviation when he’s trying to make a point about the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. I used to be in politics. I can tell you with great certainty that the political guys in the White House have very good polling data that says that private jets are the go-to, symbolic hot button to use if you want to get an immediate, predictable response from the public about the inequity of it all.

If you like airplanes and flying like I do, then all of this hurts a bit. You feel sad that these folks don’t appreciate the beauty, the productivity, the freedom and even the spiritual nature of driving a plane through the sun striped, strato-cu clouds or marveling at the light art painted across the surface of the planet during a CAVU, twilight approach to someplace like LAX.

This perception disparity is serious business. I’ll talk about that next month.

Aviation’s University Education (and Industry) Challenge

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

In the world of  “Higher Education,” I am an anomaly amongst the masses at my university. In the majority of the classes I teach, I’m closer in age to the students in the room than I am to my faculty colleagues. With this reality comes additional responsibilities (namely, modeling good behavior), several challenges (the ever present need to maintain decorum amongst millennial peers who happen to be my students), and many benefits (a different take on the professor/student learning and mentoring relationship, where students may or may not feel comfortable seeking the advice of someone much closer in age comparatively). When amongst my colleagues from other aviation universities, it’s not uncommon for myself and a handful (but growing) of young aviation faculty.

This week, I’ve traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a meeting of aviation faculty from universities around the US. Gather a large number of aviation faculty like this group in one room and you’ll notice one thing: the demographics are not much different compared to those I’ve written about at Oshkosh: Predominantly above the age of 50, and white. For many, this is a second career after years spent in the trenches of the military or airline industry. Sadly, it’s not a vacation; we will be spending time in meeting rooms that may or may not have windows that look out on palm trees. During these sessions, many things will occur: professors will present about best practices in the classroom; graduate students will share their successes and failures in research toward their theses and dissertations; everyone will collectively throw up our hands and panic about the new Restricted Air Transport Pilot Certificate & an impending pilot shortage.

As education professionals in a university environment (one far different than what you might find in public K-12 schools), the large majority of us see this opportunity to gather together as one for professional development and the betterment of our efforts to better educate the aviation professionals of the future. Thanks to changes in priorities across many university systems (best evidenced by this comic), we find ourselves ever focused on “research” instead of “teaching.” Instead of learning by doing and discovering new methods of teaching material, a large portion of the meeting will be spent waging a near-constant battle against Death By Powerpoint. Many colleagues have a minimum number of research articles that they must publish each year as part of the justification for tenure or further employment. For many, this comes at a sacrifice of continuing to develop new methods and tools for our classrooms.

Today we took a break from research presentations to throw our hands up and bemoan a lack of cohesion between industry, alphabet groups, and higher education on dealing with the impending potential pilot shortage. For what it’s worth, this concept is something I’ve wanted to address for a very long time, and will likely address in a future blog post. One of the key areas noticed from the meeting? There are very few members here from industry. When I attend industry shows, there are very few attendees from higher education. We need to better improve our collaboration and communication between all groups in the industry. We might be surprised at just how many different stakeholder groups are throwing their collective hands up in frustration for the same issues and might have solutions for one another.

Flying Silently (Part 2)

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

The GA industry has been treating noise like the automobile industry has been reacting to calls for better fuel economy.  Even though it is reported that every automobile sold in China must get at least 35 miles per gallon in fuel economy, major American manufacturers launch all of their lobbyists on Congress every time the hill wants to raise the average CAFÉ standards to something like 28 miles per gallon . . . by 2025!  They say they can’t do it and it would cost jobs, etc., etc.  Can you believe that if American and Japanese and German engineers suddenly were required to build more fuel efficient engines they couldn’t equal the efforts of Chinese engineers?  (Well, the fact probably is that some of those cars manufactured in China are engineered by GM engineers and other folks a little closer to home, so maybe it’s not just an engineering issue after all.)

The same certainly is the case with engine and propeller noise in aircraft.  If we wanted to do it, we could certainly find solutions.  We just don’t think that it is important.  I once suggested to an aviation association VP that aircraft noise had the potential to be a major issue threatening the future of GA and got not much more than a shrug in response.  Regardless of the reality, the public already thinks that we’re a bunch of rich guys who either own or operate airplanes.  Why do you think they’ll cut us some slack downstream when they finally get really mad about all of this when most every other polluting industry is working on eliminating their effluent and we’re not.

Once it seemed that it might just be possible to convince my wife that flying an ultralight out of one of the fields of our farm in West Virginia would be a reasonable idea.  So, I went to Oshkosh and checked it out — but I didn’t want to hassle the neighbors with the noise from the Rotaxes that they all use.  Remember, people like the country in part because it is quiet.  The manufacturer’s rep said that there was nothing they could do to make the engines quieter (something about them being 2-cycle, or something), but I knew friends who were doing exotic aircraft design for spooky government agencies who were producing little lawn chair construction aircraft (and helicopters, for that matter) for sneaking into dangerous places around the world that made almost no noise . . . so I knew it is possible.  The incentives are just not in place. Commercial aircraft have certainly gotten much quieter.  Why can’t we?

