WE CAN MAKE 2015 A GOOD YEAR FOR GENERAL AVIATION

I first read Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING as a teenager, and I’ve read it a few more times since. Positive thinking works. I have tried to instill its principles in my children, grandchildren and friends.

For those of us living in the real world, there is certainly a lot to be concerned about and we can’t change much of that alone but brought down to our own, much smaller world, closer to home, there is a lot we can do with a positive attitude and a little bit of deliberate effort. It feels good to make a difference. I think it’s a responsibility!

So, if you will join me in the coming year, I have some suggestions about how we can make a difference in General Aviation in 2015:

There are already some signs of better times in the industry press, so lets put together a plan and follow through with it… starting with a positive attitude!

There is a very real possibility that the a Driver’s License Medical NPRM will surface during the first quarter. During the customary comment period, we need to put together some very good input for FAA. Watch the AOPA website for guidance and do all you can to help with that effort.

Familiarize yourself with AOPA’s “Rusty Pilots” initiative. There are lots of us who are rusty, including me, and we can get back in the air easier than you think. Learn about this and spread the word to your friends… take them with you when you go to the airport and just “hang out”. We need to resurrect some old “airport bums” and restore that great camaraderie at the airport. And… most impromptu invitations to “go flying” occur in the lobby at the airport.

Look for local airport events like breakfasts and fly-ins and go to them. These things aren’t expensive and you will have a great time. Don’t just go once and don’t just go to one!

In an earlier blog I pointed out the importance of making sure we are voting for people at the local, state and national level that support general aviation. With that in mind, we need to cultivate those relationships as well as those that may not yet be in our corner. Make sure your airport in “engaged” in your community. Get youngsters involved at your airport and promote aviation education. Be a catalyst for airport events that support local non-profit organizations, attend local government meetings, have an airport reception for your locally elected state officials and come up with other unique ideas to get everyone thinking positively about your airport and general aviation. Invite your friends expand their lives by learning to fly.

One more, really important thing… make it a personal goal to get a new or renewed AOPA member every month during the coming year! There’s strength in numbers.

If we each will do some of these things we will make a real difference and we will feel good about ourselves too. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

PROTECT GA At YOUR POLLING PLACE

AOPA members are well informed and politically active so it is with some trepidation that I write this blog. My apology if it seems a bit too basic but sometimes it’s just too easy to overlook the obvious.

With Primary Elections taking place and a nationally significant General Election looming, I hope we will remember how important our state and local elections are to General Aviation as well. Support for local airports starts at home and extends to all of our state capitols as well. This is where we AOPA Regional Managers do most of our work, so we are acutely aware of how important it is that your local elected officials, State Representatives and Senators be informed advocates for general aviation and supporters of local airports. Local, constituent pilots play an incredibly important role in assuring that those elected to office closest to home are confirmed advocates. Meeting candidates seeking public office and getting to know them is so important. Learn up close and personally about how knowledgeable they are about aviation and airports. Help them understand the benefits for their entire community.

There’s a great section in the AOPA website that will help your advocacy efforts. Under ADVOCACY, it’s entitled AOPA Resources for You. One important section is “Candidate Forums”. Putting one of these together and inviting candidates for office right there at home is very powerful. And you will feel so good about doing this when it’s over.

We would like to hear your stories about your own advocacy efforts, even if it’s just that you have taken a candidate for office to coffee. It’s the seemingly little things that make a huge difference. Special thanks for getting involved!

NORTHEAST TENNESSEE EXPANDS AVIATION EDUCATION

Scribblings on a piece of scrap paper and a restaurant napkin late last year were the beginnings of what has become The Northeast Tennessee Aviation Education Initiative. Its’ Founders are Tennessee State Representative Tony Shipley, AOPA member Henry Somers and Bell Helicopter’s Richard Blevins. Blevins is also a pilot an AOPA member.

L-R: Somers,Shipley, Blevins

L-R: Somers,Shipley, Blevins

The impetus behind this initiative is a strategy to position the region to attract more aviation and aerospace companies like Bell Helicopter. Currently, Bell has to look elsewhere for technically qualified employees.

