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Provence: a Monet of Control Zones

Like most ideas about flying in Europe (or anywhere, for that matter), I sit on my throne of ignorance on a cold, rainy night, fantasizing about a flight to some matter of interest, as though the airplane will fly itself with no real effort required. This plan was hatched back in Germany, at the behest of my wife, when I thought that any destination in Europe was easy to get to…largely because I happened to merely be in Europe. Oh, how little I knew!

After the move to Spain, the idea of lavender in Provence got infinitely easier, because it was “only” 160 miles away as the crow flies. Oddly, though, I didn’t land in France again until 9 months after the move, even though I had made multiple landings in the country on the flight down from Germany. Consistently, I opted for the laid-back and disorganized nature of Spain, meaning that an airport may or may not be attended, that fuel may or may not be there, and well, “no pasa nada.” Nothing is going to happen. France is much more wired than Spain, and as previously mentioned, has nothing short of barbarically complicated airspace.

A few weeks prior to this trip, I took a 5-hour flight over the heart of the Pyrenees, making that first landing in France in 9 months to refuel, and I felt less anxiety flying above timberline than in controlled airspace. The terrain that I was flying over was plain silly, with massive mountains as far as the eye could see, yet I was relaxed and at ease in that environment. If the engine quits, I’d land in a meadow and pitch my tent. If the radio, transponder, iPad, or anything else fails that connects me to the outside world, I’ll fly home by memory. No pasa nada. Complex airspace is another animal, as one system is dependent on another, and each deviation from the original plan requires a lot of work to coordinate relevant parts. Failures, problems, and incursions have the benefit of additional services, with the drawback of aviation authorities with a list of questions if the problem is severe enough.

This is easier than dealing with ATC.

Be that as it may, there were lavender fields waiting, and I was going to photograph them. I finally sat down to do some flight planning, and of course, the Mediterranean Coast beckoned also, meaning a glorious Monet of French control zones. At the end of the coastal binge was the Camargue river delta, an amazing area where the Rhone River empties into the Mediterranean Sea. It was as complicated as it could possibly get, though I was inspired.

The weather check called for infamous Tramontane and La Mistral winds, something I had experienced before, though as of the prior night, the total amounts were manageable. The next morning, however, the TAF for Avignon called for gusts to 52 knots, and Marseille had issued a SIGMET for severe turbulence for most of the flight path. I postponed the trip tentatively for a day, and then noticed that conditions were ideal on the Spanish side of the border. I took off for a five-hour odyssey into the Monegros Desert to photograph some scenery on my list, coming back tired enough to wonder if I had the stamina to make Provence the next day.

Monegros Desert, Spain

The next morning, the forecast was windy, though acceptable, and even better for day two of my travels. I filed my flight plan at home, drove to the airport, activated via phone, climbed out over La Perche Pass, France, and began my relatively quick descent out of the Pyrenees and into the South of France, with the Mediterranean on the horizon. As I contacted Perpignan Tower for clearance through a control zone, the Tramontane was beginning to pick up. On the other side of the CTR, it was blowing. As my flight path merged with the beach, staying at 800 feet AGL to avoid overhead military airspace, the wind was positively howling as I flew with a 40-degree left crab and kept power between 1800 and 2000 RPM, due to a strange uplifting convergence right over the beach. Shooting conveniently out the side window while biting raging headwinds, I was barely able to pass a windsurfer.

Departing Perpignan’s CTR as wind begins to pick up.

Howling offshore wind, with 40 degree crab. Note drifted sand.

As I entered Beziers Tower’s CTR, the winds started to relax quickly, meaning that the Tramontane fury was about 50 miles wide, also enabling me to relax as my ETA shortened rapidly due to normalizing groundspeeds. That meant I could follow the precise contour of the coast, enjoying old and new French towns and villages set against turquoise waters.

Beziers gave way relatively quickly to Montpellier Approach, a three frequency juggle to get cleared to follow the coast around an elaborate dance of dense air traffic. I departed Montpellier’s frequency while on final for Candillargues, a small general aviation field with an approach path over the Etang de l’Or, a golden salty lake that would mean certain total loss to any unfortunate airplanes that lose their engines coming into this airport.

