Sunday, August 23, 2009
In part one of this interview with Max Trescott, 2008 National CFI of the Year, we discovered his path to the right seat as a CFI. Now, in part two, we take a deeper look inside the head of this well-known CFI, to find out what life is really like as a person who teaches others how to fly.
World of Flying: What is the best and worst thing you like to teach to primary flight students?
Max Trescott: The best thing I like to teach primary students is risk management concepts. About 80% of the accidents are the result of pilot error, yet the Practical Test Standard (PTS) barely addresses risk management. Most tragic are the pilots—and I can think of two in my area in just the past two years—who embark on flights at night over the mountains soon after they get their Private certificates. In both cases there were no survivors. I don’t think either pilot had any idea of the high risk that he was taking on by making those flights.
It’s important that CFIs teach pilots how to evaluate their environment and make good decisions that will keep them alive. The sad fact is that many flight instructors just teach what’s required in the PTS to pass the checkride, which is the FAA’s MINIMUM standards for getting a pilot certificate. When they do, they’re doing their clients a terrible disservice.
The most challenging lesson to teach is the first day of landing practice. Those are the days on which I really earn my pay, since I’m trying to let pilots make mistakes and see the results of their actions without actually bending any metal.
World of Flying: Who makes the best primary flight students.
Max Trescott: The best students for any certificate are those who are motivated and want to learn. Learning is an active process that requires a lot of work by the client. If a student shows up and thinks that they can just sit back while I pour knowledge into their brain, there are greatly mistaken! I’ve had very few clients who didn’t show up motivated and willing to work. And the few who weren’t didn’t hang around very long.
World of Flying: In teaching the G1000 panel to a previous steam gauge driver, give me some examples of things that have to be unlearned, and describe some of the obstacles you must overcome to get them to understand glass.
Max Trescott: Interesting question. For all pilots, beginner or experienced, the toughest challenge is to get pilots to look outside the window! The computer displays (the PFD and MFD that sit in front of the pilot and copilot) are really attractive nuisances. Like my cat, they almost beg for attention! So it’s important to make pilots understand that they can’t spend most of their time looking at the displays.
Of course that runs counter to initially teaching pilots how to use the displays. Thus, I find the most effective way to transition pilots to the G1000 or Perspective is to get them to read part of my book or CD-ROM ahead of time. Or we can sit in the G1000 simulator or even the airplane itself while it’s still on the ground to explain the fundamentals. That way, they already know where to look for airspeed and altitude and aren’t hunting to find the instruments in flight.
World of Flying: Do you find a fresh zero time primary student has an easier time of learning to fly when they have all their training in a glass cockpit environment?
Max Trescott: I think the G1000 and other glass cockpit like the Avidyne Entegra and Perspective are the best learning environments, since pilots are learning both glass and traditional round gauges at the same time. It’s important for instructors in these planes to sometimes dim the displays and force student pilots to learn to fly and land the airplane using the round backup gauges. Every student pilot I’ve taught in a glass cockpit had no trouble landing the first time using just the round backup gauges. I’m also teaching pilots the fundamentals of the autopilot by the 3rd or 4th lesson. The autopilot greatly assists pilots with managing cockpit workload and ultimately frees up their mind so that they can make better decisions. It’s important that pilots learn that early in their career and not just think of the autopilot as something only airline pilots use.
World of Flying: Tell my readers a couple of hairy flight instructor stories. Have you ever had the crap scared out of you?
Max Trescott: I always tell pilots that the most important thing about learning to fly is to never scare their flight instructor
. I’m kidding of course, but the reality is that I’m hard pressed to remember being scared by a client. I do remember being fairly relaxed one time while flying in a high performance plane with a licensed pilot. That changed very quickly when I heard the stall horn go off while we were still on a 1-mile final. Funny how just when you think you’re with an experienced pilot and can relax, something like that happens to remind you that flying is very unforgiving—especially if you don’t have enough airspeed!
World of Flying: Do you see a difference in flight instructors between the ones like yourself who are full-time teachers and those who are just earning time to get to the airlines?
