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Volume 25, Number 44c
November 2, 2018
 
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Organizations Publish Best Practices For FBOs
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

Six aviation associations released a document detailing a series of communications best practices for FBOs on Wednesday. “Know Before You Go” (PDF) calls on FBOs to provide clear, complete and easily accessible online descriptions of available services, along with all associated prices and fees. The organizations, which include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), are also asking FBOs to encourage customers to contact them directly with any questions prior to arrival.

According to AOPA, it has been gathering data and working to address concerns about FBO fee transparency and potential airport accessibility issues created by some pricing practices for almost two years. “This is a major step in our work to ensure reasonable airport accessibility, and we hope that today’s announcement sends a unified message that FBOs need to be able to accurately tell all aviators what costs to expect before arriving at publicly funded airports,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “We believe that the united support of these principals both validates that there is an issue with pricing transparency and provides a reasonable path to meet customer expectations.”

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Helicopter Association International (HAI) and the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) partnered with AOPA, EAA and NBAA on the release of “Know Before You Go.”

The Trouble With Trainers
 
Paul Bertorelli
 

Here in Florida, September was the hottest month on record. Ever. So on Sunday, when the weather finally delivered the fall temperature break, I luxuriated in simply standing in front of the hangar for 10 minutes watching the world go by. And what went by, among others, was what I sometimes call the Cryin’ Shame.

Otherwise, it’s known as a Cessna 177 Cardinal. This one had been gussied up with fresh paint in the modern style and probably had some glass in the panel, too. At a distance, the low-slung, rakish Cardinal—sans struts—is as good looking an airplane as Cessna ever built. And yet, the design is coming up on a half century and sadder yet, it was displaced and outlasted by the dowdiest airplane Cessna ever built. Yes, the Skyhawk.

This once again proves that pilots who say they want new, exciting designs—at the least the ones who aren’t Cirrus buyers—are just flapping their lips to fill the dead air between bites at the pancake breakfast. It also proves something else that seems a constant: Introducing a new trainer and expecting it to succeed is almost an impossible hill to climb. Pilots in general are conservative about this sort of thing to the point of hideboundedness and schools, ever mindful of the bottom line, don’t have the pleasure of experimenting.

My theory may be flawed, but the numbers confirm its underpinnings. The last really clean-sheet certified trainer I can recall is the Diamond DA20. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but as an instructor, if the flight line gave me three airplanes to fly, the DA20, a PA-28 and the Skyhawk, I’d take the Diamond every time. It flies better than the other two, has a terrific safety record, is cheaper to operate and is just plain fun. Yeah, I know, two seats. But the two-seat Cessna 150 once dominated flight training and not by a little. So what happened?

Whether budding pilots got fat, rich and more fickle or the schools wanted more margin, I can’t say. But in the years since the great recession, the most Diamond ever sold in a single year was 34 and this for a new-age airplane meant to pave aviation’s way to the 21st century.

The next attempt never got out of the blocks. The Mooney M10, a sleek little diesel-powered airplane with a glass panel, came out of the ground in 2015, only to be shelved two years later. There may be internal machinations we don’t know about, but I suspect Mooney sensed how moribund and momentum-driven the market is and how limited the volume would be to offset the multimillion-dollar developmental and production costs. And don’t forget this little twist: The impetus for the M10 came out of China about which some people persist in believing bottomless demand for airplanes is soon to be unleashed. “China is coming soon” has carved a place in the pantheon of promissory optimism right next to “the check is in the mail.”

So with the momentum clearly established by the Skyhawk and the PA-28s, now comes the Italian company, Vulcanair, with the V1.0. I reviewed it in this video. Perversely, one thing it may have going for it is that it’s an updated 1960s design originally produced by Partenavia, which Vulcanair bought in 1996. So the developmental costs are sunk and it sells for $278,000, some $113,000 less than the Skyhawk.

Will this get the attention of buyers shocked by the $390,000 sticker on a new Skyhawk? Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it. I’ve always maintained that price alone isn’t what depresses market expansion; not for schools and not for individual buyers. Schools are looking for the whole package, the support and the maintenance and parts chain reliability and demonstrated performance. The V1.0 doesn’t have that and will have to somehow earn it if it’s going to muscle into a trainer market that’s dominated by Cessna and Piper but yet totals only about 200 airframes a year.