A first step in the aviation initiative was a recent announcement that Northeast State Community College will begin offering courses in aviation technology this Fall. NSCC President Janice Gilliam also announced a new $35.5 million Emerging Technologies Complex that will be built on campus, overlooking Tri-Cities Airport. The Aviation Education Initiative plan includes the addition of flight training. And, hopefully, adding aviation curricula to its 4-year degree offerings at East Tennessee State University. Middle Tennessee State University’s Aerospace Department in Murfreesboro, near Nashville, has a world-class aviation industry reputation with over 700 career course offerings that include Professional Pilot, Airport and Aircraft Maintenance Management and Air Traffic Control.

Some high schools in the region are already adding STEM based aviation courses that will prepare students to enter the NSCC and ETSU programs. Students will have options available to them to pursue either post-secondary certifications, 2-year or 4-year degrees. As a result of legislation passed this year by the Tennessee General Assembly, beginning in the Fall of 2015, all high school graduates in Tennessee can receive free tuition to a 2-year community college or technical school in the state. Students have to attend full-time and must meet grade point requirements.

I am a proponent of aviation education, starting as early as possible. For more than 50 years, Tennessee has held Aviation & Aerospace Education Teacher’s Workshops at four state universities during the Summer. The tuition for K-12 teachers is paid through the State’s dedicated aviation fuel taxes fund. Teachers learn how to incorporate aviation into lesson plans because aviation has proven to enhance learning. The STEM based aviation high school courses prescribed by the Institute for Aerospace Education (www.iae.aero) are really hands-on. They introduce students to learning to fly and aircraft maintenance. The local airport becomes a “learning lab”.

All of aviation benefits from programs like this Northeast Tennessee Aviation Education Initiative. Whether it’s career oriented or just learning how important aviation is in our daily lives, this becomes another step toward building the pilot and AMT populations that are so critical to our industry and our economy.

SOUTH CAROLINA’S GOT IT GOIN’ ON

 

SCBC LogoI have represented AOPA in South Carolina for 30 years and have never ceased to be amazed at the general aviation energy in the Palmetto State. This past weekend I had the pleasure of enjoying an aviation tradition that I have somehow missed until now. It’s the incredible “South Carolina Breakfast Club”, a real southern breakfast, with everything, including grits, biscuits and gravy, great fellowship and flying! Every other Sunday since 1938 (that’s 76 years) pilots & aviation enthusiasts in and near South Carolina have met for breakfast. There are no dues and no meeting requirements! Breakfast costs about $6 – $10 a plate – its ready about 9AM and there is always plenty to eat. Fly in or drive to the airport, have a great breakfast and talk flying until your hearts content! Pilots or non-pilots it doesn’t matter… everyone’s welcomed!

The South Carolina Breakfast Club is led by President Gerald Ballard who has been visiting airports around South Carolina and a few surrounding states every other Sunday since 1938. He only missed events during World War II when fuel was not available. The SCBC has no dues — you join by attending your first one and the only rule is to “fly safe.” Gerald wasn’t at the one at Rock Hill (UZA) this past Sunday but Stoney Truitt made me feel right at home real quick. He even made me a

Stoney & Bob“Life Member”; gave me a patch to prove it as well as a nice gold SCBC pin and last year’s 75th anniversary patch. I suspect that everybody that attends for their first time gets the same but it was only me on Sunday. I’ll have them sewn on to my vest along with all that other stuff that proves I’m a real pilot.

Yes, there a lot of fly-in breakfasts going on in the South but this one is exceptional. It’s an established tradition, all year round, on Sunday mornings, every other week and it moves all over the state. Valerie Anderson is the current “historian”. She takes lots of pictures during each event, turns them into a nice video that is accessible on-line. You can check it out further at the SCBC website: www.flyscbc.com . The annual schedule of locations is right there. You ought to try and get to of these breakfasts sometime soon.

