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More GPS Interference Testing in Alaska

The military will again be conducting GPS testing out of Restricted Area 2205, east of Eielson Air Force Base, November 12-17, 2017.  This activity will be conducted at night, between the hours of 06Z and 16Z (Starting on November 11th, 9 pm Alaska Daylight Time, running till 7 am daily for five days).  A look at the chart accompanying this notice, issued by the FAA Joint Frequency Management Office Alaska, shows that effects could be widespread.

Map of potentially impacted area from upcoming GPS Testing.

If you experience any GPS anomalies, in addition to notifying ATC, please share that information with AOPA by sending an email to: [email protected].  Details including aircraft type, location, altitude, and the nature of the anomaly would help us track this issue.

While these hours of operation represent the maximum extent that “testing” may be conducted, we expect actual activities may be of shorter duration.  ATC will be notified by the military before testing on a given day is started, and when it has been concluded, so a call to Anchorage Center may provide a better idea of what to expect during these days.  As always, please check NOTAMS for any changes regarding this activity.

At the Alaska Civil Military Aviation Council meeting earlier this week, we were advised that each of the Red Flag Exercises being planned for the coming year will include GPS Interference activities.  AOPA will continue to monitor this activity and its impacts on civil aviation, as we continue to advance into the era of satellite based navigation.

Link to the notice:  JFAK 17-03 GPS Flight Advisory

Stay sharp

Learning how to fly is a challenge, and it can be mentally and physically taxing. Flying is one of the few three-dimensional activities that humans engage in, and it’s not our natural state of being. As we progress up the ladder of competence and proficiency, it becomes easier, and we develop a sort of stamina for flying longer and longer periods of time, especially if we limit ourselves to cruise flight and take out the work of practicing takeoffs and landings.

As we move into bigger airplanes, we begin to have more tools at our disposal to make our task of flying easier. GPS, Nexrad, and other goodies become more prevalent. At some point (we hope), a functioning autopilot finds its way into our lives. If so, life becomes much easier indeed. A good autopilot is much more than just cruise control, since it should control both pitch and roll. Once you have experience with an autopilot you’ll realize just how fatiguing the art of flight can be, especially if you’re trying to avoid weather or multi-task.

When you reach the corporate/135/121 world, autopilots are often not just a luxury, but mandatory—especially for RVSM airspace and for some approaches. It becomes very easy to take off, reach the minimum engagement altitude, and turn on the autopilot. On the other end, you might turn it off right before landing. After all, autopilots are smoother than we are, and they can often increase the efficiency of the flight, which in turn saves money because of fuel savings.

The NTSB has found, and the FAA agrees, that it’s very easy to become overly reliant on automation. As you progress in your career, it’s important to keep up the practice of hand flying, and stay proficient without a flight director to guide you along. But even if you use a flight director, practice flying with the autopilot off. Do it in all phases of flight. Throughout my airline career, I’ve tried to do a fair amount of manual flying. I don’t do a lot in the terminal area of a busy airport, especially a hub, because I believe it’s safer to use “George” and keep my eyes outside for traffic. That said, I’ll often climb most of the way to cruise, and I try to turn the gizmos off well before landing. This keeps me proficient on the way the airplane handles, and it keeps my basic flying skills sharp.

If you need proof, look no further than the 2009 Air France flight over the Atlantic that crashed, as well as the 2013 Asiana flight into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) that hit the seawall. Obviously, in both cases, more was involved. But basic piloting skills had been eroded, which was totally preventable.—Chip Wright

Alaska Aircraft Registration Program Proposed

Update: Nov 27, 2017
The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT) has released draft regulations proposing an Aircraft Registration Program.  If adopted, this regulation requires aircraft owners to complete a registration application and pay an annual fee of $150 for non-commercial aircraft, or $250 for aircraft used in commerce.  Exemptions would exist for aircraft primarily operating in interstate commerce, or to foreign countries.  Aircraft transiting the state are also exempt, along with those owned by the federal government or unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds.  A waiver could be obtained for dismantled or not airworthy aircraft, or aircraft registered in other states, and not in Alaska for more than 180 days a year.  Details are available: https://aws.state.ak.us/OnlinePublicNotices/Notices/View.aspx?id=187638

Analysis of the proposal
While no one wants to see the cost to fly increase, the state’s financial situation is serious, with the decline of oil revenues that have funded about 90% of state services for several decades.  While reducing their operating budget 22% since 2015, there is still a huge deficit to operate the 240 airports owned by DOT.  The Governor’s Aviation Advisory Board looked at options to increase revenues, and supported increasing the aviation motor fuel tax, as the most efficient way to improve the situation, without expanding state government. See “Alaska Aviation Motor Fuel Tax Increase Under Discussion” for more details.

In a recent poll conducted by AOPA, the Alaska Airmens Association and the National Business Aviation Association, pilots across the state favored the motor fuel tax increase over either a registration fee or landing fees, although a significant number of people responding commented that they opposed any increased fees or taxes.

