Our Wasteful Training Habits

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I haven't done a formal survey, but my impression from talking to aircraft owners, instructors and FBOs is that the price of avgas is definitely reducing flying hours. That's understandable and a classic market response to rising prices. When something costs more, you buy less of it, find an alternative or become more efficient in the use of whatever it is that's costing more.

Although we're making some progress in general aviation with regard to efficiency, we clearly have a long way to go, especially in changing what are probably wasteful basic habits. Here's an example. Last week, we flew across the state for a couple of business meetings. While waiting to depart Venice, we got stuck behind a slow taxiing Cessna 150 whose instructor and student plodded through what was probably a long checklist, then declined to taxi onto the runway and depart ahead of another 150 on a one-mile final. (Do the math: That's a full minute to taxi onto the runway, shove the throttle in and get airborne and out of the way.)

So we waited behind the 150 and a Bonanza waited behind us—three airplanes pumping $4.25 fuel through about a thousand combined cubic inches of displacement and going nowhere. It got worse. An airplane reported entering the downwind and we could see it was positioned just perfectly to pin us all to the taxiway for another few wasteful minutes because the 150 instructor and student clearly weren't going to move until the final was clear. A cooperative Columbia pilot extended his downwind to break the logjam.

Do we have to keep doing this? And why do we do it? We do it because of inertia and that all-purpose, apple-pie response to everything: safety. The student is taught to taxi no faster than a walk because the checklist says so and following a checklist equates to safety. He's taught to never takeoff with an airplane on final because his instructor—who was taught the same thing—told him to. And he flies a two-mile final and a pattern sequence that would be too wide for an F-16 because that's what instructors teach these days. Why? Because they were taught that and, to them, anything less is unsafe.

In my readings on improving automobile fuel economy which, in case you have noticed, is atrocious, I came across this gem: "Analysts project an increase in the cost of buying a new [fuel efficient] car between $900 and $10,000 depending on which expert is consulted. The only way to achieve this is to drastically reduce the weight of a car, thus increasing the potential for a lethal accident and more dead Americans on the highway."

This, by the way, is the justification for large, heavy cars with necessarily large displacement engines. The only way to use fuel more efficiently is to risk certain death. A little bit of that logic goes a long way.

Three years ago, on a trip to Diamond's factory at Wiener-Neustadt, in Austria, we were having lunch at an airport café hard by the main parallel taxiway. I noticed a Cherokee whizzing by on the way to the runway, then another and yet another. When I commented on the high taxi speeds to my Austrian lunch companions, they dryly noted that when avgas costs $8 a gallon, as it did in Austria at the time, dawdling taxi speeds are for wastrels or the very rich. But what about safety? Somehow, the pilots managed to idle the throttles and coast into the turn onto the runway without undue braking. The tower cooperated by issuing no-delay takeoff clearances to airplanes hustling along the taxiway.

Is this an argument for taxiing at the speed of heat? After all, how much gas could those Cherokee pilots really be saving? That misses the point.

The Austrian pilots—long ago, probably—reached the point where they rationally examined the cost of fuel versus its value to them and changed their habits and procedures to save a little of it. In other words, they rejected the safety-trumps-all argument in favor of efficiency.

I would argue that we're overdue for a little of this in the U.S. And it ought to start with CFIs, who should teach their students to fly tighter patterns, to understand and use ground leaning and even to lean trainers at low altitude. And there's no reason to taxi like molasses just because the checklist says to or to stubbornly wait to takeoff until the closest airplane is three miles away from the runway.

We're going to have to get to this point eventually. And the sooner we do, the better off the industry will be.

Comments (25)

I agree with all, especially the tighter patterns, except the fast taxi. Having twice in 41 years lost one brake - always the right for some reason (perhaps passengers bumping the brake line when getting into Cessnas) I prefer to manage my taxi energy with throttle and try not to rely only on the brakes. I teach to test brakes often during taxi and coast to the next stop point. It is a very helpless feeling when you lose a brake, Your airplane turns sharply towwards the good brake and if you are taxiing fast, you better hope there is nothing on the side of your taxiway or runway to run into.

