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The people are coming back

I’ve been pretty lucky flying during the pandemic. Most of my passengers have been cooperative and understanding of the mask rules, the social distancing we all had to endure, and the temporary changes to normal procedures that were implemented to minimize risk.

That said, now that summer is here and people are making up for lost time, airports and airplanes are getting crowded again, and it’s great to see from a job security point of view.

But more people means more short tempers. I recently had a flight on which a passenger very nearly got himself banned from the airline, and possibly from multiple airlines. We had just closed the door in Houston for a flight to Newark. There was some last-minute confusion with a couple of jumpseaters (we had one pilot in the cockpit and two flight attendants in the back, all trying to get to work). When the final passenger count came off the printer, it was off by two. Unfortunately, it took more than 20 minutes to figure out what had happened. And the truth is, I’m still not sure exactly what transpired in the gate area, but we finally got the mess sorted out.

And then it started.

One of the flight attendants called and said we had a very belligerent, non-compliant passenger who was causing problems. His complaint was that we were running late, and he had paid for an on-time departure. That’s fair, but we can’t leave until we can confirm that the passengers who are on the airplane are actually supposed to be there. It’s hard to believe that people still get on the wrong airplanes in 2021, but it does happen rarely.

What this fella didn’t realize is that he was now making us even later, because now we had to make a determination about possibly returning to the gate and removing him. That led to a discussion of which gate we might use, and how long it would take for us to get the police there. As a result, we were taxiing very slowly to buy time while the cabin crew worked to de-escalate the situation. Removing people from an airplane is never fun or pleasant, and in this case, it would have been in part due to our late departure. It wasn’t like he got on and started causing trouble just to cause trouble—that’s easy to deal with.

Finally, the lead flight attendant called us back and said she had spoken to the passenger and his wife, and had made it clear that he was fast running out of time to change his attitude. His wife did what spouses do and got through to him that if got thrown off the airplane, his troubles were just beginning.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, and we were in fact on time landing in Newark. Ironically, we would have had to wait for a gate if we were early, because ours was occupied by a flight that was late getting off the gate. To top it off, that flight had to return to the gate for a mechanical issue, which required our ground crew, so we were looking at a late arrival (by just a few minutes) no matter what.

Sometimes, you just can’t win for losing.—Chip Wright

Heading to Oshkosh? Considerations before you yell ‘Clear prop’

Mooney Girl ready for Oshkosh

As the country re-opens to aviation events, it is natural for us to want to jump back in the airplane and zoom off for the fun.  However, I would like to you consider the numerous factors that now come into play because of the pandemic and resultant effects on our flying.

Flight operations were decreased in 2020 and early 21 due to COVID-19.  Painting with a broad stroke, operations not only include us as a PIC but Mechanics, FBOs, Flight Instructors, ATC and Charitable Flights.

For a moment consider all the things we need to possess or exhibit to be a safe, proficient, pilot; currency, muscle memory, recency of flight, logical methodical thought, competent with our avionics. Now imagine for 12-18 months you were not able to utilize those skill sets.  The degradation of cognitive processes and physical muscle memory are real dangers when we don’t fly often.

Before you launch for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, or a local, state or regional event objectively look back at your flight activities in 2020 to date.  Many of us took advantage of virtual aviation events during this time, but were not in an actual airplane.  It is a great idea to consider the airplane, pilot and environment while still on terra firma.

Airplane Considerations

Airplane:

  • Airplane might have hidden mechanical issues due to lack of use [hoses, battery, fuel/brake lines, belts].
  • Look for fouled pulleys in control cables, cracked tire sidewalls, mice dining on your wiring, mouse nests in the fuselage and wings.
  • Check for water and gunk in the fuel lines, bird nests in the engine compartment, cracked ignition wires, bearings frozen in gyros.
  • Mechanic might have been off for an extended time.
  • FBOs might have newer staff fueling your airplane

Pilot Factors: Time to pull out your mental, physical and emotional checklist and do an inventory.  Are you ready to fly across the state, region or country for an aviation event?


Environment:

In addition to weather and airport/runway conditions, please take the additional factor of destination activity.  Let’s take EAA AirVenture Oshkosh [OSH] as an example of the environmental factors that need to be considered. For over a decade I have flown halfway across the country to Oshkosh, WI in a Mooney.   I have come in to OSH using the FISK arrival and twice in the mass formation Mooney arrival.  As well I have landed in Juneau, Madison and Appleton, WI when coming for the week.  All arrivals have varying levels of risk, safety and excitement.  If you have not flown much in the past 18 months it would be best to choose the safest, least exciting way to get to the show.

My personal experience with the FISK and the mass formation arrival is that I have always had another pilot in my right seat.  It is nice to have two sets of eyes looking for traffic, landmarks and the like.  Even having flown 120 hours since the pandemic, I don’t think I would fly single pilot landing at OSH this year.

