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Cargo versus passengers

I was recently in a friendly debate with some friends on Facebook about the merits of flying cargo versus passengers, especially in the coming years as Amazon continues its stratospheric growth. Those who fly cargo tend to be absolutely devoted to that line of work. The common refrain is that boxes don’t complain, and the chief pilot rarely calls.

What are some of the pros and cons of cargo versus passenger flying? Let’s start with cargo. Yes, it’s true that cargo doesn’t complain, unless it consists of live animals, in which case it may very well complain or lose control of its bowels. But the point is valid. Passengers do a lot of bellyaching about the airlines—some deserved, some not so much. Boxes just sit there and take up space, and they don’t care if the ride is bumpy or if the cabin is hot or cold.

Passenger carriers generally have fairly set rules on leaving early. Cargo operations tend to be more relaxed about departure times. If the airplane is full 30 minutes ahead of schedule, chances are you can leave. That may not sound like much, but if you’re scheduled to fly all night, every minute of getting done early helps.

Speaking of the schedule, that is hands-down the biggest drawback to cargo flying. The overwhelming majority of the schedule takes place “on the back side of the clock,” also known as night time. While many cargo pilots claim that you can get acclimated to the schedule, the reality is that the human body isn’t designed to be awake at night for extended periods of time. You’ll be asleep when others are awake, which can be a challenge in hotels if they’re noisy. You will be forced to flip your body around when you get home in order to have any semblance of a family life.

But if you can make it to the big boys of cargo (FedEx and UPS), the benefits are tough to beat. The pay is fantastic (it has to be to attract pilots to that kind of work) and the health insurance and retirement are superb.

Even at the second-tier carriers, such as Atlas and Southern, there have been meaningful changes and improvements. Pay is going up, and schedules are getting better. Amazon is clearly trying to get a better deal on shipping costs by controlling its own airplanes, but it remains to be seen if the company can build a stand-alone delivery system. But even if it can’t, it can produce jobs that don’t currently exist. The downside? The pay is no match for the majors, and it probably never will be, even though it’s getting better.

Passenger carriers have their own pros and cons. Passengers do indeed complain, and it’s embarrassing to see your company on the news when something bad happens. The competition is cutthroat. Working conditions at the regional airlines are a far cry from what they used to be, but they’re not where they need to be.

The schedules can be somewhat sporadic, but outside of long-haul flying, they’re not nearly as hard on the body as cargo. Pay, however, is now much more reflective of the market for pilots, especially at the regionals. For some, the availability of pass benefits and free travel makes all the difference. I like to get the words of thanks and appreciation from my passengers when we get them where they want to go. Cargo may not complain, but it doesn’t thank you, either.

And the chief pilot? He rarely calls as well. And when he does, it’s almost always a justified phone call, and it’s the same phone call his compatriot at a cargo company would make.

There are pros and cons to both cargo and passenger flying. Both offer their own rewards. If you’re not sure which one you want to do, try them both, talk to pilots on both sides, and use that information to make a decision.—Chip Wright

If you Build it, They will Come.

Determination, passion and connection in the heart of the Rockies.

Amy Helm became the airport manager of Glenwood Springs Airport [KGWS] in April of 2017 after interviewing and presenting a petition with the signatures of 60 local pilots who supported her candidacy. The daughter of a private pilot, Amy didn’t set out to be an airport manager, but nonetheless she has devoted her time, determination and passion to this Colorado airport nestled in the heart of the Rockies.

Amy Helm

Amy loved aviation as long as she can remember. She worked at Glenwood Springs Airport in high school and earned her pilots license there. After college and fulfilling some wanderlust, she returned to Colorado wanting to get a job as a back-country pilot. As is often the case, Amy soon discovered that she needed to learn about maintenance and repair in order to pay for her flying. She received her A&P and after completing a stint as an apprentice, she moved to SE Alaska working as a mechanic for a bush pilot. The next stop on her grand circle tour was Juneau Alaska where she earned her IA and worked as a helicopter mechanic for Coastal Helicopters.

Amy and I talked about the qualities of character it takes to be a pilot, mechanic and airport manager. I asked her if her job is hard. She laughed and said, “There are days that are hard, and there are days that are a lot of fun.” Amy said that the number one factor in both her work as a mechanic and an airport manager is determination. Anyone who has volunteered at an airport knows a lot about determination. At Glenwood Springs it took two separate work parties and 30 volunteers to get the airport back in tiptop shape for visitors.

Development has encircled their airport with housing tracts on both sides. Over the years there have been threats to the airport from developers. Thus Amy’s first tasks as the new airport manager were to spruce the place up, replace worn signage, increase community awareness, and start planning on a community aviation expo. The first event was very successful giving 150 airplane rides, hosting 500 people in attendance, over 30 types of airplanes and helicopters on static display for the community to walk around, sit in, ask questions about and  a vendor display. The second annual event will be held August 18th, 2018.

Glenwood Springs is a tourist destination with skiing, skydiving, white water rafting, climbing and of course the world’s largest hot springs pool. Camping on the airport grounds is allowed. Although the fourth oldest airport in the country Glenwood Springs Airport does not receive FAA grant money, nor any funds from the City of Glenwood Springs. Funding for the airport is based solely on donations, fuel sales, tie-down and hangar income.  Amy and I spent some time talking about mobilizing pilots and promoting General Aviation to communities.

Call to Action

Pilots are “do something” people. Fly the airplane; don’t let the airplane fly you. We all are airport, and airplane, lovers. When it comes to your local airport,  think small and big; local level, community-based. How can your airport serve your community in non-aviation needs? Perhaps 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,  step up, raise your voices and let your 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. Be able to tell the truth. If someone wants to do something unsafe at an airport, speak up. 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?