It is also amazing to me the number of pilots who "drag" brakes during taxi while keeping RPM's relatively high. They just don't listen - or feel - the throttle / brakes, perhaps because of their noise-limiting headsets. Taxiing fast while dragging brakes is a waste of fuel and wears down brake linings faster than necessary. Taxiing with one headset side off of your ear allows you to listen to the engine, especially during runup. The engine and airplane will talk to you, if you can hear it.

From the old school,

Burt. NAFI Master CFI Marfa, Texas USA

Posted by: BURT COMPTON | March 27, 2008 7:41 AM    Report this comment

I see no wastefulness with a slow taxi speed accomplished without the use of brakes coupled with ground leaning. How, pray tell, does a fast taxi save fuel. Time; maybe. Fuel?

Posted by: Michael Mahoney | March 27, 2008 8:35 AM    Report this comment

I would bet that much more fuel could be saved by teaching students how to lean properly. My flight school's policy is not to lean below 3,000 feet out of fear that the students will occasionally forget to go back to full rich. I think that should change. Also, it is time to drive home the concept that operation at 65 or even 55% power saves a lot of fuel for a relatively small loss of airspeed. I have done that for the last 15 years of flying an Arrow and got the added benefit of making TBO twice while never needing to pull any cylinders.

Posted by: WILLIAM DAVIS | March 27, 2008 8:52 AM    Report this comment

Here's another one. Every a/c that operates in cold conditions ought to have a good preheat prior to start up.

Posted by: Michael Mahoney | March 27, 2008 9:18 AM    Report this comment

I'm a recently certificated pilot. During my training days I observed the habit of pilots making a quick radio call / announcement to inbound aircraft on final that they were taking the runway and departing IMMEDIATELY. That usually served as an alert and gave the inbound pilot the comfort of knowing that he was spotted and that there would not be interference with his landing and rollout. Just my experience.

Posted by: Leonard Windham | March 27, 2008 11:39 AM    Report this comment

I can vouch for the big patterns as -- for me -- being confusing. Long ago the Navy had me flying four-engined Constellations and our turn would be when the runway end was just behind the wing. I joined a flying club and they really were upset with going any further. The old-timers had the idea tha,t with your power reduction on turning base, your should be able to make the runway in the event that the engine failed. I found myself turning in front of an airplane in the pattern when I assumed that he was making a downwind departure. I had turned base when he, now a mile further downwind, called his base. If pilots re afraid of having trouble being too-close to get down to the touchdown zone, they should show the students that this is the purpose behind one's training in competency in a forward slip.

Posted by: Jack Kenton | March 27, 2008 11:55 AM    Report this comment

Fast taxi – save fuel – as long as I do not use critical thinking it makes sense. It is my understand that approximately 50% of the insurance payouts are for sightseeing trips into the tulles that result from trips that start on the runway and or taxiway. Yesterday I observed a Piper Tomahawk taxing at high speed and several times started out on a sightseeing excursion before thinking better of it or could it be that he/she was an old and frustrated tail wheel pilot.

I own a Luscombe and there is no way this side of perdition that I am going to go smoking down the taxiway. At cruse the engine burns 5 ½ gallons per hour. At $5.00 a gallon that equates to $27.50 per hour. Divide that by 60 minutes and it costs me 0.458 cents per minute. There is no way I can get close to this figure while taxing unless I try flying down the taxiway. Sorry folks I think I can afford a few minutes that it cost me to keep safe and make my insurance company happy.

I observe too many pilots who fly like they drive. Regulations and good safety practices are written in blood of those who went before us

Posted by: VERNON CHILDERS | March 27, 2008 12:32 PM    Report this comment

Rapid taxiing probably does not accomplish much, but the main point of the article is still valid; it would behoove us to teach conservation via whatever practical steps we can take.

