AVmail: Apr. 9, 2007
The New AFSS
I was wondering how the pilots who used to use Terre Haute, Ind., Anniston, Ala., and Altoona, Pa., Automated Flight Service Stations (AFSS) feel about using the new Washington hub. I have talked to many frustrated pilots who do not like it. Lockheed-Martin has briefers who are totally unfamiliar with the areas they are briefing. I know because I am one of them. I feel bad for these pilots. They have been patient with me, but their understandable frustration is obvious. I'm just curious if any of these pilots complained or have made their frustrations known to the FAA, Lockheed Martin or AOPA (a big supporter of AFSS privatization)?
Name withheld by request
As Marion Blakey so succinctly stated, "The cost of a cup of coffee" per hour added to flying costs (AVwebFlash, Apr. 1). Her estimate was $4.00 per hour. Some of us avoid such extravagances as "Starbucks Lattes" to save a bit more for flying expenses.
It is not just the user fees. Someone needs to see the light in government and how they manage to hide all the changes. The Terre Haute FSS recently closed. Now upon calling WX-BRIEF, the call may go to Dayton or some other seemingly random location. This may be a good change, as the last two or three briefings I had from Terre Haute were from people obviously in fear of their jobs and didn't seem to care how they treated people on the phone. There are briefers at the "new" WX-BRIEF connections who seem to know relatively little about weather except how to read from the computer screen.
So, we've lost some (how much, we don't even know yet) of the briefing service that was excellent for so many years. We have to contend with a huge addition to an MOA taking away some of the freedom of our airspace and ... back to user fees. If we're getting so much less from government, why is it costing us more? Reminds me of the line from [George] Orwell: "The chocolate ration went up this week."
A very frustrated pilot.
Administrator Blakey's snide comment about how cheap $4 an hour is smacks of elitism. If she charged every airline passenger $4/hour, you'd bet you could hear some screaming.
Through Blakey's scheme, many LSA and small experimental operators will get nailed for 15-20 percent increases in DOCs [direct operating costs]!
That's just her first shot. Have you ever seen a tax that, once imposed, later goes down?
Blakey wants to tax us (and only the legislature can impose taxes, remember?) because she hasn't got the guts to tell Congress that whatever Congress wants, it needs to fund. (Did the FBI impose user fees on the Branch Davidians? No, Congress paid for that.)
Besides, Blakey has already told us twice (at AOPA 2002, and I'm quoting from her 2003 speech) that, "... with specific respect to user fees, let me repeat what I said last year: The FAA doesn't support a fee-based system. I don't know how to be clearer than that." When she's clear, she's just setting us up.
She's going to retire from the FAA to a nice airline job, after she scrubs us all out of the sky. Only Mayor Daley has done more for GA, and the race is tightening.
I find it astounding that Administrator Blakey had the temerity to state that "100 percent of our major capital projects are on schedule and on budget." I do direct work with the FAA in the area meteorological research and, if the program I'm involved with is any indication, the FAA is simply broken.
The upper ranks of the FAA seem made up of MBAs who have no experience and no knowledge of aviation. Their sole concern is following the letter of the regs. And it seems that many have, as their life's goal, to maintain the status quo.
The FAA is hidebound by mountains of impenetrable bureaucracy. Creativity and new ideas are utterly absent in this, the ultimate top-down organization. While pilots are admonished to practice cockpit resource management, the FAA has no interest practicing such a paradigm within its policy-making ranks.
As a pilot, taxpayer, and witness to some part of FAA research, I simply do not trust them with a cost-based system.
Name withheld by request
The FAA's Ms. Blakey claims that the airlines pay for 90 percent of the cost and GA uses 70 percent of the services to justify her user fee plan. Somebody should tell her that about 90 percent of GA aircraft would get along just fine if they never went to another tower-controlled airport, and with a WAAS-equipped GPS they may never have to. The airlines are the only group in aviation that really need control towers!