Please share your comments on this proposal with AOPA, as we navigate these challenging times to find the right balance to support aviation in Alaska.

To comment on this regulation
There are several ways to comment on this proposal.  DOT will hold three hearings to take comments on the proposed regulation:

  • November 9th   1st Floor Conference Room
    Alaska DOT&PF
    3132 Channel Drive, Juneau
  • November 14th  Airport Response Center
    Fairbanks International Airport
    5195 Brumbaugh Blvd, Fairbanks
  • November 20th Central Region Main Conference Room
    Alaska DOT&PF
    4111 Aviation Ave, Anchorage

UPDATE:  Additional hearing scheduled for December 9, 10 am to noon
              Coast International
              3450 Aviation Avenue, Anchorage

Comments may also be submitted by mail to:
Rich Sewell, Aviation Policy Planner
Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities
PO Box 196900
Anchorage, AK 99519

Or via email to:  [email protected]   Please send AOPA a copy of your comments by emailing them to: [email protected]

Comments must be received by 5:00 pm Alaska Standard Time on January 5, 2018.

Stupid Pilot Tricks

I’ve been flying turbine aircraft for more than a decade now (jeez, time flies!), and with few exceptions, those with whom I’ve shared the cockpit have operated in the consistently safe and professional manner one would expect from an aviator who makes their living flying airplanes.

You’d think this would go without saying, but unfortunately corporate and charter pilots don’t always have the resources or limitations you’d find at a major airline. As the Bedford G-IV accident illustrates, this is especially true of private (Part 91) flight departments. Some of them are run as professionally as any Part 121 airline, while others… well, let’s just say they leave something to be desired when it comes to standards, training, and safety culture.

But every now and then you come across something so egregious that you almost can’t believe what you’re seeing. For example, take a look at this sequence of photographs, which were sent to me by a friend. This Hawker was departing from the recent NBAA convention in Las Vegas, the one place you’d expect a business aviation pilot to be on his or her best behavior.

This first frame looks like a normal takeoff.

Here’s where it starts to get interesting. The main gear are still on the runway but the nose gear retraction sequence has already started.

The nose gear is halfway retracted by the time the main landing gear leaves the runway.

Main gear retraction begins the instant lift off occurs. You can see the main gear doors are already opening.

The nose wheel is almost stowed, and the mains are folding inward. How much indication of a positive rate of climb does the crew have at this point?

Gear is mostly retracted and altitude is perhaps a couple of feet above ground. At least the flaps are still down.

Spoke too soon! Flaps are retracted and a steep turn initiated abeam the NBAA static display. Looks to be little more than a wingspan above the dirt.

The coup de grâce, a banked turn of perhaps 80 degrees over the area north of the field, which is now primarily residential housing.

I don’t fly Hawkers, but ran it by some friends who do. None of us could think of any scenario where raising the landing gear handle prior to takeoff would be acceptable practice. There’s nothing to be gained from doing it. At that point the only thing preventing the gear from folding up are a couple of squat switches. They’re not exactly the most robust and durable components on an aircraft, and they live in a dirty, windy, vibration-prone environment. To say this pilot was taking a gamble would be charitable.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with some mitigating circumstance to explain this. Is it possible the gear handle could have been raised inadvertently? Or that a malfunction in the system could have caused it to begin retracting without the handle being raised? Sometimes people do unexplainable things without realizing it. It reminds me of the Virgin Galactic accident, where one of the pilots unlocked the feathering mechanism at too high a speed and it caused the entire spacecraft to break apart. As the old saying goes, “I know people do crazy things, because I’ve seen me do ‘em.”

Unfortunately, the last two photos put to bed any such thoughts. The Hawker is well into a turn at what appears to be not much more than a wingspan worth of altitude. That means the pilot started the turn as soon as he or she thought the wingtip wouldn’t drag in the dirt. And then there’s the very steep turn in the last photo, which an eyewitness – an experienced aviator in his own right – estimated at about 80 degrees of bank. That’s a clear 91.303 violation. The law defines aerobatics as “an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft’s attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight”. The definition is necessarily vague because of the differing performance of various aircraft. A 45 degree pitch angle may be normal Vx climb for my Pitts, but it would be abnormal for a transport category jet aircraft like the Hawker.

If that’s not enough, check out the supremely early flap retraction. Industry standard is 400 feet minimum before any configuration change.

Summary: The pilot was showing off. Which is incredibly stupid, because the airport was populated with professional aviators, many of whom are getting tired of seeing this sort of thing. A number of them are involved with flight safety initiatives and have undoubtedly read more than their share of incident and accident reports caused by just this sort of behavior.

Is it possible to fly into or out of the industry’s largest convention without understanding that a hundred cameras are trained on every arrival and departure? Perhaps they WANTED to be recorded; if so, they got their wish. The entire thing was probably recorded on the FDR, CVR, and ATC radar. Certainly, it was captured on film, probably on video somewhere too, and last but not least by the eyes of everyone who saw it.

