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A former NTSB member who is now Adjunct Professor at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology says the FAA is overstepping its authority in banning news drone flights at the increasingly contentious Standing Rock oil pipeline protest in North Dakota. The FAA has imposed temporary flight restrictions on drone flights over the protest, which it says were put in place for safety reasons. In his regular column in Forbes, John Goglia says limiting media use of drones is not the mandate of the FAA and blocking media coverage is not a legal basis for issuing flight restrictions. Goglia extensively quotes two experts in drone law and operations who suggest other motives for the TFR in his column in Forbes. 

Goglia notes that drones have been a favorite of First Nations journalists documenting what they allege to be violations of various laws by the companies installing the pipe. There are allegations that law enforcement personnel have shot down drones, which would appear to violate at least the spirit of the alleged safety basis for the TFR. The video below is typical of the videos being generated by drones at the site and was shot last week.

Amazon customers likely got all their packages delivered on time over the busy Thanksgiving weekend but a spokesman for the union representing pilots at ABX Air said last week it likely took a toll on those flying the 20 aircraft now leased to Amazon. Last Wednesday, a federal judge ordered 250 pilots striking against schedule-disrupting “emergency flights” to strap back in to make sure Black Friday and Cyber Monday went off without a hitch. ABX also serves DHL but the high-profile deal with Amazon came under the greatest scrutiny with the job action. A pilot shortage appears to be at the heart of the dispute and a spokesman for the 250 ABX night flyers said it’s likely to get worse.

Rick Ziebart, an ABX pilot and the spokesman for the Airline Professionals Association, Teamsters Local 1224, which represents the pilots, said ABX has a crippling staff shortage that results in demands for “emergency flights” to meet its obligations. “ABX Air’s failure to address the staffing crisis hurts our families and compromises our ability to do our jobs and meet the needs of Amazon, DHL and other customers,” he told The New York Times.

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The world’s largest air tanker is now fighting the wildfires sweeping Israel after Global SuperTanker Services received an emergency call from the country’s government last week. The converted Boeing 747 Spirit of John Muir flew direct from Colorado Springs to Israel within 24 hours of receiving the call, according to a news release from the company. “Our team is committed to providing assistance to our friends in Israel for as long as it takes to gain control of or extinguish these devastating fires,” said CEO Jim Wheeler. “We are prepared to stay in Israel for as long as we are needed, but we hope that the SuperTanker will provide the force multiplier to end these devastating fires in a very short timeframe.”

A series of arson-caused wildfires has overwhelmed Israel over the last week and firefighting resources from all over the world have been summoned to help quench the flames. The aircraft sent by Global SuperTanker is its newest. The plane can drop 20,000 gallons of water, suppressant or retardant in varying increments and rates.

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A group of vintage airplanes recreating a historic transcontinental route resumed its journey this week after being detained in Ethiopia and accounting for all its pilots. A day later, a Stearman crashed but no one was injured. The participants in the Vintage Air Rally include about a dozen open-cockpit airplanes from around the world along with a few modern-era planes and two helicopters flying as support crews. The pilots and passengers were detained at the Gambela airport after arriving from Sudan, Reuters reported Thursday. Ethiopian aviation authorities said they kept the group of 47 people from checking into their hotel on Wednesday because they didn’t have advance permission to land in Gambela, according to the report. But on Thursday, rally officials said everything was ironed out and the planes arrived in Kenya on Friday, the BBC reported. In the meantime, one of the U.K. pilots, 72-year-old Maurice Kirk, reached Gambela safely after he and his Piper Cub could not be located en route from Sudan.

The air rally, sanctioned by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, has teams competing for prizes based on pilot skills flying the 8,000-mile route. The airplanes launched from the Greek island of Crete on Nov. 13 and are scheduled to reach Cape Town in mid-December. The route follows the 1930s-era route flown by Imperial Airways, one of the early airlines that eventually led to the formation of British Airways. Participating aircraft include Travel Airs, Tiger Moths and a Bu 131 Bucker Jungmann. 

