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Citizen of the World: The Bridge between Aviation and Space

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

The flight of the “Citizen of the World,” now scheduled for June 2019, is a flight that will change aviation and quite possibly space travel. Yes, this is a bold statement and an impossibly big dream that is on the brink of coming true with the help of a brilliant team of scientists, engineers, and aviation geniuses who inspire us all to go beyond what we think is possible.

People often ask me why I’m taking on a project of this magnitude and risk. Again and again, I come back to this truth: It’s the most ambitious thing you can do with an aircraft unless you have rocket motors to get you out of the atmosphere. In many ways I’m finding with “Citizen of the World” that we are passing the boundary of the earth’s atmosphere into outer space through the technology onboard.

First and foremost, the satellite communicator in my DeLorme InReach Mini from satphonestore.com allows me to use the Iridium satellite constellation to text, email, and post to social media; get weather updates; and reach out for help if I ever need it—all this without needing cell service! Satellite voice communication is also used as a backup should my onboard and backup UHV, VHF, and HF comms develop “issues.” (But we all know that will never happen, right?!)

Second, the flight will be tracked by a new constellation of 67 Aireon satellites. A supplement and follow-on to the Iridium network, this will be the first time that global tracking is available and the first time that an aircraft will be continuously tracked from the South Pole to the North Pole. Twenty-four million subscribers and followers will be watching with the help of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out information. This is an exciting and important contribution to the world because it will help route airplanes around the planet more efficiently while saving time, reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere, and reducing the cost of travel.

Third, “Citizen of the World” will be carrying a proof-of-concept Wafer Craft Spaceship designed by UCSB scientists contracted by NASA. As reported in the Flying Thru Life blog:

The Wafer Scale spacecraft experiment will consist of several small (~ 10 cm diam x 1 cm thick) “spacecraft” that are prototypes for the NASA Starlight program. Each spacecraft will be self-contained except for need a small amount of power (~ 1 watt each). All the spacecraft will be a box that is about 30x30x30 cm. Each spacecraft will have a GPS, optical communications devices to interact with each other, ultra-low power radio (optional), inertial navigation, temperature and optical imaging sensors. No dangerous or poisonous materials will be on-board. In addition to power we will need a GPS cable (RG-174 coax) to a small GPS antenna that can be mounted near a window. Data will be recorded onboard and could optionally be transmitted via a small satellite communication interface back to the US.

The “Citizen of the World” will be transmitting information continuously back to the scientists in the United States. This same experiment will next fly on the Amazon Blue Origin rocket and then eventually on a NASA mission into space in 2059!

Fourth and lastly (for now), speaking of NASA missions, “Citizen of the World” may have an astronaut on board for a leg of the flight. That’s all I can say at this time, but stay tuned and keep dreaming your impossibly big dreams—when the Greeks envisioned “space sailors,” astronauts were a twinkle in the sky, and today they sail around our planet and land on the moon.

In many ways, the boundary between two worlds has become blurred with “Citizen of the World.” Not only are its wings turned toward the sky; this aircraft will get as close to space as possible without actually going there, thanks to the Water Craft spaceship onboard and the array of satellite technology that is being activated.

Call me crazy, but it’s not only me that sees this unique connection on “Citizen of the World’s” pole-to-pole flight and mission, “Oneness for Humanity.” Aviation Weekly & Space Technology editor William Garvey wrote a commentary published online on Sept. 21, and in print in their Oct. 1 to 14 issue:

The aircraft will participate in the Wafer Scale spacecraft experiment using extremely small “spacecraft” prototypes for NASA’s Starlight program, which is exploring using large scale directed energy to propel small spacecraft that could enable humanity’s first interstellar missions.

The intersection of aviation and aerospace engineering and human creativity opens a stream of energy that can change history and expand what’s possible for humanity when we are willing to go beyond what we think is possible.

“Houston, ‘Citizen of the World’ is ready!”

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off December 2018 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Become a pilot aviation ambassador

As a pilot, adventurer, and AOPA member, you are also in the unique position to be a pilot aviation ambassador and have an empowering impact on the world!

You are blessed to be flying. You must have done something right. You gathered the resources and surpluses in your life to afford the lessons, fuel, instructor, medical exams, and the very precious time to fly.

You must be reasonably intelligent to learn all the concepts that go with flying—thrust, weight, lift, and drag. How about everything related to how an aircraft works? Piston/turbine engines, control surfaces, weight and balance, and radio communications. You are the conductor of an aviation orchestra of thousands of parts creating a flying symphony with an audience all around you. They just have to look up.

Have you ever considered the positive force you can be for the world as a pilot? What we are talking about is called a “noble purpose.” It is the thing that you do with the intention of making the world—your world—a better place. It not only adds to the lives of others, but equally important is what it does for you. I believe those who consciously choose to make the world a better place for everyone are rewarded with richer lives and more opportunities in this world.

When I decided to use aviation as the vehicle for my message of One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity, the floodgates opened. Seventy-four sponsors came onboard and so many of what I call “Citizen Angels” appeared to help to support this mission.

Your “Citizen Angels” are in the wings waiting for you. What could your noble purpose be as a pilot? It doesn’t have to focus on sponsorship or reaching a million people—it doesn’t have to be a thousand or even a hundred. It could just be one person, and I’m guessing you already know who it is—it’s the person whose face lights up when they hear that you fly, and that you are a pilot. Young, old, boy, girl—there’s someone out there whose future as a pilot could be determined by your interest in them and your encouragement of their questions. How about reaching out?

I know who that person is for me—my accountant. Last time we met, he was full of questions from a recent Miramar airshow. Our topic that day was propellers and how they can not only change their pitch for the different phases of flight, but how some propellers can actually create reverse thrust. His face lit up, and I could see the wonder in his eyes.

Helping someone move from talking about their interest in flying to taking flying lessons and getting more actively involved in general aviation could be as simple as inviting them to go for a flight. Nine times out of 10, you have an extra seat and would love the opportunity to share your passion. God knows it’s hard to shut a pilot up when it comes to talking about airplanes. Every day there are tens of thousands of extra seats available in our GA airplanes that fly empty. Perhaps it’s time to make that call and invite someone along.

Whether you acknowledge it or not, you have a powerful opportunity to influence, inspire, and help others fall in love with the magic of flight. Every time you step into your airplane (and out of it), you have an opportunity to be a pilot aviation ambassador. Who will you share it with next?

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off December 2018 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

9 Ways to Combat Fear in a Cockpit

“A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skills.” – Frank Borman, Apollo 8 Commander

As pilots, we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about what we can do to mentally prepare ourselves before every flight. As the pilot in command, even if you aren’t flying a 20-plus-hour leg over the South Pole, the challenges can be similar for any flight. The goal is to be in your peak mental state to handle whatever comes your way. A quick Google search shows that 75 percent of aviation accidents are caused by human factors such as poor judgement, lack of composure, and an inability to maintain attention.

