Biz Av Pilots Have Eaten Enough [Training] Cake

By Robert Mark on April 29th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

Publisher’s Note: Every once in awhile we receive a story that’s well enough written on a timely topic that we know we want to publish it after just the first read.

Meet Kyle and Linda Reynolds from Flight Level Group. Kyle is a business aviation pilot and his wife Linda is a teacher. Together they created a company calling for a return to learner-centered training in the business aviation world that focuses on the needs of the individual, not simply the demands of the regulator.


Biz Av Pilots Have Eaten Enough [Training] Cake: The Coming Revolution in Aviation Training

by Kyle and Linda Reynolds

flightlevelgroupThere is a growing hunger among the brethren for flight and ground training that is meaningful, applicable and enjoyable.

And yet the response from the regulatory agencies is all too familiar, “let them eat cake!” So flight departments gorge themselves on the latest and greatest delicacies of technology, products or speakers in an attempt to appease regulators, allocate their training dollars, and impress their colleagues.

Despite these costly attempts to make the skies safer, a cloud of apathy keeps dampening the safety records. Experts say it is the human factor, the people themselves, which keeps the accident rate from further decline. Despite an ever increasing amount of training, people just don’t seem to be taking very much of it to heart. For those who are tired of eating cake, a bit of a revolution is beginning in the training industry.

Cognitive Overflow

One of the reasons training today brings lackluster results is that it focuses mainly on the cognitive domain (where training becomes understandable).

A steady diet of facts, data, processes and historical accounts is offered in order to increase knowledge.  This is good to a point. However, so much emphasis has been placed on the acquisition of knowledge, that most people have experienced cognitive overflow. This is when the amount of data received is so quick and so extensive that there is not time to actually “think” about its validity and practicality. In fact, the cognitive stream often becomes so intense that people become grossly full and actually begin to have an aversion to more knowledge.

It’s easy to see why people become apathetic. If we accept the fact that an information diet is all a pilot needs, the cravings for something more will disappear. It’s more comfortable to be apathetic than hungry. If the aviation training industry is to grow stronger and increase in professionalism, training needs to address more than the cognitive domain. The affective domain (where training becomes meaningful) and the psychomotor domain (where training becomes applicable) also need to be activated each time a training event is held.

Case in Point

One corporate pilot recently commented at the conclusion of a safety seminar, “If you listen to too much of this stuff, you’d never get in the cockpit.”

This is cognitive overload. Without concrete examples of how the safety information can be used to make his department safer, this pilot decided to reject its validity. Who wouldn’t? It seems more sensible to forgo the safety seminars and keep one’s peace and confidence than to live in fear.

Aviation training must give pilots a wide variety of creative solutions to safety concerns. Pilots must be encouraged to modify these solutions and personalize them to the needs of their department. Without meaning and application, the knowledge instilled will pass through the recipient without bringing any lasting change. With meaning and application, safety reports and statistics can become a challenge to a creative means of sharpening skills, practices and procedures. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking Up at the Sounds & Sights of Spring

By Scott Spangler on April 20th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

As aviators, the sky is where we’d rather be. While many factors conspire against the fulfillment of this desire, being attuned to and looking up at the inhabitants in the ocean of air above us sustains our connection to it, which is why spring is special, especially here in Wisconsin, where winter attenuates aeronautical activity.

Muted honking positional cues from high-flying formations over Omro begin the migration of Canada geese to the surrounding bodies of water, Oshkosh’s Lake Winnebago and Lake Butte des Morts and the rivers that feed them.  They are vast armadas of aerial pathfinders easy to see. Locating the source of prehistoric clacks issued by his and her flights of returning sandhill cranes is more challenging, which makes visual contact more rewarding.

When the threat of hypothermia melts with the remaining snow, song birds serenade from naked limbed trees growing knobby with buds. Unseen mourning doves moan. Skyhawks, many of them flying classrooms for Fox Valley Tech’s aviation program pirouette in the practice area west of town. When they suddenly go silent, their flight path reveals a simulated engine failure or a stall of some variety.

