Tag: Going Direct

Adhering To Tara Air Disaster, Nepal Wants to Change The Way It Clears Flights

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Adhering To Tara Air Disaster, Nepal Wants to Change The Way It Clears Flights

Nepal, a hill country, has greater than its share of airplane accidents, the majority of them deadly ones. Recently, a de Havilland Twin Otter collapsed right into a hill near the country town of Jomsom at an elevation of around 14,000 feet. The weather condition, as is typically the instance in Nepal, had not been excellent flying climate. Twenty-two were eliminated in the collision, the 3rd for Tara Air over the last couple of years.

When Nepal, a couple of days after the accident, introduced that it would certainly look right into altering trip regulations to avoid such crashes in the future, it was a large step, though one that provided the situations bordering it, no one needs to have been also shocked regarding.

The nature of that proposition is as adheres to: In the past, if the weather condition was all right at the separation as well as location flight terminals, the pilots might make the trip. That was probably the situation for the Tara Air Twin Otter that collapsed recently.

The proposition, nonetheless, would basically transform that decision-making procedure. Rather than the pilots making the go/no-go phone call, the flight terminal would certainly– it’s unclear that at the airport terminal would certainly do that– if the climate not simply at both flight terminals was all right however if the weather condition in between them was, also.

It’s not difficult to think why the authorities created this strategy. Pilots will certainly introduce on a goal if the weather condition at separation and also location is excellent, as well as number that they will certainly handle the climate along the road as demand be. By the flight terminals being the one to provide the consent, it would certainly take the choice out the hands of the pilots, and also probably assist them make far better, much safer go/no-go options.

When it comes to flying in as well as around the climate, this goes versus even more than a hundred years of traditional knowledge. In the United States, the policies provide the pilot vast latitude to decide connected with a trip. What is the presence at a provided area? It’s what the pilot chooses it is. When can you make a journey from one area to the following? When the pilot determines it’s secure to do so.

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Disintermediating the pilot from the decision makes good sense in one large method … it takes the stress off of them from companies that commonly press pilots to make a trip also when it is specifically versus their finest judgment. Also if the firm were to state “go,” the pilot would certainly still require to adhere to ATC’s choice.

Such a guideline misconstrues the crucial nature of weather condition knowledge, and also every pilot with a couple of hundred hrs of IFR under their belt understands this: You do not actually recognize what the climate is like till you obtain there. ATC will not recognize what the climate is– their instructions will certainly amount an informed hunch. Such choices in the blind can result in several trips being unnecessarily delayed or terminated completely or even worse. It might result in releasing battles right into climate the pilots may have selected to hand down.

What’s a much better path for Nepal to take? Look no further than Alaska for the solution– all right, I presume Alaska is a lengthy means from the reduced 48. Just how did the FAA as well as neighborhood authorities interact to make such trips in negative climate and also about large rocks more secure? By mounting climate web cams in the significant locations. The cameras relay the real climate photo. Pilots can see what they would certainly be obtaining right into, as well as they can make a much more enlightened choice. Nepal ought to come close to the trouble in a comparable style, by offering pilots a lot more security devices as well as not by attempting to do their work for them.

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Going Direct: The FAA Needs Meaningful Reform

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Going Direct: The FAA Needs Meaningful Reform

As you could have checked out, recognized as well as popular backcountry pilot Trent Palmer is obtaining wrung out by the FAA today, as well as the information of his instance– he’s presently appealing a suspension of his certification of what the FAA believes was a buzz work– appealed a number of locations where the FAA has world power over pilots as well as possesses it with immunity due to the fact that it can as well as due to the fact that there are successfully no examine them. There are numerous locations where the FAA requires reform, yet at the heart of a lot of them is the reality that they can impose the regs whatsoever they desire, as well as the most awful that can take place to them is that the instance obtains tossed out and also they to pursue one more pilot. This is the type of atmosphere that offers itself to misuse of power, as well as paradise assist the pilot that attempts to combat an unjust complaint.

My experience with the FAA was regular, with the exception of the result. When the engine started seeming a little harsh, it was a number of years ago that I was heading on an IFR trip in a Cirrus SR22 GAMI turbo aircraft. I may have been startled had I not listened to the very same roughness a six times prior to in equally as several SR22s. I recognized the airplane had not been mosting likely to befall of the skies, and also given that I was half a hr from residence, as well as on a substitute aircraft, I picked to do a 180 and also return to the shack as well as swap aircrafts. My greatest error remained in informing ATC what was taking place. I do not state this gently, yet I must have existed. I ought to have stated that I neglected my computer system as well as was reversing to go select it up, or a few other such horsepucky, because later on that day I obtained a phone call from the FAA informing me in a tyrannical tone that they were checking out the case.

