New Rule ‘Advances’ Pilot Training Back to the Fundamentals of Flight

By Scott Spangler on November 11th, 2013 | 14 Comments »

Responding to the tragedy of Colgan Flight 3407, the FAA has issued a final rule that “is a significant advancement for aviation safety and U.S. pilot training,” says Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in the FAA news release.

Really?

To quote the FAA release, the new rules requires these stick-and-rudder skills:  “ground and flight training that enables pilots to prevent and recover from aircraft stalls and upsets” and “expanded crosswind training, including training for wind gusts.”

The other requirements all have to do with paperwork, such as “tracking remedial training”  and “more effective pilot monitoring,” which is important in assessing blame after unfortunate pilots have a problem related to their lack of current stick-and-rudder skills.

Can I really be so old that the skills my instructor reinforced with practice on almost every lesson—recovering from stalls and unusual attitudes—are now considered advanced training? And landing in a crosswind, at least at most of the airports I called home, was not a special skill. When I was flying in the Kansas City area, landing without a crosswind was the challenge.

Perhaps I am. I learned to fly in the last decade of aviation’s analog era. Back in the 1970s, headsets were the big thing. That was also when the pilot population started its decline, so industry started easing the requirements to make private pilot training less intimidating. Who remembers the heated debates on the need for spin training?

Read the rest of this entry »

LAX Shooting is a Wakeup Call

By Robert Mark on November 6th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

policeGuns and airports don’t mix well … unless those weapons are being carried by law enforcement officers.

Period.

As the aviation industry evolves from an era of proactive problem solving to a search for more predictive solutions based on the tons of data we’re gathering about the industry, we should have seen something like last week’s shooting at Los Angeles International Airport coming.

The data was there. It’s just that no one analyzed it for what it really was … a warning.

Each week the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) publishes lists and photos of the weapons their agents confiscate at airport security checkpoints. For all their customer-service foibles, the TSA is at it’s most admirable at these efforts.

In the week ending October 25 — just days before the shooting — the TSA confiscated 39 handguns at major airports like Houston, Jacksonville and Charlotte. Most of them had a round in the chamber too. Look back over the past year alone and you’ll see the weekly numbers were pretty consistent. Hundreds of weapons then have been brought to airports each year. Why?

The reasons the TSA receives for why these gun-toting folks bring their weapons are often simply bizarre. Responses ideas like, “I forgot I had that gun in my computer bag/purse,” or “Of course it’s loaded. What good is it if it’s not loaded.”

Twelve years after 9/11 people trying to jump on an airliner remember to remove their toothpaste and water bottles from their carry ons, but not their loaded 38s. Read the rest of this entry »

Einar Enevoldson Likes to Fly Gliders High

By Scott Spangler on October 29th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

High as in altitude. Wandering through the science section of the New York Times in the dying days of October, “A Quiet Trip to the Ozone Hole” caught my attention. It’s about the Perlan Project, which is building a pressurized glider that will ride the standing wave created by the Andes Mountains to 60,000 feet.

Riding the top of the altitude-sapped wave, the plan is to catch the polar vortex, “circulating winds that act like a giant cyclone during the austral winter, delivering a strong uplift.” That should carry the glider, whose wings span 84 feet, to 90,000 feet, where it can study the ozone hole, and set a new altitude record while doing it.

Learning about this private project and existence of the “polar vortex” drove my airplane geek meter into the red. But it didn’t come close to meeting (in print and through the accompanying videos) the project’s chairman, Einar Enevoldson. He started his aviation career by learning to fly gliders in 1947, the year Chuck Yeager, broke the sound barrier.

An Air Force pilot doing an exchange tour with the Royal Air Force, he attended the Empire Test Pilot’s School in Farnborough, England. He went on to fly some truly remarkable aircraft between 1968 and 1986 as a NASA research pilot at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. Among them were the YF-12 (predecessor of the SR-71), the X-24 lifting body, and the funky scissor-wing AD-1 that made its last eight flights in 1982 at EAA Oshkosh.

As I read, my right brain screamed, Why have you never before heard about Einar Enevoldson? My logical left brain replied with another question: Other than the few who are face-to-face friends, how many mass-market test pilots can you name, and how many of them are the World War II-era peers of Yeager?

Read the rest of this entry »

Are US Investors Trying to Tell GA Something?

