Rob Mark

Data, Data … Who Has the Data … and What Will They Do With It?

January 26th, 2015 by Rob Mark

Whether an airplane slides off the side of the runway during takeoff or disappears behind some tall trees on final approach, the reaction is pretty universal. People want to know, “what happened?” In the heavy metal airplanes like Boeings, Airbus’ or Gulfstreams, the investigation of what went wrong begins by retrieving the flight data and cockpit voice recorders that typically survive almost every kind of mishap. The data on those recorders help investigators re-create the moments before the chaos began … what control was moved in which direction, where the power was set or what one pilot said to the other. The data becomes the basis for the Board’s final report that offers valuable insights to the industry, many that quickly make their way to the pilot training providers.

But on the GA side of flying, that kind data and analysis is almost non-existent. We need to fill that GA vacuum for the same reason large aircraft carry data recorders … to prevent the same accident from reoccurring.

Stratus 2Thanks to the glass avionics now standard on just about every production airplane in the U.S., the job of capturing operational data is becoming easier. Unknown to may pilots, both the Garmin and Avidyne avionics offer downloads of operational data by simply inserting an “SD” memory card in a front panel. ForeFlight users can also capture their flights on their iPad. Add a Stratus 2 from Sporty’s and pilots can download enough data to create a simulation in X-Plane. Imagine watching your performance as if you’d been flying alongside as your own wingman. Hook up an Iridium Go! to a Stratus 2 and you can download the data via satellite while the aircraft is still airborne. The University of North Dakota is already deep into testing data capture systems on its flight training fleet to better gauge both aircraft and pilot performance.

And not a moment too soon since the NTSB reminded us a few weeks ago that loss of control inflight (LOCI) is enough of a GA to land LOCI on the Board’s Top 10 List of Transportation worries for 2015.

Of course the real value in trend analysis evolves by analyzing thousands or even hundreds of thousands of flights. But will the GA industry take the steps needed to capture more data and, after scrubbing it clean of any identifying tags, share it with the world for analysis? The airlines and business aviation are beginning to learn the value of identifying these kinds of trends before an accident occurs.

A few stumbling blocks to using the data from today’s airplanes include worries about cost, privacy and enforcement. The cost issue is actually an easy one though, despite the huge requirement for ADS-B Out looming in 2020, because data capture isn’t required by the FAA. It’s just valuable information. The equipment is either already on board, or can be added pretty inexpensively. A Stratus 2 that sells for $899 and an Iridium Go! listing out at $799 represent the top of the line for data capture options. The Stratus also gives an aircraft ADS-B In capabilities at no extra charge. Many data capture options cost much less. The MITRE Corp. worked closely with the FAA to produce a handy app — called GAARD — you’ll find at iTunes store that is a pretty slick tool for basic data capturing just using your iPhone. Don’t be surprised when insurance companies begin offering discounts to pilots who monitor their data like auto insurers are trying right now.Iridium Go!

Certainly privacy and enforcement go hand in hand with everyone worrying about who might view their last flight and what action they might take. For the commercial and business carriers, service providers already exist that scrub the data of identifying information while they focus on the issues the data identifies pretty much the way we’ve grown accustomed to using the ASRS forms through NASA.

With the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s 2012-2013 Accident Scorecard chronicling 948 fixed-wing accidents in 2013 that cut short the lives of 165 people, I’d say we have our work cut out for us. The question is whether enough pilots will gather together to take advantage of a system that might help GA vanish from the NTSB’s list in the near future.

Amy Laboda

Flying When the Big Game is On, with a Twist this Year

January 23rd, 2015 by Amy Laboda

Super Bowl Sunday is but two weekends away, now, and with that in mind pilots planning to fly in the southwestern United States (and even a touch of northern Mexico) need to take note. A high profile TFR encompassing the bulk of the Phoenix, Arizona, area will be in effect the day of the Super Bowl. Plus, a special flight notice out of the Las Vegas, Nevada, area denotes that GPS testing (click here for the advisory) will occur before and after the big game.

The GPS outages could come anytime during the GPS testing, slated for January 23rd to February 15th, 2015.

Well, not anytime. Last week AOPA Vice President of Government Affairs Melissa Rudinger contacted the FAA, who contacted the Air Force, who have now agreed to suspend GPS testing the day before, day of, and day after the Super Bowl.

But why is the conjunction of these two events still something to watch for? Well, just read the gist of the flight advisory:

GPS (including WAAS, GBAS, and ADS-B) may not be available within a 522nm radius centered at:

The expanse of GPS testing going on in the southwestern US this winter is astounding.

The expanse of GPS testing going on in the southwestern US this winter is astounding.

371900N,1155023W 

FL400-unlimited decreasing in area with decrease in altitude defined as:

482nm radius at FL250,

449nm radius at 10000ft,

378nm radius at 4000ft AGL

365nm radius at 50ft AGL

The impact area also extends into the mexican FIR. Pilots are strongly encouraged to report anomalies during testing to the appropriate ARTCC to assist in the determination of the extent of GPS degradation during tests.

Yep, you are reading this right. There will be GPS outages at the same time that there will be a concentration of aircraft arriving and departing one of the southwest’s largest urban areas. Pilots operating to and from the Super Bowl, or just around the general Phoenix area need to take the time to review their ground-based navigation skills.

I question the commonsense of running GPS testing that could result in outages in the days leading up to an event such as the Super Bowl, but it looks like those arriving a few days early to enjoy Arizona’s sunshine, or lingering more than a day after the big event will have to deal with it.

So how should you prepare? You could brush up on your knowledge and usage of VOR based navigation, for one. Remember Victor airways? You’ll probably get cleared to an intersection or two. Might even have to hold! If you haven’t used the ground-based navigation devices in your aircraft for a while, or even shot a ground-based navigation non-precision approach, now is the time to practice.

And for those of you who operate VFR? Some of the best ground navigation devices out there are actually not attached to your airplane. I’m talking about your eyes and a good old fashioned sectional. Yes, pilotage. Even if you decide that you have too much invested in your iPad charting to ante up for a paper version you can use your app—you may have to pan your way across the chart manually, though.