Sête, France

Final approach to Candillargues, over the Etang de l’Or

Fueling was as is typical in small French airports: wandering around to find someone who invariably speaks no English, argue with the automated fuel pump (which would not take my French Total fuel card), find someone eventually that speaks English, and sort it all out. For as much as there are stereotypes about the French, they have always been helpful, even though they look at the americain and his Cub with a skeptical expression, clearly wondering if I have a screw loose.

I continued to the Camargue Delta, which was beyond words. Between the marshes, salty ponds, and salt lakes, the bulk of the area is water, with small viable emergency landing locations. Despite being under Istres Le Tube’s approach control, I was happy with my long clearance through the coast to the Rhone River, and even more at peace that I was away from human population, despite helicopter traffic and extensive water in all directions. I suppose I am wired for wilderness surroundings – there is something incredibly calming and free about it.

My time along the coast terminated with an explosive collection of salt lakes, and then a new personal record of the slowest cruise groundspeed: 37 knots. La Mistral, while not turbulent, was extremely strong, resulting in an agonizingly long period in the CTR with Istres Le Tube, before finally able to navigate through a series of waypoints out to the north and into the loving arms of Avignon Tower, where I got cleared through that CTR, but not the adjoining Orange CTR, requiring a more traditional avoidance path to finally break free of the shackles of controlled airspace, where I made a landing in light wind at Carpentras for refueling.

Camargue Delta

At this point, I expected to spend the night, though it was 4:30, and I found a local pilot to give his recommendation for lavender in the Luberon. I set off and flew for almost three more hours, wandering around the famous town of Sault, even coming in distant view of the Alps, before winding my way back to Carpentras, where I realized I speak enough French to order a taxi by phone to take me to my hotel.

Ascending the Luberon. Mount Ventoux (6,273′) in the background. Due to La Mistral, the peak records 56+mph winds 240 days per year.

Sault, with lavender



The next day, the flight was direct back home with one fuel stop in Lezignan, and only two CTRs to cross. I finally made La Cerdanya by mid-afternoon, gracing the conclusion of my trip with the worst and most graceless landing in 5 years. Tallying up the numbers, I spoke with 10 control towers and 2 information services, flew 17 hours, and took 10,400 photographs in a three-day period. The last time I undertook such a flying bender was photographing every named glacier in the state of Montana in two days in September 2015.

French wine country, en route home.

Pic du Canigou (9,134′) nosing above the marine layer during the climb into the Pyrenees.

La Cerdanya – just need to survive the landing on a sunny day.

In a moment of reflection, I realized a few things during the flying binge. I thought I would re-assemble the airplane in Germany as soon as it got off the container and continue flying that I did like this in America, though here in Europe. It took 18 months to work out the mechanical squawks, airmanship, and most importantly, my newfound fears after the emergency landing in the wilderness of Wyoming in 2015. Despite my reticence of flying into France, I got the hang of the military and controlled airspace regime by the time the trip to Provence was concluded, so there is something to be said about skills and experience. The most profound moment was to lay eyes on both Provence and the Alps, famous and beautiful areas known as exotic and distant tourist destinations, yet here I am in the same airplane I took my instruction in the mid 1990s as a teenager in Upstate New York, seeing places I wasn’t sure I’d ever see on the ground. I still have continuous moments of amazement that such a simple little airplane manufactured back in the 1940s could take a person so many places.

On the subject of colorful and interesting waters, I recently completed “Yellowstone’s Hot Springs: An Aviator’s Perspective,” a book containing close up aerial imagery of hundreds of the hot springs located in Yellowstone, taken during my time wandering around in Wyoming. It is available on Amazon or


Sweepstakes 172: Last stop before Oshkosh

Sailing along at 8,500 feet on Sunday, I had the benefit of not one but two Garmin G5s in the panel of the Sweepstakes 172.