If the techniques I’m sharing would improve your performance by just a small percentage, wouldn’t that be worth it? Consider drawing on some simple Zen techniques described in my book, Zen Pilot, Flight of passion and the Journey Within, to increase your “Zen Power”—the ability to be mindfully aware in the present moment and focus on helpful thoughts and actions.

Stay focused in the moment

What happened to you last week at work or this morning at the breakfast table is in the past. Leave it there. You can’t do anything to change it. Likewise, if you are thinking about that five-figure bonus you are entitled to that Bill at the office is trying to prevent you from getting, it won’t help you in the cockpit, so don’t let it take up your invaluable and available mental and emotional bandwidth. The most you can ever hope to control is what you are experiencing right now.

Silence your mind

My mind often gets very busy before a flight. The voice of “self-doubt” seems to find its audience and share what it is thinking with me. This voice often judges me as a bad pilot. Thoughts such as, “You shouldn’t have messed that approach up,” “You should have tried harder,” “You should have paid more attention during training,” and “You should be smarter.” In this process, I basically “should” all over myself. The way out of this circular thinking is to simply say the words, “Cancel, cancel,” and use your “Zen Power” voice to remind yourself of some of your successes—“You aced that check ride!” “You read the weather properly.” “And don’t forget that landing you greased!” If you are going to tell yourself a story, you might as well make it a good one!

Overcome your fears by going deeper into them

Rather than running from the things that scare you, like most people do, I’m going to suggest something that may seem even scarier. Go deeper into the things that scare you. Take them head on. To do this, visualize what you fear most—think about it, feel it, really get into it for a few seconds. You need to feel the fear completely before it will go away. One fear for me is how I will navigate over the poles when I lose my GPS and magnetic compass. When that fear shows up, I visualize getting close to the South Pole, having my magnetic compass start to spin and my GPS fail. I close my eyes and feel the panic, confusion, and stress, and I keep going deeper into it. For a time it feels even scarier. I hold the energy and feel it completely. I have a bit of an emotional response and continue to hold it and feel it. And then something amazing happens—the fear starts to fade. In a few minutes, it totally disappears. I can breathe again. From a metaphysical perspective, I received the message from my unconscious, it’s been noticed and released, and now it’s time to keep going: dead reckon, keep the sun in the same position, switch the GPS to true north and put a waypoint before and after the pole, which it can handle.

Whose fear is it? 

Before I departed on my first circumnavigation I had three people come to me and voice their concerns. My girlfriend said, “I had a dream that you died a terrible death ALONE in the Pacific.” My dad said, “You are taking risks that you don’t need to. You’re just going to get yourself killed!” My best buddy suggested, “Wait until you can afford a turbine aircraft, which is 100 times more reliable.”  My impending flight brought up the fears of my top three supporters, but those were their fears, not mine. I listened and I gave them empathy—“I hear your concern, thank you for caring.” You can’t control other’s reactions, but you can control yours. I had to let them deal with their fears; I needed to handle my own.

What is the fear trying to tell you? Trust your intuition!

If you are waking up in the middle of the night like I have in a cold sweat or dreaming that you are stuck in your airplane at night in the water, thumbs and ribs broken, upside down as your airplane begins to sink in the ocean, then it’s time to be bold and take action! That fear is doing you a great favor and detailing what you need to focus on so you can be fully present in the cockpit. How about taking a survival course or two before you fly? Get strapped into a simulator at Survival Systems and get dunked in the dark. Or attend a course with Tim Kneeland at Survival Educators and learn how to survive in those nightmare situations. How about practicing an egress from a smoke-filled cabin at CAPS Aviation? I’ve done them all and highly recommend all of them. Each course is a full day, and it turns out, is actually fun.

Close your eyes and visualize handling different emergencies with ease

When you are sitting in the cockpit, have you ever calmly sat there and thought things like, “I’m losing cockpit pressurization. What do I do?” Me either, until I started using a Peter Schiff environmental system and did a “Zen Power” visualization. In my mind, I grab my oxygen mask, which is located over my left shoulder, place it on my face, and then turn on the backup pressurization system. Thinking through these things in the cockpit can be a great advantage when things start going south, no pun intended!

Pre-plan ways to get an answer while in flight or on the ground

What greater comfort is there for a solo pilot than being able to ask for help from an expert like a mechanic or flight instructor when an emergency arises? The good news is that technology has your answer! Handheld satellite texting devices and satellite phones by the satphonestore.com offer you an almost instant way to reach out in your time of need. I was 600 miles off the coast of California on the last leg of my equatorial circumnavigation in 2015 when my engine temperature jumped 20 degrees in less than an hour. I texted my mechanic and he quickly resolved my emergency situation. Don’t wait to ask for help and plan for it before you need it.

Override your reptilian brain and make decisions with your prefrontal cortex

When you lose your cool in the cockpit, you pretty much become the family lizard and activate your reptilian brain for the next 30 minutes. This is great if you need to kick the window out of your airplane or rip the hatch off the hinges like the Hulk. But the Hulk never flew an airplane. It is natural to go through a brief period of confusion when you’re angry or scared, but when you practice “Zen Power,” you will calm your lizard brain and switch on your CEO brain to make critical decisions. Take a few deep breaths; remind yourself that you have a lot of great training, technology, and hours flying, and then get down to business. You have all the external tools you need within arm’s reach and all the internal tools you need inside your head.

Use a simulator

If you are afraid of doing an approach down to minimums on a windy, low-visibility day with icing, then you are in luck! Most reasonable simulators today can create that exact scenario and you can fly it 100 times from the comfort of your own heated and dry home until you can do it with one eye closed. We all know with repetition comes comfort and better performance.

I hope these “Zen Power” strategies have helped you gain comfort in the cockpit. Each of them takes regular practice but will help you remain cool at that moment in time when you are called to perform like the confident pilot you have been trained to be. Remember, you have been blessed with the ability to fly. It’s a privilege to take flight, and you are an example for everyone who looks toward the sky for inspiration!

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off December 2018 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Antarctica – The Biggest Risk of All

If you asked me what part of the 26,000-nautical-mile, 23-country polar circumnavigation scares me the most, I wouldn’t have to think about it long to answer. It’s Antarctica! The earth’s southernmost continent, per Wikipedia, is 5,400,000 square miles of extremes. It is the coldest and driest continent on earth, has the highest average elevation at 7,545 feet above sea level with an elevation of 9,300 feet at the South Pole.

There are six things about flying to Antarctica that chill me to the bone (pun intended) and that keep me up at night.