The intent of the “detective” from the San Antonio FSDO was clear: He intended to daunt me right into incriminating myself– also there was no offense to confess to as well as he understood it– as well as when I began pressing back, he increased his voice 20 decibels and also notified me that this was “A FEDERAL INVESTIGATION.” As it so occurred, I went to a table with a number of the very best air travel defense lawyer on the planet. I placed the inquisitor on hold as well as inquired for some fast, totally free lawful guidance. It was basically that I ought to inform the jerk to extra pound sand as well as to send me a letter. I jumped back on the telephone call and also pleasantly informed the FAA individual to send me a letter, and also he reacted with even more intimidation and also gaslighting.

While I do not have certain info, I have factor to think that the examination was finished as quickly just when a pal discussed to the detective that I was a great pilot and also fine as a whole. To put it simply, he did me a support and also obtained the FEDERAL INVESTIGATION quit. Had I not had that pal, or had I not been a famous aeronautics reporter, my experience certainly would have been much more drawn-out and also means much more costly. Why? Was it since the private investigator truly assumed there had been a safety and security offense? Rarely. It was due to the fact that it was my rely on obtain harassed.

It can have decreased in a different way. In a lot of cases, the FAA starts enforcement and also basically requires the implicated pilot to obtain lawful depiction, which is both costly and also needed. As well as the fees are frequently blown up initially, an usual technique amongst district attorneys to compel the charged to approve a take care of a minimal charge. In Palmer’s instance, the initial suspension was for 7 months, a charge that was later on minimized to 2 months. Why the adjustment? Was it due to the fact that the management court discovered the initial suspension also extreme? Barely. It was since that’s exactly how the video game is played, and also despite the fact that the court arbitrating the situation was with the NTSB as well as not the FAA, both companies have actually been improving their dancing for years, and also the Pilot’s Bill of Rights that passed Congress greater than a years ago that considered that evaluation to an “neutral” body, the NTSB, was truly simply reshuffling a set up procedure.

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Palmer in his YouTube video clip Aims out that the proof offered to him, a video clip of a display screen revealing component of a sight of the fly-by he did, does not satisfy also fundamental lawful safeguards for permitting proof. When the FAA is pursuing you, that does not matter. The implicated pilot has no right to test the proof, biased or nevertheless weak it may be.

As you may additionally understand, one more of our writers, Ken Wittekiend, a seasoned, achieved as well as reputable CFI as well as marked supervisor, obtained his DPE advantage pulled on the thinnest of pretenses, particularly due to the fact that he had actually remained in a video clip conference– he never ever said a word– in which others spoke about waterskiing in a plane, which is the act of skidding the tires of the aircraft along the smooth surface area of a body of water. It’s debatable, without a doubt, however a grey location, lawfully talking. There was, for the document, an FAA FSDO worker on the very same phone call. The FSDO stated that Ken ought to have spoken out to condemn such methods (evidently the FAA worker was excluded from such assumptions) and also Ken shed his task as a DPE. I’ve been informed that the actual factor behind Wittekind’s termination was that the FAA intended to offer the setting to an additional individual, a person that was relinquishing the FSDO and also that was, you presumed it, the exact same individual that pursued me 10 years previously.

When I called the FAA to obtain discuss a tale I was covering Wittekiend’s discontinuation, the media individual giggled aloud at my question, the message being clear (to me anyhow) that the FAA can do whatever it desires in such instances, so there was no tale there. I fell short to discover the wit as well as still do.

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These type of actions– intimidation, protectionism, revenge, cronyism, absence of due procedure, absence of significant testimonial as well as a lack of responsibility– are all trademarks of corrupt systems. And also we pilots are the ones that pay the cost.

This is not to state that the FAA does not do great, that its initiatives aren’t needed to the risk-free conduct of the National Airspace System. They are a crucial part. And also by passing a reasonable system of enforcement, the company, the airspace system and also the globe overall would certainly be more secure as well as much better.

Why New Airplanes as We Knew Them Are Over

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Why New Airplanes as We Knew Them Are Over

The progress of light aviation isn’t what we were hoping it would be, but in ways that we’re only now beginning to understand, that progress was unsustainable, though not for the reasons you might think. What is next remains to be done, though by looking at how people behave and how our world is changing, we can certainly make some solid predictions.

We do need to start from a point of clarity, however. If you were as lucky as I was to have started your flying journey back in the glory days of light aviation, you have some context on the current state of our little segment and what path it is likely to take in the years to come.

Historian Jared Diamond, in his seminal work, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, wrote, “[T]he values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs.” Granted, Diamond’s argument is sometimes dismissed as a rephrasing of Santayana’s oft repeated saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But it’s more than that. Diamond goes beyond the sense of history as object lesson with the single word, “values,” which suggests, rightly so, I’d argue, that people cling to history not as a point of policy but, rather, as an emotional touchstone, whether that’s good for them or not. Most often, the latter.

