AVmail: September 6, 2010


Each week, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox here in AVmail. One letter that’s particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we’ll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership). Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.

Letter of the Week: LSA, IFR Clarifications by Dan Johnson

While I thank AVweb for frequent coverage of Light Sport Aircraft activities, I must object to some words appearing in the Sept. 2, 2010 article with the title "LSA, IFR, and IMC: An Update." I would appreciate if you could communicate the following to your readers so they more accurately understand the situation.

The following statement is incorrect: "’The IMC change is driven more by committee members’ concerns about liability than about safety,’ Johnson said." Safety was not secondary. In my interview with reporter Mary Grady, I referred to a defensive position taken by the design and performance subcommittee of the F37 LSA standards-writing committee of ASTM. I intended to suggest that the subcommittee felt it advisable to recommend a placard prohibiting flight into IMC because the subcommittee did not believe IMC flight in LSA was defensible until another subcommittee working on an IFR standard was able to come to consensus. In reverse of the referenced sentence, the main thrust of the subcommittee was to focus on safety, not to worry over a manufacturer’s legal liability.

The details of this discussion and the work of the F37 committee are complex, but here is what I find important for you to inform your many readers: The F37 overall committee and the D&P subcommittee always put safety first in their efforts. Legal liability is ever-present in our society and cannot be ignored, but manufacturer liability was not the primary focus regarding the IMC prohibition placard decision.

This subject came to the forefront because of an August 28, 2010 post to my web site. I stand by what I wrote.

The larger topic of industry consensus standards as a means of certifying light aircraft remains widely misunderstood. This situation is hardly surprising after many years of government-issued certification rules. The topic is highly technical, and it may take years before it is widely understood. For nearly a decade, the ASTM committee has worked hard to create a worthy set of standards. They are not perfect, but they are continuously being improved. Indeed, they are the new way to prove aircraft quality and reliability, and I remain utterly confident that ASTM committee members will continue to do valuable work. That they do this rapidly and on the slimmest of budgets makes this all the more impressive. Also remember that although these are not government standards, FAA personnel play an active role in their development, and after ballot approval by ASTM, FAA reviews any proposed standard and issues a Notice of Availability once they have accepted the new standard.

These standards are part of a solution that has allowed the cost of a new well-equipped and well-performing aircraft to become half of the price (or less) of a typical type-certified aircraft. LSAs are a likely component of the growth of aviation in the future, and AVweb‘s coverage of this new sector is appreciated. The safety record is good, as publicly stated on repeated occasions by FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, and the ASTM committee and the manufacturing community deserve support for their work to achieve so much in a brief space of time.

Note that I am not speaking for the entire F37 ASTM committee. The words above and those published on my web site are mine alone. As a longtime participant of the ASTM committee’s work, I applaud the ceaseless efforts of many leaders and participants, and I expect this approach will become better and better as committee members continue their work.

Dan Johnson
Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association

The use of aircraft built under a standard implies to the general public that the aircraft is safe. The standards for S-LSA do not cover instrument use in IMC; therefore, they are not tested for that and should be clearly stated as such.

Any manufacturer who implies that a 1,300-pound aircraft without the same testing as is done on a fully certified aircraft under part 23 is suitable for IMC under the existing standards is irresponsible at best, liable for sure in the case of anything that might happen.

Yes, the committee is concerned. I have been on the committee since the beginning of the LSA process and can tell you that we have tried more than once to get standards, but until we can get them done and approved, people should be responsible.

Just to be clear, IFR is fine. It’s the IMC that is at issue here. A good well-equipped aircraft flying in the IFR system with a correctly rated pilot is not a problem. It’s the IMC conditions (with their icing, turbulence and other issues) that need to be addressed. Check the statistics; this is the absolutely most dangerous condition flown, especially for light aircraft.

Eric Tucker
Rotax Flying & Safety Club

Third Class Medical Value

Those who protest the FAA’s requirement for a third class medical as doing little for flying safety are missing a very important point.

I recall a statement made long ago in an aviation publication that if a pilot is required to get a periodic physical, then that exam should be as complete as possible, because that may be the only medical exam that a pilot gets.

