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Volume 25, Number 40b
October 3, 2018
 
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FAA Adds More Checks On 737 Engines
 
Mary Grady
 
 

The FAA on Monday issued a new Airworthiness Directive that affects about 1,800 Boeing 737 aircraft operated in the U.S. The AD requires additional inspections of the fan blades in all the airplanes equipped with the same type of blades that caused a catastrophic engine failure in April, when one passenger died on a Southwest flight after a window was broken by engine debris. A previous AD had mandated the inspections after 3,000 flight cycles, but the new AD reduces that interval to 1,600. The AD takes effect on Oct. 16.

The updated rule was prompted by continuing research undertaken by CFM, the engine manufacturer. CFM issued a Service Bulletin in July advising operators of the new interval recommendation. The FAA’s AD now makes that new interval mandatory. The FAA estimates each inspection will take about two hours, costing the airlines an average of about $170. If a fan blade fails the inspection, it would cost about $51,000 to replace it.

Is Pilot Training Keeping Up With The Pilot Shortage?
 
Kate O'Connor
 

It’s been hard to miss that things are changing in our industry and that pilot training is much a part of that shift. I escaped my office long enough to attend the University Aviation Association’s (UAA) 71st annual Collegiate Aviation Conference last week and talking with representatives from schools both large and small helped verify some of the trends I’ve been keeping an eye on in flight instruction, airline hiring practices and student recruitment.

Aviation education is an area I find fascinating for a variety of reasons. When I started class at a university flight school, I was struck by how adaptable, driven and engaged the majority of my aviation professors were compared to other teachers I’d had. Watching the pilot penchant to adopt what works and drop what doesn’t used in the classroom taught me a lot, not just about flying, but about how people learn and why teaching methods are so important in a field where both risks and rewards can be life-altering.

One of the things that caught my attention at the conference was how much the employment conversation has shifted since I graduated nine years ago. Back then, aviation jobs were difficult to come by—a fact that’s partially responsible for my writing career—and those who had them were staying put. Quite a few of my classmates ended up finding employment in other fields. Not so now.

Airlines are actively seeking new pilots. There were several carriers in attendance at UAA aiming to develop relationships with aviation universities and flight schools. More and more airlines—and not just the regionals—are putting serious time and resources into developing programs focused on both teaching new students and funneling university graduates directly into their hiring processes. Why?

The pilot shortage. Wherever folks might stand on how it happened or what the best solutions might be, it’s become a reality for the airlines.

In a speech at the UAA awards banquet, Christopher Broom, the managing director of flight and training administration for American Airlines, said that the company expects to lose about 8000 pilots in the next ten years. Looking out further, Broom said that 75 percent of the seniority list at American Airlines will be retiring in the next 15 years. Clearly, they have some seats to fill—and not just for first officers.

According to Broom and others, concerns like age are less of a barrier than they’ve ever been. Pilots are coming out of retirement and airlines are hiring them to fly. The American Airlines Cadet Academy recently opened its doors to its first class—no previous pilot training required and graduates are guaranteed an interview with American’s three wholly owned regional carriers (Envoy, PSA and Piedmont).

Partnership programs with universities and flight schools are also becoming more common, particularly for regional carriers. PSA and Republic were on hand at the conference to talk with schools about their collegiate programs. Although the exact details differ from airline to airline, the basic idea is to provide interviews or conditional job offers to students who complete the program requirements. From where I’m sitting, it beats job hunting after graduation.

Whether there are enough students to meet the future need for pilots is more contested. For now, the answer seems to be yes. Most of the schools I spoke with reported that enrollment numbers for aviation majors were steady or rising over the past few years. The American Airlines Cadet Academy reports that it has received several thousand applications in the few months it has been accepting them. There are interested students out there. There are just two trouble spots: flight instructor availability and number of students.

I know I just said that there were plenty of students coming in—and it looks like there are, for the moment. But looking down the road, there are concerns about the low number of young people interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. That’s not a new revelation, but with the need for aviation professionals expected to continue to grow over the next decade, it could lead to a shortage of students entering aviation careers in the not too distant future.