If you Build it, They will Come

In order to promote General Aviation define it for the non-flying public effectively.  It is very important to be positive and focus on the ways that G.A. helps our communities and our citizens.  When I meet someone at an event I ask if they are a pilot, or know a pilot.  If not a pilot, I ask if they ever wanted to learn how to fly.  If yes, have they made steps toward learning, and if not, why not?   Even those folks who do not wish to become pilots would benefit from knowing how General Aviation affects them on a daily basis. Here are some ideas you might try at your home airport:

Oceano Airport Salute to Veterans May 11-12th, 2018

Toys for Tots

Airport Day Fun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fly-In Movie Night is always a big hit. All you need is a large screen, projector, sound system and popcorn. Toys for Tots is a great feel-good event that will benefit the children in your local area. Take a page out of Amy’s playbook and have an Airport Appreciation Day. Young Aviator Camp: Approach your local YMCA, Parks and Recreation, or Boys and Girls Club and ask about putting on a day camp for children.  Most airports have a green space, campground or empty hangar that can be used as a classroom area. Topics could include: What is General Aviation? Fundamentals of Flight, Basic Navigation, Mechanics, How to Become a Pilot, Careers in Aviation, and Charitable Flying. Young Eagles: EAA chapters have a tremendous amount of impact on the youth in our local communities when they hold a Young Eagles day. Public Radio and Television: Those of us in GA oftentimes overlook public radio and television, yet they are constantly on the look out for community-based stories.  Why not contact your local station about an upcoming event at your airport?  4-H Aero, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts: Both Boy and Girl Scouts have merit badges in Aviation.  Why not offer a daylong workshop to help the kids get their badges? Service Club Speaker: Why not talk with your local service club, or chamber of commerce about using YOU as a speaker?  This is a perfect opportunity to talk with a captive audience about the value of general aviation and general aviation airports. Emergency Responder Appreciation Event: Each of our communities have unsung heroes. Why not have a pancake breakfast, spaghetti feed, or burger fry and invite your local ambulance, search and rescue, law enforcement pilots, fire fighters and other emergency responders.  School Assemblies: Elementary schools have requirements about science education.  Aviation falls into that category.  Why not talk with your local principal about doing a fundamentals of flight assembly for your local school?  You could have RC models to illustrate lift, thrust, drag and gravity.  End your presentation with ways that the children can come to your airport. Remember children, bring their parents!

For many in the country the aviation season is beginning. We are making our reservations for Sun n Fun, or one of the four AOPA Regionals, or Oshkosh. But please remember to support our small GA airports which host events. Get your airport on the map like Amy has with Glenwood Springs. Host, volunteer, or attend a cool event. Invite your friends and more importantly your community. You will be rewarded with the joy of flight, connection with others, and keeping our airports vibrant.

Battle of Mediterranean Winter

I like to believe that I arrive at conclusions based on accurate information. Vegetation, weather data, and conversations with locals implied that Cerdanya gets some snow each winter, though not much, and it “always melts the next day.” As I have heard around the world, the elderly speak of how winters used to be worse and actually had some snowpack, though now…not anymore.

Fair enough. Last winter was supposedly exceptional, as Levante events off the Mediterranean favored the south side of the valley with purportedly a year that is unlikely to be repeated. As I was told, in some recent winters barely any natural snowfall fell on that side, so I was duly impressed and happy with what we received.

Granted, measurable snow fell from early November to late April in the valley, sometimes up to 8 inches at a time, and melted as promised rather quickly, each time being told its “normal,” despite wheat crops getting smashed and lawn sprinklers running while it was snowing. As winter gave way to summer, I was greeted with snowfall on the mountaintops (9,000 feet) in every single calendar month, despite valley temperatures at 4,000 feet reaching almost 100 degrees last summer. This is something that happens once every 10 years in the Rockies, so I thought it was exceptional. The locals told me it was normal.

Then we received 18” of snow on green leaves at 6,000 feet, merely 2,000 feet above the valley….on September 13th. Again…..”normal” according to the locals.

Curiously, September 13th was not a harbinger of things to come. We had a wicked drought where temperatures were summerlike well into the fall, snow didn’t fall on the mountains for months, and reservoirs dropped down to 37% of normal seasonal levels – a story that sounds a lot like California. This continued into December, with no real snow, nice weather, and a nagging presumption that I saw the best that Catalonian winter had to offer in the prior year.

In January, the Battle of Winter began.

It started with a wallop of snow that came while I was driving back from Switzerland, coming over the pass in France greeted by roads that were reminiscent of a war zone. The next available moment, I went flying thinking that was probably the best we’d see for the winter, plowing through the unplowed snow for takeoff.

Jan 8 – La Cerdanya Aerodrome

A few days later, I was surprised that the snow was still there, so I went up again to photograph some remaining river fog, still taking off through somewhat thick snow on the field.

Jan 11 – Riu Segre fog.

I then ventured out to the Pre-Pyrenees, to try to play again with persistent winter inversions, and despite not much snow on the other side, I did encounter some nice tones. Maybe winter is slacking off as expected.

Jan 12 – Montserrat

A complicated story in itself, the focus of my next day’s flight was a checkride for my European pilot certificate, which took us out of the Pyrenees as part of a test of cross country dead-reckoning skills. There, we were able to test the diversion requirement without the examiner making something up; rather, we encountered localized clouds blocking our path, and in so diverting discovered a pocket of winter. Perhaps things are starting to remind me of last year after all, even though I have been taking off through slush and snow for days on end?

Jan 13 – Pre-Pyrenees

The next day, it was a bit windy, as the infamous “north side” of the Pyrenees had gotten some snow, which seems to be the focus this year. Despite the continuing upper level winds, a raw, guttural desire to attack came from within, and I weaseled around some cloud layers to sneak up to 10,000 feet around sunset.

Jan 14 – Puigpedrós (9,554′ / 2.912m)

Pyrenees at sunset from 10,000 feet.

For some reason that I cannot remember, I felt the need to fly yet again, and this time found Tosa d’Alp with some snow, but really not that much compared to the prior year. Alas, we had our shot of winter and I guess that is that?

Jan 15 – Tosa d’Alp ( 8,488′ / 2.587m), believing there is no real winter.

The three essential ingredients of Pyrenees winter are: waves, snow, and inversions. This image features all three, followed by my new fixation: a dual band 590nm infrared camera, which shows foliage in a separate color tone than sky. I still am perplexed why I viewed the inversion last year as such a negative…

Jan 22 – Waves, Snow and Inversion.