And so it is with what we perceive as modern aviation, which started immediately after World War II and was powered by light, modern and relatively affordable, new, all-metal designs, like the Cessna 172 and the Beechcraft Bonanza, both of which are still being made.

Like many other enthusiast activities, flying is captive to its demographics, and the values the members of that demographic hold dear. The discipline of demographics is more than a marketing tool, though it is a powerful one. At its heart, the study of populations is a study of change, of how that change took place, what it means today and how it might transform future populations.

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These transformations are often influenced by conflict and technological advances. In the case of American aviation in the second half of the 20th century, big demographic changes were inspired by a couple of world wars, from around 1915-1918 and from around 1938-1945 (both conflicts were, of course, brewing for years beforehand). Those wars were driven by advances in communications, transportation, weaponry—advances that were only possible because of the intellectual, scientific, medical, agricultural, economic and industrial revolutions, each of which supercharged the progress of the others.  

These conditions helped populations boom and allowed heads of nations (who had the same base impulses as we are seeing in Europe today) mobilize and support huge armies with powerful weapons doing the tragic works of war, which predictably resulted in untold millions dead, nations in ruins, a world economy in tatters and a powerful industrial engine of progress needing to turn its energies to peacetime efforts. We saw the building of roads and dams and communications infrastructure, the creation of television, affordable transportation, along with cheap food and housing, along with building vast, modern standing armies and the machinery of war that demanded.

Invented along the way were beliefs that supported such societal structures, the belief in the good of progress, in the potential of humans to live in peace and in the ability of nations to agree to and work toward a shared framework of peace and prosperity.

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It was easy for Americans to buy into that vision, dubbed The American Dream, as the United States emerged from the war, despite the loss of around 400,000 people (this compared to an estimated 27,000,000 Soviets who perished). Moreover, because the United States mainland had never been effectively attacked, we emerged from the War with tremendous economic gains, and the economic and industrial might to greatly expand its powers and, hence, its wealth.

And aviation, an activity that literally gave regular humans powers that were before restricted to supernatural beings and imbuing them with a sense at once of direct participation in the American Experience and perspective that was special, because, in some ways, it literally was.

The Invention of Aviation

In popular culture, many assume that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. It’s an easy story to grasp. The only trouble is, it’s literally not true. The invention of aviation wasn’t the creation of the technologies behind airplanes—almost all of them existed pre-Kitty Hawk—but, rather, the combining of those scientific advances, such as light internal combustion engines, propellers (used in boats for a century before aviation took off), light, stiff structures and modern metallurgy, to create a machine that could fly. Granted, the translation of these different components into service of heavier-than-air flight imposed a decades-long process of failure and solution based solely on the nature of flight compared to travel on the surface of the land or water.

And it’s no coincidence that one of those modes, bicycling, would have helped create the Wright Brothers, who used their insights about bikes and motorbikes to make their first airplane. They used their understanding of everything from stiff, light structures to light, powerful engines coupled with an understanding of the central importance of the user interface. The latter can be directly traced back to bikes, which employed a system of easily operated controls that allowed near-instantaneous corrections, something the Wrights knew was critical in a machine as unforgiving of gross errors as aircraft would be. And they were right about that, though the way they approached it was wrong.

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Regardless, the Wrights’ mission was clear to them. They needed to create a machine light enough and with enough lift and thrust to be able to fly on the handful of horses a low-power-output engine of the day might offer. Airfoils were existing art, as were aircraft controls, though neither had achieved anything resembling a mature stage.

Thanks to the technological progress wrought by 40 years of war, by the mid-1940s, designers had come up with what we still know as the modern airplane, a reinforced sheet-metal four-seater sporting a forgiving wing with flaps and powered by a slow-turning, four- to six-cylinder opposed internal combustion engine.

In creating that perfect machine for personal flight, at least in broad terms, we painted ourselves into a corner, as often happens with technology. What becomes popular becomes standard, and that standard enforces infrastructure choices, like what fuel you have at the airport, not to mention airports and how they’re designed to begin with.  

What this all meant is that, yes, we had a lot of great airplanes produced over a roughly 35-year period ending in 1980 or so, but it also meant that during that time, alternative visions of the small airplane never gained any traction. There were outliers, Burt Rutan and Leo Windecker, to name a couple, but the marketplace enforced a conformity to existing standards that was hard, if not impossible, to buck. Novel configurations, diesel power, advanced lift devices and innovative fuels are all innovations that got left by the wayside.

To be fair, there are some really innovative airplanes that have gotten approved over the past couple of decades. Shoutouts to the designers at companies like Diamond Aircraft, the most innovative plane maker in Part 23 aviation, and Cirrus, who popularized a number of innovative approaches to light airplanes. And there are a number of great airplanes still being produced, just not in great numbers or at affordable prices. 

