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“There were no twists or turns” in the new medical rule issued by the FAA this week, EAA Chairman Jack Pelton told AVweb this week, since the new rule is basically a cut-and-paste from the language that was mandated last year by Congress. “I’d like to tell everyone, just relax,” he added. It will take some time for pilots and their doctors to get used to the system, he said, and he’s hopeful that it will turn out to be an improvement over the current option. Even if pilots do run into problems of any kind with their doctors filling out the paperwork, he said, at least they will have four years now instead of two before they have to deal with it again. Pilots with special issuances will have a much easier time, he said.

Doctors do have to sign the FAA form and essentially certify that the applicant is fit to fly, Pelton said. “The only way this would have gotten across the finish line was if that was part of it,” he said. Whether or not doctors in general practice, without aviation experience, will balk at that just depends, he said. Some may, but many won’t. “There’s going to be an education process,” Pelton said. “We’ve got to work through that. The language itself is subject to interpretation.” Pelton also said that CFIs will be eligible to choose the BasicMed option, as long as they’re teaching in the class and category of aircraft covered under the new regulation. More from AVweb’s interview with Jack Pelton is available in our podcast feature.

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The former home of EAA founder Paul Poberezny and his family in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, has been bought by Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co., and will be made available to EAA for tours and special events, the company announced on Thursday. “This home hosted many of aviation’s leaders and icons, and countless aviation artifacts and photos representing the relationships and events that shaped Paul's remarkable life are on display throughout the home,” Aircraft Spruce said in a news release. The home, which is on a 9-acre estate adjacent to the EAA grounds, will be open for public events beginning this summer.

The original stone farmhouse is over 100 years old, and served as home to Paul and his wife, Audrey, from 1991 until Paul’s death in 2013, at age 91. “This is where Paul built airplanes, read about aviation history, and wrote countless letters and articles,” said Aircraft Spruce. Poberezny served as a military pilot and test pilot for nearly 30 years, during both World War II and the Korean Conflict. As a youngster, he built model airplanes and at age 16, taught himself to fly in a battered Waco glider he had restored himself. He logged more than 30,000 hours of flight time over more than 70 years of flying, and flew nearly 500 different types of aircraft, including more than 170 amateur-built airplanes.

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Piper Aircraft has received an order for 50 Archers from their dealer in China, China Air Shuttle, the company announced this week. The airplanes will be manufactured and certificated at Piper Aircraft’s factory in Vero Beach, Florida, and then shipped to Rizhao, China, where they will be reassembled by a China Air Shuttle affiliate company. Piper will develop delivery center facilities in Rizhao to provide reassembly, training, maintenance and product support for Chinese customers. China Air Shuttle then plans to distribute those aircraft to some of the major flight schools and general aviation companies of the region.

Ruixiang Flight Academy has been announced as the launch customer. The Academy purchased two Piper Seminoles last year, and currently operates the airplanes in its ab initio flight training program. “As part of Piper’s commitment to the training market as well as part of our overall growth strategy, we have increased our presence in the Asia Pacific region,” said Simon Caldecott, Piper CEO, in a news release this week. “As a result of our efforts we are delighted with the increase in fleet sales to Indonesia, Australia and Malaysia.”

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The next-generation Airbus airlifter, the Beluga XL, is now under construction in France. The company recently posted a photo of the first of the fleet, on the assembly line. “It will take some 12 months to shape the core airframe of our next airlifter,” Airbus said. The company said it plans to build five of the Beluga aircraft, which it will operate in support of the A350 WXB ramp-up and other production increases. The first will enter service in mid-2019.

The Beluga XL is derived from the Airbus A330 widebody. The XL fleet will operate in parallel with the existing five-aircraft A300-600ST fleet, which will then be progressively retired through 2025, the company said.

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“There's something very special about a Boeing 747,” United Airlines President Scott Kirby said in a blog posted online Wednesday. But he went on to say the company has decided to retire its 747 fleet from scheduled service. “It's the one aircraft that even casual travelers can easily identify,” Kirby said. “And we know that the experience of traveling on one, or flying one, is unforgettable.” Yet despite feeling “deeply connected” to the “iconic” aircraft, he said, the airline is going to accelerate its plan to retire the fleet. Last March, the company said the last 747 flight would occur by the end of 2018; now, Kirby said, the last United 747 will land for the last time before the end of this year.

