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Volume 25, Number 21b
May 23, 2018
 
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Presidential TFRs Impact GA
 
Mary Grady
 
 

Pilots who fly in the Northeast should expect presidential TFRs over New Jersey this summer, AOPA said this week, while GA airports affected by frequent trips by Air Force One to Florida over the winter should see some relief. The Florida airports not only will likely see fewer presidential visits for the season, but they also may be reimbursed for their lost income by the federal government. An appropriations bill now under consideration in Congress would allocate $3.5 million to compensate the aviation businesses. Air Force One is expected to make frequent visits to Bedminster, New Jersey, this summer, prompting the FAA to impose TFRs with an outer ring of 30 NM, and an inner core, which is more restricted, of 10 NM, according to AOPA.

AOPA also said it is supporting an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill that would require the FAA to recommend procedures for allowing properly vetted pilots to fly during presidential TFRs, to help lessen the impact of the restrictions. Under the current rules, flight schools and other GA businesses are frequently shut down during busy weekends in their peak season. For pilots who need a refresher in the procedures associated with TFRs, AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation offers an online course, “Navigating Today’s Airspace,” that reviews intercept procedures. (Note, users must create a login for access to the ASF course, but there is no fee and you do not need to be an AOPA member.) All TFRs will be announced via Notam.

Spike Sets 2023 Target For Supersonic Airliner
 
Mary Grady
 
 

Vik Kachoria, CEO of Spike Aerospace, said last week he expects to have a commercial supersonic aircraft design flying by the end of 2023. “There’s a lot pieces that have to come together,” Kachoria told Bloomberg’s Caroline Hyde in an online interview. “You’ve got to be able to fly at a reasonable cost, and you’ve got to be able to fly without making a sonic boom … It takes time.” Kachoria said he is negotiating with “two major airlines” who are interested in his company’s technology, and he expects the aircraft to sell for about $125 million. But what matters, he said, is seat cost, and he believes a supersonic airliner can compete with the cost of a business-class ticket on a traditional airline. “Time is critically important to a lot of business travelers,” he said. He believes there’s a market for supersonic flight, and his company will be able to offer a price point that will appeal to millions of travelers eager to reduce their time in transit.

Lockheed-Martin is working with NASA to fly a quiet supersonic X-Plane by 2021. That aircraft is designed purely for test flying, not for commercial use. The FAA recently said it’s going to propose two new rules next year that will create some opportunities to reconsider its ban on supersonic flight over land and to explore new technologies. NASA has been working to develop quiet supersonic technology that would reduce the sound of an aircraft breaking the sound barrier to a gentle thump that may be less disruptive. Kachoria said his aircraft is being designed to reduce the effect of the sonic boom “tremendously.”

Initial Pilot Certification Passing Rates Trending Down
 
Jason Blair
 
 

As an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), I’ve felt like my pass rate on practical tests has been declining over the last couple of years. It started as a gut feeling, but then I compared my recent numbers with my pass rate from a few years ago and found it was also statistically true. It got me thinking. Have I somehow gotten harder? Or are applicants really failing more frequently? And if so, is it just me, my locale, or something that is happening on a national scale?

So, I took a look at the FAA’s reported national pass rates for FAA certificates on practical tests.

What I found was that pass rates have declined on the national level. If we look at all types of practical tests, the pass rate in 2007 for 43,619 practical tests was 80.1%. In 2017, for 38,210 tests the pass rate was 76.5%. This is an overall drop in passing rate of 3.6%.

Looking more specifically at private and commercial initial pilot certification tests, passing rates are down nearly 5% in both cases from a decade ago. Much of that drop has come in the last two years.

The graphs here show exactly what has been happening in this trend. While there is some variation in the percentage yearly, the general trend in both private and commercial pilot certification is a downward initial passing rate.

When we see a drop like this, it is natural for us to ask why it is occurring. Nothing major has changed in training standards, training requirements or training procedures. One thing that has changed, however, is turnover of instructors in the training sector.

