AVmail: Mar. 6, 2006

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Reader mail this week about ATC, D.C. airspace, round-engine nostalgia and more.


There is a trend that is happening at a lot of small general aviation airports. There is so much extreme security that it is hard for pilots to get to their own airplane, which tends to make the pilots so mad that they don't care about any pilot-watch programs or security measures.

Douglas Humble

ATC Retirements

I've been a controller for over 20 years. Walk in any facility and ask how many controllers are under 44 -- probably less than 30%. Now ask how many are eligible to retire in the next five years -- probably over 60%. Now remember that there is a mandatory retirement age of 56 and that it takes over four years to train a new controller. The numbers don't look good at all.

One more thing that's often overlooked: In addition to those that will be retiring, we lose a lot of people to stress-related illnesses. With the continued aging of the workforce, we continue to have controllers just drop dead. Those dead controllers don't help our numbers much, either.

Mike Wood

It doesn't take eight years to train a controller (AVmail, Feb. 27); it takes from one to three years on average. But the numbers don't lie -- controller staffing is a serious issue. We have 29 controllers at BHM (we should have 34): three medically disqualified, three in training and six that could retire anytime between yesterday and less than a year from now. We just put out a bid, but that's for controllers at other facilities to come here. At most places, it's almost impossible to get a release date. The new hires from the College Training Initiative program are all going to the Centers first; then once those are staffed up, they will start hiring them to Towers and Approach Controls.

Fortunately, we aren't working mandatory six-day work weeks, like many facilities must. In many places, trainees that have washed out are kept on, working the positions they are qualified on, simply because the Center can't afford not to keep them.

Many of the controllers who are eligible to go now or in the near future are tired of the mind games of the FAA and are worried enough about their pensions to say, "I'm done here." And no, I'm not one of those ATC 12's and I don't make the salary that Mad Maid Marion claims I do. I might break $100,000 this year, but I've been with my company for 18.5 years. As a controller, I work weekends, holidays and nights, and I train other controllers. Qualified controllers are frequently left in charge of some or all of the operational facility.

If I lose my Second Class medical, I may be out of a job. The safe and expeditious handling of airplanes may require split-second decisions based on years of training and experience. If I screw up, you'll read about it here and most likely see it on CNN. As a pilot who uses the air traffic control system in this country regularly, I think I earn my compensation.

Holly Roe

NATCA Paychecks

Every time I hear the NATCA radio commercial, where they whine about pay and contract negotiations, I get out my violin and start playing Casanova's Lament. NATCA should have jumped on board and helped to fight against this FAA "train to hell" when the FAA canned the FSS folks; instead they did nothing. I thought unions were all about solidarity. NATCA wants a pay raise, or status quo for the next 5 years? Try losing your federal retirement and your job. Sorry, I have no sympathy this time. My tax dollars count now more that ever after taking a 50% pay cut and no federal retirement. NATCA, get off your high horse. Fight to hire some FSS "Air Traffic Controllers" back -- there is your source.

Name withheld by request

Interesting that readers agree that we need adequate numbers of adequately compensated controllers (Question of the Week, Feb. 22). I wonder what the public would think if they knew how little the crews of all those regional jets they've been flying around in are paid? Most people assume anyone flying a jet makes six figures, but I think virtually everyone would be shocked to learn that most first-year regional pilots qualify for food stamps. Might be worth reporting.

Matt Johnson

Deaf Instrument Pilot

I want to first of all thank you for inserting a piece into the online community about me achieving the instrument rating last Friday (NewsWire, Feb. 27). I was hoping you would put in information about the flight school that took me in when no one else would. They believed in my vision and sponsored me when no one else would. They deserve recognition too and I would like to give you that information for possible inclusion into the article.

American Winds Flight Academy is a Part 141 flight school owned by Chief Pilot Denise Hobart based in Akron, Ohio. Her husband, Mike Kolomichuk, is the president of the school. When it became apparent that we would not get any sponsors, Mike told me not to worry about it and to pursue my dreams. They kept their word and it's because of Denise Hobart, Mike Kolomichuk and my primary flight instructor Jason Edwards that I was able to achieve what everyone else thought was impossible.