I moved on to Spartanburg after the breakfast club on Sunday to meet with the Spartanburg Pilot’s Association on Monday evening at Spartanburg’s Downtown Airport (SPA), the oldest airport in South Carolina. The SPA now boasts more than 70 members and there were two new ones who had just soloed recently there too. My gracious host was association President, Terry Connorton and I think everyone there was an AOPA member. Thanks! The Spartanburg Pilots Association was organized about two and one-half years ago and is clearly prospering. I was impressed by their busy activities schedule… lots of events to attend around the region and fly-outs to other airports. Terry said they would plan to arrange flying to our AOPA Southern Region Fly-In at St. Simons Island on November 8th. This local pilots association is a perfect example of one way we can make flying fun again. It establishes a nucleus where pilots can gather and feel welcomed to be around people with the same interest. The activities add even more enjoyment. And what a great place to bring friends to introduce them to flying! I began this blog by mentioning the extraordinary general aviation energy in South Carolina. These two examples are just the beginning. There is so much more: The Triple Tree Fly-In in September 3-7, 2014 – www.tripletreeaerodrome.com ; The Southeast Aviation Expo at Greenville Downtown Airport – September 26-27, 2014 – www.scaaonline.com/southeast-aviation-expo , the South Carolina Aviation Association’s Annual Conference, Feb. 11-13, 2015 – www.scaaonline.com/sample-page/scaa-annual-conference and more I am sure.

We could all learn something from the GA activities and energy in South Carolina. Fly over there sometime soon and enjoy some real Southern Hospitality.

PAYING IT FORWARD

My interest in aviation education frequently leads to discussions with my peers about the current world of aviation education from our desire to introduce children at a very young age all the way through to career training in higher education. I should define my reference to a “peer” as, like I, someone whose career has “matured”. Add to that a feeling we share that motivates us to want to share some of what we have learned along the way. I think the current vernacular is called “paying it forward”. I especially enjoy talking to youngsters who are enamored with airplanes. I was, and still am, and they enjoy listening to someone who can tell them about flying in a way they can understand. Maybe having grandchildren helps me relate at their level, or possibly, I haven’t really grown up yet myself. I like the second one!

I can remember, like it was yesterday, flying jump-seat on a DC-3 at age 12 with a crew that were anxious to tell me as much about what was going on in that cockpit as I could absorb. I’m sure they have passed on now, but those guys really sunk the hook in me in those days. That’s why I got into aviation some 53 years ago. If only they knew what a great career and what a happy man they helped shape all those years ago.

I remember when I was in high school and at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute in Miami. Some of the highlights of those learning experiences were visiting lecturers from business and industry who shared their knowledge with us. It was real world stuff that provided insight we weren’t getting from Teachers, Profs and books. I took notes like crazy and there weren’t even any tests afterwards. I don’t think we ever had a “visitor” who wasn’t enthusiastic about their career and that was contagious.

I’ve been talking recently with some friends who, like me, want to share what we can with those who aspire to a career in aviation. We don’t want to teach at the elementary or high school levels full-time but do enjoy an invitation to speak to those children on occasion. On the other hand, if there was an opportunity to teach at a college or university, that might be a different matter. What better place to help prepare those headed into the real world with some… “real world”. Sounds almost ideal… college students learn some useable information from those who lived, loved and learned it and they both share the satisfaction of having done it together.

But wait… there is a problem. Most of us with decades of real-world experience don’t have Master’s Degrees or Doctorates so we can’t qualify to teach at most colleges or universities. Why, you ask? Well it seems that “educators” have built a fence around their world that artfully excludes we, the perceived to be “under-educated”. Yes, I know about “Adjunct Professors”. Look up the word adjunct sometime and see if it doesn’t insult you a bit as an accomplished career professional. I must be careful now that this doesn’t turn into a rant.

So, if you agree that there is, in fact, a sadly under-resourced pool of knowledge among those of us “matured career” folks, lets come up with a way not to waste it.

National Wind Turbine Map: A new Pilot Resource

As one of the fastest growing forms of renewable energy, wind turbines are sprouting up all over the country.  On a recent airline flight across the country, I was blown away to see areas in northern Texas with rows of wind-turbines that went on for miles—some of which included well over of a hundred turbines. Now I know why they call them wind farms!  This technology is increasingly popular in rural Alaska, where the cost of fuel to generate electricity is through the roof expensive.  As with all good things, they come with potential impacts.  As pilots, wind turbines provide several challenges: initially as obstructions we have to avoid during flight.  If located too close to airports, they interfere with instrument approaches resulting in higher minimums and reduced access.  Finally, when the wind  blows they represent a source of turbulence, which we still have much to learn about (more on that later).