1 – Weather

The Antarctic is known for some of the worst weather in the world! Winds and temps are intense and it is not uncommon to sit at Punta Arenas, Chile, for a week or two waiting for tolerable weather. On a 20-hour leg, there will be multiple fronts to cross before I can make it safely home.  On the positive side, Punta Arenas has a good weather reporting station and has allowed my team to monitor the weather a year in advance for temperatures, fronts, pressures, and winds.

2 – Distances

The distance from Punta Arenas at the southern tip of Chile to the South Pole and back is 4,457 nm. This will be my longest leg. My aircraft, a Gulfstream Turbine Commander 900, was originally designed to fly unmodified for 2,000 nm. With the addition of six fuel tanks, five-bladed MT nickel tipped scimitar props, RVSM, and two zero time refurbished Honeywell TPE 331-10T engines (the same type you find on Predator drones), we are estimating a 5,000-nm range, but nobody knows for sure how far and efficiently the airplane can fly that heavy. This is the equivalent of flying from San Diego to Hawaii and back nonstop. I have been asked where I could land if I had an issue. Theoretically, I can land anywhere. It’s just taking off again that is the issue.

3 – Navigation

A magnetic compass doesn’t work at the magnetic south and north poles and GPS doesn’t work where the meridians meet at the true north and south poles. I’ve been told that an old fashioned directional gyro with a metal ball spinning at 15,000 rpms is the solution. One expert told me, “Just fly the heading you are on for about 50 nm and then everything will be fine.” Recently I spoke with the Avidyne engineers who said that when they simulated the poles their units did “fine.” Possible solution: Use a GPS waypoint before the pole and one after it, and the unit won’t get confused. But will I?

4 – Fatigue

How does one stay up for 18-plus hours in an extremely cramped, stressful space loaded with 948 extra gallons of JetA1 in six aluminum fuel tanks expanding and contracting in the cabin near an HF radio and power supply? When I asked a pilot who set a world record flying for 20-plus hours how he stayed awake he answered, “Honestly, I was afraid the entire time.”

The pilots of Solar Impulse, the first solo pilots in a solar airplane ever to fly through the night between two continents, stayed up for longer periods of time but were also flying at very slow speeds in friendlier conditions compared to the Citizen of the World. They took micro naps and were monitored by their team in different parts of the world. I’ve been advised to bring a timer, set the STEC 2100 digital autopilot, and sleep in 30-minute intervals. But even the best of the autopilots can be persnickety at times.

5 – Extreme Cold

With outside air temperatures as low as minus 67-degrees Celsius at 35,000 feet, we were concerned this could result in below-freezing temperatures in the cockpit for up to 20 hours. The airplane’s environmental system, designed 35 years ago, has been unreliable, inefficient, and incapable of handling extreme heat or cold. This has presented a great opportunity to update the Citizen’s environmental system with a Peter Schiff system, giving us 60 extra horsepower, reducing weight by 150 pounds, increasing the pressurization, providing a backup pressurization system, providing non-contaminated air in the cabin, and allowing me to pre-cool the cabin on the ground using ground power. Problem solved!

Outside the cockpit, there are things to consider as well. Jet A1 gels at minus 47 degrees Celsius and Jet A gels at minus 40 degrees Celsius. During the month of December 2017 when we monitored temps, the South Pole got as cold as minus 67 degrees Celsius. You see the issue: Even though my TPE 331-10T engines have heat exchangers to warm the fuel with hot engine oil, the airplane doesn’t have anything in the wings to prevent the fuel from gelling before it gets to the heat exchanger. If you know what the low-temp gel point is or know anyone who does, please comment on this blog post or email me at [email protected].

6 – Survival

The last guy to attempt this trip didn’t bring any survival gear with him. He figured that the extra fuel he could carry was worth more pound for pound than any survival gear. He thought that survival would only prolong his misery. I have heard a similar belief from the highest-time ferry pilot in the world who has more than 500 Pacific crossings. I’m more optimistic. Thanks to modern satellite technology installed in Citizen, my potential rescuers will know where I am within 20 feet and two minutes if the airplane should go down. My survival suit and gear will give me the extra time to stay alive while they get to me.

To help improve my chances for a successful trip, I will fly the longest and hardest leg over Antarctica at the front end of the trip. This will ensure the Citizen of the World is working the best it can rather than letting it degrade over three months and then attempting the hardest leg at the end as I did in 2015 flying from Honolulu to Monterey during my equatorial circumnavigation in the Spirit of San Diego.

When it comes down to it, my team and I are doing everything humanly possible to plan every detail and mitigate the risks associated with flying over Antarctica. In my Zen Moments, I’ve learned that at some point you have to either accept the risks you can’t control or simply walk away. I choose to accept the risks and keep flying. The opportunity to expand the boundaries of general aviation, to inspire present and future generations to live their impossibly big dreams, and to be able fly in the name of world peace makes all the risks worthwhile.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off December 2018 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Physical Preparations For a Polar Circumnavigation

Robert DeLaurentis, author of “Flying Thru Life” and “Zen Pilot”

I was speaking to the Santa Barbara pilot group, “Serious about Aviation,” and asked the question, “What is the most likely part on the plane to fail during a Polar Circumnavigation?” A retired 747 female pilot blurted out with all the confidence in the world, “The pilot.”

The answer caught me off guard and everyone else. The silence in the room was a reality check. We all knew her response was true the instant she said it.

Since then, I have been focusing on how in the world (pun intended) I can reduce my risk of pilot failure to a level that I can accept and will allow me to sleep at night. What you will read in this blog post on “Physical Preparations for a Polar Circumnavigation” and the next one on “Mental Preparations for a Polar Circumnavigation” are my attempts to mitigate risk as much as possible. This allows me to make an informed decision to accept the risk or walk away and piss off a hell of a lot of people.

I believe these nine preparation tips will be of value to all pilots. While you might not intentionally put yourself into a similar situation over the South or North Poles at 40% over max gross, we all know as pilots you can never predict 100% what the Universe will throw your way wherever you’re flying in the air or in life.

Bionic Vision

There is probably no single thing you can do to improve your chances of survival in an aircraft than to improve your vision. Spotting an airport or hazards even a few seconds sooner can save you. Knowing that, I have made my vision a major focus of my pre-flight efforts. I don’t want to have to rely on glasses or contact lenses that could fall off or out during a critical phase of the flight. I would literally be “flying blind” if that happened. For that reason, I had corrective eye surgery and not just the refractive procedure that lasts about five years. I decided to skip that procedure and have the lenses inside my eyes replaced as they do with cataract surgery. One eye needed to be set closer to see the panel and the other further away since the eye muscles of a 52 year old are not as strong as someone younger. The new lenses they put in are clearer than what I had and can actually focus like my original lenses do, which allows me to see both near and far uncorrected.