Posted by: WILLIAM DAVIS | March 27, 2008 1:38 PM    Report this comment

Remarkable that lean-of-peak operation was not mentioned in an article about efficiency. The science and engineering (physics, metallurgy, test stands, etc.) is absolutely ironclad and unassailable: piston engines that have *PROPERLY BALANCED FUEL FLOWS* among the cylinders (which usually requires GAMIjectors) and are well-instrumented and -monitored can derive huge benefits from lean-of-peak (LOP) operations.

Engines will last longer and operate cleaner when being cooled with excess air rather than being sprayed down with excess fuel. Less pollution is generated when all that unburned fuel is not spilled. And the efficiency gains are high: it's normal and reasonable to expect a 5% drop in speed with a 20% drop in fuel consumption. That's an immediate 15% efficiency gain (in miles-per-gallon terms), for every minute of every hour that the airplane flies.

I've now flown my Seneca II for about 600 hours LOP, trading my old 172 KTAS / 24 GPH rich-of-peak profile for 164 KTAS / 20 GPH lean of peak. Saving 4 GPH @ $5.00/gallon means I save $20/hour, so $12,000 in savings total over those 600 hours. And my engines did *not* need a top overhaul midway through their life cycle, like many TSIO-360's do, for another $18,000 in savings. They'll make TBO clean and happy, and I'll stay safe and happy.

Posted by: RODOLFO PAIZ | March 27, 2008 3:27 PM    Report this comment

I belive you can taxi at a moderate rate of speed, conditions permitting.

I doubt LOP saves very much gas. I run LOP in able pistons, and I think the previous comment overestimated the cost savings. I also think he forgot to add in all the time and cost associated with having balanced fuel flows and special injectors.... also downtime for that.

I'm a big fan of smaller patters. makes for more experienced pilots.... tighter tolerances, more touch and goes in a specified time.

I think the biggest thing I see would save gas would be to pull the mixture ALL the way back on taxi. The mixture should be pulled until the engine coughs and then pushed in a little. Eliminates ground fouling, and if forgotten when power is added the engine will die or produce a noticeable lack of power.

$8 avgas within 2 years.

Posted by: Bryan Berkland | March 27, 2008 4:18 PM    Report this comment

Don't rush the new students to do tight patterns. That's just plain unnecessary and rude. But DO teach everyone good practices when they are ready. Maybe this is where we need to better the training.

Leaning and power plant management
Gradual descents from altitude
Power management in tailwinds vs headwinds
Reading winds and playing altitudes
Using lift like a gilder pilot
Understanding how to use ATC efficiently
Route selection
Tip on filing IFR plans
Doing proper maintenance
Removing unnecessary crap from the airplane

If you don't believe this works, try RNO to SQL (about 170nm in a line) on 10.2 gallons and just over 60 minutes in a Beech F33A. (I could hardly believe it myself.)

Posted by: FILL CEE | March 27, 2008 7:57 PM    Report this comment

”Our Wasteful Training Habits” is a good article and makes us cogitate our flying habits. I am sure that several pages could be written on the subject.

Being organized, thoughtful, and thinking ahead in our flying is probably going to do more in saving time, money, and resources. To take shortcuts is to feast at the table of disaster and do not be surprised if you come down with a terminal case of salmonella. Penny-wise, Pound-foolish. I saw this one on a bumper sticker. “If you think the cost of getting an education is too expensive try going through life with out it.”

I will never get mad at someone who is taking their time and trying to be safe even if I feel they are delaying me. And yes, I find pilots who fly Space Shuttle traffic patterns very frustrating. Maybe we need to slow down and try to be more courteous with one another. Gee - what a concept. I see enough rude behavior on the freeways.

Posted by: VERNON CHILDERS | March 27, 2008 10:57 PM    Report this comment

Pilots fly because they are in a hurry. So pick up the pace if conditions permit. If not, not. Be considerate of others and get off the taxiway if you cannot depart immediately. It's inconsiderate to be physically #1 but mentally #6. Pull over and let the others by.

I find it hard to believe that brakes would fail without warning between the ramp and the runway. Test'em before engine start, maybe while leaning.