Is it really worth sacrificing life and livelihood on a stunt like this? For some people, apparently the answer is yes. What’s most irritating is that these stupid pilot tricks give everyone in my line of work a black eye when most of us do not deserve it. So it’s up to those of us in the industry to say loud and clear that pilots who engage in these hairbrained stunts are not cool. They’re being unprofessional, unnecessarily risky, and demonstrating the exact opposite of “the right stuff.”

Liticaphobia?

Something unusual happened while I was at the AOPA Regional Fly-In in Groton, Connecticut: An air crash lawsuit at which I was scheduled to testify as an expert witness had settled on the eve of trial, leaving me unexpectedly with two unencumbered weeks on my hands. I was on the East Coast with my airplane and now could spend those two weeks however I pleased. For someone who hadn’t taken a vacation in years, this was cool!

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Wright Brothers National Memorial — Kill Devil Hills, NC

I decided to spend the first week exploring the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and the second week visiting friends in Raleigh and family in Charlotte. I also made arrangements with a flight school in Raleigh to get a much-needed Flight Review and Instrument Proficiency Check.

The two-hour flight from Groton to the Outer Banks was uneventful, and the last part of it was beautifully scenic. I spent the week in a small waterfront Airbnb with a balcony overlooking the Albermarle Sound, a few miles south of Kill Devil Hills where Orville and Wilbur first flew in 1903. It was a marvelously enjoyable, productive, restorative week.

Early Sunday morning, I checked out of my Airbnb and drove my rental car back to the airport to fly to Raleigh. I turned in my rental car, taxied my plane to the departure end of the runway of the small untowered airport, picked up my IFR clearance from Cherry Point Approach Control, and performed the usual preflight runup.

Like most piston twins, my Cessna 310 has four magnetos—two for the left engine and two for the right—controlled by four toggle switches. The preflight runup involves turning the mag switches off one at a time and checking for excessive RPM drop, unacceptable roughness, or abnormal EGT indications. My routine is to sequence through the switches from left to right, shutting off the left engine’s left mag first and the right engine’s right mag last. I’ve done this thousands of times in the 30 years I’ve owned this airplane, and I must confess I perform it somewhat robotically. This time, things were different.

Uh oh!

S-1200 magneto

Bendix S-1200 magneto

As I cycle the leftmost mag switch, the left engine quits cold. Yikes! I hastily flip the mag switch back on just in the nick of time to get it running again. I cycle through the remaining three mag switches and everything appears normal. I try the leftmost switch again. The left engine quit again.

Hmmm… Turning off the left mag kills the left engine. That means the right mag must not be producing any spark. Not good.

I briefly consider departing anyway—that’s why this airplane has two mags and two engines, right?—and instantly reject that idea. A wise aviation mentor once taught me that when making aeronautical decisions, I should always think about what the NTSB probable cause report would say. “PIC departed into instrument meteorological conditions with a known mechanical deficiency.” No way.

While taxiing back to the airport ramp, I think about the consequences of scrubbing the mission. It’s Sunday. I could order a replacement magneto first thing Monday morning. If I pay for overnight shipping, the mag might arrive by mid-day Tuesday, and the airplane might be back in the air by late Tuesday afternoon. I’ll have to cancel my Tuesday training appointment in Raleigh. I’ll need to find lodging and ground transportation for two more days on the Outer Banks. There’s a rental car waiting for me in Raleigh that’s probably too late to cancel…

Wait…I’m an A&P mechanic and my emergency toolkit is in the airplane’s wing locker. Maybe I can troubleshoot this mag problem and figure out a way to fix it. Maybe it’s something simple that doesn’t require ordering a replacement mag. Maybe I can improvise some battlefield repair…

I’m grasping at straws now, and realize the chances are somewhere between slim and none. But I’ve got to give it a shot, otherwise my plans for the coming week will fall like a row of dominoes.

An Open Door…

Open hangar door

Open hangar door, toolbox inside

Approaching the transient tiedown ramp, I notice a large hangar off to my right with the door wide open. I can’t believe my luck: Someone’s open on Sunday! Maybe I can get some help? I taxi toward the open hangar and shut down on the ramp in front of it. The huge hangar appears largely empty. I don’t see any people or airplanes inside, just a big red roll-around toolbox and some miscellaneous ground support equipment. A beautiful Waco open-cockpit biplane is parked on the ramp nearby.

I uncowl the left engine nacelle to inspect the right magneto and its associated wiring, but find no obvious defects. I disconnect the P-lead from the right mag, but that doesn’t fix the problem, so the problem must be inside the magneto itself. Ugh!

I walk towards the open hangar door. As I get closer, I spot a fellow puttering around deep in the bowels of the hangar. I walk over to him and muster up my most friendly smile.

“Good morning! I’m Mike, and that’s my Cessna 310,” I say, pointing at my airplane on the ramp.

“Good morning,” replied the fellow with a smile, “I’m Sam.”