And the new infrared camera…

The following flight proved my hypothesis. Despite lingering snow pack now for two weeks at the house, winter is localized this year and is basically a joke. Heading halfway to the Mediterranean, I was able to view alpine tundra lacking any serious snow…in late January. Last year, this part was completely covered and had avalanches. Alas, my new toy did handle haze well in lower elevations, and life goes on without real winter.

Jan 24 – Eastern Pyrenees with low snowfall. Proof that, as my wife says, “winter here is a farce.”

Lower altitude infrared.

So it snowed again. Curious.

Jan 26 – Plowing through snow again to take off…

And then it started to blow. 20 knots at field level, 40 knots at 9,000 feet, and 60 knots at 12,500. I had a strong intuition, with a northeast instead of north wind, that I could sneak around Cadí-Moixeró with blowing snow and 40 knot winds, and this I did without encountering downdrafts or turbulence.

Jan 27 – Who doesn’t like horses?


A tad breezy…

In the wave at 10,000 feet…

And the blowing snow at 8,600 feet beneath…

It was finally time to head over to the “north side” to see what all the fuss was about. Whatever snow we were not getting on the Spanish side was falling on the French. I am told this is normal, as many years its good on either side of the valley, and not both. Apparently, this year belongs to the French, so I might as well check it out.

Jan 28 – Catalans doing donuts in a field.

French backcountry skiers.

The “north side,” progenitor of our famous mountain waves, and recipient of lots of snow.

The mountain waves strike again, though I still am operating on the delusion we are not experiencing winter, despite three weeks of snowpack.

Feb 3 – Mountain waves again from 8,500 feet.

A storm was predicted, 12 inches, so I snuck up in the beginning of it to enjoy some good old flying in the snowflakes (you can see them whizzing by). This is an age-old pastime that I take very cautiously, having never experienced ice, though almost always merely dabbling on the edge of a snow shower. If someone decides to fly into an ice storm without a FIKI system because of this image, he or she should consider some instruction.

Feb 4 – Flying in the snow.

And the coup de grace: attack of the Mediterranean! 3 feet of snow. Flying took a break until I could a) find the car b) get it out and c) get to the airport to find out how much fell and who to bribe to get enough removed to do some STOL activity and go flying. Thankfully, capitalism won and the flying club paid some heavy machinery to clear the field.

Feb 5 – So much for 12″ of snow….

Feb 8 – Infamous hair dryer engine heater.

La Cerdanya (including aerodrome) with 3 feet of snow.

A trip to the “north side” on the tail end of a north wind snow event. I finally decided to see what is going on over there during these events. It was absurdly cold at 9,500 feet.

Unfortunately, temperatures dropped to -9F / -22,8C and that caused the foundation to heave, requiring a tractor to open the hangar, a Barcelona TV crew to block what limited taxi space was available, three airplanes, a tractor, and two cars to get parked in the way, and an insulting shovel stuck in a snowbank that I had to power off to remove for wing clearance. After 2 hours of removing obstacles at a rate slightly faster than they were presenting themselves, I was able to see some of the Pre-Pyrenees with snow uncharacteristically low. Ironically, the flying club went through three tow planes, unable to start any of them. As I taxied up to them in my significantly older and carbureted engine, I offered my hairdryer, and they indignantly declined, looking at me like some kind of hobo.

Feb 9th – Minus 9F / Minus 22,8C in the morning, coldest in 18 years. Pre-Pyrenees unusually covered in snow.


North side of El Pedraforca (8,223′ / 2.506m)

I would go up today as I write this, except winds are gusting to 50mph. While I absolutely in all seriousness would relish the chance to see a ground blizzard from the Cub, there are some things that are just not possible.

Feb 10 – Winter wins this round. 

In a nutshell, winter is quite pretty and enjoyable, though I may suggest altering suppositions about Spain’s purportedly temperate meteorology.

 

In a decidedly less wintry theme, I have published “Field of Dreams: American Agriculture from the Sky,” my second work covering a national subject as seen from the Cub.

 

 

Will there be any more consolidation?

The airline industry has gone through several cycles of consolidation in the last 10 to 15 years: ValuJet/AirTran, AirTran/Southwest, TWA/American, USAir/America West, USAir/American, Delta/Northwest, and United/Continental at the majors. At the regionals, Republic/Chautauqua/Shuttle America, SkyWest/ASA/ExpressJet and Mesaba/Pinnacle have changed the landscape. Alaska and Virgin America are the most recent to announce plans to wed.

Of late, there have been rumors about a jetBlue merger, and there has long been talk of Spirit and Frontier. JetBlue seems to be the most interesting one, because that airline has become a major powerhouse with hubs in New York, Boston, and Orlando, along with a sizable presence in Fort Lauderdale. JetBlue also caters to both business and leisure travelers.

Historically, airline mergers have had to meet several criteria, the most important of which is the maintenance of access to travel for passengers. This became less important as Congress recognized in the last round of mergers that there was too much service at airfares that were too low. With the mega-carriers now operating, profits have soared. However, what makes a merger with jetBlue difficult is the potential choke-hold that its hubs would provide to whomever buys the airline. Congress could require some kind of a fracturing of the company in order to support a merger. JFK, the crown jewel, would be the ultimate bargaining chip.

But here’s the rub: Too much of what jetBlue does out of JFK replicates too much of what other carriers already offer from their own East Coast coast hubs. An airline would need to add service from JFK that jetBlue doesn’t have, or service that supplements existing international service from that market.

Orlando is a leisure market with lower yields, and it doesn’t lend itself well to being a southern connecting hub such as Atlanta and Charlotte, though it does provide ready access to points south in the Caribbean and South America. But, many of those are also load yield, so the problem doesn’t immediately solve itself.

Mergers also create other huge challenges, not the least of which is  bringing together drastically different work cultures and product offerings. Nothing will clog up a merger like disgruntled employees that are also being swamped with new procedures, rules, and policies. The end result is billions of dollars lost and millions of unhappy customers.

