By Scott Spangler on September 15th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
There are many ways to look at the recent spate of passenger confrontations resulting from one reclining into the knees and face of another. The confrontations have been occurring for years, ever since the airline MBAs started shrinking the seat pitch, the distance between rows, and width. They are news now because the stories are sensational and easy to report, and they seem to be more common because flight crews are tired of dealing with these confrontations, so they are resolving them with unscheduled landings, which shares the physical pain with everyone on board and the economic pain with everyone who flies the airlines.
Others, such as the New York Times, has examined one of the underlying causes of airline reclining rage. “The Problem With Reclining Airplane Seat Design” provides the specifics on what any airline passenger has known for years: today’s airline seats are not designed to accommodate the full range of human dimensions. It introduces us to Dr. Kathleen Robinette, an Oklahoma State University professor who was the lead author of 2002’s Civilian American and European Surface Anthropometry Resource. A U.S. Air Force project conducted with a consortium of 35 organizations, it measured the bodies of 4,431 people in America, the Netherlands, and Italy.
The report has become the go-to source for seat designers who, the article said, assume that their designs will accommodate almost everyone if they dimension it for a man in the 95th percentile. Being vertically over endowed, I’m in the 5 percent the designers exclude, in league with women. While seats short me in leg room, females are shorted on width. Collecting dimensions from the world’s airlines, SeatGuru.com shows that the average airline seat is 17-18 inches wide, adequate for the 17.15-inch span of the 95th percentile North American male. The 95th percentile North American female measures 19.72 inches. Exacerbating the airline space conflict is the reality that the shoulder width of most humans is greater than their hips.
Expanding on the article’s headline, the author, Stuart F. Brown, steps through the engineering challenges of melding the particular demands of aerial and terrestrial transportation in a single vehicle. Then there are the FAA type and production certification requirements and the federal highway safety requirements.
Then there’s pilot certification, and the reality that flying cars will transition from earth to sky not from roads but at airports. “A final impediment to swarms of flying cars filling the skies is the existing air traffic control system, which isn’t set up to keep track of low-flying aircraft that don’t have a flight plan and may impulsively change course.”
And here the author falls victim to the variable few flying car dreamers seem to consider: demand. Are there really enough rich people willing to invest mid-six-figures in a VFR vehicle of middling aerial performance? And will they invest the time and money to earn the pilot certification needed to operate it?
The answers to these questions can be derived from the decades long decline in student pilot starts and the car selling points ads touting new cars have focused on for the past few years. In short, not only are people not interested in learning to fly, they are growing too busy to drive.
By Scott Spangler on August 18th, 2014 | Comments Off
Idealists in 18th and 19th century America founded a number of utopian communities. Falling victim to their cultural and social ideals, they rarely lasted into the 20th century, and in the 21st century the Amana Colonies, Shakers, and Oneida Community, among others, are historic tourist destinations. Some may see it as an aviation utopia, but given its scope and thoughtful integration of elements, the recently approved Superior Aviation Town is a purposeful and pragmatic utopia with a better than good chance of long-term survival.
As Superior Group CEO Tim Archer described the town and its components, my initial impression changed. A global interface and cultural translator might be a more apt description than utopia. Located about 11 miles east of Beijing Capital International Airport, the 1,236-acre town will be built around the executive airport’s 7,800-foot runway (with a second runway planned for the future). Dedicated exclusively to business and general aviation, it should be operational in about three years.
The executive airport will be tower controlled with ILS and GPS instrument approaches. It will be surrounded by a GA manufacturing center, duty-free zone, exhibition center, living facilities, and a flying club. It will be the model for similar towns the group foresees as China’s GA infrastructure. More importantly, the towns will mitigate the differences between Chinese and Western cultures, said Archer. Here, it seems, is the key to the project’s success.
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One obstacle to learning to fly these days is that so many of the GA training fleet is old … and many definitely look their age. It wasn’t that long ago that I cancelled a nighttime demo flight for a prospective student because I noticed that some of the old Cessna’s interior lights were inoperative. And early Cessnas didn’t offer much cockpit lighting to begin with to see the instruments.
Then I found a few bruises outside that had been covered with Duct-Tape and I just said no. A few years earlier, I’d tried to check out in an old Piper down in Florida that looked like it hadn’t been washed in 20 years. It flew OK, but after spending the money to fly it, I decided to pass on putting my family into it.
I’m not the only instructor nor renter that’s ever faced this situation either.
