AVmail: October 25, 2010
Letter of the Week: The Illusion of Safety
It is interesting to note that whereas there is a very definite outcry against the FAA's safety bill passed earlier this year, there has been little, if any, comment on how this bill will have a very negative and deleterious effect upon the overall safety of flight. Aside from the valid argument that there is a very big difference between quantity vs. quality of training and the fact that it might be possible that some academic training could be more valuable than mere time spent in the cockpit, virtually everyone has missed one of the most negative impacts of this bill.
For a very large majority of those persons who want to fly for the airlines, the only way they can realistically gain the required hours in an affordable manner would be to serve their time in the right seat acting as instructors. Unfortunately, only a very small handful of these people will be properly trained and prepared to take their responsibilities as flight instructors seriously and endeavor to provide quality training to their clients. I sadly fear that most of those people spending time in the right seat as flight instructors for the sole purpose of filling the requirement to have 1,500 hours before they can apply for a job as a first officer, will not only resent what they are being forced to do but, further, will not be prepared to provide the quality of training that is so integral to the safety of flight.
Even Randy Babbitt, the FAA administrator, has expressed skepticism about the 1,500-hour requirement, saying it is more important to improve the quality of the pilot training than to increase the amount of experience in the cockpit. Unfortunately, this bill will have the opposite effect. I think we can rest assured that all those people who have no other choice than to serve as "flight instructors in purgatory" as a result of this bill will not be providing the requisite quality training that every pilot, regardless of their ultimate goal in aviation, deserves. This can only have a negative impact on the overall safety of all those pilots who might be trained by these "reluctant" flight instructors.
Chairman, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators
We have all this new modern avionics and we still flight train the same old (tired) way. A few months ago, I went up with my flight instructor for a couple of hours of dual, which I do at least once every year. (I only have 22,000 hours.)
Shortly after takeoff, when I had put on the hood, all the airports within 500 miles went to zero/zero except a 2,300x 25-foot strip 75 miles away. To get there, we had to climb up through a pass, find the airport and align with the (only) runway.
Then all the circuit breakers popped except the radio bus, and the vacuum system failed, as did the pitot system. So all we had was the Garmin 530 and a Garmin 296 on the yoke. Using the GPS, we flew up the road over the pass using GPS position and terrain warning. Once clear of the pass and above the terrain, we flew the "purple line" to the airport, passed overhead, and simulated an engine loss (and loss of the 530).
Now down to the handheld 296 GPS, using the map and "elevation" on the 296, we did a circling overhead approach and entered downwind at 1,000'. We turned base and final, and, at 400', everything started working again.
A silly scenario? Of course it was. Confidence builder? Absolutely. The point being that practicing losing one thing at a time is a waste of valuable training time. Learn to use the GPS for all the things it will do. Don't just be a "purple line" follower.
Inflation at Work
The Letter of the Week about Piper laying off workers and the cost of a new Archer misplaces the blame on "avionics." The real "villain" is inflation.
It takes approximately eight 1978 dollars to buy today what one dollar would buy in 1978. The $38,000 Archer in 1978 would cost eight times that, or $304,000 today in today's devalued dollar. By the same measure, a job paying $10,000 in 1978 would be paying $80,000 today but would have no more purchasing power than the $10,000 did in 1978.
It would, in fact, have less purchasing power because of a larger percentage going to income and other taxes.
The 1978 $38,000 Piper Archer cost twice that of an entry-level home in 1978. The $300,000 version of today is also twice that of an entry-level home. In 1978, I could buy 17 entry-level cars for $38,000. Today I can buy maybe 20 cars for $300,000, so we are not that far off. $300,000 is today's $38,0000.
If you price it out, glass panels can be as cheap as a comparably equipped steam gauge panel. If you don't want the $300,000 Archer, the true, affordable option is LSA.
I read with some interest the ongoing debate about proposed rule changes affecting FAA license holders operating aircraft in European airspace. I ask if the situation proposed is really that different to the one forced on other ICAO license holders wishing to fly in U.S. airspace. I hold a European flight license, yet I am not entitled to fly in U.S. airspace.
At one point, I applied for and was granted a lifetime FAR 61.75 license, which was later, in effect, revoked by later FAA rule changes against which I had no appeal. Indeed, my 61.75 license even required me to accept such abominations as the non-ICAO "position and hold" which is also in the news at the moment.
ICAO exists to provide a level playing field for all pilots. The U.S. and the FAA choose (and are allowed to choose) not to honor those rules. It is only fair that other regulatory authorities also, from time to time, choose to make similar nationally applicable changes.
