AVmail: Apr. 17, 2006
Reader mail this week about Sun 'n Fun ATC, Lycoming crankshafts, avgas prices and more.
F-22 Airshow Debut
You state that this is the first time the F-22 has traveled to a civilian airshow (NewsWire, Apr. 10). In fact, the F-22 did a flyby at the Centennial of Flight celebration in 2003 at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Specifically, the flyby occurred on Dec. 16, one day before the actual anniversary. I have the video to prove it.
I've had the good fortune of flying a variety of aircraft to the annual event over the years, landing and staying at a number of different airports. This time, however, ATC was so overwhelmed that on our return home Sunday we were not allowed to open our filed IFR plan until around the Jacksonville area. We were given a discrete squawk code prior to takeoff, but informed that it was only for VFR flight following, which was then cancelled within three minutes with the instructions to squawk "1200." Given the low ceilings, we were forced to proceed for the next 100 miles or so at 1,000 feet AGL or less, not an experience I relish in a Baron. I thought this was why there is an IFR reservation system. I sincerely hope there is much better planning for the predictable demands on ATC for next year's annual event.
I just can't resist taking a minute and wondering to myself what the future is going to hold based on my personal observations made on Sunday as I left the Lakeland, Fla., area to return home to Ohio. I have been asked about the level of service provided by FSS since the takeover [by Lockheed Martin]. Up to now it has been favorable. Now I am uncertain. I have made the trip to Lakeland over 15 times and never have I had to wait over 15 minutes to file and get a weather briefing. I have always been amazed that the FSS has been able to handle the volume of calls during the show. I even asked them one time and they told me they were offloading the calls to other areas of the country. Sunday after waiting over an hour, I called my local [Ohio] FSS via my cell phone and talked to someone on the second ring, filed my flight plan and was off in a matter of minutes.
I received my clearance on the ground (luckily), as many were being told to pick them up in the air. When I got in the air, it became clear that there was a major problem. I counted 12 planes that Center could not find any flight plan for them (IFR). Then to make matters worse, Jacksonville Center stopped providing any IFR clearances period, due to the volume of traffic. I'm sure they knew that there would be a mass of airplanes going through that airspace; didn't they gear up for it? Is the manpower issue such that they could not? Did general aviation overload the system physically? I know from the many radio calls that they were having trouble with the transponder codes not tagging up right. Is this an indication of what is to come?
After getting north of Atlanta things became "normal" again and the flight was very enjoyable. However, in northern Florida the tension was immense; incorrect radio calls were being made by Center, and readbacks not acknowledged, and the controller's attitude was poor to say the least. Some of the pilots that could not receive any IFR services were getting out of hand, too. I have seen this happen with VFR flight following but never with IFR flights. Something to ponder.
Also, I read you site twice each week, keep up the good work.
Name withheld by request
Position and Hold
I can't imagine how the discontinuation of position-and-hold clearances could do anything but increase safety (Question of the Week, Mar. 22). That said, aviation is a balance of risk and efficiency. I have personally never felt that I was at an increased risk when complying with such a clearance, but I watch out for my own neck. Whenever I receive a "taxi into position and hold" clearance, I do two things to ensure that I don't get run over: first, I always clear the final approach corridor before taxiing onto the runway, just as I do at a non-towered airport (even if IMC prevails); second, I position my aircraft just short of the centerline and cocked at a 45-degree angle so as to be able to see the final approach corridor over my shoulder. The nosewheel is still turned, and all I have to do is apply full power and allow the nosegear to straighten itself out. The takeoff roll takes no more time than normal as no brake application is necessary to straighten my aircraft. Positioning the aircraft as such gives me peace of mind when Tower goofs up and has me sit on the end of the runway longer than expected.
I hate sitting in an airplane on the ground. Position-and-hold helps me get in the air where the plane belongs, and I think it's a shame that the option isn't as available as it used to be.
Has Avgas Reached A Critical Price?
When will fuel prices slow demand? Looks like now at a national average of $3.83 per gallon for 100LL (according to Airnav). Our local FBO is claiming a marked decrease in fuel sales after the last fuel delivery came in around $0.40/gallon higher. And they're still the cheapest fuel within 25 miles. A couple local businesses have put their aircraft on the market claiming that the costs now far outweigh the benefits. A nearby flight school is shutting down and selling their fleet claiming that the price they've had to charge for aircraft rental has killed the interest of too many students.
And why is avgas on the rise to record levels? Sure the price of crude is high, but not as high as it was last summer. Sure the refiners are changing the additives in auto fuel, but that doesn't affect avgas. And you can't tell me that it's a result of increased delivery charges, because a cost increase of $0.40/gallon for delivery fuel is small when divided by the thousands of gallons of avgas carried in the delivery truck.
And why are FBOs at large airports now charging $2.50 to $3.00 more per gallon than FBOs at small airports? A few years ago the spread was only around $1.00. Are the airport authorities really gobbling up that much excess in facility rental and fees, or are the large FBO chains at these airports simply using that as an excuse to boost profits? And if it is the airport authorities' fault, shouldn't they be doing whatever it takes to promote aviation, the industry that is the very reason for their existence? Why do airport authorities need to make obscene profits anyway?
I am an aircraft owner and a die-hard enthusiast, but $3.83 avgas has put a serious dent in my annual hours aloft. At a national average of $4.25/gallon it will no longer be feasible to use my aircraft for business or personal travel; and that time, I fear, is right around the corner. And for all those out there that say fuel cost is a minor part of operating an aircraft, they aren't considering simple, fixed-gear singles with low insurance rates and maintenance reserves. Over a year's worth of flying, a dollar increase in avgas equates to thousands of real dollars. For me it's been like absorbing a second annual inspection this past year.
Owners should not have to pay for replacing the cranks that Lycoming installed and now say were defective (NewsWire, Apr. 13). Seems to me they accepted them from their contractor and assumed the risk that they did not meet their standards. They then sold the engines to aircraft manufacturers and aircraft owners with the implied, if not stated, assurance that the engines met their quality standards. Now they say the cranks/engines are not up to standards, that's their problem. They should stand behind their product.
In your report, you refer to "freezing participation" (NewsWire, Apr. 13). Is that like playing football in Nebraska in January?
Thank you, Torrey, and all the other eagle-eyed AVweb readers who caught that slip.