Mass Arrivals: Do consider a formation clinic or individual instruction in your region in 2021.  Most clinics welcome all brands of aircraft.  The skills you will learn will serve you well and formation flying has a strangely addictive quality.  The fun, fellowship, and flying are hard to beat.  Plus, you might get a super cool call sign to memorialize your participation.

Bonanzas to Oshkosh Their website https://www.b2osh.org/Web/B2OSH/default.asp

Bonanza Mass Arrival OSH

Mooney Caravan : Vita nimis brevis est tarde volo  [Life is too short to fly slowly.]

Their website : https://www.mooneycaravan.com/Web/Mooney/default.asp

Mooney Caravan Yuma Gunfighters Clinic

“Friends don’t let friends fly the Fisk arrival”

… overheard in the North 40

Cessnas to Oshkosh Their website:  http://www.cessnas2oshkosh.com/1410home.aspx

Cessnas to Oshkosh en route

Cherokees to Oshkosh  Their website:  https://www.cherokees2osh.com/

In summary, do what I have done. Consider yourself, airplane and environment before launching. If you are headed to #OSH21 please do look for me there.  I will be at the AVEMCO booth on Tuesday July 27th from 11-12 for Women Moving the Needle. On Thursday July 29th at 1:00 p.m. I will present Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Psychology of Personal Minimums for AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Institute.  Door prizes for this safety seminar have been provided by: Lightspeed Aviation, LIFT Aviation, King Schools, Flying Eyes Optics and Pilot Safety.org

 

 

Special airports

A recent conversation with a non-aviating friend of mine brought up a reminder about certain airports not being of the every day, run-of-the-mill variety. The question was whether or not my airline could just fly any plane into any airport with any pilot on any given day (assuming proper runway length, et cetera).The answer is no.

Every carrier and many corporate flight departments have certain airports that require specific training or operating procedures. At my former carrier, these were called Special Airports. Back in the day of printed approach charts, these airports came with color print charts with photographs, several pages of notes, and a slew of other information that described why they were special. Most of the time, the goal was simply to call attention to an airport that might pose certain challenges based on geography.

For example, KAVP (Scranton-Wilkes Barre) is built right next to a hill in a valley, and the localizer is offset for terrain avoidance. The winds can make this approach challenging. KAVL (Ashville) is another airport in a valley with significant surrounding terrain and some wicked winds and wind shear. KROA (Roanoke) is a bit of all of this, with short runways to boot.

At my current airline, on my current equipment, KAVL is considered special for a different reason: The runway is much narrower than the ones we normally use, so the potential for adverse yaw during an engine failure means that, under certain weight conditions, the rudder may not have enough authority to keep the plane on the runway should an engine quit. The solution is to make sure that the aircraft meets certain minimum weights prior to takeoff. The easy way to do this with a light passenger load is to add some fuel.

Almost every airline that flies into Vail, Colorado, has training procedures that require the first officer to fly in with a captain who has already been there, and the captain usually has to fly there for the first time under the supervision of a check airman. Further, if the captain has not been there in a certain window of time, he or she will again need to go under the supervision of a check airman. Some carriers have a few airports that require a captain to go in with a check airman every so many months no matter what.

Bogota, Colombia, is another airport that is problematic. The terrain is intimidating, and as a result weather deviations are limited. So are diversion options. Throw in the fact that a lot of arrivals come in after dark, and you have bad weather, high terrain, fatigue, and communication challenges all rolled up into one.

Back in the United States, another airport that fit the Special category, even for a turboprop, was Key West. It’s a short runway (4,800 feet), but plenty long for a turboprop. However, the challenge is the extremely close proximity of NAS Key West off the east end, which could lead to some interesting traffic conflicts. It’s also built with no spare room on either end of the runway if you have an overrun. Last, but not least, it can be both windy and wet. Frequent rains in the summer often leave puddles on the runway. Needless to say, flying a jet into Key West is a different level of challenge.

Special airports are not always so obvious. And they’re not always problematic. However, the require your attention and respect. Read up on the notes when you haven’t been there in a while. And remember, just because it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you doesn’t mean that it can’t become a very big deal very quickly if you’re not careful.—Chip Wright

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Decommissioning of NDB’s and Airspace changes in Alaska

FAA is proposing changes to the aviation infrastructure in Alaska.  Public notices have been issued for decommissioning of non-directional beacons (NDBs) and to modify the Class D and E airspace around the Kodiak Airport.  Please review these proposals and let the FAA and AOPA know if they impact the flying you do in these areas.

