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Chinese airlines are reportedly offering experienced airline pilots more than $300,000 a year, tax-free, to work for them and that might be just the beginning of a bidding war for cockpit crew. China’s domestic airline industry is expanding far faster than its airlines can train their own pilots so the carriers are hiring headhunting companies to lure Western pilots to their cockpits. Some estimates place the demand for pilots in China at 100 a week for the next 20 years. “When we ask an airline, ‘How many pilots do you need?,’ they say, ‘Oh, we can take as many as you bring,”’ Dave Ross, president of Las Vegas-based recruiting company Wasinc International, told Bloomberg. “It’s almost unlimited.” Passenger traffic in China increased 11 percent last year and there are twice as many domestic airlines (55) now compared to five years ago.

The best packages go to pilots willing to move to China but those who want to continue to live in their home countries can get free flights home in exchange for slightly smaller paychecks. There are also add-ons including signing bonuses, contract completion payouts and overtime. The carriers generally fly A320s and Boeing 737s but many are so new that their safety and performance records are unknown. Lacking any of the traditional leverage points that airlines use to recruit pilots, the Chinese carriers can offer only one incentive, New Zealand recruiter Liz Loveridge told Bloomberg. “They can’t attract people through any other means,” Loveridge said. “They think money’s the only answer.’’


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Only a few days after losing yet another round in the legal slugfest that continues over Santa Monica Airport, opponents of the airport are turning up the political pressure on the city council, according to the Santa Monica Lookout. Municipal elections are coming this fall and the well-organized anti-airport forces are making it clear to potential candidates that they want nothing less than a full closure of the airport within two years. A motion to that effect will be considered at the Aug. 23 meeting of city council even though the FAA just turned down an appeal by the city that would allow such a closure. The FAA maintains that the airport must remain open until at least 2023 to fulfill the 20-year term tied to federal funding of the facility in 2003. Even though the legal decisions and precedents are well-established, the anti-airport groups are demanding action and are offering some suggestions.

They will be asking the current council to halt fuel sales at the airport and to evict Atlantic Aviation, the major FBO, immediately. They’re also demanding that council ignore the legal consequences of those actions. “We know there are fears that getting rid of the tenants and fuel will produce lawsuits and FAA action,” anti-airport activist Kay Foster wrote to the council. “But failing to do so will endanger the health and lives of the people who voted you into office, as well as others who live in Los Angeles, and inflict untold damage on us all, including children, for years to come.”

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Northrop Grumman has rolled out its clean-sheet contender for the Air Force’s advanced trainer competition. The unnamed aircraft looks a lot like the T-38 it will replace but will have all the advanced electronics the Talon doesn’t. The Air Force says the T-38 is no longer an effective fighter trainer for pilots who will be flying fifth-generation fighters and is buying 300 jet trainers. The Northrop Grumman offering saw light of day for taxi tests at Mojave Airport in California. It was built by company subsidiary Scaled Composites, which is based in Mojave.

The aircraft has a single GE F404 turbofan engine with wing root inlets. BAE Systems and L-3 Communications are filling the avionics bay, which is in many ways the heart of the aircraft. Other contenders for the contract are Raytheon-Leonardo’s M-346, Lockheed Martin’s T-50 and Saab-Boeing with a still-to-be-unveiled clean-sheet design. All of the aircraft will have a sustained turn rate of 6.5 G, air-to-air refueling capability and at least 10 percent better fuel economy than the 1960s-vintage T-38.

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Civil Air Patrol

The Civil Air Patrol’s Louisiana wing is helping state agencies respond to this week’s flooding disaster with aerial photos of the region. The wing set up a command post at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport and is using its Cessna 182s and 172s for reconnaissance, capturing images for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. “We have nine aircraft assigned to the Louisiana wing, they’re all working and all flying at one time or another,” CAP Lieutenant Col. Amos A. Plante told AVweb. By Wednesday the CAP had already taken more than 3,000 photos to help responders assess flood damage and focus recovery efforts. 

Each Cessna flies with a pilot, observer and cameraman on board in an assigned area and also reports to law enforcement if they see anything requiring rescue response, he said. While the Baton Rouge airport near the city center is unaffected by the floods, most of the CAP flights have been dispatched to the east and southeast of the city. “I’ve never seen one like this,” said Plante, a 30-year state resident. “It’s been called the flood of the century.” The CAP says the wing expects to continue its work in the coming days and as long as the state needs it, as some areas are still under threat of heavy flooding. Meanwhile, a previously scheduled visit from Air Force officers will take place at KBTR Saturday as part of wing evaluations conducted every four years. The event will combine the Air Force’s normal testing exercises along with observations of the flood-related missions.