Plus, all of these innovative planes fit into a neat pre-existing structure. It couldn’t have been otherwise. With an entire generation of pilots mostly happy to participate in the American Aviation Experiment—I was and am—there needed to be big rocks ahead indeed to get that train to even slow down.

Those big rocks are the aging out of the large existing fleet of classic-gena aircraft, the youngest of which are 40 years old, the depletion of potential pilots based on economic factors that are way bigger than our little small plane niche, and the running up against environmental restrictions that we failed to head off 50 years ago, when we first knew there was a problem.

So take each of those factors—fewer pilots, aircraft aging out and an unsustainable fuel. Then figure out how to overcome each of those factors. It’s not hard. More affordable, safer and cleaner airplanes will help create the next gen of light aviation. 

Like the Wrights, all the tech we need to get there exists, though, as was the case at Kitty Hawk, some of it is immature. But all of it is doable, and there is already big money at work trying to get it done.

I don’t know if Joby’s all-electric powered, computer-controlled craft is the next Wright Flyer, but it has all the necessary ingredients, except maybe price, but that will follow.

In asking how such an aircraft will fit into light aviation, we are missing the point. It’s always worked the other way around. The new world comes to those who open their minds to new possibilities.

Everything That’s Wrong With The Infamous Parachute Video

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Photo via Trevor Jacobs on Youtube

In late November 2021, when YouTube creator and former Olympic snowboarder Trevor Jacob posted a video of himself bailing out of his recently purchased Taylorcraft light plane over mountainous terrain, pilots immediately smelled something fishy. And they weren’t impressed. In fact, the incident, which is now being investigated by the FAA, according to AVweb (good scoop, y’all), was everything that pilots hate about the kind of flashy self-promotion that has been spawned and inspired by sites like YouTube and TikTok, which reward creators, like cash money rewards, for their viral videos. Jacob’s video currently has around 1.5 million page views.

I won’t belabor why people suspect that Jacob’s bailing out of the light plane was a hoax. In short, it was too perfectly choreographed. Jacob was wearing a skydiving parachute, the T’Craft’s door appears to be unlatched before the engine quits, the fuel selector looks to be shut off, according to one T-Craft owner, and the pilot’s reactions seem less than spontaneous in response to what many suspect was a faux emergency. The entire thing seemed perfectly set up to make a video. Even the title: I Crashed My Plane, seems to imply more than Jacob intended.

True believers would counter with the claim that Jacob wouldn’t have chosen such a remote place to exit his plane had it been planned. Skeptics would respond that such a location was actually ideal, and that Jacob, an experienced skydiver and backcountry athlete, would have been able to save himself from such an emergency.

But I’m not really concerned with making a case against Jacob—there are plenty of others who have done just that and done it well. I was a skeptic before I saw 10 seconds of the video, and the footage did nothing but cement that non-belief. Most pilots feel exactly the same way.

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My point is that such stunts, as the FAA suspects it was, do not impress pilots. Quite the opposite. While we all embrace the videos of joyful selfies or wild crosswind landings, such self-made moments are capturing real flying. It is authentic, the joy, the challenges, even the risks. Wing suit flyers—Jacob was said to be carrying the ashes of a friend who died in a wingsuit accident—often take crazy risks, but they are doing so not to manufacture a crisis moment but to experience it and share that experience. And I vigorously support their freedom to do so while even more vigorously advising would-be flyers to find less risky aviation pursuits.

On the other hand, pilots find stunts wildly tone deaf to the nature of aviation. Manufacturing an emergency invites real harm, which real pilots would never do. Sure, many pilots embrace increased levels of risk in order to get an extra jolt out of their flying, but the idea is to not crash. And even more, such stunts are disrespectful of the losses that so many pilot have suffered, when people they care about are lost in an actual crash. There’s nothing clever or funny about them. They are little more than a demonstration of the creator’s ignorance of the culture of safety that real pilots live out loud on every flight.

Did Jacob create this emergency for YouTube bucks? I’ll let the FAA decide that. Whether it was a stunt or just a suspiciously opportune video moment, I wouldn’t want to be in Jacob’s shoes right now.

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10 Reasons To Be Excited About Flying Again

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With Oshkosh 2021 looming large, I’m spending this time focusing not on the inconceivably treacherous road we traveled these past 16 months to get here but instead reflecting on the good because my eyes have been opened to a number of truths about flying. Granted, some of these are things I long suspected but wasn’t entirely sure about. Others, however, are realizations that have shaken my core understandings about the nature of aviation. And, before you get worried, this is a politics-free zone. This is all about flying. Here goes! 

1. It’s a great time to become an airline pilot. 

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The Aviation Automation Creep Has Begun. Is It A Good Thing Or A Bad Thing?

