AVmail: May 7, 2007
Doctors in Bonanzas
Will we never hear the last of the Doctors/Bonanzas myth (Short Final, Apr. 29)?
When the FAA finally set about testing the Bonanza more thoroughly, they found that the v-tails were prone to structural damage. Essentially, the tails had been failing due to high-speed twisting forces through a fault in the basic design. Maximum allowable airspeed was immediately restricted until two well-known modifications were installed to protect the ruddervators.
How come doctor-flown Bonanzas with traditionally designed tail-feathers had not been subject to failure?
I am deeply concerned by Point2Point's John Boehle's comment on the company's winter dispatch reliability (AVwebFlash, May 2). There are no all-weather aircraft smaller than the B737. None. Zip. Nada. Aircraft of the types he operates have no business being airborne in known icing. Risk of icing, sure. That's what the gear is for, to get you out of a bad situation as soon as possible. But not to launch into it when you know it is there. Freezing precipitation and freezing mist or fog are known and predictable killers for all small aircraft without bleed-heat anti-icing, and even they still need anti-icing fluids liberally applied shortly before departure. You fly small aircraft? You are going to have weather delays. Period.
I enjoyed "Losing It," (Safety, May 2).
One point made as to using GPS to find nearest airport: You can be directly overhead private airports with 4000-foot runways and your GPS will tell you the nearest airport is miles away, because GPSs will not have them in their databases. I would gladly give up South American waypoints for the ability to display perfectly good airports in an emergency such as those described in your article.
Regarding the recent Question of the Week (May 2):
First, let me state that I am a big advocate of privatizing many aspects of our government, and I feel that Flight Service is one of those areas.
Unfortunately, the switch to the private sector has failed at many different levels. Here are my observations:
- The call wait time has gone way up (sometimes more than five minutes).
- Calls are frequently terminated by FSS. (I don't know if they keep statistics of hold times/dropped calls, etc., but hanging up would skew their numbers.)
- Briefers complain because they're briefing flights outside their geographical area. (This one always bothers me as even if I depart from their area, I still have to fly somewhere else.)
- This last week I had briefers complain that they are working with new equipment, which they could not properly operate.
- The voice prompt system simply doesn't work.
All of these factors put safety in jeopardy. If a pilot can't get through to a briefer, the pilot will fly without a brief. If the briefer can't speak intelligently about conditions, the pilot will discount the information.
Now that I no longer work for Lockheed-Martin (LM), I feel free to express my opinion on the FAA privatization of the FSS.
Since LM took over our FSS at RNO, we went down to five people as of last week, from a high of 10 for the last year, which was down from the year before that, including the supervisor for a 24/7 operation. To work with so few people, we had to transfer calls, especially to other stations such as PRC, CDC, OAK, MMV, BOI, etc., which was determined by LM operations (actually a subcontractor to LM, back in the Washington, D.C., area). Pilots in the LAS area and other areas soon learned to use the 866 number to call us direct to avoid waits at other stations.
I believe we did a good job with the short staffing we had. At the end we had one person to cover pilot briefs on the phone, in-flight radios for all of Nevada, flight data for NOTAMs, parachute jumps, accidents, clearances, etc. Many times I had to put a pilot weather brief on hold, sometimes numerous times, to answer a radio call. Even with this short staffing we very seldom had a wait of more than two to three minutes.
RNO shut down Sunday (April 29) at midnight. Just being curious, I called the "new improved" LM 800-WX-BRIEF line early that Monday morning. I never got through; the longest wait was 15 minutes before I gave up.
I'm still flying, mostly gliders. I know how poor this new service is. But wait until LM, Boeing (who has a unsolicited bid to take over ATC) or some other corporation takes over the rest of ATC.
My opinion is that we will face mandatory flight plans and mandatory ATC services, all at a set per-fee schedule like Europe.
I use the FSS frequently for weather and filing. Instead of the promised 30 seconds, I've noticed that the "All the briefers are busy" recording is lasting longer and longer, frequently 10-15 minutes. I have been unable to close a flight plan a few times because there is no one to take the call! The service has definitely deteriorated. I long for the days when almost every little airport had its own FSS, even Purdue, Ind., and Crestview, Fla.
Although the quality of service remains excellent, I am seeing significant delays after I "press 1" for a briefer. Three to five minutes on hold is not uncommon. I have to wonder how many hang up. It would be interesting to know if the AFSS system records caller ID hang ups so we could find out if an unlucky airmen tried and gave up.