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Volume 24, Number 49c
December 8, 2017
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Regionals Press FAA For Training Options
Mary Grady

The Regional Airline Association, which represents 22 North American regional airlines, asked the FAA this week to approve additional “structured training pathways” for Part 121 first officers. The RAA says its data show that applicants for pilot jobs tend to do better if they are from “structured training backgrounds” with less than four years since graduation, even if they have less than 1,500 total hours. Applicants without those attributes, but who meet the 1,500-hour minimum, require more extra training and are more likely to fail, the RAA says. “Improving aviation safety and reopening the pilot career path are not mutually exclusive objectives,” said RAA President Faye Malarkey Black. “We urge the FAA to review the available data and carefully evaluate additional pathways, approving them where they will enhance safety.”

Today, the system allows three structured pathways—military training, four-year aviation degree programs and two-year aviation degree programs. The RAA wants the FAA to modify this regulation and approve additional structured pathways, such as airline-based training programs, for credit toward the ATP flight-hour requirements. The lack of pilots has led to the loss of air service at 20 airports in the U.S. since 2013, according to the RAA data. Another 91 airports have lost 50 percent or more of their services. The RAA says compensation for first-year first officers at its member airlines averages $57,316, a rise of 150 percent since 2015.

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Cessna And FedEx Renew Their Vows
Paul Bertorelli

When the press release on Cessna’s new twin turboprop came pixeling into my inbox Tuesday morning, my first reaction was: a new skydiving airplane! Woo-hoo! This further proves that self-interest easily overpowers rational thought, but in a more sober moment, I realized that in aviation as in everything else, history repeats.

Even without a piece of ruled graph paper—can you even buy that stuff anymore?—you can figure out the economics here. In case you’ve forgotten, Cessna and FedEx joined hands and checkbooks in 1982 to create the 208 Caravan. Thirty-five years and 2500 airframes later, they’re renewing their vows with the 408 SkyCourier, a clean-sheet twin turbine that is, as far as I can see, a rethinking of the venerable de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter. And then some.

Draw the lines of the graph and you find that in 1982, U.S. GDP was $3.3 trillion and FedEx—then still Federal Express—had about $800 million of it. In 2016, FedEx was a $50 billion operation in an $18.5 trillion economy. In 1982, the China import trade was barely visible. Today, China accounts for $462 billion in imports and FedEx flies a lot of that stuff not just from China but right into the hands of customers. FedEx was the launch customer for the Caravan because it needed an airplane to fly freight from the big airplanes to the little towns.

There aren’t any more little towns now than in 1982, but there are more people and there’s a whole lot more stuff. E-commerce is a growth industry and FedEx clearly needs more lift capacity at greater efficiency. And it may have Amazon to contend with as a competitor. We’ve reported that Amazon has been trying to build its own airline for package delivery and FedEx likely has an interest in blunting that. Logically, at least to me, this points to a twin turboprop to displace the Caravan on certain routes. The fact that Cessna has designed the 408 to accept rapidly loadable industry-standard LD-3 containers will usher in some ramp efficiency. FedEx’s initial buy will be 50 airplanes, with an option for 50 more. Not huge volume, but then the Caravan wasn’t either, nor was FedEx the only customer.

So far, Cessna has only whiteboarded the specs on the new twin, claiming a maximum payload of 6000 pounds against an unpublished gross weight. That’s nearly twice the 3305-pound useful load of the 208B Caravan and 1600 pounds more than the typical Twin Otter. (Textron didn’t give proposed useful load for the 408, so these numbers are a little fuzzy. But they’re directionally valid.) Fully loaded, the SkyCourier will have a range of about 400 NM, well within the 200 NM or less typical stage length the Caravans fly. That’s further proof that FedEx needs nothing more than a bigger pipe. (FedEx has also contracted to buy a fleet of new ATR 72-600F turboprop twins.)

All of this is perfectly logical and reasonable. I found two things interesting in the announcement. One is the utterly workmanlike feel of the proposal. Textron tends not to talk about such things, but there’s no whiff that it thought about the airplane being electric or hybrid or to have the hooks for that current darling of the forward-looking industry, autonomous operation. By aviation standards, they plan to have the thing flying by next week (2020, actually) and that’s too aggressive a timeline to fool around with technology that doesn’t exist, despite all the stories the aviation press flogs on the topic.

Second, it’s to be expected that Cessna would propose a passenger version of the SkyCourier; that simply expands the market envelope. But the 19-seat market, which was hot around the time the original Caravan appeared—remember the Beech 1900 and the Embraer 110 Bandeirante?—is moribund now. In the U.S., with the Essential Air Services program on life support, it’s hard to imagine that it will come back. But then I’m sure Textron isn’t banking on such sales. This is a utility airplane that’s all about cargo.