NDB Decommissioning
FAA is continuing to look at decommissioning Non-Directional Beacons (NDB) in Alaska, as we make the transition to a GPS based NAS.  Notices of proposed decommissioning of the NDB’s at Homer, Deadhorse, Moses Point, Point Lay and Soldotna were issued recently, inviting public comment on potential impacts of these changes. In most cases FAA cites the availability of other ground-based approaches or airways and plans for T-Routes that are being developed to replace the old colored airways, to mitigate the loss of these navigation aids.  Below are graphics of the NDB’s proposed for decommissioning.

 

Moses Point (Norton Bay–OAY)

 

Deadhorse (PUT River–PVQ)

Homer (Kachemak –ACE)

Soldotna (OLT)

Point Lay–(PIZ)

AOPA generally supports moving to the more modern space-based systems but recognizes that in some cases unique needs may justify keeping the older technology in place.  We also recognize that the resources required to support NDB’s inhibit FAA’s ability to invest in the newer infrastructure, including weather reporting and ADS-B ground stations.

Please take a moment to examine the proposed decommissioning locations (links below to the individual notices). If you are adversely impacted, file a public comment to explain the situation.  Comments are due by July 15, 2021 and may be sent to:

Group Manager, Operations Support Group
AVJ-W2
FAA Western Service Center
2200 South 216th Street
Des Moines, WA 98198

Or via email to: [email protected]. Please also share your comments with AOPA at: [email protected]

To read the public notices for these changes see:

FAA Public Notice for OAY NDB

FAA Public Notice for ACE NDB

FAA Public Notice for PVQ NDB

FAA Public Notice for the OLT NDB

FAA Public Notice for Point Lay NDB

Kodiak Class D/E Airspace:

Proposed changes to the Class D (dashed green line) and Class E (yellow line). Note that the proposed expanded Class E starts at 700 ft agl. 

In another public notice, the FAA has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to modify the Class D airspace at Kodiak Airport (PADQ), while at the same time removing the Class E surface area east of the airport. It also significantly expands the Class E airspace with a 700 foot floor, north and east of the airport.

The changes are designed to better manage IFR operations at the airport. We are particularly interested in whether they impact VFR operations in the area.  To examine the details of the proposal see:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/06/04/2021-11668/proposed-amendment-of-class-d-and-class-e-airspace-and-removal-of-class-e-airspace-kodiak-ak

Comments on this proposal are due by July 17, 2021 and should be addressed to:

U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket Operations
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140
Washington, DC 20590

They may also be submitted via the internet: https://www.regulations.gov. Please share these comments with AOPA as well at: [email protected]

Action to Take
Please review these proposals and let FAA as well as AOPA know if these changes impact your flying activities for either IFR or VFR operations.

Hearing from our members who fly in these areas helps us advocate for you!

Emotional Distance

While we tend to measure distance literally in the space between two points, the concept of “emotional distance” is something that has come to the forefront since I began flying in foreign countries. The concept is rather simple: long flights tend to involve more work, skill, risk, and complexity. Accordingly, if we have not done something ambitious before or are younger pilots, then those flights seem riskier and potentially difficult. Add such things as major metropolitan airspace, large mountains, wilderness areas, and large bodies of water and one gets the idea. Our emotional response to the distance involved is proportional to the actual distance.

The first time the reality hit home for me that emotional distance does not always equate to actual distance was in the US while flying over Yellowstone. Something about an entirely forested, bear inhabited plateau with few good emergency options, elevation of over 8,000 feet, large lakes, sulfuric boiling ponds of liquid, strong winds on the north and east outlet points, and some distance to airports stacked up to make me tense before I would take a flight over the place. Other than that, many ambitious flights in the US were correlated to how long they took.

Europe is self-evidently more complicated from an airspace standpoint, though that is only the beginning. Terrain and climate zones change much faster in areas bordering the Mediterranean than the Continental US. Add in obvious national borders, lower airport density, a very complex airport network, and now one can understand why a flight of a similar distance feels infinitely more complicated, almost as though it is literally much farther away.

Those factors one can desensitize to over time, as I have partially done. There are still some flights, generally involving major mountain ranges, where it seems entire worlds change in a short period of time. While the element of national borders, climate zone changes, and airspace are real, there is something almost intangible about it. The first time I experienced it was flying from Pic Canigou, France to the Mediterranean coast. In the space of 20 minutes, I went from snow in the Pyrenees to palm trees adorning the beach. It is hard to grasp such a massive change so quickly.

Before coming to the Alps, I noted on the map how interesting things seemed down on the Italian side of the range. It is technically not that far, though one must go up and over the Alps, transitioning from Central European weather to mountains and then straight into the Mediterranean. While it can be done if the forecast is right, there was still something seemingly “distant” about it, to the point that, I had not done it. Many times, I had flown along the southern ridge of the Alps, given pause not by the glaciers I was above, but by looking down into Italy, trying to get my head around the complexity of going from one side of the range to another.