By Scott Spangler on October 14th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

Time will ultimately confirm or deny the recent rumors that the Chinese will become the controlling investor in another venerable American manufacturer of general aviation aircraft. Looking at this possibility from another vantage point … is the US business community trying to tell the general aviation industry something by their lack of interest and financial participation?

Their action, or lack of it, speaks volumes. Given the pragmatic bottom-line focus of business and those who invest in them, clearly American investors see little or no return in GA. Ruminating on why this may be offers several possibilities that pose questions about the industry itself, and about the changing focus of American business.

On the industry side there is supply and demand: Interest in flying and aircraft ownership has been in decline for some time. Part of this is surely the result of social change and the willingness of each succeeding generation of Americans to invest the time and money to participate in what captures their attention and interest. An iPhone is easier to master—and is more useful—than learning to fly. GA is not the only one suffering here: today fewer American teenagers get a driver’s license.

Read the rest of this entry »

Asiana 214 Pilots’ Statement Ignore the Obvious

By Robert Mark on October 9th, 2013 | 11 Comments »

AsianaThe pilots of Asiana Airlines 214, a Boeing 777 that crashed at San Francisco International Airport in July, told investigators the auto-throttle system on their aircraft malfunctioned. They swear it was properly set prior to beginning their approach too, assuming of course that the system would adjust the engine’s power as necessary to maintain safe flight.

The problem is the auto-throttles didn’t work as expected, the airplane got too low and too slow and the pilots never noticed until it was too late.

The Boeing stalled on short final to SFO’s runway 28 Left and struck a dike near the approach end. The impact tore the aircraft into a number of pieces also killing three and injuring dozens of other passengers. The aircraft was a total write-off.

Asiana pilots on earlier flights had reported a few maintenance write-ups for the same problem — a series of “uncommanded auto-throttle disconnects” — as a potential culprit in the accident.

My question … so what? Read the rest of this entry »

Suction Engineers Relieve Shutdown Despair

By Scott Spangler on September 30th, 2013 | Comments Off

Drowning in the destructive rhetoric spewing unabated from self-important politicians, I turned to the sky to relieve the oppressive shroud of despair their words have woven around me. A beautiful autumn day here in Wisconsin, the Sunday afternoon sky is devoid of clouds and airplanes. The only thing that seems to be flying are the Canada geese gathering on the Fox River as they prepare for their escape to the south. Thank goodness for You Tube. This diverse archive of human endeavor, which includes the Dyson airborne challenge, is a distraction and a refuge from the zero-sum games of everyday life.

Dyson Challenge 2013: Airborne

I don’t have any experience with the vacuuming designs, but I really appreciate their efforts their engineers put into the Dyson Challenge for 2013: Airborne. They had to create a remotely piloted aircraft that would successfully fly an obstacle course. As you can see in the video, it included slalom gates, flying over, under, and between posts, bars, and balloons, and, from the looks of it, through one of Dyson’s bladeless fans.

The unsuccessful attempts at the course entertained, and the diversity of the flying machines the engineers cobbled together proved that our innovative spirit is not moribund. But the video’s most heartening feature was the supportive and good humored camaraderie of the participants. If only we could, as a society, follow their example. Despite their solutions to the challenge, which ranged from an ornithopter and flying wing to multi-copters, a blimp, and a tradition airplane designs, they were all working toward the common goal of successfully navigating the challenge ahead of them. –Scott Spangler, Editor.

Happy Birthday Jetwhine

By Robert Mark on September 26th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

7th birthdayGetting old isn’t really so bad, is it?

Sure a few more lines and sags stare back at you every morning in the mirror, but the upside to aging is wisdom.

Jetwhine’s 7th birthday is just around the corner and I like to think Scott Spangler and I are a lot wiser than in 2006 when Jetwhine’s first story ran. Heck, in dog years we’re almost 50.

I figure we must be smarter to have survived an onslaught of social media competitors that surfaced and also died over the past seven years. Of course a few of those forums really are, in Bill and Ted’s own words, “Most excellent,” and opened our eyes to viewpoints we’ve come to respect.