Bionic Ears

The amount of time you will waste in a cockpit saying, “Say again all after” or worse yet, misunderstanding a critical communication, can be more costly than anything you will ever spend on a noise canceling headset. The technology today is absolutely amazing. The Lightspeed headset I use actually charts the surface of my ear and calculates a mathematical equation to cancel out noise based on the environment where I’m flying. Not only does this keep the cockpit “Zen,” but it makes your flying experience so much more enjoyable. Buy the absolute best noise cancelling headset you can afford. If you need to have a garage sale, work an extra shift, or combine your birthday and Christmas presents from family members, do it.

Train for Life and Be the Athlete that You Are

Pilots are rarely referred to as athletes. In my mind however, pilots are athletes that play in the game of life and death and can’t afford to lose even once. This doesn’t mean you need to hire an Olympic trainer and run marathons, but you do need to get moving. I spend 60-90 minutes a day walking, running or riding my bike in Balboa Park. You need to get your heart rate up. My resting heart rate is currently 50 beats per minute which I’m told is very good. Normal resting heart rate is 60-100 bpm and a well-trained athlete’s resting rate is closer to 40 bpm. As someone who spent years in a gym trying to force my body to be something it was not and nursing one injury after another, I learned we need to train at a rate we can maintain forever and we need to be a little gentler and more loving with our bodies.

Heal Your Body

Next, I did an inventory on my body, noticing anything that would be a physical distraction to me in the cockpit whether on the ground or in the air. If you don’t know where to look, start with any pain you have. I had developed some ingrown toe nails from my days in the military and decided I was tired of dealing with the pain and having them cut out every month or two. This recurring situation could be an issue for me in a foreign country on my three month polar expedition, given that it took three procedures with a month’s recovery for each before the nails stopped growing in the wrong direction. But now I’m free of that pain and can bring my focus back to where it belongs when I’m flying.

Eat Right

I’ve changed my diet. After doing a few three-day juice fasts this past year, I dropped my weight by eight pounds. I started to focus on my energy level based on what I ate. I eliminated meat from two of my three daily meals. I noticed how gluten made my stomach bloat and how meals late in the day caused me to sleep hot for half the night. Processed foods tasted great but made me tired. When I ate steamed veggies or drank a fruit shake instead, I performed better and felt like I was doing something good for myself.

Mix It Up

I learned to fly my Turbine Commander from a very proficient instructor with 10,000 hours in that type of aircraft. When he wasn’t available for recurrent training, I had a moment of panic and then realized I could benefit from someone who had flown in many types of turbo prop aircraft. My new instructor from Access Flight Training Services taught me a few new tricks and I’ve become a better pilot in the process. Before I leave for my Pole to Pole trip I’m scheduled to fly with Mike Jesch a 20,000 hours airline pilot and Master CFI, as well as a factory expert on the Avidyne avionics system that is being installed in the Citizen of the World. Flying with other pilots can teach you new things and build your confidence.

Dress the Part

Flight suits and bomber jackets were designed in the 1940s. Aviation has come a long way and there are now street wear style shoes, compression socks, pants, shirts, sunglasses and helmets designed specifically for pilots. They are functional, highly engineered, hip and cool so you can wear them in or out of the plane. For example, the sunglasses I will use on my Polar Circumnavigation were custom designed by Scheyden for me to handle two light conditions – one below the clouds and one above – with a simple flip of the frame. Aviation and apparel company, Lift Aviation, manufactures clothing that has more engineering design in it than the B-1 bomber.

Robert DeLaurentis, wearing special Scheyden eye wear for the upcoming Pole to Pole flight

Put Yourself First

This one can be tricky and equally critical to your well-being, relationships and productivity. I came to realize that I had people in my life who were making too many demands on my time and were not helping me get where I needed to go. While it’s important to me to be supportive and be there for others, the clock is ticking for my trip. To keep my plans on track I had to start buckling down and focus on my trip and myself. Now I let people know upfront I will make time for them if they are a supporter of my trip, but if not they will have to wait until after I return. I’ve learned to let in people who add to my life energetically. I know this because when I leave an interaction I feel uplifted and I sense they do too.

Build Your Team

When I realized I couldn’t do it alone and no one person has the expertise or time to do everything I started to look for experts in different fields. To train me to survive in the harshest conditions on the planet, I found Tim Kneeland, a survival expert. To help me with go/no go decisions based on weather I asked Mike Jesch, an Airline Captain and master CFI, for his expert advice. To tell me what day to be over the South Pole and what I should expect, I sought out astrophysicist, Brian Keating. To help outfit my plane with the very best aviation gear on the planet, I found over 50 sponsors, all experts in their businesses and, thankfully, willing to help me go the distance with mine.

This list is far from complete but a great place to start as a GA pilot. Please remember that being a pilot is a lifestyle and staying safe requires you to live a healthy lifestyle every day.

Please feel free to share your ideas with the community. The best suggestion gets a signed copy of the second edition of Zen Pilot: Flight of Passion and the Journey Within.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off December 2018 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Preparing The Citizen of the World for Polar Circumnavigation

The Citizen of the World, a 1983 Gulfstream Turbine Commander 900

To extend the range of the Citizen of the World from its existing 2,000 nautical miles to 5,000 nm, which is necessary for a polar circumnavigation, it was pretty clear that I would need to make some extreme modifications to the aircraft. I was looking for anything that would squeeze an extra nautical mile out of it. It also made sense to do what I could to improve the safety of the aircraft as long as I could do it without adding significant weight.

The first no brainer was to improve the efficiency of the old three bladed Q-tipped props. I went to my friends at MT and asked them to design a propeller specifically for my mission. They suggested putting one of their five-bladed, composite (wood with composite covering), nickel-tipped, scimitar propellers on the Turbine Commander. It had never been done before and would need field approval, but they were confident it could be done and would increase the climb and cruise speeds while starting faster, which would be easier on the batteries. Added benefits would include the props being quieter, creating less vibration, and having more ground clearance for the gravel runways I would be flying off of at King George Island at the tip of Antarctica and throughout Africa.

The next part of the airplane that could be improved was the engines. The Honeywell TPE 33-10Ts (Formerly Garrett) had 4,900 hours on them, which were 500 hours from their 5,400 hour TBO. They were still producing good horsepower, but a refurbishment would increase their power in the flight levels, which would give me more range and fuel efficiency. Honeywell had also made improvements to the engines, so it made sense to upgrade and get the best power possible out of them. Copperstate Turbine Engine Company (CTEC) did the refurbishment and replaced several major components to include the second stage impeller and wheels, combustion cases, combustion liners, and the crossover ducts.