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It wasn’t long ago that I made my way to Olathe, Kansas, to go flying with Garmin on an airplane, a Piper M600, that could land itself in an emergency with no input from the pilot. None. The technology performed flawlessly. I watched.

One of my favorite games is to try to figure out what Garmin is up to. And lest you think they give me their roadmap years in advance, which I do know exists, by the way, I am not privy to their future plans. If Garmin has a blockbuster product coming out, I often learn about it a month or two in advance and, even then, under a strict embargo.

Garmin has pioneered automation in light GA, most notably with the introduction of extensive envelope-protection capabilities built into its autopilots. These include overspeed and underspeed protection, along with overbank control and others, all working in the background at all times and in a way that makes it transparent to the pilot unless it’s needed.

But when it rolled out Autoland in the M600, and soon thereafter in the Daher TBM 940 and the Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet, in each case for emergency use only, it became clear to me that Garmin could, that moment, field an airplane that could land itself at any time, and do a first-rate job of it, from aeronautical decision making to the stick-and-rudder stuff. And forget about landing. The company could put together an airplane that would start itself, get required clearances, taxi, takeoff and complete the mission with the only input from the pilot being things like the desired destination and the number of passengers and bags. Would that person still really be a pilot? Good question. And would that person have to be trained as a pilot? Which is an even better question.

Garmin’s development of automation—Avidyne and Dynon are busy at work on it too, as are other avionics manufacturers—is about a long-term vision of aviation, and it is likely that the global aviation and consumer electronics giant is taking the long view, which is an interesting approach seeing that it already has the capability to build and field the electronics that would support fully automated flight.

Is a perceived reluctance by pilots to embrace automation that gives Garmin pause? I surely don’t know the answer, and I doubt Garmin would share such intel, but the question intrigues me. In terms of long-term strategic goals, a company like Garmin simply can’t ignore the possibility of a coming world of self-flying aircraft, whatever form they might take.  And the more you look out 20 or 30 years, the more likely it seems that automation will play an increasingly important role in light aviation, though to what degree remains to be seen.

And while pilots are rightly proud of their craftwork and the hundreds or thousands of hours it took to develop such skills, even pilots who avoid automation, or those who adopt it advisedly, will be sharing the skies with other “pilots” who might understand far less than we do about what the title means.

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Video: Will Automation Replace Pilots? Expert Says Not Now, Not Ever

Has AirVenture Been Successful? Why Oshkosh 2021 Is A Mixed Bag Beyond Accounting

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It was last Sunday, and I had just gotten to the show grounds at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for the big event, Oshkosh AirVenture 2021, the biggest air show on the planet. I shouldn’t have been exhausted, after a grueling trip from my home in Central Texas—a journey that was replete with mechanical issues that delayed me for a full day on two separate occasions—but I wasn’t. I was exhilarated. There I was at #OSH21, chatting with old friends at a product release party (though, to be honest, mostly just a party), not a mask in sight. It was heaven, with the appropriate backdrop of airplane noise. Happiness. 

And that was the general theme of the entire show, well, at least the first five days of it. The final two days are weird. Saturday feels more like, well, just an airshow than a fly-in, and Sunday is such a getaway day. Everybody is either in the process of packing up or thinking about it to distraction. My point being just…you can get a pretty good read on the show by Friday. 

And it’s been a GREAT show. The flying was spectacular, the show planes that EAA somehow wrangled for the event were spectacular… the Boeing 747-8, a behemoth! And military hardware to die for, which is the point with some of it! The classics area was mind blowing. How is it that every year it seems as though there are more and more beautiful 80-year-old airplanes hanging out under the elms in the most beautiful corner of an amazing site. Keep ’em coming, is all I can say. 

You could tell, too, just how delighted exhibitors were to be at AirVenture. Marketing and advertising and social media are all well and good, but there’s nothing that remotely rivals the power of face-to-face communication with your customers, who are often old friends, as well. It’s a family, this aviation thing that we do, and family reunions are not only good medicine; they are essential to keeping the heart ticking away. This year’s AirVenture got us all breathing again. 

But the weatherman dealt us all a blow on Wednesday night, when a humongous storm blew through the region. It was a storm that was packing hurricane-force winds and torrential rains, not to mention thunder and lightning. There was even a tornado warning for the Oshkosh area shortly after 10 p.m. on Wednesday, the first I ever remember in my 25-plus years coming to the show. 

So in advance of the monster convective storm, thousands of airplanes hightailed it out of Wittman Field to prevent what could have been an absolutely devastating direct hit. 

It didn’t happen, at least not at KOSH. Towns on either side of Oshkosh got walloped, but the planes and campers at Wittman were largely spared. It was nothing short of miraculous. What could have been a half billion-dollar disaster—I kid you not; just do the math—wound up being a mopping up exercise. Bullet dodged. 