We bloggers till around can’t help but notice that time marching on can sometimes make us a bit too cozy with the way we’ve always conducted business, perhaps no longer stretching that envelope like in 2006 when we published a piece about the value of a blog for the aviation industry, or the piece on the value of a union for air traffic controllers. Of course there was that fun piece on the Top 10 reasons the Northwest Airlines pilots flew past MSP on arrival. Bet they never lived that one down. How could I forget Scott’s story about our industry getting the flight instructors it deserves. That one grabbed over a hundred comments. Read the rest of this entry »

Midair Refueling is Drone’s Next Challenge

By Scott Spangler on September 16th, 2013 | Comments Off

The refueling probe on this Learjet isn’t the latest option available from the venerable business jet manufacturer. It’s not connected to the airframe’s plumbing, but it is an integral part of a flight test program at Navy Pax River. What you cannot see is that this Lear is also equipped with the navigation, command & control, and vision systems used in the Navy’s X-47B.

As a surrogate for the carrier-based drone, the Lear is assessing the its autonomous refueling capabilities and performance for both Navy and Air Force aerial refueling techniques. There were two pilots aboard the Lear, but they were passengers during the Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR) tests. This was just the first step in demonstrating the technology “that will enable unmanned systems to to safely approach and maneuver around tanker aircraft,” said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, manager of the Navy’s unmanned combat air system program.

AAR relies on the same datalink and precision relative GPS algorithms employed in autonomous systems that make it possible for the X-47 to land on a carrier. The next test will happen this fall, when the surrogate Lear, using X-47 software and hardware, will fly a completely autonomous refueling procedure, from rendezvous and plug to safe separation.  One wonders what this technology holds for the future of civil aviation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Airlines, Lost Bags and Customer Service … Oh My!

By Robert Mark on September 10th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

southwest2“Airlines lose bags sometimes. Get over it, ” a guy told me.

Yeah … right.

That nice warm fuzzy reality check didn’t work for me a few months ago when Southwest Airlines lost my daughter’s bag between MDW & LAX.

I’m pretty loyal to Southwest Airlines’ simply because they’ve always handled my travel pretty nicely even if they really did drop the ball this time around. But in the real world of airline flying, where passengers are often looked upon just a few steps above ground sirloin, I’ve come to realize our family experience could have been much, much worse. That said, how Southwest handled me was interesting … to say the least.

The Good and the Bad

Last April we headed to LAX for my daughter’s college orientation, a trip she’d planned and packed precisely “the right outfits” for in her checked bag. Unfortunately, when she and my wife arrived ahead of me at LAX, my daughter’s bag didn’t. Because I followed a day later, I stopped in at the Southwest bag office at MDW before I headed west.

“It’s not here,” a lady in the baggage office told me after looking up my claim number. “Isn’t there a lost bag room or someplace I can look in since I’m right here and I know what the bag looks like?” I asked. “Nope,” she said, abruptly so I left. Nice lady I thought.

During the flight, I Tweeted about the lost bag a few times, enough to catch the eye of the Southwest Twitter people, but that effort didn’t amount to anything either because the baggage folks at LAX had no info when I arrived. Read the rest of this entry »

Friends, Forecasts & the Future of Aviation

By Scott Spangler on September 3rd, 2013 | 7 Comments »

Most of my friends and acquaintances are, in some way or another, involved with aviation. Talking with them over the past months, the future of aviation seems to be the discourse destination of choice. On the whole, their outlook on aviation’s future isn’t good.

As might be expected, this consensus can lead to a semi-permanent state of depression. The best antidote I’ve so far found is Nate Silver’s excellent book, The Signal and The Noise: Why so many predictions fail—but some don’t. An infinitely complex subject, accuracy begins with the forecaster’s predictive personality, either a hedgehog or a fox.

These classifications were described by Philip Tetlock, a professor of psychology and political science at UC-Berkeley who named them after the main characters in a story by Leo Tolstoy. To summarize their differences, the fox knows many little things from different sources, the hedgehog knows “one big thing.”

Most of my friends and acquaintances are, it seems, hedgehogs, that Silver accurately described as “Type A personalities who believe in Big Ideas.” A few, and I include myself in this category, are foxes, those who “believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches toward a problem.”

All-in individuals, aviation’s hedgehogs predict doom for aviation’s future, especially GA, citing everything from the decades-long decline in the pilot population, the price of airplanes and fuel, and the time and effort it takes to become a pilot whether it is for pleasure or a profession. On these metrics, I agree that aviation will never return to its former glory of the 20th century, but the probability that it will cease to exist is unlikely.

