AVwebFlash - Volume 21, Number 8a
February 16, 2014
Asiana Changes Pilot Training
Asiana Airlines has reportedly changed the way it trains its pilots in the wake of the 2013 crash of Flight 214 in San Francisco, opting for what the Voice of America describes as a "friendlier" cockpit. "It's a reality that within our country there is a leaning toward a patriarchal culture and many pilots work and fly within the strict military order," Asiana's CEO Kim Soo-cheon told reporters in Seoul last week. The NTSB highlighted significant cockpit culture issues on the flight deck of the Asiana Boeing 777 on a clear, calm summer day when the pilots allowed the aircraft to get low and slow on a visual approach to SFO. There were four pilots up front but only one of them said anything as the big Boeing wallowed into a seawall 34 knots below its target speed. Three people died as a result of the crash and 182 were injured.
Although the VOA report didn't go into detail about the training shift, it's believed the new methods are aimed at reducing the "cockpit hierarchy" that may have been have been a factor in the crash and stress more open communication between all pilots on the flight deck. During the December NTSB hearing it was revealed that pilot Lee Kang Kuk, who was on his operational checkride as a captain, was "very concerned" about making a visual approach and told investigators "it was very difficult to perform a visual approach with a heavy airplane." The junior pilots on the flight deck apparently watched as their superiors took the 777 to the brink of a stall before one of them said "It's low" and another called belatedly for a go-around.
Canada Adopts Multi-Crew Pilot License
Canada is joining European and Asian countries in adopting the multi-crew pilot's license as a means of keeping the right seats of its airliners populated. In contrast to the U.S., where Congress has decided how many hours a pilot must have before clipping on the tie and three stripes, Canada and the other countries are adopting an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)-designed program that takes ab initio students through at least 250 hours of airline-oriented flight training and 750 hours of ground school and makes them FOs on airliners in 12 to 18 months. Canada's Ministry of Transport announced last week that the license will be added to Transport Canada's list of approved pilot certification standards and the next step is to start certifying aviation training organizations to teach the courses. That news comes as a war of words develops between airline executives and pilot unions about the cause and effect of new 1,500-hour experience minimum for copilots (1,000 hours if they attend a university course).
As we reported last week, the Air Line Pilots Association claims there is no shortage of pilots. President Lee Moak said there are plenty of experienced American pilots flying overseas who would return to the U.S. if they could make as much money as they do at foreign carriers. While that may be true, in the reality that has evolved into the airline training model in the U.S., regional airlines are curtailing their operations because they don't have enough pilots. Republic Airways mothballed 27 of its 243 aircraft last week for that reason and CEO Bryan Bedford said it will get worse before it gets better. "The short-term answer is the aviation industry is just going to get smaller," he told The Wall Street Journal (subscription required). He said the problem is double-pronged. New pilots must spend much longer gaining the experience necessary to get an airline job at the same time the major carriers are hiring experienced regional pilots faster than the regionals can replace them. Bedford said that means that some marginal regional airline destinations will lose service and fares will go up as airlines increase the pay of pilots to help attract more. Bedford appeared to allude to the multi-crew pilot license when he told the WSJ that other countries have "had to reformulate the whole vocation of the pilot" and that discussion needs to be held in the U.S. "We should have that conversation today and get ahead of it, before the problem that seems difficult today gets a heck of a lot worse," he said.
Court Tosses City's Lawsuit to Close Santa Monica Airport
It has been reported that Santa Monica's lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration seeking to clarify ownership of its municipal airport in order to close it was thrown out today by a federal court judge in downtown Los Angeles. U.S. District Judge John L. Walter dismissed the case, ruling that one of the lawsuit's claims was barred by a statute of limitations, other claims must first be presented to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and others were brought prematurely because the city had not yet made a decision on whether it plans to close the airport. Questions have been swirling about the airport's future, as it is essential to the disaster plan for Los Angeles while residents who moved in adjacent to the nearly century-old airport claim it should be closed because of noise. The lawsuit, filed in October, questioned whether the city was required under agreements with the federal government to operate the land as an airport in perpetuity.
According to the city's lawsuit, Santa Monica leased the airport to the federal government during World War II, and local and federal officials made improvements to the facility. After the war, the airport was returned to the city under an “instrument of transfer,” but federal officials contend that document calls on the city to operate the airport “in perpetuity.” City officials dispute that claim, contending the city has owned the land for nearly 100 years, and the property was merely leased to the government during the war. FAA officials said the agency's position on the facility has been that the city should keep operating the airport until at least 2023 because of assurances that were made when the city received federal airport-improvement grants. The agency has also contended that the city is bound to continue operating the airport beyond 2023 under the terms of the post-war agreement in 1948.
