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Regional airlines continue to blame a shortage of pilots for cutbacks in service to smaller airports, while the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) says those routes aren’t being flown because they’re uneconomical. SkyWest President and CEO Chip Childs told the House Transportation Aviation Subcommittee Wednesday that he estimates a shortfall of 15,000 pilots by 2026, and that Americans should expect to see more and more aircraft parked as regional carriers are unable to hire pilots in sufficient numbers. Childs estimated regional carriers together currently employ about 20,000 pilots.

ALPA has long maintained that there is a surplus of pilots who have elected not to fly because pilot pay is too low. Until 2014, pay for new first officers hovered around $25,000, though Childs told Congress that regional airlines have more than doubled pay since then to entice more pilots to join (or remain in) the industry. Childs acknowledged that SkyWest has “never come out of service [on a route] due to a lack of pilots; we’ve come out because it didn’t make economic sense,” though he insisted other regional carriers have cut back on service because they were unable to hire sufficient pilots. The pay increase in 2014 coincided with a resumption in FAA age-mandated retirements. Until 2009, the FAA required all pilots on Part 121 carriers to be no older than 60. That limit was raised to 65 in July of 2009, halting mandatory retirements through 2014.

Despite forcefully held opinions by industry groups on both sides, FAA data suggests an ample supply of pilots is in the pipeline. FAA statistics on the number of Airline Transport Pilots (ATPs) over the age of 55 predicts future retirements of roughly 4,200 pilots per year over the next decade. Since 2011, the FAA reports an average of 7,200 new ATP certificates have been issued annually. 

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Senator Charles Schumer, of New York, called on the NTSB this week to investigate general aviation safety and “determine whether additional steps are necessary to help ensure safe skies.” Schumer cited crashes last week in New Jersey and Long Island, and said at least 18 other small planes crashed in New York over the last year, including 10 on Long Island alone. “It’s high time for the NTSB to see why these plane crashes are happening at such an alarming rate,” said Schumer. “Safety is our number one priority and an NTSB investigation could reveal new clues that make our skies safer. In addition to its case-by-case investigations, the NTSB should launch a more comprehensive investigation that might connect the dots on a larger trend."‎

The NTSB does analyze general aviation issues as part of its most-wanted-list for safety improvements, which has for several years focused on accidents caused by loss of control. “Nearly half of all general aviation accidents are caused by loss of control in flight,” the NTSB said last year. “To prevent unintended departures from flight and better manage stalls, pilots need more training and a better awareness of the technologies that can help prevent these tragedies.” In his letter to NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart, Schumer wrote, “I strongly urge you not just to conduct yet another investigation following the recent crash in Southampton, N.Y., but to also undertake a comprehensive and system-wide review to understand why these accidents are happening and what can be done in order to decrease the occurrences. The number of airplane crashes across the system must be reduced.”

NTSB spokesperson Terry Williams told AVweb on Wednesday that the NTSB will have an update on Senator Schumer’s letter "in the near future."

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King Schools co-owner John King confirmed to AVweb Thursday the FAA has restored his medical certification without explanation after the well-publicized appeal of his suspension. “Amazingly enough, I have my medical certificate in my pocket,” he said in an email. “I had written an email to the FAA Associate Administrator for Safety urging them to employ the core values that created the compliance philosophy in the medical certification of pilots. That letter along with the publicity that you helped create might have made the difference.” As we reported last week, King was denied his medical because of a seizure he experienced in 2014.

King told AVweb he consulted top neurologists but their assessment that the seizure was an explainable one-time thing was rejected all the way to top by the Federal Air Surgeon. That’s when he wrote his letter to the top floor of the FAA and went public with his concerns. With the restored medical he will be able to share pilot duties with his wife Martha in their Falcon 10 rather than continue to hire a second pilot or buy a new aircraft with single-pilot capability.

 

The first aircraft in the Boeing 737 MAX series received FAA certification today, clearing the way for summer deliveries to reported launch customer Southwest Airlines. The 737 MAX 8 will, depending on seating configuration, carry 162 to 200 passengers on routes up to about 3,000 nautical miles. That’s comparable with the 737-800, but Boeing says customers can expect to save 14% in fuel consumption mostly due to redesigned winglets and incorporation of the CFM International LEAP-1B engines, which have been in development since 2008.