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At 95, Gene Lemiski of Alberta, Canada, longed for decades to be a pilot again after a short flying career as a World War II airman. He got his chance recently with some left-seat time in a Cessna 172, along with an experienced flight instructor to ride along. Lemiski is a veteran of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, a massive effort among several nations to produce air force pilots and crews during the war. He had trained under the program in Canada, flying Fairchild Cornells, Harvards, Anson twins and Consolidated PBY seaplanes, according to Bruce Ritchie, who was Lemiski’s copilot for the flight. Ritchie, chief flight instructor at Centennial Flight Centre near Edmonton, said Lemiski couldn’t afford to continue flying after 1945, so he set aside airplanes and went on to live his life and raise a family.

More than 70 years later, a friend of Lemiski’s stopped in at Ritchie’s flight school to ask about getting some flight time. “I hadn’t met Gene yet so I gave his friend the spiel about the possible difficulty of getting someone that old in and out of a 172,” Ritchie told AVweb in an email. “The fellow said it shouldn’t be a problem and then when I met Gene I realized it certainly wouldn’t. And I also felt it was an amazing opportunity to do something special for such a nice person.” An Edmonton CTV station interviewed the two and recorded the event. “I wanted to see if I could do it, and I did,” Lemiski said. His passion for flying never left him, he told the station. “I loved it,” he said. “You have to love flying to be – I think – to be a good pilot.” Ritchie said the veteran handled the controls easily and flew a tour around Edmonton without any assistance from him, except for “just a bit” during the landing. “It was very special to give him the opportunity to experience the joy of flying after such a long absence from the cockpit,” he said.

Images: CTV Edmonton

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Donating your time to fly for a charitable organization (more commonly known as public benefit flying) is, in my opinion, the most personally rewarding flying a pilot can do. It offers a chance for a pilot to combine a passion for flight with helping others. Public benefit flying is most commonly known for medical transport—flying people, without charge, for medical care they may not otherwise be able to afford because of transportation costs—but it includes a myriad of other endeavors such as search and rescue, disaster relief, environmental protection and animal transport.

There’s no free lunch, however. A pilot engaged in public benefit flying, in virtually all cases, provides the airplane—either as an owner or renter—and pays all of the costs of the flight, including donating her or his flying time. There are very few exceptions—so few that they’re beyond the scope of this article. The bottom line is that if a public benefit flight involves flying an aircraft from one airport to another, the Federal Aviation Regulations require that the pilot pay for all of the costs of the flight.

Associated with that bottom line is a hard, cold fact of aviation, doing public benefit flying is expensive. All of the pilots I know that are involved do it as often as they can afford to do so. Every one of the public benefit flying organizations of which I am aware has far more demand for flights than it can possibly fill through the efforts of its volunteer pilots.

Not surprisingly, he cost of making public benefit flights and the high demand for them has long lead public benefit flying organizations and volunteer pilots to look for ways to make more flights at less cost to the pilots. From time to time an organization will be the happy recipient of a donated airplane that is suitable for its transport mission and is able to find donors who will pay for the cost of its operation. The organization then figures that all it has to do is have volunteer pilots fly the airplane for free. After all, businesses own airplanes and use them for transportation, they just pay the pilots; we can do sort of the same thing, other than pay the pilots, right?

Unfortunately, no. It’s prohibited by the Compensation or Hire rules in the FARs. I’ll go into the details and explain how and why it’s prohibited in a moment. Meanwhile, I’m aware that some public benefit flying organizations are engaged in such operations and haven’t been caught. I get "Hey, they're doing it!" comments and questions about setting up such operations from well-meaning people at least once a year. I point out that there’s a risk of an ugly downside should there be an incident or accident—potentially a violation for the pilot, civil penalty for the organization, unwillingness of the insurer to pay the loss because the flight was an illegal Part 135 operation and a lawsuit against the pilot that puts the pilot’s assets at risk.

The Regulations

To understand why a public benefit flying organization cannot own an airplane and have volunteer pilots fly it (whether paid or not) for its transportation missions requires a set-by-step trip through the FARs and the concept of “compensation” and “for hire.” Bear with me as we take the walk.

