Martin Rottler

Meditations on Flying

June 16th, 2014 by Martin Rottler

A few weeks ago I came across a beautiful and awe inspiring video on YouTube of two seventy-something Dutch women who had never flown on airplane before being treated to their first flight. The experience of watching the 10 minute video is quite touching, emotional, and well worth the time.

Cynics might say they weren’t getting a “real” experience flying on an airline (I could agree…flying on Ryanair across Europe nearly swore me off the aviation world once), but this movie isn’t about a private jet or the experience of business aviation. In its most basic form, it is about the magic and joy and ability that flight has to open up the world, even at the ages of 72 and 78. The sheer emotional reaction that these two have to the experience of being in Amsterdam one minute and Barcelona a few hours later is fantastic to view.

An & Ria after their First Flight. Screenshot from YouTube

An & Ria are all smiles after their first flight. Screenshot from YouTube

After watching these two delightful ladies experience and describe the flight (Ria’s granddaughter’s description of taking off as being “just like you are in love, such an unpleasant feeling” is one of my favorite lines of the video), I realized just how much I have taken for granted in my own experiences in the world of aviation. Whether flying as the passenger on an airliner or as the pilot of one of OSU’s fleet of aircraft, I often forget to take a moment or two to view the magic of the experience through the eyes of An & Ria. When I’m the one flying the plane, my attention and focus falls on the flight itself and the clock. A local flight becomes routine business and I tend to forget the fact that I’m doing something most of the rest of the world has never done and will never do. I forget the freedom and power flight brings and the amazing experiences it has unlocked for me. In college, I flew to Chipotle for dinner since we didn’t have it in Grand Forks. Two friends and I rented an airplane and flew to Florida for Spring Break. It’s amazing how I tend to miss those memories when I have to do yet another insurance currency flight because I’m too busy or the weather is too poor to keep me up in the air regularly.

As this video goes to show, we often times miss out on the absolute joy and special fact that as pilots we are experience something for which we are so very lucky to behold. For reasons outside and inside of their control, there are those like An & Ria who have never had the opportunity to experience a takeoff or landing, turbulence, or the amazing feeling of arriving in a new location far away. I’ve watched the video many times since first seeing it and it serves as a constant reminder to be thankful and aware of what a joyous industry I’m lucky enough to work and immerse myself in.

Ron Rapp

Trust Us — We’re Professionals

June 11th, 2014 by Ron Rapp

I’ve seen some ill-conceived policies emanate from the FAA over the course of my professional flying career. Some diktats are just busy work, while others fail to achieve an otherwise admirable end. But the worst are those that create the very hazard they are supposed to prevent.

Case in point: the recent adoption of 14 CFR 121.542(d), which prohibits the use of any personal electronic devices in flight. According to the FAA, this rule is “intended to ensure that non-essential activities do not affect flight deck task management or cause a loss of situational awareness during aircraft operation.”

Sounds great on the surface, doesn’t it? I mean, who could possibly oppose a rule which the Feds ostensibly see as the aeronautical equivalent of a ban on texting while driving? Keeping distractions at bay and pilots focused on flying has got to be a wonderful enhancement for safety.

But it’s not. The flight profiles of airlines, cargo haulers, charter companies, fractionals, corporate flight departments, and even private GA operators often dictate long stretches of straight-and-level flight with the autopilot on. Surely the FAA is aware of this. Now add in circadian rhythm issues associated with overnight flights, a dark cockpit with minimal radio traffic, and a flight crew pairing who have run out of things to talk about. There’s nothing to do but stare off into the inky darkness for hour upon hour. It’s a recipe for falling asleep.

Say what you will about distractions on the flight deck, but I’d much rather see a pilot peruse an issue of AOPA Pilot while in cruise than to have that individual zoned out or inadvertently napping. For one thing, the process of waking up takes time, whereas an alert human need only change focus. We already do that dozens of times on every flight anyway. Check in on the engine instruments, then answer a question from a passenger, then look out the window, then consult a chart. We do this all day long.

Is there much difference between reading a magazine and delving into the minutia of some random page of the Jeppesen manual when they’re both a form of busy work to keep the mind engaged during slow periods in cruise? I sincerely doubt a roundtable of experts in automation and human factors would have come up with a PED ban.

I can understand prohibiting them below, say, 10,000′ when the sterile cockpit rule is in effect. That’s a busy time for pilots, and non-essential items are naturally stowed at that point anyway. But electronic devices in and of themselves can be helpful in staving off the ultimate distraction. “Flight to Safety” author and Airbus pilot Karlene Petitt said it best:

Numerous studies have shown that one of the tips to help fall to sleep is to NOT watch television or work on your computer at a minimum of an hour before bedtime. The light suppresses melatonin production and stimulates brain activity. I’m not sure about you, but I want my pilots alert with stimulated brains. Give them something to do to keep them awake.