John M. Ruppert
First let me say how much I enjoy your publication every time it comes in. However (there is always a "however" or a "but" in these things), I take umbrage at the term "debunk" in the headline for this story (AVwebFlash, Apr. 4). While the term by "dictionary" standards may accurately describe the application of newly revealed historic information to correct prior data to be held incorrectly as fact, the term "debunk" has been colloquialized to be a negative term, as in to uncover or reveal a fraud or misdeed -- ergo to uncover or debunk an urban legend.
I think this is unfairly demeaning to a group of heroic airmen who unselfishly put their lives on the line to protect others. I am not African American, I am not a World War II vet, but I am a veteran and a pilot who respects their contribution. As Tuskegee representative, William Holton, indicated, his group would prefer that the historical record be corrected since the truth is just as impressive as the fable.
Were bombers shot down by enemy fighters while the Tuskegee airmen were in the sky? The answer is yes. However, the Tuskegee Airmen can also state with accuracy that, while under their protection, no bomber was shot down.
The Tuskegee Airmen were a fighter group stationed with the 15th Air Force in Italy. Most people are not even aware that the 15th AF existed, because so little has been written about it. Virtually all books cover the 8th AF in England. The 15th was much smaller than the 8th. The 15th consisted of five B-17 bomber groups, about 20 B-24 bomber groups, and several P-38 and P-51 fighter groups. My grandfather commanded one of the B-17 groups. The Tuskegee Airmen were one of the P-51 fighter groups.
The 15th AF bombed targets in Germany, Poland, Austria, and Western Europe every day that weather permitted. A given bomber group did not fly a mission every day. There was some rotation. Usually, a group had two or three days off between missions. For maximum-effort periods, though, a bomber group did fly two or three days in a row. The fighter groups flew under the same arrangement. The five B-17 groups usually bombed the same target, while the B-24 groups bombed other targets. The 15th AF was not organized the same as, and did not fly the same formations as, the 8th AF did. Each 15th AF bomb group contributed about 30 bombers to a given mission.
All bombers within a group flew in a tight formation together, but groups did not join up with each other. Rather, the groups flew about five miles apart in a stream along the same flight path, so there was a lot of empty sky between each group. The five B-17 groups, for example, made up a stream about 20-miles long. One fighter group was assigned escort duty to protect the bombers. There was no way, however, that the fighters could protect every group in the 20-mile string all at once. So they hopped from group to group, eventually making their way along the entire 20-mile stream.
The enemy fighter pilots were not stupid. They simply attacked the bomber groups that weren't currently being escorted. When the escort fighters were up with the lead bomber group, the enemy fighters attacked a bomber group further back, and vise versa.
So while it can be said that bombers were shot down, it can also be said that the Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber they were protecting to enemy fighters. They successfully protected the bombers they were with at the moment. It isn't fair for someone to claim the Tuskegee Airmen (or any fighter group) were responsible for losing a bomber that was five or more miles away from them.
I don't believe the article is fair.
Ford J. Lauer III
SoCal ATC Staffing
This would be nice if they had started training people four to five years ago (AVwebFlash, Apr. 4). People were pounding on doors in Congress and nothing was done. I don't think there is any person in Congress that hasn't heard about the shortage of controllers, from the controllers, in the past four to five years.
It took an accident in Kentucky to get anyone's attention. Who would better know what the needs are than the people doing the job? Or is our government above asking lowly employees what they think? What a great way to do business.
I am sure that those who have imposed work rules on the controllers could not separate planes if they tried. Since 70 percent of the trainees fail, it will take years to catch up with the staffing shortages.
The forced overtime is taking a toll on the controllers. I live with one that is so grabby [sic] from working six days a week and 10-hour days. It affects the relationship of the family and I am wondering how many years the FAA is taking off my husband's life span.
Falsification on Airman Medical Applications
The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has issued its report on FAA Oversight of Falsifications on Airman Medical Certificate Applications (AVwebFlash, Mar. 27), which was prompted by the 2005 finding of pilots who claimed Social Security disability for conditions not reported on their current medicals. The staff report suggests the FAA is not protecting the public by not scrutinizing pilot medicals that are self-reported as negative. The FAA says that, although a few pilots may lie on their medicals, it is not a public safety issue, stating full scrutiny would only prevent two deaths a year.