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Periodically, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership).

Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.

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As the pilot population ages a significant portion of the graybeards (female and male) are now interrupting their muttering about the unfairness of a pilot shortage happening when they’re no longer in a position to take advantage of it with entering into conversations as to when it’s going to be time to pull the mixture to idle cutoff and knot the tiedown ropes for the last time. As an aviation lawyer, I’ve become increasingly interested in the topic because I counsel pilots about variables, options and available tools in the complex continuing to fly question, I have seen the unpleasant results of pilots who tried to keep flying too long and I recognize that someday I’ll have to make the decision for myself.

I have pilots come to me to discuss the “end of flight” decision for a number of reasons—everything from a personal concern because they want to be proactive through responding to pressure from family or friends about the way they’ve been flying to puzzlement or anger because the $#%@& FAA has had the temerity to come after them for an alleged violation of the regs or are demanding they take a “709” ride.

When I talk with pilots about the realities of getting older and making the decision to stop flying, I usually point them at what I consider to be two excellent resources on the subject put together by the AOPA: its Aging and the General Aviation Pilot research article and online course, Aging Gracefully, Flying Safely. I can’t recommend them highly enough and I note that many volunteer pilot organizations that do public benefit flying require their volunteer pilots to take and pass the online course before making flights in conjunction with the organization.

Good News and Bad News

The good news is that there are a massive number of variables that come into play in determining how long a pilot can safely keep flying—and there isn’t any magic age at which a pilot should stop. Since the FAA changed the Age 60 Rule for disqualifying airline pilots to the Age 65 Rule, the aircraft accident rate has gone down. We can safely say that having airline captains fly through their 64th rather than their 59th year hasn’t caused aluminum rain. Another piece of good news is that, to the extent that data exists, a combination of overall experience, recent flying experience and recent recurrent training for older pilots means that they can have a lower accident rate than younger pilots with less experience—although that data is largely based on research on populations of professional pilots.

The bad news is that by age 55, every single pilot is slowing down and at increasing risk of bending an airplane. Another facet of that bad news is that if you are not a professional pilot, your risk of having an accident is higher than if you are.

When I counsel pilots, I point out that each one of them has been self-evaluating for years—before every flight they’ve considered making they’ve decided if they feel well enough to fly, if the weather is going to be good enough for them to make the flight, if they can handle the crosswinds expected, if the runways they’ll need to use are long enough, if they need a little dual before making a flight and more. Except in the case of a stroke or getting whacked on the head, few pilots suddenly lose their ability to recognize that they shouldn’t make a particular flight. However, the ability does deteriorate over time and the pilot may not recognize either that he shouldn’t be making a particular flight or continuing to fly at all.

I think the time to start considering the end of flight decision is now—not after the FAA has contacted you to ask about something you’ve done. I’ll discuss both the situation where a pilot comes to me to discuss the legal part of his or her decision to keep flying or stop and then what if the FAA has come knocking, possibly because of something you did because of aging issues.


One of the comments I hear from aging pilots is that “when I can’t pass a medical anymore, I’m going to get a Cub or Champ and base it on a remote strip and keep flying.” I have no doubt that’s been done and is being done right now. Third class medical reform may reduce the number of pilots who take this step.

When asked, my response is to ask whether the pilot is also protecting his family and his assets when he makes this move. While he usually recognizes that he won’t be able to get insurance. The most common follow up I hear to "I'm gonna just keep flying phrase" is that if he wrecks the airplane, he’ll just accept the loss. What is more difficult to discuss is whether he will carry passengers, and if so, how he will deal with the fact that he doesn’t have liability insurance and he has some assets. Is it fair to put a family’s financial well-being at risk—completely outside of the loss they will feel when they realize that their long-time, “great pilot” relative/father/mother/wife/husband crashed because he or she was no longer a great pilot, showed lousy judgment and the fallout has cost the family virtually every cent it had? Is the pilot willing to be that selfish just to indulge the fantasy that he’s perfectly competent to keep flying?

