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I was working on a couple of a stories related to the Malaysian Airlines tragedy over the weekend when an idea popped into my head. The Nall Report AOPA publishes each year tells us the GA accident rate isn’t improving much these days, but thankfully is not getting any worse either.
I wondered if there were other parts of the industry we GA folk might be able to model to create a system that might actually reduce the number of GA accidents. The airlines and their FOQA program came to mind. That stands for Flight Operational Quality Assurance.
FOQA is all about capturing operation data and digging deeply to understand the stories that information tells us.
Before you go data privacy on me though, give this episode of The Aviation Minute a listen and tell me what you think.
The trouble with an aircraft accident that happens on the other side of the world for we Americans, especially one that occurs in a battle zone, is understanding which source speaks the truth about what’s happening on the ground.
Right now the MH17 crash is one of those kind of accidents. The Ukrainians say the Russians and the separatists were behind shooting down the Boeing 777 while the Russians either point the finger at the Ukraine government or simply refuse to answer at all.
For us over here, reports vary from “people are wandering all over the MH17 accident site and have already given the black boxes to the Russians,” to the alternative I heard this morning, “the site is completely intact and nothing valuable has been removed.” So who do we believe? Our only official source in the U.S. is the White House press secretary of the State Department and they say the site’s been compromised.
While I do agree that the first 24-48 hours worth of accident information almost always seems to be tainted with rumor more than anything else, it does make it pretty tough to relate the story without a journalist or government source we can trust to tell us what they see on the ground.
That said, I thought you might find this Saturday evening interview from Fox News about the potential implications of the data recorders and evidence being removed from the MH17 site of interest. It runs about 5 minutes.
Rob Mark Speaks with Fox News about the Data recorders on MH17Play Now | Download
Rob Mark, Publisher
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On a two-wheeled vagabondage adventure, I reunited with my riding buddy in Seattle, and he’s leading us east toward Oshkosh. For those unfamiliar, vagabondage has a direction of travel, like east, but no route or itinerary. Except for one must-see stop: the concrete arrow that pointed air mail pilots toward Boise. Yes, we’re aviation geeks.
Almost a century ago, these arrows, situated with a lighted beacon, guided pilots along the nation’s network of airmail routes. Then radio navigation made them obsolete, and they started to disappear. There’s no small measure of irony involved here that we found our way to this surviving arrow with GPS. Heading to Boise, Idaho, in I-84, it’s off the Simco exit, which leads to the apex of Desert Wind and Regina roads.
As most of us already inside already know, aviation’s present has a problem with fences. Signs warning of federal penalties and security requirements, not to mention locked gates that require secret pass codes, exist to keep people out. They typically overwhelm the signs that attempt to lead aviation wannabes, newcomers, and the aerially curious through the security maze to the knowledge and answers they seek. I didn’t, however, expect aviation’s past to present similar circumstances.
I had an opportunity to visit the normally closed-to-the-public NTSB Training Center near Leesburg Virginia a few weeks ago as a guest of director Paul Schuda assisted by Senior Air Safety Investigator Bill English.
To say my visit was eye opening would be quite an understatement. Schuda’s briefing detailed the thought processes behind the NTSB’s recent decision not to reopen the TWA 800 investigation. There was much more too, including a look see at the TWA 800 fuselage reconstruction.
The entire Friday afternoon event gave me pause to think about how I write about an aircraft accident, with the insight that perhaps too many of us our jumping to indict the pilots when there may be more to the probable cause to consider.
I hope you’ll give this episode a listen.
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Fresh evidence has been uncovered in the disappearance of Malaysian flight 370 (MH370) according to The Telegraph of London. To date, there hasn’t been one single shred of physical evidence that proves any of the dozen or so theories about what happened aboard that airplane less than an hour after it departed Kuala Lampur in March. The mystery was never solved, just put on hold.
Then last Friday, a media note surfaced in Australia that said MH370 searchers were again altering the search area for the airplane to another part of the South Indian Ocean based on some undefined new analysis. Yesterday’s Telegraph story again pointed the possible finger of responsibility at the captain of the 777, Zaharie Shah and his flight simulator.