Airplanes are not just noisy, they’re more expensive to operate because they’re noisy.  We have to burn gas to make that noise.  It costs more and doesn’t do anything for us.  It’s like waste heat, or sulphur dioxide coming out of the stack of a coal-fired power plant. If engine and prop manufacturers put their heads to it , they could produce more fuel efficiency and less noise at the same time.  That’s a particularly good idea in the face of an almost certain global decrease in the production of petroleum in the coming years (which is another piece of this puzzle).

So every time you look up with interest to the sky (as I always do) when I hear an aircraft two or three miles away, think about the future of aviation, the pollution of the environment, citizens who want to live in peace, the cost to operate an aircraft, and the decreasing availability (and therefore increasing cost) of fuel. Just think about quality of life.  That might convince you that it’s high time that we in the aviation business began to seriously work on silently pursuing our wonderful profession.

A Future with More Government Shutdowns?

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Government Shutdown FAAAs of this writing, the 2013 government shutdown, the first in 17 years, has been in effect for a week with no signs of ending. If it only continues for another week or two and doesn’t reoccur in the near future, the many people and organizations affected by it will give a collective sigh of relief and it will soon be forgotten. But what if government shutdowns become the new normal?

It wasn’t that long ago that filibusters in the Senate were rare, but since 2009 they’ve become routine, requiring 60 votes whereas in the past a simple majority vote was sufficient.  If government shutdowns become routine, we may be in uncharted territory.

From the important to the mundane, here’s what’s not happening at the FAA during the government shutdown:

  • The Aircraft Registry Branch is closed, so new aircraft sales have halted since the planes can’t be registered. A GAMA survey indicates that 12 deliveries were missed in the first two days and a total of 135 deliveries totaling $1.38 billion if the shutdown lasts a couple of weeks. Interestingly, the Aircraft Registry Branch was deemed essential and left open during the shutdowns in the 1990s. Why not this time?
  • The Flight Standards Service is down from 5,000 people to fewer than 200 essential people, mostly managers. So the inspectors who provide safety oversight of maintenance and operations are mostly sidelined. Expect virtually no ramp checks, ferry permits, CFI renewals, or approval of applications, such as a new Part 135 certificate for a new charter operator. “Limited” certification work, such as on new aircraft under development, will continue according to the DOT.
  • Written exams for knowledge tests have halted, an inconvenience for anyone who put off taking their written exam until just before a now delayed checkride.
  • Major new initiatives are delayed. Remember Part 23 reform that according to AOPA will “overhaul small-aircraft certification rules to double safety and cut costs in half.” Not happening right now. Development and testing of NextGen technologies is also halted. And if you’ve taken a written exam and wondered why you saw lots of questions about ADF receivers, but few on GPS, be aware that the current overhaul of knowledge tests has stopped.

Some things that are essential to protect life and property continue to be in place. That includes air traffic control facilities, the FSS services provided by Lockheed Martin and the aviationweather.gov web site (which is actually part of NOAA, not the FAA). And DOT reports that 2,490 employees from the Office of Aviation Safety will be incrementally recalled over a two-week period. FAA practical tests (checkrides)  continue for now, except for those that require a ride with an FAA inspector, such as CFI checkrides in some FSDOs.

The 2013 FAA budget involved reductions of $486 million and the Fiscal Year 2014 target includes a reduction of $697 million. A future FAA with a shrinking budget is likely to take longer to implement new rules, to reduce the services it currently provides, and to outsource more of its functions. I expect it to also attempt to charge for previously free services (e.g. the $447,000 bill for ATC service at AirVenture).

So what are the near-term implications for General Aviation? For starters, people working in GA will need to start planning further ahead to minimize the impact of future government shutdowns. Some things will be easy, like encouraging flight students to take their written exams when they first start flight training. Others, like getting a new Part 135 charter certificate approved when the FAA is open will be difficult because of backlogs.

Looking further down the road, GA should be involved in the dialog on how to restructure a changing FAA. If you have a good idea on how they can cut waste and improve efficiency, send it to the Administrator. Do you have an idea on how they could outsource a service, like the Flight Service Stations (FSS) that were outsourced through Lockheed Martin? Send them a note or a proposal.

The worst possible outcome would be if other, better-funded agencies step in to help the FAA with their mission. I can only imagine how awful GA flying would become if, for example, the TSA took primary responsibility for ramp checks. If government shutdowns ever become the new normal, many things will change. And it will be up to all of us to make sure that GA as we know it doesn’t get swept under the carpet in the process.