I won’t say that jetBlue won’t or can’t get caught up in a merger, but it has to be accomplished wisely, with the realization that the end product will be drastically different. I do, however, think that a couple of the ultra-low-cost carriers will be forced to eventually merge, with Spirit and Frontier being the logical choices. They compete for a segmented market offering low fares that are hard to turn into profits. Customer service is less of a concern, but it still matters. I think Allegiant will continue to be a stand-alone carrier because its niche is different, and it sells the whole travel package as a vacation, not just a ticket from A to B.

The regionals are harder to predict. Their existence depends on capacity purchase agreements with the majors. However, even SkyWest, which was long considered “the place” to work, is having trouble recruiting and retaining pilots. It’s possible that, down the road, SkyWest and Republic may have to at least do the dance.

Consolidation is probably over for now. However, in such a dynamic industry, anything can happen. Change is constant, and it stands to reason that offers will at some point be made and entertained. Whether they will be consummated will depend on the circumstances in place at the time.—Chip Wright

The Cessna SkyCourier

Cessna recently announced a partnership with FedEx to build a clean-sheet twin called the SkyCourier. Designed to service smaller markets in the FedEx network, the new high-wing twin is a classic Cessna design: It’s boxy, with a strut-supported, straight high wing and fixed gear. It won’t be fast, as it is advertising a top speed in the range of 200 knots. Odds are that the airplane will be designed for single-pilot operations in the cargo world, and will be flown with a crew for passenger flight.

Big, boxy Cessna’s tend to be easy to fly, and the SkyCourier will likely be no different. The landing gear is going to be fairly wide, so crosswind landings will be a relative breeze.

So what does this mean for wanna-be professional pilots? Back in the day, getting multiengine time was the equivalent of a crusade. Nowadays, there’s a recognition that multi time is not realistically attainable in any sufficient quantity, and regional airlines train pilots the way they want them to fly in Level D sims, after which they get extensive training when flying the line.

There is no word yet on how training will be conducted in the SkyCourier. Chances are, there will be some kind of simulator, even if it isn’t a full Level D. Sim training is safer, cheaper, more efficient, and more effective than training in an airplane. The systems on the SkyCourier are likely to be pretty simple, so the academic side of the training will probably spend more time on the avionics.

Pilots who are lucky enough to fly the SkyCourier when it hits the market will have a decided leg up on their competitors when it comes to landing certain jobs. Multiengine time will always be a valuable commodity, and it’s quite possible that pilot with relatively low total time, but a good chunk of multiengine turbine pilot-in-command time in the SkyCourier may be able to procure a job with a major airline faster.

I also suspect that the SkyCourier will find a place in the passenger world in markets where the Beech 1900 or the Twin Otter used to excel. It won’t happen in droves, but it will happen. In time, it will find work for skydiving and missionary work, and if winds up on floats, I won’t be surprised.

The lack of retractable landing gear will lower insurance premiums (not to mention maintenance costs) for operators, and won’t measurably hurt pilots looking to move on.

This airplane is a great piece of news, as it demonstrates the confidence of FedEx and Cessna in the small-town package delivery market, and injects new life into a segment in which the airplanes that are available are old and tired. Those who are going to fly are going to be very fortunate indeed.

You Did WHAT???

Generally, aviators don’t like surprises. The good ones—like catching an unexpected 30-knot tailwind, or finding an ANR headset under the Christmas tree—are rare. The bad ones—like an inoperative self-serve fuel pump, a flat nosewheel strut, or worse-than-forecast weather at your destination—are more common.

Some of the really bad surprises involve aircraft maintenance. Since my company manages the maintenance of about 1,000 GA airplanes, I thought I’d seen just about every sort of maintenance misfortune that can befall an aircraft owner, but the one I’m about to relate has to take some sort of prize.

Sooty exhaust trailIt involves the owner of a Cirrus SR22—I’ll call him Mark—who was starting to get a bit concerned about the increasing oil consumption of his Continental IO-550-N engine. He was starting to notice increased oil on the belly behind the righthand tailpipe, and a buildup of sooty deposits inside that tailpipe. A maintenance-involved owner and a pretty sharp cookie, Mark’s suspicion was that the oil consumption was probably the result of lead-contaminated oil control rings in the right-bank cylinders (#1, #3, and #5). The presence of oily deposits on the #3 and #5 spark plugs seemed to confirm that theory.

Mark flew his airplane to a well-known Cirrus Service Center for further evaluation. The shop’s Director of Maintenance (DOM)—I’ll call him Steve—told Mark that he’d do a thorough borescope examination of the cylinders once the engine had cooled, and report back on what he found.

Bad news

Photo from A&P

This low-resolution photo from the A&P wasn’t adequate to determine the condition of the cam.

The next day, Mark received an ominous voicemail from Steve that started off with the words “Bad news…” and went on to say that the engine had “metal contamination” and “spalled cam lobes and lifters.” Mark also received a couple of low-resolution photos from Steve showing the SR22’s engine with the #3 and #5 cylinders removed, together with a statement that “the engine needs to be torn down.”

Needless to say, Mark was shocked. He had not given the shop permission to remove any cylinders. He’d only authorized a borescope inspection. Furthermore, the metal contamination diagnosis made no sense to Mark, because shortly before he took his plane to the shop, he’d performed an oil change and cut open the oil filter and found it clean as a whistle. Something wasn’t adding up. Mark bit his tongue and replied to Steve’s email by asking where the shop proposed to send the engine for teardown, and indicating that Mark was going to investigate alternative engine shops.

At this point, Mark contacted me for advice, and emailed me the low-resolution photos he’d received from Steve. I looked at the photos and told Steve that I didn’t see anything obvious wrong with his cam lobes, but that the quality of the photos was just too poor for me to offer an opinion as to the condition of his cam. I referred Mark to Continental’s Service Information Directive SID05-1B that provided very specific inspection criteria for assessing the airworthiness of cams and lifters on Continental engines. In pertinent part, SID05-1B says:

dental pick“If the visual cam lobe inspection reveals the presence of indentations or crack-like features in the surface along the cam lobe apex, use a sharp pick or awl and lightly move its tip over the suspect surface area. If the suspect feature has any depth, the pick tip will repeatedly catch in the groove or pits. If the indentation or crack is determined to have depth, the cam must be examined by a [Continental Motors] service representative to determine any additional steps required. If the cam lobe inspection only reveals normal signatures and there is no positive indication of any distress depth, …no further action is required.”