Interface to the Interactive Wind Farm Map, starts with an overview of where towers are found around the country.

Interface to the Interactive Wind Farm Map, starts with an overview of where towers are found around the country.

Locating individual wind turbines
Recently the US Geological Survey has given us a new tool to locate wind turbines, on a nation-wide basis.  A new interactive mapping application, provides access to a database that not only shows us where wind turbines are found, but records their height, blade length, and other information on a tower-by-tower basis. Prior to this, while some states captured the locations of individual wind turbines, there was no uniform database that provided this information across the country.  Starting with the FAA’s Digital Obstruction File (through July 22, 2013), a USGS team led by Dr. Jay Diffendorfer located over 47,000 turbine sites, verifying individual tower locations with high-resolution satellite imagery. This data base gives us a much better way to find individual tower locations, with a location accuracy estimated to be within 10 meters.

While fewer in number, wind turbines are sprouting up across Alaska.

While still few in number, wind turbines are sprouting up across Alaska.

A row of wind turbines just outside Unalalkeet, on the west coast of Alaska. According to the USGS interactive map, they have a total height of 156 ft. tall

A row of wind turbines just outside Unalalkeet, on the west coast of Alaska. According to the USGS interactive map, they have a total height of 156 ft. tall

Understanding impacts
This database is designed to support research into environmental effects on both critters that fly, and wildlife habitat.  But these data may also be useful in the future to project the impact of down-wind effects on general aviation airports, which is still an evolving research topic.  A recent study at the University of Kansas has shown that the turbulence from a wind turbine extends further as wind speed increases, up to 3 miles in some cases.  This and the potential increase in cross winds could be a significant impact for small aircraft at GA airports.  Hopefully, more work will be done to quantify these conditions, leading to improvements in the FAA’s obstruction review process, which today only takes into account the height of an obstruction above ground when air space reviews are conducted.

Provide feedback
All maps are only as current as the date used to make them.  This data set incorporated information from FAA’s obstruction file as of last July.  And if you come across wind turbines that aren’t in the database, please capture what information you can and send an email with the location to jediffendorfer@usgs.gov.

Thanks to this effort, we have a better way to learn where wind turbines are located in the areas where we fly!

AN AVIATION EDUCATION UPDATE

During January, I posted here in my blog a piece entitled “Kentucky Is Serious About Aviation Education”. I posted another in May about “Youth Interest in Aviation Careers”. If you haven’t read these, you may want to look them over. This is another follow-up that I believe is very encouraging. I hope you will agree.

The Kentucky Institute for Aerospace Education has now grown its reach into high schools in The Commonwealth to 23 school districts. Inquiries about how to replicate it’s aviation based STEM curriculum programs beyond the borders of Kentucky has prompted the KIAE Board of Directors to begin offering assistance to school systems in other states. At a recent Board meeting the KIAE became The Institute for Aerospace Education (TIAE) and  began migrating into the neighboring state of Tennessee. Tennessee was selected because it is nearby, has a robust aviation industry and an excellent general aviation airports infrastructure. An active and engaged general aviation airport is a critical part of establishing a successful accredited aviation program in any high school curriculum. The airport serves as an “aviation learning laboratory” to provide flight training, an introduction to aviation maintenance technology, airport management and more. This hands-on approach dramatically improves student learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) while, at the same time, creating career pathways into aviation. Students can transition into college and/or career readiness programs.

The Institute for Aerospace Education also has agreements institutions of higher learning that offer aviation and aerospace degree programs allowing students to receive college credit for their studies. This link with colleges, universities and technical schools also connects the students with these institutions for advancing their education.

In June, TIAE CEO Dr. Tim Smith and I began introducing the program to teachers who were attending Tennessee’s Teacher’s Aerospace Education Workshop at Middle Tennessee State University. In July, we spoke to another teacher’s workshop at The University of Tennessee. These extraordinary workshops, now 55 years old, are the oldest program of their type in the nation. During the 2-week “camp” teachers learn how to incorporate aviation into lesson plans to aid the learning process in grades K-12 while earning CE credit. Those who are high school teachers can be perfect potential “facilitators” for the aviation based STEM programs offered through the Institute and I found them to be a great resource for spreading the word about AOPA’s “AV8RS” program.