As many of you have probably noted, this rule is located in Part 121 and therefore only applies to scheduled airlines. From maintenance requirements to medical certification, their regs are the strictest around, so perhaps this seems much ado about nothing for a general aviation audience. But the FAA is of the opinion that this limitation should reach a lot further than United and Delta:

Recommended Actions: This prohibition on personal use of electronic devices on the flight deck in the final rule is applicable only to operations under part 121. However, Directors of Safety and training managers for all operators under parts 135 and 125, as well as part 91K, are encouraged to include operating procedures in their manuals and crewmember training programs prohibiting flightcrew members from using such devices for personal use during aircraft operation.

Will this eventually reach down to Part 91? Who knows. Even if it doesn’t, the real problem is that the FAA is spoon-feeding each and every individual action and prohibition to us without making allowances for the differences inherent in each type of operation. One-size-fits-all is wonderful for tube socks and scarves, but when it comes to flight safety, it’s just bad policy.

The smart way to go about this would be to leave it to the individual company, flight department and/or individual to determine what PED policy best serves the cause of safety. If you’re Southwest Airlines or a charter operator company flying VLJs, you probably aren’t flying long-haul trips and might be fine with reasonable PED limitations. Certainly using them below 10,000′ could be prohibited. But if you’re flying international cargo in a jumbo jet or hopping continents in a Global 5000 on legs of twelve or thirteen hours? That personal electronic device could be incredibly helpful in maintaining alertness.

Whether it’s a vocation or an avocation, pilots are a professional lot who can be trusted to make their own decisions about portable electronic devices.

Mike Busch

The Dark Side of Maintenance

June 10th, 2014 by Mike Busch

The Dark SideHave you ever put your airplane in the shop—perhaps for an annual inspection, a squawk, or a routine oil change—only to find when you fly it for the first time after maintenance that something that was working fine no longer does?  Every aircraft owner has had this happen. I sure have.

Maintenance has a dark side that isn’t usually discussed in polite company: It sometimes breaks aircraft instead of fixing them.

When something in an aircraft fails because of something a mechanic did—or failed to do—we refer to it as a “maintenance-induced failure”…or “MIF” for short. Such MIFs occur a lot more often than anyone cares to admit.

Why do high-time engines fail?

I started thinking seriously about MIFs in 2007 while corresponding with Nathan Ulrich Ph.D. about his ground-breaking research into the causes of catastrophic piston aircraft engine failures (based on five years’ worth of NTSB accident data) that I discussed in an earlier post. Dr. Ulrich’s analysis showed conclusively that by far the highest risk of catastrophic engine failure occurs when the engine is young—during the first two years and 200 hours after it is built, rebuilt or overhauled—due to “infant-mortality failures.”

But the NTSB data was of little statistical value in analyzing the failure risk of high-time engines beyond TBO, simply because so few engines are operated past TBO; most are arbitrarily euthanized at TBO. We don’t have good data on how many engines are flying past TBO, but it’s a relatively small number. So it’s s no surprise that the NTSB database contains very few accidents attributed to failures of over-TBO engines. Because there are so few, Ulrich and I decided to study all such NTSB reports for 2001 through 2005 to see if we could detect some pattern of what made these high-time engines fail. Sure enough, we did detect a pattern.

About half the reported failures of past-TBO engines stated that the reason for the engine failure could not be determined by investigators. Of the half where the cause could be determined, we found that about 80% were MIFs. In other words, those engines failed not because they were past TBO, but because mechanics worked on the engines and screwed something up!

Sheared Camshaft Bevel GearCase in point: I received a call from an aircraft owner whose Bonanza was undergoing annual inspection. The shop convinced the owner to have his propeller and prop governor sent out for 6-year overhauls. (Had the owner asked my advice, I’d have urged him not to do this, but that’s another story for another blog post.)

The overhauled prop and governor came back from the prop shop and were reinstalled. The mechanic had trouble getting the prop to cycle properly, and he wound up removing and reinstalling the governor three times. During the third engine runup, the the prop still wouldn’t cycle properly. The mechanic decided to take the airplane up on a test flight anyway (!) which resulted in an engine overspeed. The mechanic then removed the prop governor yet again and discovered that the governor drive wasn’t turning when the crankshaft was rotated.

I told the owner that I’d seen this before, and the cause was always the same: improper installation of the prop governor. If the splined drive and gears aren’t meshed properly before the governor is torqued, the camshaft gear is damaged, and the only fix is a teardown. (A couple of engine shops and a Continental tech rep all told the owner the same thing.)

This could turn out to be a $20,000 MIF. Ouch!

How often do MIFs happen?

They happen a lot. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t receive an email or a phone call from an exasperated owner complaining about some aircraft problem that is obviously a MIF.

A Cessna 182 owner emailed me that several months earlier, he’d put the plane in the shop for an oil change and installation of an STC’d exhaust fairing. A couple of months later, he decided to have a digital engine monitor installed. The new engine monitor revealed that the right bank of cylinders (#1, #3 and #5) all had very high CHTs well above 400°F. This had not shown up on the factory CHT gauge because its probe was installed on cylinder #2. (Every piston aircraft should have an engine monitor IMHO.) At the next annual inspection at a different shop, the IA discovered found some induction airbox seals missing, apparently left off when the exhaust fairing was installed. The seals were installed and CHTs returned to normal.