“Nice to meet you, Sam,” I said. “I’ve got a problem and I’m hoping maybe you can help me.”

I proceeded to describe my plans to fly to Raleigh and my decision to scrub the takeoff because the right mag on the left engine was inoperative during my preflight runup.

“The mag completely dead?” Sam asked. “Not just fouled plugs?”

“Dead as a doornail,” I said.

“That doesn’t sound good,” Sam said as I nodded in agreement.

“Would it be possible for me to pull the plane into your hangar, so I can work on the problem?” I inquired, gesturing at the huge, vacant structure.

“Nope,” Sam replied curtly. That wasn’t the answer I was expecting, but Sam was still smiling, so I persisted.

“Any chance I could use this toolbox,” I pointed at the big red roll-around, “while I’m working on my airplane on the ramp?”

“Nope, I can’t let you do that,” Sam said, still smiling. My puzzlement continued to grow at Sam’s unexpected non-cooperation. Then I had a thought.

“Sam, are you an A&P?” He nodded in the affirmative. “Would YOU like to try troubleshooting my magneto problem?” It occurred to me perhaps he was viewing me as competition.

“Nope, I don’t have time for that. Gotta take some tourists up for a biplane ride,” Sam said. “Besides, I don’t work on magnetos; I always send them out.”  Sigh.

Ultimately, I managed to persuade Sam to lend me a ½-inch offset wrench and a small stepladder. With those and my emergency toolkit, I was able to remove the ailing magneto from the engine, disassemble it, resolve the problem, and put everything back together. Ultimately, I departed on my flight to Raleigh a few hours late, but my plans for the week remained unscathed.

Liticaphobia?

Over the next few days, my mind kept returning to interaction with Sam. He seemed like such a nice fellow. Why did he act toward me in such an uncooperative fashion? What would it have cost him to let me use his empty hangar and his unused toolbox while he was up flying the Waco?

Liticaphobia means fear of being sued

The only answer I could come up with was liticaphobia: the fear of being sued. Sam undoubtedly saw me as a lawsuit waiting to happen. There’s an old joke among aircraft mechanics that the most dangerous thing in aviation is an aircraft owner with a toolbox. I’m sure that in Sam’s mind, if he facilitated my hairbrained scheme of taking a magneto apart (something he stated he’d never do himself) and then anything bad happened, he would be contributorily negligent and vulnerable to civil litigation.

Sam is not alone. In my experience, most aircraft mechanics who work on GA aircraft have a siege mentality about the possibility of being sued. This fear casts a shadow over every decision they make. It causes them to practice “defensive maintenance”—performing more maintenance than justified on the grounds of safety-of-flight—and to be secretive about errors they make for fear that disclosure might lead to litigation.

Twenty-five years ago, before I became an A&P myself, I had an eerily similar experience at an airport in Northern California. I’d flown there for a business meeting, and when I returned to the airport dressed in coat and tie, I discovered to my horror that my right main tank had been misfueled with Jet A instead of 100LL. The fueling company had no A&Ps on staff, so I started contacting the various maintenance shops on the field looking for someone who would help me get my fuel system purged. Not one was willing to touch my airplane for fear of liability. Finally, I succeeded in persuading one A&P to agree to help me if I signed a blanket waiver agreeing to hold him harmless for anything that might go wrong. This mechanic then wanted to disassemble all sorts of stuff on my airplane that didn’t need to be disassembled in order to purge the system. Ultimately, I was successful in getting my airplane flyable again, but not without a terrible struggle.

Overblown

These days, I do a good deal of expert witness work in air crash lawsuits, generally on the defense side defending mechanics, shops and aviation manufacturers against claims by air crash victims. I can testify firsthand that aviation is a horribly litigious field, with way too many lawsuits for my taste.

Overblown

Mechanics’ fear of being sued tends to be greatly overblown.

At the same time, I can also tell you that mechanics’ fear of being sued tends to be greatly overblown. Mechanics are rarely the target of air crash lawsuits, simply because few of them are high-net-worth individuals with enough assets to be worth suing. In the relatively few cases where mechanics and shops do get sued, these suits virtually always settle quickly within the limits of their liability insurance (typically $1 million), simply because the plaintiff lawyers understand that there’s no more money to be had. That’s why these lawsuits almost always target aircraft, engine, and component manufacturers who tend to have deeper pockets.

This paranoia about being sued is not limited to aviation. Doctors have been practicing “defensive medicine” for decades, especially those in high-risk specialties like ob/gyn and anesthesiology. Teachers have become frightened to discipline unruly kids or even give them hugs, while seesaws are disappearing from schoolyards for fear a kid might get injured. Have you purchased a ladder or bicycle or baby carriage lately and seen how many warning placards they now have? The fear level is getting ridiculous.

The incidence of US civil (tort) litigation has remained essentially flat per capita since 1975, but media coverage of litigation has skyrocketed, and that coverage is overwhelmingly skewed toward reporting cases involving huge damage awards. This has created the perception that the risk of being sued is much greater than it used to be, and that the consequences are frequently ruinous for the defendant. That’s seldom the case.