After studying SID05-1B carefully, Mark drove to the Service Center armed with a camera, an inspection light and a sharp dental pick, determined to carry out his own SID05-1B cam inspection and satisfy himself whether the condition of his cam truly warranted an engine teardown. Upon arriving at the shop, he made a beeline for the maintenance hangar.

You did WHAT???


engine on pallet

Mark was totally unprepared for what he saw when he entered the hangar: His SR22 had no engine or propeller! As he approached the airplane, he discovered his engine sitting on a wooden pallet on the floor of the hangar. Apparently, the shop’s mechanics had removed it from the airplane without obtaining his authorization, asking for his permission, or even notifying him of what they intended to do. Mark was floored.

Cylinders #3 and #5 had been loosely reattached to the palleted engine in preparation for shipping it to the engine shop. Mark had one of the shop’s mechanics remove those cylinders so Mark could perform the cam inspection that he’d come there to do. He dutifully ran the sharp dental pick over the surfaces of all the exposed cam lobes (per SID05-1B) and could not find a single crack, pit, or other feature deep enough to catch the tip of the pick. Mark took a bunch of high-resolution photos of the cam lobes and sent them to me. They revealed only normal swirl wear patterns, with no evidence of significant distress.

Mark next asked for a sit-down meeting with both Steve and his boss (the shop’s owner). He gave them each a copy of Continental SID05-1B, walked them though the pertinent language, described how he’d probed the lobes with his sharp dental pick, showed them his high-resolution photos, and argued that Steve had simply been wrong in his assertion that the cam was spalled. He also pointed out that the shop had removed two cylinders without his authorization, and then removed the entire engine without his authorization. Mark insisted that the shop reinstall the cylinders on the engine and reinstall the engine in the airplane at the shop’s sole expense.

malpracticeThe shop owner was not amused. However, after considering the compelling evidence of Steve’s malpractice that Mark had presented, plus the complete lack of documentation showing that Mark had approved any of the disassembly that the shop had done, the owner appropriately concluded that he had little choice but to do the right thing. (I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall in that office after Mark left and the shop’s owner had his tête-à-tête with Steve.)

About a week later, Mark flew his airplane home from the shop, vowing never to return. On the flight home, he discovered the engine’s idle stop badly misadjusted and the propeller installed 180 degrees from the proper position. Rather than risk taking the airplane back to the Service Center, Mark decided to pay a local A&P to correct those two items.

Over the coming weeks, Mark discovered that his problem with excessive oil consumption had vanished. The shop installed new rings on the #3 and #5 pistons before reinstalling the cylinders, and apparently that cured the problem that had prompted this painful misadventure in the first place.

At least that was a pleasant surprise.

The Bottom Line: We all started in the same place

I have always said about myself that I am a jeans and T-shirt girl. I can get dressed up and go to some pretty fancy events, but in the end, I just want to put my jeans on and go fly something. I have found that no matter the venue aviation lovers have more in common than not. It is through shared passion that we can inspire flight, protect airports and airspace.

Jolie Lucas with George Kounis, Editor & Publisher Pilot Getaways Magazine

On Friday night, I had the honor of attending the Living Legends of Aviation awards, which is a fundraiser for the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy. The gala, attended by 700 plus, was held at the Beverly Hilton hotel. To say that the evening was star studded would be an understatement. Both John Travolta and Harrison Ford played a part in recognizing this year’s inductees, among them pilots, astronauts, entrepreneurs, and visionaries.

Harrison Ford addressed the crowd about H.R. 2997, the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act, which, in a six-year process, would in part privatize ATC. He described the bill as a “solution in search of a problem.” If passed the control of our air traffic system would be turned over to a 13 member private board, with the majority representing the airlines. The fear in privatization is resources being diverted away from smaller general aviation airports, and smaller commercial air carriers. Harrison stated, “less than 20 percent of airlines fleet has been upgraded to take advantage of ADS-B efficiencies. 1 percent of airlines are capable of using it, versus 80 percent of the general aviation fleet.” Our national air traffic system is the safest and most capable in the world. No matter what we are flying, we need to be on guard for dangerous legislation or power grabs.It might be easy to make an assumption that folks dressed in ball gowns and tuxedos are far removed from jeans and T-shirt grass-roots general aviation. But that assumption would be quickly debunked. A video package was created for each inductee; soon it became apparent that we all started in the same place, general aviation.

Time after time, each “Legend” stated that as a young child, while gazing skyward, they were mesmerized by aviation. How many of us can say the same? Almost all of us started in a piston single. Some of us made that type airplane our life-long love affair. Others moved to aviation in the military, commercial, law enforcement, performance, or space travel. The most important thing to remember is that we all started in the same GA place. One of the reasons I love attending the AOPA Regional Fly-Ins, Sun ‘n Fun or EAA AirVenture is the camaraderie. Whether talking to Mark Baker or someone who flew in a Cub, it doesn’t take long for a conversation to turn to “where is your home airport?” or “what do you fly?”

Some of you may know that in mid-November I earned my instrument rating [https://blog.aopa.org/aopa/2017/11/20/gotta-get-that-rating/]. Part of my commitment to my safety was the purchase of an IFR certified GPS and ADS-B compliant transponder. Then I had the daunting task of finding an avionics shop I could depend on for the install. A dear friend recommended Chris Tharp who owns Barber Aviation in Madera, CA. He said, “They are going to do everything in their power to do a great install and fix any ailments the airplane has.” On tap for my Mooney M20E was the installation of the GTX335 and 530W. I had never arranged an avionics install and was nervous. Chris was thorough and understanding in explaining the process to me.