Listen to the latest Aviation Minute to learn more about new evidence in the MH 370 mystery.
The Aviation Minute: Is Fresh Evidence About MH370 Another Wild Goose Chase?Play Now | Download
Rob Mark, Publisher
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At American airports these days is hard to find a good word from pilots about their aviation future. After covering the 57th Sonex Aircraft Builder’s Workshop at the company’s Oshkosh, Wisconsin, hangars it seems clear I’ve been looking in all the wrong places and talking to the wrong people.
From as far away at Guam, the Netherlands, and the four compass quadrants of America, 21 people attended the workshop, and 14 of them brought guests—wives, sons, brothers, and building buddies—who attend the workshop free of charge and learn metal working by building an abbreviated metal wing section.
Most were first-time builders. Some already had Sonex kits at home, awaiting the courage the new workshop skills would give them to open the boxes. Others were still deciding on the model that best met their needs, and their future flights guided their decision making.
Most remarkable is that not once did I hear a work-shopper complain about anything aviation related. And all of them, except for one who was a student in training, were pilots. The closest one of them came was criticism of his own work; “I can do better,’’ he said.
First let’s talk a little reality … Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or drones as most of us refer to them are coming … and they’re coming soon. That’s not necessarily all bad though. Drones can operate in places that are not safe to send a manned aircraft, as well as on missions where the duration would surely exhaust a human. They also come in a range of sizes from just a few pounds to the mammoth Global Hawk weighing in at about 32,000 lbs. or slightly larger than the Hawker 800 biz jet I used to fly.
The FAA’s come under fire from drone manufacturers and potential users for not acting quickly enough to draft regulations allowing these pilot-less aircraft to blend into civilian airspace with the rest of the civilian aircraft. But there’s a safety problem with moving too fast that no one seems to have addressed.
Give this show a listen though and tell us what you think. BTW, for the most up-to-date coverage on drones here in the U.S., give a listen to the UAV Digest produced by my Airplane Geeks comrades Max Flight and David Vanderhoof.
Recovered from his landing mishap in the Pacific Northwest, Richard Bach has resumed his online conversation, and he is as thought provoking as ever. In “Change of an Era” he reflects on the change progress has always brought to aviation, and the choices pilots must make in adapting to it.
Aviation’s first new era occurred during the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Bach wrote, when pilots who wanted to fly every day advanced from “looking at the world outside of their open cockpits” to “flying blind” with the aid of “needle-ball and alcohol.”
This instrument era of aviation lasted for 50 or 60 years, he continues, and then progressed to the digital era. With “flat plate moving maps,” he describes it as “all pretty colors to show one’s position, altitude, restricted areas, terrain, weather, other airplanes in the sky.”
In closing, Bach writes that, “uninterested in modern aircraft, modern moving maps, electric motors to turn propellers,” he realized that “aviation has passed me and my time.” But that is, it seems to me, a personal perspective.
Memorial Day here in the United States is one of the days we remember all the men and women who served and perished in armed conflicts around the world since our own Civil War in the mid-1800s.
The stories emerging about how poorly we treat these men and women once we’re through with them though is not pretty. There are some parallels between VA care for vets and our aviation industry. Tell us what you think.
A recent New York Times story, “Air Travel Economics Make Midsize Hubs Unprofitable”, explained why airline travel today often demands long drives to the nearest major airline hub. This withdrawal of service from outlying communities and hubs makes perfect profit-and-loss sense for the airlines, and it poses an antipodal crisis for the companies whose employees must travel on business, who used to be, it seems, a highly desirable airline customer.
This situation should be fertile ground for the creation of a company flight department, a step many companies of a certain size took long ago. But I wonder if now might be the time for a different kind of flight department, where the employees needing transportation fly themselves in a Cirrus or Cessna. If the employee had the desire, why shouldn’t the company provide his or her training? Wouldn’t this be a win-win for both parties?
Safety would and should be the primary concern and it could be easily managed, I think. Instead of chauffeuring employees, the fly-yourself flight department pilots would provide the initial and recurrent training to the employees who fly themselves. (Naturally, companies that fly jets and other complex airplanes would employ pilot whose job is to fly them.)
