AVmail: Apr. 11, 2005
Reader mail this week about airborne cellphone use, privatizing Flight Service, medical certification for recreational pilots and much more.
Airborne Cellphone Use
Your question omitted an important alternative: "I've tried to use my cell phone in the air, but it didn't work" (QOTW, Mar. 30).
The reason this is important is that I've heard that digital cell phones, which most are, are subject to having their transmitters shut down by the cell phone system when they hit too many cell sites at once. I've tried mine a few times, and it just says "dialing" and never actually reaches anyone.
This problem will probably render AOPA's initiative moot except for those few pilots who still have an old analog-only cell phone.
I'm no engineer -- I just have a long background in electronics and a passing interest in the cell phone system. I'm not sure how much background you have in electronics, so I don't wish to be "preaching to the choir."
As the name implies, the "cell" in the cellular phone system is crucial in how multiple "cells" which repeat the use the same of only several dozen available frequencies, in nearby cells. It was never designed for use by anyone who did not have their feet planted on the ground. If you are a pilot at 5,000 or 15,000 feet (and higher), there is a strong risk your cell phone could create "havoc" in the computer control system.
Yes, they will work. If you've ever been airborne and were having problems getting "dial tone," it's probably because you've got the cell system on it's proverbial knees, trying to figure out how to connect you to the system.
While you're at it, find out how the long-distance trunking system works; and why, if you are in Florida, your 800-WX-BRIEF call always gets routed to your local AFSS in Kankakee (or wherever). Keep in mind, a few months ago, an IFR pilot from Missouri was on the ground in Tennessee and requested an IFR clearance from an airport, which happened have the same name as an airport in Missouri. The call was routed to an AFSS in Missouri, who relayed a clearance from the local ARTCC. Meanwhile, Memphis ARTCC discovered they had an unauthorized IFR aircraft in their airspace, with no idea who it was!
And this is not just the "domestic" problem you might think it is. AFSSs routinely get calls from pilots using cell phones in the Bahamas and northern Mexico, who can't understand why they can't file an ICAO flight plan ... and ICAO international agreements strictly forbid such a practice, without a written "Letter of Agreement" in force. (Miami International AFSS is the only facility in the country that has such an LOA).
Yep -- cell phones cause more problems in the ATC system than is evident at first glance.
It seems the flying public really doesn't know the facts about the AFSS privatization (NewsWire, Mar. 17). It seems everyone has swallowed the FAA line about how it will make the AFSS system better. There will be less stations open, and at end-state, less than half of the briefers still briefing. Gone will be local knowledge. Since there will be less people answering calls, the briefers will not have the luxury to go into the detail that a student or a novice pilot may need. They say that the system Lockheed Martin is going to use is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It is an unproven piece of equipment that we don't even know is compatible with existing ATC and NWS computers. They think that this equipment will make up for the severe shortage of briefers. People brief pilots, equipment doesn't. Computers don't know if a TAF is wrong or the peculiar weather characteristics of different areas of the country.
This is an ill-advised action the FAA is taking supposedly to save money. It really is a politically motivated action since the current administration requires cuts in all government departments and Flight Service happens to meet those required numbers. It also paves the way for the total privatization of ATC and possible user fees. If you do not want this to happen, contact your congressman or senator and have them oppose this privatization! Do it while you still have a say in your flight service system; once it's in private hands, you will have no say in what kind of services are provided to you!!!
Medical Certificate Versus Driver's License
It seems the AOPA is missing the entire point of the medical screening process for pilots (NewsWire, Apr. 4). Is it possible that the low number of aircraft accidents and incidents involving medical conditions is because the current system works? Wouldn't that be a novelty -- a government program that works.
Unfortunately, the AOPA's push to reduce FAA's "minimum standards" requirements for pilots, if successful, most certainly will result in an increase in the number of accidents and likely the number of deaths and injuries. The SPC rules appear similar to the military's "don't ask don't tell" approach the sexual orientation. The SPC rules as presently written allow a pilot with a known medical deficiency to continue to fly provided he/she has a valid driver's license, provided that pilot has not previously been denied a medical certificate. What utter nonsense! During the past few months, several pilots whose medical certificates are expiring are opting for the new sport pilot certificate (SPC) because they have a disqualifying medical condition. These individuals would be denied a medical certificate if they were to present themselves for examination. They will be allowed to continue to fly, thus endangering themselves and others, because they have not been "denied" a medical certificate.
In an era of $240,000 Skyhawks, $650,000 Saratogas and $1,000,000 Barons, an $80 medical examination seems a small price to ensure those individuals flying overhead are medically fit. Aviation, and General Aviation in particular, does not need another black eye.
If the system isn't broken don't fix it. Leave the medical certificate requirement alone!
Airborne FAA Altercation
The story regarding the FAA Flight Standards Division Manager was disturbing (NewsWire, Apr. 7). As a retired ASI, I am also embarrassed. Under no circumstances are FAA Flight Standards Aviation Safety Inspectors or other FAA employees allowed to become involved in cabin or cockpit disputes. We are on board to observe and evaluate adherence to safety and operational standards. In the past, all airline en route inspections had to be conducted by a qualified ASI familiar with the airline operations. Additionally, knowledge of the aircraft was required. At the conclusion of each en route inspection an appropriate report was completed and forwarded to the airline’s FAA Principal Inspector. Currently, en route inspections are accomplished for reasons of free transportation by qualified and non-qualified ASIs and other FAA persons.
Recently, FAA Inspectors were issued badges. With 26 years as a former FAA Inspector, I never once needed a badge to carry out my duties. Even when detailed to various Federal Law Enforcement agencies a badge was not necessary. Inspectors do not have arrest powers. I fear the issuance of badges has established a persona that is not conducive to past professional images of our Inspector force. The next step will probably be the FAA will issue guns to Aviation Safety Inspectors to conduct quick-draw contests with the pilots in the cockpits.
Jack A. Milavic, Ph.D
GA Turf Wars
You're right about the GA turf wars (NewsWire, Apr. 7). I have been based at my home airport for 12 years with my 310. Last month the tiedown fee went from $60 to $350/month at my FBO, which shall remain nameless. Along with the higher price of avgas, my monthly expenses for flying have more than doubled. What's the result? "Hello, Trade-A-Plane" ... I'm selling my pride and joy. Thanks for allowing me to vent.
In our story about a pilot flying his RV-8 around the world (NewsWire, Apr. 4), we reported that Bill Randolph had been "surrounded by police and military in Cypress." That location should have been spelled "Cyprus," instead of the spelling used by the cities in California and Florida.