The FAA recently updated the special security notam relating to sporting events (find it here). If you haven’t had time to look it over here is the short version: all aircraft operations, including parachute jumping, unmanned aircraft, and remote controlled aircraft, are prohibited within three nautical miles and under 3,000 feet of any stadium or racetrack having a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people. You can find a list of stadiums and speedways here. The standard TFR is in effect an hour before to an hour after each event.

For the upcoming Super Bowl at the University of Phoenix Stadium the notam for its special TFR is out. Within the 30 nautical mile TFR ring around the stadium there will be no flight training, practice instrument approaches, aerobatic flight, glider operations, parachute operations, ultralight, hang gliding, balloon operations, agriculture/crop dusting, animal population control flight operations, banner towing operations, sightseeing operations, model aircraft operations, model rocketry, seaplane/amphibious water operations, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and commercial cargo carrier operations unless they comply with their respective TSA approved security program. Within the TFR area: all aircraft must be on an active IFR or VFR flight plan with a discrete beacon code assigned by ATC; aircraft must be squawking the discrete code prior to departure or entering the TFR and at all times while in the TFR; aircraft are not authorized to overfly the inner core while attempting to exit the TFR; and two-way communications with ATC must be maintained at all times. Only approved law enforcement and military aircraft directly supporting the Super Bowl and approved air ambulance flights, all of which must be squawking an assigned discrete transponder code and on an approved airspace waiver are permitted within the 10 nautical mile inner core of the TFR.

Please check the current notam for updates.

Intercept proceduresBe ready with a good rendering of the TFR and the ability to navigate around it or receive a squawk code and stay in communication with ATC when you are anywhere near it. And if you are intercepted by U.S. military or law enforcement aircraft, remain predictable. Do not adjust your altitude, heading, or airspeed until directed to by the intercepting aircraft. Attempt to establish radio communications with the intercepting aircraft or with the appropriate ATC facility by making a general call on guard (121.5 MHz), giving your identity, position, and nature of the flight. If transponder equipped, squawk 7700 unless otherwise instructed by ATC. Comply with interceptor aircraft signals and instructions until you’ve been positively released. For more information, read section 5-6-2 in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). Fly safe out there!

Mike Busch

Thinking, Fast and Slow

January 21st, 2015 by Mike Busch

Not long ago, I had a fascinating exchange with my friend and colleague Paul New. Paul is an A&P/IA and a truly extraordinary aircraft mechanic who was honored by the FAA as the National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year in 2007 (the year before I was so honored). But that’s where the historical similarity between me and Paul ends.

Paul New A&P/IA

Paul New, A&P/IA, owner of Tennessee Aircraft Services
and a truly extraordinary aircraft mechanic.

While I came to aircraft maintenance rather late in life, Paul has been immersed in it since childhood, helping his A&P/IA dad with numerous aircraft restoration projects well before he was tall enough to see over the glareshield without sitting on a phone book.

In 1981, Paul earned his degree in Avionics Technology from Southern Illinois University, and spent five years managing avionics shops for a commuter airline and an FBO. In 1986, he returned to Jackson, Tenn. to work with his dad in the aircraft restoration business once again, and in 1989 he purchased Tennessee Aircraft Services, Inc. from his dad and developed it into one of the premier Cessna Service Centers in the southeast US, performing both general maintenance and major structural repairs.

Over the years, Paul and I have formed an informal mutual admiration society, and frequently bounce problems, thoughts and ideas off one another. That’s exactly what was happening when we got into the conversation I’d like to share with you.

Cessna P210 engine problem

Paul emailed me about one of his customers who had recently encountered an engine problem shortly after takeoff on a recurrent training flight (with a CFI in the right seat). The owner/pilot told Paul that at about 400’ AGL, he noted a serious overboost, five inches over MAP red-line, and throttled back to bring the MAP back to red-line. At that point, according to the pilot, the engine started running very rough. The pilot elected to put the airplane down on the crossing runway, landed long and hot with a 17-knot tailwind, and took out the chain link fence at the far end of the runway. Paul was on his way to the scene of the incident to ferry the aircraft back to his shop for repairs.

Upon hearing his customer’s tale of woe, Paul’s first thought was that the pilot may have turned on the electric boost pump for takeoff, something you’re not supposed to do in the P210. According to Paul, “Leaving on the boost pump is a common mistake in Cessna 210s, particularly with pilots who are used to flying Lycoming-powered airplanes where turning on the boost pump for takeoff is SOP.”

Show me the data!

Paul arranged for his customer to dump the data from the P210’s JPI EDM-830 digital engine monitor data and to upload it to the SavvyAnalysis.com website. Paul asked whether I’d be willing to take a look at it and give him my impressions, and I told him I’d be happy to do that.

P210 Engine Monitor Data

The engine monitor data told a different story than the pilot did.
Which would you believe?

When I looked at the engine monitor data, it seemed to tell a very different story than the one that the pilot had related Paul. I couldn’t see any evidence that the pilot flooded the engine by using the electric boost pump; the fuel flow data looked normal. Nor could I see any evidence that the pilot throttled back the engine (as he told Paul he’d done), because throttling back would have reduced fuel flow and the engine monitor recorded no reduction in fuel flow. What the data indicated was simply that the wastegate stuck closed on takeoff (causing the overboost) and then subsequently unstuck, reducing MAP to what it was supposed to be without any pilot input.

I also observed that while five of the six CHTs were rising as expected after takeoff power was applied, the CHT for cylinder #3 was falling, suggesting that cylinder #3 wasn’t making full power. If one cylinder wasn’t making full power, that would certainly account for the engine running rough. My diagnosis was that something went wrong with cylinder #3 after takeoff—maybe a clogged fuel nozzle, maybe a stuck valve—that caused the engine to run rough and scared the pilot into making a hasty and poorly executed downwind landing.

In reporting this to Paul, I added that “when confronted with significant dissonance between what a pilot reports and what an engine monitor reports, I’m inclined to believe the engine monitor.”

Do mechanics know too much?

Paul’s reply intrigued me:

Mike, thanks for the analysis. I agree with your diagnosis. But what I find most telling is the difference between my “mechanic’s analysis” and your “analyst’s analysis.” At the end of the day, I think like a career mechanic with decades of history crammed into my head, and my experience as a mechanic prejudices my view. Because the pilot’s account of events made me think of many occasions when Lycoming pilots get into a Continental airplane and turn on the electric fuel pump for takeoff, I was already spring-loaded to look for information to support this hypothesis.