One other surprise, maybe. The press release didn’t mention the engines, but the specs page does. I was expecting the GE ATP, the cutting-edge engine Cessna will use in the big Denali turboprop single. But nope. They’re planning the Pratt & Whitney PT6A-65SC. At 1100 SHP, it’s an iteration of the -65 series that’s been around for a while and will have the addition of Pratt’s FAST maintenance tracking and prognostication feature. Not exactly old school, maybe, but not cutting edge either. When the Caravan was launched, FedEx crowed about Pratt as a provider of reliable turbine power. Could be they drove that opinion again. I won’t be surprised to see a second engine option for the 408 if GE’s ATP proves more efficient and less costly to operate than the PT6. If you fly an airplane 1000 hours a year, a 15 percent efficiency gain in operating cost is not to be ignored.

Ten years from now, the 408, like the Caravan, will still be soldiering along. Twenty years? Same. Somewhere during that run, FedEx will cast off a few and, sure enough, one will become a skydiving airplane. Like I said, woo-hoo!

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Premier Aircraft's Refurbished Dakota
Paul Bertorelli

Premier Aircraft Sales is a well-known broker and mod house in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the company's latest project is called the Premier Edition Dakota. It's a spinner-to-tail refurbishment of the Piper Dakota, a real favorite among aircraft owners and buyers who want to carry a lot more than a standard Cherokee can haul and go a little faster while they're at it.

Erik Lindbergh Launches VTOL Project
Mary Grady

Erik Lindbergh has formed a new aerospace company, VerdeGo Aero, he announced on Wednesday in a news release. Lindbergh, who is well-known in GA as an advocate for new technology and as the grandson of Charles Lindbergh, will serve as president of the company, which will be based at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s MicaPlex incubator in Daytona, Florida. “At VerdeGo Aero, we are building the first safe and efficient short-range vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for the millions of people stuck in traffic in cities around the world,” Lindbergh said. “Use your smartphone to book your Personal Air Taxi and your trip to a verti-port across town will take minutes instead of hours.”

The company aims to develop a VTOL, the PAT200, powered by hybrid-electric technology, with “full flight-envelope safety systems for the safest, quietest, and most efficient aircraft possible,” according to the news release. The tilt-wing aircraft will carry two passengers, with a cruise speed greater than 130 knots, for flights up to 40 miles. Eight electric motors will drive independent rotors. The company will be competing with a number of other groups looking toward developing similar technologies, from Volocopter to Airbus. Volocopter co-founder Alex Zosel said at a tech conference this week he expects his aircraft to be part of a commercial air-taxi service within two to three years.

Aurora Makes Any Helicopter Autonomous
Mary Grady

A system developed by Aurora Flight Sciences can be installed on any rotary-wing aircraft and enable it to fly autonomously, the company said in a news release on Wednesday. The Office of Naval Research will conduct a final demonstration of the system next week, Dec. 13, at the Marine Corps’ urban training center in Quantico, Virginia. The system can be operated by any Marine in the field, “intuitively and quickly, from a hand-held tablet, without prior training required,” Aurora said, making it easy to request supplies even in austere or dangerous environments. A UH-1 “Huey” helicopter will be flown in the demo.

“AACUS [Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System] gives revolutionary capability to our fleet and force,” said Dennis Baker, AACUS program officer. “It can be used as a pilot aid in degraded visual environments, or allow fully autonomous flights in contested environments, keeping our pilots out of harm’s way.” Aurora, which was recently acquired by Boeing, has said they plan to implement the technology in the Marine Corps fleet next year.Next week’s demo will be open to the press.

FAA: Keep Laser Decorations Away From Airports
Mary Grady

It’s now an annual tradition — the FAA reaches out to holiday decorators, especially those who live near airports, asking them to consider pilots when installing laser lights outside. Some of the light shows, which have grown in popularity the last few years, can project their lasers for hundreds of feet or more. “People who buy these new light displays should take precautions to make sure that the lights are hitting their houses and not shining off into the sky,” said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. “If we become aware of a situation where a laser light displayaffected pilots, we would start by asking the person to either adjust them or turn them off.”

Some manufacturers of the displays advise customers to be sure the lights are hitting their houses and not the sky, especially if their house is within 10 nautical miles of an airport. Anyone convicted of intentionally pointing lasers at airplanes could be fined and spend up to five years in jail. Pilots who encounter a laser light in flight can report it to the FAA via a short questionnaire available on a phone or laptop.