We are all trying to find ways to increase the pilot population and to attract to aviation careers, the next generation of pilots, aviation maintenance technicians, air traffic controllers, engineers and managers. Aviation is a proven learning catalyst with youngsters and this program is a great way to expose them to a potentially rewarding career. Already we are seeing success: a young man who will graduate from high school with certification as an Aircraft Maintenance Technician, numerous high school age pilots, many of whom are young women. Local airports are involved; flight schools are finding a new source of students right in their own back yard, hangars are becoming classrooms where teens are helping restore and maintain airplanes. I am seeing these kids learning to fly and earning a Private ticket, building model aircraft, welding, turning wrenches, timing ignition systems, and practicing approaches on a flight simulator. They are loving it and I am encouraged about the future of aviation because of it.

There are other outstanding aviation education programs in the Southern Region that are making a huge contribution. The Central Florida Aerospace Academy in Polk County (Lakeland), one of a number of “Polk Academies” providing college and career pathways. Sun n Fun, Inc., earlier this year, committed to year around aviation educational programs and events, headed up by a nationally certified STEM Educator, Lori Bradner. It seems like every day I learn more about youth oriented aviation programs in Florida and flight training in the Sunshine State is experiencing new life and growing.

I find all of this very encouraging. If you know of an aviation education program in the Southern Region, I hope you will share it with us. I want to continue exploring how AOPA can encourage and support these programs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Youth Interest In Aviation Careers Holds Promise

 

I have a personal history of involvement in introducing youngsters to aviation and encouraging aviation careers. It is probably driven by my own career, one that I would not trade for anything. I have always loved my work.

I began working with young people some years ago while employed by a large flight training organization. We did college accredited pilot training in South Florida. I was also involved with training Civil Air Patrol cadets and later worked as a volunteer in Aviation Exploring, a Boy Scouts of America program. I am proud to say that there are a bunch of people in aviation today that I was able to mentor. I know that because so many stay in touch with me. That’s the best part.

As we struggle with a declining pilot population and concerns about pilot and AMT shortages in the years to come, I find plenty of reasons to be optimistic about youth interested in aviation careers. One of them comes from an event I attended this week in Kentucky – “WING DESIGN CHALLENGE” – sponsored by NASA/Kentucky, The University of Kentucky Dept. of Engineering and the Kentucky Institute for Aerospace Education (KIAE).

An estimated 250 high school students representing 25 aviation teams from more than 20 school districts in The Commonwealth participated. The KIAE supplies each team with a standard complete RC model fuselage and engine. The team designs and builds a wing; documents what they have done and why – then submits their paper for judging. At the event they are judged further on an oral interview and rigorous flight testing of their wing design. I sat through a number of interviews and observed the flight testing, done by AMA licensed pilots. I can personally attest that these youngsters are “into” this program. Among this many high school students you’d think there would be some “goof-offs”, but I saw none. These teams are serious, learning a lot and clearly having a lot of fun in the process.

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Judges Doing The Oral Presentation

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Group Photo (but many are in the background)

During the day I was able to talk with some of the participants about their career interests. One of the initial assignments when they begin KIAE aviation classes is to sign up for our AOPA “AV8RS”- Pilots of Tomorrow program. This special AOPA membership is FREE for teens between 13 and 18 and is loaded with benefits, all designed to feed and foster their interest in aviation.

Next week I am speaking to a group of high school students interested in aviation and I am actively initiating an outreach to members who share my interest in promoting aviation careers. As summer nears and schools are out for a few months there are even more opportunities to get kids out to the airport and in the air. I am gratified to know how many AOPA members are getting involved with teens and becoming mentors themselves.

KEEPING A DILIGENT EYE ON REGULATION

As pilots, we are unusually cognizant of regulations. From the beginning of our adventure into becoming a pilot and now in our everyday flying we are exposed to a plethora of FAA regulations that we must comply with. The truth be known, every facet of our life is fraught with regulations. Business publications consistently bemoan a burgeoning number of regulations coming from our Federal government. But the Feds aren’t alone in their zeal to regulate. A part of my job as AOPA’s Southern Region Manager is to monitor not only State and Local legislative matters but also the regulatory environment closer to our member’s home.