Look at the facts: According to a Harvard University study, for every 100 people hurt in an accident, 10 file a liability claim, 8 are settled within insurance limits, and only 2 actually get to court. Of those that make it to court, the plaintiff wins only 30% of the time, and in those cases the median damage award is $30,000, almost always covered by insurance.

So my appeal to shops and A&P mechanics is to maintain a reasonable amount of liability insurance ($1 million is generally adequate) and then do the right thing without paranoia about being sued if something goes wrong. Enough with the CYA already!

Last Chance to Dance: camaraderie, education and inspiration during the close of the flying season.

With fall leaves changing and winter weather approaching; many of us are getting our last fly-ins of the season in the flight planner. Though I live at the beach in California, not everyone gets to enjoy about 11 months of VMC. Why not check out remaining fly-ins in your area, and get in on the end-of-the-year fun?  Need help finding an event or have an event to post? Check out the calendar on the AOPA Events page. I hope to see many of you in Florida at the end of this week.

Coppertstate Fly-In Aviation and Education Expo, Falcon-Field, Mesa AZ (KFFZ)  October 27-28. Come and meet fellow aviators and attend a variety of workshops and forums.  Weather toward the end of October is typically clear, sunny with highs in the mid to upper 80s.  Lows in the 60s.  Bring your family for a great aviation outing!  For more information visit event site.

Cooperstate Fly-In

AOPA Regional Fly-In, Tampa, FL [KTPF] October 27-28. The AOPA Fly-In season wraps up at Peter O. Knight Airport (KTPF), Friday Workshops led by world-renowned presenters were very popular with attendees. Topics include: Flying in the Extremes: Water Survival Tips and Techniques, IFR Refresher: Getting Back to Instrument Proficiency, Pilot Plus One: Combining Learning, Inspiration, and Adventure, and Owner-Guided Maintenance: Managing Your Aircraft Maintenance. The fun continues at the ever-popular Barnstormers Party, presented by Jeppeson. Saturday activities included free seminars all day, dozens of exhibits and aircraft on display, great meals, and a Pilot Town Hall with AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker. Event Info and Registration.

AOPA Friday Seminars. Photo Credit: David Tulis

Challenge Air for Kids and Friends, November 4, 9 am-4 pm at Ambassador Jet Center at Dallas Executive Airport [KRBD]. Pilots volunteer their planes to fly children with special needs on a 25-minute flight to build confidence and self-esteem.  Pilots must have 500 PIC hours, current Medical and FAA license, and insurance for $1,000,000.  Challenge Air for Kids and Friends has been around since 1993 and been doing this event in Dallas for many years. Please join us on Pilots, Volunteers, Families, and Agencies all need to register here on their website. We look forward to seeing you there!

Challenge Air for Kids

Spirit of Flight Living Aviation History Day, November 11, 10am-2pm Spirit of Flight Center Erie, CO [KEIK] Educational program about our aviation heroes and Salute to Veterans. Annual museum canned food drive for community food bank. Bring a food item and receive a FREE Starbuck’s coffee. For more information.

Living History Day. Photo Credit: BlueDharma

Friends of Oceano Airport Toys for Tots, December 2nd, 10 am-2 pm. Oceano Airport [L52] Join us for our annual Toys for Tots event in cooperation with the US Marine Corps. Bring a new, unwrapped toy and enjoy the fun. 10:00 Arrivals and holiday beverages 11:00 Live holiday music: the Jingle Bells 12:00 Burger Fry 1:00 Reindeer Games There is no admission charge. Aircraft on display, historical exemption sign-offs. Banner Airways: Take a ride back in history in the 1943 Super Stearman Yellow Bi-plane. SkyDive Pismo Beach is on hand for those wishing to skydive with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Oceano Fuel Discount $.25 per gallon, plus $.25 per gallon donation to Toys for Tots. Lodging Discount: Pacific Plaza Resort L52 Oceano Airport, Oceano California. Make a child smile at Christmas.

Oceano Airport, Toys for Tots

The jet-setting life

One of the perks of airline employment is the ability to travel for free. It isn’t always what it seems, but when it works out, it’s marvelous. There are some tricks and tips you can use to maximize your enjoyment of your flight benefits. In no particular order, here are some of mine:

Have the time off. If you’re going to travel for fun, make sure you have the days off you need, and give yourself time to get home. Most companies will cut you some slack and give you one freebie if you get stuck somewhere, but they won’t give you more than one, and they won’t buy you a seat home. In the same vein, make sure you return to work rested. You owe your employer that much.

Go off season. This is especially true of hot spots and beach destinations. We all want to get a few days on the beach in January, but the people who pay our paychecks—the passengers—book their trips months in advance, and the airplanes are usually full. So, if you want to go to Hawaii or Florida, go in September/October. School has just started, and people aren’t clamoring for a vacation just yet. There are usually a handful of flights that will have a bunch of open seats, and you can come and go fairly easily.