On Tuesday, Boeing also rolled out its first 737 MAX 9, the larger sibling in the growing MAX family with a capacity of 220 passengers and a range of 3,500 nautical miles. Ground testing of the new MAX 9 will begin in the coming weeks followed by an FAA flight test certification program. Boeing expects the MAX 9 to enter service in 2018.

Boeing already has orders for more than 3,600 737 MAX aircraft from 83 different customers, ensuring production of these jets well into the next decade.

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No one was injured when a U.S. Air Force A-29 Super Tucano crashed in suburban Georgia earlier this week. Air Force Public Affairs officials said both pilots safely ejected and were released from Clinch Memorial Hospital after evaluation. The single-engine turboprop attack aircraft was operated by the 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base to support training operations for the Afghan Air Force. The U.S. Air Force, which does not fly the A-29 in combat, uses the plane to provides close air support training to Afghan pilots who fly the A-29 for counter-insurgency operations. The Air Force has reported that the aircraft was on a routine training flight when it crashed, but details on the reason for the crash will likely not be released for several months after an investigation has been completed. Before taking on its current training mission, the 81st Fighter Squadron flew the A-10 Thunderbolt.

The Air Force is reportedly considering the acquisition of a light-attack aircraft fleet to provide close air support in uncontested environments at lower cost than the service’s jet-powered fleet. The A-29 Super Tucano, designed by Embraer in Brazil but manufactured by Sierra Nevada in the United States, would be one of the leading candidates for the role along with Beechcraft’s AT-6 and the IOMAX Archangel.

Photo credit: Valdosta Today

Events recognizing the impact of women coincided this week, with the celebration of International Women’s Day on Wednesday, Women of Aviation Worldwide Week March 6 to 11 and the wrap-up of Women in Aviation International's annual conference, which was held March 2-4 in Florida, drawing some 4,500 attendees. WAI continued its work in matching women with scholarships to advance their aviation careers, awarding 112 scholarships worth more than $600,000. WOAW activities are scheduled around the world this week in an effort to inspire women to get involved in aviation. Events include flight demos, factory and school open-houses and museum special programs.

The events don’t stop with this week. WAI will offer International Girls in Aviation Day on Sept. 23, with a slate of events around the world for girls ages 8 to 17. Peggy Chabrian, president of WAI, told AVweb industry support for WAI’s efforts continues to grow, and she was glad to host speakers from AOPA and FedEx at this year’s conference. “I think they were truly surprised by the number of people and the variety of people from all segments of the industry,” she said. “It was nice to see the industry coming together, seeing what we’re all about, and being very supportive of what we’re doing.”

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The new Airbus and Italdesign vision for urban transit separates the passenger cabin from the mode of transportation. “Pop.Up is a new mobility concept. It’s multi-modal and allows passengers a seamless and faster way of getting from A to B using the city sky,” says Mathias Thomsen, General Manager, Airbus Urban Air Mobility. In press materials, the Pop.Up concept cabin is shown being delivered to the user’s house as an autonomous road vehicle. As it approaches the city, the cabin is lifted off the road-going platform by an autonomous quad-rotor, which carries the user to her destination at the heart of the city. Thomsen proposes the cabin could also be loaded onto a hyperloop for high-speed, long-distance travel.

Airbus is naturally focused on the airborne portion of the concept. The two-person capsule plus its electric, ducted quadrotor platform is designed with a top speed of 54 knots and a range of 60 miles. Airbus says the entire vehicle will have a gross weight of 1320 pounds, which may prove to be ambitious given the industry’s experience with light sport aircraft coming in at the same weight. The concept calls for a 70 kWh battery pack. A comparably sized Tesla Motors battery pack reportedly weighs 1200 pounds alone. Airbus says, perhaps optimistically, that these vehicles could be on the road, and in the air, in the next 7-10 years.

Photo and video credit: Airbus and Italdesign

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Our main airport has several flight schools and they keep us air traffic controllers quite busy. It’s easy to tell when they get a new batch of students—those first radio calls for VFR clearances and eventual taxi and takeoff are usually halting, uncertain affairs, dragging on as students parrot their instructors without truly understanding the lingo. It can be almost as painful for us as for the student.