Read the rest of this entry »

Air Mail Centennial is Opportunity for Grassroots Birth of National Park of the Air

By Scott Spangler on April 6th, 2015 | 9 Comments »


In less than a month in late 1911, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and the United States each made their inaugural air mail flights. All of them were short distance experiments that led to regular delivery schedules along established routes. The US Post Office began regular air mail service between New York City and Washington, DC, on May 15, 1918. The centennial of this first flight could be an opportunity for the grassroots creation of an American National Park that would connect the far reaches of the nation, just as the Air Mail network did by the late 1920s.

arrow-aerialAs the map shows, the transcontinental route, which pretty much followed Interstate 80,  connects New York City and San Francisco. The Contract Air Mail Routes that emanate from it reach into the heartland and connect cities and towns large and small. Each of them could be a part of the national park of the air. Once the original air mail airports (or those closest to them because the originals have been buried by progress), perhaps pilots could fly part or all of the Air Mail Heritage Trail in search of new places to have a hamburger. Following the routes on their GPS, perhaps they’d turn a circle or two over the surviving beacons and concrete arrows that pointed the way to the next stop.

To succeed, this long-term grassroots effort must be a collaborative effort that involves more than pilots. Members of local and county historical societies would lead the effort to research the locations and people who wrote aviation history of the century past. Students could make these people the subjects of their school work and perhaps hold candy bar fundraisers for the plaques and displays that would recognize their contributions. The chambers of commerce in each waypoint on every route could unite online for the mutual promotion of the Air Mail Heritage Trail as well as the attractions specific to their city or town. And aviation groups of all interests could build on this to connect the past with examples of how aviation today serves their community, their state, and the nation. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Why U.S. Airmen Should be Grateful for the NTSB

By Robert Mark on April 2nd, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Dear Reader / Listeners – You now have the option to listen to The Aviation Minute podcast or just read the script of the show below. If you receive Jetwhine via e-mail, you can click here to listen as well.

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Why U.S. Airmen Should be Grateful for the NTSB

Podcast Text — Last week’s crash in the French Alps raised a number of issues, like how the young pilot accused of the tragedy managed to keep his health issues hidden from his employer, how few airlines outside the US. bring another employee into the cockpit when one pilot must leave and of course how, or if, pilots can even be allowed to fly if they’re suffering from any mental health issues. There is one item that wasn’t mentioned though, at least not directly … the differences between how aircraft accidents like these are investigated here in the US versus other parts of the world.

NTSBIn the United States, our National Transportation Safety Board has spoiled us, in a good way. The NTSB is, of course, an independent federal agency established outside the Dept. of Transportation and answering only to Congress. Since the NTSB was crated back in 1926, the agency and its predecessors have investigated some 132,000 aviation accidents.

But back to the Alps. The first comments about the Germanwings crash were released by French Prosecutors. The French BEA, their equivalent of our NTSB, was sent to the accident site, but have not been heard from.

In Europe and other parts of the world, prosecutors being first to the microphone are not all that unusual because their motives are different from ours. Here, the NTSB searched for a cause, with the hopes of preventing a similar incident. Elsewhere it doesn’t work quite the same. When a business jet crashed into a snowplow on takeoff from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport last year, the Russians quickly arrested the snowplow driver as well as the tower controllers.

Outside the US, aircraft accidents are often seen as criminal events first, hence the need to find the culprit. Prosecutors are more like cops to me. They want a bad guy and within a very short period of time following the Germanwings crash, they pinned it on the co-pilot.

But let me be clear … I’m not saying the co-pilot is not responsible for the accident. What I’m saying is that there is so much work yet to be done, so many more pieces of the crash to be investigated that I’m appalled at the direction the media coverage has taken. Read the rest of this entry »

Pilot Reincarnation: What Bird Would You Be?