Sadly, the problem wasn’t caught early enough to prevent serious heat-related damage to the right-bank cylinders. All three jugs had compressions down in the 30s with leakage past the rings, and visible damage to the cylinder bores was visible under the borescope. The owner was faced with replacing three cylinders, around $6,000.

Sandel SN3308The next day, I heard from the owner of an older Cirrus SR22 complaining about intermittent heading errors on his Sandel SN3308 electronic HSI. These problems started occurring intermittently about three years earlier when the shop pull the instrument for a scheduled 200-hour lamp replacement.

Coincidence?

I’ve seen this in my own Sandel-equipped Cessna 310, and it’s invariably due to inadequate engagement between the connectors on the back of the instrument and the mating connectors in the mounting tray. You must slide the instrument into the tray just as far as possible before tightening the clamp; otherwise, you’ve set the stage for flaky electrical problems. This poor Cirrus owner had been suffering the consequences for three years. It took five minutes to re-rack the instrument and cure the problem.

Pitot-Static PlumbingNot long after that, I got a panicked phone call from one of my managed-maintenance clients who’d departed into actual IMC in his Cessna 340 with his family on board on the first flight after some minor avionics work. (Not smart IMHO.) As he entered the clag and climbed through 3,000 feet, all three of his static instruments—airspeed, altimeter, VSI—quit cold. Switching to alternate static didn’t cure the problem. The pilot kept his cool, confessed his predicament to ATC, successfully shot an ILS back to his home airport, then called me.

The moment I heard the symptoms, I knew exactly what happened because I’d seen it before. “Take the airplane back to the avionics shop,” I told the owner,  “and ask the tech to reconnect the static line that he disconnected.” A disconnected static line in a pressurized aircraft causes the static instruments to be referenced to cabin pressure. The moment the cabin pressurizes, those instruments stop working. MIF!

I know of at least three other similar incidents in pressurized singles and twins, all caused by failure of a mechanic to reconnect a disconnected static line. One resulted in a fatal accident, the others in underwear changes. The FARs require a static system leak test any time the static system is opened up, but clearly some technicians are not taking this seriously.

Causes of Accidents

Why do MIFs happen?

Numerous studies indicate that three-quarters of accidents are the fault of the pilot. The remaining one-quarter are machine-caused, and those are just about evenly divided between ones caused by aircraft design flaws  and ones caused by MIFs. That suggests one-eighth of accidents are maintenance-induced, a significant number.

The lion’s share of MIFs are errors of omission. These include fasteners left uninstalled or untightened, inspection panels left loose, fuel and oil caps left off, things left disconnected (e.g., static lines), and other reassembly tasks left undone.

Distractions play a big part in many of these omissions. A mechanic installs some fasteners finger-tight, then gets a phone call or goes on lunch break and forgets to finish the job by torqueing the fasteners. I have seen some of the best, most experienced mechanics I know fall victim to such seemingly rookie mistakes, and I know of several fatal accidents caused by such omissions.

Maintenance is invasive!

Whenever a mechanic takes something apart and puts it back together, there’s a risk that something won’t go back together quite right. Some procedures are more invasive than others, and invasive maintenance is especially risky.

Invasiveness is something we think about a lot in medicine. The standard treatment for gallstones used to be cholecystectomy (gall bladder removal), major abdominal surgery requiring a 5- to 8-inch incision. Recovery involved a week of hospitalization and several weeks of recovery at home. The risks were significant: My dad very nearly died as the result of complications following this procedure.

Nowadays there’s a far less invasive procedure—laproscopic cholecystectomy—that involves three tiny incisions and performed using a videoscope inserted through one incision and various microsurgery instruments inserted through the others. It is far less invasive than the open procedure. Recovery usually involves only one night in the hospital and a few days at home. The risk of complications is greatly reduced.

Similarly, some aircraft maintenance procedures are far more invasive than others. The more invasive the maintenance, the greater the risk of a MIF. When considering any maintenance task, we should always think carefully about how invasive it is, whether the benefit of performing the procedure is really worth the risk, and whether less invasive alternatives are available.

Ryan Stark of Blackstone LabsFor example, I was contacted by an aircraft owner who said that he’d recently received an oil analysis report showing an alarming increase in iron. The oil filter on his Continental IO-520 showed no visible metal. The lab report suggested flying another 25 hours and then submitting another oil sample for analysis.

The owner showed the oil analysis report to his A&P, who expressed grave concern that the elevated iron might indicate that one or more cam lobes were coming apart. The mechanic suggested pulling one or two cylinders and inspecting the camshaft.

Yikes! What was this mechanic thinking? No airplane has ever fallen out of the sky because of a cam or lifter problem. Many have done so following cylinder removal, the second most invasive thing you can do to an engine. (Only teardown is more invasive.)

The owner wisely decided to seek a second opinion before authorizing this exploratory surgery. I told him the elevated iron was almost certainly NOT due to cam lobe spalling. A disintegrating cam lobe throws off fairly large steel particles or whiskers that are usually visible during oil filter inspection. The fact that the oil filter was clean suggested that the elevated iron was coming from microscopic metal particles less than 25 microns in diameter, too small to be detectable in a filter inspection, but easily detectable via oil analysis. Such tiny particles were probably coming either from light rust on the cylinder walls or from some very slow wear process.