My takeaway from this is that I—and I believe career mechanics in general—are  the wrong people to analyze engine data. Career mechanics carry too much mental baggage to be effective as analyst. What I see mechanics not doing well is “connecting the dots” to analyze an unusual event. It also occurs to me that we mechanics might do better if we looked at the engine monitor data first before we talk to the pilot. I think that would help us to evaluate the data more objectively.

Of course, I’m also a mechanic, but I don’t consider myself a “career mechanic” like Paul. I haven’t been working on airplanes since before puberty the way Paul has, and I’ve never made my living swinging wrenches the way Paul does. I don’t have those decades of real-world experiences crammed into my brain, so I tend to analyze things more “from first principles” while career mechanics like Paul tend to analyze them through “pattern matching” against the historical library in their noggins.

Thinking, fast and slow

Daniel Kahneman's book "Thinking, Fast and Slow"

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s book discusses human “two-system thinking” and explains its pitfalls.

In his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow, economist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman postulates that the human brain operates in two fundamentally different modes:

  • System 1 thinking:Operates automatically and quickly with little or no effort. It is fast, intuitive, emotional, and subsconscious.
  • System 2 thinking:Operates deliberatively and requires conscious effort. It is slow, rational, logical and calculating.

A student pilot relies on controlled System 2 thinking, requiring focused concentration on performing a sequence of operations that require considerable mental effort and are easily disrupted by distractions. In contrast, an experienced pilot, relying on automatic System 1 thinking, can carry out the same tasks efficiently while engaged in other activities (such as talking to ATC or calming a nervous passenger). Of course, the pilot can always switch to more conscious, focused and deliberative System 2 processing when he deems that to be necessary, such as when encountering challenging weather conditions or dealing with equipment failure.

Similarly, career A&P mechanics rely primarily on fast, automatic System 1 thinking. (Imagine what your maintenance invoice totals would be if they didn’t!) The more experience a mechanic has, the stronger his System 1 skills become. This kind of thinking serves the mechanic well most of the time, but it can break down when a challenging troubleshooting problem demands switching to slow, deliberative, thoughtful, logical System 2 thinking. Career mechanics often don’t have the time or training to flip that switch.

System 1 thinking is fast and easy and economical and even magical at times. The problem is that sometimes it yields the wrong answer. Consider this simple problem:

A bat and a ball together cost $5.50. If the bat costs $5 more than the ball, what does the ball cost?

Most people who look at that problem find that an answer—50 cents—pops into their mind immediately, effortlessly and without any conscious calculation. It’s intuitive, not reasoned.

It’s also wrong. The correct answer is 25 cents. To get the correct answer, most people have to consciously switch into “System 2 mode” and recognize that this is an algebra problem:

x + y = $5.50
x = y + $5.00
y = ???

Presented in that fashion, most people get the right answer. But such problems generally do not announce themselves as algebra problems. It takes training and skill to recognize when the mental switch needs to be flipped.

Do we need a new mechanic rating?

I attribute my skill as a troubleshooter largely to my training as a mathematician and my 30-year career as a professional software developer, both fields that deal with complex abstraction and absolutely demand strong System 2 thinking. At SavvyAnalysis.com, most of our professional engine monitor data analysts are not A&P mechanics. One is a genomics researcher, two are aeronautical engineers, and yet another is an award-winning music composer—all fields that require a great deal of System 2 thinking. It’s rather rare to find career A&P mechanics with these sorts of backgrounds.

Other professions—notably medicine and education—recognize that diagnosis and therapy (or troubleshooting and repair, if you prefer) are dramatically different activities that require dramatically different skill sets. We don’t expect our neurosurgeons to interpret CT scans or analyze tissue samples or evaluate blood labs—we rely on radiologists, pathologists and hematologists for those things.

Similarly, I think perhaps it’s time that we stopped relying on career A&P mechanics—who are basically aircraft surgeons—to troubleshoot difficult problems, and started recognizing “mechanic-diagnostician” as a new aviation maintenance specialty. What do you think?

Jolie Lucas

AOPA’s Regional Fly-Ins Connect Us All

January 12th, 2015 by Jolie Lucas
Plan now to attend

Plan now to attend

I was so happy to see the release of the dates and locations of AOPAs regional fly-ins last week. It reminds me of how big and small our world of aviation is. These free community events bring us together as lovers of all things aviation. A secondary benefit is to the communities that host the fly-in. Salinas, CA, Frederick, MD, Minneapolis, MN, Colorado Springs, CO and Tullahoma, TN will all experience the literal and figurative buzz from airplanes and helicopters as thousands make their way to the one-day events.

I believe that events at airports help the surrounding communities to see them as good neighbors. The more that we can bring folks to the airport for a positive experience, the more likely the public is to remember that when perhaps there is a noise issue. It also helps to highlight the multiple facets of our airports. Yes, airports are a transportation hub. But they are also an economic engine for the community bringing in business, pleasure, emergency response, recreational and charitable flights.

Having participated in all of the AOPA Regionals last year, with my service group, the Mooney Ambassadors, I have to say “hats off” to AOPA and whoever thought of the regional fly-in idea. The events were very well planned, implemented expertly and had a very friendly and approachable feel to them.

EAA's Jack Pelton, Mooney Ambassador Ed Mandibles

EAA’s Jack Pelton and Mooney Ambassador Ed Mandibles

I remember that early in the morning of the Chino, California event we had EAA’s Jack Pelton and nationally known aviation humorist Rod Machado stop by our display.  For me, these are famous people, yet they were sipping coffee strolling among the displays. It was so fun to have them look at Ed Mandible’s M18 Mooney Mite. This camaraderie to me means EAA supports AOPA, AOPA supports EAA. We all win.

EAA’s AirVenture at Oshkosh, WI is like Disneyland for aviators. It should be noted that I am a big fan of Oshkosh and have attended yearly for the past 6-7 years. One draw back to AirVenture might be work or geographical limitations that prevent us from attending a week-long show. With the regional format, I believe that we can might reach more aviation lovers. The day long event was also an avenue for meeting future pilots, and non-current pilots.