Chris Tharp, owner, Barber Aviation

While owned by Lawson Barber, the shop was well-known in California as Beechcraft West. In 2008, Chris purchased Barber Aviation and in 2014 purchased the avionics arm of the business. The shop has 5 employees and is bustling with maintenance and repair as well as avionics. The atmosphere is quintessentially GA: hearty welcome, friendly and accommodating. I was given a detailed quote and an estimate of 5-7 business days for the installation. The avionics installer was Brandon Petersen. I am a communicator, especially when it comes to my airplane. I was thrilled that Brandon was able to send me photos and answered my questions during the process.

The work was done on time, and my next hurdle was getting from the event in Beverly Hills to the Central Valley of California. Again, GA to the rescue, I was able to hop a ride in a cool solid black Pilatus [PC12] from Fullerton. I jumped at the chance to fly that bad boy back to Fresno. The day was beautiful and it was fun to be flying over all the traffic in LA as well as the backup on I-5 from the 101 being closed in Santa Barbara due to the mudslides.Arriving in Madera I was met by Brandon and Chris. We went over the ins and outs of the install [pun intended]. While waiting for a finishing touch, Chris and I were able to talk about the state of general aviation. In his opinion GA in the United States is on an upswing. His business is seeing a 200% increase with the ADS-B work. He talked about business life on a GA airport, the challenges and the benefits. As a business owner myself I could relate to funding improvements to the business versus pulling a larger salary. Chris brought up ATC privatization and his opposition to it. He is concerned that GA will be left out by a committee stacked with commercial interests as well as the potential for small airports like Madera being overlooked. Even with those concerns, I was struck by his unwavering optimism for aviation, his employees and his shop.

Departing Madera IFR I had a thought; no matter whether dressed in sequins or 501’s we are all alike sharing a common passion for flying. The most important thing is that each of us contributes to making aviation safer, more efficient, and increasing our big, diverse, and passionate family.

Rage Against the Machine

While maintaining a 1940s aircraft powered by an ancient engine can be packaged into a marketable experience, most of the time the truth is that it is a real aggravation. Some recent experiences are educational, and more than likely confirm why I am one of a handful of Americans that come to Europe to fly. While I tend to like going against the crowd, perhaps this time the crowd had some wisdom…

The first thing one notices in Europe is that few own their own aircraft. The vast bulk use flying clubs and rent per hour, which I thought was silly and inane, and then explained it away with the fact that most things in Europe are costly, and it’s simply cheaper to rent per hour for the average general aviation pilot. Only real diehards who exceed a critical threshold can push average hourly operating costs below flying club rates by overcoming high fixed costs. While that is true, it is not the whole story.

Apparently, there is this thing called a “CAMO,” which is something I only recently found out about. I believe it stands for “Certified Aviation Maintenance Organization,” and is required for standard category aircraft. I am not sure of the specific vagaries of each country, though the idea is that instead of an A&P and IA handling required maintenance and inspection duties, these are relegated to membership in an organization with defined compliance roles and some level of type certification on the part of the A&P that touches the aircraft. Costs and aggravations, as one could imagine, increase. The same principle exists with instruction; there is no such thing as a freelance CFI. All instructors are part of an “Approved Training Organization,” which operates in a similar way. I have a lot to learn about both philosophies, so I will not purport to offer a journalistically vetted overview.

However, the existence of the ATO and CAMO structures logically points toward flying clubs, as they can take on required expertise and certification roles in aircraft specific to the club, and therefore handle required instruction. Many that do own aircraft have them “operated” in one fashion or another by a club, and therefore the CAMO umbrella applies to them. This also explains why my next problem is made more annoying, as the European supply chain is geared toward a different structure.

The problem I have been facing today dates back to a slew of part installations that took place before moving to Europe. I was told that a starter was required at certain airports in Germany, and that transponder mandatory zones abounded. That resulted in the need to install a ground charge battery, basic electrical system, and starter, which was done in America. Normally, I take “owner assisted” to the maximum level I can, and in this case I opted to pay an A&P to do the entire job. I didn’t want the emotional burden of figuring it out, and it was too sensitive of an installation.

Well, some problems from the installation presented in 2015, and I thought they were solved (recall the irony of disavowing the “owner assisted” part). With warm weather operations resuming in Spring 2016 in Germany, it became apparent that the problem was not fully solved, for which I needed to order some parts. In Europe, the price was $850 versus $500 in the USA, and the wait time in Germany indicated they were merely shipping it from America. An A&P friend of mine suggested shipping it to him in America, where he packaged it in ghetto packaging, labeled it “Metal Parts $0” on the customs form, and a month later, it deposited itself back in his mailbox, rejected by German customs, with my plane out of service the whole time. We then did the FedEx route for a bunch more money, and managed to sneak it through for a $50 brokerage fee. That was not enough, so another expensive part had to come over, which we were able to sneak through my “household goods” initial moving exemption, saving $250 in tax. Meanwhile, the plane was out of service for 4 months.

In this 2016 saga, the engine had to be dismounted to be moved forward a few inches for the replacement of a part. After all was said and done, there was this strange but very slight “wobble” as I described it. All engine indications were acceptable, including runup results. The wobble triggered the mental reflex that the engine had an issue, though it clearly didn’t by all other measurements. After 10 test flights around the pattern, nobody, including my A&P could source it, and eventually I was given advice that Lord engine mounts can take 15-20 hours to settle into place, and to give it some time. There was no question that multiple A&Ps thought I was making it up as it performed “just fine” for them.

Alas, it was given time, and two things happened: the wobble continued, and the engine and all oil samples were completely fine. It still drove me nuts, and I was convinced it had something to do with the dismount and remount process. I also hold a disposition that, if the airplane didn’t do something before, and its doing it now, we have a problem. Most A&Ps tell me in response that it’s an old airplane, it’s in tolerance, and to quit being neurotic.

There were a few pieces of mount hardware that looked suspicious, so I assumed these had to be contributing to the overall equilibrium equation of mount tension, and set about to find some replacement parts. The problem was, nobody really seemed to understand where to find these small pieces as they seemed unusual, so after a conversation with the Lord engineer, my grandfather who restored the airplane, and Univair, and after taking a bunch of measurements as reality seemed to not match blueprints from 1957, it came to my attention that the airplane has a unique mount conversion kit and is therefore not standard (the engine is a field approved installation). I ordered the parts from Univair, plus a slew of other things I thought I would need in the future to be safe – $350 in parts, $120 in shipping, $150 in Spanish VAT and tariffs, despite a regulation that aviation parts not manufactured in the EU do not get tariffed. Sigh.