I was pretty excited last week to see a canary yellow Cessna 152 sitting outside of the south door of the AOPA building at AirVenture. The airplane was part of AOPA’s 152 reimagined project to encourage more people not only to learn to fly, but to also get back into the air at a relatively low cost. The airplane at Oshkosh had been rebuilt inside and out … new paint, new interior – even those cheapie plastic parts Cessna used were all new. The engine had been rebuilt and reset to zero time and the airplane had new Garmin avionics including a GPS installed.
This practically new Cessna 152 can be had for $99,000, or $89,000 for a Cessna 150. AOPA chose Aviat in Afton Wyoming to handle the refurbishment work and you can pick the color scheme when you order one. Read the rest of this entry »
By Scott Spangler on August 4th, 2014 | Comments Off
“What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen at AirVenture this year?” For the past 15 or 20 years, this is the question I dread because I never have an answer for my interlocutors. Don’t get me wrong, I find many things interesting at AirVenture every year, but it’s been some time since I’ve seen something that’s sub-zero awesome.
What’s most interesting to me are the changes that come with time. AirVenture is the showcase for all aspects of aviation. It is the international stage on which industry and consumer alike must appear to be considered among the the aviation faithful (and hopeful). The scope and diversity of their participation is, for me, a good measure of aviation’s vitality.
Light-sport aircraft (LSAs) celebrated their first decade of existence at AirVenture 2014. Since their introduction 134 different makes and models have been introduced at Oshkosh. In their early years they lined both sides of the diagonal road that connected the main gate to the forums area.
Not this year. But that’s not a bad thing because the LSA manufacturers that have survived now exhibit with all the other airframe OEMs in the outdoor exhibit areas. Tecnam was across from the new TBM 900. Flight Design greeted people at the main gate, with the Beech and Cessna airplanes (and the lonely Bell 407 helicopter) of Textron Aviation on the other side of Main St. AirVenture.
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I was working on a couple of a stories related to the Malaysian Airlines tragedy over the weekend when an idea popped into my head. The Nall Report AOPA publishes each year tells us the GA accident rate isn’t improving much these days, but thankfully is not getting any worse either.
I wondered if there were other parts of the industry we GA folk might be able to model to create a system that might actually reduce the number of GA accidents. The airlines and their FOQA program came to mind. That stands for Flight Operational Quality Assurance.
FOQA is all about capturing operation data and digging deeply to understand the stories that information tells us.
Before you go data privacy on me though, give this episode of The Aviation Minute a listen and tell me what you think.
The trouble with an aircraft accident that happens on the other side of the world for we Americans, especially one that occurs in a battle zone, is understanding which source speaks the truth about what’s happening on the ground.
Right now the MH17 crash is one of those kind of accidents. The Ukrainians say the Russians and the separatists were behind shooting down the Boeing 777 while the Russians either point the finger at the Ukraine government or simply refuse to answer at all.
For us over here, reports vary from “people are wandering all over the MH17 accident site and have already given the black boxes to the Russians,” to the alternative I heard this morning, “the site is completely intact and nothing valuable has been removed.” So who do we believe? Our only official source in the U.S. is the White House press secretary of the State Department and they say the site’s been compromised.
While I do agree that the first 24-48 hours worth of accident information almost always seems to be tainted with rumor more than anything else, it does make it pretty tough to relate the story without a journalist or government source we can trust to tell us what they see on the ground.
That said, I thought you might find this Saturday evening interview from Fox News about the potential implications of the data recorders and evidence being removed from the MH17 site of interest. It runs about 5 minutes.
Rob Mark Speaks with Fox News about the Data recorders on MH17Play Now | Download
Rob Mark, Publisher
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By Scott Spangler on July 14th, 2014 | Comments Off
On a two-wheeled vagabondage adventure, I reunited with my riding buddy in Seattle, and he’s leading us east toward Oshkosh. For those unfamiliar, vagabondage has a direction of travel, like east, but no route or itinerary. Except for one must-see stop: the concrete arrow that pointed air mail pilots toward Boise. Yes, we’re aviation geeks.
Almost a century ago, these arrows, situated with a lighted beacon, guided pilots along the nation’s network of airmail routes. Then radio navigation made them obsolete, and they started to disappear. There’s no small measure of irony involved here that we found our way to this surviving arrow with GPS. Heading to Boise, Idaho, in I-84, it’s off the Simco exit, which leads to the apex of Desert Wind and Regina roads.
As most of us already inside already know, aviation’s present has a problem with fences. Signs warning of federal penalties and security requirements, not to mention locked gates that require secret pass codes, exist to keep people out. They typically overwhelm the signs that attempt to lead aviation wannabes, newcomers, and the aerially curious through the security maze to the knowledge and answers they seek. I didn’t, however, expect aviation’s past to present similar circumstances.