The second G5, installed just last month, is configured as a horizontal situation indicator. Since both G5s run off the electrical system and include a back-up battery, Smart Avionics was able to remove the 172’s vacuum system. (The Sweepstakes 172 gained three pounds in its useful load!)

That hole in the instrument panel won’t remain empty for long. On Sunday I flew the Sweepstakes 172 from Frederick, Maryland, to Jackson, Tennessee’s McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport (MKL).

Here, at Tennessee Aircraft Services, the 172 is getting its final fantastic upgrade. Jeff Ley of The STC Group has flown in from California and is installing a Trio autopilot.

The STC Group announced at Sun ‘n Fun that it had obtained an STC for the kit to install theTrio Pro Pilot autopilot in Cessna 172s and 182s. The company hopes to announce at AirVenture complete STC and Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA) to build and sell the entire system. The Pro Pilot was developed for the Experimental market.

The Sweepstakes 172 will be at AirVenture all week, so please stop by and see this wonderful airplane for yourself. From its humble beginnings as a trainer, trusted family aircraft, and hangar queen to its spinner-to-tail transformation at Yingling Aviation to its eye-catching paint schemes, the 172 is a special bird.

Vacationing as an airline employee

Free travel is one of the greatest perks of working for the airlines. It’s also one of the most frustrating.

Free travel is great for the obvious reasons: You can fly for free, or nearly so, on dozens of airlines around the world. It’s frustrating because the airlines have become so incredibly good with their capacity discipline that you never can be sure of whether you’ll make it or you won’t.

I’ll give you two recent examples. This summer, one of my kids went to Spain for three weeks. The package included airfare for her. However, my wife wanted to accompany our daughter to Paris, where she would catch a connecting flight to a small city in Spain.

In the meantime, my wife and a friend of hers (whose husband works for the same airline I do) would spend a few days in Paris taking in the sights. For weeks, the flight was looking good. In the last week or so, however, it began to fill up rapidly. The uncertainty lasted until the morning of the departure. My wife and daughter went by the airport early to check in her bag, and the agent at the counter told my wife she should give it a shot. Her friend, who lives in Detroit, started driving.

At the gate that night, the number of standby passengers appeared to exceed the number of available seats. Following our tried-and-true mantra of not leaving the gate until the airplane pushed, my wife (im)patiently waited.

A family of five was unable to get on as a group, and two seats opened up, so off they went. Had she gone strictly by the listings she could see online, she would’ve had to come up with a plan B (there was one in place).

A week after my wife got home, we were scheduled to go on our summer vacation. The trip was to the Cayman Islands, which is one of our favorite places to go scuba diving. Our rule of thumb is to buy tickets whenever we check bags, and we always travel with our own dive gear, which has to be checked. When we booked our trip in the spring, we were tempted to chance using our pass benefits. The flights were wide open, and it would save some money. I sat on it for a few days, and finally decided that the peace of mind was worth it. I took advantage of the discounted tickets that employees can buy, and bought seats.

On the day of our trip, the first flight in the morning took a mechanical delay that would eventually exceed four hours. Some of those passengers spilled over to our flight, and the airplane was full on the first leg. The second leg, which had been pretty promising, sold out during our layover, which means that even if we had started the night before, we wouldn’t have made it.

It was dumb luck that we didn’t get burned by the late departure of the first flight. We considered buying seats on that one, but we didn’t since the layover would have been so long. That flight wound up touching down just as ours was leaving. It would have cost us a full day of our trip.

So, there you have it: two international flights, two different methods of travel. One was pure fun (had my wife not made the Paris flight, she and her friend were going to go to Scotland, which was wide open), and the schedule was a non-issue. The second one, with considerable money invested up front for the resort and diving package, spoke for itself with respect to the logic of buying a ticket. The peace of mind was money in the bank, as was knowing that the airline would take care of us in the event of a disruption to our itinerary.