By Scott Spangler on March 23rd, 2015 | 8 Comments »

From time unrecorded, humans have looked up and envied the birds above them. In time we created machines to emulate their various forms of flight. But have you ever given a moments thought to pilot reincarnation and what kind of bird you would be?

I’m not sure why I awoke with this question in mind last Sunday morning, but it was good reason for not getting out of bed until I’d pondered it. Given the omphaloskepsistic (that’s Greek for contemplation of one’s navel as an aid to meditation) nature of my question, the philosophic seagull lifted off first. Following it was the peregrine falcon, the fast and agile fighter pilot of birds; the albatross, ungainly on the ground, but king of long distance soaring; and the owl, a stealthy predator known for silent flight.

Ultimately, I decided on the hummingbird. Unlike machines, it doesn’t seem to suffer the trade-off consequences necessary for flight fast and stationary. With only a muted hum of wings beating at 40 flaps a second, give or take, they magically appear at my backyard feeder. Better than any helicopter ever could, they dart left, right, forwards, backwards, up, and down with precision that any Blue Angel would die for.

And, as I’ve just learned, their precise flight is unaffected by turbulence measured with up to a 15-percent variation in wind speed. Imagine being able to adjust the angle of incidence of your wings independently with every flap, and it it at 40 flaps a second. It would be worth growing the tail that completes the physical structure that would reincarnate me as the ultimate flying creature.

So, pilots reincarnated, what bird would you be? – Scott Spangler, Editor

Another Big United Customer Service Failure

By Robert Mark on March 19th, 2015 | 10 Comments »

United LogoI’m glad I never worked in corporate communications for United Airlines, especially since the Continental merger. The calls from outraged customers and curious media types probably never end and it seems to me that United management really doesn’t care all that much what passengers have to say.

The following incident occurred aboard United flight 1061 March 16, on the way back to Chicago from Vegas. It really made me sick … not just this passenger’s story, but how the airline dealt with it. Cue the music …United Breaks Guitars.

First a bit of context, lest you think this is only some disgruntled employee’s fictional tale. I know the writer. In fact, Sean and I have know each other more than 20 years since I’m married to his wife’s sister. I’ve known Sean to be an honest guy and a hard worker, not to mention a loyal United flyer for nearly three decades. He really wants to like United.

So imagine you’re preparing to leave Las Vegas on an airplane jammed with business people and gambler party types, some probably fresh from the casinos as he was earlier this week. He was on the way back from a trade show in fact. This is where his words tell the story. Read the rest of this entry »

Cabin Fever Compiles an Aviation To-Do List

By Scott Spangler on March 9th, 2015 | Comments Off on Cabin Fever Compiles an Aviation To-Do List

The older I get the more susceptible to hypothermia I seem to be, which is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve not been out much because many of these Wisconsin winter days have begun below zero. To combat cabin fever, I’ve been cataloging—and appreciating—all that aviation has given me over the past four decades or so. This process revealed a lot that I would still like to explore and experience before I am no longer physically or financially able to undertake such adventures, so I compiled an aviation to-do list and will start enjoying it this year, if it ever warms up.

At this stage of my aeronautical life I’m focused mainly on the people and places that made aviation what it is today, so most of the items on my list are museums that I have never before visited. High on the list are most of the sites in the National Aviation Heritage Area, from the National Museum of the United States Air Force to the Wright home to Huffman Prairie. I’ve been to Dayton, Ohio, a number of times over the previous decades, but always for another reason, and I never made time to visit these sites significant to a subject important to me. This year, I’m dedicating to them and nothing else.

I’ve not yet visited the Planes of Fame Air Museum,  for a similar reason. When I was learning to fly my instructor and I touched-and-went at the airport in Chino, California, many times. Focused on the skills I was trying to master, I ended up landing on the wrong runway because my eyes were distracted by the aircraft on display outside. I didn’t feel any better about my error even though the tower controller told me not to worry because of a wind shift he was going to make it the active runway after I landed.