Twin Otter Down In Nepal
All 15 passengers and three crew aboard a Nepal Airlines Twin Otter are believed to have died in a crash in the remote western part of the mountainous country. Nepalese officials said villagers near the city of Pokhara reported the turboprop twin went down in snow and fog shortly after an unscheduled fuel stop. The aircraft was on its way from Katmandu to Jumla according to Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal official Ram Hari Sharma. All except one Danish person aboard the aircraft were Nepalese and there was at least one child.
It was the second Twin Otter crash for Nepal Airlines in less than a year. In May, all 21 people aboard that Twin Otter were hurt during a landing accident at a mountain strip in Northern Nepal. In 2012 there were two fatal crashes that killed a total of 34 people on two different airlines. In December of last year the European Union blacklisted all airlines in Nepal for safety concerns. Pokhara (pop. one million) is in roughly the geographical center of Nepal and the elevation within city limits rises 3,000 feet to 5,700 feet from the southern to northern boundaries.
FAA Sends Its Last DC-3 To Museum
The FAA has formally retired its last DC-3 and the faithfully restored N34 has made its last flight to the Texas Air & Space Museum in Amarillo. The aircraft was acquired by the agency in 1958 and it flew around the U.S. as a navaid inspection platform. It retired from that duty in 1981 (King Airs now fill that role) but even the FAA gets nostalgic at times and the decision was made to keep the old aircraft in a promotional role. When it wasn't in proper storage, it traveled to airshows as an ambassador for the agency. In 2002 it got a major makeover.
The FAA did a nose-cone-to-stinger restoration of the aircraft to help mark the centenary of the Wright brothers' first flight. N34 went on the show circuit for the year and was seen by thousands of aviation buffs. Since then it's been flown for special occasions and put on some hours for the 50th anniversary of the FAA in 2008 and 2009. It flew from its home base in Oklahoma City to Amarillo last week and that was almost certainly its last flight. One of the conditions placed on the donation to the museum was that it not be flown. It will go on display March 1.
AVmail: February 17, 2014
Letter of the Week:
For any pilot wanting or needing the ATP certificate, the window is about to slam shut on earning that rating at an affordable price. Beginning in August, a new FAR kicks in requiring sharply higher flight experience and training for any pilots who plan to use the ATP in Part 121 operations. Bottom line: The certificate may cost as much as $15,000 more to earn and that has airlines worried about the impact on the potential pilot pool for entry level First Officers. If there's any good news, it's that these changes apply only to the multi-engine ATP. If you're interested in the rating just to have it for insurance purposes, nothing much changes.
Largely as a result of political pressure applied by family members of the deceased in the 2009 Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash near Buffalo, New York to do something—anything—Congress and the FAA mandated regulation changes applicable to airline pilots many consider extraordinary, controversial and of questionable value to safety. There are new, costly training requirements for the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate, a requirement that first officers on Part 121 and some other flights hold an ATP and that airline first officers have a type rating for the airplane. The ATP changes have almost all phased in, but a few months are left before the most onerous, and expensive, one becomes effective. For pilots seeking an ATP, there is a window open to pass the written before the cost goes up substantially.
Most of the new ATP requirements have kicked in—for example, the applicant has to have 50 hours in the class of airplane for the rating sought. In plain English, that means 50 hours of multi-engine time for most pilots. If the applicant goes through an approved training course under Part 121, 135, 141 or 142, half of that time can be in a full flight simulator that represents the class of airplane. No matter how you slice it, that’s not cheap—especially since the time-building night freight jobs in Cessna 402s went away years ago.
There are new instrument and cross country time requirements; some can be reduced somewhat if the applicant is going to the correct school or applying for the restricted version of the ATP for right-seaters. However, a very careful reading of the acceptable method of time reduction for aeronautical experience is essential—the new regs are complex. It’s going to be interesting to watch and see how long it will take for an examiner to go through the logbook of an applicant to see if he or she meets the aeronautical experience requirements given all of the exceptions available—if the moon was full on a Friday the 7th, the landings didn’t have to be to a full stop. . .