I decided to knock the item off my list, saving the aggravations of customs by flying from the northern side of Switzerland to the Italian-speaking section of the country. On the south side of the Alps, it is a section of the country that protrudes into Italy. Geographically and linguistically, it’s the same. Politically, maybe not so much.

The intended flight path was only 77 nautical miles direct, with a refueling point in Locarno, before returning a slightly different way. I planned to fly along Lake Maggiore in Italy and take a different pass coming back, so the actual flights would end up roughly 130 miles each, by no means very long. Then again, I grew up about the same distance from Lock Haven and we never did fly there. My grandfather bemoaned that it was “too far away” and “there is nowhere to land in those forests in Northern Pennsylvania.”

Climbing out from Gstaad Airport.

Over the pass between Lenk and Adelboden.

The Gasterntal, just before crossing Gemmipass to my right.

Brig and the Obergoms.

Simplon Pass.

The friendly little Rossbodegletscher.

Approaching Italy.

Italy, near Varzo. 

Toce River south of Domodossola. I went from cold with my winter coat to flaming hot. Flying at 2,500′ MSL.

About to leave the foothills of the Alps.

Lago Maggiore!

I have resigned myself to getting wet if the engine quits. Not like the shorelines of this body of water are inviting…..

Locarno Airport. Note that there are three runways. I was cleared to land runway 26 center. It has come to my attention that this is my first landing at an airport with more than one parallel runway.

Maggia river on climb out. My flight path was to follow the Maggia and hang a left at the Bavona River, then over the ridge toward Grimselpass.

Working my way up the valley.

Looking back from where I came.

Approaching the ridge and, uh-oh, some showers and small thunderstorms on the other side. Perhaps this “emotional distance” business is rather real.

Annual snowpack with the Ghiacchiaio del Basodino glacier at the top.

Obergoms again. My outbound path was right to left almost to the horizon. Note Ulrichen closed airport bottom left, and Munster Airport a little off center in the valley. That would be an alternate if need be.

Oberaargletscher. The holy trinity: thunderhead, glacier, and deep snow.

The Grimselpass, relatively low at 7,099′, was blocked by the towering clouds to the right. I had to climb to 12,500′ to sneak over the Bernese Alps ridge.

While it looks pretty awful, radar and other observations indicated it should be ok just on the other side.

Looking back. Note the glacier on the bottom right.

Well past the ridge, looking back. Grindelwald is hiding in the black on the right. 

Diverted around Interlaken due to a growing shower. Aiming for the sunny Swiss Plateau and take it from there.

After some lovely lightning bolts, the storm began to move to the south. Thunersee. Alternate airport just out of sight to the right, bathed in sun.

Approaching the circuit. While some 10,000 foot peaks are clouded in to the left, Saanetschpass in the center was open apparently. Clearly there is some reality behind the complexity of crossing the Alps and landing. Total flying time: 4.5 hours. Arrive-at-the-hangar to leave-the-hangar time of 7 hours.

How long does it take?

Pilots who are new to a company and an airplane can at times feel like they will never “get it.”

The first shot out of the firehose is information. Lots and lots of information, about everything from the company to the managers to how to get a mistake on your ID badge fixed. Then there is airplane training, which is information on steroids. There are memory item checklists and limitations to memorize, some of which feel silly or seem to have no reason (and often don’t).

Next is the simulator, where everything goes from being an abstract, academic concern to a practical one, as you try to tie up all the pieces you’ve been given so far. Callouts, flows, crew resource management…it’s a lot to master, and there never seems to be enough time to do so. Worse still, you don’t realize how narrow the scope of flying is in the sim until it’s over. Most of the time is spent flying approaches and learning how to use the flight management system (FMS), while also figuring out how to keep the blue side up during an engine failure. In fact, in sim training, you actually get very little time experiencing what the airplane flies like when everything is working. You also get almost no exposure to the cruise portion of your flight.

Simulators are great for a lot of things, but they are terrible for mastering the art of a visual approach, because the graphics, as good as they are, still lack a certain amount of depth perception. The sims also usually do a poor job of replicating terrain-induced winds and turbulence on an approach. At some point you will begin to feel a little bit cocky about how you’re doing, because you will have mastered (or come close to) this narrow field of flying in a very controlled environment.

It’s only after you get on the line and have to really and truly put it all together in an airplane with passengers and other distractions that you finally have to master the art of not crashing and flying with some degree of grace. Generally speaking, it takes around 100 hours in an airplane to get your first new level of comfort, and it takes around 500 to begin to feel less apprehension in challenging weather conditions. With larger airplanes that fly longer legs and do fewer takeoffs and landings, it may take more. Getting the hang of hand-flying and performing smooth visual approaches is a sign of comfort, and a big boost to your confidence. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen with practice and repetition. You’ll also learn from your mistakes, of which there will be many at first.