The past couple of years have seen extremely active hiring of instructors into airline jobs. Instructors are spending less time in instructor positions before they move on to employment at other flying jobs. The result of this is that they gain less experience—important experience that makes them better at their job.

For example, an instructor 10 years ago probably wouldn’t be hired by an airline until he or she had more than 2,000 hours of total flight experience. Now, it’s not unusual to see instructors hired at the minimum 1,000 hours for a restricted ATP qualified applicant. That means they have spent 1,000 hours less time providing instruction to students. If they previously instructed 15-20 applicants for ratings and/or certificates before moving on, now they will be instructing more like 4-6 students. The result is that those who are providing instruction are continuously turning over and never really gaining the greater period of experience that makes them better at doing the job of preparing students for pilot certificates. While it may be hard to draw a causal link, I think the connection is obvious. As students work with instructors who have less experience, the pass rate has declined. It seems pretty clear, and it is happening right now in our pilot training efforts.

What are the effects of this reduction in passing rate?

Well, for one, it means that because of the reduced passing rates in 2017, statistically 1,375 more practical tests had to be retaken when compared to better pass rates of a decade ago. This means that more examiners need to take time for retests that could be better dedicated to doing full tests. It also means that examiners’ schedules are more backed up. It means that more customers experienced the increased training cost associated with retests. And it means that instructors must spend more time getting students ready to retest after they failed the first time. There are real costs to all of these events.

Does this mean that our pilot training is any less safe than it was in the past? Or that those pilots are any less safe when they eventually get to an airline and fly passengers commercially? Not necessarily. They still have to meet the same standards to pass; it just means that they aren’t doing it on the first try as often as they were a decade ago. It does mean we have some work to do in the training community though. We shouldn’t be comfortable with declining passing rates.

Perhaps it’s time to look carefully at our training process and see if there is anything we can do to improve the passing rates of instructors who are new at their job, even if they are only going to be instructors for a short period of time in their career. It also means that we may need to evaluate the traditional incentive to be an instructor in the first place—to gain enough time to be able to move on to another pilot job. Is this motive really doing the industry the best service? I can’t help but think that in an ideal world, experienced, high-time pilots would be the ones providing the instruction, not relatively low-time, recently certificated pilots. But to make that happen, the job of instructors would have to be able to offer competitive pay with other pilot jobs and we would need to find a way to transition pilots and their experience from initial certification to service in the airline environment without making them serve as instructors to do so.

Other countries do this in different ways, and there isn’t necessarily one right or wrong way. But it is likely that we need to have a hard discussion in our industry about how we train and prepare pilots, and if our system is due for some changes.

Without evaluation of these considerations, the pass rate reduction we are seeing has the potential to increase, further creating greater costs and delays in pilot training.

JetSuite Signs Up For Zunum Hybrids
 
Mary Grady
 
 

Charter operator JetSuite will be the launch customer for Zunum’s 12-seat hybrid-electric aircraft, now in development, Zunum announced on Monday. JetSuite plans to add up to 100 of the new airplanes to their fleet in the early 2020s, the company said. “We are thrilled by this partnership,” Zunum co-founder and chief technology officer Matt Knapp said in a news release. “This is just the beginning of a new era of fast, affordable and convenient travel.” Zunum, which has attracted investment from Boeing’s HorizonX team and JetBlue, says it is on track to start flight testing of its design next year.

The Seattle-based company is working to develop a hybrid twinjet that will cruise at up to 340 MPH with a range of more than 700 miles. Battery packs in the wings will be supplemented by a powerplant mounted in the rear of the aircraft. Zunum has said it also plans to develop larger airplanes based on the same technology by the mid-2020s, with a range of up to 1,000 miles. Knapp said the company has been engaging with the government of Norway over the past year, and supports their goal to provide 100 percent of short-haul air travel via all-electric propulsion by 2040. “Legislative support for similar goals is taking shape in several other countries,” Knapp said.

