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The annual adventure trip to Arizona with my buddies would have been better if we could fly around the desert in a rented Cessna as we planned. An important part of that plan included my checkout and endorsement to rent the FBOs Skyhawk. Unfortunately, scheduling the checkout turned out to be more difficult than I planned—even though I planned the chore well in advance of our trip.

Due to our busy schedule, my window for completing the checkout was narrow. Ultimately, the window closed without me getting a checkout due to instructor scheduling and the lack of aircraft. The boys were disappointed and I looked stupid. OpenAirplane—a beta program that’s intended to make renting a plane as easy as renting a car—shows signs of solving this dilemma, while unlocking the utility of a pilot’s license. 

If OpenAirplane existed during my vacation, I could have taken care of the checkout at home, scheduled the flight on the my smartphone, walked up to the counter at Sawyer Aviation at Scottsdale Airport and grab the keys to my rental. Since my credit card would already be on file, I wouldn’t have to waste time paying after the flight. This is exactly the seamless rental process that OpenAirplane is trying to achieve. 

Value Proposition

OpenAirplane co-founder Rod Rakic told me that his initial goal was to make the pilot certificate more useful. In 2011, he recognized AOPA’s flight training initiative as a fine effort to reduce student dropouts. According to Rakic, the initiative didn’t address the problem of keeping pilot’s interested in maintaining their certificate once their initial training was complete. For those who don’t own an airplane, the pilot certificate often turns off when the pilot is away from their home base because the process of renting an aircraft while away from home can be a hassle.

“What I was seeing was smart people trying to create better experiences for students coming into the lifestyle but there wasn’t anyone addressing the value proposition of having a pilot’s license in the first place. It’s what comes after taking your spouse and friends for an airplane ride that wasn’t being addressed,” said Rakic.

According to OpenAirplane, 96 percent of pilots they surveyed said that they would fly more at locations away from their home base if only it was simpler. Moreover, 51 percent of them said that they don’t rent while away from home because of complicated checkout requirements, and 28 percent of pilots said that they don’t rent more simply because it’s hard to find airplanes.

Rakic said OpenAirplane was developed to make the experience of renting airplanes across the country, or just across the airport, fundamentally better for pilots and the operators. “For the participating FBO, it creates incremental revenue and additional customers who might not have found them. Even the busiest FBO might have holes in the rental schedule that can be filled by renters who want to fly while they are away from home base,” said Rakic.

Over the years, this general concept has been tried with little success. In the 1970’s, Lease a Plane created a business model that mimicked that of a rental car business. It’s said the model failed partly because the company owned the aircraft but couldn’t maintain the capital to purchase newer aircraft as older models depreciated. 

Rakic maintains that his business model is different—and growing—because OpenAirplane doesn’t own any aircraft. Instead, OpenAirplane helps existing operators monetize existing aircraft that might not be renting as much as they can.

Universal Pilot Checkout

Renting aircraft in the network starts at home. OpenAirplane requires the pilot to complete a single standardized annual checkout that’s specific to the make and model of aircraft they plan to rent. The program is available to any pilot who holds at least an FAA private pilot or sport pilot certificate. According to OpenAirplane, both the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) and the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) have contributed expertise in the development of the program’s training model.

The first step in signing on with the program is creating an online pilot profile.  This process documents your airman credentials and flight experience. The idea here is to eliminate the tedious process of filling out paperwork at each new place you rent. You only have to sign up once because your credentials will follow you at each OpenAirplane location. You’ll also need to provide proof of renters insurance (this isn’t required to complete the checkout). From there, you’re directed to an OpenAirplane facility that’s close to your home base to schedule what’s called a Universal Pilot Checkout (UPC) (PDF). This is a standardization/evaluation program designed specifically for OpenAirplane. The UPC is required every 12 months and you’ll need to document proof of 90-day currency.

Rakic made it clear that the UPC is conducted to a higher standard than the typical BFR. Where a BFR isn’t a pass or fail exercise, OpenAirplane’s UPC is pass or fail and is evaluated against the FAA practical test standards for private or sport pilot. If you blow the ride, you’ll of course have the opportunity to fly again until you prove you can meet the standard. 

Chad Verdaglio from Sawyer Aviation in Scottsdale, Arizona told me he has proof that the UPC pass/fail system is more valuable than just accomplishing a checkout. “One of our first candidates failed the UPC. He was a part time pilot who was competent but simply rusty when it came to stalls, steep turns and other maneuvers. The UPC afforded him the opportunity to recognize that he needed to come back the following Saturday and fly some more. He did and ultimately passed,” said Verdaglio.

