AVmail: September 24, 2012
Letter of the Week: Secret Shopper
I've always heard the aviation industry isn't welcoming to newcomers. Let me tell you a story, and see if you agree.
Recently, I walked into the local flight school. I had briefly instructed there a few years and changes of ownership ago. No one knew me.
I waited patiently for the three employees to finish their conversation. No one greeted me. Finally, I asked if they gave introductory rides. I also asked if there were any restrictions, because I thought having an ATP might be disqualifying. I was told there were no restrictions, and no questions were asked.
I booked a flight for the next day, because no one seemed interested in going then.
I arrived on time and was told: "The instructor isn't here yet."
After 45 minutes, I gave up and walked out.
And we wonder why student starts are slow.
This isn't really news, but I just had to share what now seems almost laughable but I feel could be a serious problem for some people.
Last week, I went to renew my third-class medical. After arriving at the FAA doctor's office, we started in on the eye test. Since I remembered two years ago that I struggled just a wee bit with my glasses, I came prepared with a fresh eye exam slip that I had just gotten from my eye doctor at the end of August. I always wear contacts, but it's such a hassle to have to remove them, etc., so last time I just wore my glasses — which are no-line bifocals. Looking into that machine wearing those, it was the up-close letters that I had trouble reading the last time. I never wear the glasses unless I absolutely have to! So this time I wore my contacts and brought my reading glasses with me.
The doctor asked me to read the next to the last line (line 13) at the bottom of the chart and tell him which direction the letter was open. I couldn't make it out clearly. So, then he asked me to read Line 12, one line up, and it was not much better than Line 13. Then he told me that I'd better try harder if I want to pass my flight physical and accused me of just guessing, which I basically was.
By then, I was really stressing. I do not have trouble seeing in everyday life. He finally asked me to read line 10, which I did with no problem. Immediately after finishing this, he said he was going to take my blood pressure. Sure, I told him, now that I'm totally thinking I'm not going to pass my physical, he wants to take my blood pressure! Thankfully, it read O.K., but that had to be a miracle in the making.
We finished up the rest of the physical, and after he signed the form passing me, I asked him if my eyes were really that bad or what was going on. He said, "Oh, they're fine. You have 20/20; I just wanted to see if you could pass 20/15."
I was incensed! After putting me through all that stress, I am curious as to how many more brownie points I would have gotten by having 20/15 vs. 20/20 for my third-class medical.
I'm not a young gal, so every flight physical carries the possibility that my flying days could be over if I can't pass the physical. I fly for personal, business and pleasure only. I also own a flight school and refer this doctor to hundreds of potential pilots and others who already have their licenses. This was the third time visiting this doctor for my flight physical, so I thought I knew what to expect.
But this time, he really threw me for a loop with the eye test. I will no longer recommend my student pilots or anyone else to him. At $110.00 for the physical, I can only hope he feels the impact as a result.
I don't know if anyone else feels like I do about the way we pilots are often treated by either the FAA or those anointed by them, but I thought this little true story summed up my feelings. I have been flying for 28 years and have owned an FBO for the last 25, am seasoned in dealing with the FAA and their counterparts, both favorably and not so much.
That this FAA doctor thought it humorous to make me go through the above shows what we often have to deal with so that we can keep flying.
As a former airline captain, I fully support the American Airlines captain in his demand for information during the recent terrorism scare at JFK. In fact, I note that in the video he exercises great restraint and patience.
As a captain, I am 100 percent responsible for the safety of my passengers and crew. The buck stops with me, not with ATC or with TSA.
Who You Gonna Call?
I heard the exchange(s) between the American captain and the JFK local controller(s) on the frequency. As a former pilot and broadcaster, I thought this would be a good news story to phone in to Fox News in New York.
I tried calling Fox News and got an operator who didn't know how to patch me through to the newsroom. When she did, I got someone who didn't understand what I was telling him. So they ran the story of the Brits who were caught sunbathing nude instead. Why bother any more?
You could have emailed us, Stan, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drones in the Airspace
Regarding the "Question of the Week": Being equipped for see-and-avoid should also require an ADS-B UAT and an aviation VHF radio repeater. (I want to hear controller/operator interaction and perhaps talk to the drone operator as well.)
This seems to me to be the minimum acceptable equipage for operations within the NAS.
We can't have different rules for drones and manned aircraft in the NAS if we are to have safe operations. The primary means of collision avoidance today is pilot visual recognition. This just doesn't work for unmanned aircraft.
If some sort of automatic collision avoidance system that actually works for drones must be developed, then it makes sense to make the same technology available to manned aircraft as well. Then we could get rid of the human visual separation concept altogether.
If such a system is based on ADS-B, then there must be a back-up available for times when satellites are not usable (just as there must be for NextGen to be safe).
Until these UAVs can do the actual visual part of a human pilot, there is no way they should be allowed in the airspace.
The average pilot, as I'm sure you know, is required to pass a flight physical frequently, to retain the privilege of being a pilot in command of any aircraft. Part of the physical is visual acuity, including peripheral vision. No manmade lens, at present, can match the human eye in this regime.