I suggested the owner have a borescope inspection of his cylinders to see whether the bores showed evidence of rust. I also advised that no invasive procedure (like cylinder removal) should ever be undertaken solely on the basis of a single oil analysis report. The oil lab was spot-on in recommending that the aircraft be flown another 25 hours. The A&P wasn’t thinking clearly.

Even if a cam inspection was warranted, there’s a far less invasive method. Instead of a 10-hour cylinder removal, the mechanic could pull the intake and exhaust lifters, and then determine the condition of the cam by inspecting it with a borescope through the lifter boss and, if warranted, probing the cam lobe with a sharp pick. Not only would this procedure require just 15% as much labor, but the risk of a MIF would be nil.

Sometimes, less is more

Many owners believe—and many mechanics preach—that preventive maintenance is inherently a good thing, and the more of it you do the better. I consider this wrongheaded. Mechanics often do far more preventive maintenance than necessary and often do it using unnecessarily invasive procedures, thereby increasing the likelihood that their efforts will actually cause failures rather than preventing them.
Mac Smith RCM Seminar DVDAnother of my earlier posts discussed Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) developed at United Airlines in the late 1960s, and universally adopted by the airlines and the military during the 1970s. One of the major findings of RCM researchers was that preventive maintenance often does more harm than good, and that safety and reliability can often be improved dramatically by reducing the amount of PM and using minimally invasive techniques.

Unfortunately, this thinking doesn’t seem to have trickled down to piston GA, and is considered heresy by many GA mechanics because it contradicts everything they were taught in A&P school. The long-term solution is for GA mechanics to be trained in RCM principles, but that’s not likely to happen any time soon. In the short term, aircraft owners must think carefully before authorizing an A&P to perform invasive maintenance on their aircraft. When in doubt, get a second opinion.

The last line of defense

The most likely time for a mechanical failure to occur is the first flight after maintenance. Since the risk of such MIFs is substantial, it’s imperative that owners conduct a post-maintenance test flight—in VMC , without passengers, preferably close to the airport—before launching into the clag or putting passengers at risk. I think even the most innocuous maintenance task—even a routine oil change—deserves such a post-maintenance test flight. I do this any time I swing a wrench on my airplane.

You should, too.

John Petersen

Fly By Mind

June 3rd, 2014 by John Petersen

In previous posts here I’ve suggested that one of the big problems with the future of flying is that it is too hard to learn how to fly an airplane.  Pilots today are manually controlling the same elevator-aileron-rudder combination like Lindbergh did when he was flying in the early 1920s, and mastering the control of three dimensions is not intuitive. Getting the mind and body to work in the right way to keep from crashing takes a lot of work and money and presents a significant barrier to entry to aspiring aviators.

FlyByMind1The solution to this problem is obvious.  Make all new airplanes fly-by-wire and drive the controls with a computer . . . which can be programmed to convert any new and easier pilot input scheme into appropriate control surface outputs.  The inputs could be almost anything – including, it is now clear, your mind.

In late May researchers from Technische Universität München in Germany described the emergence of a new paradigm. In part they said:

The pilot is wearing a white cap with myriad attached cables. His gaze is concentrated on the runway ahead of him. All of a sudden the control stick starts to move, as if by magic. The airplane banks and then approaches straight on towards the runway. The position of the plane is corrected time and again until the landing gear gently touches down. During the entire maneuver the pilot touches neither pedals nor controls.

FlyByMind2This is not a scene from a science fiction movie, but rather the rendition of a test at the Institute for Flight System Dynamics of the Technische Universität München (TUM). Scientists working for Professor Florian Holzapfel are researching ways in which brain controlled flight might work in the EU-funded project “Brainflight”.

I’ve tried to make it clear that we are on the verge of an unprecedented revolution in aviation, driven and supported by information technology.  We’re talking things much more than glass panels and things like that that, which although new, would look familiar.  This revolution is being described by the convergence of a number of breakthroughs, some of which (like mind control of the aircraft), seem very foreign how we think of flying and airplanes.

Many big breakthroughs in display and computer interface technologies get their start in the gaming and entertainment sectors.  Here demands for lifelike, high resolution presentations (think of the 3D film Avatar), compete with compellingly immersive virtual reality goggles and new, more intuitive input-output device.  Early computer thought control approaches showed up first in the gaming space. Now it is spreading to aviation.

FlyByMind3The gaming (and now Facebook) world has also produced another breakthrough product that is certain to change how we fly . . . and everything else.  The cover of the present issue of WIRED characterizes it thus:

This kid (21-year-old inventor Palmer Luckey), is about to change gaming, movies, TV, music, design, medicine, sex, sports, art, travel, social networking, education – and reality.  The Oculus Rift is here, and it will blow your mind.