The world is not fair, and the world is a whole lot bigger than the U.S. In U.S. airspace, fly using U.S. rules. In European airspace, use European rules.
The U.S. license has long been deemed inferior in Europe. Something more should be done to align standards so that any license is valid anywhere. It may mean changes here and the rest of the world, but a common goal should be pursued. That way, if I travel to Europe (frequently), I can rent an aircraft easily and experience more of what they have to offer.
For the past 100 years, the U.S. has been the measure for aviation safety and standards. Recently, it appears we are now bowing to ICAO and the EU and going along with whatever they say. I think it is the result of economics and the FAA's unwillingness to stand up and say it sets the standards.
We have the most sucessful aviation industry, both in manufacturing and training, and we can do it better and cheaper than any other country in the world. Why do students come to the U.S. to train? It's cheaper, and the training is better and more efficient. The quality of our products is far beyond those of any other country.
Europe competes by placing restrictions on US pilots and aircraft. People can no longer come here to train or buy aircraft. Too bad the FAA and Congress can't stand up and say enough is enough. They leave it to the alphabet groups to do their work for them.
EASA only tries to have tighter control on what flies in Europe. They do not like N-registered airplanes and their pilots in Europe. However, they forget that their new rules, if adopted, are contrary to ICAO. They also forget that the JAA rules (the JARs) are a (bad) copy of the FARs. (They forget to copy a lot of good things.)
They also do not seem to know that the U.S. standards (PTS) for licenses are far better than those of JAA (now EASA). I know because I have both licenses. I had to learn a lot, even after 17 years of flying with a European license, when I earned my FAA license.
Other proof? Just look at the accident statistics for GA in Europe versus those in the U.S.
I admit I have two axes to grind. I own a Beech Staggerwing (N-registered), and I have a home in Arizona and wish to exercise my European SEP rating on the currently available reciprocal basis.
My fears relate to interference with operation and maintenance of N-registered aircraft. I have experience trying to get an imported Be17 approved on the U.K. registry. That aircraft is now in Denver. Enough said.
Retaliatory action by the U.S. on license recognition cannot be discounted. In the last week, a friend who intended to purchase an N-registered aircraft and fly it in Europe using his U.S. instrument rating has abandoned the project entirely. This will prove extrarordinarily damaging to G.A. in Europe if implemented.
What's an Airplane?
Regarding your Question of the Week, I was defining these terms so that I would be able to answer them to prospective students as I complete my helicopter flight instructor certificate.
An aircraft is any vehicle, powered or non-powered, that does not need to use ground support or water support to maneuver through the earth's atmosphere.
An airplane is a powered vehicle with wings that can be maneuvered through the earth's atmosphere.
A rotorcraft is a powered vehicle that can maneuver through the earth's atmosphere using only a rotor system.
Something a lot of pilots overlook is what defined an airplane during the genesis of powered flight. If the Wright Flyer had looked more like a "standard" airplane, and was introduced as a new LSA today, people would laugh and make snide remarks.
Light Sport Aircraft, by it's very title, encompasses much more than just a conventional airplane. If it flies, it's an aircraft, regardless of configuration — correct?
While I would not want a Maverick for serious traveling, it could be fun, for example, to explore the vast southwestern desert. You could fly to an interesting area, land on any level area large enough, then drive to more remote locations. Sounds like fun and could not be done with a conventional airplane.
What's a Parasail?
As a director for the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, I want to clarify your article about the Maverick flying car being a dune buggy with a parasail. A parasail is a round chute that is usually attached to a boat. It has no airfoil shape and would not work with the dune buggy.
The Maverick is a dune buggy with a paraglider attached, which is totally different than what you wrote today. I think you guys should know the difference.
Regarding the blog on helicopter EMS operations:
I'm a former editor of Air Progress magazine, and, for the past seven years, I've also been employed full-time as an EMS pilot, so I think I'm qualified to take exception to some of your recent remarks on the subject.
I'm not sure whether "being helicopter-rated is irrelevant." (I assume from that remark that you're not but would be glad to be corrected.) I'm not sure that you can "analyze accident and risk data as well as the next guy," either; I certainly can't, and I'm closer to the subject than you are. What we're both trying to analyze and interpret are secondary results (not raw data) — results that have already been pre-processed by some other not-necessarily-disinterested analyst. The 2006 article you mention was written by a doctor who had a personal axe to grind and was based on a small statistical universe that could be manipulated to produce almost any desired result. As someone once said, "There are lies, there are damnable lies, and there are statistics." Your suggestion that an EMS helo trip from an accident scene to the trauma center might be as risky as the drive that precipitated the accident is, indeed, "a bit of an exaggeration," and, given that you admit that yourself, I wonder why you felt compelled to choose that particular comparison.