The pilots who chose to get themselves and their planes out of Dodge did the right thing. It was a conservative call. As it turns out, they would have been fine, and so would their airplanes have been, but what they did was great aeronautical decision making. They took the conservative path. That’s the way safety calls work. They often keep you out of trouble that never materialized. It doesn’t mean that proactive steps were wrong. If anything, it proves the opposite. 

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At the same time, the mass exodus took its toll on the show. Walking the grounds this a.m., camera and mental notepad at the ready, I saw just how empty many of the parking areas were, when a few days ago they’d been jam packed, so much so that planes were tied down in a section of south parking that the folks there started referring to as “Fond du Lac,” which is a town bout 20 miles south of Oshkosh. It really did feel that way. By Friday a.m., all those folks could have moved north toward the airshow version of civilization if they’d wanted to. 

The loss of thousands of planes, and many thousands of people, pilots and their passengers, almost always family or close friends, had an impact. You could feel it. The show was still plenty busy, but not bursting at the seams. And everybody, me included, was hoping for a week of overflowing fun.

The other damper was a story that is even bigger than the really big stuff happening at AirVenture, and that is the virus, something that nobody here is talking about, and haven’t been either. The rise of the Delta variant of the coronavirus has in just the past week or so set us back tremendously in our national drive to get through this nightmare and make living our lives safe again. Because Delta is far more transmissible than the original variety of the virus, it gets around much more easily, and even people who are vaccinated can get COVID-19 and can get sick from it. Those who haven’t been vaccinated will get sick and will likely be hit harder by this variant. At AirVenture 2021, we all largely ignored this fact. 

And while EAA invested heavily in sanitization efforts, even going so far as to include the branding of the sanitation company they partnered with in working to keep the grounds safe, the virus, as we all know, is largely spread by airborne droplets, and with lots of people here and almost no one, me included for the most part, wearing a mask, people are going to get sick when they get home. I wish that weren’t so, but it’s hard to figure how it wouldn’t happen. 

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Like you, I’m tired of this whole coronavirus debacle. But being tired of it won’t make it go away. It is what it is, and that is a terrible scourge that we have not yet beaten. And while AirVenture 2021 was so good for the soul of aviation, and for my aviation soul in particular, things are not, as much as we might hope otherwise, back to normal. 

So, when I head back home in a couple of days, I will go with the states of hope and realism doing battle within my flying heart, and with the impossibly desperate hope that next year we really, truly hope-to-God will be beyond this thing and back to worrying about the FAA’s latest boneheaded move instead of some stupid virus that just refuses to go away.

Alaska Passenger Small Plane Suicide Attempt Sounded Worse Than It Was

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Last week an 18-year-old man was arrested after allegedly trying to crash the Cessna Caravan he was a passenger aboard. Local authorities took him into custody after the plane was landed safely at its destination, the airport in the small Alaska town of Aniak. No one was injured and there was no damage to the single-engine turboprop-powered plane.

The most common take on the story veered toward the sensationalistic. The idea was the usual trope, that the passenger was crazed and hellbent on crashing the plane and would have had he not been wrestled away from the controls by the pilot and passengers.

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FAA Adopts Pilot Record-Keeping Rule. Here’s Why It Happened And Why It’s Problematic.

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Over objections from pilots and the groups that represent them, the FAA has adopted a sweeping new rule creating a pilot record database. The 232-page rule will go into effect in 60 days after its publication, so around the end of July 2021. Within one year, companies affected by the new rule will need to start using the records database, and within two years, the FAA will require “complete historical record reporting,” though in this case, “complete” mercifully means “for the last seven years, or, since 2015,” by which point operators will need to have a complete historic record for every pilot they’ve employed since that time.

This database, to be maintained by the FAA, is called the Pilot Records Database (PRD), and it makes it both possible and required for operators to share records of the pilots they employ.

The rule would presumably wipe out labor agreements between pilots’ unions and their airlines that put limits on the kinds of data that operators keep (and share with other operators). 

What outfits are subject to the new rule? You might think it’s mainly the airlines, but you’d be wrong. It does include most air carriers but also encompasses business aircraft flight departments, air tour providers, shared ownership operators…along with any “entities conducting public aircraft operations” or “holding out to the public.” So far as we can figure, that means just about any kind of commercial fight operation, with a few noteworthy carve-outs. Flight schools would be exempted, as would the military, helicopter logging and similar operations, and agricultural spray plane operators. So, that’s a relief.

Still it’s a wide net, one that will catch up in its regulatory requirements many thousands of small fish who today have little or no legal requirement to maintain such databases. The FAA is said to be readying an advisory circular clarifying the rule and attempting to give answers to the thousands of questions that will soon arise from pilots and operators. We’re girding ourselves for the release of that document, which will presumably attempt to make sense of one of the most ill-advised rules in the FAA’s history.