With the regional format I believe that any pilot would be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity to see nationally known speakers, authors and presenters in one place. When we consider that this event is free of charge that is just the icing on the cake. There will be volunteer opportunities as well, so if you can lend a hand, make sure to do so.

Now that the schedule has been published, make sure to mark your calendars, register and attend. Our aviation community is large, but these type events have a hometown feel that is just spectacular. Take advantage of the educational opportunities. Make sure to get there early to visit the exhibitors and vendors. Why not plan attendance with several planes from your home airport? Many of the venues offer free camping the day before and of the event. While there, when you see someone in the familiar khaki pants and blue AOPA shirt, thank them for their part. . Most of all come. When we join together, we have a unified voice. We need to protect our airports and promote General Aviation. Whether you fly-in or drive-in you will be happy you did.

AOPA PYM

AOPA PYM

Ron Rapp

Who’s the Best Pilot?

December 22nd, 2014 by Ron Rapp

One of the many iconic scenes (so much so that it recurs several times in the film) from The Right Stuff has astronaut Gordon Cooper asking his wife, “Who’s the best pilot you ever saw?” before answering his own question: “You’re lookin’ at him!” Gordo was telling a joke, of course, but it got me thinking about what constitutes a great pilot in the real world.

Accident statistics show that when light GA pilots try to operate on a firmly fixed schedule — for example, around the holidays — the risk level increases. AOPA recently published an Air Safety Alert to that effect, noting “a cluster of GA accidents occurring in close succession.”

Some of this probably has to do with the fact that the holiday season occurs in the winter for those of us living in the northern hemisphere. While the hot months have their own set of challenges, they tend to consist of things which present equal hazard to all aircraft: thunderstorms, high density altitude, etc. But whereas large multi-engine turbojets are well-equipped for cold weather flying, single-engine recips typically operate with minimal anti- and de-icing equipment, if any.

Anyway, it occurs to me that this kind of flying is exactly what we do in the Part 135 world. We operate on someone else’s timetable, and rarely is that schedule created with weather, circadian rhythm, airport staffing hours, or other such operational concerns in mind. As you might expect, the 135 safety record — while far better than Part 91 — does not reach the rarefied heights of the scheduled airlines. Some people feel it should. There are plenty of folks who feel Part 91 should reach that strata as well.

I tend to disagree.

Part 135 has the flexibility to operate at random times and into a far wider variety of places than scheduled airlines. While we do everything possible to make the flights as safe as humanly possible, flexibility cannot help but exact a price. Flying worldwide charter, I don’t know if my next trip will take me to Liberia or Las Vegas. I have to be prepared to go anywhere.

If that sounds incredible, then light general aviation flying should really blow your mind! The non-commercial Part 91 aviating so many of us do for personal reasons takes that freedom and ramps it up a hundred fold. Not only can you go anywhere you want at any time it suits you, you can do it at night, in IMC, in formation, and fly some aerobatics or sight-see along the way. You can fly a weird experimental airplane that you built in your garage. You can tow banners. Drop things from your airplane, then cut them up as they fall to earth? Yes, that’s fine. Fly high… or low. You can change your destination in mid-flight without asking anyone’s permission.

Heck, you can even take off with no destination whatsoever; those are some of my most cherished flights. When I call the VFR clearance delivery frequency at John Wayne Airport and they ask where I’m headed, nothing says freedom quite like using William Shatner’s response from the first Star Trek film: “Out there. That-a-way!”

Wrapping your mind around having the liberty to do those things while not being able to install a radio in your panel without approval from a certification office somewhere in Oklahoma City could cause a migraine… but let’s leave that for another day.

The point is, with added freedom comes added risk. And responsibility. It’s ironic that we think of airline pilots as having the greatest weight on their shoulders when rules, procedures, and operational specifications dictate almost everything they do. I’m not saying their job is easy. It ain’t. But if you’re not in awe of the authority and self-determination placed on your own shoulders every time you launch, think about this: we could have the safety record of the major airlines. All we’d need are the same rules and requirements for flight that they use. Seems to me that would be an awful lot like asking Santa for a big, dirty lump of coal in your stocking.

If there’s a way to have the freedom to land on five hundred foot long strips on the side of a mountain, tackle water runways, engage in flight training, and — most of all — fly to that family Christmas in an airplane with just one reciprocating engine without significantly higher risk than you’ll find on a typical airliner, I’d be quite surprised. But one thing every pilot has in common is that risk management is a major part of the job.

So as you contemplate that cross-country flight to celebrate the holidays with your loved ones, remember that the best pilot isn’t the one who finds the cheapest fuel, stuffs the most presents into the baggage compartment, or makes the softest landing. It’s the one who best manages the risk inherent in that flight.

Right, Gordo?

Jolie Lucas

It’s not about the nail! Well maybe it is.

December 13th, 2014 by Jolie Lucas
Work to keep your airport an airport

Work to keep your airport an airport

 

This month’s blog is a bit eclectic I will admit. Perhaps it is because the holidays are right around the corner, or the New Year is about to begin. As I reflect on the past couple of months in our aviation world I keep getting drawn back to a beautiful and historic airport, KSMO Santa Monica. As many of you know, the citizens of Santa Monica, CA recently voted on two initiatives directly related to the health and vitality of the iconic GA airport.

The grassroots group Santa Monica Voters for Open and Honest Development Decisions was successful in placing a ballot measure which would have required the City of Santa Monica to get approval from the voters with any changes or re-development of the airport. The residents did not support the ballot measure or the airport. Yet, the work of keeping SMO an airport will continue. I believe we are called to take a larger and a smaller view, both in Santa Monica and for all of us around the country.  I will attempt to explain.

When I was in graduate school for social work, we were trained to look for the macro and the micro view of the presenting problems of our clients. In a nutshell we have to look at the big picture and the small, the global and the personal. When we think about change, loss, or transition we need to see the forest and the trees.  As a psychotherapist the majority of my work is with clients undergoing change and an opportunity for growth.