Oculus is talking about a set of virtual reality goggles that: “. . . creates a stereoscopic 3D view with excellent depth, scale, and parallax. Unlike 3D on a television or in a movie, this is achieved by presenting unique and parallel images for each eye. This is the same way your eyes perceive images in the real world, creating a much more natural and comfortable experience.”

The WIRED article explains why Facebook paid $2 billion for this little start-up with two dozen employees a couple of months ago and why it represents a paradigm shift that will obviously change the whole idea of IFR flying.  Just think of putting on your Oculus Rift and making all of the weather disappear.  Drop it over your eyes and there’s a new augmented reality world that has every bit of information available from every database you select superimposed in front of your field of view.

Couple that with only needing to “think” about what you want to do and where you want to go and you’ve clearly got a new world out there.

Jolie Lucas

Will Fly for Pie!

May 30th, 2014 by Jolie Lucas

 

 1910 Fun

Circa 1910 Airplane Fun

Some pilots have all the fun.  When you think about it, fun is why most of us started flying. According to the National Endowment for the Humanities having fun is a relatively new concept in our nation’s lexicon. In the early twentieth century, the former Victorian ideals of decorum and self-restraint, once prevalent in the nineteenth century, gave way to the notion that “having fun” was good for one’s health and overall well being.

Cheap Suits in formation

Circa 2014 Airplane Fun

The Cheap Suits Flying Club exemplifies fun.  Recently I got a chance to talk to Joe Borzelleri, the co-founder of the flying club.  He was thrilled to tell me about the origins of the club, and how he believes that social flying clubs can impact General Aviation in a positive way.  “We are a bunch of guys and gals in Northern and Central California who fly high drag, low speed airplanes. Our mission statement: “We Fly for Pie!” We are known as the “Cheap Suit” Flying Club. This IS the most fun flying club in the history of ever,” says Joe.

Joe Borzelleri and John "Cabi" Cabigas Founders

Joe Borzelleri and John “Cabi” Cabigas,  Founders

This “flying club”, which started out very much tongue in cheek, was meant to be fun from the get go. Joe says, “In the beginning it was my good J-3 Cub buddy, John (Cabi) Cabigas, and me. It was not meant to be a formal club and it still is not. There are no regular meetings, no by-laws, no board of directors, no dues and no rules. The name Cheap Suit came about when Cabi suggested the use of a VHF interplane frequency that approximated the price of an inexpensive suit.”

Not long after, Cabi shared a logo to use.  Joe designed the front of the shirt to have the look of a cheap brown leisure suit. Soon, both designs were on t-shirts and with that, they were a fully functioning club with a flight suit!

Soon a Facebook “Cheap Suit” page was created. That’s when things really took off. Cheap Suits began to post their fly outs and other shenanigans on Facebook. It didn’t take long to have a large following. Cubs, Colts, C-120s/140s and other fabric-covered fun performance airplanes, soon joined them.

Cheap Suits Flight Suit

Cheap Suits Flight Suit

Cabi has taught many of the Suits the finer points of flying safely in formation. They also have participated in several memorial missing man formations for other aviators who have gone west.

About two years into the “Cheap Suits” flying club’s tenure, Joe began to pursue the idea of taking over the day-to-day management of his home airport, Sutter County (O52).  He says, “I was inspired by you and Mitch and the Friends of Oceano Airport (L52,) to get out there to do something to keep my airport open and affordable. The group of pilots involved in the organization are very passionate and love their home airport. I was thinking that if we could organize a bunch of guys to go get a $100 burger nearly every weekend, we might be able to form a legitimate organization and come up with a plan to run our airport.”

By utilizing social media, email and posters, they were able to organize a large group of local pilots and aircraft owners to form a non-profit organization. With the help of the California Pilot’s Association they did just that.  It has been a little over 2 years since that first meeting, and the Sutter Buttes Regional Aviation Association, will take over the management of the Sutter County Airport (O52) on July 1st, 2014!  “It was a road paved with red tape, and we couldn’t have not done it without the help of Stephen Whitmarsh of SBRAA, Cal Pilot’s Jay White, Bill Dunn and John Pfeifer of AOPA, along with Corl Leach and Bill Turpie of the Lincoln Regional Pilot’s Association, Harrison Gibbs of the Turlock Regional Aviation Association and Geoff Logan of Business Aviation Insurance Services, Inc.” says Joe.

Sutter Buttes Regional Aviation Association

Sutter Buttes Regional Aviation Association

The “Cheap Suits” Flying Club has been around for 5 years now. During this time they have flown to over 100 fly outs and airshows, and have flown thousands of miles, in close formation. The Suits have eaten a million dollars’ worth of burgers and pie, formed a non-profit airport management group and created many close friendships with other airplane people. What they do isn’t so much about airplanes, though. It’s about fun times, flying memories, shredded toilet paper, river runs, making lifetime friendships, helping friends in need, and hanging out with people who love life.  Maybe a story like this will inspire you to do something fun at your home ‘drome.  After all if they knew in 1900s that fun was “good for one’s health and well-being,” who are we to argue?