BRS Developing Chutes For eVTOLS
 
Mary Grady
 
 

BRS Aerospace, which has installed more than 35,000 of its ballistic recovery parachutes in a range of aircraft, from ultralights to general aviation and military airplanes, now is working to develop systems for eVTOLS, the company said at the recent Uber Elevate conference. “Working with a number of new aircraft manufacturers, BRS Aerospace is at the early stages of creating technology that could make eVTOL aircraft a reality,” said BRS Aerospace president Enrique Dillon. The recovery system is seen as a critical component to make the concept viable, Dillon said.

“Autonomous flight over highly populated urban environments is a challenge that will require a lot of work,” Dillon said. “Safety both in the air and on the ground is not an option anymore, and we are not there yet. But I have no doubt that urban air mobility, not too far from today, will become a reality.” Other participants in the conference, including Embraer and Pipistrel, unveiled concepts for eVTOLs and for urban sky ports.

Researchers Aim To Refine Human-Aircraft Interface
 
Mary Grady
 
 

The design of today’s cockpits can lead to “cognitive overload,” especially when things go wrong and it’s not immediately clear to pilots what the problem is or how to fix it, according to recent research at Drexel University. "Unfortunately, many human-machine interfaces expose users to workload extremes, diminishing the operator's attention and potentially leading to catastrophic consequences," said Hasan Ayaz, a research professor in biomedical engineering at Drexel University, in Philadelphia. Ayaz and his colleagues have been studying pilots flying in both real airplanes and in simulators, and measuring their brain activity with a portable electronic device. Ayaz said he hopes the research will lead to developing smarter cockpits that take into account the pilot’s cognitive abilities and will do a better job of conveying essential information, especially in emergencies.

The researchers’ monitoring system measures the brain’s work intensity by recording blood oxygenation changes in the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in cognitive functions such as problem solving, memory, judgement, impulse control and split-second decision making. When first learning a new task, for instance, this area of the brain is highly activated. However, as you become more proficient, these tasks move to other brain areas, freeing up important resources in the prefrontal cortex. "The exciting thing is we can now quantify this," Ayaz said. The research results were published this week in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

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The Day My Tablet Died
 
Luca Bencini-Tibo
 
 

Many pilots are placing more reliance on the Electronic Flight Bag. This requires that we become aware of its foibles as well as its magic.

Portable moving map displays have come a long way towards making the lost pilot a thing of the past. However, its use requires more awareness and preparation on the pilot’s part—especially in the IFR environment. Overall, this is a positive development resulting from the advent of cockpit tablets and associated aviation apps. But the pilot must be fully aware of the possible problems that arise with the use of the tablet.

The Problem

Recently, I was flying in Florida with an ambient temperature of about 90-degrees when my iPad went dark. I couldn’t turn it on and thought it had died for good; however, just like the phoenix, it revived itself on the drive home—a few hours later. For me it was a minor inconvenience but potentially could have been more serious.

Most IFR pilots have switched to Electronic Flight Bags (EFB), which include hardware and aviation apps. I subscribe to ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot and JeppFD for Florida. I’m relatively proficient, but not an expert. Both ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot provide considerable capability including weather, filing a flight plan, weight & balance, or finding the telephone number of the FBO at the destination.

In flight, if the tablet is connected to a wireless AHRS source, backup attitude information including heading, ground speed and GPS altitude might be provided by the app. However, for purposes of this discussion, I’m going to limit EFBs and associated apps only to IFR enroute and terminal charts (SIDs and STARs). I’ll call them e-charts to differentiate them from charts—the old-fashioned type printed on paper. JeppFD provides only e-charts but my subscription also provides paper enroute charts.

A couple of designated pilot examiners told me that they routinely “fail” an applicant’s tablet during practical tests. Some private applicants take on a “deer in the headlight” look—especially when flying C172s with analog instruments and no moving map. In demonstrating a diversion, the applicants can’t simply use the “nearest” airport feature. They must also be able to read a chart and draw a course with a plotter. Instrument applicants must also demonstrate that they can fly without a moving map. If they show up with a G1000 airplane for the practical, at some point the G1000 goes dark.