Everyone I know who’s been to what is now the Mojave Air & Space Port tells me it is the place to wander around. It will be interesting to see how much of that is possible with the post-9/11 security requirements. Regardless, it’s still worth a visit because every day counts, as it does in every lifetime. We may not have had the privilege of being anywhere during its heyday, but we can still get a sense of the place by combining the words of those who were with the stage on which they acted.

There are, of course, many more historic sites on my to do list. Some are physically significant, like Blimp Hangar B at Oregon’s former NAS Tillamook, the world’s largest clear span wooden structure. The others are less well known, like Nebraska’s former McCook Army Airfield, where World War II B-17, B-24, and B-29 crews underwent final training before flying to overseas combat. Like the men who trained here, a few of the buildings they brought to life still survive (and the runways long ago gave way to farm fields). By giving witness to them, and the other sites on my to-do list, perhaps this will perpetuate their lives until the contributions they represent become the responsibility of the succeeding generation. – Scott Spangler, Editor

At United Airlines, Does Making Money Trump Safety?

By Robert Mark on March 2nd, 2015 | 10 Comments »

United Logo

At United Airlines, does making money trump safety?

A recent Aviation Week article quotes United CEO Jeff Smisek saying, “We’re going to run the airline for profit maximization …” That made me wonder a bit.

Then I noticed last week’s Wall Street Journal story in which the airline strongly chastised its pilots for cockpit safety issues the company warned could lead to an accident. United’s tone throughout the story made it appear the company had just uncovered a scorpion’s den of safety violations created by a bunch of rogue pilots who cared little about the safety of their millions of passengers.

But there’s another side to the story and calling it eye opening is a bit of an understatement.

After reading the WSJ story broken by Andy Pasztor, I began receiving a series of intriguing documents from some United pilots that again made we wonder if United is too focused on money, so much so in fact that the company might be avoiding responsibility for financially-focused policies that appear to already be undermining safety at the airline. (Note: this story was edited after it posted to correct an error in my referencing the NYTimes, when the story should have mentioned The Wall Street Journal)

While some readers might assume the information I received was simply a reaction to the company’s indictment of its pilots, it now actually seems to be the other way around. Among what I received, was a letter from a pilot member of Local 12, the Chicago council of the Air Line Pilot Association penned by their local safety officials. They were considerably more blunt about the problem at the airline. “[At United] economics trump safety,” they said. Pilots told me that their training at United, once the envy of the aviation industry, has deteriorated to become more of an industry joke. Read the rest of this entry »

How Passengers Helped Mess Up Frequent Flyer Programs

By Robert Mark on February 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

How Passengers Helped Mess Up Frequent Flyer Programs

Dear Reader / Listeners – You now have the option to listen to The Aviation Minute podcast or just read the script of the show below. If you receive Jetwhine via e-mail, you can click here to listen as well.

If you’re not yet a subscriber to The Aviation Minute, Click Here to sign up … it’s free.

SWA Logo


Push to play

If you missed last week’s episode of The Airplane Geeks Show, you also missed the discussion Brian Coleman our assistant producer started about frequent flyer programs. He began by mentioning the changes Southwest Airlines recently made to its Rapid Reward system. OK … bias alert — I’m a long time Southwest customer, a fact that has nothing to do with the photo I have in my office of the airline’s founder Herb Kelleher and I having a glass of Wild Turkey when I was lucky enough to meet him many years back.

Anyway, everyone seemed so concerned about Rapid Rewards. The changes mean a free flight costs more than it used to. Hmmm … A free flight costs more … now there’s a contradiction for you. My only comment though was so what? The fact that Southwest took this long to tweak their program to better reflect the price of the ticket was the real surprise to me.