And consider that group think has us all believing there’s a pilot shortage and we’ll need hundreds of new trainers. Stipulating that the shortage has legs, why isn’t the demand for training aircraft booming? It’s steady, but Piper and Cessna are on track to produce in 2018 about what they did in 2017 or perhaps a little more. I’m guessing that the training demand is trickling, not gushing and the demand for airplanes will follow a similar path. This is nothing to complain about, but the actual sales numbers suggest a tempered view of real market expansion.

With than in mind, the modern successful business model for airplane companies is low volume. Even Cessna has to slum along building only about 100 to 150 Skyhawks. If Vulcanair can prosper in the dozens, it might gain a foothold. Otherwise, the hill just keeps getting steeper and I don’t see that changing much. In my fantasy world, Cessna would revisit the Cardinal and make it do what it was supposed to: put the Skyhawk out to a well-deserved pasture.

Firm Files Second FAA Discrimination Suit
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

A law firm has filed a second class-action suit against the FAA based on the agency’s air traffic controller hiring practices in 2014. The lawsuit alleges that the biographical assessment added to the initial air traffic controller application process in late 2013 was used to “intentionally disadvantage [Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, and other] applicants based on race.” Law firm Curry, Person & Wooten is representing plaintiff Lucas Johnson and, according to the firm, potentially more than 28,000 additional applicants who took the highly controversial assessment in 2014.

The suit also claims the FAA ignored qualified applicants with significant aviation experience and that the February 2014 biographical assessment was never properly validated. “The federal employment process is supposed to be open and fair,” said lead attorney on the case Michael Pearson. “Not only were the FAA’s actions illegal and done with a cloak of secrecy, they frustrate the will of Congress and are contrary to our fundamental system of fairness and justice.”

After its addition, the biographical assessment came under fire from Congress and the requirement to complete it was eventually removed for veterans and graduates of approved ATC Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) programs. Curry, Person & Wooten’s first lawsuit related to the FAA's 2014 ATC hiring practices was filed in 2015. That suit alleges that the agency illegally eliminated between 2,500 to 3,000 ATC applications from CTI graduates without considering them after the new ATC hiring practices were instituted in 2014. As previously reported by AVweb, that lawsuit is still in progress.

Abnormal Booster Separation At Fault For Soyuz Launch Failure
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

The failure of a Soyuz-FG launch vehicle on Oct. 11 was caused by abnormal separation of one of the rocket’s boosters, according to Russian space agency Roscosmos. The committee investigating the incident says the malfunctioning booster hit the vehicle’s core stage in the fuel tank area, resulting in its decompression and a loss of attitude control. The MS-10 space capsule carrying American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin separated from the launch vehicle and entered a ballistic trajectory, allowing it to land safely roughly 200 miles east of the launch point. Both crew members were uninjured.

The separation failure, which can be seen in the video below, was traced back to the deformation of a separation sensor pin. The agency believes the damage was caused during assembly when the boosters were being attached to the core stage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Roscosmos says it is developing measures to prevent future occurrences. The investigation committee found no issues with either crew performance or the Soyuz MS-10 Emergency Crew Rescue System.

Soyuz launches were suspended pending the results of this investigation. Roscosmos says it now intends to resume launches to the International Space Station shortly, with a cargo launch planned for Nov. 16 and a manned launch on Dec. 3. Before the Oct. 11 incident, the last failure of a manned Soyuz launch occurred in 1983; that crew also landed safely.

Translation: Launch of the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle with a manned spacecraft #SoyuzMS10. Video from onboard cameras

Marines To Rebuild Catalina Island Runway
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

The Catalina Island Conservancy has announced that it will be partnering with the U.S. Marine Corps to repair the runway at Catalina Airport (AVX), also called the “Airport in the Sky.” AVX is the only airport on California’s Santa Catalina Island, which is home to approximately 4,100 people and sees over 1 million visitors annually. The Marines have said they will use the runway repair project as a training exercise for troops deploying to remote and island locations to build or repair airfields and infrastructure.