But why did this rule even happen? What was the impetus to create such a sweeping new web of regulations? The answer is, it’s all about Colgan Air 3407, the Q400 on its way from Newark to Buffalo in 2009 that crashed after the crew failed to recover from an aerodynamic stall that they inadvertently entered. All 49 aboard the plane were killed, as was one person on the ground, when it crashed into a house in Clarence Center, New York, on the plane’s approach path to Buffalo. Thirteen years later, it is the most recent U.S. carrier crash with mass fatalities.

The NTSB’s statement of probable cause in its final report on the crash mostly called out issues related to the specific flight control issues, that is, the crew’s flying of the airplane leading to the stall and after it, all of which were shockingly poor and never should have happened.

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But there were also concerns raised over the crew’s presumed fatigued state, though the final report is noncommittal on that issue, as well as the captain’s poor performance on previous training sessions.

In its commentary on the new record-keeping rule, the FAA wrote,

“Additional safety issues the NTSB identified included deficiencies in the air carrier’s record-keeping system and its analysis of the flight crew’s qualifications and previous performance. Specifically, Colgan Air’s check airman stated that the captain had failed his initial proficiency check on the Saab 340 on October 15, 2007, received additional training, and passed his upgrade proficiency check on the next day; however, the company’s electronic records indicated that the second check was conducted 12 days after the failure. The NTSB deemed these discrepancies in the captain’s training records as noteworthy because the captain had demonstrated previous training difficulties during his tenure at Colgan Air.”

So, today, we have a rule that mandates that such poor performance be documented and recorded so that such events wouldn’t be lost as a pilot moves from one airline to the next.

It happens. Such was the case with Atlas Air 3591, a Boeing 767-300 that crashed while on approach to Houston (IAH) in 2019, killing all three aboard—the captain, first officer and a jump seat passenger who picked the wrong flight to deadhead on. In its final report, the NTSB found that a major factor in the crash, in addition to the first officer’s catastrophically bad flying, “…were systemic deficiencies in the aviation industry’s selection and performance measurement practices, which failed to address the first officer’s aptitude-related deficiencies and maladaptive stress response,” which were detailed in the report and is parroting what the NTSB said in its report on Colgan Air 3407, a crash from 10 years prior. The report makes clear that Atlas Air didn’t know and couldn’t have known about the poor performance of the pilot on previous training events, though how its own training could have missed such glaring deficiencies calls into question not only that company’s hiring practices but those of every operator who welcomes aboard a pilot who failed a checkride or got fired for something related to safe flying practices.

The rule is inherently anti-pilot, and that’s not to say that inept pilots shouldn’t be held accountable for their poor performance, but that many good pilots will surely be caught up in this new reporting system. We are familiar with a pilot who was busted on a commercial checkride early in his career for landing “six inches short” of the imaginary threshold in a low-wing airplane (which is of course impossible to determine by the naked eye) by an FAA examiner who had expressed that he was unhappy to have been asked by the flight training provider to do the checkride on a Sunday. Abuse of authority is a very real thing, and this rule will give such abusers the additional power to ensure that negative events, however specious, will follow a pilot around forever.

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Well, not literally forever. The rule will let operators skip over pilots who are known to be dead, as well as those who might still be alive but would be older than 99 years old, which will keep future generations safe from centenarian airline pilots who did poorly on a line check 70 years earlier.

The new reporting rule takes a system already heavily weighted against pilots and tilts that even further toward employers and regulators, not only giving the ability to share pilot data but requiring them to do so. And while the FAA went to some pains to try to limit what data can be shared, it admits in the rule that operators will have certain discretion. For instance, can and should a pilot who is fired for harassment of coworkers be cited on the record for those actions? The FAA says it’s up the employer, as such behavior can and often does have a negative effect on the safe conduct of a flight crew. The agency also made clear that it would not detail what infractions should get reported, instead leaving it to the operator because there are circumstances that would doubtless arise that would be report-worthy but not mentioned in a specific list.

And it has a point. If it were to say that pilots can be reported for A or B behavior, when C happens, it will be argued that C is exempt because it wasn’t mentioned. The flip side is that the regulation opens itself to the legal argument, and you can bet it’s coming, that it’s overly broad, allowing employers to cite pilots for any behavior they can reasonably argue can lead to poor crew performance. So, in effect, employers can report pilots for a vast number of potential infractions so long as it then argues that such actions were counter to safe ops.

But would an operator ever use that power in order to retaliate against a pilot who, for instance, called into question its safety management practices? It’s a rhetorical question. Of course, some would. In fact, it happens today, and the extent of this management behavior is unknown though probably greater than most suspect. And that kind of suppression of safety reporting and retribution against the reporter is by definition an anti-safety move. The new rule might not give such retaliatory moves carte blanche but it almost certainly allow them far wider latitude. 