Even though I have to drive crosstown to Midway to connect with Southwest, I make the trip often, but not because of the free tickets. I just like Southwest’s service. Free tickets are just gravy. And I don’t fly Business Select either. I’m in back with everybody else.TAM Final LogowithJet-01

But of course Brian couldn’t stop himself from talking about frequent flyer points. A couple of days later, he just had to share a post from our buddy Brett Snyder over at the Cranky Flier … that’s BTW. Brett makes airline economics look pretty easy as you’ll see if you read his Feb. 19th story about Southwest. I don’t disagree with what Brett said at all, but the changes don’t mean much to me. So maybe I’m in a minority even when the guy who cuts my hair started asking me for advice the other day on how best to travel using frequent flier points … Uggggh! Read the rest of this entry »

The FAA Invites Comments on Drone NPRM

By Scott Spangler on February 23rd, 2015 | Comments Off on The FAA Invites Comments on Drone NPRM

Over the past quarter century I’ve read most of the Notices of Proposed Rulemaking that would affect general aviation. What separates the just released NPRM that introduces Part 107, Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, from all the others is not its subject, small unmanned aircraft systems, but a phrase: “The FAA invites comments.”

This phrase concludes almost every topic discussed in the drone NPRM. And when it doesn’t, “the FAA welcomes comments,” often with supporting documentation or data to support the commenter’s point. Altogether, they are like addicting chocolate chips in the yummy common-sense cookie dough of proposed regulations. The cynic in me asks, What is the government up to?

It should surprise no one that drones have, are, and will divide those involved in all aspects of aviation. I imagine the same was true among those in the FAA who met to hash out the specifics of this NPRM. Certainly, some were for drones and others were against integrating them in the National Airspace System.

In the end, it seems that they settled on requirements that didn’t stifle innovation, important to any infant industry, while establishing level of safety equivalent to the risk presented. And because the federal rulemaking process requires them to address the comments presented, we the people who comment will ultimately decide what the Part 107 final rule looks like. And it might not turn out like some might expect.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why is Regional Airline Pay So Bad?

By Robert Mark on February 11th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Why is Regional Airline Pay So Bad?

Dear Reader / Listeners – You now have the option to listen to The Aviation Minute podcast or just read the text of the show below. If you receive Jetwhine via e-mail, you can click here to listen as well.

I was thinking the other day about my early days as a working flight instructor. I remember hanging out with a bunch of other instructors at Palwaukee airport grousing about how we’d live on the 5 bucks an hour we could get paid for sitting in the right seat of a Cessna 150. Then one day we heard about this guy on the airport who was willing to instruct for free … zero, zip, nada … just because he loved flying so much. He had another job so he didn’t really care about the money. I can tell you … the rest of us instructors didn’t much like this idea of a competitor undercutting our prices.

q400.jpgThere was a lesson about pilot wages that I took from this experience after one of the other guys told me not to worry about that instructor. “Hey,” he told me. “The guy may get a few students, but don’t you think they’ll be paying him what both his students AND that instructor believe he’s worth?”

Hmmmm. I never forgot that.

So on to today’s topic … the lousy pay at the regional airlines. Why does it continue, many people wonder?

First a bit of context. Most of the regional airlines provide service to more than one major airline. Because there are only a few regional feeders to deliver service to the few majors we have left in this country, the business has become pretty cut-throat. That means those regionals will do most anything to keep costs low and that means … you guessed … keep wages low.

So let’s compare Envoy, the old American Eagle carrier, with the mainline pilots at American Airlines just to see how different the groups are.

You may have heard recently the American mainline pilots – represented by the Allied Pilots Association – just signed a new contract, one that gives them an immediate 23% pay hike and 3% annual raises after that. Not bad, but then American Airlines pulled down some serious profits the past few years including a windfall off the drop in fuel prices. Read the rest of this entry »

Is GA Included in NASA’s Low-Altitude Drone Traffic Management Program?

By Scott Spangler on February 9th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

utmLate last year, NASA launched it Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) program to devise and test an automated system that would keep drones from bumping into each other as they performed a variety of missions. What concerns me is that nowhere in the online presentation, or in a Google search of news about the UTM program, did NASA mention anything about the users who’ve been occupying this low-altitude airspace for more than a century—aircraft occupied by humans.