Several conference attendees mentioned that they’re having a harder time finding experienced mechanics. It has also been suggested that the lack of STEM interest is creating a wider experience gap that teachers need to overcome when taking on new students. This seems particularly relevant for incoming aircraft mechanics and engineers.

Several aviation organizations already have outreach programs in place. EAA Young Eagles, GAMA’s Build-A-Plane and AOPA’s high school curriculum initiative come to mind. What’s different is that awareness of the issue is growing. Organizations such as the Frontiers of Flight Museum have been working on STEM outreach initiatives for long enough to begin to have hard data on program effectiveness.

Colleges are looking into free aviation- and STEM-based summer camps for elementary-age kids. Most agree that repeated exposure and access to STEM activities is one of the primary predictors of interest in STEM fields.

Finally, flight instructor turnover is getting a bit ridiculous. For obvious reasons, the number of instructors at a school is a major limiting factor in how many student pilots can be trained. The experience of those instructors is also an issue, particularly when it comes to finding teachers for more advanced ratings.

Most of the folks I talked to at the UAA event were saying they’re keeping instructors for an average of a year to a year and a half. That’s about on par with what I’m hearing from other schools I’ve spoken with over the last six months. Several larger flight training operations said they track flight instructor hours closely, knowing that once instructors have enough hours to apply for a job at the regionals, most of them are gone.

Beyond trying to find enough instructors to hire, it also means schools are having to come up with new plans to get new hires onboard with school practices and policies. Schools are running more standardization classes—and having to find instructors experienced enough to teach those—and are actively looking for ways to foster good teaching habits and skills in the high turnover environment. Most are in the process of developing these programs and waiting to see how they work out.

Lots of questions are being asked about how these trends in training will play out and there aren’t many answers yet. New training programs will endure if they work and be replaced by something else if they don’t. The industry is adapting, and even with all of the uncertainty, I have to admit it’s good to see hiring vitality in an industry that lacked that even a decade ago.

Air Force Selects New Combat Trainer
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

Boeing has announced that it has been awarded a $9.2 billion contract to supply the company’s T-X advanced pilot training system to the U.S. Air Force. The funds will cover 351 new T-X combat training jets, associated ground equipment and 46 simulators, Boeing says. The company developed and tested the T-X in partnership with Saab.

“[This] announcement is the culmination of years of unwavering focus by the Boeing and Saab team,” said Boeing Defense, Space & Security CEO Leanne Caret. “It is a direct result of our joint investment in developing a system centered on the unique requirements of the U.S. Air Force. We expect T-X to be a franchise program for much of this century.”

According to Saab, an initial $813 million will go toward “the engineering and manufacturing development of the first five aircraft and seven simulators.” It has not yet been announced when the Air Force will begin taking deliveries. Boeing and Saab first flew the single-engine T-X in December 2016.

Magnus eFusion Report: No Battery Fire
 
Mary Grady
 
 

Early reports after the crash of a Magnus eFusion in Hungary in May said the aircraft appeared to be on fire before it hit the ground—adding to persistent fears about the potential for battery fires in electric-powered aircraft. However, a preliminary report from Hungary’s National Transport Authority says there was no fire. “The data recording device installed on the aircraft was in operation, and data recorded by the device was fit for evaluation,” the NTA wrote. “According to data available, there is no sign of smoke or fire during the flight; the fire started after the aircraft crashed to ground. The damages of the motor were clearly due to mechanical impact and subsequent external fire.” The report, which is dated July 24, was reported on by AOPA last week. The two occupants of the aircraft were killed in the crash.

A recording device in the cockpit provided video as well as GPS coordinates of the flight, time data and aircraft orientation data, the NTA report says. No audio was available. The video records show no smoke nor any sign of onboard fire (within the visual field of the camera), according to the report, and the displays related to the electric propulsion system showed normal operation. There was no sign of technical malfunction of the airframe structure. The aircraft was built in a collaboration between Siemens and Magnus Aircraft, and debuted at Aero Friedrichshafen in Germany in April this year. It was powered by a Siemens zrt Emotor SP45D-V9. The aircraft had logged about 217 flight hours prior to the crash. It was destroyed in the post-crash fire.