I like hanging around with other flight instructors. Not only do they understand how an airplane flies, but they also know the intricacies of those dark corners of a flight envelope … things that can lead a new pilot down a rabbit hole of trouble if they’re not careful.
Good flight instructors also understand that while a syllabus is a valuable tool to keep both student and teacher focused on the goal … the checkride … instructors must understand the need for flexibility in the process because everyone doesn’t learn exactly the same way.
Dave Pavoni’s a new CFI at Morristown’s American Flyers. We spoke a few weeks ago about why he took the time to earn the rating, as well as what he’s learned about teaching people how to fly and how to keep them flying safely all their lives.
When my wife and I were married a long time ago, we promised ourselves that if we ever had kids and wanted to travel on an airplane, we’d just fork over the extra money for a ticket. To us, the risk of injury should they fly out of our hands during an accident or in turbulence simply wasn’t worth the few hundred dollars we’d save.
Years later when we decided to take our then infant daughter on an American Airlines flight to LAX, we learned most of the flight attendants didn’t know much about car seats on airplanes.
Today, there is still nothing that requires a parent to put any kind of restraint on a child under two years of age. They’re still permitted to ride on their parent’s lap even though there’s no way a parent could hold them down in a crash. The 1989 crash of United 232 proved that.
So why do we permit kids to ride around in an airplane without a seatbelt when we’ve had laws for decades that prevent the same thing in a car? Here’s what I learned.
More than it has in the previous two years I’ve judged an airport writing contest, fear was a central theme in the nearly three dozen essays submitted by students in elementary, middle, and high school. Most of them addressed airline flights and began with the TSA and continued until they reached the desired destination, often in Florida.
The handful that wrote about their general aviation flights also focused on their fear, but unlike all of their airline flying peers, two of them actually looked out the window and marveled at the different perspective flight gives of the world they live in on the the ground. Dismissing the easy explanation that kids today are different, looking at the world in which they are maturing, being afraid is what our culture has taught them to be.
And as their parents and grandparents, it’s our fault.
A common Facebook theme lists all the things we did as kids that kids today don’t do, from riding a bike without a helmet and walking to and from school without a guard or guide to playing outside unsupervised and without organized activities. Keeping kids safe is every parent’s responsibility, but using fear of the consequences to achieve it has the unintended consequence of suppressing rational risk assessment.
When the FAA tells you they’re changing the way they conduct business because they want to be more fair to someone, or that they want to save money, it’s probably time to duck. You can pretty much be sure that whatever they have in mind isn’t going to be as effective as they think.
Late last year the FAA completely revamped the way it hires air traffic controllers. The reasons seemed clear to the agency folks I think … recruit a better caliber of controller, save money by reducing training time and … if you read between the lines, to increase diversity in the controller ranks.
Are you really going to be surprised when I tell you that they seem to have failed at all of these goals? AND, they created a problem at all 36 CTI schools - their regular supply line for new controllers – where one didn’t exist before.
Rob Mark, Publisher
The Aviation Minute: Episode 9 - The FAA Shoots Itself in the FootPlay Now | Download
I can’t believe I’m going to say something nice about the TSA again. That’s twice in a couple of months.
I do think it’s worth mentioning that the TSA has actually created a product with value in their new TSA PreCheck card, part of the DHS’s Global Entry system. Of course there is just one tweak I think it needs desperately. Give a listen and tell me if you agree.
Since I learned to fly in 1976, the vicissitudes of life have removed me from the cockpit and later returned me to the left seat. As a rusty pilot, I am again at a point where my return to the sky is possible, but deciding whether to take advantage of the opportunity isn’t as simple as it was 20 years ago.
At 40 I was halfway to my expected expiration date. When it came to planning for retirement and related concerns we’ll all face in the final chapter of life, it was easy to procrastinate. At 60 the proximity of what awaits me is clear enough to see without my glasses. I imagine many among the half-million rusty pilots AOPA identified in its research face a similar dilemma.
Pardon our tardiness delivering this week’s episode, but we wanted to wait for our new logo to show up. Many thanks to @runwaygirl’s sister Anne Kirby and The Sweet Core crew for launching us into the 21st Century.