Airbus Crew Lines Up On Wrong Runway
Mary Grady

The crew of a Volaris A320 from Mexico was cleared to land on Runway 13 Left at John F. Kennedy International Airport, about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, but instead lined up on 13 Right — a runway already occupied by a Delta Embraer 170. ATC cancelled the Delta crew’s takeoff clearance, and they taxied off the runway. The Volaris crew was told to go around, and they came back to land safely on Runway 22 Left. In a statement released to the media, the Mexican airline said: “Volaris will conduct an investigation to determine the factors that led to this event. The safety of our passengers and crew is our highest priority.” The Delta flight took off safely after the delay.

The incident follows at least two other high-profile go-arounds this year involving airline crews. In July, an Air Canada crew lined up on a taxiway, instead of the runway they were cleared for, at San Francisco International Airport. Three other jets were lined up on the taxiway, and the jet came within just a few feet of them before the crew was alerted by another pilot and safely went around. In October, the crew of an Air Canada jet was told six times to go around by ATC before they responded. The go-around requests were prompted by concerns that another jet might not have cleared the runway yet.

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A Cessna wheel/float aircraft was being ferried from the Lower 48 to Talkeetna Alaska.Upon arrival the pilot called the FSS station for landing information.

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Cessna: "Which one is the longest?

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Facing Lake Effect Conditions
Rick Durden

The potential for in-flight icing during an IFR flight—regardless of whether the airplane is approved for flight into known icing or not—means doing serious plotting and scheming prior to departure, and throughout the flight. As has been demonstrated for years, structural icing does bad things to airframes. Best to presume every cloud will contain ice, and plan accordingly.

To illustrate our point, we’ll look at a hypothetical flight from the Lima (Ohio) Allen County Airport (KAOH) to the Wexford County Airport in Cadillac, Mich. (KCAD). (We’re going to KCAD because the FBO rents airplanes on skis and we purely love skiplane flying.) To get there, we’ll be flying a Cessna 177B Cardinal, a stable instrument platform with satisfactory climb and cruise performance, but lacking turbocharging or real ice protection.

The Big Picture

Looking at conditions along our intended route, we note surface winds are westerly at 15 knots, so lake effect conditions from Lake Michigan will enter the equation. We want to know where the cloud bases and tops are along our route, plus runway conditions at KCAD and possible divert airports. Weather conditions well to the east of our route are important, also, to determine the lake effect’s area and where a wide-open alternate might be. Oh, and winds and temperatures aloft would be handy. This is icing season, after all.

Today we learn cloud bases near Lake Michigan are 800 to 1500 feet, with layers up to the tops at 10,000. East of the Lake, bases are 1500 feet, tops at 6000. Manistee, on the Lake, west of Cadillac, is reporting 800 overcast and a mile in light snow. Cadillac is 1100 and two miles, which is about what Grand Rapids and Grayling are reporting. Scattered clouds in central Ohio become a layered overcast approaching the Michigan border. We’ll have maybe 10 knots on the nose, and the freezing level is forecast at 4000 feet msl.

We file direct to Cadillac because we are confident we can safely get on top, above 6000. But we’ll be prepared to go straight north until we can approach Cadillac from the east, to reduce our icing exposure. We file for 8000, an efficient altitude for the airplane, which should put us above the clouds and ice. The headwind isn’t too strong, and we’ll retain flexibility to climb or descend to stay out of ice-laden clouds.

Doing It

Once aloft and climbing northwest bound, we discover the scattered layer has become broken; soon we’re in fairly heavy snow. The OAT is -5 degrees C, so we aren’t going to be faced with wet snow plugging the engine air intake and requiring carb heat to pull air from inside the cowling.

Approaching 4500 feet, it’s apparent we’ll need to go through a deck above us to reach 8000. With the snow, visibility below deck is too low to go VFR. We’ve asked and been told that tops here are at 5500 feet. We’re climbing at full power (none of that 25-squared nonsense; the engine is rated for 180 continuous horsepower, which only occurs at 2700 rpm and sea level), because we want every bit of power we can get.

Zoom Climb

We level off, still at max power, just below the overcast and accelerate until the airplane is going as fast as it can, then pitch up gently to get through the layer quickly. We initially see more than 1000 fpm, which we hold as airspeed drops to VY plus 15 knots, but no slower (we don’t want ice forming well back on the underside of the wing).

If we can’t climb at VY+15, we’ll descend fast and return to Lima before we get so much ice that it’s a problem. The defroster is running full blast, the pitot heat has been on since before takeoff and we scoot through the 1000-foot-thick cloud deck with only a light dusting of rime ice. It will sublimate off in the next half hour.

Strictly legal? No. Safe? Reasonably. Will the FAA get excited? Probably not. Can we report light rime without being sanctioned? Yes. So we pass the word to ATC to let our fellow pilots know what we experienced.

We motor across central Michigan at 8000 feet, above clouds that swirl, change and break up. From time to time we see the ground and understand why visibility can so rapidly change. As they flow toward us from the Lake, the bands of cloud and snow are rapidly releasing the moisture they are carrying. By the time they flow this far downwind, only about of the land below us has cloud cover and snow at any given time. But because of the wind, what is and isn’t covered is constantly changing: The farmhouse we saw clearly three minutes ago is in heavy snow now.