Max Trescott: There are excellent CFIs in both of those categories. Of course you’ll always find a few instructors who either don’t have their heart in teaching or are unfamiliar with some of the aircraft in which teach. Frankly, I see very few of those CFIs in my area. But I hear frequent complaints from glass cockpit aircraft owners who travel some distance to fly with me because they have flown with CFIs who said they knew the equipment, but knew less than the owner. I’m a strong proponent of CFIs specializing in a few areas rather than trying to be a jack-of-all-trades. I often refer pilots to other CFIs who specialize in areas in which I am qualified to teach (e.g. tailwheel) but in which I’ve chosen not to specialize.
Today I sat up near the Hillsboro, OR airport and tried to explain the NextGen of ATC to my step-son Micheal, himself a wannabe student pilot. Next to me – smiling and giggling as always – was his daughter and my first grandchild, Caitlin, all of 10 months old. We had flown in for a quick dinner visit in the Katyliner, which is far from what we know today as a "glass" aircraft.
I explained that by the time Caitlin is old enough to solo, the vast majority of the GA fleet will have glass cockpits, something that will be vital to the successful implementation of the next generation of air traffic control. I told Michael that today, it is critical for primary students (in my humble opinion) to learn glass right from day one, because that is the future of GA. And I told him that of all the CFIs I know, there was one in particular that excels at teaching glass.
At Airventure recently, I enjoyed some fast Italian food with Max Trescott, the 2008 National CFI of the Year. Max is about as nice a guy as you can find in GA, humble as myself but oozing with glass cockpit knowledge. He has mastered this glass realm with such zeal that he's built a book publishing empire based on teaching glass cockpit management to the masses. If you every need help in this area, the only stop you need to make is at his website.
Recently, Max provided World of Flying with a set of detailed answers about glass, being a CFI, technology and his cat. Part one of this interview follows, where we look at how this Silicon Valley high-timer ended up chasing airspeed with low-time flight students in California's Bay Area.
World of Flying: Tell me your background, how many hours, what ratings, type ratings, aircraft flown, when you got your license, all those details.
Max Trescott: I started flying when I was 15 years old. I didn’t have a driver’s license at the time, so my mother used to drive me to the airport, outside of Wellsboro, PA. I finished my Private when I was 19. In college, I received degrees in electrical engineering and Psychology. Then I went to work for Hewlett-Packard. I worked there for 25 years in a variety of Marketing, Sales and management positions. During that time, I continued to fly on weekends and earned my instrument, commercial, multi-engine and CFI ratings. I took my CFI checkride on September 10, 2001—and then was unable to exercise the privileges for 2 months due to 9/11. I taught flying on weekends and added my MEI and ATP certificate. After I left HP 5 years ago, I started a small business I’d been planning. But after two months I decided that I didn’t really like that industry, so aviation became a full-time career.
World of Flying: What was it that made you decide to become a flight instructor? Was there any one incident, or a lifelong dream?
Max Trescott: My decision to get my CFI rating was very serendipitous. At the beginning of the summer of 2001, Tim Johnson, a friend of mine who has since moved to Florida, said “Max I’m getting my CFI and you should too.” Since I’d just entered an uncharacteristically slow period at HP, I thought “What a good idea!” I’ve always looked for ways to raise my aviation game to higher levels and getting the CFI rating—which I’d never really considered before—seemed like a good way to do that. Thank you Tim!
World of Flying: Explain the details of the 2008 National CFI of the Year award, who gave it to you, what it meant to receive the award, and how (if any) the award changed your professional life.
Max Trescott: The General Aviation Awards program is sponsored by about 20 different GA companies and organizations. It’s designed to recognize CFIs, avionics technicians, A&Ps, and FAA FAASTeam safety counselors. The process starts with local FAA FSDOs. There are more than 60 of them and they’re encouraged to nominate candidates. Jack Hocker, the FAASTeam Safety Manager at the San Jose FSDO nominated me. Jack knew me well as I’d presented many Wings program safety seminars in the San Francisco Bay area. The candidates are then reviewed by the eight FAA regional headquarters, which select winners for each region. The FAA passes information about the regional winners to a committee composed of about 10 people, each from a different GA industry company or organization. They then select the national winners.
The award didn’t change my personal life—I still empty the cat’s litter box! Professionally, it gave me a platform for encouraging people to become CFIs and to recognize CFIs for the work they do. I think CFIs are the backbone of the aviation industry and rarely get the recognition they so richly deserve. I was proud to represent them for a year.