“The Airport in the Sky is a historic and critical asset, providing access to Catalina Island for first responders, travelers and more than 2 million tons of freight each year,” said Catalina Island Conservancy President Tony Budrovich. “With this runway repair project, I would project more than 75 years of runway operations in our future.”

The airport’s 3,000-foot runway will be closed on Dec. 9. A temporary runway will be set up, but advance permission will be required for landing there. The main runway is expected to reopen and normal operations resume in April 2019. Projected cost for the project is $5 million.

NOVA Premieres “The Last B-24” Next Week
 
Mary Grady
 
 

Seventy years after it was lost during World War II, amateur divers found the wreckage of a B-24 Liberator bomber in the Adriatic Sea, off the coast of Italy. The U.S. Air Force airplane was badly damaged during an aerial engagement with the Luftwaffe in 1944, and the crew was forced to ditch. Several of the crew members escaped, but three were lost with the airplane. A Nova documentary, scheduled to run on PBS stations next Wednesday, Nov. 7, follows the work of searchers as they attempt to find human remains at the site and return them to the U.S. for DNA analysis.

After the wreck was found, the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is tasked with finding missing service members and bringing them home, formed an expedition team, with the goal to identify the lost airmen. During the search, a local diver tells the Nova team of another nearby airplane wreck, a B-17, which is known to have human remains on board. Extending their search to the second wreck, the team now hopes to identify four lost airmen, providing closure to their families.

Picture of the Week, November 1, 2018
 
 
This is from a photo shoot we did this summer with a Boeing PT-17 Stearman flying in formation with a Stampe SV-4C over the outflow from the Myrdalsjokull Glacier in southern Iceland. Shot from a PA-12. Copyrighted photo by Distant Thunder Aviation Photography/Jonathan Apfelbaum.

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Risk Assessment Tools
 
Robert Wright
 
 

Thanks to the contents of the FAA’s new airman certification standards (ACS), which are replacing the practical test standards (PTS), most applicants for pilot certificates and ratings must now demonstrate that they can identify, assess and mitigate risk. Although the FAA and industry organizations have developed flight risk assessment tools (FRATs) to help pilots identify and manage risks, these tools often use a simplistic numerical scoring system that will produce a “go” decision when significant risk is still present. With a little more thought, analyzing risk can be more realistic and much more effective.

Setting A New Standard

The FAA began replacing the PTS with the ACS in 2016. Practical tests for private and commercial airplane certificates and instrument ratings must now be conducted in accordance with the ACS documents. Unlike the PTS, the ACS integrates specific aeronautical knowledge with proficiency in corresponding skills on the practical test. Applicants must now demonstrate identifying, assessing and mitigating risk on all practical test tasks and objectives. Applicants also must “show their work” and explain to the examiner how they performed this process. The examiner will expect applicants to demonstrate risk management proficiency throughout the practical test.

The problem with this process is that it supposes that applicants have been taught how to identify, assess and mitigate risk in the real world, as well as for the practical test. Lacking a significant change in the ways pilots are trained, very few applicants will have received such training and likely will be ill-prepared to demonstrate these skills to an examiner. I expect that there will be an extended transition period for the new ACS as instructors and examiners “wing it” while the FAA slowly develops new or revised guidance material on risk management.

Numerical FRAT Pitfalls

Recognizing the need for effective risk management among relatively inexperienced pilots, several organizations have developed numerical—or objective-based—FRATs. These organizations include the FAA, the AOPA Air Safety Institute and others. The FRATs available from the FAA and AOPA are described in greater detail in the sidebar on the opposite page. These FRATs, and others like them, are generally easy to use and definitely better than nothing. But they all have serious flaws in operational use.

The most critical flaw revolves around the go/no-go numerical or other threshold. You could have a near perfect low score which indicates it’s all right to launch or continue, but there might just be one item with a negative score, let’s say a line of embedded thunderstorms on your planned route. That one risk could have a high probability of occurrence with catastrophic consequences, and thus be a very high risk, if not effectively mitigated.

By their nature, FRATs consisting of a list of specific items and may not include all potential risks for a planned or ongoing flight. Yes, it’s almost impossible to list all potential flight hazards, since each flight is unique. But that’s the point: Unless you have risk categories that are all-inclusive, you may miss some that could critically affect your flight. Further, any numerical-based FRAT could tempt the pilot to fudge the score by downgrading a risk to bring the final score to an acceptable level. Most pilots aren’t fools and will quickly see the lack of credibility and integrity in that approach.