Transponder Code Sets
 
Richard Lanning
 
 

Transponders have been with us since the 1950s. They have improved greatly over the years such as the addition of providing pressure altitude in 100-foot increments and other aircraft information but essentially perform the same basic function, aiding in the positive identification of a radar contact.

This is accomplished by two means. First, through the four-digit octal code assigned by ATC. Second, through secondary surveillance radar (SSR) that derives a target strictly from a transponder return presented on a radar display.

Octal Grouping

The transponder codes themselves are encoded in binary digits (1s and 0s), not the octal you enter or the more familiar base ten system we use daily. They become 12-bit codes, three bits (000) for each octal number entered. By representing the codes in octal format, only four knobs are needed vice twelve. Since the decimal numbers “8” and “9” are not used in octal we end up with 4096 possible codes (0000-7777). Remember, the next number after 17 in octal is 20 not 18.

It’s always fun to challenge a student to enter a code of let’s say 4069 and see how they react. Even many old-time pilots don’t realize the lack of those two digits in the transponder until pointed out to them.

Code Blocks

ATC deals with code blocks that produce discrete and non-discrete transponder codes. A code block is defined by the first two octal digits of the code (example 00##, 77##). This results in 64 different code blocks. When a transponder code ends in “00” this is considered a non-discrete code. The VFR code of 1200 is non-discrete since it can be used by many different aircraft simultaneously. Since there are only 64 code blocks this also means there are only 64 non-discrete codes ending in “00.” The one non-discrete code that should never be assigned or used is “0000.”

There are several non-discrete codes that actually apply to IFR flight though not the kind of flying your average general aviation pilot would be conducting. Non-discrete codes are typically reserved for radar facilities that are not equipped to handle discrete decode as well as for other purposes such as emergencies (7700, 7600, 7500). These three codes are universal emergency codes.

Discrete Codes

Whenever you receive a transponder code where the last two digits are anything but “00” you have a discrete code. There are 63 discrete codes in every block with 4,032 total. This is where it gets interesting since we know there are more than 4,032 aircraft flying at any one moment. Each ATC facility has a set of codes they can use broken down into primary, secondary and tertiary codes.

Through statistical analysis these are setup to minimize the chances that two aircraft with identical discrete codes will be in the same sector. Code blocks are also setup for use by ATC to assign to aircraft on internal flight plans, that is they will not go outside the boundaries of a particular ATC facility and thus there is no concern over any transponder code conflicts.

There is one discrete code that acts more like a non-discrete code and that is 1202. This is reserved for glider operations.

Due to the complexity of assigning a code to aircraft with external flight plans—those crossing various ATC boundaries—these codes are generated by the centralized ARTCC computer. A testament to how well the system works is how rarely you hear ATC request an IFR flight change their transponder code— other than to VFR.

An interesting observation is how newer transponders retain their code after you shutdown. This puzzled me as to why there would ever be a need to return to the same code after a shutdown. However, a momentary electrical blip, or if asked to recycle your transponder—if designed to reset to 1200 on shutdown—would have you squawking 1200. While electrical blips are rare, requests to recycle the transponder are more common.

Traversing a VIPTFR

Living now in the land of perpetual visits by Air Force One, I have found one clear case where retaining the code is important. Whenever you are in a VIPTFR you must have a discrete transponder code. Squawking 1200 at any time—even inadvertently—will result in a visit by the men in black on landing and possibly a fighter escort to boot.

Note that the penalties, even for an inadvertent VIPTFR violation, are ridiculously more severe than what should be meted out to some of the dumb and more dangerous things each of us has seen other pilots do.

Even if ATC tells you to squawk 1200, don’t when in a VIPTFR. This has happened to more than one pilot. When a pilot reports seeing the airport and is cleared for the visual approach they routinely cancel their IFR clearance and ATC instinctively directs them to squawk 1200. It is incumbent on the pilot to know they must retain their discrete code. Since VIPTFRs are now a way of life down here ATC is less likely to inadvertently advise a pilot to squawk VFR but this may not be the case in other areas.

Speaking of squawk, the original transponders were referred to as the “Parrot”—because they returned a signal when queried, as a parrot responds to the human voice. Thus when an ident was needed, pilots were asked to “squawk.”