Read the rest of this entry »

Today is Labor Day

By Robert Mark on September 2nd, 2013 | Comments Off

Labor Day

Having been deeply involved with two major unions in my life … the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association (PATCO) and finally for a short while, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), my father and grandfather both would surely turn over in their graves if I let Labor Day pass without sharing my two cents about what it means to me.

Of course I do realize that support for labor these days means I’ve indeed become a dinosaur. I’m thinking I kind of like that T-Rex guy though …

For those of you with an interest in the old days and a look at how we arrived where we are today, especially in the airline industry, allow me to point you to the radio segment I produced last year for the Geeks. It’s as relevant today as a year ago. Airplane Geeks Episode 212.5 – Labor Day.

Or if you prefer to read, here’s a link to a quick to some thoughts about why Labor Day should still be important to us here in the states.

Rob Mark

Two Professional Pilots … Missing

By Robert Mark on August 27th, 2013 | Comments Off

Two Turkish airline pilots have gone missing. The aircraft they flew to Beirut on August 9 is just fine, as is their cabin crew, but these two men simply vanished into thin air … and almost no one is talking about them.

MuratCaptain Murat Akpınar (L) and his first officer, Murat Ağca (Lower Right), were kidnapped August 9 from a crew bus as they left Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport (OLBA), headed for their hotel. Syrian rebels claim to be holding them hostage for leverage in gaining the release of a number of Lebanese Shiites who were themselves kidnapped in Syria last year. The rebels believe the Turkish government can and should do more to pressure the Assad regime to release the Lebanese prisoners. Acga

No small surprise that Twitter and Facebook posts don’t carry the weight in Lebanon that they do elsewhere in the world, but if these had been two British Airways, or KLM or Air France pilots grabbed in Beirut, people would be hovering outside the embassies demanding answers We’d be tweeting and Facebooking all over the place. Not in Lebanon apparently and not for a couple of Turkish pilots.

When I queried the Turkish Air Line Pilots Association for an AIN story, they told me, “The Lebanese and the Turkish ministers of foreign affairs are handling this issue. We are also closely monitoring developments on this subject with the Turkish press spokesman of foreign affairs. This is a delicate situation; therefore, for the safety of our colleagues we cannot provide any further information. We have been working with great precision and are making every effort to ensure our colleagues return to their homes in good health and rejoin their families and us.” A Lebanese court did issue an arrest warrant last week for 10 individuals suspected of involvement with the abduction, but no one has been caught to date.

Turkish AirbusYesterday I asked the Turkish Airlines media people about the disappearance two and a half weeks ago. In a prepared statement, the airline’s Senior VP for media relations, Dr. Ali Genc would only say, “Please kindly be informed that this issue is followed up with the coordination of our relevant public authorities. We hope it will be resolved soon with good news. We are not able to make any further comments on that issue at this point.” In a couple of queries to the International Federation of Air Line Pilots (IFALPA) in Montreal, they too said they’d heard nothing.

Certainly no one wants to make a fragile situation worse for these two aviators, but at least when the Brazilians grabbed the two Legacy pilots in 2007, we knew they were alive. Not here though, except for a comment attributed to Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel that the pilots are in good health.

I’m left wondering … where’s the industry outrage and demand for information on these two … a photo, a recording, something? Perhaps readers elsewhere in the world can fill the rest of us in because no one seems to be talking.

What actions have the business aviation or airline community in the west taken to ensure the safety of other pilots headed to the region? I doubt carrying a weapon will sit very well with anyone. Security escorts perhaps? I realize the West is busy beating the tom-toms to take a whack at Mr. al-Assad, but is this kidnapping just the leading edge of a new wave of hostage taking with flight crews as bait? We can only hope not.

So stand by … and hope we see these two men soon … because right now, standing by seems to be all anyone is doing.

Rob Mark, publisher

Lindbergh’s Boyhood Adventures Led to Paris

By Scott Spangler on August 19th, 2013 | Comments Off

Bike-509A solo trans-Atlantic flight to Paris is the signature event in the iconic life of Charles Lindbergh, but it was, perhaps, not the most challenging or arduous. A visit to his boyhood home on the bank of the Mississippi River in Little Falls, Minnesota, revealed that in 1916, a 14-year-old Lindbergh spent 40 days on the “road” from Minnesota to California in a Saxon Light Six with his mother, his uncle, and Wahgoosh, his fox terrier. The car, now restored, still resides in its garage at the Minnesota Historical Society site.