Building on the lessons learned over the life of the air traffic management (ATM) of occupied aircraft, NASA’s solution “would enable safe and efficient low-altitude airspace operations by providing services such as airspace design, corridors, dynamic geo-fencing, severe weather and wind avoidance, congestion management, terrain avoidance, route planning and re-routing, separation management, sequencing and spacing, and contingency management.”

Noting that “UTM is essential to enable the accelerated development of civilian UAS applications,” by 2019 NASA hopes to develop and demonstrate an automated system that also provides data to its human managers. NASA’S website compared the result to the roads, signs and signals, and rules that guide safety vehicles that operate in two dimensions. Think that through for a moment, and consider what it might mean for general aviators.

Read the rest of this entry »

First-Person View: The Future of Flight

By Scott Spangler on January 26th, 2015 | 2 Comments »


Simply put, first-person view (FPV) is a smart phone perspective of flight. It gives the person in command of a remotely piloted aircraft a real-time look at where it is going. And it is the future of flying because it provides what people want—a view of their world from a different perspective—efficiently and economically.

Looking at the world from on high is why many of us became pilots. Until technology made drones and their FPV are possible, investing the time and effort and money to be physically present in the aircraft was our only option. No more.

There’s no denying that FPV delivers only one aspect of flight’s sensory appeal. It needs its kinesthetic, aural, and olfactory contributions to be complete, and for those who will settle for nothing less than the complete experience flight, becoming a first-person pilot will always be available to those who can’t live without it.

But one day in the not too distant future, they will not comprise the majority of the pilot population. Technology has changed how we all experience the world. If you doubt this, look around. Note how many people you see filter their lives through the screens of their smart phones.

Read the rest of this entry »

Where Airline Pilots Stand in Labor Statistics

By Scott Spangler on January 12th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

alpGiven the recent reports of job growth and the enduring discussions about pilot shortages, I moseyed over to the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see which occupations are ascending and which are in decline and where airline pilots show up on that spectrum.

The good news is that airline pilots are not on the list of Fastest Declining Occupations. Topping this list of 30 occupations  is “fallers,” you know, the people who cut down trees. By 2022 their numbers are expected to decline 43.3 percent. And there doesn’t seem to be much future at the post office, either. Postal clerks, mail sorters/processors, mail carriers, and postmasters and mail superintendents all made the list the changes ranging from 31.8 to 24.2 percent.

The bad news is that airline pilots aren’t on the list of the 30 Fastest Growing Occupations. By 2022 the number of industrial-organizational psychologists is expected to grow by 53.4 percent. Of the remaining 29 occupations, 20 of them are in medical fields from physical and occupational therapists to nurse practitioners, audiologists, genetic counselors, and a selection of aides and assistants. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors are expected to grow by 31.4 percent.

Read the rest of this entry »

Airmanship and the Fundamentals of Flight

By Scott Spangler on December 29th, 2014 | Comments Off on Airmanship and the Fundamentals of Flight

Sporty’s debut of its Cessna 172LITE Project has rightfully attracted the attention of a cannonball launched from the high dive at the deep end of the aviation pool. While most are paying attention to the splash made by the airplane’s rental affordability, what seemed most important to me were the words of general aviation’s patron saint, Hal Shevers, who said that the airplane will better enable new pilots to “learn fundamental airmanship.” There’s no denying that modern avionics technology can overwhelm new pilots, but for those born after the baby boom it also is a seductive distraction that contributes to an incomplete aviation education. Learning which button to push and what knob to turn is easier to learn—and teach—than the knowledge, awareness, and coordination that embody this thing called airmanship. In removing these distractions, the 172LITE is the perfect airmanship classroom…with the right teacher of flight. Like most professional pilots, flight instructors grew up with avionics technology and are addicted to it. They are not immune to the atrophy of airmanship abilities the FAA outlined in its cockpit automation report. Like all teachers regardless the subject, they teach what they know best. When it comes to stick and rudder education, once the student has a safe grasp of the four fundamentals, climbs, turns, straight-and-level, and descents—they move on to the the next subject in the curriculum. Plainly put, regardless the flying classroom, to teach airmanship teachers must first embody it. Read the rest of this entry »

