Top Letters And Comments, September 21, 2018
How Not To Botch The FAA Medical
John Yodice wrote a column once on the legal perils of making a falsification on the medical application, even unintentional ones (such as accidentally forgetting a hospital stay). It results in a felony and can become years of jail time as well as a heavy fine (like $25k). Scary stuff that can change your life forever. Bottom line is they can pretty much do what they want to you if you make a misstep.
People shouldn't be expected to be experts in medical lingo, which could be very misleading. For example, 'conscious sedation' now being offered by dentists for work like oral surgery is based on the arcane medical definition of 'conscious' meaning that your body can breathe on its own - but to most people 'conscious' means awake and aware. There are many questions of ask in the direction of admission to hospital - such as day surgery clinics, oral surgery in a dentist’s office, etc.
A humorous article on a serious subject that has troubled most of us. The medical questionnaire has several potential gotchas, but the hospital admission question is probably the worst. Key word here is "EVER". Ever is a long time, and I question the need to divulge to the FAA that I spent a night in the hospital following an appendectomy 40 years ago. The simple approach would be to always answer "yes" and explain on the back. However, sometimes your explanations can open additional cans of worms as far as the FAA is concerned. Perhaps the solution is to place a statute of limitations on the question; mention any admission in the past 10 years. Surely anything older than that could be considered a non-issue. But, we are talking about the FAA here, the masters of obsessive compulsive disorder.
The best way to eliminate the awkward situation facing Pilots is to check "yes", and add, "You have better access to my medical records than I have." If the FAA comes up with something, it proves you spoke the truth. No, I'm not an attorney.
Probably I will someday be hauled before the court of no defense, but I make liberal use of the "previously reported" notation rather than trying to recall exactly how I described the event time after time.
Gee, thanks a lot, Jeff! I wasn't too worried about renewing my medical before, but now I'm terrified ;)
Who Needs A Certificate Anyway?
I could see a world where there's an AMOC with certificate and medical requirements run by insurance companies. Either you keep doing things the old fashioned way with the FAA, or you pass an alternate training/testing regime that's run by a consortium of the insurance companies. Plain English reg: "If an insurance company is willing to write you a smooth million policy based on their alternate training and medical testing requirements, if any, then you are exempt from compliance with any FAA rules on training, medical, and currency." In all honesty, I imagine the insurance companies requirements for training and currency in this world wouldn't be much less than the FAA's rules. Maybe they'd be more rational with medical.
Those that think insurance companies would be more "liberal" in setting standards for pilots have not had much contact with underwriters. The insurance company's primary goal is to minimize the amount they have to pay out for losses. So, their vested interest is to see that both pilots and their airplanes are as safe and bulletproof as possible. The reality is that the world needs someone to establish standards for pilot performance and aircraft construction or chaos ensues. Look at the history of the development of the steam locomotive to see a good example. Numerous explosions from boiler failures were causing wide-spread casualties, so the government and the society of engineers stepped in and established design standards. The FAA evolved for similar reasons from the early days of aviation and frequent accidents. At least the FAA has no monetary axe to grind. As Paul said, contempt for certification is a slippery slope - either for pilot proficiency or aircraft design. There are some who worry that the new Basic Med may allow pilots with health issues (including older pilots in failing health) to sidestep the rules and continue flying. If you think it is hard to take Dad's car keys away from him, how about his airplane keys? Love 'em or hate 'em, rules are the goalposts that define the game. Who establishes them is not really the issue. We either play within the rules, or trouble eventually ensues. Then people scream for more rules....
Why do we need stop signs, traffic lights, and speed limits? Why do we need people to enforce them? Why do we need driver's licenses? Why do we need minimum design, engineering, and construction criteria for our bridges, buildings, roads, houses, baby's car seats, stethoscopes, x-ray machines, microwave ovens, food dyes, etc? Why do we need standards of morality, politeness, and courtesy? Without them, our selfish natures have proven to lead us to anarchy. And a lawless anarchist affects far more people than them selves. As Paul so correctly, well described, this crash demonstrates an attitude and consciousness of competence. For this guy whose attitude was he is above the law, who spent 21 years of thumbing his nose at compliance to the most minimum requirements of safety and common sense, his perception of his competency outgrew the reality of circumstances and physics. He became a legend in his own mind. Most people's perceptions are their reality. In this case, those perceptions affected the reality for his wife, the people on the ground, the first responders, and millions of people unfamiliar with aviation who now are aware of people flying airplanes without credentials...and getting away with it for years. Because of his cavalier attitude, I am sure there will be an increase in ramp checks, scrutiny of medical compliance, lawsuits setting new insurances precedence, and who knows what more in a litigious society like ours. And all of this potentially affecting every pilot, and every aircraft owner, of which most have and continue to "play by the rules." Did he know how to fly an airplane? Yes. Did he know how to fly an airplane safely? We armchair quarterbacks cannot determine that. But there is no doubt, in my mind, his attitude demonstrated by 21 years of non-compliance to the most basic laws of U.S. aviation and those whose job is to enforce them, suggests this is a good start to the understanding of the accident chain of events.