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cheap-Suits-Flying-Club/141010646601

http://www.sutterbuttesaviation.org/

http://www.CalPilots.org

Jack Olcott

Still Disappointed

May 30th, 2014 by Jack Olcott

I continue to be disappointed by the abuse that Business Aviation suffers from the general media.  Op Ed writers and critics obsess over corporate jets when they write about the convoluted provisions in our nation’s tax code, insisting that companies owning aircraft receive an obscene share of special tax privileges.

For example, a column on the front page of a prominent newspaper’s business section addressed loopholes in the rules governing corporate taxes.  The first provision discussed was the tax treatment of “carried interest”, which allows hedge fund executives to treat their earnings as capital gains rather than ordinary income even though their profits are often generated through trades that are transacted in a matter of milliseconds. You and I must hold our investments for a full year to have them subject to treatment as capital gains.   We are not talking about chump change here:  The tax rate on ordinary income can reach as high as 39.6 percent, while the capital gains tax is capped at 15 percent.   Furthermore, other industries such as private equity firms, venture capital houses, the oil & gas industry, and investment partnerships related to real estate enjoy the advantages of carried interest.  In the course of a year, billions of dollars are shielded from the tax rate that applies to ordinary income.  The subject deserved to lead a column on loopholes.

The next tax treatment to be challenged dealt with penalties charged by the government for wrongdoing, such as the fines big banks paid for their transgressions associated with the recent financial crisis.  Corporations are allowed to deduct fines when paying federal taxes, but individuals can’t.   Admittedly, not all corporations take advantage of that provision—the Government Accounting Office found that in 2005, 14 of the 34 corporations with settlements of over $1 billion elected to not deduct their penalty costs.   But you and I have no option.  We cannot deduct the cost of speeding tickets.

Then the newspaper writer penned  a very short paragraph attacking the tax provision that allows a corporation owning a business aircraft for industrial aid (i.e., no commercial flights such as charter) to depreciate the asset over five years rather than seven years, as would be the case if the same aircraft were flown in some form of commercial service.  The minimum period for depreciating a commercial airliner, for example, is seven years.   The difference in depreciation schedules if closed would be less than $400 million per year—not insignificant but certainly not in the same league as the author’s other example of what he called “Corporate Loopholes to Covet”.

Yet the lone picture illustrating the article was…yes, you guessed correctly, a corporate jet!

Writers assume that any piece of metal called a corporate jet is eligible for favorable tax treatment, including depreciation.  Such is not so.  In general, a business aircraft is subject to the same IRS rules as other capital assets.

To be considered a business expense eligible for depreciation, an aircraft (just like other items of capital equipment) must be ordinary, necessary and helpful to the business.  The use of the asset must be a common and accepted practice, and the expenses claimed must be reasonable.    Owning an aircraft solely for personal use—dashing off to the Hamptons, for example—does not entitle the owner to depreciate the asset or deduct expenses.  Corporations that allow non-business (i.e., personal) use of the company aircraft must follow IRS rules imputing the value of the travel to the beneficiary’s personal tax return, and personal use hours cannot be included the corporation’s calculation of operating expenses.  There is no bright line, however, that separates when too much personal use deems the aircraft ineligible for tax treatment as a corporate asset.  But the IRS is diligent in disallowing claims that an aircraft is a business tool when its use is primarily personal.

A case can be made that our nation’s tax laws need examination, but corporate aircraft should not be the poster child for reform.

Max Trescott

Happy Birthday Garmin G1000 – 10 Years

May 28th, 2014 by Max Trescott

G1000 Birthday Cake 10th AnniversaryCongratulations to Garmin on introducing the G1000 ten years ago. I bet most readers are surprised that this wildly successful glass cockpit has been around so long. If you still haven’t flown one of these fun systems yet, don’t let another ten years slip by before you do!

A Brief History
Rarely in the last fifty years has General Aviation experienced such a tidal wave of change. In only two years, the industry converted nearly 100% of piston aircraft shipments from round gauges to glass cockpits. And for the first time, it meant that a student pilot could learn behind the same glass panel that he or she might later use in a jet!

Cirrus and Avidyne led the revolution in 2003 by adding a PFD (Primary Flight Display) to the MFD (Multifunction Display) that already shipped in the SR20 and SR22. That glass cockpit system, the Avidyne Entegra had its greatest success at Cirrus until the Cirrus Perspective, a G1000 derivative, debuted in the SR22 in May 2008.

The Garmin G1000 was first shipped in a Diamond DA40 in June 2004. Meanwhile, in Independence, Kansas, nearly completed Cessna 182’s were filling the ramp as the factory awaited their G1000 deliveries. The first Cessna 182/G1000s were delivered in July 2004 and 172s began shipping with the G1000 in early 2005.

By mid-2005, five aircraft OEMs including Cessna, Diamond, Beechcraft, Mooney, and Tiger announced shipment of the Garmin G1000 in most of their piston aircraft. Columbia, which previously offered the Avidyne Entegra in their 350 and 400 aircraft, converted to the G1000 in early 2006, though not without a major problem from Mother Nature. Nearly 50 new Columbias were parked outside the factory, all awaiting delivery of G1000 systems, when a freak hailstorm pelted the planes. Months were spent quantifying the damage and determining how and if to repair the composite wings, which had hundreds of micro dents from the hail.