World of Flying: It is obvious you are a leader in glass cockpit instruction. What pushed you to focus your teaching in that area?
Max Trescott: Working in the high tech industry conditions employees to always be looking ahead to the next future innovation. So while I was initially skeptical about the value of glass cockpits in small planes, I tried to keep an open mind until I actually flew one. When I did, their value became very clear. While they are more expensive, they greatly enhance the overall flying experience and have the potential for increasing safety for properly trained pilots. I knew instantly I wanted to be associated with something like that.
World of Flying: Tell me what the future of avionics holds?
Max Trescott: I think we’re going to see more of a focus on usability. Right now, the systems are intuitively obvious if you happen to be one of the engineers who designed the system! But for most pilots, operating the systems is not intuitive and requires a lot of study. I’m sure more new features will be added in future systems, but the real breakthrough will come when the systems become easier to use. In the meantime, pilots continue to buy my books and CDs and hopefully that won’t change!
Saturday, August 22, 2009
There is one thing about our GA community that never ceases to amaze me. This one single phenomenon happens all over the country, at FBOs from Maine to San Diego, Key West to Seattle. And each time it happens to me, it reaffirms that being a licensed pilot flying your own private aircraft is about as good as The American Dream gets. What I'm referring to is this:
This week, we flew the Katyliner on a business trip from Eugene to Fresno. It was a four-hour flight that relieved us from the grueling 12-hour grind by car - a savings of 66 percent. Even though Oakland Center casually told us while splitting the difference between Mt. Shasta and Mt. Ashland that some guy at our six, same altitude, same direction was going to overtake us (prompting an expedited climb), we made it unscathed to FAT and taxied to parking at Corporate Air, one of the two remaining FBOs at Fresno. I was parked next to a very large, very expensive, long-range business jet, and before I could even get the baggage door open, the Line Guy had the rental car alongside Katy with the a/c cranked up. He helped me unload, helped me put the cover on the plane, and made sure every need was take care of. We were treated with the same level of professionalism and respect as the people who came in before me in the Gulfstream, but we were flying a machine that cost about as much as one of the gold-plated cup holders on the G-V.
See, that's what GA is all about. It's not so much the machine you fly, but that you FLY. When wind forced over wings becomes lift and a craft takes flight with humans inside, it is a beautiful thing. But in our world, it really doesn't matter what shape the flying machine takes so long as it flies somewhere and delivers pilots and pax to their $100 burger, or in our case, business meetings and photo shoots.
I believe GA is a great equalizer. It separates those who cannot fly from those who do, and for us lucky ones, we are in a very small brother/sisterhood. Yes, the Gulfstream driver has a ship that is a tad faster than my vintage Cherokee, and yes, it holds more souls and has a nice fancy Champagne cooler. But the advantages we enjoy by flying a private aircraft – any private aircraft – are still fantastic, and regardless of make and model, we can still avoid the headaches and hassles of flying the airlines when we fly our own bird into that small strip at the edge of town where we plan to make a buck. When a business flies their own aircraft, it earns a competitive advantage over those who make their people straddle the spokes on the airlines' "wheel of misfortune" as they try their luck at actually getting somewhere on time.
Sure, the airlines do get lots of people to their intended destinations every day. But personally, I get screwed around somehow on about 50 percent of commercial flights these days. Overbooking, cramped seats, and cranky gate agents who can't coordinate their stories when delays happen are just a few things that can trip up the airline flyer today. But even if they do manage to get you to Omaha for a meeting, you had to go LAX-ORD-JFK-MIA-FAT to get there. You have to stay in a hotel the night before the meeting and the night after too, in hopes of snagging a seat on a morning flight out. Three days to deliver you to a one-hour meeting to close the deal.
But with the Katyliner, I can manage a biztrip like this:
You wake up in Eugene, answer a fair amount of emails, pack the car and deliver the dog to the kennel on the way to the airport. Four hours later, you are in your rental car in Fresno headed to meetings. Sweet, hassle-free, and efficient. On the trip home, you wake up, meet with clients in Fresno until noon, depart FAT and an hour later, stop at Grass Valley/Nevada County Airport for early dinner with friends. Three hours later, you are pushing your GA plane back into the hangar in Eugene just as the sun sets. Sweet, hassle-free, and efficient. Try this kind of trip on the airlines, I dare you.