Not everyone is willing to spend the money on tickets, and not everyone is willing to risk the wrath of the non-rev gods. As the song says, you have to know when to hold them, and when to fold them.—Chip Wright

When things go sideways

I can’t determine who first said it, but flying has been described as “hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” The phrase may have been adapted from a description of trench warfare published in Guy’s Hospital Gazette during the first world war. Anyway, as an aerobat, the first bit leaves me scratching my head. Flying? Boring? I don’t get it.

The part about sheer terror can occasionally ring true, however. That was my first thought upon hearing that a Cessna 310R had crashed on the southbound lanes of the 405 freeway just feet from the airport boundary at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport a few days ago. From takeoff to engine failure to pancaking onto the highway took but a couple of minutes. Thankfully the pilot avoided a stall/spin situation and landed the aircraft more or less in one piece. As a result, both occupants survived.

I’ve often noted how NTSB statistics teach us that most mishaps occur on the ground rather than in the air. That has been my experience as well. This crash represents the first major accident I can remember at SNA – my home field — in many years. The airport has nearly 300,000 operations annually, so that’s really saying something.

One thing airborne and ground-based accidents have in common, however, is that when things go sideways, they tend to do so in an awful hurry. One such example occurred to my airplane recently. I returned from a trip and left the plane in the (normally) capable hands of the line staff at Signature. The next day I received a phone call informing me that one of their fuel trucks had backed into the trailing edge of the right wing.

The damage was not catastrophic, but it set off a long chain of insurance claims, inspections, temporary repairs, ferry flights, downtime, aircraft rentals, missed trips, etc. which continue to this day. I spent a few hours at the airport, documenting the damage and interviewing anyone who was there or had information which might be relevant.

One person I did not have the opportunity to talk to was the driver of the fuel truck. He had been sent home and, I later learned, terminated. That seems to be typical these days, but I sort of wish it wasn’t. In Bob Hoover’s autobiography, Forever Flying, he relates the story of his Shrike Commander being misfueled with Jet-A instead of 100LL at a San Diego airshow in the 1980s. After a dual engine failure and off-airport landing, Hoover says he told the offending fueler, “There isn’t a man alive who hasn’t made a mistake. But I’m positive you’ll never make this mistake again. That’s why I want to make sure that you’re the only one to refuel my plane tomorrow. I won’t let anyone else on the field touch it.”

I’m fairly certain the fuel truck driver who backed into my aircraft would never have made that mistake again. Alas, the risk averse nature of modern business ensures he’ll never have the opportunity to become a better, safer employee.

If I could have spoken to the driver, I would’ve remind him that damaging a wing was not the end of the world. First of all, that’s why we have insurance. Second – and more importantly – is that things could have been a lot worse. A few years ago I saw a ramp worker walk into a turning King Air propeller on the same field. Believe it or not, he wasn’t killed or permanently maimed. At least, not that I know of. The pilot had already pulled the condition levers to “cutoff” and the prop levers to feather, so the ramper was whacked by the flat blade of a slowing prop and knocked out. It was bad enough that they took him away in an ambulance, but at least he was alive. The FBO terminated his employment.

A friend who flies a Stearman once related the story of hand propping the plane and having one of the blades nick the side of his leg as the engine fired. Cut and a little bloodied, but not permanently injured, he too escaped what could have been a disastrous accident.

I could go on all day with stories like that. An experienced and conscientious ramp worker I knew at Van Nuys was working the graveyard shift on a poorly lit area of the tarmac one night, preparing to tow a Gulfstream toward the hangar. Suddenly, to his horror, the airplane began rolling away. Can you imagine the disbelief with which he must have watched the slow speed crash as the jet collided with another Gulfstream parked nearby? A critical pin had not been securely fastened to the tow bar and once the chocks were removed, gravity took over. As with the others, the employee lost his job.

Though we’re not always cognizant of it, everything we do in life involves risk. But the nature of flying and the cost of aircraft make aviation particularly unforgiving of carelessness or error… so let’s all be careful out there, even when – or perhaps I should say especially when – you’re on the ground.

