Aviation Mastery or Minimum Standards . . . What’s Your M.O.?

By Robert Mark on February 25th, 2016 | What do you think? »

Publisher Note: I’ve known Jim Lara for some time since we work together on the NBAA Single Pilot Working Group trying to tackle the challenge of reducing the accident rate for people who fly business airplanes alone. Like me, Jim believes that our training system, used to qualify pilots to minimum standards set forth by the FAA, is flawed. I too am frustrated working with people in all aspects of our industry who believe “good enough,” is just fine. Here’s how Jim explained it. 

Rob Mark



Aviation Mastery or Minimum Standards

By Jim Lara, Gray Stone Advisors

When was the last time someone in the aviation profession asked you (or you asked yourself) “Is this good enough?” What does “good enough” really mean, anyway? In my opinion, the very question constitutes an attitude of mediocrity.

The real question for aviation professionals should be: “Is good enough ever really good enough in any business or private aviation pursuit?

So many times, we use the descriptive phrases “world-class,” “best-in-class” and “excellence.” But do we really mean it or is it simply “ear candy” because it sounds good?

In the realm of professional aviation, each of us carries a mantle of tremendous responsibility for the other souls with whom we share the airspace, our families and colleagues, our companies and employers and, of course, ourselves.

The consequences of a serious misstep in our profession can have a finality that renders the statement, “I will do better next time” meaningless.

Given those stakes, to what level of performance should we aspire? Perfection? No, by definition perfection is simply unreachable.

Defining Aviation Mastery

An industry colleague of ours, President of Mastery Flight Training Tom Turner, has described a standard that is arduous and demanding, yet achievable.

He refers to it, simply, as mastery.

One of the highlights of this concept is that it can be applied to each and every one of our roles in aviation—as maintenance technicians, flight crew members, schedulers and dispatchers, business office specialists and aviation-mastery-training-fleaders.

Tom’s graphic (right) likens mastery to “earning your stripes.” The concept, of course, is that you move up the chain of command as you master each step. In practice, we have seen that’s not always the case.

Mastery vs. Minimums

The unfortunate reality is that aviation operational standards have been put forth as minimum standards.

As you already know, this terminology is in standard usage for everything—from FBO leases with the local Airport Authority to pilot type ratings for today’s most sophisticated business jets.

The acceptance of the “minimum standards” concept has helped perpetuate a culture of minimum performance that seeps into virtually every aspect of aviation. And when you consider the deadly consequences of a misstep, don’t you find it ironic that “minimum” and “standards” are used together in the context of
“performance” and “safety”?

Let me interject a true story here: Just a few weeks ago, I was present in one of our industry’s leading Part 142 training facilities. There were about a dozen full-motion simulators booked around the clock.

The classrooms were fully outfitted with the latest interactive learning tools. And there was a top-notch resource library staffed by a pair of professional librarians, eager to help with any conceivable research request.

Over lunch, the conversation between one of my classmates and the instructor went something like this:

“I’m supposed to be here for five days, but do you think I can skip the LOFT and be out of here in four days? And, if we could double up a day, can we check all of the boxes (61.58 check) in three days? What’s the minimum that I really have to do?”

For those who’ve completed a few years of recurrent training, I’m sure that conversation sounds pretty familiar.

But when the instructor really started probing to gauge the student’s true level of understanding (systems, performance, etc.), the student got resistant and asked, “What’s the minimum that I need to know?”

Mastering Mastery

If we truly think of ourselves as aviation professionals, what level of performance comes along with earning that title? I argue that it is mastery and mastery alone.

That means having a profound understanding of all of the relevant subjects in your area of focus.

And it means understanding all of the whys—not just the hows.

And, finally, it means being able to mentor, teach and communicate your invaluable understanding and experiences to those individuals who are in the developmental years of their careers.

I believe that each of us in an aviation organization should be a leader. And it is up to each of us to set the standards of aviation mastery; first for ourselves, and then to influence the adoption of those standards throughout each of the functional areas in our respective organizations.

It’s not easy. Without a doubt, the performance bar to reach the mastery level is ever higher.

As we learn more, and perform at higher levels, the horizon of possibility and performance will always stretch out in front of us—always just a little out of reach.

But as we learn more, we understand more. And as we understand more, we become more valuable to our organizations. When that happens on a consistent basis, our business aviation organizations can create more quantifiable value for their host organizations.