JetBlue Makes First Flights With Sustainable Jet Fuel
The sales guys do have a lot of fun with all the hyperbole about "renewable" fuels. There are actually two ways to make diesel and/or jet fuel from biomass materials. The first is using a chemical process similar to making soap, called saponification. It uses strong acids and caustics to break the long-chain molecules of plant derived heavy oils into shorter chain products. These are then distilled into a material that has properties similar to hydrocarbon derived middle distillates (i.e. diesel and jet A). However, since they are basically esther based oils, they tend to jel in cold weather. That is one reason why they can only be blended with the "real stuff" up to about 15%. The good news is that, unlike alcohol blended gasoline, it has an energy content similar to regular jet A, so does not reduce the equivalent range of the blend. Its overall energy requirement is relatively low, so it does offer about the same "parasitic" production costs as regular hydrocarbons. The second process uses a hydrocracker unit similar to what is found in regualr refining processes. Its feedstock is mostly beef tallow and cooking oils like those from fast food restaurants. The process delivers a fuel that is almost identical to either diesel or jet A. It could theoretically be used at nearly 100% with little or no blending needed. It generally goes directly into the diesel pool in a refinery with no limitation on concentration. At this point, I am not aware that it is being used for jet fuel, but could easily be so. It has no pour point limitations. The best thing about both processes is there is virtually no sulfur or heavy metals present in the fuel, so a good thing on the pollution front. Strictly speaking, both methods are renewable, since they use waste products that are otherwise not of any use. The first method can arguably be more environmentally friendly since the plants have converted CO2 into biomass, thus it is "nearly" carbon neutral. The second method's advantage is that it uses a feedstock that would otherwise be dumped in landfills. It comes from slaughterhouses and fast food joints and has no economic value. It is more carbon positive, but still has an environmental benefit by reducing waste. And, most cooking oils are plant derived, so still "renewable." There is no energy penalty for using biofuel blends in jet A, since the energy density is similar to the hydrocarbon materials they displace. I have long been an opponent of blending alcohol in gasoline. It makes little environmental sense and actually produces a fuel that reduces range for the engine. However, biodiesel and bio-jet make good sense. How much carbon foodprint is actually reduced is open for debate, but the science is better.
A couple other issues I would like to mention in the general hoopla surrounding biofuels. "Renewable" fuels are only renewable if someone takes the trouble to replace the harvested plants. If we take arable land used for growing food crops and replace it with fuels feedstocks, we are robbing another industry of its livelihood to the detriment of society. That should be a lesson applied to ethanol production for gasohol. And, if we cut down forests to raise biofuels, we are making things worse, as trees are the most efficient carbon storing plants (e.g. Amazon rain forest deforestation). Second, renewable fuels do not reduce an airline's carbon footprint. Biofuels still put the same amount of carbon dioxide into the air (up very high). It takes a long time for that to be recycled into new planting, so atmospheric warming will continue. Finally, air transportation accounts for only about 2% of total atmospheric carbon emissions. Ground based industries such as cement production (6% of emissions) are far bigger problems. While it is important that we all do what we can, we need to keep our perspective and focus our efforts where they produce the greatest results. Try to convey that to your elected officials and insist they do the same.
I'd make a couple of observations: - A material is cheap and plentiful only as long as no one wants it. A typical refinery hydrocracking unit goes through maybe 20,000 barrels of feed stock a day. That is a lot of animal renderings. - Distillate-like fuels derived from saponification of triglycerides have a small viable market. One persistent problem holding them back is the glycerine byproduct that must be marketed or disposed of. - Plant-based oils can be genetically engineered to have good aviation properties but to provide a meaningful portion of our transportation fuel will require (hundreds of?) millions of acres under cultivation. The trade off may be growing less grain and livestock - and paying more for it. - Historically, when petroleum was not available, aviation distillate was produced by coal gasification units feeding a Fischer-Tropsch synthesis reaction. Technology that was well advanced in Germany during the latter stages of WWII, and spurred their development of jet-powered aircraft. The process was dusted off and used again in South Africa during the embargo/sanctions era. During the Obama administration, DOE invested heavily in efforts to substitute carbon-neutral carbon sources for coal (municipal waste, wood chips etc.) but conversion efficiency was so poor that carbon neutrality remained completely out of reach. I think 15% renewable content is fine for demonstration purposes but I'd be surprised if Jet Blue's line operations can sustain it and make money. It may not matter. They've already gotten their recognition.
Unless the feedstock is "free," it's difficult to imagine that the cost of fake kerosene ever will be competitive with the cost of kerosene refined fron crude oil. The higher cost has to be rationalized (excused, really) with a rinse in the holy water of being "green." Liquid hydrogen would be about as green as things can get - depending on how green the hydrolosys-and-liquifaction-process electricity is (always a contentious topic). But I advocate using pie as an aviation fuel. Much like a PAFI inspired lead-free gasoline substitute, it's ALL pie-in-the-sky. Make mine a la mode, please.