One of the best yardsticks for making the decision to stop flying is if you can’t get liability insurance for the flying you intend to do. That means a number of aviation insurance underwriters—people who make their living evaluating insurable risk—have decided that you are too much of a risk for every one of their companies to insure. If your response is to say “screw it, I’ll fly anyway,” the poor judgment you are exhibiting may be strong evidence of mental impairment, dementia or deterioration that means you shouldn’t be flying.

If you have insurance, don’t let it lapse. You may not be able to get it reinstated—a renewal is easier than having to make a new application.

Once you’re over about 65, insurers may start getting nervous about covering you. It may not be possible to change insurers, especially if you’ve made a claim. If you’ve been using the same broker for years to place your insurance, stick with him or her and talk with your broker about coverage going forward. Ask what the insurers want to see to keep you insurable. Right now we’re in a “soft” insurance market, so there is more coverage available, at lower prices, than there has been in decades. That can change. Maintain a good working relationship with your broker.

Strategies to Minimize Risk

I’ve had a lot of conversations with pilots who have recognized that they’ve lost a step, want to continue flying and want to put together a strategy for doing so. In most cases, they’ve thought about it pretty hard and have come up with a strategy that fits them and just want some validation and additional ideas. I’ll run through some of the ones that have been presented by pilots I respect and were, in my opinion, good ones.

Stop flying at night. A significant number of pilots I’ve discussed aging issues with have decided that a combination of the loss of visual acuity at night and the accident data that shows increased risks of bad things happening when flying at night has caused them to only fly during daylight. As one said, “I don’t have to be anywhere badly enough that I can’t schedule the trip during the day.”

Transition out of a complex airplane. One pilot who had been flying a high-performance, retractable-gear single for over 30 years decided to move to a fixed-pitch prop, fixed-gear single that cruised 60 knots slower. While he had to go through some transition training, he stuck with the familiar six-pack instrument presentation and avionics he was used to. It worked well for him—he didn’t have to work as hard to stay ahead of the airplane, overall workload was lower and he didn’t have to worry about forgetting to extend the gear.

Stop flying tailwheel airplanes. The combination of slowing reflexes and reducing the risk of runway loss of control by a factor of two to three by flying only nosewheel airplanes means less chance of bending an airplane. One pilot said he liked flying tailwheel airplanes but had decided to only do so with an instructor aboard. That way, if he groundlooped, the CFI would be the pilot in command and get the blame.

File IFR for all cross-country flights. So long as you are comfortable you can comply with clearances and not bust altitudes, take advantage of the resources available to you when talking with ATC. One of the more common problems I see with aging pilots is airspace violations—inadvertently flying into Class B airspace or a TFR. Being on an IFR flight plan will reduce that risk to essentially zero. Nevertheless, recognize that as we age, we lose short-term memory ability. If you find yourself having trouble consistently reading back clearances, it may be time to stop flying IFR.

Take a flight review and an IPC every six months. The data on aging pilots is clear—recent experience and recurrent training is vital when it comes to keeping the risk of an accident low. At the end ask the CFI for his or her evaluation of your performance, specifically asking if he or she sees warning flags of deterioration of your skill or judgment. 

Stop carrying passengers. If you’re getting concerned about your skills, but think you’re still doing okay, consider only flying solo.

Only fly with another pilot—but coordinate things ahead of time as to who is responsible for what.

Write down your objective, personal performance minimums for IFR and VFR flight. What are the minimum objective standards that you think you should be able to meet to fly IFR and VFR? What altitude, airspeed and heading parameters? What distance from centerline and spot on the runway for touchdown on landing? When you can’t comfortably hit them, it’s time to keep your promise you made to yourself when you wrote them down.

The FAA is Calling

If the pilot is contacting me because he or she has been told by the FAA to come in to the local FSDO for what’s commonly called a 709 ride, the situation changes as there is a chance (according to conversations with FAA inspectors, about five percent) that the incident that attracted the FAA’s interest is an early warning that it is time for the pilot to stop flying.

I’m usually asked what a 709 ride is, whether the FAA can force the pilot to take one and whether he or she should fight it or take the ride. The answers are that a 709 ride gets its name from 49 USC Section 44709, which is federal law that allows the FAA to reinspect a pilot to determine if he or she meets the requirements of the pilot certificates the pilot holds. The pilot has the choice of not taking the ride, but that almost invariably results in the suspension or revocation of the pilot’s certificate unless the pilot can prove that the FAA was acting unreasonably when it demanded reexamination of the pilot.