But the key flaw in numerical FRATs is they encourage a lazy and hands-off approach to risk analysis. In other words, the pilot isn’t forced to consider all risk categories and fully analyze each of them to determine whether or not it requires mitigation.

A More Analytic Approach?

Image: Aleksander Markin

So now what? If a numerical or objective-based FRAT doesn’t adequately evaluate risk, what tool or procedure should a pilot use to evaluate risk on all flights? One answer might be to use a tool or procedure that compensates for all the flaws I already identified for numerically-based FRATS. Specifically, an effective FRAT should accomplish the following objectives.

The identified threats and go/ no-go decision should not be based on a numerical score. Rather, the hazards identified should result from a comprehensive analysis of all potential threat areas and how they will specifically affect the planned or ongoing flight.

An effective FRAT should not have a finite list of standard hazards. Rather, it should be based on a broad analysis of all potential threat categories. You might consider using the commonly used acronym PAVE (for Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment and External Pressures) to identify threats and serve as the “buckets” for capturing risks.

An effective FRAT also should not allow a pilot to fudge a score without assessing risk likelihood and severity. It also should allow the pilot to specify mitigating actions that will reduce its likelihood and/ or severity.

An effective FRAT should not permit false positives or negatives. That is, it should clearly and accurately show the actual hazards and risks, their likelihood and severity, and how the mitigation actions will lower them.

Finally, an effective FRAT should prevent pilots from becoming lazy about risk by merely checking off boxes and depending on a single number to make a go/no-go decision. Rather, it should lead a pilot through an intuitive process that accurately identifies, assesses, and mitigates risk.

A Better FRAT

As it turns out (drum roll), there is a FRAT that doesn’t use a “check the box” approach to risk management. It’s part of the document Risk Management Guide for Single-Pilot Light Business Aircraft and is located on the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) website.

This guide, and the FRAT it contains, was developed by the NBAA Safety Committee’s Single-Pilot Work Group (SPWG) to address the fatal accident rate of single-pilot business aircraft, which is higher than that of aircraft flown by professional two-pilot crews. By way of full disclosure, I’ll admit to having more than a casual role in producing this guide and FRAT. It was introduced at the Single-Pilot Safety Stand Down on October 31, 2016, just preceding that year’s NBAA Convention.

This guide is essentially a short course in risk management and provides a case study illustrating how to use the accompanying FRAT. I’ll repeat the caution in the guide that it should not be used in lieu of more complete risk management training. However, it is unique among FRATs in that it does not employ a numerical-score approach to risk analysis.

The FRAT in the guide is a single-page two-sided form that uses the PAVE method of risk identification, a risk management matrix to assess risk likelihood and severity, and a mitigation approach that requires the user to list concrete mitigations that reduce risk likelihood and/or severity. The case study that illustrates how to use the FRAT also has a “school solution,” although the guide emphasizes that there could be an infinite number of other solutions, depending on how the pilot tackles the specific risks in the case study.

Besides the four main risk categories represented by the PAVE acronym, there are 10 “sub-buckets” in the tool that help identify risk and that attempt to cover all the bases of typical risks of operating single-pilot high-performance aircraft. In terms of risk assessment, it uses the common four categories of overall risk: high (red), serious (yellow), medium (green) and low (white).

The FRAT shows the expected pilot actions for each of these risk levels. This FRAT is certainly not the full solution to all risk management challenges, but it provides a practical template for evaluating risk. Moreover, it forces the pilot to think his or her way through the problem and evaluate the risk with more finesse than just checking off a box.

Managing A Risky Flight

You’re probably wondering if pilots will really use such a tool in their everyday flight operations. Your skepticism may be warranted, but pilots are more likely to use a tool that manages risk effectively than one that may leave them hanging because it didn’t identify all the risks to begin with. Also, once a pilot has learned the risk management process, it begins to become intuitive and physical reference to the FRAT is not required.