We can expect lawsuits and arbitration actions by the many hundreds to follow the implementation of this rule, because reporting events that are in dispute, even if it’s mandated by the FAA (which it seems to be), will open reporters up to legal action, some, though surely not all of which, will be justified. And all of this new law and new requirements is based on one crash more than a decade ago in which 50 people were killed. And let’s maintain some perspective. One death is too many, but let’s put that loss of life up against a backdrop of 40,000 Americans killed every year in road accidents.

Let’s just hope that the FAA’s in its zeal to create a reporting system to catch bad pilots doesn’t adversely affect the very safety picture it says that the rule is trying to improve.

Going Direct: Should The Pandemic Change How We Look At Aviation’s Safety Record?

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A while ago, around 125,000 deaths ago, in fact, I wrote about whether the pandemic should make us reconsider aviation safety in light of the great death toll that Covid has wreaked upon the world, and the United States, in particular. After an entire year under the specter of a global pandemic, the answer, I believe, is clearer than ever.

Much of what we do in aviation is driven by safety concerns, to the point where we’re dealing with relatively small numbers—a few hundred fatalities a year. That’s not nothing, but it’s been hard for me lately to think of that as a huge number, a number that on its face is an unacceptably high price for us to pay for doing what pilots of small planes love to do. Are driven to do.

It’s been easy for us in aviation to wall off the truth that other causes of death in the United States also eclipse that we see in flying. Don’t get me wrong. On a per-mile basis, flying a small plane carries with it far greater risk than driving to the store in the family sedan.

A more apt comparison would be the fatality rate for so-called crotch rocket motorcycles, small, light, super high-performance bikes that according to the data represent around 10% of registered motorcycles. Despite this, they are involved in a quarter of all motorcycle fatalities. There’s no doubt that it’s a lot of fun. But there’s a price for that high-revving thrill. Every year these bikes account for around four times as many fatalities as light GA does. Are many of the fatalities associated with careless or reckless riding? Of course they are. If you want to improve your chances, you ride more cautiously, perhaps on bikes that have a better safety record. There is no difference between that calculous and that which we use in deciding that flying is worth the risk, while working to cut down on that risk in ways that still allow us to fly in the way we love.

Deaths from light aircraft crashes represent a small fraction compared with major causes. Highway accidents account for around 40,000 deaths on any given year. You’d think that 2020 would have been an improvement over previous years, because so many fewer people were traveling, but you’d be wrong. There were nearly 4,000 more deaths on our highways and byways in 2020. I’ll let you figure out why that was the case.

It goes beyond vehicles, too. There were nearly 50,000 deaths by suicide in 2019, and there were more than 38,000 gun-related deaths too. There are, of course, overlapping cases for all of these causes.

But all of these statistics pale in comparison to deaths from cancer and heart disease. Between those two, around 1.3 million Americans died in 2019. While some would have you believe that COVID deaths are a far smaller number than the figures quoted by the Centers for Disease Control, such is not the case. The number that demographers use is called excess mortality, and excess mortality in the United States during the pandemic was greater even than the number of COVID deaths being reported. How many are a byproduct of this scourge? No doubt, many of them.

The impact of the disease itself has been devastating. At the peak of infections and deaths this past winter in the United States, we were seeing 4,000 fatalities per day from complications from COVID-19. They are not quick deaths either. It can be a weeks-long, agonizing struggle for survival, and lots of people don’t make it. Over the course of a year in the United States, from early March of 2020 to early March of 2021, at least 525,000 people died of COVID-19 complications. Those are excess deaths, too, deaths that are over the numbers of people who would normally have been expected to die over a one-year period.

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So, the question is this: Do we need to think differently about the risks we undertake when we go flying? I think the answer is a resounding “no.”

Part of the joy of what we do is intimately connected not to the risk inherent in flying but in the physics involved in it. We fly at great speeds and come to sudden stops in usually unsurvivable ways. Can we mitigate these risks? Of course. The airlines have. Airline flying is safer than just about any activity there is. But it is done at great expense, with dozens of expensive, redundant systems, professionally trained crews of pilots and a high degree of scrutiny of both the medical fitness and pilot proficiency of those flight crewmembers.

Do we want that for light GA? Heavens, no. Not only would it price us all out of the game, but it would take a lot of the joy out of it, too.

We can, however, continue to make flying safer, though, as we have been for some time. And we can continue to insist on being the best pilots we can be, which means taking great care of our airplanes and of our readiness to fly them. The novel coronavirus pandemic has done a great deal of damage to the world and to our country. But it shouldn’t make us throw caution to the wind as we go about our flying lives. It should instead remind us to double down to protect those things in life that bring us joy, because without those things, what’s the point?