I agree that some EMS flights may not have been medically necessary. I agree that the requirement to fly all missions under Part 135 will most likely result in fewer flights and, inevitably and as a direct result, fewer accidents. Whether the accident/mission rate (and, perhaps more importantly, the patient death rate from non-aviation medical causes) will change significantly remains to be seen. Based both on my own experience of the flights I've accepted vs. those I've declined and the medical outcomes of the patients involved, I'd suspect we'll probably lose at least a few people we might otherwise have been able to save.
While you mention the increased risk of flights to "urban landing zones" vs. airports, I'd point out that not all accidents occur during the takeoff or landing phase (whether at urban or remote locations). In fact, many occur en route. And just because a landing zone isn't an airport doesn't necessarily mean that it's inherently unsafe; the company at which I've been working pioneered the concept of GPS approaches to hospital helipads and, in fact, operates an entire non-public, but FAA-approved, structure of dedicated helicopter airways and instrument approaches. Minimum hire requirements are instrument rating (ATP preferred) and 3,000 helo hours (500 night and 200 actual IFR) — and that's pretty standard across the industry and has been for considerable time.
In addition, the company has always operated under Part 135 and has had a formal online risk analysis matrix system in place — required to be used for every flight, even in VFR conditions — since long before the FAA began to consider increased regulations. A call comes in; we check off all the boxes in the risk matrix; and, if the square turns red, we don't go, no matter how much we may want to or how safe it may feel personally. By the same token, just because it's "risk green," we don't necessarily go. All the crew members participate in the risk analysis, and "it takes three to go, but only one to say no" for whatever reason, no questions asked.
If there's one fact with which I can agree wholeheartedly, it's that the requirement for HTAWS would be a good thing. I've lost two colleagues in EMS CFIT accidents (both en route, by the way): one in IMC, the other at night but in clear VMC. Both pilots were instrument rated, both helicopters had radar altimeters, and both flights were Part 135, so I suspect those particular reg changes might not have made much difference.
I wonder: Have you ever taken the time to contact EMS operators or possibly even visit them during a shift? I'd hope that despite your recent comments you'd still be welcome at a local EMS operation, where you might have a chance to see how operations are conducted in the real world. And you might be interested in hearing from those patients (and their families) who have, in fact, benefited from an EMS transport.
Regarding the story about saving the eagle from Afghanistan:
An "Afghani" is the unit of currency in Afghanistan. The proper adjective is "Afghan"; therefore, it should have been an "Afghan Eagle." It's the same for the people. It is considered an insult to refer to them as "Afghanis."
Thanks, Jim. We learn something new from our readers every day. We made the fix.
I was reading your story about bringing an eagle from Afghanistan to a sanctuary in New York. It's a nice story, but there is an adjustment that might be in order. I am retired U.S. Air Force, but I have worked with U.S. Navy personnel in my past. You used the name SEAL in mixed-case letters. If I may suggest, in the future, please use it all in caps.
"SEAL" means "SEa Air Land," and it is a proper title. These folks are a very highly trained and proud group. It can grate them — and other members of the Special Forces (SF) community — if their SF titles are not spelled, or communicated, correctly.
Thanks much for the read, keep up the good work, and may you have a great day.
Rick L. Anderson
MSgt., USAF (Ret.)
Not a Freefall
Responding to the story on the Red Bull Stratos jump: Joe Kittinger's jump from 102,000 feet was not a freefall parachute jump.
As he wrote in his book The Long Lonely Leap, Kittinger encountered stability problems on several previous jumps. As a result, for the record he was equipped with a small (about six feet in diameter) drogue that he towed from immediately after stepping from the gondola until his main parachute was automatically deployed at 18,000 feet.
The drogue provided significant help in preventing Kittinger from tumbling and spinning, the problem he encountered on prior high-altitude jumps.
Thus, as impressive as his feat was, it was not a freefall jump.
Although not officially recognized by the FAI, it is the highest successful parachute jump that we know about, however.
Baumgartner's plans don't include a drogue, and he intends to deploy his main canopy himself, rather than relying on an automatic opener, thus his jump would be eligible for FAI recognition as a world record.