The ADS-B Connection

ADS-B is the next step in the evolution of the transponder. By combining satellite information with the transponder output, ATC now has more precise positional information. ADS-B has given the transponder an added dimension in the cockpit where it no longer serves the needs of ATC but can now provide useful information to the pilot through ADS-B In.

While ADS-B In is not mandatory, you would be remiss in not adding this value-added feature. You not only get the free TIS-B (Traffic Information Service — Broadcast) data but also the free government-funded FIS-B (Flight Information Service—Broadcast) graphical weather information.

With FIS-B, you also get other useful information depending on your system such as AIRMETs, SIGMETs, PIREPs, TAFs, winds and temperatures aloft, NEXRAD imagery, SUA status, NOTAMs and more. One word of caution though, FIS-B weather is uplinked from ground stations, not downlinked from orbiting satellites such as the TIS-B information. So there is a good chance that you may encounter ground stations where coverage is less than ideal or not available at all, especially at lower altitudes.

For those who haven’t upgraded to ADS-B the deadline (January 1, 2020) is fast approaching. As more aircraft become ADS-B equipped you will begin to see marked improvements in air traffic flow management as ATC has more accurate information on the aircraft in its airspace.


Richard Lanning Ph.D. is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a pilot for more than 30 years. He is an ATP, CAP Check Pilot Examiner, and CFII.


This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of IFR Refresher magazine.

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Bombardier’s Biggest Bizjet Now Certified
 
Mary Grady
 
 

The Global 7500, the largest jet in Bombardier’s fleet, is now certified by Transport Canada, the company has announced. The jet is the longest-range and largest purpose-built business jet in the market, second only to repurposed airliners like those sold by Boeing Business Jets. The stand-up cabin is 8 feet wide and more than 54 feet long, with a typical capacity of just 19 passengers. Two GE Passport jet engines provide the power.

The flight deck is equipped with fly-by-wire technology, flight envelope protections, synthetic and enhanced vision systems, and a layout intended to maximize ergonomic comfort for the crew. It flies at speeds up to Mach 0.925 and has a maximum range of 7,700 NM. Certification from the U.S. FAA and EASA is expected soon. AVweb’s editorial director, Paul Bertorelli, took a tour of the cabin at last year’s NBAA Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition, in Las Vegas. (The jet was known as the 7000 before it was renamed the 7500, to reflect its confirmed range of 7,700 NM.) Click here for the video tour.

Bell, Garmin Team On Autonomous Tech
 
Mary Grady
 
 

Bell Helicopter and Garmin International will work together to develop autonomous systems for Bell’s hybrid-electric VTOL Air Taxi prototype, the companies said in a news release on Tuesday. “At Bell, we believe a convergence of technological advancements is enabling the industry to drive solutions that will bring viable urban air transportation to our everyday lives in a way that is safe, quiet, convenient and affordable,” said Scott Drennan, Bell’s vice president of innovation. “This collaboration with Garmin brings us even closer to achieving our goal … we believe the future is real, possible, and very close to becoming a reality.”

The companies said Bell will lead the design, development and production of systems for the aircraft. Garmin will lead the design, development and production of the avionics hardware and software. As previously announced, Safran will provide the hybrid propulsion system. Bell has shown a cabin mock-up of its four-seat air taxi concept, which was introduced last year at Uber Elevate. The company says they expect to begin flight trials in the mid-2020s. 

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Engine Corrosion Tips From RAM Aircraft
 
Paul Bertorelli
 
 

With flying activity declining, many aircraft sit idle for months at a time. This causes serious corrosion issues inside the engines and in this AVweb video, RAM Aircraft of Waco, Texas, tells us how to avoid these problems.

Brainteasers Quiz #248: Love Is In The Air
 

Airline passengers may not feel the love that the carriers seem to be showing for just about anyone with a Commercial certificate, a pulse and, of course, the ability to ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

Picture of the Week, September 27, 2018
 
 
Taken with an iPhone camera that I managed to not drop out the open door of the Cub. The location is the reservoir in Kokomo, Indiana. Heartland, close to sunset. Photo by Laura Stants.

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