Clumsy as those first steps may be, the subsequent journey will hopefully lead each student to true proficiency on the radios. It’s not an easy road at times, especially once each advances into instrument training. The amount of radio communication and multitasking may be overwhelming at first.

It’s tougher for some students than others, but getting comfortable on the radios is just as crucial for instrument flying as polishing holding procedures and shooting approaches. The aviation business, after all, is focused on safety and communication. The two go hand in hand within the IFR air traffic control environment.

Let’s explore what kind of lessons and techniques make for success on the frequencies.

Nothing Special

First, we must discuss a basic issue: mic fright. For a new pilot, getting on a frequency full of airline and corporate traffic being wrangled by a fast-talking controller can be intimidating. Those characters can sound smooth, confident, and even cocky. It’s a good bet, though, that they didn’t start that way. They were probably just as nervous getting on the frequency for the first time.

Mic fright and other kinds of performance anxiety are often caused by the misguided assumption that the other party is somehow more important than you. If your imagination is allowed to feed on that notion, it can run off with your confidence.

Before I joined the ATC work force several U.S. presidents ago, I imagined controllers as intense, well-dressed middle-aged folks working in ivory towers and fortified radar rooms. Here I was, just a lowly peasant in a Cessna, beating up their traffic pattern or requesting flight following. Putting controllers on an imagined pedestal made my dealings with ATC shakier than I would have liked.

Then I got hired and saw behind the curtain. The work may be intense at times, but the people are casual. During football season, we’re wearing our team jerseys and caps. In the warmer months, we’re working in shorts, T-shirts, and sandals. In between traffic rushes, we’re chatting sports, video games, food, movies, hobbies and love lives. It’s nothing you wouldn’t find in a typical office environment with a bit more casual dress code.

The steady-sounding controller you’re talking to isn’t a Marvel superhero. Perhaps he’s Bob from Oregon, with two kids, a wife, and a Chihuahua named Taco. That smooth airline captain you just overheard could be Lynette from San Francisco, who likes backpacking vacations and creating watercolor paintings. They’re all just regular folks who happen to be trained to do a very specific job, and tend to love doing it.

What’s stopping you from sounding like Bob or Lynette? Nothing, really. Sure, they may have some more radio experience than you, but the frequency is a level playing field. Approach your next radio transmission with the confidence of knowing you’ve got just as much right to be on there as they do. You’re all just regular people, playing with an extraordinary thing: aviation.

Graceful Recovery

What if you get on that freq and make a mistake? Botching a transmission can be pretty mortifying to the new pilot. Perhaps you’ve thought afterwards, “Now everyone for 200 miles just heard me make a jackass out of myself.”

Don’t sweat it. Everyone fouls the frequency occasionally. That’s part of the learning process, as you try to reconcile both what you want to say and how you plan to accomplish the task being discussed.

Goofups are constant on both sides of the frequency and at all pay grades. One morning, I cleared a heavy Airbus A300 for takeoff. The pilot responded in a deep, monotone AirlineCaptainVoice(TM). “Runway 9, fly runway heading, clear—SQUACK!” His voice cracked like a twelve year old boy’s. He tried again. “Runway 9, fly run—SQUACK!” The other pilot keyed up, laughing. “Sorry about,” he said. “My little buddy’s just starting puberty. Runway heading, here we go.”

That was the crew of a 378,000-pound Airbus with hundreds of passengers aboard. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone. I have sneezed in the middle of issuing an IFR clearance. I’ve rolled a heavy chair over my pinky toe mid-transmission. (I finished the call with my voice about an octave higher than where it started.) One day, a congested nose gave me a bad speech impediment. “Dovember Three Seved Dine, fly heading zero seved zero.”

Stuff happens. It’s out there. It’s on the recordings. There’s not much one can do about it. Like the Airbus crew, just laugh it off, keep going, and do it better the next time. Or, if it’s good enough, send it in to our editor and he’ll memorialize it for you on the last page so everybody can laugh with (or at) you.