Once I’ve spoken to the pilot about the background leading up to the demand for a 709 ride, I usually recommend that the pilot call the FAA inspector, discuss what will be covered on the ride and schedule it for a few weeks out—enough time to also get with a CFI and take a few hours of dual.

I want to talk with the pilot and the CFI after the dual session(s) and before the 709 ride. The purpose is to see if the CFI and the pilot agree on the pilot’s readiness to pass the 709 ride. Most commonly they agree that the pilot is ready. It may be that they agree that the pilot cannot pass the 709 ride, even with additional dual and it’s time for the pilot to stop flying.

I’ve yet to have the pilot and CFI disagree. My plan for the situation is to recommend the three of us have a longer conversation. If the CFI says the pilot’s ready and the pilot doesn’t think he is, I would suggest that either the two of them map out a plan to fly together to see if the pilot’s confidence level can be raised to match his skill level. If that is not feasible, I’ll recommend that the pilot, CFI and I have the talk about the pilot deciding that it’s time to stop flying and surrender his certificate to the FAA rather than taking the 709 ride.

The worst case is if the pilot thinks he’s doing fine and the CFI thinks he’s not competent to pass a 709 ride. That is a strong indication that the pilot is no longer able to self-evaluate and is a serious matter. If and when I run into this situation, my plan is to ask the pilot to then involve his spouse and potentially adult children and a doctor or mental health professional in further discussions. The pilot may deny that he’s got a problem at all and refuse.

The 709 Ride

Every pilot I’ve counseled prior to taking a 709 ride has passed. Each one has called me afterward to tell me it was no big deal and that the FAA inspector recognized he was nervous and made him as comfortable as possible. My conversations with FAA inspectors have been consistent with what my clients have told me—and the inspectors tell me that 19 out of 20 of the 709 rides are no big deal, especially if the pilot has gotten a little dual beforehand (they also tell me that taking dual indicates to them as an inspector that the pilot is taking the matter seriously).

About five percent of the pilots who take 709 rides fail them. Unscientific polling indicates that the majority of those failures are aging pilots who should have stopped flying and the 709 process caught that fact. There are some cases where pilots who have failed 709 rides have refused to accept the result, usually claiming the inspector or the FAA was out to get them and they really did very well. Those situations have generated FAA enforcement actions. In the ones I’ve read, the FAA’s response was to offer the pilot another checkride with a different inspector. In all of them the pilot again failed and continued to insist that he or she was a great pilot and had an excuse for every time he or she couldn’t meet some objective standard such as holding altitude within certain parameters—it was all someone or something else’s fault. In all of the cases, the FAA eventually prevailed and revoked the pilot’s certificate.

Once an aging pilot who came to me because of an impending 709 ride passes the ride, I recommend that he and I have one more conversation—about developing a strategy for risk management if he wants to continue to fly. I’ll go over the items I listed above.


There is one last strategy for risk management that all pilots who don’t kill themselves in crashes eventually have to implement: Stop flying as pilot in command. That's when you recognize that you’ve had a wonderful run, that you’ve made memories that only a tiny fraction of one percent of the people in the world can ever claim and congratulate yourself on your success as a pilot. Revel in it. Bore others with it. In quiet moments, open up your logbook to random pages, read what you wrote and remember the flights, the views and slipping down final to touch down lightly in the grass and the person in the other seat saying quietly, “nice job.”

Rick Durden is an aviation attorney and CFII who holds an ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation. He is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vols 1 & 2.

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News reporting is often described as the first draft of history, but for events as momentous as World War II, there may never be a final draft. Decades after the fact, what my parents and my generation knew as simply “the war” continues to generate ever more detailed histories and analysis, as new records come to light and historians employ new methods to find and cross-reference this material for a fresh look.

One such work is a new book on the 1942 carrier-borne attack on Tokyo led by Jimmy Doolittle, a raid that forever after bore his name. The topic has never lacked for attention; I count at least nine books on the subject, plus mention in countless others. James M. Scott’s Target Tokyo builds on the research that went before it and, in exhaustive detail, paints a vivid portrait of the Doolittle raid, its origins, the tactical planning and execution and the overarching effect the raid had, told from both the U.S. and Japanese perspective.