My visit came on the last leg of a 16-day, 5,400-mile motorcycle trip to Seattle and back, mostly on the US highway system, which was created in 1926, a year before Lindbergh’s flight to Paris. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the National System of Interstate and Defense Highway System into being in 1956, in part because he was one of 37 officers and 285 enlisted men who manned 81 Army vehicles in the First Transcontinental Motor Train that took three months to cover the distance between Washington, DC, and San Francisco in 1919.

In his Autobiography of Values, Lindbergh says little about the adventure. “There were rainy days in Missouri when mud collected on the Saxon’s wheels until we could not move. Frozen ruts in New Mexico slowed us down to a speed of less than ten miles an hour, as did Arizona sand.”

This was the era when paths that connected towns were marked with different color blazes painted on telegraph poles and fence posts. The prime transcontinental route was the Lincoln Highway, which stretched from New York City to San Francisco and was dedicated in 1913. I wonder, would parents today allow their 14-year-old to make Lindbergh’s trip?

Read the rest of this entry »

AirVenture: Airplane Geeks Invade Oshkosh

By Robert Mark on August 5th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

When people call me a “Geek” these days, I accept it as a term of endearment, especially with the advent of social media. In fact, that’s why our radio show’s called The Airplane Geeks. It’s actually pretty cool to be a geek.

airventureBut it’s time to come clean and admit that there’s actually a storm brewing — a nice storm if you will — of buzz about aviation as an industry and the companies and airports that help keep it aloft sorely need.

Geekdom is about the kind of buzz that traditional media just can’t top either.  That’s because we social media types look into corners of our industry often missed … for the people behind the stories of the stuff that makes the industry tick. Hook up a bunch of aviation geeks with an event like AirVenture in Oshkosh – the largest airshow in North America BTW – and the result is the purest nirvana. Luckily, we aviation social media geeks were blessed early on by EAA folks like Dick Knapinski (@eaaupdate) who took us new media types seriously before anyone else, not to mention Scott Spangler who again made Jetwhine a popular stopping point all week. And we can’t forget the folks at Wittman Regional Airport who each year lend EAA their concrete for a few weeks.

In case you’re not yet an airplane geek, here are a few things you might have missed during last week’s mashup of aviation and social media.

Dan 1

Wednesday of last week Dan Pimental from the Airplanista blog pulled out all the stops with the first ever Airplanista awards for the social-media savvy people who had a role the past year in making aviation more … well, social.

Dan runs Celeste Daniels Advertising and Design by day. But in his off hours, his alter-ego is all airplanes and hence his idea for the first (annual?) #OSHbash to recognize the people who, in their own unique ways, were using social media to make aviation popular again. And the winners were, along with their Twitter handles …

Airplanista of the Year: @OpenAirplane (Rod Rakic @rodrakic/Adam Fast @adamcanfly)

Podcaster of the Year @JackHodgson (Jack Hodgson)

Most Innovative Use of Twitter @EAAupdate (Dick Knapinski)

Aviation Entrepreneur of the Year @PilotsFlightBag (Paul Lemley)

Mover/Shaker Award @Captain_Ron (Ron Klutts)

Volunteer of the Year @MartinSantic (Martin Santic)

Spirit of Airplanista Award @Wiredforflight (Sam Wiltzuis)

Future of Aviation Award @THM_18 (Thomson Meeks

Master of Snark Award @Airplanology (Ben Davison)

Congeniality Award @LarryOverstreet (Larry Overstreet) Read the rest of this entry »

Patience Earns LSA Weight Exemption for Spin Resistant Icon A5

By Scott Spangler on July 29th, 2013 | Comments Off

634A3383More than a year ago Icon Aircraft petitioned the FAA for an exemption from the LSA max weight limit so it would incorporate the structure that made the A5 fully meet the FAA Part 23 standard for spin resistance. Announcement that the FAA granted that exemption, allowing the amphibious LSA to fly at a max gross weight of 1,680 pounds, started EAA AirVenture Oshkosh on a positive note on July 29.

Some have criticized the FAA for taking 14 months to respond to Icon’s request, but after reading the 17-page exemption document, given the process, the FAA moved with alacrity. Formal petitions for exemptions are like notices of proposed rule making. They must be published in the Federal Register, and people have time to comment on them. And then the FAA must respond to each of those comments.

After working through its process, the FAA said, “the combined design features and SRA [spin resistant airframe] concepts incorporated into the ICON A5 design…are recognized by the FAA as significant safety enhancements.”

