AVmail: November 29, 2010

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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: Helping GA by Doing

Regarding giving back in support of GA: I sit on the local airport board, not as a member (yet), but as AOPA's Airport Support Representative. In addition to the work on the board, I also participate in Angel Flights and a couple weeks ago participated in the "Wings of Appreciation" flight where 23 planes gathered to fly wounded vets from Walter Reed to Tangier Island for an appreciation lunch. I think that these sorts of activities help promote the usefulness of GA and highlight the advantages we can offer.

Mark Shilling

I feel that the activities of all of us who are in the business of offering flying vacations are strongly supportive of GA. Our activities encourage more flying, not only during the trips but in the weeks leading up to them. We bring business to sometimes remote towns and show, in very real terms, the advantage of having a local airport. When our customers talk excitedly about their vacations to all their friends, they are spreading a strong, positive message about the wonderful possibilities available through GA. And, finally, the lifelong friendships that are created remind us of the great people that make up the worldwide GA community.

Clare McEwan
Air Safaris International

ADS-B Out (With the Bath Water)

I am doing my best to get the ADS-B Out mandate on GA dropped. Unfortunately, AOPA does not seem to be fighting it. If it remains, expect more pilots to quit flying as the deadline approaches.

Ron Lee

Capstone Reality (Con)

I saw Jim Gibertoni's letter and just listened to the podcast on ADS-B in Alaska. I feel I can add some more comments, as I was a Part 135 pilot in Bethel during the Capstone phase 1 program. Gibertoni mentioned that ADS-B was not solely responsible for the increased safety, and I couldn't agree more. I flew the Yukon Delta from 2002 until 2005 during the early stages of the Capstone Phase 1 program. I went from 1,400 hours to over 4,000 and progressed from a Cessna 207 to Caravans and Navajo Chieftains during that time. All were equipped with the Capstone system.

The only thing we got with consistent reliability from the ADS-B was traffic, because this went from plane to plane and didn't rely on the ground-based transmitters. This helped us a lot, as the majority of the airplanes in the area are not equipped with transponders as they are of little use in that environment. So the only access to traffic information was through ADS-B. Surveillance, as Gibertoni mentioned, played a part as well.

The other ADS-B items such as weather radar, METARs etc. rarely, if ever, worked at all due to teething issues with the ground-based transmitters. Most people may not realize that there are very few weather radar stations in the state, so the areas where you could look at a weather radar picture are extremely limited, anyway. In the three years I flew out of Bethel, I only saw METAR information a couple times; it worked so rarely that eventually I didn't even bother to try it anymore. I think that did get worked out after I left the area.

I would have to say the greatest asset of the Capstone program had to be the terrain page. This was when having a color terrain page was practically unheard of. The terrain display has nothing to do with ADS-B, as you know. All my company's aircraft were equipped with the Apollo GX-60 GPS/Comm, the SL-20 Nav/Comm, and the MX-20 MFD. We had no WAAS capability. I know of a C208 pilot who got into icing and was forced to descend into the mountains with just the terrain page to stay over the valleys. That definitely increased safety for that pilot!

I currently fly King Air B200s for an on-demand Part 135 operator that has 11 aircraft, and not one of them is equipped with ADS-B or WAAS or even a color terrain display. I carry my own portable GPS just for the terrain information. Anyway, I'm thankful for the Capstone program because I relied on the terrain and traffic a lot. I am certain it positively impacted safety, but other than the traffic function, I can honestly say that the ADS-B was pretty useless. Hopefully in the more non-mountainous areas in the lower 48, where there are more ground-based transmitters which can each cover a greater area, it will prove more useful.

Dirk Bowen

Capstone Reality (Pro)

ADS-B and its associated ADS-B In capability has significantly decreased the accident rate in southwest Alaska, contrary to Gibertoni's assertions. Also, I personally know three pilots who had their personal airplanes equipped in the Capstone Program, although the intent of the Capstone Program was to target the "power users" of aviation on the Yukon Delta, the air taxi operators. It would make little sense to equip a bunch of private aircraft that fly less than a hundred hours a year with ADS-B as a test of the effectiveness of the system.