FAA Rules Alone Won’t Prevent a Drone-jet Collision

By Robert Mark on December 26th, 2014 | Comments Off on FAA Rules Alone Won’t Prevent a Drone-jet Collision

FAA rules alone won’t prevent a drone-jet collision

By Robert P. Mark, reprinted from The Chicago Tribune, December 25, 2014


(Photo -Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune)

This holiday season, one of the hottest-selling toys has been the quadcopter drone, a tiny remote-controlled helicopter that carries a small video camera anyplace the ground-based operator sends it. While some of these brightly colored quads weigh less than a pound, they can still deliver a pedestrian a pretty ugly whack in the side of the head if the operator loses control.

Imagine for a moment, though, that the drone is larger, say a machine that weighs as much as 55 pounds. And imagine that instead of colliding with a pedestrian that 55-pound drone finds its way into the engine or windshield of a commercial airliner.

Remember the Canada geese that were sucked into the engines of that US Airways airplane in 2009 shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport? Those geese that forced pilots Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles to put their airplane down in the Hudson River weighed only 9 to 12 pounds each.

Right now, the Federal Aviation Administration is trying to develop rules that will allow commercially flown drones as heavy as 55 pounds to share the same airspace as airplanes carrying people.

This is a really bad idea, despite the fact that the FAA plans to restrict drones to altitudes less than 400 feet above the ground.

A recent AP poll, however, indicated that Americans are concerned about their safety when drones are nearby — and with good reason. Today there is no way to prevent drones from colliding with airplanes — despite the fact that modern jets are equipped with electronic systems that notify pilots when another aircraft wanders too close. Those aircraft systems can’t see drones. Technologists say that a “sense-and-avoid” system to make drones move out of the way of an approaching airplane is years from a practical rollout too.Drones are drawing so much attention these days because they represent commercial opportunities unmatchable by manned airplanes and helicopters. Law enforcement drones can stay aloft for 24 hours at a time because their computerized pilots don’t need a lunch break. Search-and-rescue drones can be dispatched in weather conditions that would keep manned aircraft grounded.

But the FAA is under tremendous pressure right now from drone manufacturers, as well as businesses that want to operate them, to do something — anything — that will allow drones access to civil airspace. Until the FAA figures out how to keep drones away from airplanes full of people, though, commercial drones are banned from the skies over the U.S.

Unfortunately, the lack of rules or FAA enforcement hasn’t stopped hundreds of drone pilots from recklessly flying their machines anyway, often incredibly close to airports and aircraft full of people. Anyone can purchase a drone and begin flying immediately. Drone operators don’t need a license, nor are they required to possess any understanding of the national airspace system they’re operating within — the same airspace where passenger-carrying aircraft are flying.

A month ago the FAA released a report highlighting nearly 200 separate safety incidents involving drones; while not all were potentially catastrophic, there were plenty of instances when drone operators either intentionally flew their machines close to airports and manned aircraft — or when drones got away from their operators and flew off for parts unknown, with no person controlling them.

In November, the pilots of two separate airliners, a Boeing 747 and a smaller Boeing 737, both on approach to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, reported close calls with drones while flying over Nassau County, N.Y. Luckily the drones missed the airliners, but that cute little toy was reportedly cruising at 3,000 feet above the ground when the 747 went sailing past, traveling in the other direction.

While the FAA plans to release draft regulation about drones soon, rules alone will not prevent a midair collision. The only chance passengers have is to hope the FAA can demand enough training for drone operators before their drones take flight — enough to make those operators realize the risk they pose to everyone flying around them.

But without a training requirement for drone operators, as well as an FAA rule with enough teeth to make reckless operators realize the risks they’re putting the rest of us in, airline passengers will soon have a much greater chance of being knocked out of the sky by a drone than by a flock of passing geese.