Buying a new fleet

The Paris Airshow just wrapped up, and as usual, the various manufacturers jockeyed for some large orders. Virtually all orders that are announced at Paris and Farnborough are in place before the airshows, but the airlines and the manufacturers use the events to make a big splash, and this year was no different.

In the U.S. market, United announced an order for 100 new 737s and four new 777s. There was some hand-wringing over the UAL deal, because Scott Kirby, late of America West/USAirways/American, is known to be an Airbus guy, and there were rumors that UAL was going to announce a larger order of A320s and A321neos. So what happened?

Buying an airplane is a major decision for any airline, and for a global carrier like UAL or Delta or American, the narrow-body fleets are the backbone that support the global system. There are three major cost considerations. The first is the actual unit price. As with cars, this is negotiated. Nobody pays sticker price. However, this price is significant nevertheless, and it becomes the starting point for everything else moving forward.

The second major cost consideration is the operating cost for the airplane. This covers everything from fuel to scheduled maintenance to crew costs, and it also takes into account warranties on the airplane as a whole or on the various parts. Somewhere in every airline, there is a bean counter who has broken down to the penny the actual cost of each airplane under consideration, taking into account more variables than most of us can imagine.

The final cost to consider is the long-term cost, which includes the cost of integrating the airplane into the current fleet—especially if it’s a new piece of equipment or represents a departure from the current norm.

In the case of UAL, the bulk of the domestic fleet is the 737. The A320/321 fleet is much smaller and much older. Bringing in new Airbuses would have led to a dramatic increase in training for pilots, and would have negated much of the advantage of the larger 737 fleet, which operates from Saigon to the Caribbean, and from Alaska to Central South America. There will be a high parts commonality between the 737s in use and the new MAX versions on order. Both are known quantities, and both Boeing and Airbus no doubt made compelling pitches to UAL. If everything was truly equal, it may have been as simple as “Buy American.” But it’s almost never that simple.

Delta, on the other hand, will be introducing a new narrow-body soon when it takes delivery of the Bombardier C-Series. Taking on a new aircraft type is not without risk, as United learned a few years ago with the battery problems on the 787. New airplanes are frequently slowed by unexpected bugs, and the C-Series is not likely to be any different. Further, everything about the program is new: new parts, a new engine, new simulators, and new training programs for pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, dispatchers, and gate agents. A new airplane is expensive, and it takes time for the return on the investment to pay off. With luck it does. Today, UAL is ecstatic with what the 787 has been able to do, and the markets it has opened.

New airplanes are critical to get right, as the decision is one that will affect airlines and their passengers for decades.—Chip Wright

New paint, new G5

As you read this, the AOPA Sweepstakes 172 is getting a new Garmin G5 installed in its panel.

But wait, you say. Didn’t the 172 have a G5 installed in 2016? Yes it did—and it was one of the first certified airplanes to get one. If you were at AirVenture 2016 or our Camarillo fly-in in April, you may have seen the first G5 installed in the airplane’s panel.

So what gives? Garmin recently obtained an STC that enables the G5 to be installed as a replacement directional gyro or horizontal situation indicator. (The G5 was STC’d in 2016 for installation as a replacement attitude indicator.)

With two G5s—each operating off the electrical system, but each including a four-hour back-up battery—that means we can scrap the vacuum system on our Sweepstakes 172.

Smart Avionics at Donegal Springs Airpark Airport (N71) in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, is completing this latest upgrade for us. The shop was humming with activity on Monday as we dropped off the 172. Smart’s Ben Travis said several clients are getting panel upgrades that incorporate ADS-B equipage.

Check out that paint

In case you missed it, the AOPA Sweepstakes 172 was the lead story in the June 15 edition of AOPA Live This Week.

The final paint is complete, thanks to the speedy and highly skilled staff at KD Aviation. They turned the job around in about two weeks, in spite of the fact that the paint scheme covered more than 60 percent of the airplane.

Aerial photography of the AOPA 2018 Sweepstake Cessna 172 Ascend with the new paint job.
Frederick, MD USA

The final paint scheme is eye-catching, to say the least. Scheme Designers’ Craig Barnett said he was going for high visibility, given the sweepstakes 172’s metallic gray base coat, which, though stunning on the ground, could be tough to spot in flight.