The UPC typically consists of a one-hour ground session to review the oral portion of the knowledge required by the PTS, plus an hour and a half or so in flight for the practical portion of the PTS. You’ll also demonstrate several takeoffs and landings.  An IFR checkout, which could include an IPC, will obviously take longer.  Rakic said pilots don’t have to test to IFR standards, even if they are instrumented rated (they’ll be limited to VFR operations at the time of rental). 

If there's any question about your proficiency and the ability to pass the UPC, OpenAirplane recommends you prepare for the checkout by reviewing the knowledge needed to complete the PTS oral and fly a practice flight with another CFI to polish up maneuvers. During the UPC, you'll be charged the operator's published rate for both instructor time and aircraft rental. 

The UPC is specific to the make and model of the aircraft you plan to rent and not all checkouts are created alike. For instance, a checkout in a normally aspirated Cirrus SR22 isn’t sufficient to rent a turbocharged model—you’ll need an additional checkout to focus on the procedures that are required to operate the turbo. Similarly, a checkout in a round gauge Skyhawk won’t cover you in a G1000 glass cockpit model. Still, these additional checkouts are abbreviated—focusing on the differences in aircraft and systems rather than covering PTS standards a second time. When it’s time to renew the UPC, simply pick the most complicated aircraft you are checked out to fly and complete the UPC in it for blanket rental privileges (enabling you to rent both round gauge and G1000 aircraft, for example). Completion of the UPC qualifies you for a 10 percent discount on renters insurance.

Tribal Knowledge 

Since a checkout often provides knowledge of the local area (becoming familiar with reporting points, local procedures and landscape features, for example) my concern with getting checked out outside of the rental environment is that the rental pilot could lack the confidence of a local pilot. Call it the home field advantage. 

OpenAirplane addresses my concern with the local procedure briefing (LPB). Rakic said OpenAirplane works extensively with the operators to document all the local procedures that a renter might otherwise learn during a checkout. This might include information that doesn't get into the airport facility directory or isn’t depicted on local charts. OpenAirplane asks each operator 43 questions that a renter may ask when getting checked out in the local area.

Operators within the network then publish the LPB information on their web page (and on the OpenAirplane app) so you can read up on procedures ahead of time. This might include the operator's procedures and practices, local airspace considerations, airfield operation hints and even notes on flight planning.

I asked Richard Gentil from Naples Air Center in Naples, Florida for his thoughts on checking out away from the rental environment and on OpenAirplane in general. His operation was one of the first to join the network.  

“There’s nothing like flying the local area while interacting with an instructor,” Gentil told me. Still, Naples Air Center ensures that rental pilot’s get all of the resources they need to become familiar with operating in the area, even if it means additional training. “Just because an OpenAirplane client has checked out at their home base doesn’t mean we won’t spend all of the time that’s necessary to ensure their confidence and safety. We have instructors available every day who can fly with a renter if necessary,” said Gentil.

According to Gentil, his rental fleet of 23 aircraft fly1000-2000 hours per month and the 13 or so that are on the OpenAirplane program stay busy. “It’s too early to tell just how OpenAirplane will change our bottom line but it’s clearly a way to increase the amount of time our aircraft fly. In the winter months, there are lot’s of northerners who come to Florida for vacation and OpenAirplane makes it easy for them to rent and fly on their own rather than taking an instructor along or completing a time consuming checkout,” he said.

Participating operators provide detailed information on their rental aircraft. This includes actual photos of the aircraft—including the radio stack, autopilot and interior—so you’ll know exactly what to expect when you show up. You won’t get a generic photo of a Cessna, for example. Instead, you’ll see the exact aircraft that’s available to rent. There’s also a star-rating process for the operator and for the aircraft to help you decide where you want to fly.

Surfing for Rentals

You can find available planes and how they are equipped plus check rental rates and make a booking request on OpenAirplane’s web page. While the most common rental in the fleet is the Cessna Skyhawk, the network has a healthy variety of aircraft—from the Cirrus SR22 to the Remos LSA. There are plans to add high altitude airports, twins and possibly seaplanes and tail wheel models to the program. There’s also the possibility of adding N-registered aircraft to the program in other countries.

OpenAirplane launched in June 2013 with six bases and added another eight in August 2013, covering 14 cities. There are over 3400 pilot’s currently signed up on OpenAirplane’s web site, even though there are sizable holes in available bases. This can be frustrating for the pilot who is looking to complete a checkout close to home.

Still, Rakic said the network is growing rapidly. It took six months to get the first six operators on line and six weeks to get the next eight on line.  The goal was to have 25 bases by the end of 2013 and Rakic plans to easily surpass that number. We’ll keep tabs on OpenAirplane and continue to report on its growth and progress. For more information, visit OpenAirplane.com.