When we attain that level of performance, sustainability of the business aviation function is within reach. But the quest for mastery must continue all the same.

Now, back to that opening question: “Is just ‘good enough’ ever really ‘good enough’?”

Well, one thing is for certain: “good enough” certainly isn’t mastery! And, if it isn’t mastery that we’re aiming for, can we rightfully refer to ourselves as “aviation professionals”?

After all, mastery is the cornerstone of aviation professionalism.

Technology Satisfies Cockpit Curiosity

By Scott Spangler on February 15th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

NAHA-55Maybe it’s a pilot thing, but I find the insides of airplanes just as interesting, and often more interesting, than their outsides. Cockpits and crew stations is where humans interface with the machine that carries them aloft, and I’m always curious to see how engineers of the era approached this connection.

Previously unexplored—or unattainable—positions, like the tail gunner’s station on the B-52D Stratofortress, amplifies the curiosity to almost intolerable levels. Before radar replaced the gunner that flew in this lonely, pressurized cubicle separate from the rest of the crew (and how did he get in and out anyway?), what did his world look like, and what could he see out those tiny windows?


Courtesy of YouTube I’ve spent way too much time searching for and watching the Cockpit 360 videos created by AeroCapture Images. Courtesy of a news release from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, I’ve learned that there’s a free ACI Cockpit360º app that allows museum goers to satisfy their cockpit curiosity on their smart phones, which encourages me to investigate the acquisition of one of these devices.

Until that time, however, the Air Force Museum was kind enough to post their Cockpit 360 videos to its website. And after 40 years of wondering, my B-52 tail gun curiosity is satisfied…almost. I still don’t know how the gunner reached his lonely outpost.

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force isn’t the only institution that employs ACI Cockpit360 videos. The ACI Cockpit 360 website lists many more, but in visiting a lot of them online, few of them post their cockpit curiosity tours online. You must visit with your smart phone. The Historic Flight Foundation posts its North American B-25, P-51 Mustang, and T-6 Texan and its Grumman F8F Bearcat and F7F Tigercat cockpits online.

The Air Force news release announced the addition of 15 new aircraft to the Cockpit 360 videos in the museum’s library, which now totals 60 different aircraft. Many of them, like the B-52, with more than one video per airframe.

The most interesting video on the site show how Lyle Jansma of ACI, records the high definition images with a Canon 5D Mark II camera body. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to check out the P-61 Black Widow and the B-36 Peacemaker. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Congress Proposes Drastic Cut to GI Bill Flight Training

By Scott Spangler on February 1st, 2016 | What do you think? »

If you care about the aviation industry and the veterans, whose honorable service earned them GI Bill benefits that lead to the degrees leading to careers in it, you need to be aware of HR 3016. You may wonder what the VA Provider Equity Act, which would pay podiatrists the same at other physicians who work the Veterans Administration, and establish a new VA bureaucracy, has to do with veteran flight training benefits.

A lot.

Buried in HR 3016, introduced by Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), is a provision that would cut veteran flight training benefits by $882 million over the next decade. Making this disservice to our vets even worse is the discrimination it represents; veterans using their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to earn degrees in other disciplines do not face the cuts proposed for those pursuing aviation degrees.

Specifically, HR 3016 would cap VA flight training benefits at $20,235 a year, a total of $80,940 for a four-year degree program. As anyone already in aviation probably knows, the actual costs are much higher. With their higher operating costs, rotary-wing aircraft lead the way. According to a Helicopter Association International survey, a four-year degree for an employment ready commercial helo pilot with instrument instructor rating is approximately $212,500.

To further increase the student debt of veterans pursuing an aviation career, HR 3016 proposes that the VA no longer pay for training that leads to a private pilot certificate, the first step in a professional pilot degree program. Depending on where the students are going to school, and depending on what they are flying, this prerequisite will cost them $15,000 to $20,000.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, enactment of this legislation would deny 600 veterans a year from pursing the professional pilot degree programs that would launch their aviation careers. HR 3016 is scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, February 2. If, as expected, the House approves it, the legislation then goes to the Senate. This gives us two chances to contact our elected officials and let them know what we think of this discriminatory and unfair cut to benefits our vets have honorable earned. Scott Spangler, Editor

User-Fee ATC: Speak Up Now or Lose Access

By Scott Spangler on January 18th, 2016 | Comments Off on User-Fee ATC: Speak Up Now or Lose Access

Call it what you like, privatizing, corporatizing, or commercializing the FAA air traffic control system will ruin the foundation of the world’s largest, safest, and most diverse and complex national airspace system. Oh, and unless we stand up and speak up to our elected officials, it will probably mark the end of general aviation as we know it. And not for the reason you think.