Planning pays. Find a safe place in the parking area, do the runup, complete the checklist, then taxi 'with purpose' to the runway, possibly even notifying traffic and tower that you will be ready for an immediate departure. having two radios and monitoring ground while talking on tower works here if you have the mental bandwidth. I find it inconsiderate for pilots to do their run-up on the taxiway, blocking it for those who plan better.

Leaning the engine aggressively after engine start and taxi reduces plug fouling and carbon monoxide - the stuff that kills, and it may save a bit of gas. Aggressive leaning prevents a takeoff with the engine leaned: The engine will just quit with full throttle, a great reminder. It may be better to verify 'balls to the wall' on every takeoff and every 'go' after a 'touch'. Think of it as a 'gumps to go'.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | March 28, 2008 1:00 AM    Report this comment

Try to fly the traffic pattern as if the engine is failing. You'll learn to keep it close to the runway, compensate for wind without power and slip off excess altitude. it teaches some great habit patterns and wind awareness. Granted, students need time to get it figured out, but limit traffic pattern cross -countries to the new student that needs it.

If traffic is light and the runway is long enough, try 'multiple options, that is, more than one touch and go per pass. It's great training and develops the correct response to a real engine failure on departure.

If there is more than one runway try figure eights. For example, if the wind is from 230 and the runways are 21 and 25, land on 21 then go left to 25, then go right to 21 etc. Yeah, none-standard patterns and altitudes, so it might be best done where there is a tower so you can get permission, but it's great training. A plus is that the tower guys learn you are flexible, which often leads to their working you into the sequence while other's wait. Just be ready to say 'unable' if it's really off the wall.

One can get a couple dozen touch-and-goes per hour by combining these suggestions. The pace also forces you to memorize flow patterns for the landing and takeoff checklists and develops great wind-awareness.

Just don't land gear up.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | March 28, 2008 1:01 AM    Report this comment

Finally, if there is traffic behind, get off the runway after landing. Yeah I know, you own the runway and you are trying to get another year out of the tires and brakes by not using them. But be a hero and get off expeditiously rather than strolling to the end. Either that or let following traffic know your plans. I thank you in advance.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | March 28, 2008 1:02 AM    Report this comment

My plane uses less then 2GPH taxiing. It uses 4.5GPH during run up. I need to warm the cylinders and oil somewhere, it seems like taxiing is a bit gentler. I just ran the numbers from what I recall my fuel flow while taxiing at different speeds. On a 5000 ft taxi going 30 MPH instead of 10 MPH will save me $0.20! I can afford that.

I have been commuting to work for 18 years. Lately I have slowed down. I run my Mooney LOP 28” MAP 2300 RPM 8 GPH. This gives me 140 KTAS. This increases the time of my commute by 4 min and saves me 1.4 gal. Not much, but it buys me lunch.

Posted by: RICHARD JONES | March 28, 2008 9:42 AM    Report this comment

Fast taxi, not an idea that I like. Where I am based there are planes lined up the whole length of the taxiway on one side (at the moment there's a 12' high snow bank on the other). In the summer there's planes lined on both sides for a good chunk of it on a busy day (visitor parking in on the South side). Not an environment for fast taxi, granted a little faster than walking pace, but not as some do at just below rotate speed.
Tight circuits I agree with 100%, for fuel saving, safety (as has been mentioned, what happens when the fan stops) and for noise abatement. We get noise complaints and while they are mosly nuisance complaints, our circuit can be flown over the river without being directly over the city on the other side. There are a lot of folks who fly a mile or more further north of that and are actually risking going into the zone of another airport. I figure if I can get my Comanche down from a circuit over the river and a 1nm or less final, the 172 drivers should be able to.

Posted by: Terry Cooper | March 28, 2008 10:22 AM    Report this comment

I've tuned my cars' engines since age 16, so leaning is a natural movement for me. My brake test is at first movement. Also been doing brakes as well. Fast taxi I am not likely to employ. I also like to run a list at a stop. I do employ situational awareness as to other aircraft operations. I try to position myself so that other aircraft ready to depart can do so. The same applies in the air. As for patterns. I fly a reasonable one that allows for landing if an engine quits.