Readback

If you mess up a readback, and ATC has to correct you, remember the controller’s job description: ensure the safe, orderly, and efficient flow of aircraft. We need to verify that you’re following our instructions so you don’t conflict with other aircraft.

Lately, I’ve noticed pilots getting lax with mandatory runway hold short readbacks. Really lax. If a controller tells you to hold short of a runway, you must read back that instruction. That’s non-negotiable, and is specifically mentioned in 4-3-18 (7) of the AIM. “ATC is required to obtain a readback from the pilot of all runway hold short instructions.”

No one likes being corrected. More often than not, when we have to request a hold-short readback, some pilots cop an attitude. They seem to be forgetting the end game here is safety. As a pilot, you’re responsible for your well-being and that of anyone else aboard your aircraft. Proper readbacks—and ensuring compliance with those instructions—are key to the ATC-pilot team initiative preventing you from becoming a runway incursion statistic or, worse, an accident statistic.

Even airline pilots sometimes forget that. Hop on YouTube and search for “Delta Captain Happy.” In the summer of 2014, a ground controller at Atlanta Hartsfield issued taxi instructions to a Delta airlines aircraft. The pilot took the wrong route. The controller calmly corrected him. The pilot lashed out with a vicious—and unintentionally comical—tirade, which escalated quickly until another, unidentified pilot put “Captain Happy” in his place. The exchange was immortalized by LiveATC.net and made the national news.

Don’t be “Captain Happy.” If you get corrected, so what? That just shows ATC is doing its job. Just give us the readback so we can move on to another aircraft. It’s not at all personal. If you comply with the instructions, five minutes later the controller probably won’t even recall the exchange. Pilots who don’t read back and don’t comply are the ones who get remembered.

Cut the Fluff

Air traffic controllers and pilots are trained to be fast, decisive communicators, not radio talk show hosts blathering on about current events, sports, and celebrity nonsense. We’re urged to economize our words. Think Ernest Hemingway, not Charles Dickens.

Here are some radio techniques I learned as a controller that have helped me pare back my excessive word vomit. All of these equally apply to pilots.

Don’t think on frequency. When you key up the mic, you should already know exactly what you’re requesting. Dealing with an indecisive pilot is akin to being trapped at a fast food drive through behind someone who can’t figure out what they want. It’s frustrating and time-consuming. The worst offenders are those who change their mind constantly, forcing ATC to make a new plan each time.

Have a question? Ask it. With my own two eyes, I have seen two frightening near mid-air collisions occur because a pilot misheard an ATC instruction. After each incident, when questioned, each pilot said, “I thought the controller’s instructions sounded weird, but I didn’t want to question them.”

There's no need to say, "With you" when checking in with a new controller. Your voice in the controller's headset says you're there, stating it is redundant and needlessly adds air time.

When a pilot’s intentions are unclear, I have zero problem telling him, “Say again your request.” Likewise, I fully expect any pilot to question me if he didn’t understand my instructions. Your safety and that of aircraft around you relies on the accurate communication and receipt of instructions. Don’t let there be dead air on a frequency recording in place of a question that may have prevented a dangerous incident.

Trim the Fat. One of my first ATC instructors leaned on me about my unnecessary pronoun use. “Traffic at your one o’clock.” “You are cleared for the ILS Runway 33 approach.” “Turn 20 degrees to your left.” He logged each in a notepad. The first day, he filled up a page. The next, a half page. After a week, my river of pronouns had almost dried up.

State your intentions to ATC with the minimum words possible. You’re not having a personal conversation with the controller. You’re telling the controller what you’re doing and what you want. “Cessna 23AQ requests two turns in holding, followed by the ILS 36.” Compare that to: “This is Cessna 23AQ, and we’d like to do a couple of turns in holding, and then we’d like to shoot the ILS to Runway 36.” Both convey the message. The first one sounds more professional and more efficiently uses the limited radio time.

Oh, and always (always) include your call sign in every transmission.

Finding your footing on the radios early can help you make serious strides later on in your flying career. Sure, you may encounter a few hurdles here and there, but with confidence and efficiency, you’ll be talking like a pro. Just remember: You belong on that frequency with everyone else.

Tarrance Kramer keeps his transmissions clean and efficient while working traffic...unless a P-51 Mustang enters his pattern. The warbird fan in him just won’t be restrained and he’s forced to chat with the pilot. 