I must however close by saying this: While I fully recognize GA as the leader in business flying, the airlines do beat my Cherokee 235 on some missions. For a jaunt over to Kauai for a week of beachcombing or Vienna for galleries and the symphony, the Friendly Skies kills the Katyliner every time. But schedule a multi-stop business trip into a bunch of small 'burgs around the West, and my GA ship will do what Boeing's finest ship cannot.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
You can view a Photo Gallery for this post here.
Welcome to part two of my interview with Dean Siracusa, a long-time Burner who volunteers to run the "airport" during Nevada's Burning Man event.
World of Flying: What kind of pilot flies into Burning Man?
Siracusa: "It does take a special aviator to fly out to a remote desert location and camp in a place with dust storms and other wild weather. You've got to be adventurous and love the back-country. With the wide range of aircraft that show up though the range of pilots is very wide. Everyone from farmers to corporate and airline pilots to heads of major corporations show up to the event every year. A fair amount of flight instructors even show up so you might even be able to get your bi-annual flight review done out there!"
World of Flying: Is it mostly a male pilot that flies in and attends, or couples?
Siracusa: "Well, with 80 percent of the pilot population being male, you can expect the Burning Man Aviators to be of a similar demographic. But yes, there are a number of female aviators out there. They're all great pilots too. Some fly fast little Mooney's while others like Ramona Cox (aka Skychick) of Southern California fly a big Cessna Turbo 206. She's been coming out to the playa longer than I have. And, the long time head of the Burning Man airport, Lissa Shoun (aka Tiger Tiger), is also a pilot."
World of Flying: What are some pre-flight tips you can give any pilot making the trip to Burning Man, and what is the "airport" like.
Siracusa: "The first thing any pilot should do is go to the Burning Man Airport website. There you'll find all the important information for flying out there. It's critical to get as much up to date information before flying out there. The airport itself is made up of a bunch of great people (both pilots and non-pilots). It's situated a bit outside of the Burning Man festivities so it's usually a bit quieter when you want to get some sleep. Kind of funny that one has to go out to the airport for a little peace and quiet!
You'll also want to study the survival information at the main Burning Man website. There are no concessions on the playa. No trash cans either. So, you'll need to bring everything in and pack everything out that you need to survive during your stay. The only thing out there that helps in your survival are thousands of porta-potties. The event sells coffee and bags and blocks of ice. But, that's really it.
Many people have heard about the wind storms that occasionally blow through the event. Many pilots are concerned that their plane will be sand-blasted and ruin their paint. The reality is that the playa surface is not sandy. It's made of a very, very fine powder and couldn't sandblast anything. What this dust does do is get absolutely everywhere. So, most pilots seal up every vent and opening to their plane as best as they can with plastic and 3M blue tape. When they return home every metal part whether on their plane, bicycles, car, etc... gets a very thorough wash. The playa dust is very alkaline so adding a bit of vinegar to the wash water helps release the dust better than just about anything else."
World of Flying: Blast a hole in this myth: Everyone that goes to Burning Man is a stoner.
Siracusa: "I would be lying if I said that nobody did drugs out there. But, it's not nearly as prevalent as you might think. Some of the art and music is so out of this world that you can be completely sober and still be amazed by it all. And, there are all forms of law enforcement at the event. Everyone from local police, county sheriffs, state and even federal law enforcement teams are there in various capacities. Most are there because they volunteered for the duty because they enjoy the experience too. They're not going into private camps unless needed but if you're doing something stupid in public they're definitely going to have a nice chat with you."
World of Flying: Are there any things to look out for while flying into Burning Man, such as anyone who might want to make a point about us burning leaded fuels?
Siracusa: "The greatest thing about Burning Man is that you've got 50,000 of the friendliest people that you'll meet anywhere. Everyone is totally cool with whatever way you want to experience the burn. If you want to be naked the entire time. No problem. If you want to paint other people. Great! If you want to give people rides in your plane around the event. Amazing! The only thing you really need to worry about is people giving you things that you may not want. Be aware of food that people may offer you as a gift. It may contain some things that you're not expecting.
And, most civilians have no idea what airplanes run on. Generally speaking, Burning Man is not a political event. There are some art pieces that are political but that's about as far as it goes. I promise you that almost anyone that attends Burning Man for the first time has their jaw on the ground the entire time they're there. It really is another world and you won't believe what you're seeing most of the time."