Listen to the OpenAirplane podcast from AirVenture 2013

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Brent Owens is a professional pilot, RV-8 builder, and former (and current) AVweb podcast subject who has recently found the attention of aviation publications for his written articles and his latest endeavor -- a blog dedicated to money-saving tips for pilots. The website, FixedWingBuddha.com, is a collection of articles that detail methods that can help keep costs down for aircraft owners, reduce costs for renters, and showcase the more affordable routes to aircraft ownership and flying for aspiring and current pilots. All the information now on the website is free, and Owens says the format is designed to accept feedback. The site currently includes articles like "Can't afford to fly yet: Start here," "Renting Airplanes for less," and "Getting Paid to Fly," among others. 

Owens currently divides posts into main categories that include airmanship, ownership, learning to fly, and a rated pilots section. He told AVweb Thursday that he intends to promote ideas from other pilots who contact him with money-saving tips that have worked for them and will ultimately produce a comprehensive e-book on the subject, which he plans to sell. However, the information currently on the site and whatever is added is entirely free and Owens says he plans to keep it that way. He says he hopes the site will serve as an online depot for ideas that will keep more pilots active in aviation and encourage interested people to join the pilot community.

A quick follow-up with a former podcast interviewee, RV-8 builder Brent Owens, finds him engaged in a new endeavor -- an online blog (FixedWingBuddha.com) dedicated to sharing tips on keeping flying affordable.

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As AirVenture 2013, ForeFlight was showing off the latest version of its popular app, and it now includes Canadian charts, a unique plate overlay feature, and helicopter charts for U.S. pilots.  In this AVweb Product Minute, ForeFlight's Jason Miller gives us a tour of the app's new high points.

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No one needs to tell you that air traffic congestion can delay issuance of your IFR clearance or cause you to suffer the dreaded Hold for IFR Release call with an indefinite departure time while the Hobbs goes tick, tick, tick.

NextGen, the FAA’s wide ranging overhaul of the Air Traffic Control System, is supposed to eliminate many delays by making the most efficient use of airspace and airports. In part, this is an acknowledgement that simply building more airports is not the answer due to cost, space and environmental issues to name a few, even though airports are responsible for about a third of flight delays.

Safety is the invisible elephant constraining any proposal to increase capacity. There is only so much airspace and so many airports. How then to make best use of what we have?

Flow Control

The answer is flow control. By regulating the rate at which aircraft enter congested resources such as airport airspace to a level no greater than the resource can accept, bottlenecks can be mitigated if not avoided altogether.

A related term, metering, regulates the time of arriving traffic into a terminal area so as not to exceed a pre-determined terminal acceptance rate.

IFR Slots are one way ATC exercises flow control. Back in 1968, traffic saturation at five critical airports (LaGuardia, Kennedy, Newark, Dulles and O’Hare) forced the FAA to institute the high density rule that limited the number of IFR departures and arrivals during certain hours of the day. The resulting time slots were allocated to air carriers for IFR landings and takeoffs during a particular 30 or 60-minute period. That rigid process has since become more flexible, but it has also become more conservative relative to the evolution of streamlined ATC technology. Ironically, the slot system at times becomes a constriction point working against the very efficiency it was designed to create.

Ground Delay Program

Bad weather forces runway arrival rates down, due in part to time-consuming SIDs and STARs. In 1999, Ground Delay Program (GDP) software introduced a form of flow control in which it reduced airline arrival slots for aircraft headed toward weathered-in airports. As its name implies, aircraft are held on the ground at their origin, resulting in less expense and greater safety than in-flight holds.

Today’s Enhanced GDP reassigns slots made vacant by cancellations or delays and fills them with operating flights.

Lasso that LAHSO

One easy way to increase runway capacity is via LAHSO—Land and Hold Short Operations, something we can do very well in GA.

At airports with operating towers and intersecting runways or taxiways, the tower may ask, “Can you land and hold short of runway 31, 3600 feet available.” They can also specify a hold-short point on a runway.

It’s up to you to accept or reject it as you wish, but student pilots or those unfamiliar with LAHSO should not participate. A LAHSO clearance does not preclude your right to reject the landing and go around, but once you accept the clearance you are obligated to comply with it like any other clearance. If you subsequently need to reject the landing, you are expected to safely separate yourself from other aircraft and promptly notify the controller.

Airports that conduct LAHSO are listed on page O-1 of the FAA U.S. Terminal Procedures Publication as well as in the A/FD. If LAHSO are in effect, that fact will be stated on the ATIS or AWOS.

In the future LAHSO may be extended to include wet runways where mixed commercial and GA operations are in effect and might include multiple hold-short points on a runway.

Surface Management

Surface Management Guidance and Control System (SMGCS) consists of a computer-generated low-visibility taxi plan for airports able to launch or land when the RVR is less than 1200 feet—for both air crews and airport vehicles. SMGCS (pronounced SMIGS) designates taxi routes to and from SMGCS run- ways and displays them on a special SMGCS Low Visibility Taxi Route monitor in the tower.