But there comes a time where sitting in your seat feels like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. And that’s a great day when it comes.—Chip Wright

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Recognizing your favorite mechanic … what makes a mechanic GREAT?

The look of stress just prior to a test flight and inflight emergency.

In the past few years, the Citizen of the World has been honored by having many skilled and experienced mechanics work on her. She visited many shops and repair facilities across the United States and received over 50 upgrades and modifications. I like to believe that each mechanic made her a little bit better. These aviation maintenance technicians helped the best version of the Citizen come to life and shine on a global scale. For the Citizen of the World, that “shine” included inspiring many, setting world records and carrying experiments for NASA, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and one supporting biofuel use globally. And now her mission is one of promoting STEM education.

If I was to pick the best of the best of all those mechanics, it would be Rob Louviaux of Commander Maintenance Consulting (CMC). Without him, the Polar Circumnavigation would have never happened. As I reflect back, I have come to realize how much he did for me, the Citizen, and the Pole-to-Pole Flight. It is remarkable how selflessly he gave of his time and expertise. He was our lead mechanic and honestly the most knowledgeable person I know in the industry when it comes to the Twin Jetprop Commander 900.

Why should this matter to you? Because Rob from CMC set the gold standard that I think all mechanics should strive for. In an age when mechanics are taught to replace components until they get it right, this guy knows his stuff cold and saved our project many thousands of dollars. Finding a guy like this as a private pilot will make your flying so much safer and enjoyable. Here are seven qualities you should look for in a master mechanic:

Consistency

While Rob pulled off some amazing stuff in the two years we spent prepping the Citizen of the World the thing I appreciated most was that he was consistent from start to finish. was always fully in and engaged, whether I was standing directly in front of him, right after a major aircraft failure, or calling him from the other side of the planet. He was solid and I never doubted his level of commitment. He loves aviation, the Commander community, and being a part of something bigger than all of us. Rob always made me feel like l was a priority.

With you when the times get tough

One of the things I most respect about Rob was his willingness to test fly the plane with me when it had completed major work. Most mechanics won’t. He put his life at risk, as I did. The first time this happened was after the overhauled engines were installed. Rob was sitting next to me at altitude when we performed NTS shutdowns on each of the engines — one at a time — and attempted to restart them. The copilot side engine started perfectly but the pilot side engine would not unfeather. Rob went to work doing everything a master mechanic could inflight. When it was clear a component had failed, I saw him close his eyes for a brief moment, take a deep breath and then go to a place of peace as I landed the Citizen on one engine. I think we were both afraid as our legs were shaking when we got out of the airplane.

Staying cool

The second incident happened at altitude when both power levers froze up at 34,500 feet and the cabin simultaneously lost pressurization. As I was starting the emergency decent and declaring an inflight emergency while we both donned our oxygen masks, Rob was shutting down the environmental system, engaging the emergency pressurization, and trying to get the engines not to overspeed. Honestly, I don’t know if I could have handled all that myself. Losing engine control on two engines and pressurization simultaneously is a lot to handle no matter how good you think you are!

Speaking on your behalf

After that inflight emergency, I made one of the biggest mistakes of the project. I called the manufacturer of one of the failed components and told him he almost got Rob and I killed. The manufacturer hung up the phone and wouldn’t talk to me for three months. The project was stopped dead in its tracks. I would practice my superpower of eating crow for the next three months trying to get the manufacturer engaged again with no luck. However, Rob broke the stalemate with frequent calls to the manufacturer. He was able to negotiate a deal to get things going and get the Citizen on her way to the South and North Poles.

Making the extra effort

Early in the project things stalled when the shop that had agreed to remove the engines and send them out for overhaul stopped working on the airplane. It turned out the shop had never rigged turbine engines before and had mostly worked on piston Commanders. The engines sat in boxes for two months before we caught wind that the delays were never going to end. Rob saved the day by flying from Scottsdale, Arizona, out to Stockton, California, and working on them for four days straight in the intense heat. Rob got us to the point where we could get the airplane to CMC and finish the work.

Being available for all those questions we all have

Rob remained available night and day for the 24-month period leading up to departure and for the entire eight months and 23 days of the trip. Operating a 35+ year old aircraft is challenging and is going to have issues when you stretch its performance to the material limits. When I lost the generator portion of my starter-generator in a remote part of Sweden, Rob was flipping through repair manuals, sending me wiring diagrams and had me checking fuses until we diagnosed the problem and found a repair shop enroute to the North Pole.