FAR 61.113 says that a private pilot may not operate an aircraft for compensation or hire. It provides certain exceptions to the prohibition that we’ll look at. The first is for a charitable airlift—which is defined in Part 91.146. Briefly, that’s giving rides to raise money for a charity under specific circumstances that include that the flights are nonstop, take off and land at the same airport and don’t go more than 25 miles away—they are not transportation flights. The plain language of the regulations and a number of FAA interpretation letters regarding the rule make it clear that the charitable airlift exception does not apply to public benefit transportation flights. The second exception to the Part 61.113 compensation or hire rule is that a private pilot may get compensated for flying an airplane if that flight is incidental to the pilot’s business or employment. That exception is used legitimately by business people who use their or their company’s airplanes for such things making sales calls, attending meetings and examining real estate. The important thing to note is that the airplane use is “incidental” to the business—it is not the primary purpose of the business. The FAA has looked at this exception to the compensation or hire rule repeatedly—if the purpose of the company is to own an airplane, flying it is not “incidental” to the company’s business. A dentist who has a practice in multiple locations is in the business of making tooth dust. Her use of an airplane to go between her practice locations is incidental to her business. A charity that owns an airplane to further its mission of transporting sick children for medical treatment isn’t using that airplane in a way that’s incidental to its business—it’s the core reason for the organizations existence. The pilot flying the airplane can’t take advantage of the compensation or hire exception.

Compensation

The FAA does not define compensation in Part 1 of the regs, it has historically used a dictionary definition—if a pilot receives something of value for flying an airplane, he or she is getting compensation. The FAA considers flying time to be valuable—so any free flying time a pilot gets is compensation. Any process of making and enforcing regulations involves drawing lines to define what behavior is in compliance with the regulations and what behavior isn’t. For the compensation question, the FAA has drawn a clear line—any time a pilot pays less than his or her pro-rata share of the cost of a flight, the pilot is receiving compensation—it’s in Part 61.113(c). A pilot can split the cost of a flight, pro rata, with the passengers, but can't pay less than his share.

Let’s review the cards now on the table: a private pilot has to pay his pro rata share of any flight he makes, otherwise he’s getting compensated. A public benefit/charitable transportation flight involves flying passengers who are not paying anything for that flight. Because the passengers are not paying anything for the flight, the pilot’s share is 100 percent of the cost. And no, the public benefit flying organization cannot offer to pay the pro rata share of the passengers, it cannot become the passengers and pick up their share. The FAA has said that the language of the regulation is clear—passengers are the people on the airplane, not the organization that facilitated their flight.

Once we accept that private pilots have to pay for the total cost of public benefit flights they make in airplanes they own or rent and they cannot fly airplanes owned by public benefit flying organizations because the flights are compensation, the logical next step is note that because pilots with commercial or ATP ratings are allowed to be compensated for flying, and ask why can’t they legally volunteer to fly an airplane owned by a public benefit flying organization? It’s a great question—and the answer is that they can if the public benefit organization holds a Part 135 Air Taxi Certificate, the airplane is on the certificate and the pilot has the flight experience required and has completed the training and checkride(s) required to be a pilot for the certificate holder.

The analysis of a pilot with a commercial or ATP rating flying an airplane owned by a charity that exists for the purpose of using the airplane for transport requires looking at the FARs that refer to “Common Carriage,” which is holding out to the public of transportation for hire. Once compensation for flying is involved the FAA draws another line—this time it is level of safety. When innocent passengers are being carried on a flight where compensation of the pilot is involved—whether the passengers paid for the flight or not—those passengers are entitled to a higher level of safety than if they are passengers where they are splitting the cost with an uncompensated pilot. The FAA is adamant in this area—its mandate is to protect innocent passengers and it steps up the safety requirements greatly once the passengers are paying for a flight (or someone is paying for it for them) and/or the pilot is being compensated.