Regulatory Issues

Part 91 regulations don’t require pilots to carry charts in an airplane, and if the pilots do, there is no requirement that the charts be current. However, if a pilot runs into a recently built wind turbine (and survives), the FAA could invoke FAR 91.13 Careless or Reckless Operation and FAR 91.103 Preflight Action rule—the requirement to be familiar with all available information regarding that flight. It would include any relevant information gleaned from aeronautical charts.

Comparing e-Charts With Paper

The following is a personal and subjective comparison and I look forward to hearing differing opinions. The big advantages of e-charts are:

  1. Instrument e-charts are up-todate, only if you update the apps periodically. However, you still need to check for NOTAMS for last-minute changes. Usually the NOTAMS are available through the apps—if connected to the internet.
  2. Geo-referencing provides an unambiguous graphical real-time location but usually requires a higher-level subscription. That is a big benefit especially for terminal charts.
  3. Much lighter flight bag. Just the Jepp Florida approach charts fill a 2-inch Jepp binder.
  4. Most of us have experienced an IAP chart departing through an open door/window during a run-up. Not so with e-charts.
  5. The enroute e-charts developed exclusively for apps allow turning on and off layers with different information such as weather, contour information, and geographical landmarks like roads. Zooming in and out is advantageous to see more or less detail.

Advantages Of Paper

The major advantages of paper enroute charts over enroute e-charts:

  1. For planning purposes, I find paper easier to use especially for trips of more than 500 miles.
  2. In flight, especially in unfamiliar airspace, when I hear “advise when ready to copy an amended routing” I usually depend on the paper enroute chart to re-orient myself.
  3. Perhaps due to my familiarity, I can find information quicker—especially frequencies.
  4. Even in light turbulence, maneuvering an iPad Mini is sometimes a challenge. Perhaps less so with a larger tablet, but a larger tablet would not work well in my Mooney.

Backup

Facing the reality of e-charts and tablet failure modes, we need backup. What are the options? Let’s start with my specific situation, fully realizing that it might not be universal. In my Mooney, I have a Garmin GTN 750, which has enroute and terminal echarts and a Garmin GTN 650 with enroute e-charts. Additionally, I have my iPad with the previously mentioned apps.

Thus, I have several e-chart electronic sources, all geo-referenced, both panel mounted and portable. However, I still carry Jepp enroute paper charts as back up. I also have the option to print, prior to the flight, terminal charts—should I want further backup.

I’m not suggesting that my approach is the only one (or even the best one) especially since it depends on installed and portable equipment. I look forward to hearing from fellow subscribers about your perceived need for a backup.

Address The Overheating

In warm climates when the display is active and facing the sun, and perhaps connected to a charging source, temperatures can easily reach three digits. This could be enough for the unit to go into self-preservation mode and shut down. Once it shuts down, it might not revive during the flight since it needs lower ambient temperatures to cool off.

For pilots who fly airplanes without panel mounted moving maps and terminal e-charts, the solution may be to carry two tablets. This might be acceptable in some parts of the country but not a solution in hot weather. If the first tablet has a thermal shut down, the second one might do likewise shortly thereafter.

One way to keep the iPad cool is to use an X-Naut Cooling Case. The iPad Mini version has two cooling fans and is powered by four AA batteries or mini-USB cable. The iPad version uses four fans (as illustrated) It is a bit clunky size-wise but seems to work well. Turn it on before getting into the plane and keep the iPad away from direct sunlight. While the tablet can be of considerable help in the cockpit, it requires dedicated planning to ensure it provides the needed information in a timely manner.

Luca Bencini-Tibo ATP/CFII, is a FAASTeam Lead Rep, aircraft owner and is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of IFR Refresher magazine.

For more great content like this, subscribe to IFR Refresher!

 

Picture of the Week, May 17, 2018
 
 
A Skywagon ride on Mother's Day weaving through the Washington Cascades on the way to Friday Harbor for a fun-filled day. Photo by Brian Brantner.

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