Embrace Growth

Embrace Growth

 

This blog post from Mystic Mamma seems to fit the micro-bill. “It is very likely that our personal metamorphosis may feel chaotic, painful and very uncomfortable. Breathe and allow it, know it won’t last and it is a moving energetic flow. Then we are moving along with it all than clenching down and blocking the flow of energy. Truly, we may not be in control over the evolutionary force or how long things last in the growth and or healing, yet we have the option to make a conscious powerful choice to move with ease and effortlessness through non-resistance and knowing we are guided and supported by all of life.”   http://www.mysticmamma.com/

For me, this means knowing that change is hard, that believing in something and having to change your view is tough psychological work.   I also remember some very early advice I got from a leader in the GA community. He said, “Always be positive, in public, in the media, in your writing,  always be positive.”

How does this apply to aviation? We all, are airport, and airplane, lovers. When it comes to our local airport, we need to think small. By that I mean local level, community-based. How can your airport serve your community in non-aviation needs? Perhaps this would look like a space for community meetings, a host of a canned food drive, or a fund-raiser for the local humane society. With our home airports, sometimes we need to step up, raise our voices and let our opinions be known. This might mean speaking in front of the airport board, or county commissioners. Use your local airport as a resource. Bring the community inside the fence. We need to be able to tell the truth. If someone wants to do something unsafe at an airport, speak up. We need to be on guard for encroachments, misapplications of directives, and oppressive policies.

The second level of involvement is in between micro and macro, it is the state level. Are you involved with your state aviation association? Do you know who your regional director for AOPA is? Do you have a Representative or Congressman from your state on the GA Caucus? Have you thought about becoming involved with aviation at the state or regional level?

It's not about the nail

It’s not about the nail

Click on  this photo to the left for a fun look at the macro view.

 

In sum, let’s see the forest and the trees. Do what you can locally, today. Check in to your regional and state opportunities. Be an active member in our national associations. Together we can all see the nail, and pull it out!

Jack Olcott

Flight’s Universal Appeal

December 11th, 2014 by Jack Olcott

Richard L. Collins, possibly the most prolific and insightful of all General Aviation journalists, observed that our community spent inordinate attention on business uses of private aircraft when in fact flying was good fun and personally rewarding. While I would not be so bold as to speak for him, I suspect he would advocate that operating a GA aircraft for any purpose was an endeavor worth pursuing—provided we did so safely and with a modicum of proficiency.

Each person who flies has his or her own reasons for being an aviator. Freedom, control, participating in a unique activity that most people have not experienced, achieving the level of proficiency needed to be designated a “pilot”, seeing the world from a new perspective—all such attributes are worthy goals. Add to those motivations the ability to travel swiftly to interesting places, perhaps for business reasons or possibly just for fun, and I wonder why more people do not embrace General Aviation.

I contend that gaining what General Aviation can offer, and doing so with sufficient and justifiable confidence that a planned trip can be flown as scheduled, requires a significant level of knowledge and skill. Considerable time and attention is needed to achieve that competence, and far too many people decide that the gain of becoming a pilot is not worth the pain of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, about 50 percent of individuals who demonstrate sufficient motivation to obtain a student certificate and invest in initial instruction, even to the level of flying solo, drop out before they become a Private Pilot. About half of newly certified Private Pilots do not fly more than about 100 hours total before they let their physical lapse, thereby becoming inactive. While cost is certainly a factor in the decision not to pursue flying, I contend it is not the prime cause of the dropout phenomena. There are other popular activities, hobbies and passions far more expensive than private flying.

Based upon the broad spectrum of responses to my November offering for AOPA’s Opinion Leaders blog (Let’s Use Drone Technology to Expand Business Aviation), the word drone excites many emotions. Drone technology—use of GPS to fly a precise course, and data link capabilities to monitor the vehicle’s operational health during all phases of flight—is sufficiently well known and reliable to be applied to General Aviation aircraft in such a manner that operating a GA aircraft could be significantly simpler and predictable. No, the advanced GA aircraft would not be a drone—it would require a certified pilot with a specified level of recent experience to be legal.

The aircraft’s design, however, would incorporate sufficient technology to reduce pilot workload, avoid other aircraft and always operate within the allowable flight envelope.

I contend that if GA aircraft were more “operator friendly”, more people would chose to operate GA aircraft—for pleasure, for business or preferably for both business and pleasure.

Amy Laboda

Rulemaking Adjusts Training Device Credit for Pilot Certification

December 9th, 2014 by Amy Laboda

On Wednesday, December 3, 2014, the FAA issued a direct to final rule that will increase the allowed use of aviation training devices (ATDs) for instrument training. The rule will double the allowances under 14 CFR section 61.65(i) to 20 hours for credit in an ATD and allows flight schools operating under part 141 Appendix C to have a 40 percent training credit in an ATD for the instrument (IFR) rating. Previous allowances for ATD use were capped at 10 hours under part 61 and 10 percent under 141. The rule also removes the requirement to use a view-limiting device in the ATD. The comment period for the direct final rule will close Friday, January 2, 2015. The rule will become effective Tuesday, January 20, 2015, if no adverse comments are received.

In concert with this rule change is an update to Advisory Circular 61–136A, FAA Approval of Aviation Training Devices and Their Use for Training and Experience, which has been revised to improve guidance for the application and approval of these training devices. The AC also provides additional guidance on ATD use for training and how to properly log the time.

Finally, it looks like the FAA is coming around to agreeing with what we CFIIs have known for years. The airborne cockpit environment is a horrible classroom in which to teach. It’s noisy, full of distractions, occasionally unpredictable and, if the airplane is not tied down with the engine shut off, it is constantly moving through space-time. Frankly, any sane human being is scared of it, at first, though few would admit to it.

Ground school evolved from these realizations. Most flight instructors will acknowledge the learning benefits of imparting knowledge in quiet, well-lit, calming environments.  On the ground, in an ATD, CFIs can control how any flight lesson is going to play out.

Why? Because they hold most of the cards; no sudden ATC amendments to lesson plans, no unexpected flashing alternator-out lights, no tilted, giving up the ghost gyros mid-lesson and no unanticipated airspace restrictions or weather anomalies. That is, unless the CFII programs any of those anomalies into the ATD. Total control. Every teacher I know, no matter what discipline or age group, will tell you that really does feel good.