Check the discounts. All airlines have negotiated discounts with various travel vendors, including hotels, rental cars, or resorts. You may need to get some help from your company’s travel department to get a proper employee verification letter (Disney is a stickler for this), but the legwork is worth it, as some of the discounts can be substantial. Also, ask around for advice. There are a few car rental discount websites you can use that will net huge savings—I rented a car through Thrifty on one of these sights in Hawaii that saved me over 50 percent. On another trip to Hawaii, my company discount saved me 70 percent.

Be willing to keep it short. My wife and I found out that our favorite restaurant in Honolulu was going out of business in a few weeks. We decided to manipulate the calendar a bit, and we went out for two nights. We had one full day to enjoy Oahu, and having been there before, it was easy to decide how to make the most of our time, but the trip really was about going to dinner. That remained our focus, and we had a great time.

Know your options. There are several avenues you can use to get accurate passenger load information on flights for almost any airline in the world. Be willing to get creative. If you’re married, make sure your spouse is OK with getting split up. That means making sure your spouse knows how to (quickly) buy a discounted ticket on another carrier if necessary. You may need to ride on the jumpseat, even on a long flight. It’s often a seat of misery, but hey, it’s free, so don’t complain. And remember, the more people who are involved, the more complicated it gets.

Watch the loads. You may need to cut your vacation short and leave early if flights are filling up. Cancellations, equipment changes, and weather can wreak havoc with your plans. Stay flexible, and be ready to leave or early or spend a few extra bucks to stay late. Here’s an example of the unexpected: My family and I were enjoying some days off in St. Petersburg, Florida, when the Tampa Bay Rays won the American League Championship Series to reach the World Series, which was to start a few days later. The next day, flights began filling up rapidly. We had to leave a day early and take a bit of a circuitous route home. Such are the breaks.

The jet-setting lifestyle is a bit of a misnomer, but when it works out, it’s a great perk. Be smart in your planning, and, as with an IFR flight, always have an out. And when it doesn’t go your way, find a way to make the most of it.—Chip Wright

General Aviation During a Revolution

There is a familiar conversation that has been happening with friends and family that goes something like this: “Yeah, we’re in Catalonia, but we’ve got a plan in case things go downhill.” “I thought you were in Spain.” “Yes, we’re in Spain, and in we’re in the breakaway region of Catalonia that had the independence referendum.” “You’re in Catalonia?” “Yes.” “Holy ****! You need to get out of there!”

Fortunately for us, we are in a rather rural, mountainous area, only 8 miles from France. As is true in most places of the world, civil unrest and its ill effects tends to concentrate in populated areas. We have made a contingency plan, stocking some extra cash, food, water, diesel, and supplies, have confirmed that our cell phones can roam to French towers from the house, and decided to wait it out, as nobody really knows what will happen. While Iberian culture can tend to drama and overreaction, they also use inertia and laziness as a tool of achievement. It could go either way at any time.

As the referendum approached, I decided that I would go flying on that day. If history was being made, there was a chance to be in the air and take some photographs of Catalonia while it was happening, though my expectations were not high of a new republic forming, given the cat and mouse game that preceded October 1. On that Sunday morning, I drove over to the airport, and noticed a few things: it was eerily silent, and then I saw two staff members glued to the television, watching the Spanish police use rather heavy handed methods against people waiting in line to vote. There was a palpable shock, sadness, and tension in the room that reverberated around the region that day.

I still went flying, even though things appeared to be going downhill. Airspace was only closed over Barcelona (not that there was much of a systemic way to find out, other than watching the news), and nobody said I couldn’t go up. If a revolution was unfolding, why not go flying? These situations do not come frequently in life.

October 1 – The Referendum

As the tension heated up, it was evident the “resolution,” if there was going to be one, would not be overnight. If history is being made, it is over the course of some days, and like everything else on the Iberian Peninsula, things are not finite, orderly, or predictable. Thus, I decided to keep flying daily during the “revolution” (if that is what it is), simply because I can, and to sort of make personal sense out of the upheaval going on around me. On one hand, culture here is quicker to take to the streets in protest, while on the other, people do not think it is as big of a deal as it is in America.

The flights continued daily as the vote was finalized, while the Catalan general strike took place and exits of La Cerdanya were blocked by protests, on the day of the King’s first speech since the terror attacks of 2004 and coup attempt in 1981, the day of the President of Catalonia’s speech in response, the day Catalan Parliament was called to convene in the future to discuss independence, the day the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended the session, and now while we wait for the President of Catalonia’s speech at 6PM Central European Time on Tuesday. Will he declare independence, or step back from the brink? Time will tell.