A SMGCS chart makes it possible for pilots and drivers to find their way during low visibility and keep aircraft and vehicles where they are supposed to be. Jeppesen publishes Low Visibility Taxi Route Charts for cockpit use.

Strategically, SMGCS is the ground component that aligns with stream-lined arrival and departure management and the en route components of free flight. Taken together, they are supposed to form a system that minimizes delays and enhances safety during each phase of flight.

Save Time With TEC

TEC stands for Tower En Route Control, and is referred to as tower en route or tower-to-tower. This is a misnomer because you don’t talk to towers en route, you talk with TRA-CONs. Filing a TECroute means that you stay in approach control airspace all the way and never enter the en route system controlled by ARTCC. It is designed to service non- turbojet aircraft going to and coming from metropolitan centers at altitudes below 10,000 feet and for flights of two hours or less. Beyond that length, extensive coordination between facilities may create undue delays.

TEC flights may experience the same departure, destination and en route delays as any other ATC-controlled aircraft would. In this case you may prefer an alternate destination airport with no delays.

There are no special pilot or equipment requirements because TEC uses the Victor airways. TEC routes are published in the A/FD. Simply specify TEC in the Remarks section of your IFR flight plan. You have the flexibility of filing to a satellite airport near the major primary airport via the same routing.

Not all approach control facilities may operate up to the maximum TEC altitude of 10,000 feet. This may be a concern if you want to get above any weather.

Historically, TEC became important back in 1981 when the controllers went on strike. This is because TEC was designed to be an overflow resource in the low-altitude system. It worked pretty well.

Preferred IFR Routes

Preferred routes are published in the A/FD for both low and high altitude stratum. They are also available as an option in most flight planning soft- ware. Preferred IFR routes have the advantage of minimizing in-flight route changes, are designed to use airways in an efficient, orderly way and help systematize air traffic flow. The more you use preferred routes, the better for all participants in minimizing departure, en route and arrival delays.

File By The STARs

One of my favorite ways of filing is to find a STAR that takes me to my desired airport and then flying it almost from departure. By doing this, you minimize delay by following a standard, published route that weaves you through sometimes complex airspace.

For instance, when I go north, I file the Bairn Three Arrival into the Orlando, FL (KSFB) area from Palm Beach (PBI), which is just five miles north of my home airport. Usually the controllers will fly me west of PBI and join the PBI 330 radial to the northwest. I can fly into any of the five airports in the Orlando area, which provides more flexibility in flight planning.

FAR 91.103 (a)

This provision of the FAR requires the pilot to be aware of any known traffic delays of which the PIC has been advised by ATC. You can take this one step further and ask for published NOTAM delays during your flight briefing. Although the readout can be somewhat cryptic, you can get the essence by reading it slowly. Note that it begins with the acronym ATCSCC – the ATC Systems Command Center in Warrenton, VA. ATCSCC regulates air traffic when weather, equipment, runway closures, or other conditions place stress on the National Airspace System.

ATCSCC’s Enhanced Traffic Management System (ETMS) predicts traffic surges, gaps, and volume based on current and anticipated airborne aircraft. Personnel evaluate the projected traffic flow into airports and sectors, and then take the least restrictive action needed to assure that system capacity is not exceeded.

Within ETMS, the Monitor Alert analyzes traffic demand for all airports, sectors, and airborne reporting fixes in the continental U.S. It automatically displays an alert when demand is predicted to exceed capacity in a specific area. Again, personnel examine the circumstances and then provide routes and spacing to promote traffic flow.

Some things we can control and others not. The FAA is doing its best to minimize system delays. We can help ourselves, however, by making use of what they give us and by being intelligently creative in our IFR filings. As always, being smart on the ground will make your flight easier, safer and faster.

This article originally appreared in the June 2013 issue of IFR Refresher.

As the quest for a replacement for 100LL drags into its third decade, our sister publication Aviation Consumer, is seeking opinions from owners, pilots and aircraft operators on how you think the process is going. The FAA has established a special office devoted to a replacement for 100LL and piston fuels in general. We would like to know if you've followed the process and, if so, what you think of it.

And what what about mogas? In some cases, it's $2 cheaper than avgas. Are you using it? If so, what are your experiences and if you haven't used it, why not? You can take the survey by clicking here. It'll take about five minutes.

We'll compile the results and compare them to the same questions we asked two years ago.

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Paul Bertorelli has been musing -- always a dangerous development -- on whether Disney's 'Planes' will inspire the young folks to become pilots. Growing up as he did in Beaver Cleaver's neighborhood, he's expressing serious doubts that a mere movie can convey the magic of learning to fly. Click here to join the conversation. Read More
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