Students may not know it (they are often aching so badly for flight time that the thought of being in an ATD turns their stomachs) but flight simulation by computer is truly an extension of all the good things that ground school imparts to students. Doubling up on the ATD time, especially for IFR students, can easily shorten training time, sometimes cutting it in half, because it is easy for the instructor to program the ATD to quickly set up for repetition. Want to fly seven ILS approaches in an hour? No problem? Need to practice four different holding pattern entries? We can slew you instantly to any location, altitude, attitude—and you can take it from there. Over, and over, until you fly it right.

Cutting training time, however, is just one benefit of the ATD. The other is its cost. Most FBO-owned ATDs cost less to operate than an aircraft. That cost savings is passed to the student, who can save from one third to one half what it would cost to perform the same lesson in an aircraft.

Yes, this time the FAA knows what it is doing and has the stats to back up the decision. So make sure you get on the Federal Register site and let the FAA know we like the new ATD regulation. Do it before January 2!

Here is the link: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/12/03/2014-28485/aviation-training-device-credit-for-pilot-certification

Ron Rapp

A Self-Evident Solution

November 24th, 2014 by Ron Rapp

Times are tough for general aviation, and we need a solid partner and advocate in Washington now more than ever. Unfortunately, the FAA is proving to be the exact opposite—a lead weight—and it’s becoming a big problem.

Complaining about the FAA has been a popular spectator sport for decades. I feel for those who work at the agency because most of the individuals I’ve interacted with there have been pleasant and professional. They often seem as hamstrung and frustrated with the status quo as those of us on the outside. In fact, I took my commercial glider checkride with an FAA examiner from the Riverside FSDO in 2004 and consider it a model of how practical tests should be run. So I’m not suggesting we toss the baby out with the bathwater.

But somewhere, somehow, as an organization, the inexplicable policy decisions, poor execution, and awful delays in performing even the most basic functions lead one to the conclusion that the agency is beset by a bureaucratic sclerosis which is grinding the gears of progress to a rusty halt on many fronts.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Example 1: Opposite Direction Approaches Banned

If you’re not instrument-rated, the concept of flying an approach in the “wrong direction” probably seems… well, wrong. But it’s not. For decades, pilots have flown practice approaches in VFR conditions for training purposes without regard for the wind direction. There are many logical reason for doing so: variety, the availability of a specific approach type, to practice circling to a different runway for landing, and so on. John Ewing, a professional instructor based on California’s central coast, described this as “going up the down staircase”.

For reasons no one has been able to explain (and I’ve inquired with two separate FSDOs in my area), this practice is no longer allowed at towered fields. Here’s what John wrote about the change:

…the FAA has decided that opposite direction approaches into towered airports are no longer allowed. To the uninitiated, practice approaches to a runway when there’s opposite direction traffic may seem inherently dangerous, but it is something that’s been done safely at many airports for as long as anyone can remember. One example in Northern California is Sacramento Executive where all the instrument approaches are to Runway 2 and 90% of the time Runway 20 is in use.

At KSAC, the procedure for handling opposite direction approaches is simple and has worked well (and without incident, to my knowledge): The tower instructs the aircraft inbound on the approach to start their missed approach (usually a climbing left turn) prior to the runway threshold and any traffic departing the opposite direct turns in the other direction.

For areas like the California Central Coast, the restriction on opposite direction instrument approaches has been in place since I arrived in June and it has serious implications for instrument flight training since the ILS approaches for San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara are likely to be opposite direction 90% of the time. For a student to train to fly an ILS in a real aircraft, you need to fly quite a distance. Same goes for instrument rating practical tests that require an ILS because the aircraft is not equipped with WAAS GPS and/or there’s no RNAV approach available with LPV minima to a DA of 250 feet or lower.

The loss of opposite-direction approaches hurts efficiency and is going to increase the time and money required for initial and recurrent instrument training. As good as simulators are, there’s no substitute for the real world, especially when it comes to things like circling to land. Between the low altitude, slow airspeed, and division of attention between instruments and exterior references required for properly executing the maneuver, circling in low weather can be one of the most challenging and potentially hazardous aspects of instrument flying. If anything, we need more opportunities to practice this. Banning opposite-direction approaches only ensures we’ll do it less.

Example 2: The Third Class Medical

Eliminating the third class medical just makes sense. I’ve covered this before, but it certainly bears repeating: Glider and LSA pilots have been operating without formal medical certification for decades and there is no evidence I’m aware of to suggest they are any more prone to medical incapacitation than those of us who fly around with that coveted slip of paper in our pocket.

AOPA and EAA petitioned the government on this issue two years and nine months ago. The delay has been so egregious that the FAA Administrator had to issue a formal apology. Obviously pilots are clamoring for this, but we’re not the only ones:

Congress is getting impatient as well. In late August, 32 members of the House General Aviation Caucus sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx urging him to expedite the review process and permit the FAA to proceed with its next step of issuing the proposal for public comment. Early in September 11 Senators, who were all co-sponsors of a bill to reform the medical process, also asked the Department of Transportation to speed up the process.

So where does the proposed rule change now? It is someplace in the maze of government. Officially it is at the Department of Transportation. Questions to DOT officials are met with no response, telling us to contact the FAA. FAA officials comment that “it is now under executive review at the DOT.”

The rule change must also be examined by the Office of Management and Budget.

When the DOT and OMB both approve the proposal—if they do—it will be returned to the FAA, which will then put it out for public comment. The length of time for comments will probably be several months.

After these comments are considered, the FAA may or may not issue a rule change.

It occurs to me that by the time this process is done, it may have taken nearly as long as our involvement in either world war. Even then, there’s no guarantee we’ll have an acceptable outcome.

Example 3: Hangar Policy

The commonsense approach would dictate that as long as you’ve got an airplane in your hangar, you should be able to keep toolboxes, workbenches, American flags, a refrigerator, a golf cart or bicycle, or anything else you like in there. But the FAA once again takes something so simple a cave man could do it and mucks it up. The fact that the FAA actually considers any stage of building an airplane to be a non-aeronautical activity defies both logic and the English language. Building is the very essence of the definition. People who’ve never even been inside an airplane could tell you that. In my mind, this hangar policy is the ultimate example of how out of touch with reality the agency has become.