Many Catalans think I am a bit nutty for getting our pets’ paperwork updated (in case of a border crossing), buying supplies, and generally taking stock of our preparation. They all insist nothing will happen, that the “Catalans are a peaceful people.” They also admit they never expected the Spanish police response, nor did they think Europe would stand by idly, yet they still assure me that nothing so severe will happen. “And if it does? Isn’t it a bit late to prepare?” At that moment, they finally admit that I would be screwed if there was a mad rush for supplies in the face of conflict.

These realities were cemented as I spoke this weekend to a neighbor, whose grandfather fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. He asked him “didn’t you see the war coming?” His reply: “No, we went to work the day before, thinking everything was normal. Then the war started.” This echoes conversations I have had with a number of older folks, some of whom have since passed on, that left Europe after WWII and settled in the area where I grew up in Upstate New York. Their lesson was always quite clear: things can change in a heartbeat, and they can descend into a level of madness that nobody expects. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Pearl Harbor, 9/11….need I say more?

The events in Catalonia, labeled “Europe’s most troubled region” by the press, touch on subjects that affect the entire developed world. Where does human rights end and the duty of unity of a state begin? How does the right to self-determination mix with national sovereignty? What role do larger institutions, treaties, and other countries play in the defense of a disenfranchised group of people? While the developed world has made progress on these fronts, we haven’t solved them all. They are questions worth pondering, and Catalonia will most certainly make an attempt at answering them in the coming days.

Over the last weekend, the region seemed to take some bit of a breather, despite continued protests in Barcelona for and against unity with Spain. A turbine-powered remote control aircraft festival was held at La Cerdanya aerodrome, attracting hordes of people from France, Italy, Catalonia, and the rest of Spain, bringing a welcome respite from the weightier matters affecting everyone. Clearly, for these people that came, aviation trumps the prospect of civil unrest, such that they would drive to a separatist region in a political crisis. For me, my disposition is unchanged: I am going to keep flying until someone tells me I can’t, and then I will find a way to do it anyway.

October 2 – The vote is counted. Flight over Moixeró ridge (~7,000′ ground elevation) with a strong north wind.

October 3 – The King’s speech. Flight to the French side, Val du Capcir. No political crisis here….

October 4 – Carles Puigdemont’s speech. The inversion returns now that fall is here. 5,400′ altitude.

October 5 – Spanish Constitutional Court suspends Catalan session of Parliament. First time this close to the rocks beneath Tosa d’Alp.

October 6 – Carles Puigdemont says he is speaking to Parliament on Oct 10 anyway. El Pedraforca (8,219′) – long a symbol of Catalonia.

Pedraforca from the car, infrared image.

October 7 – Things calm down a bit, other than ongoing and large protests in Barcelona. Local flight over a town where I spoke to locals on 10-1 and got an understanding of how the vote actually took place and the steps the Spanish Police took to try to stop it. I was mistaken for an undercover police officer briefly….

October 8 – Pretending nothing is happening. Posets-Maladeta park, 75 miles west of La Cerdanya, crossing into Aragon from Catalonia.

Found a small glacier hiding on the French side at 10,500 feet.

Landing at Castejon de Sos, Aragon, Spain. The field is extremely short, surrounded by mountains, and at roughly 3,000 feet elevation, making it my most technically complex landing yet. A shepherd holding two dead rabbits walked by, along with this herd of sheep. A Great Pyrenean sheep dog (not that ironic, given that I am in the Pyrenees) took to liking me and tried to herd me along with the rest of the sheep. This airport and experience will be one I will remember for a long time.

Help bring new Aviation Icing Products to Alaska

New weather products have been developed to diagnose and forecast inflight icing for Alaska.  Staff from the FAA’s Aviation Weather Demonstration and Evaluation (AWDE) Services Program will be in Alaska, October 16-19, and would like to talk with pilots to help determine how these new products will work in the Alaskan environment.  The information they gather from pilots (General Aviation, Air Taxi and Commercial (Part 121/135), Air Ambulance/Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) will enable FAA to assess the utility and suitability in our operational setting.

Background
Forecasting icing has long been a challenge in Alaska, with our complex terrain, large size, and extremely limited network of surface observations.  Over the past few years research sponsored by the FAA Aviation Weather Program, and conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), has led to development of an Icing Product Alaska-Diagnosis (IAP-D) and an IPA-Forecast (IAP-F) product. These are intended to improve diagnosis and forecasting of icing probability, severity, and probability of super-cooled large droplet (SLD) formation. These products, once validated, are expected to support decision making regarding the areas icing will occur, and the identification of optimum routes for air traffic.

How you can help
The FAA evaluation team will be in these communities on the following dates:

Anchorage, Oct 16-18
Fairbanks, October 18
Juneau, October 19

They would like to understand how these new icing products would be used operationally, learn about pilot strategies for making go-no-go decisions, user risk thresholds and generally assess the overall suitability of the new products.   Pilots should expect to spend about an hour in an interview with a team member.  If you are able to help with this program, you may “sign up” through an online survey.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZT3ZPSD

For more information, contact Sonia Alvidrez [email protected] or 609-485-7613.