The 747, with its distinctive humped profile, once “represented the state-of-the-art in air travel,” Kirby said. But today, there are widebody airplanes available that are more fuel-efficient, cost-effective and reliable for the airline’s long-haul flights. “For these reasons, we're saying farewell to the Queen of the Skies,” Kirby said. The 747 has been part of the airline’s fleet since 1970, when it flew between California and Hawaii. Kirby added that the airline is planning an “unforgettable retirement celebration” for the 747, with more details to come later in the year.

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Each month IFR Refresher highlights an accident involving some aspect of IFR flying that an unfortunate pilot failed to respect. All too often, the pilots  are professionals who have achieved considerable success in their career fields.

The question often asked is; how persons with such a high personal performance standing can allow themselves to be caught short by some aspect of the IFR flight operation? Actually, that is relatively easy to answer at the highest level—we are all human.

Over the years, I have been privileged to know, and instruct, many persons who have attained a position of prominence in some business or profession. This is particularly true in my role over the past two years as editor of IFR Refresher, as I interact with many of our subscribers. In my conversations, I often probe a bit to find the pilot’s rationale for some of their perspectives and traits that have enabled them to avoid some of the pitfalls that can ensnare the unsuspecting or careless pilot.

Is Time The Enemy?

Perhaps the greatest problem that these people have is that their profession places high demands on their time. Of course, this is one reason why they have chosen the airplane as a timesaving form of transportation. But, this also places yet another demand on their time—to stay current with both knowledge and skill levels.

Many pilots are selective in their reading habits to ensure that they are getting the highest density of information for the time invested. Likewise, they seek out instructors and recurrency programs that have proven track-records for providing the greatest return on their time (and money). They recognize that there are no shortcuts in some aspects of piloting.

Often these professionals love flying as much as their vocations, but balance mission requirements against economics and risk to choose the best mode of transport. Because they are frequently in the upper income bracket, they can afford high-tech, high-performance aircraft. This places an added burden for proficiency.

Often on-the-run between appointments, they must understand the high-risk that fatigue represents. Fatigue clouds judgment, and judgment is the pivotal foundation of virtually all piloting tasks. They need to know when to call ahead and postpone or cancel even the “most important” business meeting when they perceive that they have used up their physical and emotional reserves. They must not be too proud to admit that they have limitations.

High performance professionals can make this assessment rationally if they truly understand and respect the risk elements in flight operations. Professionals who cannot make this call responsibly are the ones who may be the subject of an article in the not too distant future.

One of our subscribers is a medical doctor with several modes of airborne transport available to him. He notes, “I have a great respect for flying and the risks associated with it. I am concerned that they say surgeons make lousy pilots (get-there-itis) and because we ‘think we can’ and often feel the need to take calculated risks. That generalization bothers me, but I recognize that it has some truth. I have cancelled flights, but less in the JetProp [Piper PA-46] than in the SR-22 that is non-FIKI.”

Recognizing Limitations

While most professionals live in a world where stress is a way of life, flying is a two edged sword. The beauty and inspirational aspects can quickly turn ugly when the unprepared fly into that dark foreboding mass ahead. Understanding what weather to challenge is the essence of the problem.

Our surgeon continues, “I know many pilots that I have encouraged to get their IFR rating and then not use it (very sad to me).” Perhaps they recognized that they do not want to make the commitment that piloting in IMC requires. “I love flying in the soup on instruments. It amazes me every time I get to do it. I realize that one wrong button push—without recognizing the error—can be my last. So, I remain focused on what I am doing—verify, verify and act. My instructors say it is “okay” to push a wrong button, but self-check to recognize errors quickly and break the error chain.

With respect to maintaining skills, our MD responded that he typically hand-flies about a fourth of each flight to keep his scan and muscle memory honed for various phases of flight. He avoids going more than two weeks without flying and on occasion, will seek an experienced pilot in the right seat for missions that might present fatigue factors.

“When the president of the TBM association, with more than 5000-hours in type, goes down due to a pressurization failure at FL 270—I am concerned, as we train for this. This should be a rote response—fly the plane, get on oxygen, power to idle, gear down, pitch down, and descend at 4000 fpm. Plan a descent to 12,000, then declare the emergency and communicate to ATC. However, if it happened slowly and the pilot did not recognize it—became ‘giddy’ and did not do the right thing—that is sobering.”

The insidious nature of some problems, such as gradual hypoxia, is often what causes the accident chain to add new links. These kinds of problems are not restricted to any category of pilot.

Recurrent Training

The doctor adds, “I have a commercial certificate—SMEL with Instrument ratings and hire someone who knows the JetProp inside-out. Every six months we do  a full day of ground school—going over systems and emergencies procedures—and then two days of flying.