634A3381And Icon isn’t stopping there. An angle of attack indicator has always been a member of the airplane’s instrument family, but the latest iteration of the panel puts a clearly understood indicator top dead center. And instead of spouting thousands of words about why it’s important, it makes a clear and simple point in a video that shows the AOA indication as the A5 makes a 180-degree turn in a 90 degree bank.

Icon CEO Kirk Hawkins said the first four A5s, which will be dedicated to certification, will come off the line early in 2014. And if all goes according to schedule with a successful conclusion, customers will start flying away their airplanes late in the year. And with candor all too rare when it comes to developing a new product, Hawkins said there is “no free lunch.” The A5 list price, reflecting the SRA structure, more expensive Rotax 912 iS engine, and other features, the list price has increased to $189,000. When one looks at the return of safety and outright enjoyment that this investment makes possible, it is truly one of aviation’s better deals. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Bloggers Play a Significant Role in Aviation Media

By Robert Mark on July 23rd, 2013 | 6 Comments »

Every aviation blogger I’ve ever met is certain they possess a magic grasp on their own little corner of the industry, which is of course why we all do what we do.

Some bloggers are just better writers than others, or better marketers of their magazines or are simply luckier than the rest … maybe even some combination of all three. We offer a look at some aspect of the industry the mainstream media either doesn’t see or believes no one cares much about in general aviation, the airlines, business aviation and safety. Then of course, there are the aviation stories the mainstream media simply don’t understand too.

There is a black hole in new media though since anyone can hang out an “expert” shingle. Honestly, some industry speculators are really lousy at explaining anything, not to mention just plain wrong at times. A growing number of aviation netizens have started getting cranky lately when any of us new-media types start trying to educate the media about aviation and I think that’s a mistake.

Asiana

As a kid who earned his pilot certificates in the general aviation world before moving on to bigger iron, I’m always excited when the mainstream media contacts me for an explanation or opinion because they’re already acknowledging they don’t have all the answers, but want them. Often it’s something simple like translating aviation speak into a language the other 99% of the people in America can understand. Other topics are more serious, like a few weeks ago after the Asiana 777 accident in San Francisco. Reporters and producers called in search of someone to help make sense out of an industry they understand little about, not to mention explaining the facts as they emerged that weekend. And certainly in the Asiana accident, the NTSB made my job easier by releasing facts as they appeared early in the process.

Jail the Speculators?

I see my media sessions as a chance to give something back to people who want to know more … people who often have no more connection to aviation than buying a seat on an airliner or watching the trainers fly patterns at their local airport. I certainly have no allegiance to any particular network, which is why my mug was plastered around quite a bit on Fox News, NBC and CNN after the SFO accident. On the radio, calls came in from WGN Radio in Chicago, WLW from Cincinnati and WTMJ in Milwaukee. I found all the hosts bright and cordial and all needed the same thing … to help their viewers and listeners understand aviation by adding the perspective of someone who flies, teaches and writes about the industry. Read the rest of this entry »

Fair Taxation Instead of Aviation User Fees

By Scott Spangler on July 15th, 2013 | 8 Comments »

Inadequate revenue from aviation taxes on fuel and tickets, which fund the U.S. aviation infrastructure and the agency that regulates it, is how some in the FAA justify their desire for user fees to make up the difference. Before they go there, why doesn’t government catch up with current airline business practices and include the myriad fees that are not subject to the ticket tax.

Looking at untaxed airline baggage fees.

We’re taking some serious money here, an average of $250 million a year from baggage fees alone, according to a Washington Post article, “As airlines raise fees instead of fares, taxpayers pick up the tab.”  As the article’s graphic above shows, between 2007 and 2012 the airlines collected $12.8 billion in baggage fees. At the 7.5 percent ticket tax rate, that’s $960 million in lost revenue. During the same period, the airlines charged another $11 billion to change a ticket.

Simply put, airline fees not subject to the ticket tax is one reason why aviation revenue has not kept pace with its costs. Let’s face it, we’d all like tax-free income, but it is not fair to anyone who pays the fees and uses the system. The DoT took the first step in its fiduciary responsibilities when it required airlines to include all applicable fees when passengers bought a ticket. Making the total subject to the ticket tax seem the logical next step.