I had an opportunity to visit the normally closed-to-the-public NTSB Training Center near Leesburg Virginia a few weeks ago as a guest of director Paul Schuda assisted by Senior Air Safety Investigator Bill English.
To say my visit was eye opening would be quite an understatement. Schuda’s briefing detailed the thought processes behind the NTSB’s recent decision not to reopen the TWA 800 investigation. There was much more too, including a look see at the TWA 800 fuselage reconstruction.
The entire Friday afternoon event gave me pause to think about how I write about an aircraft accident, with the insight that perhaps too many of us our jumping to indict the pilots when there may be more to the probable cause to consider.
I hope you’ll give this episode a listen.
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Fresh evidence has been uncovered in the disappearance of Malaysian flight 370 (MH370) according to The Telegraph of London. To date, there hasn’t been one single shred of physical evidence that proves any of the dozen or so theories about what happened aboard that airplane less than an hour after it departed Kuala Lampur in March. The mystery was never solved, just put on hold.
Then last Friday, a media note surfaced in Australia that said MH370 searchers were again altering the search area for the airplane to another part of the South Indian Ocean based on some undefined new analysis. Yesterday’s Telegraph story again pointed the possible finger of responsibility at the captain of the 777, Zaharie Shah and his flight simulator.
Listen to the latest Aviation Minute to learn more about new evidence in the MH 370 mystery.
The Aviation Minute: Is Fresh Evidence About MH370 Another Wild Goose Chase?Play Now | Download
Rob Mark, Publisher
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By Scott Spangler on June 16th, 2014 | Comments Off
At American airports these days is hard to find a good word from pilots about their aviation future. After covering the 57th Sonex Aircraft Builder’s Workshop at the company’s Oshkosh, Wisconsin, hangars it seems clear I’ve been looking in all the wrong places and talking to the wrong people.
From as far away at Guam, the Netherlands, and the four compass quadrants of America, 21 people attended the workshop, and 14 of them brought guests—wives, sons, brothers, and building buddies—who attend the workshop free of charge and learn metal working by building an abbreviated metal wing section.
Most were first-time builders. Some already had Sonex kits at home, awaiting the courage the new workshop skills would give them to open the boxes. Others were still deciding on the model that best met their needs, and their future flights guided their decision making.
Most remarkable is that not once did I hear a work-shopper complain about anything aviation related. And all of them, except for one who was a student in training, were pilots. The closest one of them came was criticism of his own work; “I can do better,’’ he said.
First let’s talk a little reality … Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or drones as most of us refer to them are coming … and they’re coming soon. That’s not necessarily all bad though. Drones can operate in places that are not safe to send a manned aircraft, as well as on missions where the duration would surely exhaust a human. They also come in a range of sizes from just a few pounds to the mammoth Global Hawk weighing in at about 32,000 lbs. or slightly larger than the Hawker 800 biz jet I used to fly.
The FAA’s come under fire from drone manufacturers and potential users for not acting quickly enough to draft regulations allowing these pilot-less aircraft to blend into civilian airspace with the rest of the civilian aircraft. But there’s a safety problem with moving too fast that no one seems to have addressed.
Give this show a listen though and tell us what you think. BTW, for the most up-to-date coverage on drones here in the U.S., give a listen to the UAV Digest produced by my Airplane Geeks comrades Max Flight and David Vanderhoof.
By Scott Spangler on June 2nd, 2014 | Comments Off
Recovered from his landing mishap in the Pacific Northwest, Richard Bach has resumed his online conversation, and he is as thought provoking as ever. In “Change of an Era” he reflects on the change progress has always brought to aviation, and the choices pilots must make in adapting to it.
Aviation’s first new era occurred during the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Bach wrote, when pilots who wanted to fly every day advanced from “looking at the world outside of their open cockpits” to “flying blind” with the aid of “needle-ball and alcohol.”
This instrument era of aviation lasted for 50 or 60 years, he continues, and then progressed to the digital era. With “flat plate moving maps,” he describes it as “all pretty colors to show one’s position, altitude, restricted areas, terrain, weather, other airplanes in the sky.”
In closing, Bach writes that, “uninterested in modern aircraft, modern moving maps, electric motors to turn propellers,” he realized that “aviation has passed me and my time.” But that is, it seems to me, a personal perspective.
Memorial Day here in the United States is one of the days we remember all the men and women who served and perished in armed conflicts around the world since our own Civil War in the mid-1800s.
