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Every year for the last 39 years, the FAA has conducted a survey to help estimate the level of general aviation activity. Scott Wagner works for TetraTech, the independent research firm that collects the data. “We’re interested in activities for general aviation and Part 135 aircraft,” he told AVweb this week. “We take a sample of the population and send out surveys to owners and operators.” Data collected includes number of hours flown, fuel type, avionics gear, number of landings, what states the aircraft was flown in and how it was used. “The data informs activity estimates that we send to the FAA,” says Wagner. “For example, how many piston aircraft were flown, for how many hours, in what regions of the country, things like that. It’s used by the FAA to assess safety initiatives and infrastructure needs.”

The survey attempts to reach certain groups at 100 percent, such as rotorcraft and turbine aircraft, while others, such as single-engine piston planes, are reached by a random sample. All are contacted by TetraTech by mail. “It’s kind of invitation-only,” Wagner said. Most of the survey is conducted online. “We generally get a response of 40 percent or more, so we’re pretty happy with that,” Wagner said. “The data we collect is available on the FAA website, so research institutions also use it.” Wagner added that this year’s project is wrapping up, so if you’ve been contacted for data, please send it soon.

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The House bill to reauthorize the FAA for the 2018 fiscal year—starting Oct. 1—includes ATC privatization, as most general aviation groups had feared. AOPA, EAA, GAMA, NATA, Helicopter Association International and NBAA released a joint statement opposing the bill: “After a thorough and detailed review of Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-Pa.) proposal to remove our nation’s air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration, we have concluded that these reforms, while well intentioned, will produce uncertainty and unintended consequences without achieving the desired outcomes.” Privatized ATC service would be funded by user fees under the proposal, which is the primary appeal for some supporters. Much of the FAA’s budget is currently supported by fuel taxes, which are mostly paid by operators of large jets. Replacing a fuel tax with a cost per operation—such as a fixed fee per instrument approach—would represent a tremendous tax cut for the airlines and tax increase for operators of smaller aircraft.

The Senate meanwhile seems unlikely to include ATC privatization in its companion bill. Senator Thune, R-S.D., Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said his committee’s bill would not include a provision to get the government out of air traffic management. “No, we don’t have the votes to pass that in our committee at the moment,” said Thune earlier this week. If the House passes the bill as offered and the Senate passed an FAA reauthorization bill without ATC privatization, the differences between the bills will have to be worked out during the reconciliation process or the FAA will face another funding shutdown this fall.

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Israeli startup EViation is planning a clean-slate aircraft design to carry six to nine passengers, plus crew, on legs up to 600 miles in length, with exclusively electric propulsion. The three-motor design puts one tractor-prop on each wingtip, with one pusher on the tail. EViation's engineers hope locating propellers on each wingtip will reduce induced drag, while simultaneously reducing the size of flight surfaces used for yaw control. "At a time when we are more connected than ever, our mobility options must adapt to reflect this new, efficient future," said Omer Bar-Yohay, CEO of EViation Aircraft. "Whether it is a zero-emissions, low-cost trip from Silicon Valley to San Diego, or Seoul to Beijing, our all-electric aircraft represents a chance for people to move with the speed and impact our global economy now demands."

Although the company reports the aircraft prototype can be viewed on static display at the Paris Air Show, a press release depicts only a computer rendering. EViation says the aircraft design faces “zero regulatory hurdles,” though in the United States, there is no system yet in place to certificate a non-experimental electric aircraft. The company says they expect to start commercial flights as early as 2021.

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Airbus will fit deployable flight data and cockpit voice recorders on new A350 XWB aircraft beginning in 2019 and on the rest of its long-range fleet soon thereafter. A deployable flight data recorder is designed to separate itself from the aircraft in a crash. They are particularly useful for crashes over water where accessing or even finding aircraft wreckage may be difficult or impossible. Although exotic in the commercial market, they have a multi-decade history in the military market. The Boeing F/A-18 Hornet is outfitted with a deployable flight incident recorder system that is ejected from the aircraft shortly after the pilots, which has resulted in several recoveries of recorders that would not otherwise have been possible.