View the Photo Gallery for this post here.
Every year in late summer, a very large group of independent thinkers, free spirits, artists and stout adventurers take over a small corner of Black Rock Desert in Northwestern Nevada for an festival of eclectic, communal celebration called Burning Man. People from all over the world migrate to the "playa", one of Nevada's famous dry lakebeds known for extreme heat, fine dust and brutal windstorms.
If you've never heard of Burning Man, I'm sorry, but I am not about to try to describe this event further. I am sure it is one of those events that cannot be described in words without experiencing it first-hand. No, this two part post is not so much about the event as it is the event's "airport".
I recently met Dean Siracusa on Twitter through a chat with his GF @ShelleyDelayne, and found out Dean has been a volunteer at the playa airport for years. I have always carried a keen fascination for Burning Man, and the "burners" who attend, and secretly wish I could also make this scene. Those who know me know that on the inside, I am at one with the Burners, but on the outside, my short hair and almost boring attire usually makes people think "Narc", but "Burner".
So in chatting via email with Dean, I discovered that Burning Man has an entire aviation component that is very, very interesting. He graciously granted me an interview, and here is part one, where Siracusa describes what the actual event is like, and what drew him there in the first place.
World of Flying: Give me your aviation background on yourself.
Siracusa: "I got my pilot's license back in 1999 (and later, my instrument rating) and bought my first airplane, a 1980 Cessna 172N. I put 1,000 hours in five years of flying my Skyhawk and realized that I should probably get something faster. But, I didn't want to sacrifice safety for speed. A lot of the high performance, complex aircraft have not-so-hot safety records (in-flight airframe failures, etc...) I came across the Meyers 200 in the Aviation Consumer's Used Aircraft Guide. From the moment I saw it and read about it I fell in love with them. They're stout (made of steel and covered in aluminum), fast (180 knot cruise), slow (stalls at 52 knots) and have a great safety record (no airworthiness directives on the airframe and no in-flight airframe failures, ever). They're fun to fly too! The hard part was finding one since only 130 of them were made and the owners that have them usually keep them forever. After two years of searching I found a great one and I've been flying it for a while now. The funny thing is that I still fly about 200 hours a year. What I realized was that having a fast airplane allows me to go more places in a much shorter amount of time."
World of Flying: Describe to my readers what Burning Man is all about.
Siracusa: "Burning Man’s official website says “Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind.” What started as a small, impromptu gathering in San Francisco in 1986 has turned into a celebration of individuality, self-reliance and creativity that covers 12 square miles (almost 8,000 acres) and has a greater population than most cities in Nevada.
Every year, the Burning Man organization chooses a theme for the event, and participants are encouraged to create art and costumes and plan events to explore that theme in whatever way engages their imagination. Past event themes have included “Beyond Belief” and “The Green Man.” This year’s theme is “Evolution.”
The perimeter of Burning Man is shaped as a pentagon, surrounded by a nine-mile long, four-foot high fence (known as the trash fence). There are only two ways in and out. The main entrance from the road is the where most people arrive. The only other entrance is through the airport, located just outside the trash fence. In the very center of the pentagon is “The Man” – a towering figure you cannot miss. During the day, he is prominent by his height alone, a 40-foot tall man on top of a 50-foot tall base. At night, he is outlined by neon lights.
The city forms a 2-mile-diameter semi-circle around the Man. The main interior circular road is called the Esplanade and is filled with all kinds of unique theme camps. Between the Esplanade and the Man is an open, no-camping area where artists display and create all kinds of amazing art pieces. Outer circle streets are named in alphabetical order going outward from the Man. The names themselves are theme-related and change every year, but they are always alphabetical and posted on street signs."
World of Flying: How did you get involved in helping to run the airport, and how long have you been doing that?
Siracusa: "In 2000, a friend from San Francisco said that I should go to Burning Man. I'd never heard of it so I did some searching and it sounded like fun. It was the first year that they had an official airport and I've always loved adventure.
There was very little information about the airport itself, other than to say there was one. The Burning Man site has always had good information on what to bring in order to survive your stay on the playa. So, I packed up the plane as best as I could and flew up there. I was worried that without actual coordinates (there weren't any posted that year) I'd have a difficult time finding it. But, I was amazed when I got near the Black Rock Desert that it stood out so clearly. I landed, tied the plane down, unpacked and went "in the city" to have some fun. I've been going back ever since.