The big deal is the “airline transport pilot certification training program” set out in FAR 61.156. This requirement kicks in on August 1, 2014. It’s staggeringly expensive for a prospective professional pilot and, frustratingly, it’s pretty much the same as a portion of the training a new hire gets at an airline, but now the ATP applicant has to somehow pay for it and pass it before he or she can even take the ATP written. You must complete it successfully and show a graduation certificate from a training provider that has applied for and had its training program approved by the FAA. The training provider must either be an airline operating under Part 135 or 121 or a certified training provider operating under Part 141 or 142. The program must be taught by instructors who hold an ATP and have at least two years of airline experience. I’m curious as to what kind of salary range is going to be necessary to attract and retain instructors with such experience.
As part of the ATP training program, you’ll have to go through at least 30 hours of classroom instruction (a classroom is specified, not on-line training) in aerodynamics, high altitude operations, meteorology, air carrier operations, physiology, communications, checklist philosophy, operational control, minimum equipment list/configuration deviation list, ground operations, turbine engines, transport category aircraft performance, automation, leadership, professional development, crew resource management and—lastly—safety culture.
Along with the classroom instruction you’ll have to buy at least six hours in a Level C (full motion) sim that represents a multi-engine turbine airplane with a max takeoff weight of at least 40,000 pounds. One good thing is that the regs allow the Administrator to approve a deviation from a weight requirement for the simulated airplane—which means that a lot of current bizjet simulators could get approval.
You’ll also need another four hours of sim time, but that can be in a lower cost FSTD of Level four or higher.
I’ve been looking at cost estimates for the ATP certification training program ever since the FAA put out the NPRM on this regulation. According to the AOPA, a Level C sim runs at least $8 million. A room or building, with suitable environmentals, has to be built to house it. Techs have to be hired to keep it working. The instructors have to meet the ATP and two year of airline experience requirement.
Two years ago, AOPA estimated that rental rates for such sims will be $1000 per hour, before considering the cost of building the building and hiring staff. I think that a more realistic number, all things considered, is going to be on the order of $2000 per hour for the six hours in the Level C sim. Based on prices for similar courses at the major simulator training centers, a bare minimum of $15,000 for the ATP certification training program is a fair estimate, with reality probably on the order of $20,000.
The rules for prerequisites for taking the written (knowledge) portion of the ATP examinations do not change until August 1, 2014. The big deal about that is that you do not have to have to meet the flight time or minimum age requirement when you take the knowledge test. As currently written, the eligibility requirements of FAR 61.153 kick in when you take the practical (flight) test—there is nothing that says you have to have acquired the flight experience required for the rating at the time you take the written.
That means you can take and pass the ATP written (knowledge) exam without meeting the experience requirements for the practical test. If you do so prior to August 1, 2014, your passing test results are good for 24 months from the month in which you took the written. That gives you two years to get the necessary flight experience and pass the practical test without having to go through the painfully expensive new classroom and simulator requirements that will otherwise begin on August 1, 2014. (The FAA explicitly approves this in FAR 61.155(d).) So, if you want to get an ATP, the financial sky is not falling, yet.
However, if you do pass the ATP written prior to August 1, 2014 and do not complete (pass) the practical test within 24 months of the month of taking the written, that written lapses and you have to go through the “airline transport pilot certification training program” specified in 61.156.
It is not surprising to me to hear the level of fury expressed at Congress and the FAA for the new ATP rules by pilots who wish to fly professionally and airline executives seeking to hire pilots. A lot of people are going to be watching to see how the new regs play out as the massively higher costs take effect.
For some years, regional airline pilots were hired under the old regs with commercial/instrument/multi-engine tickets, less than 1000 hours of flying time and an education debt that could exceed $50,000. That now seems quaintly cheap. Two years ago, the head of training at a regional airline told me that it was not unusual for 25 percent of their pilots to quit in the first two years because the pay was not enough for them to live on and service their education loans. Student loans are special—Congress mandated that you have to pay them even if you go bankrupt.
The standing joke about the pizza places suddenly losing all their delivery drivers when the commuter airline moved its domicile out of town proved not to be a joke a few years back in Norfolk, Virginia.
How pilots come up with 1500 hours and an ATP prior to being hired by an airline under the new rules is going to be an interesting proposition. Determined individuals have done amazing things. Yet, as requirements get more difficult, the number of successful applicants drops. When requirements are perceived as arbitrary—without rational support on any risk analysis scale—even fewer will bother applying, especially when the reward is perceived as not worth the effort. The smart ones just might go where the rewards are more attractive and the work rules less punitive. When the pool of applicants for airline jobs drops, the ability of an airline to be selective also drops.