The floating data recorders, made by Leonardo with aircraft integration provided by L3, will separate from the aircraft if they detect submersion in water or “significant structural deformation.” Charles Champion, executive vice president of engineering at Airbus Commercial Aircraft, said, “Airbus, together with L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS, is very pleased to be leading the commercial aircraft industry in implementing into our aircraft new deployable flight data and 25-hour voice recording capability.” The new system is a response to ICAO requirements to improve the identification and location of downed aircraft. The new rules were promulgated in response to the loss of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in 2014, whose flight data recorders remain missing after tens of millions spent searching, as well as the $40 million and two years spent to recover the flight data recorders from Air France 447, which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

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The special-mission variant of Diamond Aircraft’s DA62 made its debut at the Paris Air Show this week. The key structural change for the DA62 MPP is a strengthened nose assembly. While the nose section of the civilian variant of the DA62 is designed only to carry some modest passenger baggage, the DA62 MPP has been modified to support electro-optical and infrared camera turrets up to 220 pounds. A satellite antenna pod on the back supports the full spectrum of communication options for operators needing to send data back home in real time. Engine exhaust for the piston twin has also been routed to the top side of the engine and mixed with fresh air to reduce the aircraft’s noise and IR signature.

Diamond is hoping the combination of jet-fuel-burning piston engines and the shrinking size and weight of special mission equipment will allow the DA62 MPP to eat into portions of the market currently served by more expensive turboprops like the PC-12 or King Air. The DA62 MPP retains 1,000 pounds of payload for crew and special equipment with a full fuel load providing 10 hours of time on station. For operators looking for a one-stop shop, Diamond will provide the aircraft, customization, sensor integration, flight crew and maintenance training, as well as ground stations. 

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Air traffic controllers have quite a few options for saying one simple thing: “Turn your airplane.” Each vectoring method, like a hammer or a pair of pliers, is a specialized tool designed to fit a particular situation.

As you fly, you may hear a variety of vectoring radio phraseology on a daily basis. Like many real-world tools, they may appear simple and familiar on the surface. However, using them requires proper technique and foresight on the part of both controllers and pilots.

Go That-a-Way

FAA Order 7110.65—the ATC handbook—lays out the vectoring toolbox in section 5-6-2. Let’s roll with the basics: “FLY HEADING (degrees).” The controller wants you to turn to the assigned heading, but which direction should you turn? The Pilot/Controller Glossary’s Fly Heading entry says, “The pilot is expected to turn in the shorter direction to the heading unless otherwise instructed by ATC.” If you’re heading 089, and ATC says “Fly heading 270”, you’ll make your turn to the left. If there’s ever any ambiguity—for instance, if you’re flying 090 degrees and ATC wants a 270-degree heading—verify the direction with the controller.

If ATC indeed needs the turn in a certain direction, they’ll employ the second tool: “TURN LEFT/RIGHT HEADING (degrees).” Let’s say you’re heading 089 degrees again and need a westbound turn, but off your left wing there’s an obstacle or traffic. “Turn right heading 270” ensures you make that turn in a safe direction. If the direction is truly critical or the turn direction is counterintuitive, controllers may add extra emphasis, such as, “Turn right—again, turn right—heading 270.”

“TURN (number of degrees) LEFT/RIGHT.” This is commonly used for tweaking existing vectors. Are you now on that 270-degree vector, but the winds aloft have you tracking 250 degrees across the ground? To compensate, ATC’s next instruction could be, “Turn 20 degrees right.”

“DEPART (fix) HEADING (degrees).” Cross the specified geographic fix, then fly the heading. Imagine your destination is landing Runway 36, and you’re approaching it from the northwest. There’s a VOR named ABC five miles due west of the airport. “Proceed direct ABC, depart ABC heading 180.” You cross ABC and turn south. That’ll set you up on a midfield left downwind for Runway 36, five miles west of the airport. Now all ATC needs to do is give you a base turn to join the final.

“FLY PRESENT HEADING.” Last and certainly the least complicated, it instructs you stay on your current heading. This will probably be coupled with other instructions. Perhaps you took off on a tower-assigned heading of 090 degrees. Due to traffic, ATC doesn’t want you to turn yet. “Fly present heading. Climb and maintain 5000.” Another example? How about picking up an airborne IFR clearance when you’re already more-or-less headed towards your first fix. “Cleared to [destination] as filed. Climb and maintain 7000. Fly present heading. When able, proceed on course [first fix].”