Calling you on your BS/Giving sage advice

When our project was gridlocked after the second inflight emergency, and I was losing my “Zen” responding to sponsors who said they didn’t think I would ever do the flight, I considered a legal solution to my problems. Rob calmed me down and pointed out that wouldn’t accomplish anything except delaying the project even longer and rattling the sponsors off even more. Rob told me many of these systems were working in other aircraft and our best course of action was to get mine fixed. Again, Rob was right, and I took those systems all the way to the South and North Poles based on his recommendation.

I can’t help but look at all of the qualities that I shared about my top mechanic and acknowledge that these are the same qualities you’ll find in a great friend and mentor. Rob and I spent so much time working together, solving problems and discussing what was possible with this 35-year-old aircraft, that we became much closer. In the process of struggling to complete the mission, I learned a tremendous amount and got to know the aircraft better while my repair skills greatly improved. Rob also taught me how a true philanthropist acts and gives unconditionally on the journey. It is my sincere hope that each of you find a friend and a mechanic to help, guide, and teach you on your journey of flight and exploration.

Is the pandemic over?

It’s the question we all want the answer to: Is the pandemic over? In short, no, it isn’t. But things are definitely trending in the right direction.

Unless you have been buried under a rock of late, you’ve no doubt heard that mask mandates are being eased, and travel is suddenly becoming more popular. With that popularity comes certain expenses for the consumer. Rental car companies were forced to sell off large chunks of their fleets last year in order to survive the travel downturn. The result now is that renting a car has become so difficult that some have resorted to renting U-Haul trucks.

Hotels are also filling up. I was trying to arrange for some out-of-town travel recently to New England, and the first four or five hotels I looked at were sold out. The rooms that were left were noticeably more expensive than even a few months ago.

What does all of this mean for pilots and wannabe pilots? In a word: recovery. Or hiring. Take your pick. Americans are setting on a pile of hoarded cash, and Americans have never seen a dollar that they can’t spend. Travel demand has soared as families look to make up for lost vacations and visits with family members they were forced to isolate from while waiting for a vaccine.

This has meant a mad scramble for the airlines. Thousands of parked airplanes have to be brought out storage and brought up to (safety) snuff. Network schedule plans have to be rewritten, and tens of thousands of pilots have to be re-trained, or re- re-trained. This is all taking place at a furious pace, and at the lower end of the list, it means pilots are being hired much sooner than we had dared hope.

As I write this, Europe is in the process of updating its travel restrictions and guidance for vaccinated and tested passengers, and it will undoubtedly mean a flood of people buying tickets and travel plans at a rapid pace. As delightful as this is for the carriers, it will lead to a long game of playing catch-up. For aspiring pilots, it will be a grand opportunity to move into the ranks and start your careers. While the regional marketplace has undergone some seismic shifts of late, it still represents the best avenue to get your foot in the door and begin navigating the industry.

The more new hires there are, the better the news and the bigger the plans. Because replacement pilots must be in place first, more new hires mean airlines plan to bring more planes back into service and resume more service than they had announced. A lower volume of hiring generally means a more cautious approach.

If you’ve been waiting to get in the flight deck, this is the time to stop waiting and get started. The economic recovery is likely to be fairly robust, if unpredictable and a bit rocky. But now is the time to give the aviation gig a go.—Chip Wright 

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Into the Alligator's Mouth: Final Chapter

We have had a fun journey exploring personal minimums through the wisdom of over a dozen pilots in the past few months. I hope that you enjoy this final installment and apply the concepts to your flying.  I am thrilled to be presenting a seminar on the content for the Los Angeles 99s virtually on Wednesday June 2nd, and in person for AOPA at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh on Thursday July 29th.

My goal in writing this series is that as PIC you do everything in the airplane intentionally and with forethought.

So here we go.  In the past few months, we began our journey into the mindset needed for the functional implementation of minimums.   I reached in to my address book of pilot friends  to ask questions about minimums, guidelines, self-restrictions and the like. I spoke to range of folks from pretty newly minted private pilots, to those working on an instrument rating, commercial, CFI and DPE.  I talked with female and male pilots with hours ranging from low hundreds to 25,000.

How far can you put your head in an alligator’s mouth and still be certain you can get it back out?

I had a fabulous time talking with a baker’s dozen pilots and I got a little gem or a pucker factor from each of the conversations. My hope is that our words might start an honest discussion on ways that we can keep ourselves safe in the airplane or on the ground. In the end, cheating on your minimums is cheating yourself.

This series centers on the psychology of personal minimums.  Like most relationships, we will focus why we create them, why we commit them to paper [or not], when we fudge on them, what we learn from them, and what we hope never to again experience.

Interviews

For the interviews I asked starting questions and interchangeably used personal minimums and personal guidelines.  The reason for this is some pilots initially thought when I spoke of minimums, I was referencing charted instrument approach minimums.  The following answers will be in their voice, the first person.