I agree with the FAA. The Congressional Committee has clearly overreacted, searching for the headlines over rationality.
The Committee's report focuses on the California pilots who claimed Social Security benefits and the finding of non-reported drugs on autopsies of pilots who died between 1993 and 2003. The report opens with the New Jersey accident of Itzhak Jacoby in 1999, which caused major headlines not because three people died in the aircraft but because 25 people were injured on the ground and there was $1.2 million in property damage. Jacoby did not report his headache problem and he received over 6,000 tablets of a sedating medication over a seven-year period. That averages three pills a day for an "as necessary" prescription. (Somebody needs to talk to the prescribing doctor about quality of care.)
The common fault with the Committee's research is that there is a very low percentage link between the medication use and presence of unreported disease found in accidents. The FAA estimates that one-half of one percent of all accidents have a medically related cause. In the three examples the Congressional Committed emphasizes, none consider or prove causation. For instance, other than proving the airman lied in the Social Security cases, it did not show a high accident rate among these pilots.
In the toxicology study on pilot's blood at autopsy, the FAA found that 387 demonstrated evidence of medications that treated undisclosed medical problems (approximately 10 percent of the accidents for the 10-year period). They did not correlate the undisclosed medical problems with the cause of the accidents. Of the 303 medications (they only reported medications that appeared more than 10 times during the 10 years), 113 were blood-pressure medications and 114 were antidepressants in the SSRI category. Only 76 were in the Valium-type category and were the only ones that I feel affect one's ability to fly and would not want to fly with someone taking. That brings the possible adverse affecting medications down to 1.8% of the fatal accidents (if no pilots took two or more of these medications). Even in the Jacoby accident, where a drug was obviously a factor, there was a vacuum-instrument failure in IMC conditions on take off -- a situation that has caused accidents without drug involvement.
The people at the Aeromedical Certification Division, headed by Dr. Warren Silberman, have just gotten their heads above water to keep up with current certification standards. To add the burden of even randomly checking "normal" pilot certification histories would be onerous without a huge increase in staff and money. (By the way, in the California Social Security situation, the Attorney General's office did not have the resources to even prosecute all the pilots who lied on their medical!)
Think of what has to happen with the pilot who reports no medical visits, no medications, and checks "No" in every medical history box. First, the examiner would have to call the AME and ask if he knew any additional information, including other doctors who may have seen the pilot. He would have to contact the pilot and ask specifically about the medical history, essentially asking the pilot, "Did you lie on the form?" If the pilot says, "Yes," he is in for up to a $10,000 fine and a year in jail. If the AME or pilot reported a possible physician, hospital, or other health professional visit, the examiner would then have to fax the FAA signed form proving authorization for the release of records (a la HIPPA), if any, from the source. Then the examiner would have to determine if the information that was omitted from the form is significant.
For instance, I am willing to bet that 95 percent or more pilots do not report visits to a dentist, a licensed "health professional" (question 19 on the 8500 form). Does that cavity cause accidents? Should we prosecute everyone who does not report their dental visits?
The Committee also did not address the regulation requiring reporting a "change in medical condition" between regular flight medicals. At an Oshkosh forum last year with the new Federal Air Surgeon in the audience, I was asked the question whether pilots should report to the FAA all interval medical changes. My response was that if all 600,000 pilots reported every medical change to the Aeromedical Certification Division, there would be chaos in Oklahoma City. There was no flinching in the Air Surgeon's seat. The FAA gives each pilot the responsibility to decide before each flight whether they are medically fit to fly. From my perspective, 99 percent plus perform this duty diligently and accurately and the system works.
In the current world of aviation medicine, it is hard to prove the safety value of even requiring medicals at all for third-class operations. (Think balloons, gliders, and sport pilots.) Paid-to-fly pilots with second- and first-class medicals are a different story.
Maybe the solution to this Congressional/FAA conundrum is dropping third-class medicals altogether and improving the system for second- and first-class medicals. That is my recommendation, but I am not holding my breath.
Dr. Brent Blue
Senior Aviation Medical Examiner
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Please keep up the good work and thank you to you and all your staff for such informative articles.