Example 4: Field Approvals

These have effectively been gone from aviation for the better part of a decade. It used to be that if you wanted to add a new WhizBang 3000 radio to your airplane, a mechanic could get it approved via a relatively simple, low-cost method called a field approval. For reasons nobody has even been able to explain (probably because there is no valid explanation), it became FAA policy to stop issuing these. If you want that new radio in your airplane, you’ll have to wait until there’s an STC for it which covers your aircraft. Of course, that takes a lot longer and costs a boatload of money, if it happens at all. But the FAA doesn’t care.

Homebuilts put whatever they want into their panels and you don’t see them falling out of the sky. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Example 5: RVSM Approvals

Just to show you that it’s not only the light GA segment that’s suffering, here’s a corporate aviation example. The ability to fly in RVSM airspace—the area between FL290 and FL410—is very important. Being kept below FL290 is not only inefficient and bad for the environment, it also forces turbine aircraft into weather they would otherwise be able to avoid. The alternative is to fly at FL430 and above, which can mean leaving fuel and/or payload behind, or flying in a paperwork-induced coffin corner.

Unfortunately, RVSM approval requires a Letter of Authorization from the FAA. If the airplane is sold, the LOA is invalidated and the new owner has to go through the paperwork process with the FAA from step one. Even if the aircraft stays at the same airport, maintained by the same people, and flown by the same crew. If you so much as change the name of your company, the LOA is invalidated. If you sneeze or get a hangnail, they’re invalidated.

From AIN Online:

Early this year the FAA agreed to a streamlined process to handle RVSM LOA approvals, but for the operator of a Falcon 50 that is not the case. He told AIN that he has been waiting since April for an RVSM LOA.

Because the LOA hasn’t been approved, this operator can fly the Falcon 50 at FL290 or lower or at FL430 or above. On a hot day, a Falcon 50 struggles at FL430. “The other day ISA was +10,” he told AIN, “and we are just hanging there at 43,000 at about Mach 0.72. If we had turbulence we could have had an upset. We’re right there in the coffin corner. Somebody is going to get hurt.”

On another recent flight in the Falcon, “There was a line of storms in front of us. We’re at FL290. They couldn’t let us climb, and I was about to declare an emergency. I’m not going to run my airplane through a hailstorm. It’s turbulent and the passengers are wondering what’s going on.”

When forced to fly below FL290, the Falcon burns 60 percent more fuel, he said. The company’s three Hawkers have a maximum altitude of FL410, and LOA delays with those forced some flights to down to lower altitudes. “We had one trip in a Hawker before it received its RVSM LOA,” he added, “and they got the crap kicked out of them. Bobbing and weaving [to avoid thunderstorms] over Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska in the springtime, you’re going to get your [butt] kicked.” The Hawker burns about 1,600 pph at FL370, but below FL290 the flow climbs to more than 2,000 pph.

It’s bad for safety and the FAA knows it. If they were able to process paperwork quickly, it might not be such an issue, but many operators find that it takes many months—sometimes even a year or more—to get a scrap of paper which should take a few minutes at most.

Show Me the Money

So what’s behind the all this? Americans love to throw money at a problem, so is this a budget cut issue? Perhaps the FAA is a terribly cash-starved agency that simply isn’t given the resources to do the jobs we’re asking of it.

According to the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General, that’s not the case. He testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure earlier this week that the FAA’s budget has been growing even as traffic declines:

The growth of the agency’s budget has been unchecked, despite the managerial failings and the changes in the marketplace. Between 1996 and 2012, the FAA’s total budget grew 95 percent, from $8.1 billion to $15.9 billion. During that same period, the agency’s air traffic operations dropped by a fifth. As a result, taxpayers are now paying the FAA nearly twice as much to do only 80 percent of the work they were doing in the 1990s.

Over that same 16-year span, the FAA’s personnel costs, including salary and benefits, skyrocketed from $3.7 billion to $7.3 billion—a 98 percent increase—even though the agency’s total number of full-time workers actually fell 4 percent during that time.

Self-Evident Solutions

Okay, we’ve all heard the litany of issues. From the inability to schedule a simple checkride to big problems with NextGen development or the ADS-B mandate, you’ve probably got your own list. The question is, how do we fix the problem?

I think the answer is already out there: less FAA oversight and more self-regulation. Look closely at GA and you’ll see that the segments which are furthest from FAA interference are the most successful. The Experimental Amateur-Built (E-AB) sector and the industry consensus standards of the Light Sport segment are two such examples. The certified world? Well many of them are still building the same airframes and engines they did 70 years ago, albeit at several times the cost.

Just as non-commercial aviation should be free of the requirement for onerous medical certification, so too should it be free of the crushing regulatory weight of the FAA. The agency would make a far better and more effective partner by limiting its focus to commercial aviation safety, promoting general aviation, and the protection and improvement of our infrastructure.

Mike Busch

Are You Overinsured?

November 19th, 2014 by Mike Busch

Cessna 172RG gear-upI received a plaintive email from Bob, the owner of a Cessna 172RG Cutlass who found himself in an unexpected predicament. Seems he had an unfortunate gear-up landing. The airplane suffered only minimal damage, largely limited to minor belly damage and the outer four inches of the prop tips curled back. The engine had only about 100 hours SMOH at the time of the incident. Surely, all of this would be covered by insurance.

Unfortunately, Bob was about to learn a painful lesson about hull insurance:

“When I bought the $60,000 hull insurance policy, I didn’t read the fine print that said $60,000 wasn’t really available to fix the airplane in the event of a mishap. The actual amount available is the $60,000 policy limit minus the salvage value. The insurance company claims that they can get about $15,000 for the airplane for salvage, which only leaves me with about $45,000 to get the airplane fixed.

“Now here’s the rub: The repair shop has given a flat-rate bid of $41,000 plus tax to repair the airframe and do the requisite post-prop-strike engine teardown inspection. However, the bid explicitly excludes the cost of any necessary engine repairs beyond replacement of routine parts (rings, bearings, gaskets, etc.). The engine shop tells me that if the teardown inspection reveals that crankshaft and/or crankcase is damaged, the additional cost to repair could wind up being tens of thousands of dollars.