Read the rest of this entry »

With Air Show ATC Fees, the FAA is Following the Airlines’ Lead

By Scott Spangler on July 1st, 2013 | 27 Comments »

Searching for a scintilla of logic behind the FAA’s ATC fees  for the air traffic control services it provides at fly-ins, I realized that the roughly $500,000 bill it sent EAA AirVenture Oshkosh was, in effect, an airline baggage fee. From either source, forget all their trumpeted rationalizations. That nonsense drowned in the fetid swamp of cynicism government and big business long ago created as they redeveloped society so that it met their needs at the expense of their customers.

In other words, they did it because they could.

Government has been trying to recreate an airline business model of charging fees for everything, and sequestration gave them the “authorization” to do it. What’s really ironic is that airline fees, which are not taxed like tickets or fuel, contribute no revenue to the aviation infrastructure, airports, capital improvements, and FAA operations including ATC. Yup, airline fees are a parasite, and to make up for the financial nutrition it sucks from the system, FAA is starting with ATC fees.

According to the Washington Post, since they started the practice, the airlines have collected $12.8 billion in fees for something that was once free. In 2012 they collected $924 million—that’s right, nearly a billion dollars—in baggage fees, a 3 percent increase over the same period in 2011. Oh, and baggage fees are not taxed like airline tickets. With the aviation fuel tax, this ticket revenue pays for the American aviation infrastructure, at least until FAA fees on all the services it provides takes over.

Read the rest of this entry »

Make & Read Pilot/IFR Training Comments

By Scott Spangler on June 17th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

With just 130 or so comments received by the May 24 deadline, I guess the FAA felt it didn’t have enough flight training comments on its Draft Airman Certification Standards that its Airman Testing Standards & Training Work Group created for the private pilot certificate and instrument rating.

If you care, you have until July 8 to review the standards and comment on them. And even if you’ve been flying for years, you should care because you’ll be sharing the sky with pilots trained to these standards. A nifty website lets you read and comment on Docket FAA-2013-0316.

An interesting aspect of this website is that you can read the 140 comments posted as of Saturday, June 15. This is more fun than Facebook! And it can be more beneficial because it seems that you can comment on the comments, which builds an argument for and against the proposals.

Ready access to the comments also enables flaming wars of words that serve no other purpose than polishing one’s favorite ax. In wandering through the comments, I was heartened to see that, so far, that aviation has not been poisoned, like our political discourse, with zero-sum attitudes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Should We Teach Pilot Judgment?

By Robert Mark on June 12th, 2013 | 22 Comments »

CirrusI was just watching the animation of an Cirrus SR-22 accident caused by poor pilot judgment near Boynton Beach, Fla. in November 2011. The crash claimed the lives of two pilots. “More money than sense,” was all I could think to say after watching, although the “blind leading the blind” might have also fit.

The NTSB report blamed the accident on, “The right seat pilot’s decision to attempt a low-altitude aerobatic maneuver in a non-aerobatic airplane.”

The more experienced right seat pilot seemed to have been showing the lesser-time left seat aviator how to roll the SR-22 over an open field at a GPS-derived altitude of 29 feet above the ground. The right-seater apparently never actually took any aerobatic training however.

The NTSB report says, “The accident airplane … began a roll to the left, and, as the airplane rolled toward an inverted attitude, the pitch quickly began decreasing below the horizon. The airplane then began a rapid descent and impacted the marsh below in a 68-degree nose-down pitch attitude. Postaccident examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airframe or engine that would preclude normal operation.”

So was it training, or a lack of it that caused the commercially-rated right seat pilot to try this stunt? Was it the fact that the adrenalin was flowing steadily in both of these guys because the two of them were on the way back from a local air show and were flying in formation with a couple of actually-certified aerobatic airplanes?

Somehow, calling the pilot stupid here seems a bit too simplistic.

To me, the real question is whether anyone ever told this guy that he could actually kill himself in an airplane by trying stupid stunts like this. But then, do we really need to say that? Considering the number of fatalities in general aviation airplanes the past years, maybe we do. But I wondered whether trying to tell this pilot anything would have avoided this accident.

In case you’re wondering, the pilot didn’t pull the Cirrus’ chute. At that low of an altitude, it wouldn’t have changed anything anyway.

Watch an animation of the flight created by Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association’s Rick Beach from the SR-22′s data stream. Note: The Cirrus incorporates a mini-black box of sorts in the MFD that records each flight’s date, time, altitude, attitude and power setting.