One of the primary reasons I had selected the Turbine Commander was for the geared drive engines that were remarkably efficient compared to the free spinning turbines. They burn roughly half what the nearest competitor does with a TBO 1,900 hours higher.

Mechanics Steve Rodriguez and Morris Kernick from Commander Services 
working hard to get the “Citizen of the World” back in the air

Now that I had more power and some kick-ass props, I wanted to take the airplane higher where it could fly faster with less fuel. I went to AeroMech and bought the STC for RVSM (reduced vertical separation minimum). Along with a backup altimeter and some other components, this would allow the Citizen to fly very precisely (plus or minus 50 feet) at 35,000 feet, which is 7,000 feet higher than the airplane was originally designed. At this altitude, Citizen of the World will burn only 60 gallons of Jet A an hour compared to the much thirstier engines without geared drives. Flying higher helps to avoid weather and allows the airplane to glide farther and fly more efficiently. Altitude is life, especially over the South and North Poles!

The Turbine Commander’s 52-foot wing with winglets, MT’s five-bladed custom propellers, and the two Honeywell geared drive TPE331-10T engines give Citizen of the World tremendous global efficiency and range.

Gulfstream 52-foot wing, MT Propeller five-bladed custom prop 
and two Honeywell geared drive TPE331-10T engines

For safety improvements, we outfitted the aircraft with Whelen LED lights for increased visibility, reliability, and reduced electrical load.

We also will install an AmSafe airbag system. I had these on my Malibu Mirage, the Spirit of San Diego, on my 2015 equatorial circumnavigation, and while they were never deployed, I knew I had a better chance for survival with them. With these airbags, I could potentially avoid breaking ribs that would make twisting out of my seat during an emergency egress extremely painful, and I could exit much faster.

Since the tires are the most likely point of failure on the airplane, to increase safety, we increased the number of tire plies on the main gear from 10 to 16 and on the nose wheel from six to 10 with the help of Desser Tire. Increasing tire plies is required so the tires don’t come off the rims on takeoff when flying at 40 percent over max gross weight.

To increase reliability, the batteries were upgraded with Concorde sealed lead acid batteries, which have been successfully used in arctic environments and had longer life and cranking power than the existing batteries.

To determine just how heavy I could fly the airplane, where we could put fuel, and how much I could carry, I had a feasibility study done by Fred Gatz, the original designer of the airplane’s 52-foot Gulfstream wing. Gatz determined that we could increase the fuel load from 474 gallons of Jet A to 1,402 gallons, putting the Citizen 40 percent over its maximum gross weight. An aircraft with the same wingspan has been flown this heavy without issues, giving us confidence that my airplane can do this as well.

This November, Flight Contract Services will install six aluminum fuel tanks to more than double the airplane’s range to a previously thought impossible 24 hours of flight and 5,000 nautical miles. This is the same distance as flying from San Francisco to Hawaii and back nonstop!

Flight Contract Services owner and ferry pilot Fred Sorenson, the highest-time ferry pilot in the world with over 500 Pacific crossings, will install the ferry tanks detailed above and an old school High Frequency (HF) radio. This radio will allow me to talk to air traffic control from a range of 1,000 to 2,000 nm based on atmospheric conditions.

Since I’m a self-proclaimed button pusher in the air and on the ground, I had a great excuse to load the airplane up with the latest avionics of the day. This included a Bluetooth connection between GPS units and an iPad, a ground circuit, L-3 synthetic vision with battery backup attitude indicator, glass panel GPS units, satellite weather, active traffic, terrain avoidance, X-naut iPad cooler, Lightspeed noise-canceling “Zen” ANR technology. We are currently working to get field approval for a Max-Vis Enhanced Vision System (EVS) infrared camera to help turn night into day at the North Pole where it will be dark most of the day.

At the same time, it made sense to install some old school equipment as well. We put in a directional gyro for navigating over the poles where GPS and magnetic compass do not work, as well as an ADF, which is required for an Atlantic crossing; proof that the best, most reliable panel includes the new technology as well as the old. While dramatically more expensive integrated systems existed, they weren’t in the budget and are difficult to get fixed internationally. Replacing individual components is often an easier solution.

An additional motivation for the upgrades was to make the aircraft one of the best video games on the planet so no kid or aspiring pilot could resist. This was a great opportunity to promote aviation to the world and this panel would be part of the billboard.

Upgraded avionics panel by Randy Morlock of Eagle Creek

In the months ahead I will share insights on our mission, scientific experiments carried, our team, route, and anticipated global challenges. For more detailed information you can go to FlyingThruLife.com/pole-to-pole/plane-modifications as well as PoleToPoleFlight.com.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off December 2018 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Aviation Weather Camera Site upgraded: Beta testers wanted!

FAA is making a significant upgrade to their Alaska Aviation Weather Camera website.  Pilots are invited to test the site, and provide input to help refine the presentation of aviation weather data that will eventually be extended nation-wide.   A Beta-test version of the site is currently available. It integrates camera images with weather observations, forecasts and pilot reports, customized for aviation. The Aviation Weather Camera program is seeking feedback from pilots both in Alaska, and from across the country.

Background
Aviation weather cameras have helped Alaskan pilots make flight planning decisions since 1999.  Starting with prototype system constructed by a university graduate student that included only three camera locations, the network today lets pilots see the weather at over 220 locations from all parts of the state.  This visual form of weather data helps in several ways.  Each site has between two and four cameras, pointed in different directions, to let us see the weather, within the last 10 minutes.  In some places, the cameras are the sole source of weather information. At other locations they are co-located with an AWOS or ASOS, and give us a means not only to evaluate the accuracy of the METAR–but to see if the reported ceiling is comprised of threatening cumulus buildups, or just a thin layer of clouds with sunlight streaming through.

Initially the website was limited to the current camera image, along with a “clear day” image for comparison.  To help calibrate what we were seeing, the clear day image was annotated with the distance and elevation of prominent landmarks.  The site also featured a video loop that allowed the user to play a time-lapse of the past six hours, which can be tremendously valuable when it comes to monitoring weather trends.  The current operational site includes current surface weather observations (METARs), along with Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAFs).  More recently, PIREPs joined the party, taking a significant step forward in providing a more complete idea of conditions a pilot would encounter on a cross-country flight.

Overview of the Beta test site, showing weather cameras, current and forecast weather, pilot reports and airports. Note that while it contains real data, it is a test site not intended for operational use.