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of IFR magazine

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When I was preparing this week’s Question of the Week, I was up to the third question when I realized that blood cheering for errant drone pilots to be jailed is not a good thing. In fact, it’s a distinctly bad thing, absent any malicious intent or egregious negligence.

To review, this concerns the story we ran last week describing the fate of drone operator Paul Skinner, who was sentenced to 30 days in jail after he lost control of his DJI quad while filming a parade in Seattle, possibly due to an electronics failure. I wasn’t able to get the court record but I did exchange email with Skinner’s attorney, Jeffrey Kradel. As we reported, Skinner’s drone struck a building and plummeted to the ground, injuring two people. One woman sustained a concussion.

According to a court sentencing memorandum, Skinner fessed up to the accident and attempted to make contact and restitution with the victims. During the trial, the judge recognized that the incident was an accident and that there was no criminal intent. He assigned the jail time simply because the prosecutor asked for it. (Full disclosure: Skinner had done time following a heroin addiction, but had evidently righted himself and was leading a productive life.)

From a distance, I can’t tell if Skinner acted negligently and Kradel declined to comment on the details. He did say that he had worked out a diversion agreement that wouldn’t have required a trial—or a conviction—but the city attorney refused to accept it against the recommendation of the city’s criminal division supervisor.

Instead, the city brought in an expert witness to explain that flying drones anywhere in a cityscape is irresponsible because of GPS interference potential. That in itself is a dubious claim, given that this technology has been and is widely deployed everywhere, including in cities.

Is this outcome in the public interest? Let me put the shoe on the other foot for a moment. If pilots crash their airplanes, should they routinely be exposed to criminal charges? For the record, there is no consistent pattern of that in the U.S., even in cases of demonstrated negligence in which innocent bystanders are killed. Would we, as pilots, want to make it that way? I think I know the answer. So why should it be any different for drone operators, who are merely airmen of another stripe?

I think I know the answer to that, too. It’s mostly due to fear and resentment. Fear that remote-piloted technology endangers aircraft and bystanders and resentment that drone operators don’t have to slog through the same hoops, regulations and expense that us real pilots do. I get that, but the reality is that automated/remote piloted flight is here and more of it is coming. A lot more. It has and will displace manned flight.

As with any new technology, the collateral elements haven’t kept up. Regulations are behind, enforcement is flummoxed and the market is in turmoil on how to use these machines efficiently, safely or at all. Just as when aviation inserted itself into the industrial world more than a century ago, there will be missteps, accidents and even deaths as this new technology finds it feet. Reacting to it by criminalizing accidents—again, absent ill intent or gross negligence—strikes me as profoundly shortsighted. At some point in the distant future, we will reach balance and understanding of how this new machinery fits into modern life and we can only hope the fear recedes. In the meantime, buckle up. It's gonna be a rough ride.

And as with aviation, there truly are risks and like it or not, people on the ground not even involved with the activity are exposed. That’s life in a modern industrial society and why the FAA can’t protect against a Skyhawk crashing through Grandma’s picture window. It’s the price of progress. If there's such a thing as a fundamental right not to be struck by flying objects, good luck getting any entity to guarantee it. 

What’s to be done? Generally, when it comes to enforcing anything to do with things that fly, local jurisdictions defer to the FAA, who is supposed to know about such things. Local jurisdictions often do not and have a dog's breakfast of statutes they might apply, probably at the whim of political winds. The FAA has a menu of civil penalties from which to choose and hefty fines well publicized ought to provide a more just deterrent than time in the slammer. And the U.S. tort system isn’t exactly lacking in opportunities for an aggrieved plaintiff. That said, I can imagine circumstances in which errant drone operation could rise to the level of a criminal complaint. I just think this isn’t one of them.  

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Mark Patey takes the honors this week with a very nice image of Heaven on Earth. That's Jason Sneed and Wallace Brown on Utah Lake in their Carbon Cubs. Sigh.

Peggy Chabrian, president and founder of Women in Aviation International, just wrapped up the organization's annual event, in Florida. She provides an update on the work they are doing to inspire and support women in aviation careers.

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