Questions:

  • Do you have a current set of personal guidelines or minimums for your flying?
  • If yes, do you have them written down?
  • If so, do you ever review them or alter/update them?
  • What are the areas you consider when you think of your own minimums?
  • Have you had a time where you cheated on your personal minimums?
  • Has there been an experience in the airplane you would like to share that gave you a “pucker factor” that others might learn from?”
  • Do you have a “hidden gem”, or learning tip, to share?

*[For the sake of this article, in their responses, I will simply use the word “minimums”]


CK, Corporate Pilot, Jet, Turbo-Prop, CFI

My Private Pilot License [PPL], as they say, was a license to learn. I learned the basic structure of 3 miles visibility [VFR].  Yet as you gain experience you realize 5 miles isn’t that much and then 3 miles is really not that much. At the beginning of my flying, my personal minimum was 5 miles because that was my level of comfort as a VFR pilot.

As you gain experience, you can do more.  Your minimums grow as you gain that experience. For me, this is the difference between the FAA regulation vs. what I am comfortable with.

Right now, as pro-pilot flying a single engine—it is all on me.  I have to make sure I am good to go with health and wellness. Additionally, I have 1-12 passengers on board that are my responsibility. They don’t necessarily understand minimums the way I do. It is my job to make the best decisions I can based on the advanced planning and the reality of the flight conditions. One thing I’m firm on is that I won’t  go unless I see minimums or better forecast at the destination airport. To depart I need to see an upward trend in the weather.

As a corporate pilot I am always looking at my detailed flight planning vs. reality of flying.  My alternate airport might be pretty far away—especially when my destination is remote.  I have to be thinking [if needed]

  • Where am I geographically?
  • Do I have maintenance available?
  • What is it going to cost?
  • How do I get a mechanic to me?

Pucker Factor:  Caffeine isn’t always your friend. I was knee deep in twin training as a very green pilot.  At the time I was drinking several energy drinks during the ground school portion. When it was my time in the simulator, I was so jittery I couldn’t fly the airplane like I was supposed to.  My rule now is no caffeine on the day of flight.

Hidden gem: Loss affects all of us, put it in your checklist.  About ten years ago, I lost a parent, had a relationship break up, and lost a friend. I was flying left seat in a two-pilot operation.  I remember looking at the controls and thinking. “I should not be flying.” “I don’t feel like I am 100% here.”

 


RS, Commercial MEI, SEI, Glider

My minimums are not written down, but they are staunch in my mind.  For me it all starts at the planning table. I don’t write stuff down because after decades it is locked into my brain as what I will do, or not. I recognize the chain of errors with pilot, airplane, environment, and weather especially.

Error in the  links of flight planning, real world conditions or execution equals extreme caution for me. If you recognize the broken link and mitigate it, then you are okay. A lot people let two or three links break and bad things happen in the airplane.

Pucker Factor:
The setting is Estrella Sailport, 1981. I am a fledgling Glider pilot, that had a perfect soaring day with 2000 fpm thermals ! I went right up to 12,000 feet where it was cool and was just tooling around for about 45mins before I started down.  When I did start down NOTHING and I mean NOTHING looked familiar at all. Turns out that the winds aloft were howling the ride was smooth so I didn’t feel like I was getting blown downwind. I was concentrating on milking every foot per minute out of those killer thermals that I completely lost my situational awareness. I pointed the nose into the wind and went to the best glide speed, yet I was not moving. There was a road that paralleled the runway with about a half a mile of desert with a sea of huge cactus between it and the runway. I thought I could make it and stupidly went for it. Fortunately I made it but I literally had to dive to the cactus tops for the last 50 yards before I ran out of energy just clear of the cactus with just enough left rudder to land across the runway at a 45 degree angle.
The owner of the flight school said he was watching me and said if I had not dove into ground effect I would have never made it to the runway clearing.  NEVER AGAIN, I should have taken the sure thing, I should have taken the ROAD.

Hidden Gem: My advice is to break the first link, and mitigate the risk. If one link in the chain is broken, I am on high alert, immediate reset of the situation so the one broken link is eliminated.  It is easy to see how accidents happen with the second or third broken link, especially if they are congruent.


DK Commercial, CFII, DPE, Cessna owner

I sort of have a unique experience with minimums as a pilot, CFI and Designated Pilot Examiner [DPE].  It’s tough for student pilots to figure out minimums as they have so little experience to work with.  For their solo cross-country, the weather has to be perfect.  As a private pilot, the only way you find you minimums is by experience. Instrument training gives you flying in the soup and you can find out your minimums with an instructor. Young commercial pilots are looking at reasons why to do the mission, instead of why they shouldn’t.

As a DPE the private pilot candidates I see have no clue about minimums. It seems to me that ACS risk management isn’t being taught.  Instructors are not working on the risk assessment enough with students.  Many times, students don’t think there is risk because they don’t see it [the risk] if CFI is signing them off to go on a flight.