We’re just a month out from EAA AirVenture and the announcement of the winner. Hope to see you there!

Aerial photography of the AOPA 2018 Sweepstake Cessna 172 Ascend with the new paint job.
Frederick, MD USA

It’s Different For Cars

The owner of the late-model Cessna T206 Turbo Stationair was livid.

Takata Airbag

Takata Airbag

“Imagine your car is equipped with a Takata airbag system whose faulty inflators often rupture and spray shrapnel into drivers and passengers, resulting in at least 11 deaths in the U.S. and hundreds of injuries,” his email to me began. “But instead of being recalled by the manufacturer, you were instructed by the government that to continue driving your car legally, you were required to take it to a mechanic every 500 miles for a costly inspection at your expense. If your airbag system didn’t pass the inspection, you would be required to pay about $1,200 for a new airbag inflator, again at your expense.”

The Stationair owner was reacting to a just-issued Airworthiness Directive against the exhaust system of his Lycoming TIO-540-AJ1A engine. There are 758 of these engines currently in service. AD 2017-11-10 was apparently prompted by reports of exhaust leaks that could result in excessive carbon monoxide (CO) getting into the cabin. Some of these leaks were caused by cylinder exhaust port studs coming loose, while others were caused by cracked exhaust pipe weld joints.

Lycoming TIO-540-AJ1A

Lycoming TIO-540-AJ1A

The AD requires an initial exhaust system inspection and fastener torque check within 10 hours, and then repetitive exhaust system inspections every 25 hours and torque checks every 100 hours. The FAA estimated the cost of compliance to be $85 (one hour of labor) per required inspection, but that doesn’t take into account the burden on the owner of having to take his airplane to an A&P mechanic every 25 hours (which is half the normal oil-change interval).

Lycoming issued a service bulletin which allowed the repetitive inspection interval to be extended from 25 to 50 hours if the aircraft was equipped with a carbon monoxide detector, but inexplicably the AD does not include this provision. Lycoming presently doesn’t have a fix for this problem (although they claim they’re working on one), so there’s no way of knowing how long the owners of the 758 affected Lycoming TIO-540-AJ1A engines will be required to do these 25-hour exhaust inspections.

“Why do aircraft owners put up with this?” the Stationair owner continued. “For decades, Cessna and Lycoming have been building the same product, and they still can’t get it right. Why? Because they have no incentive to do so. If they make a design or manufacturing mistake, they just pass the costs on to their customers. Nice scam.”

I felt the owner’s pain. I fly a Cessna 310 with a cabin heater made by Stewart-Warner (Southwind), and was just hit with an AD against my heater that will force me to replace it with a new AD-free heater at my upcoming annual in October, at a cost of $6,000 in parts and probably $2,000 in labor. And as I discussed in my last blog post, the FAA is threatening to issue an AD against the camshaft gears in my two Continental TSIO-520-BB engines (and tens of thousands of other engines) that could cost owners like me a bundle.

It’s gotten so bad that when a colleague of mine recently told me he was looking to buy an airplane and was thinking about an older Mooney, I suggested he look into buying an amateur-built experimental airplane instead in order to get out from under the AD burden that has been plaguing us owners of certified airplanes.

It’s different for cars

NHTSAThe Stationair owner was right to point out that the rules are very different for motorists than they are for aircraft owners. In 1966, Congress passed The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (49 USC 301) that gave the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the authority to issue vehicle safety standards and to require manufacturers to recall vehicles that have safety-related defects or do not meet Federal safety standards.

Effectively, these NHTSA motor vehicle recalls are the automotive equivalent of Airworthiness Directives. But there’s a big difference: In most cases, the auto manufacturers are required by law to bear the cost of fixing the vehicles. The burden usually doesn’t fall on the vehicle owners.