FAR Part 119 defines common carriage and holding out to the public for hire. It requires a company that owns an aircraft primarily for the purposes of operating it and carries passengers to hold an air carrier operating certificate—for the types of airplanes we’re discussing, that certificate would be an Air Taxi Certificate under Part 135. There is the “incidental” exception that businesses can use, as I talked about above, but it doesn’t apply to a company that owns airplane to carry out its mission of transporting people, pets or things in that airplane.

Safety

While many public benefit flying organizations feel that they are small potatoes in the aviation world and fly under the FAA’s radar, it’s not the case. The FAA has violated pilots making charitable flights and receiving compensation. The guidelines the FAA follows for sanctions against pilots calls for at least a 180-day suspension of pilot’s certificate for violation of flying for hire regulations.

In addition, about six years ago the NTSB took a hard look at the safety record of public benefit flying and expressed concern—raising the visibility of all public benefit flying organizations. The NTSB went to the Air Care Alliance (ACA), the umbrella group for all public benefit flying organizations and volunteer pilots and demanded that it take action to improve the safety level of public benefit flying operations. (Full disclosure, I’ve been a member of the board of directors of the ACA for over 10 years.) The ACA reached out to all public benefit flying organizations of which it was aware with suggestions for safety improvements and teamed with the AOPA to create an interactive training program for volunteer pilots. Once the ACA had completed its actions, the NTSB expressed its satisfaction with the steps taken. However, the lasting impact is that not only do the FAA and NTSB appreciate the service of public benefit flying organizations and volunteer pilots, both agencies are paying attention to what is going on in the public benefit flying community. It behooves volunteer pilots and public benefit flying organizations to make sure they don’t cross the lines on legal operations.

But We’ve Just Gotten a Plane!

What can a public benefit flying organization do if it gets an airplane donated to it? How can it use that airplane legally to best carry out its transportation mission if it can’t have its volunteer pilots fly it? I’ve observed a number of creative, effective and completely legal practices. Most commonly, the organization sells the airplane and uses the money to support its operations—outreach to recruit more volunteer pilots who will use their airplanes (or airplanes they rent) for flights, hire staff to take over for volunteers to coordinate flights and get the word out about their organization, pay for ground transport for patients from airport to hospital and pay for charter flights for the patients who need medical airlift (often they’ll work with a local Part 135 operator to get reduced rates on charters). Organizations have teamed with a local charter operator, entered into an agreement to put the donated airplane on the operator’s Part 135 certificate and arranged for a reduced fee for charters when using that airplane. I’m told some volunteer pilots have gone through the necessary procedures to become approved pilots on the operator’s certificate and are assigned as pilots for the public benefit flying charters and don’t charge for those flights.

As for the volunteer pilot who is approached to make transportation flights in an airplane owned by a public benefit flying organization—you might wish to politely decline. The free flying time may be the most expensive flying time you ever get. You don’t need a violation on your record or the discovery that if you prang the airplane that the flight was an illegal 135 operation, there’s no insurance and someone is coming after your hard-earned assets.

Rick Durden is a CFII and holds an ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation and 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. He has been a volunteer pilot for over 25 years, is an aviation attorney and notes that this article does not constitute legal advice. My goal is to alert readers to common issues in the public benefit flying world so that pilots and organizations can avoid legal trouble. I strongly recommend that anyone with an aviation law issue contact a lawyer who works in the field and heed his or her advice after you provide the lawyer with a full disclosure of the facts.

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Every year, just before Christmas joy descends upon on us like the shallow, weak excuse to buy yet more useless crap that the season has become, our sister publication, IFR, publishes its annual Stupid Pilot Tricks report. This is a summary of the most boneheaded, incomprehensible accidents and incidents that the skill-challenged among us manage to commit, despite all the good intentions of regulations and flight instructors. Here’s last year’s edition.

The new version is going to press this month and as I was reviewing it, I was struck dumber than even my default condition by one of the accidents. The pilot of a taildragger demanded that the runway repair crew move their trucks from the NOTAM’d closed runway so he could take off, which he did. Downwind. When he returned to land—again, downwind—he scattered the workers from the runway, lost control of the airplane and plowed into one of the vehicles that had pulled clear.