Our politicians and the special interests behind them propose this ATC takeover at least once a decade. Common to all of them is replacing the efficient and equitable fuel-and-ticket-tax funding of the system with user fees. Money always gets a pilot’s attention, but that’s not what this is about.

What matters most to the special interests behind these efforts is control of who has access to the airspace and airports. Regardless of the primary target, such as the growing number of low-cost carriers targeted in the 1990’s user-fee ATC attempt, GA always comes second to the airlines’ needs, and in every scheme, airline people are the majority on the board of directors that would run user-fee ATC.

The GA community successfully opposed the user-fee ATC schemes proposed in the 1990s and in 2006-8, but the threat this year is more ominous for several reasons.

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Trying Something New

By Robert Mark on January 14th, 2016 | Comments Off on Trying Something New

TAM Final LogowithJet-01Trying Something New

Quite a few Jetwhine readers and listeners have asked what happened to The Aviation Minute, the editorial podcast series I began a couple of years ago using this neat logo.

The simple answer is we’ve evolved a bit … from the early audio-based shows to a video-centered stories.

Thanks to a new partnership between Jetwhine and Aviationpros.com, publishers of Airport Business, AMT and Ground Service and Support – we’ve also changed the name from The Aviation Minute to On the Mark adding this new logo along the way. The shows will air twice a month on both the AviationPros.com site and here at Jetwhine, but will also be delivered directly to viewers via an e-mail blast system.


OTM Logo 1

So here’s On the Mark, Networking Tips From NBAA 2015 (click to view).

As always, I’m interested in what you think of the content, as well as the production. I’m always on the lookout for some under-appreciated topic thats cries out for a little coverage, so pass along your ideas to us at rob@jetwhine.com. Thanks for watching.

Rob Mark, Publisher

Taking Time to Find Aviation Serendipity

By Scott Spangler on January 4th, 2016 | 7 Comments »

NAHA-113On your way someplace else, how many times have you passed a sign pointing to a small town airport? The more important question is how many times have you followed that sign?

With the potential for unknown delays between the sign and your intended destination, and the unlikely reward of aviation serendipity, of finding something interesting at a small airport in these aviation depressed times, you probably drive on by. Yeah, me, too.

But not this year, or in all the years to follow. Finding something special is worth the minutes it takes to follow the airport sign and make a drive-by inspection. If there is nothing that captures my curiosity, I’ll be on my way. But if it is taken prisoner, what else can I do but surrender to it?

A visit to the municipal airport, with a single 4,400-foot runway, that serves the 11,639 residents of Urbana, Ohio, planted the seed for this change. Had I been traveling and not touring the National Aviation Heritage Area, I would have missed something truly unique, the Champaign Aviation Museum, which calls this small town airport, also known as Grimes Field,  home.

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It Takes a Community to Promote Aviation

By Scott Spangler on December 21st, 2015 | Comments Off on It Takes a Community to Promote Aviation

Promoting aviation to ensure its future viability and growth is something important to most of us who are involved with it personally or professionally. Individuals and organizations have promoted and pursued programs dedicated to inviting newcomers to the fold, and the results have often fallen short of those promised. Yes, there have been a number of one-on-one success stories, but the challenge is making this successful personal approach work on a larger scale.

The Raisbeck Aviation High School, a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math education is a worthy model for all to consider because it unites aviation’s many communities in pursuit of a common goal. Founded and operated by Highline Public Schools (District 401), RAHS serves 27 different school districts in the Washington’s Puget Sound region.

Its campus is located at Boeing Field’s Museum of Flight, making it the only aviation themed college-prep school that shares resources with an aerospace museum. And it receives an inspirational assist from the 200 or or so aviation related businesses that surround the school. But it goes beyond that, said Steve Davolt, RAHS’s coordinator of work-based learning. “Mentorships and internships have been an integral part of the schools since it was started 12 years ago.”

Mentorship pairs an RAHS student with an area aviation professional, he continued; both individuals make a one-year commitment, but many of them continue three or four years, until the student graduates. Every summer, nearly half of the 425-member student body participates in a 10-12-week internship, 60 percent of which are paid.