Those little hardware parts got changed, and, well, no change. Perhaps the “wobble” is ignition related, despite no clear misfiring, and no mag test problems? It was worsened at certain RPMs in descent (indicating mount), though improved slightly on the right mag only in cruise (indicating ignition). I decided it must be coming from somewhere left magneto ignition system, and therefore had a decision to make, as the Bendix mags were coming up for 500-hour inspection. Do I do the mags first, or go for plugs and wires, even though all three were done in 2014?

I decided to go for plugs. They needed to be removed and cleaned, and under Part 43, I can swap them. I took them off, and drove over to France to a flying club to have the plugs tested on their fancy and expensive machine. At that point, the French CFI apologized for misunderstanding our conversation in Spanish and advised he has no “autonomy.” I couldn’t understand what he was talking about, so he walked me to some dank and miserable shed, for which a V-8 car engine was bolted to the floor with an exhaust pipe to the roof, connected to a generator. Despite a robust French electrical grid, the flying club was operating off of a car engine, and it was broken and no one knew when it would work; therefore, the expensive test rig was out of commission.

Horrified by the Summer of Discontent in Germany, I decided to buy new plugs instead of waiting on the French V-8 generating station. The Germans were the only ones that had them, at the price of $400 for a set, instead of $240 in America. Add express shipping so I don’t have to wait two weeks. Sigh.

New plugs were installed, and no change. By now, a concerted and well-planned maintenance cycle was approaching, so I decided it was time to schedule some personal travel while taking the magnetos off and having them sent to a certified shop in France for the 500-hour inspection. I was told the bill should be “a few hundred euros” and they wouldn’t know the amount until they opened them. A few days later, I got an invoice: $1500! Expressing my surprise, I was corrected when I referred to the $1500 number, as it lacked French 20% VAT and shipping (page 2 hadn’t been scanned). When it was all said and done, nearly $1900 was out of the door, and the rationale was that the “prior guy didn’t do a good job” but “now you only need a 500-hour point inspection for the next 2,000 hours or 12 years.” The irony is that the “prior guy” had noted a few years ago that the guy before him did a crappy job on the mags. When I reviewed the EASA Form 1, issued by the French, it contained a variety of Bendix service bulletins, that the first and second idiot had done according to the logbook. I confess that I did get a “revision generale” (overhaul) as opposed to 500-hour point inspection. And, of course, the French kindly painted the exterior of the mags so they look pretty.

The mags were installed, other work done, and aircraft placed back into service, being out of service for a month and not four. No change in the wobble, and not too much of a discernible difference in magneto-induced combustion. I can, however, recalculate my weight and balance as any cash I had left in my wallet is gone and therefore I am lighter. At this point, I deferred to the German PhD and Irish pilot friend, who both said to get new wires some time back. I reiterate that all engine indications were in tolerance. The only person who had a problem with it was me, though I have been the sole pilot in this airplane since 1996 when it was restored, so that nagging voice has some authority.

Be that as it may, I decided after the little $1900 magneto debacle that ignition leads couldn’t be that pricey. I recall buying them for something like $400 in the USA, so I figured it would be $200 in America and $300 in Europe for one side only. How wrong I was! Shopping around until I was blue in the face, the replacement for the left side only was $550, and had a six-week lead time. I decided to call a distributor in the UK, who asked the American-born English speaker where I was calling from, and transferred me to a lady who spoke Spanish. Indignant that I was calling the UK, I demanded to speak in English (for which she obliged), and she kept asking “who maintains my aircraft” and to get them to call. At this point I was irritated, and finally encountered the CAMO bit, where they couldn’t understand why a pilot-owner would call for parts and not the CAMO, and I made clear N registered airplanes have an A&P, and he only calls if the pilot wants to pay for concierge service. Eventually after convincing her I wasn’t committing fraud, she poked around and found an alternate part number: a kit with both sides in stock: 500 GBP. Sigh. $700 with shipping. Ok, I’ll place the order. Oh no, that didn’t include 20% VAT (prices are supposed to include VAT in Europe by regulation). $900+! Now I was on a rampage and refused.

That resulted in a saga of searching around Europe, settling on some Belgians, who then recommended an alternate part number, which was an education Continental makes wire harnesses and they do so at a lower price. At this point, it wasn’t so much about market analysis as who had the parts in Europe without having to wait until 2019. After a call to the TCM engineer in Alabama to confirm spark plug to cowling clearance (this engine is extremely tight), the invoice came to $640.

After getting them installed, the wobble is gone.

I am not sure what the lesson is here. Perhaps it is the almost spiritual relationship a pilot and mechanic must have with a carbureted engine, petting and serenading it to find out what mood it is in? Is it the warm and nostalgic remembrance of working in the shop with a grandfatherly figure in childhood, the beautiful “simplicity” of old airplanes (while grandpa pays the bills, deals with the FAA, and curses at the machine that won’t work)? Is it the lesson that things in Europe take twice as long and cost twice as much for no seemingly discernible logic? Or is it the progressive beauty of the EU single market, where I can freely spend my money on airplane parts in an alarming array of countries without border tariffs?

While these realities are all true, any remaining rage against the machine subsides when I get in the air. No matter how annoying it is, flying is worth it.

Rainbow over the Val du Carol, France. I suspect it matches the mood of the magneto shop after I paid their exorbitant invoice.


La Cerdanya Aerodrome, under some snow. The PA-11 handles snowpack quite well.

Some basic flying around La Cerdanya after a snowstorm. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

FAA plans to decommission NDB’s at Glenallen, Mekoryuk and Noatak: User feedback requested

The FAA has issued Letters to Airmen outlining plans to decommission the Nondirectional Beacons (NDBs) at the Gulkana (GKN), Mekoryuk (MYU) and Noatak (WTK) airports.  In all three cases, the decommissioning’s are for navaids that have failed, and have been out of service for some time.  Even though they are non-functional, they serve as fixes that are part of the airway structure, or are components of instrument approaches.   If the removal of these navaids impacts your operation, please let the FAA know, using the contact information provided below.