Why isn’t there a similar law for aircraft? I’m guessing that there are just not enough folks in Congress who care about aircraft owners to support such legislation. By contrast, every member of Congress is a motorist, so the laws are spring-loaded in favor of protecting motorists. But even if the laws protecting motorists were extended to aircraft owners, the lion’s share of the AD burden wouldn’t go away.

Recall NoticeWhy? Well, for one thing, 49 USC 301 requires automobile manufacturers to bear the expense of recalls only for vehicles that are less than 10 years old. While this covers most cars that are recalled, the overwhelming majority of today’s GA fleet consists of airplanes that are more than 10 years old, frequently much more.

The lion’s share of piston GA aircraft were built in the 1960s and 1970s, and then production all but stopped in the 1980s and never came close to recovering to the levels seen in the salad days of piston GA. (My 1979 Cessna 310 is 38 years old, and it’s a “recent model” as Cessna 310s go.) So for most GA airplanes, the manufacturer would be off the hook.

In addition, the law only requires the manufacturer to pay for repair of recalled vehicles if those repairs are performed by an authorized dealer of the manufacturer. Relatively few GA owners have their maintenance performed at authorized dealers, and many makes of GA aircraft no longer have dealers; indeed, many were manufactured by companies that aren’t in business anymore. In general, GA has a far less robust support system compared to automobiles.

Changes I’d really like to see

Bureau of Automotive RepairThe laws I’d most like to see extended to GA are the ones that deal with repair facilities. Automotive repair facilities are typically regulated by the states, not by the feds. Most states require automotive repair facilities to be licensed, and have lots of state laws protecting motorists from unscrupulous repair shops. In most cases, an automotive repair shop cannot work on your car until they’ve given you a written work order itemizing the work they will do and providing a cost estimate (including parts, labor, and outside work), and obtained your signature approving the work order and estimate. Then they are required not to charge you significantly more than the agreed-to estimate.

In the event that the shop runs into something that might result in exceeding the original estimate, they are required to stop work, furnish you with an explanation and a revised estimate, and secure your approval of the new estimate before they may continue. These rules ensure that there will never be any surprises when you receive the final invoice.

To comply with these rules, most auto repair shops use a flat-rate price list for all the most common maintenance tasks they perform. You’ll typically pay the same price for, say, an oil change or a brake job or a tire rotation regardless of how much time the technician spent doing the work.

By contrast, most maintenance work on airplanes is done on a time-and-materials basis, often with no paperwork until the job is done. Sticker shock is rampant as a result, because often the owner doesn’t have a clue what the work will cost until it’s done. This is a bad system, and often results in hard feelings and arguments when owners feel they’ve been charged too much.

I’d love to see the state laws that govern auto repair extended so that they cover aircraft maintenance shops as well, but I’m not holding my breath. Few state legislators give a fig about aircraft owners. In the meantime, it’s up to the owner to demand a written estimate before permitting any shop to work on their aircraft, and to hold the shop to that estimate unless there’s an awfully good reason that it was exceeded.


Not long after this blog post was published by AOPA, I received a phone call from Lycoming and learned that there is some good news and some light at the end of the tunnel for owners of TIO-540-AJ1A-powered Cessna T206s affected by AD 2017-11-10.

First, Lycoming requested and the FAA approved an Alternative Means of Compliance (AMOC) that extends the exhaust inspection interval from 25 hours to 50 hours for aircraft that are equipped with a suitably sensitive carbon monoxide (CO) detector. That will halve the inspection burden and promote CO detector installation, both of which are good things.

I also learned that Lycoming has redesigned the TIO-540-AJ1A exhaust system in order to provide a permanent solution to the problem and a terminating action for the AD. The new exhaust system will be made of 321 stainless steel, in contrast with the Inconel used in the current system. Inconel has outstanding high-temperature characteristics, but it is much more brittle and harder to work with than 321 stainless, and has a much less desirable failure mode. Lycoming concluded that the Inconel system was not sufficiently flexible to deal with the dimensional changes and thermal stresses that occur as the exhaust system heats up and cools down. Most other turbocharged Lycoming engines used a stainless steel exhaust system, and Lycoming believes the new system will prove much more durable and less failure-prone than the current one.