There are some valid criticisms of ADS-B, however, based on the Capstone experiment in Alaska:

  1. As Gibertoni points out, the use of ground-based transmitters (GBT) to communicate with aircraft simply is impractical in any country with terrain except, of course, for the very capable aircraft such as jet airliners, which operate at very high altitudes. ADS-B must be a satellite-based system for it to provide anywhere near its intended purpose.
  2. The Capstone program in Alaska provides ADS-B In and ADS-B Out. In other words, a pilot using the system on the Delta can call up weather products and traffic, as well as report that airplane's position to other aircraft and (potentially, at least) to ATC. Unfortunately, the ADS-B system that the FAA has mandated for the entire country is an ADS-B Out system, meaning it will not provide weather, traffic, etc. into the airplane. All it will do is communicate that airplane's position to other airplanes equipped with ADS-B In and to ATC.

Now, if one chooses to spend a lot of additional dollars and add substantial weight to your airplane, you can add ADS-B In to that system but, to date, there has been no indication that the ADS-B In signals that will be available to us in the Lower 48 will provide weather products which is the single biggest advantage of the ADS-B system to the pilot. And, since there are now very powerful providers of satellite-based weather dissemination, such as XM, I seriously doubt the FAA will ever offer that service via ADS-B in the Lower 48.

The real promise of ADS-B is that it will permit the FAA (at least in theory) to shut down most (if not all) ATC radars certainly the long-range center radars saving the agency many millions of dollars. That sounds good until one realizes that the FAA is simply transferring the costs of operating in "the system" to the user, who will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to equip an airplane with ADS-B, equipment that will not benefit the user at all unless they spend even more for ADS-B In.

My point is that Gibertoni is, to some degree, correct in his assertion that ADS-B isn't the magic tool that the FAA and the media seem to portray it. But, in fact, ADS-B on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has been a great success.

The problem is that the FAA, like a lot of retailers on this "Black Friday," has offered a "loss leader" to the operators in the Delta ADS-B In, complete with weather (at no cost).

Satellite weather is already available over most of the Lower 48 states, and the FAA isn't offering that service to ADS-B-equipped aircraft in the Lower 48.

Finally, Gibertoni's point about low-flying aircraft not being able to access ADS-B data is true only in hilly or mountainous terrain, but his point is valid. To be truly successful, ADS-B must be a satellite-based system. The FAA is avoiding this concept like the plague, due to the cost and availability of satellite bandwidth.

Mike Vivion

Just listened to the podcast with Jim Gibertoni. Having flown in Alaska and been exposed to the Capstone program from the beginning, I take issue with some of his comments. The Capstone program was developed originally to prove a concept and was tested during Phase I in the Bethel area in Alaska.

Based on those results, advanced testing was done in Phase II in southeast Alaska, which is very mountainous. Phase I and Phase II aircraft equipage was funded by the government, but operational costs associated with the testing were borne by the operators of the aircraft. My understanding is that the program has not really advanced beyond Phase II due to funding issues to install the ground stations to make it fully functional in the whole state. So, like many new initiatives, it is a work in progress.

M. Wilson

Photo Certificates

[Having worked for the] airlines for 30 years, I can explain how valuable having a photo on a license is. When United first put photos on our airline ID badges, the requirement was for a "head" photo. Of course, one of the guys insisted that they take the picture of the back of his head which they did, and that's the picture that was on his ID badge for nearly 20 years. Another pilot, protesting photos, pasted a color photo of Mickey Mouse over the picture that was on his ID badge, and it remained there for at least 15 years until he retired.

In both cases, no one ever questioned either of these pilots about their ID photo. That just proves how valuable photos will be on our pilot licenses.

Fred Wilson

I became a CFI just after my 18th birthday. That was 40 years ago. The money for this plastic license is not the deal! The real deal is the lack of testosterone and IQ to truly enhance our national security. I'm sure I'll send them a picture, as it seems preferable to being radiated or fondled to board a commercial flight.

William Webb Jr., M.D.

This is another example of the government lunacy. I fly Light Sport [and] have my ATP and Light Sport Repairman license with me at all times. I also have another document called a driver's license with me. This has a photo thereon. So, if we all carry a driver's license, that should suffice, rather than the government forcing more costs upon us pilots.

Pete Chestnut

Threat to Mechanics

The change to IA qualification rules would be a disaster for small plane owners. These part-time IAs are both more available and less expensive than the ones at big ticket shops.

Arturo Thompson

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