Moving to Space Based IFR Infrastructure
While the FAA is moving to a space-based IFR system, NDBs in some locations are still serving not only as the basis for instrument approach procedures, but as anchor fixes for IFR airways.  Last year AOPA was part of an industry group that looked at the IFR Enroute infrastructure in Alaska.  Working with the Alaska Air Carriers Association, Alaska Airmen Association, National Business Aviation Association and other organizations, the group delivered formal recommendations to the FAA. The topics covered in the report were wide ranging including sections acknowledging the role NDBs play in the enroute environment, and expressed concern that some GPS based T-Routes have a much higher Minimum Enroute Altitude than the NDB-based colored airways. One of the recommendations called for the FAA to consider operator impacts before decommissioning any airway supported by NDBs.  Responding to a Letter to Airmen is one mechanism that the FAA uses to collect user feedback.

 

This specific working group was only tasked to look at the enroute infrastructure, but acknowledged that NDBs in some locations still serve an operational role in the terminal environment, which should also be considered before these stations are decommissioned.

User input needed
The FAA is struggling to move into the space-based, NextGen era, balancing the need to keep existing “legacy” systems in place, while obtaining funding to stand up new infrastructure.  AOPA and others are pushing FAA to expand the network of ADS-B ground stations in Alaska, to provide a “minimum operational network” across the state.  Decommissioning legacy navigation aids is one way to free up resources, but only after the operational needs of the users have been considered.  FAA is asking for our feedback on these three stations. If you fly to these areas, let the FAA know if removing these NDBs impacts your operations.  Please contact:

Mark Payne, NISC III contract support
Operations Support Group
Western Service Center

Phone:  425-203-4515

Email:    [email protected]

Please send copies to AOPA at: [email protected]

Links to the FAA Letters to Airmen:

Glenallen NDB OSGW-36 (003)

NANWAK NDB_DME OSGW-35 (003)

Noatak NDB Decommissioning OSGW-33

Buddy passes

The buddy pass is one of the perks of working for an airline. It is just what it sounds like: a pass for a buddy to fly for a rock-bottom price. Virtually every airline offers them to employees, and at first glance, they sound great. You can take a friend or a family member on a trip and do so for a fraction of the price of a regular ticket. But, as with every airline ticket, there are catches.

The most important caveat is that a buddy pass is a space-available seat, meaning that your friend—or soon-to-be enemy—is only getting on if there is an empty seat and there isn’t a weight and balance restriction. In this day and age, with planes flying 80 to 90 percent full, an empty seat is hard to come by. I always tell people that the only thing a buddy pass guarantees is a positive space trip through security. That’s it.

That’s because, in terms of priority, buddy pass riders are listed behind revenue passengers; revenue passengers trying to change flights; employees being moved around by the company, employees that are non-revving; and, in some cases, retirees (a few airlines put retirees after pass riders). There is usually an exception in place if the pass rider is traveling with the employee, and that can be a significant advantage. Pass riders on their own truly are the last ones on the airplane.

Boarding last creates other issues along the way. The gate agents’ first concern is getting the flight out on time, and they’ve been known to leave some pass riders behind on occasion. Second, if you have a bag of any consequence, the overhead bins are likely to be full, and your rider may or may not be charged to check the bag, potentially increasing the cost of the trip.

Back in the day, pass riders had to rely on the employee to create the listing. Today, most airlines provide some avenue for a pass rider to look up loads and explore connecting options. As an employee, it’s up to you to make sure that the buddy can navigate the process without any help from you.

Buddy passes are charged based on either a zone formula (so much for traveling within a zone or a radius of a certain amount) or by charging so much a mile. And this is the rub, because it’s possible for the ticket price to climb to a point where the gap in price of a buddy pass and a positive-space ticket is close enough that a positive-space ticket will make more sense and provide the peace of mind of knowing you’re going to get on a flight.

Here’s an example: A friend of mine wanted a quote for a buddy pass to go to Australia. The first class rate (more on this below) for a round-trip ticket was $1,300, and around $700 for coach. But, there was a sale fare of $1,000 round trip, and my suggestion was to just buy a ticket, especially since it was such a long trip with few options. Speaking of paying for a buddy pass, most of them are payroll deductible, so make sure you get paid ahead of time, and settle up after the flight if the price varies.

But the biggest issue with buddy passes is making sure that everyone understands the rules (including you, as the sponsoring employee).
Unfortunately, too many people don’t seem to understand the limitations of flying stand-by.

In certain markets, giving someone a buddy pass is almost cruel (think Florida for spring break, or Hawaii any time). Flexibility is key, and the rules vary from one airline to another. For example, some airlines will allow you to list for a first-class seat, but they’ll put you in economy if that’s the only section with seats, and charge you accordingly. However, you may not be allowed to list for coach and then go to first class if a seat opens up there. This happens a lot on international flights, so pay attention to the rules for listing.

Dress code is important as well. United made the news about a year ago when a couple of pass riders were denied boarding because they were in violation of the dress code for pass riders. Most of these rules are available in a PDF format, so print them out for your buddies and also email them so that they can reference them as the get ready for the trip.

If your buddies don’t get on a flight, some systems will automatically roll them over to the next flight to that destination—but some won’t. The agent may manually do it for them—but they may not. It’s ultimately the buddy’s responsibility to figure that out.

Having flown for the airlines for more than 20 years now, I’ve learned that the best piece of advice I can give you about buddy passes is this: Don’t use them. Too many things can go wrong, and too often somebody says they “have to get there,” and that’s a sure-fire sign they need to buy a ticket. And too often the buddy doesn’t understand or respect the rules, and the person who gets in trouble is the employee.

The one exception I make is that I will give buddy passes to someone who used to work for an airline or has used them and is familiar with the process, the risks, and isn’t going to lose any sleep if they don’t make their flight.

If you insist on using buddy passes, be aware of the rules. And don’t say that I didn’t warn you.—Chip Wright

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