Whats new?
The next version of the website continues all the features we have come to count on, and focuses on presenting the information more visually.  The Beta-test site starts with a satellite base map (although you may still select a more conventional map base if desired), and provides a more graphic depiction of the weather data.  METARs are color coded based on the category of weather reported, green for VFR, red for IFR, etc.  For those stations that have a TAF, it too is color coded by the individual time periods of the forecast, allowing a user to see if conditions are forecast to improve, without even having to click on the icon.  Drop-down menus at the top make the program highly configurable, but the most popular features that pilots want to toggle on and off still remain available as buttons on the main page.  A considerable amount of sophistication has gone into making the icons dynamically change as you zoom in or out, to avoid saturating the screen when looking at the big picture. A link to the legend is available in the lower right hand corner to help interpret the icons, many of which change as a function of scale.  Not all features are functional yet, so some menus or buttons are grayed out.

An example airport cluster with current and forecast weather, and a weather camera.

Clicking on the weather camera icon brings the first of multiple displays showing the conditions, along with a color-coded indication of the current and forecast conditions

How you can help
Like any significant tool of this nature, there are many ways to use it.  A core group of volunteer pilots were selected at the start of the project to test the Alpha version of the website and help advise project developers on refinements to make the program responsive to our needs.  These efforts are being coordinated by Dr. Daniela Kratchounova, from the Flight Deck Human Factors Research Lab at the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI). The program is now in a Beta-testing mode of operation, and Dr. Kratchounova is looking for a much larger set of users to put it through its paces.  Since the website is being designed for the future extension of the program beyond Alaska, it has to work in parts of the country with greater density of airports and weather stations than are found in Alaska, so she is looking for pilots from across the country to participate in the program at this time.  While the FAA weather cameras are only in Alaska, supplemented by Canadian and some third party camera sites, the METARs, TAFs and PIREPs cover the entire country.  If you are outside of Alaska, consider trying the site for the areas you fly, to see how information is presented. To understand what the weather cameras add, scroll up to Alaska and evaluate the weather for a flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks, where you will find a number of camera sites to see what this visual data adds to the METARs along the route.  The beta test site may be found at: avcamstest.faa.gov.  [Note: The latest version of the site became operational on May 1st–so if you have looked at this link before, make sure to check after this date.] If you are not familiar with the current operational site, look at:  avcams.faa.gov

May 1, 2017 Update: The beta-site became operational on May 1st, with a new address: avcamsplus.faa.gov. FAA continues to seek user input using the Pilot Feedback button, as additional development is continuing. The beta-test link will be re-directed to the new address. The legacy site avcams.faa.gov, will continue to operate in parallel for a few months.

Providing feedback
After trying the weather camera site for a while, look for the “Pilot Feedback” button that leads to a number of questions regarding the features of the site.  Scrolling down this window reveals a matrix of detailed questions to rate the different features on a 1-5 scale, which sends your “vote” to the FAA.  I know— one’s eyes can glaze over when first encountering this array of questions. My suggestion is to read through the questions, close the window and spend some more time using the site before going back and completing the survey.  This may seem a little daunting, but with several hundred people using the site, compiling feedback using a form like this is about the only reasonable way to see trends.  Note, however, for each question area there is a comment field. This is your opportunity to tell the FAA what you liked, or what didn’t work, and how you think it could be improved.  I would suggest paying close attention to what zoom level you use, as you evaluate a flight route, and the features that are displayed at that scale.

To provide feedback, rate the different features using a 1-5 scale. Note that for each question area, there is a place for to comment on features you liked, or think should be changed.

This is a significant development effort, so please take the time to give the system a good work-out, and let FAA know what you think.  As one who has used the weather camera program since its inception, I am excited to see camera data integrated in with the other weather products we use for flight planning.  There are more features planned for the system, so look forward to watching this site continue to develop.

For now, please fill up your coffee cup, click on the link, and spend some quality time looking at this site.  Your efforts to evaluate the program may have a significant impact on where it goes from here!

The most dangerous thing in aviation?

AOPAfileToolsThere’s an old joke among aircraft mechanics that “the most dangerous thing in aviation is an aircraft owner with a screwdriver.” (Or a wrench, or a toolbox, or a Swiss army knife…)

For many mechanics, this is no laughing matter. I’ve been advocating owner involvement and participation in maintenance for many years, and I’ve gotten a fair amount of push-back from repair station owners and working A&Ps who think I’m doing aviation a great disservice through this advocacy, and feel strongly that aircraft maintenance should be left strictly to the pros (like them).

It’s not hard to understand where this idea originates. I doubt there exists a working general aviation mechanic anywhere who doesn’t have a few dozen horror stories about owner-performed maintenance nightmares he’s found while working on GA aircraft—automotive hoses used in fuel systems; exhaust leaks patched with fiberglass and epoxy; rat’s-nest wiring full of Home Depot plastic-insulated doorbell wire, Scotch electrical tape, Pep Boys’ automotive crimp connectors and cold solder joints; … well, you get the idea. I’m the first to admit that I, too, have seen stuff like this in airplanes that really made me shudder.

(But then again, I’ve also seen plenty of things done by allegedly professional A&P mechanics that made me shudder. Unfortunately, the fact that someone holds an FAA certificate—whether it be a pilot certificate or a mechanic certificate—is no guarantee that he isn’t a jerk.)

Some of the best-maintained aircraft I’ve ever seen are ones maintained largely by their non-A&P-rated owners. After all, no one is more motivated to do a first-class job of maintenance than the person whose posterior and those of his family are on the line.

Some of the most mechanically magnificent GA aircraft I’ve ever seen are kitplanes entirely built and maintained by their owners. I suspect the average homebuilt is better maintained than the average “professionally maintained” spam can.

Let’s face it: There are plenty of aircraft owners who have the knowledge, skill and desire to work on their own aircraft and do a first-class job. On the other hand, there are also lots of aircraft owners who have little or no mechanical aptitude or inclination. Most readily admit that they are mechanically challenged individuals (a.k.a. “all thumbs”) and happily leave the wrench swinging to the pros at their maintenance shop.

Then there are a small minority of owners who tinker with their aircraft even though they don’t know which end of the screwdriver to hold, and wind up doing things that are illegal and unsafe. These are the folks that A&P jokes and horror stories are made of, but in truth they represent only a tiny minority of owners.

You won’t save money

There are lots of reasons to consider getting involved in swinging wrenches on your own aircraft, but generally saving money isn’t one of them. While the labor rates at maintenance shops aren’t exactly cheap, the fact is that you’d probably take an hour to accomplish what a professional A&P can do in 20 minutes. At least that was my experience when I started swinging wrenches on my airplane more than 15 years ago, and that of several aircraft-owner friends who do their own maintenance. Even though I now have a lot more experience and hold an A&P/IA, I’m still a lot slower than a career mechanic who swings wrenches every day.  As owner-mechanics, we consider ourselves safe, competent and careful … but slow.