The Revolution
Reading or hearing about a glass cockpit for the first time is akin to reading or hearing about EAA’s AirVenture at Oshkosh. Until you actually experience it, it’s hard to imagine just how great it is and how much it will exceed your expectations.

I was initially skeptical when I read magazine reports about the then new G1000. I’d spent 25 years working in the high technology industry, where occasionally I saw technology thrown at problems that could have been solved in simpler ways. So when I first read about the G1000, I recall thinking “What a waste of a computer,” to install one in the instrument panel of a GA aircraft. How wrong I was.

By early 2005, curiosity led me to get an hour of dual instruction in a G1000-equipped Cessna 182. Immediately I knew it was different, but I didn’t want to rush to judgment until I’d had time to reflect on the experience.

I wrote about my conclusion in Max Trescott’s Garmin G1000 and Perspective Glass Cockpit Handbook

“The single biggest benefit of the G1000 and Perspective, compared to competitive products, is that it allows you to aviate, navigate and communicate from a single 10-inch or 12-inch display. In contrast, competitive products have pilots looking in multiple places to see data and reaching in multiple places to operate controls.”

Having your eyes near the primary flight instruments all the time reduces the odds of entering an unusual attitude while tuning a radio or entering a GPS flight plan. Plus, the 10-inch wide artificial horizon is far superior to the 2-inch airplane symbol found in most round gauge attitude indicators. But that’s just the beginning. Glass cockpit aircraft contain many safety features, like traffic, terrain, and weather information that have the potential to reduce accidents when pilots are trained in their use and use them properly.

Glass cockpits have also changed the paradigm for avionics. Historically, avionics stayed on the market for many years with few changes until entirely new models replaced them. Quoting again from my G1000 Book, “The G1000 system clearly breaks this paradigm. First, with two large software-driven displays, new features can be continually be added to the G1000 in far less time than it took to design, manufacture, and release traditional avionics…The Ethernet bus architecture also makes it easy for new devices to be designed and connected to the G1000.”

But if engineering school taught me anything, it was that there are tradeoffs in every design decision. Today’s new computer and software-based avionics, as good as they are, occasionally suffer from the same woes seen in the computer world. For example, one time a Columbia 400 equipped with TAS, an active traffic system, came back from maintenance with TIS, a less capable traffic system. It turned out the maintenance personnel forgot to reload the software for the TAS system, so it effectively disappeared!

The Future
So where are we headed? Undoubtedly, Garmin will pack a few more new features into the G1000 and Perspective through software upgrades and possibly more hardware additions. So existing owners can expect some new features. Eventually the speeds of the now ten-year old processors will limit upgradability. But it is a modular architecture, so Garmin might in the future offer new hardware modules to provide G1000 and Perspective owners with an upgrade path that adds robust new features.

The G1000 and Perspective may appear in a few more aircraft types, possibly as retrofits to older turbine and jet aircraft and perhaps in a few new aircraft types. But Garmin now offers the G2000, G3000, and G5000 on the high end and the G300 on the low end, so that keeps the Garmin G1000 from moving up or down into these markets. I don’t expect to see the G1000 being retrofitted into many older single engine piston aircraft. With the average age of the GA fleet approaching 40 years, the cost of the upgrade would exceed the value of most of these planes, so the market opportunity is too small for Garmin to pursue. However these older aircraft are an excellent target market for partial glass cockpit upgrades using solution like Aspen Avionics and portable iPad solutions.

Of course someday the G1000 will be replaced with something new. The workhorse Garmin 430 shipped for about 14 years. But the G1000 is more upgradeable, so it could conceivably have a longer product life cycle. And there’s always the possibility that Bendix/King, or another competitor, could introduce a new product that replaces the G1000 in a future refresh of new aircraft cockpits.

The impact of the G1000 and other glass cockpits cannot be overstated. For years, airline pilots told me the G1000 “was better than what I have in the airliner I fly.” But sadly, glass cockpit-equipped aircraft are still a small fraction of the overall GA fleet, partially because of the slowdown in new aircraft sales since the 2008 recession. Most pilots still aren’t flying in them and thus aren’t benefiting from their safety advantages.

So on the tenth birthday of the G1000, we should thank Avidyne and Cirrus for starting the glass cockpit revolution in GA aircraft, and thank Garmin and Cessna for making it such a widespread phenomena. Kudos to all of these companies for their great work! Now let’s get started on the next revolution in General Aviation…What do you think it will be?

Amy Laboda

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

May 27th, 2014 by Amy Laboda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Rottler

The Life & Times of a Collegiate Flight Team

May 22nd, 2014 by Martin Rottler
Many tails. One Goal.

Many tails. One Goal.

Two weeks ago, the air traffic control tower at The Ohio State University Airport logged 6400 operations. On its busiest day, the airport had 1400 operations, and averaged 850 a day, which comfortably put it in the top ten busiest airports in the USA. The takeoffs and landings?
A vast majority of them completed by a number of Cessna 150s and 152s, with a few Maules, Archers and 172s thrown into the mix for good measure.