Posted by: Ed Hotchkiss | March 28, 2008 4:06 PM    Report this comment

My first taxi with differential braking and rudder control was as alien to me as my first time behind the wheel of a car. So, taxi at walking speed seemed NASCAR fast to me. It wasn't long before I could keep it centered and throttled up to a more reasonable pace. My instructor never once told me to slow down. The point being is to taxi at a safe rate for the conditions and proficiency. The pilot behind the student should take that moment maybe remember back and enjoy the student's torment. No one likes to lollygag down a taxiway. After all, the reason we are taxiing is because we are going to fly, and getting to the runway the sooner, the better. So, be patient: the guy gong slow is probably doing it for a very good reason.

I am also a proponent of a tight pattern, but again, it is the ability/experience of the pilot that dictates just how tight. A student may need that extra mile downwind to make a stable approach. He will soon get the skill to tighten it up and will do so in due course. I still fly a bit wide, but not long; but when doing T & G's I cut it closer each time until I'm comfortable. A mentor of mine has a rather unique approach. He likes to fly downwind 1/8 mile, 200 ft. above normal pattern alt., chop power abeam the numbers, wings-over while droping flaps and forward slips... kisses the numbers most of the time. That maneuver alone probably saves a gallon or two. But it will definately cost the passenger several gallons of adrinelin.

Posted by: Roger Dugan | March 28, 2008 9:03 PM    Report this comment

The fast taxiing in Austria is another example of what happens when excessive taxation and fees are placed on GA. They're compromising safety over there to save a few euros, the same way they're compromising safety to avoid paying for weather briefings, IFR clearances, and landing practice.

Posted by: Chris McLellan | March 31, 2008 8:24 AM    Report this comment

The most boring subject in general aviation has to be old farts complaining about wide patterns and slow students. You forgot to complain about taxiing with strobe lights turned on. Is that the subject of a future scintillating blog? ZZZZZ...

Posted by: Paul McGhee | March 31, 2008 8:46 AM    Report this comment

Most GPS units provide bearing from, distance and time to waypoint. So include time to arrival in your position report. Local traffic might not know if you are doing 55 or 155 kts which makes distance only marginally useful, but knowing how long before you arrive (and what you plan to do upon arrival) is useful. Likewise, the IFR pilot reporting 'GPS-Z inbound' is speaking gibberish to most pilots. If pilots don't offer useful info I ask for it while offering winds and runway in use, something the arriving pilot may or may not know.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | March 31, 2008 2:41 PM    Report this comment

I agree that safety is used as an excuse for all sorts of repression. Saving life is just another propaganda tool along with saving the environment, saving the children, and saving the whales. Funny how the process of saving so many things enables socialists to destroy freedom, individuality, and the quality of life. Your article shows that saving gas can be added to this list.

Personally I think we should save electricity. Too many dumb articles on AVWEB these days; don't you think?

Posted by: ANDREW STUPER | March 31, 2008 6:55 PM    Report this comment

Simulators could save a lot of airplane training time. I don't mean anything fancy or logable. Just a nicely set up Xplane with a couple big monitors and then also before you get in the plane a briefing covering what you are going to do and why and how. When I learned to fly my instructor never did a preflight briefing but gas was cheaper. I'm not so hot on the fast taxi but I am 110% behind the the tight pattern and even the overhead.

Posted by: robert miller | April 2, 2008 4:35 PM    Report this comment

Either you move primary training from busy airports or you eat the combined learning curves and sit there reminiscing. Ever watch a Cessna 172 on a five mile final with full flaps come floating in at 60 kts or (insert your favorite time waster here)? If I have to suffer as pilots fly on the side of caution I'll keep it to myself. When I'm asked to fly a short final, I do it. But less hours and tighter patterns don't make better pilots. If the number of airports remains the same but the number of students plus the cost of fuel increases, tought. Don't compromise safety to save a few bucks on the ground. Training doesn't hurt either.

Posted by: Richard Herbst | April 10, 2008 5:58 AM    Report this comment

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