This admonition became intensely personal to me in 1990, when, during a third class medical, a slight eye twitch was discovered by the medical examiner. Once he found that symptom, I guess it’s possible that he could have ignored it; however, he felt obligated to do the right thing as a medical professional. So he failed my exam, which meant I couldn’t fly as a PIC anymore. I was crushed.

Twenty years later, after surgery to remove the orange-sized brain tumor that caused the eye twitch, I feel fortunate that that medical examiner chose not to rubber-stamp my medical but act as my doctor. Had he not, I would be dead now.

Thanks again to Dr. Richard Grayson in St. Charles, IL. I am alive today because you acted professionally 20 years ago.

John Leonard

I wonder how Paul Mulwitz’s letter made it to the web site as the "Letter of the Week." His conclusions are that it’s O.K. to fly without a medical when you know you can’t pass one, as long as you fly light sport; [that a] medical does not make you safe; and that flying without a medical makes you safer.

He went as far as to say people who self-certify use better judgment than an AME. I realize that everyone should have a voice, but I can’t understand why this was the "Letter of the Week."

I disagree with Mulwitz for three reasons:

The first is that he has provided no basis on fact to these statements he makes.

The second reason is precedence. The FAA has set up the medical certification process for a reason. People cannot be trusted to do what’s right and safe for everyone. They just want to do what they want to do, and, in this case, that is to fly. AMEs exist to ensure that people who should not be flying don’t – just like the FAA exists to ensure that people who are unsafe do not fly, either.

The third and final reason is experience. It is well known that light sport allows people who are knowingly medically deficient to continue to fly and pose a risk to the general public. Part 61.23(iv) speaks to this directly in addition to 61.53(b).

These regulations exist for a reason, and let us not forget that. I see this every morning when the "old birds" association flies. Instance after instance, incident after incident has shown some – not all, but some – of these people need to put away their love for aviation for the safety of the public.

Where Mulwitz gets his theories I don’t know. I do know that common sense dictates when it’s time to hang up the wings, you hang them up – period – or you may end up hurting innocent members of the public.

Name Withheld

Editor’s Note:

We have verified the author’s name but granted his request to keep his name out of this because it could affect his employment.

It is good to hear someone else who feels the same way I do. The FAA needs to re-evaluate their thinking and see that a track record for a few years now does exist that says a third class medical is not required – pilots are not falling out of the sky – in order to fly safely. I wish more pilots would get involved to get something done. I wish I could find an organization that supports this ideal. EAA and AOPA do not seem to be motivated to get on board about this.

Garey Burns

I am flying an ex-military aircraft with a nearly 60-foot wingspan and a gross weight of 1,850 pounds without a medical. How? Although it has a motor, it is classed as a glider (self-launching). Gliders do not require any medical certificate – not even a driver’s license medical. Am I any less safe to the world at large than if I were flying a Cessna 152? I have diabetes, and the hoops that I have had to jump through are outdated and unnecessarily complex and expensive.

Let’s drop the third class medical and either go with no medical or a driver’s license medical. I have no intention of becoming an airline pilot. I just want to continue doing the $100 hamburger flights.

Michael J. Nutt

Line Up and Wait

Rumor has it that a commission was put together by the NTSB, and while on break at a local kindergarten, they observed the teachers at the bus stop controlling the little tykes. What they heard was "line up and wait." It worked.

With over 5,000 hours of flying time and 33 years as a controller, I never thought it would come to this.

Dean Ritter

"Line up and wait." I’m still amazed at the new FAA terminology being introduced this month. However, I hear this all part of the new government strategy for standardization so that we’ll see consistency in government terminology whether it’s at the airport, the Post Office or our new government-run healthcare system.

Evan Julber

What Makes Aviation Newsworthy

The reasons we hear about aviation accidents or incidents is because they are so rare. After EAA AirVenture, we typically hear about crashes of aircraft that were returning from there. How often do you hear about a motorcycle accident from someone returning from Sturgis?

Mark Lokken

Most people don’t understand aviation and are naturally more curious with stuff they don’t understand. Media try to take as much gain as they can out of this property of human nature, so they tend to dramatize aviation accidents and incidents, as such news is popular with the audience. Unfortunately, popular information is often not the most informative.