Because It’s Tuesday

That’s the “how” of vectoring. What about the why? You filed a specific route because it suited your flight best. If ATC is pulling you off that route, there needs to be a reason. Paragraph 5-6-2 (b) of the handbook instructs controllers, “When initiating a vector, advise the pilot of the purpose.”

There can be any number of reasons for a vector, but 5-6-2 illustrates the major ones: “Determine optimum routing based on… wind, weather, traffic, pilot requests, noise abatement, adjacent sector requirement, and letters of agreement.” Note: nowhere in there does it say “for controller amusement.” ATC is in the business of getting you to point B as expediently as possible. If we’re adding on to your flight time, the reason must be legitimate.

Some common ones? “VECTOR FOR TRAFFIC” or “VECTOR FOR SPACING.” Those are self-explanatory. ATC is supposed to separate and sequence planes, and that’s what those vectors accomplish.

Speaking of traffic, depending on your aircraft’s speed and vertical performance, vectors may be required to get you in or out of congested terminal airspace. “VECTOR FOR CLIMB (OR DESCENT)” covers the twists and turns sometimes required to sequence a mix of different aircraft. A related side note: If you’re being vectored off a published procedure with altitude restrictions, like a SID, STAR, or even an instrument approach, ATC has to assign you an altitude to maintain.

How long will these vectors last? If ATC’s got at least a ballpark figure, they should follow 5-6-2 (d). “If appropriate, advise the pilot what to expect when the vector is completed.” This urges ATC to keep you in the loop. Examples? “Turn 20 degrees left, vector around active restricted airspace. Expect direct APT in two-zero miles.”

This also applies for weather-related vectors. A radar controller may vector you around precipitation that’s depicted on their radar scopes, but you’re the pilot-in-command with your eyes out the window. The ultimate power is yours. ATC knows that. If they’re vectoring you through a ten mile gap in a storm line, they’ll likely make the heading conditional. “Fly heading 290, vector for weather. When able, proceed on course.” In other words, when you’re comfortable with what you see outside or on your equipment, you can come off the vector and resume your own navigation.

The termination point of a vector is implied when ATC uses navigation vectors such as “VECTOR TO (fix or airway)” and “VECTOR TO INTERCEPT (name of NAVAID) (specified radial).” Upon reaching a certain fix, airway, or radial, you’ll likely be expected to resume your own navigation. “Fly heading 130, vector to V36. Join V36 southeast bound.” How about a VOR radial? “Fly heading 310, vector to intercept the ABC VOR 330 radial outbound.”

No Sharp Angles

Of course, we’ve got to tackle the all-important “VECTOR TO (approach name) FINAL APPROACH COURSE.” Does a good landing start when you’re about to flare? Of course not. It begins with a stable approach, which in turn begins with a smooth turn on to final. Good vectors allow reasonable time to turn and get established on the final approach course.

Therefore, controllers don’t aim aircraft at the final approach fix itself. Instead, they base their vectoring on an imaginary reference target called the “approach gate,” typically located one mile outside the FAF. It doesn’t appear on any chart; a controller pictures it mentally for each approach. By vectoring a pilot to intercept final at this gate, it guarantees at least one flying mile to get established laterally on the final before the pilot begins descent at the FAF.

Weather and the type of approach change how the gate is used. Is the ceiling at least 500 feet above the local Minimum Vectoring Altitude (MVA) and the visibility over three miles? ATC can vector directly at the approach gate. Under those conditions, a pilot can even request to be vectored directly at the FAF, i.e. inside the approach gate.

If the weather is below the 500/3 criteria, all aircraft need to intercept two or more miles outside the approach gate (i.e. three miles from the FAF). This increases the safety margins when the sky conditions are unfavorable. The latter, increased distance also applies to all aircraft on RNAV or GPS approaches, regardless of weather.