On to the content. This week I’m focused on innovation and the people who create it, like my friend Dr. Dave Byers. A few years back, he figured out how an off-the-shelf radar system might just prevent midair collisions and runway incursions at non-towered airports. He called it the Synthetic Air Traffic Advisory System, or SATAS.
While it may seem to many of you as if the Malaysian Airlines 370 story has been going on forever, we’re really only into the opening scenes of this investigation. Remember it took two years to recover the data recorders from Air France 447.
Lessons we’ve already learned from MH370
Even though everyone seems to believe we’re close to the area where MH370 hit the water, there still hasn’t been a single ounce of evidence recovered from the ocean’s surface in that area. I would have thought something would still be floating … suitcases, seat cushions, clothing … something.
Be that as it may, even if the boxes are found, they’re sitting on the ocean floor three miles beneath the surface which means the recovery effort is no small task.
The Chicago Tribune last week asked me to write an editorial putting what we know into context. It ran Friday and I focused on the fact that there are already plenty of good people leading the search efforts and the why behind most of this accident will come later. But I do think we have already learned quite a bit about where the airline industry needs to head in the next few years … if we can just convince the airlines of course.
During a radio interview on Friday, the host asked me about Plan B if these signals turn out not to be from MH370. Honestly, there is no plan B …
Because the Chicago Tribune website made it a bit difficult for many of you to read the story, I’ve pasted the text in here, as well as the direct link if you’d like to sign in there to read more. Do tell me what you think.
From the first time we looked up, what has attracted humans to flight is seeing the world from the perspective of a bird. That attraction still drives many of us, but how we achieve this first-person view (FPV) has changed with technology. If you doubt this, think about all the cool video on the Internet that has been captured from drones.
From a mass-market mindset, which would you rather do to satisfy your desire to see the earth from above: Spend $10,000 and a year of your life to become a pilot and then pay upwards of $100 or more for an hour’s flight; or invest $1,200 or so for a ready-to-fly small drone like this DJI Phantom 2 Vision, spend several hours mastering its GPS-stabilized flight control system, and recording that aerial first-person view on your smart phone?
Given the number of drone videos posted on YouTube, I’m guessing that these flights, which usually last less time than it takes to thoroughly preflight a Cessna 172, will totally satisfy the aerial FPV cravings of most people born during and after the 1980s. Let’s face it, if a smart phone is involved, it’s a winner among people who text rather than talk, even when they are sitting at the same table.
For those of us born before the 1980s, this evolution of recreational aviation doesn’t bode well for fun flying as we remember it. But such is the nature of progress. Yes, for a few who look skyward, drones will not be enough. They will be the generational outliers who invest the time and money necessary to collocate their body with their view. And they will be the ones who get hands-on to build and restore the flying machines that stirred their dreams.
But their numbers will never replace the pilots who’ve since retired from the cockpit. And I’ve talked to a number of them who’ve traded their airplanes for a FPV drone. With the advent of FAA small drone regulations, today may well be their “good old days,” which should not be missed. – Scott Spangler, Editor
The past month has been one of amazement for most of us in the aviation industry as millions of people around the world try and figure out what happened to Malaysian Airlines flight 370.
CNN decided to go 24/7 with MH370 coverage, while I was happy to help the Fox News people with their own news analysis on the disappearance.
But here we are nearly a month after the Boeing disappeared and we’re only slightly closer to finding the airplane than we were in March. One of the biggest stumbling blocks of course has been the Malaysian government itself, that was woefully unprepared for such a calamity. Answering questions and researching news for Fox and for an upcoming book really got me thinking that it’s time to talk about the future of this industry. I’m not giving up on the people aboard MH370 of course, but we need to decide what lessons the next generation of aircraft designers, pilots and passengers must take from MH370 as it stands today.
BTW, I owe those of you who receive The Aviation Minute on e-mail a huge apology. I had no idea you’d be unable to access the podcast player directly. While I work on a more permanent solution, I’ll continue adding a hyperlink to the episode as I did above which will allow you to listen to the episode.