Think about it. A working A&P can hang a cylinder on an engine in 20 minutes or so. No big deal—install the base O-ring, pre-oil the barrel, insert the piston into the barrel using a ring compressor, lift the jug into position, slide the wrist pin through the piston and con rod, push the jug over the studs, thread on the hold-down nuts, and then torque them into place.

But when I hang a jug, I spend 20 minutes watching the Continental video just to make sure I remember all the necessary steps (since the last time I hung a jug was three years ago), and another 10 minutes looking up the torque values and torque sequence (stuff any working A&P knows from memory because he changes jugs every week). Then I waste five minutes trying to remember where I put my cylinder base wrenches, and another 15 minutes going next door to borrow a 5.25-inch ring compressor. And so it goes.

In other words, when I swing wrenches on my airplane, my work is careful, meticulous, strictly by-the-book … and pathetically slow. I suspect the same is true of most owner-mechanics who only go through one annual inspection a year instead of dozens.

So unless you value your time at less than one-third of your A&P’s shop rate, you’re money ahead to let him do the work.

So why do it?

Good question.

I owned airplanes for 20 years before I first had any interest in picking up a wrench. I never would have guessed that I’d become involved in aircraft maintenance.

After owning a succession of single-engine airplanes, I bought my Cessna T310R in 1987. Eighteen months later, the A&P who had been doing my maintenance relocated, and the mechanic who took his place was relatively young and inexperienced and made me a little nervous. So when the airplane went into the shop for its annual inspection, I decided to hang around and watch, just for peace of mind.

It wasn’t long before “hang around and watch” turned into “hang around and help.” Lots of mechanics wouldn’t have put up with me, but this one did—in fact, he seemed to appreciate my interest, and was very patient in answering my questions and showing me the ropes of basic aircraft maintenance.

Much to my surprise, I found the hands-on work oddly therapeutic—a sharp contrast to my normal daily routine (“slaving over a hot computer keyboard”). I’ve always enjoyed learning new things (my wife calls me a professional student), and I found myself intrigued by how much there was to learn about aircraft maintenance in general and about my Cessna T310R in particular.

Over the next few years I found myself taking on more and more of the maintenance work myself, under the patient supervision of a succession of A&Ps. Clearly, I was hooked.

As I started doing more and more of my own maintenance, I discovered that my aircraft became mechanically better and better. In my past aircraft ownership experience, my airplanes always seemed to have a few squawks waiting for the next time the plane went into the shop. Now, even though the T310R was by far the most complex airplane I’d ever owned, I discovered that it was virtually squawk-free. When anomalies did arise, I’d find myself fixing them immediately, rather than letting them stack up.

So why consider owner-performed maintenance? In my case, the answer is “satisfaction.” The satisfaction that comes from doing something with your hands; from learning something new and complex; from getting to know a complicated piece of machinery in a way that that cannot be achieved without taking it apart and putting it back together; and from flying a squawk-free airplane that receives the finest maintenance that dedication (not money) can buy.

Getting started

Will aircraft maintenance give you the same kind of satisfaction that it does me? There’s only one way to find out, and that is to try it. Remember, I never thought of myself as a wrench-swinging kind of guy—until I tried it and (surprise!) discovered that I liked it.

Regardless of how you think you feel about aircraft maintenance, I strongly suggest that every aircraft owner go through at least one owner-assisted annual inspection. It’ll cost you a week or two out of your busy schedule (consider it a novel vacation idea), and you’ll learn more about your aircraft’s design, construction and condition than you can possibly imagine. You’ll also learn a lot about yourself. You might discover that you enjoy working on your airplane, maybe even that you’ve got a knack for it. Or perhaps that you hate it and/or have absolutely no aptitude for it.

I also suggest you learn how to do some basic preventive maintenance on your airplane—at least how to change the oil and oil filter, and perhaps to clean, gap and rotate the spark plugs. This involves only a couple of hours of work—even the busiest aircraft owner can do it over a weekend. The real beauty of doing your own oil and filter changes—besides the fact that it saves you the hassle of taking your plane to the shop every 25 to 50 hours—is that it forces you to remove the engine cowlings regularly and get up-close-and-personal with your engine. It’s the sort of inspection that pilots really ought to be doing every preflight, but unfortunately can’t be done on most of today’s tightly-cowled aircraft except at oil-change time. Think of an owner-performed oil change as an “advanced preflight.”

What can you do legally?

The FAA has carved out a broad laundry list of so-called “preventive maintenance” tasks that a pilot-rated owner can perform on his aircraft without requiring supervision or sign-off from an A&P mechanic. The relevant regulation is 14 CFR 43.3(g), which reads:

The holder of a pilot certificate issued under Part 61 may perform preventive maintenance on any aircraft owned or operated by that pilot which is not used under Part 121, 129, or 135.

The definition of “preventive maintenance” appears in Appendix A(d) of 14 CFR Part 43, and most owners are surprised to learn just how much maintenance they’re allowed to do on their own recognizance. As an owner/operator, you’re permitted to:

  • Change engine oil
  • Replace fuel and oil filters
  • Service spark plugs
  • Service hydraulic fluid
  • Service battery
  • Lubricate just about anything
  • Change tires and tubes
  • Grease wheel bearings
  • Service landing gear struts
  • Replace fuel/oil hoses
  • Install safety wiring and cotter pins
  • Replace landing and position lights
  • Repair landing light wiring
  • Replace the battery
  • Remove and replace tray-mounted radios (except DMEs and transponders)
  • Change database cards
  • Paint anything except balanced flight controls
  • Repair upholstery
  • Replace side windows
  • Replace seats
  • Replace safety belts
  • Patch airframe, fabric

…and that’s just what you can do on your own without a mechanic’s supervision.

With the cooperation of your friendly neighborhood A&P, there’s almost no maintenance task you can’t do. Here’s what 14 CFR 43.3(d) has to say about that:

A person working under the supervision of [an A&P] may perform … maintenance, preventive maintenance, and alterations … if the supervisor personally observes the work being done to the extent necessary to ensure that it is being done properly and if the supervisor is readily available, in person, for consultation.

In other words, you can do anything that your A&P will let you do (and agrees to supervise and sign-off). In this context, “supervise” means whatever your A&P says it means—the reg says he has to be available for consultation, but that doesn’t mean he has to watch your every move or breathe down your neck. As you earn the trust of your supervising A&P, he’ll probably let you do more and more of your own work and simply drop by to inspect it once you tell him you’re done.

How do you earn your A&P’s trust? Keep in mind that he doesn’t expect you to be an expert—in fact, coming across like a know-it-all is a good way to scare off your mechanic. What’s most important is to demonstrate to your A&P that you know your limits, and that he can trust you to stop and consult with him any time you’re not absolutely sure of what you’re doing. Exhibit a careful, conscientious and humble approach, and your A&P will probably give you lots of latitude.