I don’t think you can learn this level of cluelessness. It has to be burned into the DNA. The NTSB found that this was the pilot’s fourth accident in three years. Yet, the pilot was a CFI and claimed nearly 9000 hours of flight time. So what gives? Maybe the fact that the pilot was 78 years old was a factor. Then again, maybe not.

The specter of age-related decline and what to do about it has been much on my mind because many AVweb readers fit the profile and I’m getting there myself, despite a regular, doctor-prescribed regimen of denial. While you can’t cheat the calendar indefinitely, I think giving up entirely only hastens the inevitable and it makes the trip less pleasant than it already might be.

Specifically, I have in mind stretching the envelope in training, practicing and regular flying. I have always thought it to be a potential mistake to triage the days and conditions you’ll fly in to the point of removing all challenge and risk. If you fly only on days where little skill is required, you’ll sure enough have little skill. Might as well stay home on the couch and let physical atrophy keep pace with your mental decline.

For most GA flying, I’m not sure what age has to do with it. I’ve skimmed several research reports on age and reaction time and accident rate. These are, in my view, indeterminate. Some show higher accident involvement with age, some show lower, reasoning that experienced decision making gathered over a lifetime gives a pilot an edge in avoiding the accident scenario in the first place.

I just don’t have an opinion on it, so I try to focus on training and/or proficiency that stretches me personally. I’ve been gathering up some footage for a video on the one-wheel trick and its usefulness for proficiency. You may or may not know about this. Some instructors still teach it, but you don’t see it much.

The one-wheel trick is a crosswind exercise in which you plant the upwind wheel on the runway and keep the downwind wheel from contact the length of the runway. It works best in high-wing taildraggers but it can be done in tricycle-gear airplanes. Every time I do it, the results are the same. The first try is a mess. I usually carry too much speed, can’t keep the wheel grounded and end up bouncing. The next try is smoother and attempt three and four are keepers.

What it teaches is the ability to coordinate bank angle and yaw to precisely track the centerline; a little more bank, a little more rudder and you can use either as primary to get the tracking accuracy. It vastly improves crosswind landing skill but because it’s also just showing off, it does something else: It grows confidence.

A little bit of doubt is healthy, but too much of it, in my view, serves as a preview to the impending crash. Real skill grows from confidence and confidence breeds further skill. And sometimes you have to push it a little to get that equation to work. Of course, there's risk here, too. As you edge out closer to the envelope of your own comfort and abilities, there's always the chance that you suffer the very thing you're practicing to avoid. But then you didn't sign up to be a pilot because you're afraid of risk.

After I had my ankle mod installed, I didn’t ride a motorcycle for more than three months. The muscle memory of riding snaps back like a steel trap, but I noticed one thing: a lack of confidence in slow-speed handling. So a friend who’s a rider coach suggested some parking lot exercises, just like a newbie rider does. I did several hours' worth and now really relish low-speed maneuvers. I plan to do these exercises monthly.

What any of this has to do with age either escapes me or I refuse to admit. But it’s clear that what you don’t exercise, you lose, physically and mentally. That’s just another way of saying what we all know: There’s no better way to stay good at flying than staying good at flying. And remember, if you find yourself on thin ice, you might as well dance.

GoPro's Hero 5 has some improvements over the previous model and in this video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli looks at how suitable the camera is for aviation use.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Take a beautiful setting, a beautiful airplane and a little magic light and you get a Picture of the Week winner. Mel Malkoff, of Kingston, Washington took this stunning shot of Bruce Hind in his SeaBee as he took off from Long Lake, Washington on his way to AOPA's Bremerton Fly-In. Great shot, Mel.

Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

On a busy day at my home airport LXT I was flying in the pattern with several other airplanes ahead of me. Pilot on rollout: "Traffic landing at Lee's Summit be advised - there is a turkey on the runway."

Departing pilot: "Impossible, I'm already at 200 feet!"


Gus Schlegel

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