Author: Martin Rottler (page 2 of 2)

The Importance of Hitchhikers and Fence Lice

A few weeks ago I found myself at the airport on a beautiful Sunday afternoon after helping out at a practice for OSU’s NIFA competition Flight Team. It was one of those days where everything lined up near-perfectly (save for some annoying haze) that it seemed like the universe itself was begging me to fly. All I needed was an excuse, and that justification came from the fact that it had been two weeks since I had last flown, and that was just too close to the 90 day currency limit on our school’s insurance. With that reasoning in mind, I knew it was time to cheat gravity in our school’s Cirrus SR20.

As I finished the paperwork and waited for the plane to be pulled from the hangar, I noticed two students loitering in the school after Flight Team practice. While I cannot confirm nor deny that they loitered closer to the dispatch desk when they heard I was flying, it seemed like a waste  to let seats go empty for what was to be a flight for the sake of fun and currency. Magically, headsets appeared, and release forms were signed.

The flight itself was remarkably uneventful…a few landings at a satellite airport and a landing back at KOSU. The students had the opportunity to see their professor in action (and whiff a landing) and experience the side-stick controls of the SR20. Both are certified pilots who showed the child-like wonder of flight in a new type of airplane. This child-like wonder that is far-too-often lost on harried veterans of the aviation field.

I’ve spent the last several weekends out at the airport for Flight Team practices, where I see that same child-like wonder displayed on the faces of actual children who literally hang onto the airport fence watching our flight operations. Parents bring them to the airport to watch anything and everything from a Cessna 152 to Gulfstream V taxi by.

For many of us in the industry, this is how we got our introduction to the field–attaching ourselves like lice to the goings-on of the airport at the fence, or getting to hop along on a ride in a new airplane once we move to the other side of the fence. For many people I see at airports around the country, these young (and old, as the Fence Lice phenomena knows no age limits) are considered a mild annoyance or are ignored outright. We walk by, as vaunted insiders to the world behind the fence, not stopping to say “hi,” to point out an airplane taxiing by, or to engage those on the “wrong” side of the fence in our super-awesome aviation experience.

I make it a goal when walking from our flight school at KOSU to the FBO along a fence line to, at the very least, say hello and make sure to direct our airport visitors to a dedicated observation tower with a better view of the airport and information about the airport, including coloring books. If I have time, I’ll even offer to bring young visitors and their parents to the other side of the fence for a brief tour of a flight training aircraft.

How many of those kids, if given the chance at an impromptu tour, would return home that day ready to return in 10, 15, or 20 years to join those of us on the “right” side of the fence? It is our responsibility, as current aviators, to pass along the passion for flight to the younger generation. As I’ve written about before, we pilots are, on average, getting significantly older. We should make it our goal to engage these fence-lice and hitchhikers every time we see them at the airport. It represents a long-term investment in our community and our industry.


The automation challenge: A young person’s problem?

Otto Pilot

Image Credit: Screenshot from Airplane!

In the aftermath of Asiana 214 in San Francisco and UPS 1354 in Birmingham (even reaching back to Air France 447 and Colgan 3407), much of the collective conversation, soul searching, and heated argument has revolved around the issue of cockpit automation and pilot interaction with onboard technology. There has been a collective cry from much of the “old guard” in the aviation field saying that these accidents prove that the modern pilot spends too much time monitoring systems and not enough time honing their old-fashioned “stick-and-rudder” skills. A recent blog post from the Economist even went so far as to say:

“Many of today’s younger pilots (especially in the rapidly expanding markets of Asia and the Middle East) have had little opportunity to hone their airmanship in air forces, general aviation or local flying clubs, allowing them to amass long hours of hand-flying various aircraft in all sorts of weather conditions and emergencies.”

Are the recent airline accidents a direct result of a lack of stick-and-rudder skills amongst younger pilots? A look at the demographics of the flight crews tells a different story. The two captains in the left and right seat onboard Asiana 214 were 48 and 45 years old, respectively, and the relief crew was 41 and 52 years old. The captain of the UPS aircraft that went down in Birmingham was 58; the first officer was 37. Air France 447’s crew had the youngest first officer (32 years old) amongst these major “automation interaction” accidents; the captain was 58 and the relief first officer onboard the ill-fated flight was 37. Without getting into the training priorities of each airline and nitty-gritty of procedures relating to hand-flying, it would seem that more of our accident-prone problems today stem not from a lack of stick-and-rudder skills of the millennial first officer, but (to borrow a colloquialism) teaching our old dogs new tricks and displays in the cockpit.

In general aviation, we see this new challenge with the implementation and increased use of technologically advanced aircraft (TAAs) by our pilots. The standard story goes something like this: VFR-rated pilot gets in TAA, encounters marginal weather, potentially thinking he’s safer behind a glass cockpit, becomes disoriented, and crashes. Is this a stick-and-rudder skill problem, or is it indicative of a broader problem that we still have failures in how we train our pilots to make good decisions?