No word yet on when production quantities of the new exhaust parts will be available or what they will cost. But it does look like the repetitive inspections mandated by AD 2017-11-10 won’t have to go on forever. –MDB

Air Race Classic Awards. June 25


Today is award day! More than 100 women are counting the hours, rehashing the race legs, regretting the if-onlys, celebrating the successes. Who will place first? Who will rank in the top ten? Who will win one of the many other awards? We find out tonight at the ARC Awards Banquet. The first question the judges asked us when we met yesterday was whether we’d had fun. Absolutely! The AOPAngels had a blast, worked hard, honed our skills, learned a great deal, and made many like-minded friends. That’s winning on many levels.

While a handful of racers are highly competitive, most of us were racing for the challenge, the fun, the camaraderie. It was a privilege to meet so many skilled women pilots from all over the world, and to celebrate the love of flying we share. Though we were first-time racers, and had a great Mother Bird, we Angels took a team or two under our wings, as well. Once, while we were making good time at altitude, we could hear a couple of teams below us at 2500 bemoaning the heat, the rough ride, and the 30-knot headwind. We debated whether to let them in on our secret. Finally, we decided to put on our halos. “This is Team 43, AOPAngels. We have a tailwind and smooth, cool air at 8500. Come on up, girls.” To say our transmission was appreciated is an understatement. We haven’t heard the end of it. Life’s not always about being first; it’s about being the best we can be.

Thanks for sharing our flying adventure. AOPAngels, over and out.


Inspections and Scores. June 24


Camaraderie blossomed among the racers last night as we celebrated our arrivals in Santa Fe on the party deck of the lovely Drury Hotel. Today, though, we are back to business. Aircraft inspections run all morning in race number sequence, and later we receive our race scores. Although we did receive a race score report each night summarizing our flight legs for the day, it did not include penalties for any flight deviations or fly-by mistakes. We Angels are not expecting any, but we will see. The judges go to great lengths to insure equity and fairness, and the race is run with very high standards and strict rules. We can voice our questions when we meet with them at our scheduled appointment this afternoon, and also at the first-time racer debrief.

Santa Fe, itself, is a pleasant surprise for us. Art flourishes in all forms: sculpture, paintings, jewelry, hand-made baskets and other handiwork. Friendly people, excellent food, clear skies and 80 degrees; it’s a haven for all of us needing a recharge.

Finish Line! June 23


Leaving Hale County Airport in Texas at sun up was the best decision we could have made! We were off the ground in cool temperatures and found a sweet tailwind that was not forecast. Temperatures actually cooled to the 60s as we neared New Mexico, another wonderful boost to our aircraft performance. Eagle Eye Wivell and Captain Luz were up front, looking, looking, looking for the elusive Sandia Airpark in Edgewood, New Mexico, blending like a chameleon with the terrain. About four miles out, they spotted it and set up for the fly-by. “We’re past the timing line!” Eagle Eye called and we all whooped! Climbing out to the north, we set our course for Santa Fe, taking our time since the race clock stopped at Sandia. Our Mother Bird, Lin Caywood met us at the door of the hotel in Santa Fe, congratulating us on flying an excellent race. Awards? Prizes? We will find out Sunday at the final banquet.

Angel impressions: Was it worth it? Absolutely! We learned a lot about several things: First, synergy. We found our groove in the cockpit and stuck with it, using our best skills to team advantage. And we honed our decision-making abilities, considering our  options the night before each leg, talking extensively with weather briefers each morning,  and calling flight service along the way. Speaking for myself: I scraped off a lot of rust from years on the ground, and now my skills are beginning to shine, again. Paula, a new pilot, considers the actual experience of flying in high terrain with high density altitude invaluable. “You can only learn so much from a book,” she remarked. Paula and I did our share of flying, but knew our ace for the difficult fly-by maneuvers was Captain Luz, who collapsed on the FBO couch in Santa Fe. “Now I can have coffee,” she sighed.

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