In addition, I also have to thank the FAA for opening the door for me as well.

Please give these people the recognition they deserve.

Stephen Hopson

While I admire Mr. Hopson's drive to obtain his private and instrument airplane ticket, I am gravely concerned that he is endangering myself and my family, friends and business in his flying endeavors. I do not feel that we should be placed at any further risk as a result of a person's handicap. I cannot endorse or encourage any pilot who has a physical limitation that I feel is necessary to fly an airplane.

Todd Smith

AVweb Replies:

Under the FAA's rules for deaf pilots, Mr. Hopson can fly solo only for flights that don't require the use of a radio. He can fly IFR only with a safety pilot on board.

Mary Grady

Black Helicopters

The article on black helicopters is interesting (NewsWire, Feb. 27), but by way of bursting your bubble, we don't fly "black helicopters" in the military. What you are seeing are helicopters painted with CARC (radar absorbing) paint like all U.S. Army helicopters. It is actually very dark green, but from the distance you are viewing, it looks black. If you are looking for a conspiracy theory, the spooks we worked with in the Middle East all flew either civilian unmarked aircraft, or older desert-marked Soviet equipment (to blend in with the locals). But noblack helicopters. Sorry.

Kim Randall

D.C. Airspace

In the late-60s and early 70s, every time the folks who lived near JFK [airport] got fed up with the noise, they'd pick a Sunday and thousands would drive their cars around and around the airport, bringing everything to a complete standstill.

I wonder what the effect would be, if on a Monday, 500 GA airplanes all approached the D.C. area, all at the same time? And then turned away at the last moment so as not to enter. I'm sure that would get some real attention, especially if it was done every day for a week.

Name withheld by request

Big, Round, Noisy Engines

(This is dedicated to all those who flew behind round engines.)

We gotta get rid of those turbines, they're ruining aviation and our hearing...

A turbine is too simple-minded -- it has no mystery. The air travels through it in a straight line and doesn't pick up any of the pungent fragrance of engine oil or pilot sweat.

Anybody can start a turbine. You just need to move a switch from "OFF" to "START" and then remember to move it back to "ON" after a while. My PC is harder to start.

Cranking a round engine requires skill, finesse and style. You have to seduce it into starting. On some planes, the pilots aren't even allowed to do it...

Turbines start by whining for a while, then give a lady-like poof and start whining a little louder.

Round engines give a satisfying rattle-rattle, click-click, bang, more rattles, another bang, a big, macho fart or two, more clicks, a lot more smoke and finally a serious, low-pitched roar. We like that. It's a guy thing.

When you start a round engine, your mind is engaged and you can concentrate on the flight ahead. Starting a turbine is like flicking on a ceiling fan: Useful, but hardly exciting.

When you have started his round engine successfully, your Crew Chief looks up at you like he'd let you kiss his girl, too!

Turbines don't break or catch fire often enough, which leads to aircrew boredom, complacency and inattention. A round engine at speed looks and sounds like it's going to blow at any minute. This helps concentrate the mind!

Turbines don't have enough control levers or gauges to keep a pilot's attention. There's nothing to fiddle with during long flights.

Turbines smell like a Boy Scout camp full of Coleman Lamps. Round engines smell like God intended machines to smell.

Glenn Simonds

Taxi into Position and Hold

I wanted to make you aware that, effective March 20, the FAA has decreed that controllers may no longer use "position and hold." The controllers (both FAA and contract) are very much opposed to this, as it hurts both controllers and pilots. Please tell your piloting community controllers have no say in this matter, and that contacting an appropriate FAA official may help resolve this issue. Thanks!

Name withheld by request


I really appreciate you having a helicopter photo in your weekly contest (POTW, Mar. 2). (Even better that it won!) Being that my future career will be in rotorcraft, I always appreciate the general-aviation community acknowledging us. Even though rotary wing aircraft may only be a drop in the bucket (by sheer quantity of aircraft), they do play a very important role in aviation.

We are the "Red-Headed Step Child" of the industry and we know it, but we're damn proud.

Name withheld by request

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