Dragging passengers

It has happened again: Last week, a passenger was dragged off a Southwest flight. Unlike the infamous United incident a few months ago, this passenger was carried off by police officers, and there is no “it wasn’t our flight, but one of our regional partners” argument to be made.

However, it does appear that the passenger in question had a number of reasons or excuses ready to go at the beginning of the incident as she tried to stay on the airplane, first claiming a severe allergy and working her way through the ever-popular “I need to get where I’m going.”

I can’t speak for what the policy is at SWA with respect to pilot actions in these kinds of incidents. Every airline has its own protocols to follow, and while the captain is generally considered the final word once the airplane leaves the gate, the final say-so is sometimes a bit murky at the gate. Gate agents don’t like having their judgment questioned after they’ve let a passenger on. Further, they don’t want to be blamed for a delay, and they don’t always know what a crew had to deal with once the doors close. That said, more than one agent has been guilt of trying to pass the buck and just get the airplane off the gate.

Flight attendants are the ones who have to deal with the passengers once the door is closed. They are on the lookout  for passengers who might be a problem, whether from intoxication, anger or frustration at broken travel plans, or a fear of flying or claustrophobia. If they sense that a medical issue could (or already has) materialized, they want to deal with it on the ground. In their mind, and with good reason, their preferred course of action is usually to have the passenger removed.

The pilots are in an odd spot at the gate. While they are clearly the final say once airborne, they have to trust others to do their jobs before leaving. Generally speaking, if the cabin crew wants someone off the airplane, the pilots will accommodate that request, and will often risk a scene to do so. Sometimes, passengers make it easy to make a decision by acting in an inappropriate fashion. All of this said, the captain is responsible for the safety of the flight as a whole, and anything that happens on his watch can be thrown back in his face—and will be.

I’ve had to deal with a few of these at-the-gate types of incidents in my career. Three stand out. They aren’t easy to deal with, they’re unpleasant for all involved, and while tact is often desired or needed, sometimes it just doesn’t help or have a place.

I wasn’t there for either of these two events. The crew, in my opinion, could have taken a stronger stance by simply announcing that the flight wasn’t going to go anywhere until the passengers in question removed themselves from the airplane. This is a harsh line in the sand, but it may be the most effective choice under the circumstances.

The chances are that another crew is not going to be handy to call to gate to operate the flight, and even if there is, once they hear about what is going on, they aren’t likely to step into a minefield by taking the flight. In my experience, even if the Chief Pilot’s Office got involved in something like this—either in person or on the phone—they tend to back up the pilots and agree that the flight will not operate until the offending passenger is removed.

A secondary option, though one that is not always available, is to push for an equipment swap if another airplane is available. This would require everyone to deplane and move to another gate. At the new gate, the gate agents and airport police can prevent the offending passenger(s) from boarding.

In the three cases that I can recall in detail involving passenger disruptions at the gate, one ended with a trio of intoxicated men agreeing to leave with no resistance when the police came on board. The second required intervention from a family member traveling with the individual in question, along with an assertive discussion with the gate agent, who felt she was going to be blamed.

The last one was the most similar to the UAL and SWA incidents. The passenger was a belligerent woman who was being extremely uncooperative and verbally abusive. To allow her to stay on would have undermined the authority of my flight attendant, and could have therefore affected her safety. I had to explain to the woman that we were having her removed and why, and when she began to say she wouldn’t get off the airplane, I made it clear we’d cancel the flight outright. I had to make the same comment to the gate agent, since he was pushing us to keep her. When he realized he’d be responsible for rebooking an entire cabin of passengers versus just one, he agreed to work with us.

All of this brings up another point that was lost in the shuffle of the Republic/UA debacle. Back in the day, regional airlines had their own gate agents. They don’t anymore. The agents are either contracted from a third company (and get paid around minimum wage) or are employees of the mainline brand. This often creates tension and a disconnect, because when situations like this arise, not everybody is on the same team. All anyone knows is that somebody at HQ is going to start asking questions, so everybody gets defensive.

As the pilot, it is best to remember who is ultimately going to be held the accountable, and for that matter, who has the most to lose. The answer is simple: It’s us. That’s no different in a Cessna 150 or a Boeing 747. If you’re willing to exercise the responsibility of being pilot in command in one airplane, you need to be ready, willing, and able to do it in all.

In either of these cases, it would have just taken one pilot to stand up and say they weren’t going to take a problem passenger. To emphasize how far this goes, the same can be said if the problem is one of the cabin crew. Fly for an airline long enough, and you’ll also have to deal with a flight attendant who shouldn’t be at work that day.

When it comes to the passengers, though, no matter how upset they are or how bad their day is going, once they step on the airplane, they have to behave themselves. They can file all the complaints they want later. But from entering to exiting, they need to play by the rules, even if they are asked to leave the flight. And as operators of the airplane, we need to recognize that everything we do is likely being recorded, and make sure that we do whatever we can to avoid someone being dragged off.—Chip Wright

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