If you want to buy a new airplane today, be it a 172 or SR22, it will be equipped with glass cockpit technology and the automation that comes with it as standard. Our training and testing methodologies have not adapted to meet these new, fantastic technologies, giving pilots the opportunity to learn both stick-and-rudder skills and the systems management/awareness skills to use the automation to its best and safest abilities. It’s been far too long since the FAA in consultation with the industry has taken a look at its requirements and testing methodologies for pilot certificates in this country. The new ATP certification process presents some revamping of testing and subject areas, but we still fail to begin our training by reinforcing both stick-and-rudder and technical skills.

My fellow “younger” pilots (those lacking in stick-and-rudder skills as the Economist blog post suggests) are incredibly comfortable with technology. For many fellow graduates from large universities, we have extensive experience training and learning in TAA. Where do the airlines see challenges in their training of new hire pilots from these big schools? Not in systems management or basic stick-and-rudder skills. The biggest issue with near consistency across airlines whose new hires trained in all-glass fleets is basic instrument competency. Small things like holding, VOR tracking, and setting fixes in the “old-fashioned way” with two VORs make up a large portion of the feedback universities receive.

In the United States, GA will continue to serve as the primary pipeline for tomorrow’s professional pilots. It behooves us all as GA pilots and instructors to emphasize both of these elements in our training and day-to-day flying. We need to continue to explore better methods of training, especially for the “new dogs” that are already used to GPS on their phones and in their cars and those “old dogs” who grew up in a time when LORAN was a common tool for navigating.

Oshkosh 2033: Who will carry the torch?

Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Early August, 2033

The 81st EAA AirVenture fly-in and airshow  ended this past week with continued declines in General Aviation participation from peaks in the 1990s and early 2000s. Attendance this year was not expected to break 200,000 and this year’s flight activity of little more than 2000 aircraft during the week was once again to not high enough to qualify the tower as “The World’s Busiest.” Reflecting the continued reality of declining interest in aviation and airshows, EAA once again kept the once-popular North 40 parking area at the airport closed, consolidating all aircraft parking near show center. In spite of separate efforts by EAA, AOPA, and several other aviation organizations, there seemed to be no coherent solution on the part of any of organizations’ leadership as to how to stop the declining interest in airshows and aviation.

Columbus, Ohio

Mid-August 2013

Mention Oshkosh to your non-aviation inclined friends, and you’ll likely get a “B’GOSH!” out of them. Mention Oshkosh to your aviation friends, and you’ll get a starry-eyed look of airplanes, airshows, and the celebration of all things avgeek.

For the first time in 11 years, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to return to the premier general aviation celebration a few weeks ago. A mix of work and pleasure, I spent ten days amongst friends, former classmates, coworkers, students, and random strangers brought together by a common love of flying. My AirVenture experience included airshows, meetings, networking, a fantastic College Mixer organized by EAA, and time spent “working the lines,” reaching out to prospective students, alumni, and the general public in the booth organized for my employer. It was a wonderful and tiring experience and very different to see from a professional lens.

One of the areas of focus in my academic research is in analyzing demographic data for pilots. I spend many hours pouring over FAA spreadsheets, industry analyses, and forecasts. As my time at AirVenture reminded me, there’s a lot of basic demographic analysis that can be done by traveling to Oshkosh and seeing who is in attendance. Who are the typical attendees? In nonscientific terms, it boils down to three words: Old White Guys.

EAA’s 2014 Exhibitor application noted the following specific demographic attendance data as a sales pitch for exhibitors:

84% male

2/3 of attendees over the age of 35

50% of attendees have a household income over $100,000/yr (US average: 20% of households meet this number)

What, in this portrait of current AirVenture attendees, strikes today’s millennial (of which I’m included) as an event they’d want to spend their time attending? As members of aviation organizations such as EAA and AOPA, what are we doing to ensure the future of our orgs? Why aren’t we directing the leaders of these organizations to make meaningful actions at bringing more people into the fray? Why are we allowing the huge disconnect between potential aviation fans of all varieties and organizations that aren’t doing anything meaningful or coherent to bring them into the field?

The narration of a demonstration flight during an afternoon airshow  at this year’s AirVenture really brought home this disconnect. The person explaining the airplane being demonstrated said that the goal behind their product was to “open up the world of aviation” to more individuals. The cost of this opening product? $250,000+. How many millenials have a fraction of that to spend on flying? How many middle-aged people in the US have that kind of money? Does this product really do anything to open the market up to new blood? Probably not.

This is a theme and question I will return back to many times over the course of my blog posts for AOPA: What is the future of aviation?

What will AirVenture be in 20 years after the majority of today’s attendees are unable to travel to Oshkosh? Are the days of 500,000+ attendees and 10,000+ airplanes numbered? Will the above fictionalization of 2033 become true?

Most importantly, who is going to drive all those awesome VW Beetles around?

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