I’ll close by repeating the guide’s suggestions about how to put it all together and become a better risk manager:

  • Complete full risk management training. Take an online course in risk management or single-pilot resource management (SRM). A good SRM course is available at www.trainingport.net (Note: Full disclosure again—I helped develop this course).
  • Complete some exercises. Begin with the case study in the NBAA guide. Then do some “table top” hypothetical flights that you typically make to see how the common risks you normally face can be identified.
  • Use the sample FRAT in the NBAA guide. You might complete the FRAT in full for your first five flights or so.
  • Plan far ahead. Remember that risk management must often begin days before your planned flight and you may need to make alternate arrangements if you identify risks that can’t be resolved by the day of the planned flight.
  • “Think” risk management. You’ll quickly find that the risk management process will become intuitive and you won’t need to complete the FRAT for many flights.

Numerical Flight Risk Assessment Tools

The FAA Safety Team (FAAST) has developed a numerical FRAT in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. It can be downloaded here and seems to have been adapted from one in the agency’s Risk Management Handbook (FAA-H-8083-2). This FRAT has several of the flaws of numerical FRATs identified in this article’s main text. For example, it makes no mention of convective activity, a serious potential hazard. It’s also possible to produce a low risk rating for an inexperienced pilot in mountainous terrain with winds blowing at 35 knots, a potentially very risky situation. On the other hand, it’s possible for this FRAT to give a no-go answer when it’s actually a low-risk flight.

Using the FAA FRAT, I imagined a VFR flight from my home airport in Bellingham, Wash., to Spokane in a Mooney, with clear weather at both ends and a line of embedded thunderstorms on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. The tool urged caution regarding both airports because they were in designated mountainous terrain, but unfortunately did not have a box to help flag the thunderstorms as a hazard.

This is the most important defect in these kinds of tools. Any approach that just requires you to check a box, without any analysis, is likely to miss critical hazards and risks. In any case, for the hypothetical flight conditions I chose, the tool only wanted me to fuss about the origin and destination airports and would not have highlighted the most critical risks on this imaginary flight that could result from attempted penetration of a line of thunderstorms.


Risk Management: The Silent Killer

Many of my articles for Aviation Safety cite poor risk management as a root cause of most general aviation fatal accidents. This rarely appears in NTSB accident reports, which most likely will cite the final event in the accident chain— such as loss of control in flight (LOCI)—in the probable cause finding.

My own analysis of general aviation fatal accidents validates the prominence of poor risk management. I’ve classified poor risk management as a root cause of accidents ranging from between 67 percent (for a sample of Beech Bonanza accidents) to a high of 86 percent (for a sample of Cessna 172 fatals). Poor risk management was a root cause of nearly 50 percent of the fatal business aircraft accidents I analyzed.

As pilots, we encounter risks on all flights and significant risks on most of them. It is essential that we use an effective method to identify, assess and mitigate these risks. Generations of pilots, however, have not been taught how to perform risk management and consequently it has become the “silent killer” in most general aviation fatal accidents.


Robert Wright is a former FAA executive and President of Wright Aviation Solutions LLC. He is also a 9,800-hour ATP with four jet type ratings, and he holds a Flight Instructor Certificate. His opinions in this article do not necessarily represent those of clients or other organizations that he represents.


This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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Red Bull Air Race Season-Ender November 17-18
 
Mary Grady
 
 

The Red Bull Air Race will close out its 13th season Nov. 17-18, at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The venue, one of the largest stadiums in the U.S., can accommodate up to 190,000 fans, and tickets are on sale now online, with prices starting at $29 for adults and $10 for kids 12 and under. Fan favorite Michael Goulian, from Massachusetts, is in the lead for the championship this year, for the first time in his 10 years of competition. Getting there has been a team effort, Goulian said: “The team has to work together really well. You have to have a common goal, and everybody needs to know their piece and to do it." He added, "It's not a secret how to get there, but it's freaking hard.”

Goulian flies a modified Edge 540. The main modification to the standard aerobatic plane is a longer wing chord, which the team says enables the airplane to “hold on” at a higher G without losing too much energy. Goulian goes into the final race with a season score of 70 points. His closest rivals are Martin Sonka, from the Czech Republic, with 65 points, and Australia’s Matt Hall, at 63. Pilots can score up to 15 points in each race, so all three are still in contention.

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