The traditional time builder aviation jobs are gone. Do we really want pilots grinding around the pattern getting 1500 of the same hour before going to the right seat of an airliner and thinking we can fix the lack of seasoning by making them fork over money they don’t have for two weeks of training that follows a syllabus designed by a committee reacting to political pressure?
There is a restricted ATP that will allow pilots with certain educational backgrounds and degrees to get into the right seat with fewer total hours. Yet, maddeningly, a pilot who gets a real degree from a top-flight university with something other than an “aviation major”—61.160(b)(1)—while getting his or her ratings through a Part 141 school isn’t eligible for the restricted ATP. So, let’s see . . . come out of school with a load of debt, an “aviation” major, buy multi-engine time, drop $20,000 more for the ATP certification program and then get a $20,000 a year job with an airline, knowing that you can’t use your four-year degree to get into some other line of work if you find you can’t afford to pay your bills. Rational? For some, I suppose.
An optimist at the FAA anticipated that airlines would hire pilots and put them through the training necessary to finish up their ATP, including the ATP certification training program and their written test (as well as obtaining a type rating). That’s why the ATP certification training program can be carried out by Part 135 and 121 airlines. (The airline I spoke with about ATP training said it was not planning to set up such a training program.) Is an airline willing to take such a financial risk on a new hire that does not have an ATP? It’s bad enough it will have to put that new hire through a type rating—according to training personnel at the airlines I spoke with, and who refused to be identified, a pilot without time in type takes two to five times as long in the simulator or airplane to get through a type rating as does a pilot who has spent at least 100 hours in the right seat.
Currently, many air carriers require new hire pilots to sign training agreements under which they will repay the airline the $10,000 to $30,000 in training costs the airline incurred if the pilot doesn’t stay on the job for at least a year or two—or gets fired. “Training” contracts used to be illegal in most states as too close to indentured servitude. Despite coming across as something out of Dickens, legislatures have changed the laws in many states to make them legal.
With the type rating requirement for first officers, the use of training contracts and the amount of money and years for which they will apply may go up. I can’t help but wonder if airlines who set up ATP certification training courses will put that into the mix and either require that pilots pay back from $40,000 to $60,000 if they don’t stick around for three to five years, or keep the new-hire salaries low until the cost of the training is recovered.
Someone is going to have to pay for the expensive new training and certification requirements. As of yet, no one knows whom it will be or how the cost is going to be split between the airlines and the prospective pilots. A lot of people are watching with a lot of interest.
The sky may not be falling, but there isn’t a lot of good news for those aspiring to become airline pilots. If I were seeking my ATP, I’d be doing everything I could to take the written by the end of July and get into position to take the flight test within 24 months of passing the written. If I couldn’t do that, unless some sort of scholarship or government grant program kicks in to cover the cost of the ATP certification training program, I think I’d use what smarts I have to find a job that pays reasonably well and fly for enjoyment and personal transportation.
Rick Durden is the Features/News Editor of AVweb, an aviation attorney and the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual, or How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing it, Vol I.
It was the late 1980s, and a Pan Am 727 was holding at Berlin Tegel.
Another Pan Am 727 made a less than graceful arrival, clouds of smoke from the tires, clouds of smoke from the reversers, horizontal stab shaking alarmingly, and the whole thing bouncing around until it safely vacated the runway.
The Holding Pan Am Aircraft, Over the Radio:
"Is that you, Hank?"
The New Arrival:
Holding Pan Am:
In the world of military aviation, the piston engine was left for dead sometime in the 1950s and it would still be thus if drones hadn’t come along. But piston engines swinging old-school props give unmanned aircraft something that jet engines can’t: unrivaled mid-altitude efficiency and endurance. So as unlikely as it seems, drone technology is pushing piston engine and prop design and that’s why Lycoming has a diesel engine that we know absolutely nothing about. It’s designated the DEL 120 and has 205 HP, meaning it’s in the IO-360 class. It’s the prime powerplant in the General Atomics’ MQ-1C Improved Gray Eagle, an Army drone. The Gray Eagle is a follow-on to the MQ-1 Predator, which has similar mission capabilities.