Lukasz Jezierski

You have a pretty shallow set of potential answers to your "Question of the Week" regarding how aviation incidents generate drama. There is a variable mix of tradition, instinctive fear of flying by many, media mania, misdirected paranoia, government overregulation and public gullibility.

The dawn of aviation as a world-changing event coincided with the early years of "electronic" news dissemination. Each new development was followed by a worldwide audience thanks to the telegraph. Record-setting flights were media events that attracted mobs. (The Spirit of St. Louis was torn apart when it landed in Paris.) The exploits of WWI pilots and post-war barnstormers were hyped by the print media, and air shows were almost certain to include some sort of photo-op crash to be gobbled up by the press. Today that tradition is honored and we encourage that expectation with the "daredevil" antics of air show performers doing extreme aerobatics or dragging the pretty blond wingwalker’s hair inverted along the runway in an old or at least antique-looking biplane.

Even today, there are those educated by generations of media hype who are always ready to declare for their 30 seconds of fame that when the Cessna 150 crashed, its engines were sputtering (a term whose genesis surely dates to the 1920s or earlier). When JFK Jr. died in his Saratoga in 1999, Peter Jennings asked aloud on prime time how it was that a private pilot could take off "…and fly hundreds of miles without filing a flight plan."

Flash forward to 9/11 and remember that it was a combined muck-up of government security agencies (FBI, etc.), airport security, and commercial airline ground crews that allowed the tragedy to occur.

Collective round-robin fingerpointing demanded that a scapegoat be found. A-ha! General aviation. It’s obviously out of control; let’s punish it and bail out the airlines. Let’s create a whole new generation of agencies to keep tabs on these suspected terrorists. From that we had a new ground-pounder group of paranoid government bureaucrats to develop the TFRs, the large-aircraft security proposal, eAPIS, multiple airport security badges, etc., etc. Time magazine took that ball and ran with it with a cover page picture of a Cessna next to a power plant.

President Obama, like no other before him, depended on GA to get his message out, yet now that he is in office, 9,000 cubic miles of airspace continues to be cleared whenever he ventures forth. Testosterone-laden goon-squads launch to surround unsuspecting pilots in their planes. Faulty transponders lead to Chinese fire-drills that empty Congressional offices onto the front steps where presumably they can be strafed by the incoming King Air.

GA as a group has become politically targeted as never before. It wasn’t helped by the auto executives in their rush to scramble the corporate jets with their hands out for bailout money.

In the current context, I place government squarely in the mix as part of the politicization of GA. As is the case with most elements of our lives, governments and their commissionaires are ever searching for things to regulate. In the search for an elusive zero-risk, political grandstanding generates a call to "do something, anything!" Some things need to be regulated, but others don’t. Regulation means data collected by multiple fiefdoms that is not shared or vetted. The King episode illustrates that we are no further ahead in 2010 than we were on Sept. 10, 2001 in terms of interagency cooperation.

As a group, GA has few dollars to contribute to campaign funds to defend against this targeting. GA is seen as a rich man’s playground. We are not seen as part of the middle class. Instead, pilots and those who fly in private aircraft (or even balloons) are set aside as a special suspect class. Only pilots must ask for permission to leave the USA in their own private conveyance, when that conveyance happens to be an aircraft.

That aircraft incidents are news is a result of all of these factors combining to convince those not involved in aviation of the inherent danger and drama associated with flight. Credit the tradition of a century of sensationalism associated with aviation for a baseline of expectations. Blame the media for their part in not putting some sort of filter on their coverage. Add the irrational fear-of-flying mentality that will persist from generation to generation. Incorporate the current fear of terrorism and assign pilots a role in it so that vast legions of government functionaries can justify their existence by treading on the purview of the FAA.

When stuff happens and an aircraft is somewhere in the same state, all of the above factors and background noise contribute to the ensuing fuss. I do not expect this to change any time soon.

David MacRae

You’re Welcome

Just a note this morning to say just how much over the past years I have enjoyed AVweb.

I picked up the habit from my co-workers at the Boeing Phantom Works before I retired, and I’m still addicted to flight and everything that has wings.

Again, thanks for always making my morning flight fix.

Don Shultz

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