I have fixed personal minimums on the flights I do a lot for my work as a DPE.  These are built through experience flying in the Pacific Northwest. My commute minimums: 2500 feet ceiling in the valley— hard limit Winds aloft Easterly at 3000 feet more than 25 kts= no go. Cross wind:  if I cannot straighten the nose with the rudder, I will not land.  Any cold or sickness-I am not going. If I don’t feel 100%, I don’t have to go.

Pucker Factor:  I was commuting to a check ride. The ceiling was right at my minimum. As I got closer to my destination it was 50 feet lower than my minimum, then 100 feet.  I landed and thought. “What kind of example am I setting for the applicant?” the only thing to my credit is I never did it twice. Once was too often- I know better. Never again. Now if the ceilings refuse to cooperate, I go back home. Instead of find reasons to continue into worsening conditions. I need to reward myself for being smart and heading back to better weather

Hidden Gem:  You don’t want to get bit by cheating on your minimums.  Think of this question: “How far can I put my head in the alligator’s mouth and get it back out?”


I hope you enjoyed this final installment.  Please consider using one of the AOPA templates to write your minimums down whether VFR or IFR.  If you have feedback about the interviews, please feel free to use the comment section below.

In the meantime, keep up with online safety seminars, join your state aviation association, and stay involved with your local airport. Make sure that you consider all aspects of minimums; airplane, pilot, and environment before you yell. “clear prop.”

My plans  EAA AirVenture, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. As my Dad used to say when we touched down, I am looking forward to another successful trip of “Haywire Airlines”.

 

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Getting ready for class

When you get the call for a new hire class, it’s quite a thrill. But it can also leave you scrambling to get ready to check out of the real world for six to eight weeks.

Getting ready for class is similar to getting ready for your interview. The first thing you need to do is a document check. Your new carrier will  want you to have a current passport with an expiration date at least six months away. You may have to pay for expedited handling, but if you’re close to that window, just get it done.

Next up is your medical. Just about every airline requires all pilots, including first officers, to maintain a first class medical. If yours is going to expire in the next two-three months, consider biting the bullet and getting it renewed early, especially if you don’t want to have to run the risk of getting an appointment with a new doctor in a new city right away. If you decide to wait, be prepared to buy a ticket to get home to your regular doctor if the training schedule gets fouled up.

Your CFI certificate. If you’re coming up on a renewal for your CFI, try to knock that out of the way as well. Even if you have no intention of teaching again, think about how hard you worked to get your flight instructor certificate. You may end up wanting to teach just to work with some favorite clientele, or you may want to pick up some pocket change. And, heaven forbid, if you should have a problem with training and need to go back to teaching, you’ll need it. Additionally, you don’t want to rule out going into the training department at an airline, which is totally different than what you’re used to. Finally, doing a FIRC is time-consuming, and once you are finished with training, the last thing you’ll want to do is sit in front of your computer and bang out all those hours of clicking “next.”

Your driver’s license and pilot certificate. This sounds so simple, but you’re required to notify the FAA when you change addresses, and if your driver’s license is close to expiration, you want to get that renewed as well, especially if there is any chance you’ll be renting a car. If you’ve been bouncing around from one place to another looking for a place to live, you’ll need a mailing address for your new company. And, because you’re going into training, you may well have an event or a ride observed by the FAA. Matching addresses on your certificate, medical, and driver’s license saves some potential embarrassment.

Doctor’s appointments. These may be dictated by your current insurance situation, but you’ll want to use whatever time you can to knock out a basic physical, a trip to the dentist,  and your optometrist if you wear glasses. Once class starts, you will be too busy to be bothered, and a cavity or some other unexpected malady is not something you want to mess with in a new-to-you city.

Packing. You’ll want to have clothes enough to wear for at least a week to 10 days between loads of laundry. The company may or may not require you to have certain equipment at certain points in the training (such as headsets), and you’ll want to take stack of blank flashcards, a notebook, laptop, and spare phone chargers. If you’re driving to class, take a printer. Yes, a printer. It’s amazing how convenient it is when you can print something in your hotel room when you least expect to need to do so. If you’re flying to training, skip the printer, but find out what is involved in using the one in the hotel business center. You may need it for everything from printing out benefits information to getting a hard copy of the fuel system diagrams.

Getting the call for class is both exciting and stressful. But with a little bit of foresight, you can maximize the excitement and minimize the stress. It’s a long slog through the grind of indoc, systems, and the sim, let alone your first flights on the line, but it’s worth it. Don’t make plans to spend time with friends or family or a love interest. You’ll be pretty consumed, and you owe it to yourself, your employer, and your future passengers to totally devote yourself to training. There will be plenty of time to play hard later.—Chip Wright

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