“I practice steep turns, engine-out simulations, manual gear extension, decompression issues, and power-on/power-off stalls. I get an IFR proficiency check every six months. I have several flight instructors that I fly with on occasion—just because I know they can teach me something.”

Recognizing how important it is to expand his knowledge base, he recently completed the ATP written (to beat the August deadline). “I am trying to decide how I want to get the ATP, I am thinking a type rating, but that is expensive—but don’t want to get one in a Seneca either.”

“We train and fly many missions. About 85 percent of my trips are (thankfully) work related, to give talks etc. I was just working in Houston on Friday, returned Saturday (did not fly our JetProp—way too expensive). On Sunday I was in Minnesota and flew home today (again did not fly the JetProp as my Delta ticket was $300 and that trip would have cost $1500 in the JetProp).   It’s a challenge to justify the cost, but the ability to come and go as I please and occasionally take one to three passengers is priceless. I also did not fly these missions as I thought I would be a bit fatigued from all the traveling (so I read IFR Refresher and left the flying to someone else).”

While our MD quoted here is in a financial position to afford a quality training/recurrency program, he too has limitations. For others, the dollars may be much more restrictive and therein often lays the problem—how to balance an effective proficiency program with the costs and time available. What is your life worth?

Ted Spitzmiller is the editor of IFR Refresher and author of the recently released e-book ATC And Inflight Emergencies.

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of IFR Refresher magazine.

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So now it’s finally reality. The Third-Class medical exemption is a real thing, or at least it will be in May. Oddly, I am underwhelmed; like winning the lottery and learning that money can’t buy happiness. (OK, but all the same, I’d like a new TBM.)

I think I’m not alone in this sentiment, yet all the while feeling genuinely relieved that we’ve managed to eliminate a stifling regulation that had no measurable effect on either flight safety or the innocent ground-dwelling public. My reaction to this change—which is the biggest aeromedical regulatory shift in our lifetimes—is likely colored by the fact that we’ve been writing horse race stories about this law for five years. Whether intended or not, the coverage sustained the idea that once we got past this barrier, we would, at last, emerge into the sun-dappled uplands.

I’m not gonna be a buzzkill right out of the gate. We’ll just have to see what effect this has on the broad sweep of general aviation’s rocky fortunes. So I’ll just see if I can scope it down to my own pedestrian interests since, last time I checked, the world still revolves around me.

I was talking to longtime senior AME Ian Blair Fries Tuesday afternoon and I realized the Third-Class exemption does change my attitude slightly. Like most pilots my age, I sweat the medical, but I’m healthy and pretty confident I could maintain a Third Class for another decade or so. Not having to sweat it strikes me as a welcome option. But is it one that would encourage me to buy an airplane? Well, perhaps. But the reason I haven’t bought anything significant has less to do with the medical than how I choose to spend my money.

Airplanes are many things to many people, but in addition to being magically romantic, they are also inordinate consumers of wealth. Depending on the airplane, they can be downright threatening to the finances if an unplanned engine overhaul is required, or you find a spar corroded beyond repair or you hit that inevitable annual from hell. That’s why I’ve always owned airplanes in partnerships or clubs. I want others to share the burden (and value) of ownership of an expensive asset that’s used for 1 percent of a year, if you’re lucky.

I suspect that attitudes toward owning and flying occupy a continuum. At one end are the skin flints like me, at the opposite are pilots who would spend any amount of money to have unfettered access to an airplane. Between the poles lie the vast majority and I’m hoping that enough of them are medical fence sitters to benefit from this regulatory nudge.

Actually, that’s the wrong word. It’s more like a carrot that fell off the stick. It’s a big change and it may be possible to overestimate its effect just as easily as expecting little or nothing at all. We will see in the next year or two.

But look at it this way: If all that’s accomplished is ridding the world of one stupid rule that, despite a mountain of evidence, shows a complete lack of efficacy, we have prevailed in the good fight. And if one rule can fall, so can others. That’s reason enough to celebrate. Now where did I put that crack pipe?  

This week, Garmin unveiled its follow-on product for the popular G1000 EFIS suite. It's called the G1000 NXi and Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano took a demo flight in Garmin's King Air to sample the new system.

EAA Chairman Jack Pelton and his staff, along with advocates from AOPA and other general aviation groups, were prominent players in getting the new FAA medical rule pushed through. AVweb's Mary Grady finds out more about how the new rule will be implemented and how it will affect CFIs, LSA pilots and others in the GA world.

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