“Looking at the risk equation: In the best-case scenario, the repair cost is $41,000 plus tax and the insurance will cover it (just barely). In the worst-case scenario (if the case and crank are bad), I could wind up being out of pocket as much as $20,000, which would be painful. Alternatively, I could let the insurance company take the airplane, accept the $60,000 payout, and move on. But the airplane is only minimally damaged, and losing it under these circumstances would also be painful. What should I do?”

I discussed the various options with Bob. I pointed out that should he opt to have the aircraft repaired, even in the best-case scenario he would wind up with an aircraft that had substantial damage history and impaired resale value, and in the worst-case scenario he’d wind up seriously underwater (i.e., having a lot more invested that the aircraft was worth).

I suggested that setting aside his emotional attachment to the machine, the most logical course of action might well be to take the $60,000 and go shopping for another airplane. I also suggested that if Bob decides to repair the airplane, he might do better working with a smaller engine shop that specializes in prop-strike teardown inspections, and I offered him a couple of referrals.

Twin perils

Bob’s predicament reminded me of my recent phone conversation with Jack, a  friend who owns a Cessna T310R like mine. Jack flies it about 250 hours a year on business. Its a gorgeous machine, with RAM engines, Black Mac props, recent paint and interior, and a panel full of glass that leaves me drooling in envy.

In the course of a wide-ranging chat about flying and airplanes, our conversation turned to aircraft insurance. Jack and I compared notes on what insurance agencies we each used, who underwrote our policies, and what annual premiums we were paying. Jack’s premiums were about double what I was paying. As we pursued the matter further, Jack revealed that he was carrying nearly $300,000 worth of hull insurance on his airplane.

“Wow, that seems like an awful lot of hull coverage,” I said. “Have you looked at Controller or Aircraft Shopper Online or Trade-A-Plane recently? The piston twin market is really depressed right now. I bet the current fair market value of your airplane isn’t anywhere close to $300,000. I doubt it’s not more than $200,000.”

Jack admitted that he hadn’t been paying much attention to the market lately, and that it was certainly quite likely that his airplane wouldn’t fetch anywhere near $300,000 if he tried to sell it now. “But I figure that if I wrecked my airplane, I bet it would take at least $300,000 to buy a replacement and get it equipped and refurbished to match what I’m flying now.”

More coverage might be worse

Cessna 310 wreckage

If this were your airplane, would you prefer to repair it or just take the money and run?

I explained to my friend the perils of buying too much hull coverage.

“Jack, if you overinsure your hull for $300,000 coverage limits and then you have an accident that seriously trashes the airplane, you’ve got a real problem. Rather than declaring your airplane a total loss and handing you a check for $300,000, the insurance company might reimburse you for $175,000 in repairs. That could mean that you might be flying the airlines for 6 to 12 months while your aircraft is being extensively rebuilt, and in the end you’d wind up owning an aircraft with extensive damage history and impaired resale value.  This is probably not the outcome you want.”

At the same time, underinsuring the hull is also perilous. If Jack insured his hull for $130,000 and then made a gear-up landing with only minimal damage to the airframe, the insurance company could declare the aircraft a “constructive total loss” and hand Jack a check for $130,000. The company would then take possession of the Jack’s plane. Again, this is probably not the optimum result for Jack.

As a general rule of thumb, if you have an aircraft accident and the estimated cost to repair exceeds 75% to 85% of your hull insurance policy limit (sometimes called “stated value”), the company will declare the aircraft to be a total loss, take possession of the wreck, and pay you the coverage limit (less any deductibles). The insurance company will then try to obtain whatever value they can from the wreck, either by selling it to a salvage yard or by having it repaired and selling it on the market. On the other hand, if the estimated cost to repair is less than 75% to 85% of your policy limit, the insurance company will let you keep your aircraft and pay for the repairs. It’s the insurance company’s decision whether to “total the airplane” (not yours), and they make that decision whichever way they consider to be in their best interests (not yours).

The moral here is always to insure your aircraft for its current fair market value—not more nor less.

What’s it worth?

VREF aircraft valuation serviceIt’s prudent to reevaluate the fair market value of your airplane annually prior to renewing your aircraft insurance policy. Your hull coverage limits should be adjusted up or down each year as necessary to reflect the realities of the market.

For this purpose, many aircraft owners utilize AOPA’s online VREF Aircraft Valuation Service available free to AOPA members. Another method is to research the asking prices of comparable aircraft on major aircraft listing sites like ControllerAircraft Shopper Online, Trade-A-Plane, and Barnstormers. When checking comps, keep in mind that actual sale prices are usually 5% to 10% below the listed asking prices.

Liability limits

In addition to hull coverage, your aircraft policy insures us for liability in case you hurt someone or something while operating your aircraft. The liability coverage pays for a lawyer to defend you (or your estate) in the ensuing civil litigation, and if the plaintiffs prevail it will pay them damages up to the policy coverage limits.

The overwhelming majority of aircraft owners purchase $1 million of liability coverage. That’s because it’s generally accepted that anything less than $1 million is simply not sufficient to protect against air crash litigation, and more than $1 million can be hard and expensive to get in today’s aviation insurance market.

But not all $1 million liability policies are created equal. Some offer $1 million “combined single limit” coverage (colloquially known as “smooth”), while other policies include per-person or per-seat sublimits—often $100,000 per person or $100,000 per seat.

There’s a huge difference between “smooth” and sublimit coverage. If you crash and your sole passenger sustains severe injuries, a smooth policy will pay up to a million bucks to cover his damages, while a sublimits policy will pay only 10% of that amount.

Not worried because you never fly with anyone but family and close friends in your airplane? Think again. If you and your sibling or closest friend die in a crash, you can bet that your passenger’s widow or kids will hire the most aggressive personal injury lawyer she can find to sue your estate and make sure your widow or kids wind up with as little as possible.

Sublimit coverage might be okay if you always fly solo or if you have minimal assets, but most airplane owners don’t fall into that category. For most of us, smooth liability coverage is a must—and it’s becoming harder to find. Some underwriters won’t write anything but sublimit liability coverage, and others will renew smooth coverage for existing customers but won’t offer it to new applicants.

So next time your aircraft insurance comes up for renewal, take some time to think about what hull and liability coverage limits you want.