Last year, a Middle Tennessee Part 141 Flight School received notification from the state’s Higher Education Commission that they were required to “register” with the agencies Postsecondary Schools Division. It happened that the agency was also the designated State Approving Agency for the Veterans Administration and this flight school sought VA Approval. After learning that the state agency would be requiring an extraordinary application process, burdensome administrative responsibility and very high fees, the flight school decided to challenge the state’s authority to further regulate what the FAA was already regulating. After all, only the FAA can issue a pilot’s license.  Sounded like a no-brainer!

But wait… before taking the matter to court, it was decided to request an opinion from Tennessee’s Attorney General regarding the state’s authority to regulate a Postsecondary flight training school. When the opinion came down, the AG said yes, Tennessee law was clear – the agency did, in fact, have the necessary authority. So, the flight school felt that it was forced to go about satisfying the application process and paying the fees – a whopping $10,000!

Given the Tennessee AG’s opinion, it was now clear that we would need to put together a new strategy – one that did not challenge the state’s authority to do what they were doing. We began to craft an entirely new approach.

Attempts to negotiate with the agency and to provide some insight into the incompatibility of their regs with those of the FAA, and to try and facilitate some sort of stakeholder input were met by deaf ears. Simply put – the bureaucracy appeared to be “dug in”!

After months of research and investigation, we put together a letter to the Governor outlining our argument that the state’s regulations were completely unnecessary and incompatable with FAA regulations; that the FAA regulations and authority are dominant, regardless of what the state required and that these (new) regulations are a disincentive for aviation training businesses to operate in Tennessee. The Governor’s office graciously responded to our concerns and set up a meeting with the Higher Education Commission where we again reiterated our concerns.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the General Counsel for the Higher Education Commission agreed that state oversight in this case was indeed unnecessary and the agency joined with us to write and file the necessary legislation to change the law in Tennessee. The agency’s Counsel even went the extra mile as we, together, followed the measure through the customary legislative committees and votes in both the House and Senate. The Bill is on the Governor’s desk. Aviation training in Tennessee, regulated by the FAA, will be exempt from state oversight.

AOPA provides us with marvelous tools to help monitor state legislative activity and with the help of vigilant members and our dedicate corps of Airport Support Network Volunteers; we have a good handle on local legislation (ordinances, etc.). But keeping an eye on the “regulatory” environment can be a real challenge. It is, oftentimes, much more surreptitious. In the case I have just outlined, there was apparently no formal rule-making process that included any stakeholder input at all so the agency didn’t feel obligated to do any sort of outreach. Then, of course, there is the problem of what I will call an “overzealous bureaucracy” – I think I will spare you my feelings about that!

TENNESSEE’S AVIATION DAY ON THE HILL

Last week, AOPA joined with the Tennessee Aviation Association and Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame and together we put on TENNESSEE AVIATION DAY ON THE HILL at Legislative Plaza in Nashville.

Getting exhibits set up and providing a Continental Breakfast for Legislators and Staffers by 7:00 AM started for me at about 4:30 in the morning. As the State Capitol began to come alive for the day’s business, we got into full-swing serving biscuits & sausage, coffee, fruit and juice and talking about General Aviation! Jo Ann Speer, the President of the Tennessee Aviation Association brought hundreds of little balsa airplanes with the TAA logo on them and they were a real big hit. TAA’s entire Board of Directors were there as was TAHF Chairman, John  Black. We had the best location possible, right outside the entrance to the Lt. Governor’s office.

Wednesday morning at the Capitol, a first ever event for TAA and the TAHF, was a great day. I spend a lot of time in the halls of the Legislature for AOPA so I knew most of our visitors personally. Tennessee has a long history of legislative support for aviation and that was strongly re-enforced by the reception we all got from both Legislators and Staff. It is such a pleasure working with governmental leaders that “get it”, as we say! Of course, we managed to work in some lobbying on a few issues of interest as well.

These types of aviation events, focused on State Capitols are productive and important. In the every-changing halls of democratic government we should never stop doing these things. The Tennessee event was my second one this month. I also participated in one in Atlanta on February 6th. It too was very successful.