AVmail: October 27, 2003
Reader mail this week about unusual attitude training, the end of Concorde and more.
Unusual Attitudes Training
I did spins during primary training, and now fly commercial aerobatics in light aircraft and IFR in commercial heavy aircraft. I feel that unusual attitude training is important for all pilots, but aerobatics in light planes has limited unusual attitude value for pilots of heavier aircraft.
Most Americans seem convinced that Concorde was not economically viable, but they should consider one or two things.
Both British Airways and Air France had said for years that they made an operating profit flying the planes. British Airways is no longer owned by the British government and must make a profit to survive, so there is no reason to doubt this statement.
The airlines were -- in effect -- given the aircraft, so they did not have to factor the repayment of the huge cost of purchase into ticket prices. But if the planes had been allowed access to the U.S. and more had been sold, the cost would have come down as development costs were spread across more models.
Concorde was not fuel efficient and had few seats, but remember we are judging the Mark I; it was basically developed at the same time as the very first Boeing 747. The engines were from the 1950s. Had the aircraft been allowed to fly in the U.S. -- and if more had been built -- then there would have been a continuing development program of improved models, as has happened with the 747. The recent models of the 747 carry many more passengers and use much less fuel than did the first model introduced.
The busy market for corporate jets that often fly very few hours per year would imply there is some kind of market for people who choose convenience, whatever the cost.
American manufacturers were developing their own supersonic aircraft at the same time, but realizing that they were far behind the Concorde in development, they turned their efforts to lobbying Congress to stop the Concorde. Huge amounts of money were spent by Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and Lockheed to lobby Congress; money was given to environmental groups to lobby against it; and wild stories were planted in the press about the effects of sonic booms, pollution, and so on.
Congress and the public fell for it, and that was the end of Concorde -- because it had always been envisioned that it would fly from Europe to the east coast of the U.S., and from Europe to the West Coast, then make non-stop flights across the Pacific. Without access to the U.S., Concorde was doomed. Concorde did not compete on a level playing field; had it done so, it would be easier to judge whether it failed or not.
Perhaps there never would have been a big enough market for supersonic flight, but at the time Concorde was being developed it was not so clear. The economics of flying change while an aircraft is in development: Fuel costs rise, manpower costs rise, etc. Boeing has not made a profit on most of its lines, but for no reason I can understand those failures are not treated in the same way that Concorde's is. Last I knew, the only aircraft that had made a profit for Boeing were the 737 and the 747. Perhaps some of the hostility is because Concorde is regarded as a government-funded project, but if readers don't think the U.S. government helps fund business in general and aircraft development in particular, they should read a few appropriations bills.
There must be thousands of aircraft projects that never got off the drawing board; hundreds where the prototype and nothing else was built; and dozens that went into production but too few were sold to bring profit to the manufacturer. If it were easy to develop a profitable passenger aircraft, lots of people would do it, but now only Boeing and Airbus remain, so it cannot be that easy. It takes so long to develop a passenger jet that by the time it's ready, the economics of flying and the market have changed significantly.
Concorde was not an unreasonable attempt, and had it been allowed access to the U.S., it might have sold more and might have developed into something better. That it failed is no particular disgrace to anybody involved, and it deserves to be treated in the same way that other failed projects are.
Pilot Qualification for Personal Jets
What qualifications should be required for pilots and operators of the new wave of personal jets (Mustang and similar types)?
1) Will type-specific factory training on these jets be enough to produce pilots who can operate them safely, or must there be a system of additional training requirements that is based upon a pilot's previous experience?
Comment: If my personal experience is any indication, then serious consideration needs to given to this issue by the FAA rulemaking committee for the following reasons:
a) These jets are being represented in the aviation press as being marketable to the individual and fractional owner-pilot. While many of these pilots may be accomplished and capable operators, regulators must set the bar at a level that provides for a given level of safety based upon the best information available at the time. Pilot training and experience requirements are already at least partially addressed in FAR part 135 and part 91 subpart K. However, these rules only apply to organizations with operating authority overseen by the FAA and do not cover single-pilot owner-flown jets. As far as I can tell by my reading of part 61, a pilot could obtain a type rating in a light jet and and only be required to have a qualified pilot fly along for 25 hours before having no restriction to privileges. While this seems appropriate for individuals with significant previous jet experience, I have serious reservations about allowing inexperienced pilots unrestricted access to our skies in high-performance jets.
b) I do not want to see unreasonable restrictions prevent pilots who are most likely to operate these jets safely from being allowed to fly them. That said, I would like to know the opinions of people from from a wide variety of positions within the aviation community in order to further refine my thinking on this issue.
2) Who will be authorized and qualified inspect, repair and return these aircraft to service?
The Cessna product already has a global service and support network staffed by factory trained and equipped personnel. Will the owner be able to take the new jet to the shop that has been working on the Baron all these years? The rules in FAR part 43 have been evolving toward type-specific maintenance training and tooling requirements over the years and may end up being applied here. Jet aircraft repair is considered by most maintenance professionals to be more specialized than ever and will only become more so with time. The costs associated with providing technical support to a new aircraft with no pre-existing network in place may be somewhat prohibitive for an underfunded or small manufacturer. I have not yet read anything on this subject in the trade magazines. Perhaps I just missed seeing it.
The above questions and commentary should be considered by everyone who may be affected by this new trend in aviation. You can be certain that the nay-sayers will paint pictures of a sky raining flaming personal jets on innocent school children. Just as surely there are allready a brigade of litigators licking their chops in anticipation of the feast. In spite of this, a remarkably persistent aviation business continues to push ahead no matter what the odds against them. These new jets are exciting to everyone with the financial means to participate and to those of us who like to dream a little. I would love to see a well-written article by a knowledgeable professional aviation journalist that covers this subject area.
From my perspective as a part 135 charter jet captain and check airman, I see well-trained and experienced professional pilots sitting next to me in the cockpit every time I fly (35-90 hours per month). They are not perfect and neither am I. Errors happen, but with two pilots there is a much better chance of catching them before it becomes a problem. Thankfully, the more I fly, the less often things suprise me; and the required corrections are smaller and less urgent.
At each level as a pilot, I had to learn some lessons the hard way and expect this to continue as I step up in the future. Wisely, in our business they send you out with someone more experienced for a while before sending you out with the new guy.
Let's not have the same safety record as with high-performance singles. It's the pilot who has the best opportunity to affect the statistics.
ATP, CFI-AIM, A&P
In our article discussing organizations that want to see Meigs Tower reopened (AVflash, Oct. 20), we accidentally misspelled the name of the airspace manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. His name is Gary Dikkers. We apologize for the error.