Why do RNAV approaches require the increased distance all the time? During transition from enroute flight to an active RNAV approach, the sensitivities of an aircraft GPS receiver’s autonomous integrity monitoring (RAIM) protocol and the panel CDI increase to meet the approach’s increased accuracy needs. RAIM verifies both that there are enough satellites visible, and the accuracy of navigation calculations. This process begins at two miles from the final approach waypoint (FAWP). Therefore, aircraft on RNAV approaches must be vectored to intercept final at least three miles from FAWP to allow proper time for the RAIM checks. It’s a safety thing.

Hitting the Floor

There are plenty of “minimum” altitudes related to IFR flight—minimum reception altitude (MRA), minimum enroute altitude (MEA), minimum obstacle clearance altitude (MOCA), etc. Controllers may be aware of some of those for their airspace, but the one they’re most keenly familiar with is the MVA, or Minimum Vectoring Altitude. I mentioned it briefly before, but what is it exactly?

As defined in the Pilot/Controller Glossary, the MVA is “the lowest MSL altitude at which an IFR aircraft will be vectored by a radar controller, except as otherwise authorized for radar approaches, departures, and missed approaches. The altitude meets IFR obstacle clearance criteria.” Over flat terrain, the MVA is typically 1000 feet above the highest obstacle in the area. Double the height cushion to 2000 feet over mountainous terrain.

MVA charts are not openly available to pilots. However, MVA altitudes are fairly easy to deduce. For instance, if you’re overflying a Midwestern plain that’s barren save for a 2000-foot MSL antenna, expect the MVA around the antenna to be 3000. feet The FAF/FAWP altitudes for approaches in the area may also give you a clue, since controllers don’t generally vector for approaches below those altitudes.

While an MVA overall is a hard floor, there are certain circumstances where ATC can vector IFR aircraft below it. Ever had a tower controller tell you to fly a heading and then clear you for takeoff? How about shooting a practice ILS to a touch and go, then executing a non-published missed approach consisting of an ATC-assigned heading and altitude? Both are assigned vectors, and on the go you weren’t even off the ground yet, much less above the MVA. How does that work?

Obviously, a primary concern for departing pilots is obstacle clearance, especially in IMC. If the departure or missed approach aircraft’s flight path takes it at least three miles from an obstacle, ATC has to vector to maintain that minimum distance. What if the flight path is closer than 3 nm? That’s fine, but on departure, ATC has to turn the aircraft away from the obstacle. In both cases, once the aircraft climbs above the obstacle’s altitude, ATC is free to vector in all directions.

Over the past several years, the FAA has also been introducing Diverse Vector Areas. Based on in-depth studies of obstructions around an airport, they allow even greater departure vectoring flexibility below the MVA. I encourage you to read Lee Smith’s great article “Diverse Vector Areas” in the March 2015 issue of IFR, where he covers the subject in great detail.

Whether you’re getting a left turn, right turn, or told to “fly present heading,” vectors are serving the needs of safety and expediency. Sure, they’re simple tools, but they’re necessary and highly effective at keeping aircraft apart and in order.

When he’s working a busy final out in the Midwest, Tarrance Kramer doesn’t let a tool go unused.

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

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“Those who try to lead the people can only do so by following the mob.” – Oscar Wilde

I can’t think of a better lead in for the latest round of polling that indicates—surprise—the general public opposes the idea of privatizing air traffic control. The latest run at plumbing public sentiment on this topic was done by the polling firm Hart Research Associates and the most predictable thing about the results is the round of press releases from the alphabets citing the findings.

But the data isn’t so categorical that it can’t be spun. While NBAA’s headline said, “CNBC Poll Reaffirms Americans' Opposition to Privatizing ATC,” The Morning Consult ‘s own survey found a “plurality” of voters favored privatization. While Consult bills itself as a non-partisan digital polling firm, we politicize everything from the color of our socks to the vegetables in school lunches. So, sure enough, the cross tabs show that Republicans favor privatization, Democrats oppose it.

But what do these poll respondents even know about this topic to have an informed opinion? Squat. Zero. Nada. Zip. I’m in the industry and consider myself fairly well informed and I can just muster an opinion based on probable fact. I say “probable” because by the time the airline lobbyists get done distorting whatever bill comes out of Congress, who knows what the terms of engagement will be? Further, the topic itself is a natural for ill-informed innuendo such as President Trump’s claim that the current ATC system is “horrible.” If we thought about it for a nanosecond longer, maybe we could explain that the FAA is hobbled by funding issues that keep it from meeting its infrastructure goals and might there be a better way? I know. That would require a level of cognition that seems to have gone out of fashion with the rise of the internet.   