A call to Lycoming about the DEL 120, which we learned of earlier this month, yielded a polite no comment, but no denial of its existence, either. In a press release last summer, General Atomics mentioned the engine openly, but I somehow missed it, as did almost everyone else, evidently, because there’s simply no detailed coverage of this new powerplant. With Lycoming keeping the wraps on it, I can only guess at its specs. And my guess would be a four-cylinder, turbocharged four-cycle design with direct drive. But for all I know, they could have made a developmental deal with DeltaHawk and repurposed that technology. DeltaHawk has a two-cycle variant in the 200-HP range. Early p.m. addition: A reader phoned me with a more likely speculation on the engine. A company called DieselJet is repurposing Fiat diesel engines for aircraft use and even has one certified to a maximum altitude of 35,000 feet. One of these is used in the Alenia Aermachhi Sky-Y, an Italian drone, and also the Israeli Great Blue Heron. The timeline and horsepower fit. Washing a foreign engine through U.S.-based Lycoming would probably make the Pentagon happy.
Whatever the engine is, it got there for two reasons. One is that when Thielert went bankrupt in 2008, General Atomics needed a reliable engine source for its Predator and follow-on models and China-based AVIC's purchase of Thielert last summer meant it would have to shop elsewhere for a new engine.
Does this mean Lycoming is about to announce a civil diesel program? Maybe, but I’d be surprised, even if Lycoming does reveal more about the engine’s details. In previous interviews, Lycoming’s Michael Kraft has been openly skeptical of diesels for aircraft, not so much for technical reasons but because the company believes the market isn’t yet deep enough to support the investment required to bring a certified diesel to market. But for every bear, there’s a bull and that would be Continental Motors, which bought the former Thielert Aircraft Engines last year and is busily resurrecting the Centurion line. It also has at least one clean-sheet design and from SMA, it bought the technology-base for its TD300, a four-cylinder turbodiesel.
When Kraft has been asked in the past why Lycoming isn’t more diesel-centric, he has taken to asking the questioner if he or she noticed all those diesel airplanes parked on the ramp. A fair point, but on the other hand, Diamond does have more than 1000 diesel-powered aircraft in service. On some ramps, they are indeed in evidence.
But, as I’ve said before, I don’t think diesel technology is poised to explode. The sales and demand simply aren’t there and it remains to be seen if diesel will develop into a robust refit market. If avgas goes to $7 or $8 in the U.S., I'll reconsider. But I hardly think it’s a slam dunk. I think the diesel market will ramp slowly over many years, gently displacing gasoline engines in some markets and models. It's here to stay, all right, it will just be a slow slog.
That’s just one view, though. But both Lycoming and Continental face different risks in the would-be diesel market. Continental is making, by general aviation standards, a high-priced bet on diesel, the outcome of which is impossible to predict. They’re hoping that five years from now, diesel may enjoy a 20 to 25 percent world market share.
If that potentiates, it could be 200 to 300 engines a year, assuming the Asian market proves as strong as people think it will. I don’t know what Continental’s ROI expectations are, but clearly, diesel has to be a long-term play. In any case, its diesel investment may meet the company’s stated goal to make offshore sales the driver for its business, not North American sales.
Where does this leave Lycoming, then? Assuming the DEL 120 could be certified—perhaps under future, less stringent cert rules—it might give Lycoming a chip in the game if demand perks up. But it’s going have to perk to a rolling boil to get Lycoming interested, I’d bet. Even if the technical aspects of the diesel are relatively nailed down by the Grey Eagle project, cert costs will be in the millions and it takes a bunch of sales to regain just the basic investment, much less a return worthy of the name. And all that for 50 engines a year? You can see the challenge.
Then there’s the OEM interest, or lack thereof. Other than Diamond, Cessna is the only major manufacturer to come out of the ground with a diesel. We hear rumors about Piper and Cirrus, but no commitments. If Cessna were any less enthusiastic about promoting its JTA diesel, it would qualify as comatose. At last fall’s NBAA convention in Las Vegas, Cessna CEO Scott Ernest was questioned on the status of the JTA project and offered no details in answering. Queries to Cessna either aren’t returned or just confirm that the project is still alive. Somehow, I find myself wanting a little more than that. It’s hard enough to stir the market with completely over-the-top promotion and marketing. Strangling the information flow and sowing doubt strikes me as a formula for failure. In that context, you can see why Michael Kraft isn’t swooning for a whiff of Jet A.
AVweb's has compiled the results of our in-depth investigation into why airplanes land at the wrong airports.
Bob Berger and his partners created a stage play in 1999 with all of its dialogue drawn from the transcripts of cockpit voice recorders. Now they have produced a film of the play that's showing in theaters around the country. Berger spoke with AVweb's Mary Grady this week about what makes the film unique and the reaction it's had from the aviation community.
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