At 648 pages, Target Tokyo will probably stand as the landmark work on the Doolittle raid. Most of us know the story well enough to recite at least the outlines of the raid, but Scott has drilled deeply into the record to reveal details I’ve never read elsewhere. I can’t list them all here, but I found several surprises in the book. One was that post-attack Japanese news reports had claimed the raiders bombed schools and hospitals, something I always took to be Japanese propaganda. But Scott’s review of contemporaneous Japanese records revealed that the raid did cause casualties in schools and hospitals, including Doolittle’s own bombs. That was, of course, unintentional and what we describe today by the discordantly sterile term “collateral damage.”

I also never realized that the Japanese were fully aware that the bombers were on their way to Japan. Some previous histories were vague about whether the patrol trawler the U.S. task force encountered, the hapless Nitto Maru, got off radio warnings before it was sunk by the Navy. Post-action review, classified at the time, left no doubt. The Navy monitored continuous radio transmissions from the trawler for 27 minutes until the ship was sunk. And the Navy had such a time of it, that skipper of the U.S.S. Nashville, a light cruiser, was mortified that 915 rounds were fired at the Nitto, without a hit. Aircraft from the U.S.S. Enterprise sunk the trawler with gunfire.

The 16 carrier-launched B-25s each carried only a ton of bombs, a mix of incendiaries and general purpose ordnance. The raid has often been described as a militarily insignificant pinprick, and while that’s true, the raiders did more damage than I had understood. No fewer than 112 buildings were destroyed and 53 damaged. One of the incendiary-set fires burned for 48 hours, a fact that would portend of worse to come—much worse—when B-29 fire raids commenced in earnest in early 1945. Curiously, in this long form podcast, author Scott told me that those devastating B-29 raids could have destroyed the very records he relied on to examine the Doolittle mission from the Japanese perspective. Luckily, many appear to have survived and Scott relied on a translator to review them.

Even some U.S. records of the raid have been obscure or classified until recently. One of these was a detailed accounting of the raid assembled by Merian Cooper in Chunking, immediately after the raid. “Cooper is one of the fascinating characters in this time period. He was the director of King Kong, the original movie from the 1930s … he ends up being brought in as the briefing officer for the raiders in China. His job was to sit down with each of these raiders and to take their statements,” Scott says. The result was 300 pages of fresh eyewitness accounts never used in previous books on the raid. These records may represent the best accounts of the raid itself.

Scott writes that Japanese records reveal that the raid had consequences far beyond bombed buildings and fires. The Japanese military had assured the population that the country could never be attacked because in two millennia, it had not been. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, knew different and was so shocked and depressed by the Doolittle raid he retired to his flagship cabin for several days.

Yamamoto later used reverberations from the raid to argue for the Japanese assault on Midway, which the Japanese army had been cool to. Obsessed with the destruction of the U.S. Pacific fleet, Yamamoto prevailed and the tipping point of the Pacific war followed in June of 1942 when the Japanese suffered a crushing defeat. History is replete with what-ifs, but had Japan not attacked Midway, the war certainly would have spiraled in a different direction.

These discussions and more are covered in fascinating detail by Scott, in a book that almost reads like a historical novel. History isn’t often chronicled in page-turners, but Scott has definitely written one. Anyone interested in World War II history will want it for the bookshelf. Hear my conversation with James Scott about the research and writing of Target Tokyo here.    

What Everybody Ought to Know About the CGR-30P from Electronics International

Author James M. Scott's new book, Target Tokyo, adds fascinating detail and analysis to the famed 1942 air raid led by Jimmy Doolittle. In today's podcast, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli talks to Scott about researching and writing the book. (Thanks to Jay Swindle for audio editing assistance.)

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As part of its retooled line of upper tier single-engine cabin class airplanes, Piper is showing off its new M600 turboprop. Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano took a demo flight in the new airplane.

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Picture of the Week

Rick Mullins of New Richmond, OH takes us flying with him this week. Click through to view his photo and others from AVweb readers around the globe.

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Climbing out of my home airport with our friendly (and funny) tower controllers, I heard:

Tower: Cardinal XYZ, check transponder.

XYZ: Turning it on, sorry, guys, XYZ.

Tower: Cardinal XYZ, never admit your mistakes on frequency, just say it was warming up.

XYZ: All warmed up! XYZ.

Tower: That's the spirit.


Daniel Rasin 



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