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How Deep is Your Aviation Knowledge?

By Scott Spangler on December 7th, 2015 | Comments Off on How Deep is Your Aviation Knowledge?

With the approach of December 17, which every airplane geek holds dear as Kitty Hawk Day, the birthday of powered flight, a brief quiz to probe your aviation knowledge beyond this momentous event.

The questions come from Aviation Trail, a member of Dayton’s National Aviation Historic Alliance. Answering these questions during the Aviation Writers Summit in Dayton earlier this year I was able to answer most of them. But a handful introduced me to new and fascinating aspects of aviation that inspired further study—and appreciation—of aviation’s contributions to the larger world. Enjoy! –Scott Spangler, Editor

1. How many Wright siblings were there who lived to adulthood?

2. What were the careers of the Wright brothers before they started building airplanes?

3. Name the first African-American to have make a living as a writer and why he was significant?

4. How did a rectangular inner tube box inspire Wilber Wright?

5. How many flights took place at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903?

6. How long was the first flight?

7. Where was the Wright Company Flying School, and who was one of its famous graduates?

8. Why did the Wrights chose Kitty Hawk for their glider test site?

9. Where is the original Wright Flyer displayed?

10. Other than the airplane, name five major Dayton inventions (among thousands of all types)?

11. Which Wright brother was from another state, and which one was the first to fly?

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Encouraging People to Replace Us

By Robert Mark on December 1st, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Encouraging People to Replace Us

Finding young people to grab the reins from us old guys in aviation is a bit like the weather … everyone talks about why we need to do something, but not everyone is clear about how to actually make that happen. Certainly doing nothing is the wrong answer. So what can we do to increase our odds of connecting all the right people together?

NBAA 2015 yoproAt the recent NBAA convention, the association offered a number of us an opportunity to mingle with a hundred or so officially named Young Professionals who’d volunteered to listen to us more-experienced (secret code for older) industry folks detail how we started while also delivering a bit of unsolicited advice for job seekers.

The NBAA team was spearheaded by the association’s Sierra Grimes with Brett Ryden from Southcomm’s Aviation Pros.com leading a group of his editors who together created an hour’s worth of practical education at the show’s Innovation Zone. The panel was evenly split between ladies and gents … myself, Jo Damato from NBAA, Sarah Barnes from Paragon Aviation and Textron Aviation’s senior VP of Customer Service Brad Thress. Our moderator was writer Lowen Baumgarten.

Stage members spent a few minutes detailing their experiences, but since we were there to answer questions, I was antsy to interact with the audience. Over the course of the hour there were perhaps seven or eight good ones, but I wanted more. I probably shouldn’t have.

Reality kicked in for me about 20 minutes after we began as I realized that some of what a number of young people had told me the night before was really true … networking is not an innate skill, not even close. I’d seen this kind of thing before too. Universities apparently assume graduates automatically absorb networking skills out of thin air I guess. Luckily NBAA and AviationPros and a few other organizations have made the effort to fill those voids. Read the rest of this entry »

Historic Airplanes: A Reliquary for the Spirit and Soul of Their Crews

By Scott Spangler on November 23rd, 2015 | 3 Comments »

MB Crew

NAHA-158The men who united as a crew in the vertical war over Europe after Pearl Harbor have all since surrendered, as we all must one day, to time. Its last living member, radio operator Robert Hanson, passed into history in 2005 at age 85. But their spirits and souls live on in the reliquary that fused their individual personalities into historic airplanes like the Memphis Belle.

Standing before its wingless fuselage in the crowded restoration hangar of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, under its iconic nose art I see the crew of the Memphis Belle, men just past 20, bundled up in sheepskin and thick coveralls. They are, from left, Harold Loch, Cecil Scott, Robert Hanson, James Verinis, Robert Morgan, Charles Leighton, John Quinlan, Casmer Nastal, Vincent Evans, and Clarence Winchell.

Portrayed in an eponymous motion picture, Hollywood history has confused the significance of what these men achieved in the Memphis Belle. It was not the historic airplane before me that successfully flew 25 missions, it was the team that gave it life. Consistent through all the history of the era I’ve read, including The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle, written by Robert Morgan and Ron Powers in 2001, daylight bombing early in the war endured an 80-percent casualty rate.

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