What was the cause of this drastic increase in traffic? This past week, Ohio State and the OSU Airport played host to the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s (NIFA) Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference, more affectionately known as SAFECON. During the week, collegiate aviation students from 27 schools around the United States competed in ground and flight events ranging from precision landings to aircraft recognition.

As the faculty advisor for the OSU Flight Team, I have become very aware of the skill, devotion and passion these students have for the world of aviation and flying. Our team (and by extension, the other teams as well) spend much of their limited free time studying, practicing and preparing for the various events that make up a SAFECON competition. There are practices on Saturdays or Sundays and before/after classes as early as 6AM during the week. As a flight student attending one of the competing NIFA schools, joining a Flight Team is a great way to build skills and knowledge both on the ground and in the air. The preflight inspection event, for example, gives competitors 15 minutes to find 50-70 maintenance “bugs” (done and reversed by an A&P) on a general aviation aircraft. These “bugs” can range from the obvious (flat tires, changed registration numbers) to the inconspicuous (a loose inspection panel screw, blocked pitot drain). Practice searching for these discrepancies gives the competitors a new and detailed understanding of aircraft systems and the importance of a thorough preflight.

The Ohio State University Flight Team. Competitors are in the back row and coaches in the front row.

The Ohio State University Flight Team. Competitors are in the back row and coaches in the front row.

Thanks to the coaching and mentorship of current students, alumni and volunteer coaches & judges, students who participate in these events also gain valuable access to a wide network of industry contacts, all of whom could one day provide leads for a step forward in future careers. Both recent and not-so-recent alumni from many schools return during the lead up to competition and the actual competition to volunteer their time and efforts to support the students and their success in various events. After a week of wide ranging weather, this year’s National Champion is a well-deserved Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. No matter the place, students who competed in the events hopefully gained valuable experience that will pay off in their aviation careers!

Jamie Beckett

Stand up, speak out, get noticed

May 21st, 2014 by Jamie Beckett

I wrote a piece not long ago that extolled the virtues of telling your own story. In a nutshell, I encouraged people to get out and share the reasons aviation is important to them. Nothing beats a first-person account of a noble pursuit. Nothing.

Ah, you want proof. Fair enough. Consider this, then. Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick begins with the sentence, “Call me, Ishmael.” Right. Now I’m paying attention. This Ishmael guy is talking directly to me, so I’ll read on for a bit and see what he has to tell me. That reaction is why I can mention a book that’s over 150 years old, and you immediately know what I’m writing about.

That first sentence could just as easily have been, “The whaler’s name was Ishmael,” but that’s a lousy opening line. If the story started like that you never would have heard of Herman Melville, or Moby Dick, or the great white whale being hunted to the ends of the earth by Captain Ahab.

So I went out on a very short, sturdy limb and suggested aviation enthusiasts should make it a point to go out and tell their own story. Speak and write in the first person. Talk about the luminaries you’ve met, the mentors who helped you get to the next level, and the friends you’ve made along the way. Write about your inspiration and the legends of the industry who lit a fire in your imagination. Tell your story from your perspective and share your passion.

Now that’s a pretty simple message. It’s basic. It’s got punch. Herman Melville would approve, I’m sure. J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Mark Twain would concur, as well.

All those authors have something in common. They wrote and achieved success before the advent of social media. For all it’s benefits, social media also has the disturbing quality of allowing any of us to vent with an immediacy that is counter to our best interests. Great writing involves thinking. And thinking involves time and introspection. Social media abhors those requirements in favor of quick, knee-jerk responses that may very well expose us to the world as…well, jerks.

Take steps, not leaps. More often than not, great leaps are a bad idea. Instead, read. Think. Think some more. Formulate an opinion. Write it down if you think it has merit. Edit it. Consider having someone else look at it. Maybe you could enlist an actual editor if you know one, or your spouse, or your mom. Look at it to see if it really expresses what you want to say. Ask yourself if it’s a positive message you’re sharing or a negative one.

That last sentence is important. We all get cranky from time to time. We lash out. We defend our turf. We attack. But look at that exchange from the perspective of the other person and ask yourself, how effective would that argument be if it was directed at me?

We will all read letters to the editor we disagree with. Each and every one of us will occasionally take offense at something someone else has written, or said, or turned into a movie that does moderately well at the box office, even though the critics pan it and the Academy shows no interest when award season swings into high gear. Before we launch off on a tirade in an attempt to correct the transgression we perceive, ask yourself this – are they telling your story wrong, or are they telling an entirely different story that doesn’t align with yours?

Their story is not your story. My story is not your story. Yours is unique, worthwhile, valuable, and precious. So share it yourself. Tell the world. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you can require someone else, anyone else, to tell your story accurately, in the way you want it to be told. You can’t. Taking even the first step down that road is a guarantee of failure and heartache later on.

With all that in mind, I’ll repeat myself. Read. Think. Think some more. Formulate an opinion. Write it down if you think it has merit. Edit it. Publish.

If you do those few things, in that order, your chances of having a positive result increase dramatically.

Good luck to you. Good luck to us all.