The stories emerging about how poorly we treat these men and women once we’re through with them though is not pretty. There are some parallels between VA care for vets and our aviation industry. Tell us what you think.
A recent New York Times story, “Air Travel Economics Make Midsize Hubs Unprofitable”, explained why airline travel today often demands long drives to the nearest major airline hub. This withdrawal of service from outlying communities and hubs makes perfect profit-and-loss sense for the airlines, and it poses an antipodal crisis for the companies whose employees must travel on business, who used to be, it seems, a highly desirable airline customer.
This situation should be fertile ground for the creation of a company flight department, a step many companies of a certain size took long ago. But I wonder if now might be the time for a different kind of flight department, where the employees needing transportation fly themselves in a Cirrus or Cessna. If the employee had the desire, why shouldn’t the company provide his or her training? Wouldn’t this be a win-win for both parties?
Safety would and should be the primary concern and it could be easily managed, I think. Instead of chauffeuring employees, the fly-yourself flight department pilots would provide the initial and recurrent training to the employees who fly themselves. (Naturally, companies that fly jets and other complex airplanes would employ pilot whose job is to fly them.)
I like hanging around with other flight instructors. Not only do they understand how an airplane flies, but they also know the intricacies of those dark corners of a flight envelope … things that can lead a new pilot down a rabbit hole of trouble if they’re not careful.
Good flight instructors also understand that while a syllabus is a valuable tool to keep both student and teacher focused on the goal … the checkride … instructors must understand the need for flexibility in the process because everyone doesn’t learn exactly the same way.
Dave Pavoni’s a new CFI at Morristown’s American Flyers. We spoke a few weeks ago about why he took the time to earn the rating, as well as what he’s learned about teaching people how to fly and how to keep them flying safely all their lives.
When my wife and I were married a long time ago, we promised ourselves that if we ever had kids and wanted to travel on an airplane, we’d just fork over the extra money for a ticket. To us, the risk of injury should they fly out of our hands during an accident or in turbulence simply wasn’t worth the few hundred dollars we’d save.
Years later when we decided to take our then infant daughter on an American Airlines flight to LAX, we learned most of the flight attendants didn’t know much about car seats on airplanes.
Today, there is still nothing that requires a parent to put any kind of restraint on a child under two years of age. They’re still permitted to ride on their parent’s lap even though there’s no way a parent could hold them down in a crash. The 1989 crash of United 232 proved that.
So why do we permit kids to ride around in an airplane without a seatbelt when we’ve had laws for decades that prevent the same thing in a car? Here’s what I learned.
More than it has in the previous two years I’ve judged an airport writing contest, fear was a central theme in the nearly three dozen essays submitted by students in elementary, middle, and high school. Most of them addressed airline flights and began with the TSA and continued until they reached the desired destination, often in Florida.
The handful that wrote about their general aviation flights also focused on their fear, but unlike all of their airline flying peers, two of them actually looked out the window and marveled at the different perspective flight gives of the world they live in on the the ground. Dismissing the easy explanation that kids today are different, looking at the world in which they are maturing, being afraid is what our culture has taught them to be.
And as their parents and grandparents, it’s our fault.
A common Facebook theme lists all the things we did as kids that kids today don’t do, from riding a bike without a helmet and walking to and from school without a guard or guide to playing outside unsupervised and without organized activities. Keeping kids safe is every parent’s responsibility, but using fear of the consequences to achieve it has the unintended consequence of suppressing rational risk assessment.
When the FAA tells you they’re changing the way they conduct business because they want to be more fair to someone, or that they want to save money, it’s probably time to duck. You can pretty much be sure that whatever they have in mind isn’t going to be as effective as they think.
Late last year the FAA completely revamped the way it hires air traffic controllers. The reasons seemed clear to the agency folks I think … recruit a better caliber of controller, save money by reducing training time and … if you read between the lines, to increase diversity in the controller ranks.
Are you really going to be surprised when I tell you that they seem to have failed at all of these goals? AND, they created a problem at all 36 CTI schools – their regular supply line for new controllers – where one didn’t exist before.
Rob Mark, Publisher
The Aviation Minute: Episode 9 - The FAA Shoots Itself in the FootPlay Now | Download
I can’t believe I’m going to say something nice about the TSA again. That’s twice in a couple of months.
I do think it’s worth mentioning that the TSA has actually created a product with value in their new TSA PreCheck card, part of the DHS’s Global Entry system. Of course there is just one tweak I think it needs desperately. Give a listen and tell me if you agree.