In Range

Forty miles out of Cadillac, we ask Minneapolis Center about runway conditions and are told the runway is being plowed. The ceiling is holding at 900 feet and visibility is between one and two miles. The AWOS confirms the weather and we have solid alternates nearby, so we decide to press on.

We’ll plan on the ILS Runway 7 approach instead of the into-the-wind RNAV (GPS) Runway 25 procedure. The ILS has a 10-knot tailwind, but the GPS requires 1 miles, which we may not have. The trace of ice we picked up is gone, sublimated. On a westward vector for the ILS, we can see in the distance that the layer below rises to exceed our altitude.

A Little Discretion, Please

Right about now, ATC clears us down to 4000 while we are still 20 miles from the final approach fix. That will mean flying level in what may be one of the layers below us, something we have no desire to do. We tell Minneapolis we’d prefer to remain at 8000 as long as we can and request a pilot’s discretion descent to 4000. Fortunately, controllers in this area of the world understand that concept very well and she agrees. We carry on, at 8000.

Just as we get the first turn toward the north aimed at intercepting the localizer, the clouds come up to meet us. We don’t want to linger in the tops—that’s where the absolute worst ice is—so we start down at 1000 fpm, keeping power and speed high to present the minimum frontal area to the ice.

At 5500 feet, we break out between layers, and slow our descent rate as we approach 4000 feet, which puts us into the next layer and we intercept the localizer outside the FAF. The glideslope comes alive shortly and we follow it down, holding 120 KIAS, flaps up, for we know enough to never use flaps if we have any ice on the airplane when landing. We have another trace so far, not even enough to overpower the defroster, so we can see ahead.


We fly the ILS and call on the CTAF to announce our arrival. The snowplow driver answers and says he’s pulling off the runway. He adds that it’s snowing steadily and the south half of the runway is plowed, the north half has two inches of snow and there’s a snowridge down the center—a situation normal for smaller airports during lake-effect snow.

We break out, spot the runway and see the snowplow on a taxiway. Leave the power where it is, staying on the glideslope all the way to the touchdown zone. With the rapidly shifting visibility that comes with lake effect snow, it's not unusual to suddenly lose sight of the runway, so we'll maintain our speed in the event we have to miss and go around at the last moment. We're going to keep the Cardinal cooking because we know we have some ice, even though we think there isn't much, and we've got 5000 feet of runway to play with. The last thing we want to do is pull the power back to flare and discover that the speed we're flying is above the power-on stall speed but below the power-off stall speed and fall the last 10 feet onto the runway, collapsing the gear.

If we do lose sight of the runway and begin a missed approach, we need to commit to it and not be seduced into changing our mind and make another play for the runway if it reappears. We’ve read too many accident reports of pilots who thought that seeing a runway 500 feet below them would allow them to make a tight circle to land. Discovering that 500 feet of vertical visibility doesn’t mean 500 feet of horizontal visibility, they crashed while trying to make a tight, low-altitude 360. Better to go around and rethink the whole idea.

We also need to keep in mind that the world around us is gray and white, and we likely will be experiencing “flat light” conditions, eliminating our depth perception. It’s the subject for an article all its own but we should never, ever duck under the glideslope when landing in overcast conditions with snow on the ground. On a non-precision approach, we need to cross-check the altimeter constantly until very short final: far too many pilots have come up short of a runway in flat-light conditions, then professed they were well above terra firma.

We’re going to use a lot of the 5000-foot runway because we know we are carrying some ice, so we won’t reduce power to idle until after we touch down, flaps up, somewhat fast. We’ve only got half the runway width, but there is little crosswind and we know how to use the flight controls to help us maintain directional control as we decelerate. Once on the ground and rolling on all three wheels, we'll gently check braking, expecting it to be poor. All that remains is dissipating our energy and getting the airplane stopped before we reach the end.


The guy in the plow will probably ask for a braking report. Unless we have slid off the end of the runway without noticeably slowing down, we will not give a “nil” report because that will effectively close the place down, something that can make us unpopular for those arriving behind us. Be careful not to exaggerate, but don’t think reporting it as “good” will do anyone any favors.

The final challenge will be taxiing to parking. If we’re in the middle of a major lake-effect event, even if the airport has excellent snow removal, it’s possible we’ll have to park where there is a clear area. That may be on the ramp and it may be on a taxiway. After we’ve just dealt with some very challenging weather, it’s always a little embarrassing to get stuck in the snow 50 feet short of the ramp.

Rick Durden is a CFII, holds an ATP with Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation type ratings 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.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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