So. That leaves pollsters to massage the prose in a way that distracted survey takers can parse and answer. Can’t make it too complicated. And the question shouldn’t have innate bias. Here’s how Hart did it:

“There is a proposal to shift control of the U.S. air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, to a private, non-profit entity that would be governed by representatives of the major U.S. airlines and others. The FAA would have some oversight of this new entity, but would no longer manage the air traffic control system. Which of the following statements about this possible shift in control do you agree with more?”

Then it followed with the usual strongly favor, somewhat favor and so forth. To summarize, 53 percent responded that it was a bad idea, 33 percent said it was good. The rest said neither or not sure.

Morning Consult framed it this way: “As you may know, the U.S. air traffic control system is currently run by the federal government, through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Knowing this, do you support or oppose a plan that would establish an independent, not-for-profit corporation to run U.S. air traffic control, instead of the FAA?”

I don’t know about you, but I consider that prose intentionally anodyne. For a broadly uninformed reader—and on this subject, that’s probably most—it leaves out the potential bitter pill of the airlines running the thing. Even before United started beating its passengers, airlines weren’t especially warmly thought of. So no surprise the survey nets different results. Consult’s survey found 42 percent supported privatization, 32 percent opposed it and 27 percent had no opinion. I’m not suggesting Consult was fishing for a result, by the way, but merely dumbed down the question to make it more readable.

Previous polls on this topic have found opinions more in line with the Hart survey. Just over 50 percent to as high as 60 percent of respondents oppose privatization if they have some inkling that fees will be involved. But this goes to how poorly qualified people are to have an opinion on this topic. No one really knows if the airlines would pay more or less under a privatization program and how passengers would share these costs through fees of some kind. When fees are mentioned, opinions change.

One reason for this is something ingrained in the American character: We like services government provides, especially infrastructure, but we don’t like paying for these. One related question in the Hart survey revealed that this sentiment lives on.

“Many governments are partnering with private companies to pay for, build, and expand highways, airports, and other infrastructure projects. Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose these public-private partnerships?”

Interestingly, this question, which neatly left out the part about fees, netted the identical percentages found the ATC privatization question, but flipped: 53 percent favored privatization, 33 percent opposed it. I’m quite certain it’s because people think these public private partnerships will magically provide them new roads and bridges, with no tax increases and no tolls. But all of the PPP projects envision tolls or fees of some kind, just as ATC privatization does. We just call them user fees. How else would you attract the "private" in PPP without the profit motive?

In the U.S., voters tend to think they’re taxed to death and they—or so politicians seem to think—won’t tolerate tax increases of any kind. According to the Tax Policy Center, the U.S. ranks near the bottom for total tax load as a percentage of GDP among OECD countries. In the aggregate, the U.S. is 33rd among 37 countries, according to World Bank data. Other data places it a little higher, but usually in the lowest quintile for taxes as a percentage of GDP. Taxes from individuals are about at the OECD average. I have to wonder if voters who complain about taxes are perfectly OK with the tolls—user fees—they’ll see under PPPs. Do they draw a distinction? Do pilots? It's often said that tolls are taxes you aren't forced to pay and that's true. Unless you want to get to the other side of the river.

Having written about this several times, I now realize my opposition to privatization relates less to paying the money in fees than it does to potential denial of access to airspace and airports by an entity controlled by airline interests. While fees of any kind will likely worsen the downward spiral, lack of access would really tank activity.

I’m trying to approach privatization with an open mind, but I just can’t see the potential benefits. And neither, apparently, does an ill-informed public.

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This week marks the 73rd anniversary of D-Day landings at Normandy. Paul Bertorelli visited St. Mere Eglise and shot this fascinating history of one of the most unusual airplanes in aviation history: the combat glider.

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Picture of the Week

We have a soft spot for DC-3s and this beautiful example was the subject of an AVweb video a few years ago. It hasn't been restored. It's a corporate aircraft that's always been maintained in pristine condition. It attended the Gathering of DC-3s at Flabob Airport and David Dickins got a nice shot.

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.

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