So try it. You might just like it.

Mike Busch is arguably the best-known A&P/IA in general aviation, honored by the FAA in 2008 as National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. Mike is a 8,000-hour pilot and CFI, an aircraft owner for 50 years, a prolific aviation author, co-founder of AVweb, and presently heads a team of world-class GA maintenance experts at Savvy Aviation. Mike writes a monthly Savvy Maintenance column in AOPA PILOT magazine, and his book Manifesto: A Revolutionary Approach to General Aviation Maintenance is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions (112 pages). His second book titled Mike Busch on Engines was released on May 15, 2018, and is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions. (508 pages).

Cold Temperature Correction Procedures Meeting in Alaska

The FAA’s update to the list of cold temperature restricted airports has generated questions from Alaska pilots about the process. Initially raised at a meeting of the Interior Alaska Flight Instructors Association in Fairbanks, the FAA is sending an official to Alaska from Washington DC to explain and discuss the procedures. Kel Christianson, from Flight Standards Performance Based Flight Systems Branch (AFS-470), will meet with pilots on Wednesday, January 20 at 7 p.m. Mr. Christianson will cover the background on why and how cold temperature correction procedures have been instituted in the National Airspace System, and provide detailed examples on making altitude corrections to instrument approach procedures.

Cold Temperature Correction Procedures apply to nearly 100 airports in Alaska.

Cold Temperature Correction Procedures apply to nearly 100 airports in Alaska.

The Fairbanks based CFI association compiled specific questions from Alaska operators in advance and supplied them to the FAA. A question and answer session will follow the briefing. FAA Air Traffic Control staff will also be on hand to answer questions. The meeting is being sponsored by the FAA Safety Team, and will take place at the Fairbanks International Airport Operations Center, 5195 Brumbaugh Blvd, on the west side of the airport.

Since almost a hundred Alaska airports are on the list, and winter tends to be our dominant season, these procedures may have a major impact on those pilots who fly IFR. Consider taking advantage of this meeting to learn more about this topic.

Possible increase in Alaska aviation motor fuel tax

Alaska is facing a budget crisis due to the low price of crude oil, which will impact all Alaskans, most likely in multiple ways. Focusing on the impact to the 247 state operated airports, the Alaska Aviation Advisory Board (AAB) worked with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT) to look at ways to provide additional revenue to support the airports, while having minimal impact on aviation system users. This discussion started back in February this year, when DOT initially announced a proposal to establish landing fees at Deadhorse, a move that many feared would spread to other airports across the state system. In a meeting with Governor Walker, the AAB expressed concerns about landing fees, and asked to work with DOT to look at other options before any changes were made. The Governor indicated he would welcome the board’s input, which kicked off a series of meetings with DOT.

At the spring and summer AAB meetings, DOT presented both the costs to operate the Rural Alaska Airport System, and three alternative methods to increase revenues. DOT also discussed several possible measures to reduce operating costs. These ranged from handing some airports over to local communities to operate, to streamlining the aviation functions of the department into a single division.   Establishing a true division of aviation within DOT is something that a number of aviation organizations, including AOPA and the Alaska Airmen’s Association, have advocated for a number of years. While we believe that streamlining the management of DOT airports will help manage costs in the long run, this doesn’t address the immediate need to keep the airports operating.

What does it cost to operate state airports? Funding for airports comes in two distinct flavors: capital funding, which is used to build and improve airports, primarily comes from the federal government; and operating funding, which covers staffing, supplies and other costs associated with operations and maintenance, which is typically supplied by the airport owner.

Capital Funding:  The State of Alaska, like other states, receives grant money directly from the FAA through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), to build and expand airports. Alaska has received over $200 million/year for the past several years from this program. The FAA’s contribution is typically about 90% of the grant, with a requirement for the state to match the federal funding. The state’s contribution comes from the airport owner, called the sponsor, in FAA terms. This AIP funding mechanism allows for the construction and improvements of airports nationwide, but comes with strings attached. One of the strings is that the sponsor (airport owner) agrees to pay for operation of the facilities, and to keep them in good working order.

Operational Funding: Funding the operation and maintenance of airports is the challenge. The FAA expects airport sponsors (owners) to pay for operations, and airports typically charge fees to help cover some of those costs. Airport lease fees, tie down fees, and other revenue streams help offset operational costs. In Alaska, even though we rely on aviation for basic transportation, our low population base often doesn’t provide the volume of fees that would be needed for our airports to truly be self-sustaining. Here are the figures for the state-operated airports (not including Anchorage and Fairbanks International, which are operated as a separate enterprise fund). The cost to operate the Rural Alaska Aviation System in FY 2014 was $33.8 million dollars. Revenues received by the state included $5.3 million from airport leasing, tie down permits, etc. and $4.6 million in aviation motor fuels taxes, for a total revenue of $9.9 million. These revenues go into the General Fund. Each year the Legislature appropriates money from the General Fund to DOT, which includes the resources to operate the rural airports.

Revenue Options  DOT presented three options to increase revenues: Implement landing fees, initially at the regional hub (Part 139) airports; implement a state-wide airport user fee, and; increase motor fuel taxes. The AAB looked at these from the standpoint of how much they would cost to implement, the projected amount of revenue generated, what they would cost the users, and how equitable they seemed both to different segments of the aviation community and to the public, which in many cases relies on aviation for the delivery of goods and services, in addition to their own transportation. After considerable deliberation, the AAB recommended that the state increase the aviation motor fuel tax from the current levels (4.7 cents/gal for avgas and 3.2 cents/gal for jet fuel), to 10 cents/gal for both fuel types. Based on projections provided by the state, this would raise about $9 million additional revenue per year. Combined with the current revenue streams, it would provide approximately $19 million of the $34 million needed to operate the rural airports.

A significant motivation for this recommendation is that a change in motor fuel tax doesn’t create any additional cost to state government to collect. Both landing fees and airport user fees require additional administrative efforts to collect, as well as burden the user with tracking and payment. It was also felt that the motor fuel tax was more equitable because cost is proportional to use. Adam White, Government Affairs Manager for the Alaska Airmen’s Association, provided the following information to show the impact to some typical GA users:

Adam White fuel tax table

At a recent meeting in Fairbanks, Governor Walker acknowledged the AAB recommendation. It will take legislative action, however, to make a change to the motor fuel tax. While no one wants to see an increase in operating cost, the motor fuel tax increase option appears to be the best choice to address this issue. We will certainly be discussing it more in the months ahead, and we are interested in hearing your thoughts on funding to keep our airports open, maintained and safe for all aviation operations.

 

This article is reprinted from the January-March, 2016 issue of the Alaska Airmen’s Association Transponder.

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