Robert Mark is a commercial pilot and publisher of the aviation blog

An Airline Career Query & No Good Answer

By Scott Spangler on December 8th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Directed my way by a leader familiar with my connection to aviation, an Eagle Scout e-mailed me this question: “I want to become an airline pilot when I get older and I’d like to know where to start? What things can I do as a high schooler or…I read somewhere that taking a ground school would be a good idea?”

The older I get the more I dislike airline career questions because they put me in an uncomfortable position of finding a middle ground between crushing someone’s dreams with the reality of aviation today and leading them on with blue skies and tailwinds that will, in most cases, come to an unhappy conclusion, if they get that far. Avoiding the question is another option, but it is equally distasteful.

When these questions are posed to you, especially those of you who now make a living as an airline pilot, how do you answer them?

Read the rest of this entry »

Drones in the News

By Robert Mark on December 4th, 2014 | Comments Off on Drones in the News

Drones in the News

When I was a kid my mom told me she could always tell when I was hiding something … “It shows all over your face,” she’d say.

baby drone

No one, not even me, believes drones this size are a threat.

So what does this have to do with the recent uptick in news coverage of drones, UAS, UAVs, RPVs and the rest? I sat in on a CNBC session last week with a professor from Duke University who I thought had been drinking a bit too much of the drone Kool-Aid. I tried to hide my shock at some of her responses, especially since she herself is a pilot, but I don’t think I did a very good job.

While I was trying to explain my support for these critters – ah, the drones, not Duke University professors – she took off for left field explaining that a drone and an Airbus are the same thing. And in a way, they are both fly-by-wire … “except that an Airbus has two pilots on board to look out the windows for drones.” Read the rest of this entry »

Seeing Where Bird Strikes are a Threat

By Scott Spangler on November 24th, 2014 | Comments Off on Seeing Where Bird Strikes are a Threat

bam-1Bird strikes are perhaps the greatest unappreciated risk pilots face. There are a number of reasons for this, but among the primary contenders is the fact that most strikes result in expensive airframe and powerplant repairs rather than catastrophic conclusions. There was some attention paid to this important topic after some geese put US Airways Flight 1549 down in the Hudson River, but with no loss of life, that attention quickly faded.

The the threat remains, and it’s growing larger. A joint report from the FAA and US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, Wildlife Strikes to Civil Aircraft in the United States 1990-2013, notes that the number of reported strikes has increased more than six-fold, from 1,851 in 1990 to a record 11,315 in 2013. Birds accounted for 97 percent of them. The number of US airports where strikes occurred also increased over the same period, from 331 to 649.

Look at almost any airport listed in the Airport/Facility Directory, and its remarks will probably note: “Birds on and invof arpt.” No pilot would accept a weather report this vague, so why do they accept it for wildlife? And why is a pilot’s education lacking in wildlife knowledge? Do you know when and at what altitude most bird strikes occur?

Read the rest of this entry »

Droning on About UAS

By Robert Mark on November 19th, 2014 | 1 Comment »


Dear Reader / Listeners – You now have the option to listen to The Aviation Minute podcast or read the text below. If you receive Jetwhine via e-mail, you can click here to listen as well.

At the risk of droning on about a topic my pals David and Max at the UAV Digest show are getting tired of hearing, I just think it’s time to come clean. I really do think drones, UASs, or RPVs or whatever you want to call them, are really pretty incredible technology. And like David and Max, I think their future is set in stone … even here in the United States.

There is just one teensy little piece of the conversation that drone builders and operators seem to be avoiding in the constant push to let the drones fly. How do we safely separate remotely-operated drones from people-carrying airplanes?

We expect a new rule on commercial drones from the FAA by year’s end. But my guess is that will only cover the barest minimums like operations below 400 feet and within line of sight of the operator. Those kinds of model-airplane like guidelines might work too if drones keep well clear of airports.

But what about the rest of the million or so drones sold around the world in the past few years, the ones that seem to be flying closer and closer to airplanes and airports? Read the rest of this entry »