I've been helping the airport out there in various ways since I first arrived on the playa back in 2000. The thing about Burning Man is it is a Participant Only event. No spectators are allowed. You need to do something there besides just ogle the art or pretty girls. My love of aviation made helping the airport team an obvious choice in my participation. The entire airport team is made entirely of volunteers and it really is a great group. In fact, one of the big reasons I keep going back is to see my friends that I may only see once a year. Dealing with all kinds of crazy situations in a remote area with extreme weather conditions definitely helps with bonding."
World of Flying: What kind of planes fly into Burning Man?
Siracusa: "Back in 2000 there were only around 20 planes. Last year there were around 200. Everything from little Piper Cubs to Pilatus PC-12s and even Cessna Citations show up. Lots of vintage planes and even an Antonov AN-2 Colt flies out."
World of Flying: What is the weirdest thing you have ever seen fly into Burning Man?
Siracusa: "I think the Antonov is pretty crazy. There's a guy that flies out in a Cessna 180 on amphibious floats. That's kinda funny to see since the Black Rock playa is in fact a dry lake. Another guy flies out in a Yak 52 aerobatic plane and does some great maneuvers near the event. The area is right beneath an MOA (Military Operations Area) so we occasionally get our own little military air show. Everything from F18's doing aerobatics to C-130's and C-17's doing low and slow fly-by's."
Stay tuned for part two, coming soon...
Thursday, August 13, 2009
If you fly cross country in the USA, you have talked to one of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association's members. Love them or hate them, those NATCA controllers got you and your flying machine where you were aiming to go, without trading paint with anyone else.
What you might not have known as they were giving you flight following or guiding your IFR flight was that the person in your headset was possibly fatigued from working well past when their shift should have ended. Or, they could have been a trainee rushed through the system who was not quite ready for prime time.
The working conditions that our controllers have had to endure for the past few years could have easily been avoided, had the Bush administration only came to the table. But in several blog posts such as this one, this one and this one, I continuously reminded my readers that for some insane reason, Bushie's appointees at FAA wanted no part of a labor deal with the people pushing tin through our skies.
From as far back as March 31 of 2006, I have been one of many bloggers chronicling the public screwing that NATCA got from the last administration. Here's a pull quote from one of my posts dated 12.21.07 that clearly showed that many of us pilots on the left had about enough of the strangely misguided priorities in Bush's Washington:
"Gee, I wonder how many controllers we could buy and train with the money spent on ONE DAY of Bushco's war, which by the way is $275 MILLION according to nationalpriorities.org. That kind of cash would go a long way towards filling those chairs at Chicago Center with trained bodies. So I propose we stop the war - just for one day, say maybe Christmas Day, which when you think about it IS what Jesus would do - and give all that money to NATCA to hire and train more controllers."
Yes, we screamed, and yes, we pleaded. Bloggers wrote daily flames chastising W's henchmen for avoiding their nagging NATCA problem, and NATCA's President, Patrick Forrey used his share of ink doing the same, asking the tough questions, as if anyone in the last administration gave a crap:
"Citing the safety board and GAO concerns about fatigue, NATCA president Patrick Forrey asked, "How much more do we have to hear before the FAA is held accountable for the blatant disregard for safety it is showing by understaffing its facilities, working controllers past their breaking points and refusing to work with us to settle an ongoing contract negotiating impasse that has created the largest mass exodus of both veteran controllers and trainees we have seen since 1981?"
Well today – with a new President in the White House, and a new leader at FAA – it is no surprise that NATCA and FAA have announced they have reached a labor agreement. Funny, that wasn't an option before 01.20.09. Here's NATCA's press release:
"The FAA and its largest union, NATCA, have concluded a challenging mediation process that has produced a landmark labor agreement. After years of strained relations, the joint decision to engage in mediation was an important first step, and today’s proposed agreement represents a milestone on the final road to settlement, which awaits ratification by union members. An independent arbitration team today released a decision on a handful of issues not resolved by the mediation, which settled more than 100 of the issues in dispute. The Obama administration recognized that not having a mutually agreed upon contract for the air traffic controllers had created an untenable situation and that ensuring the safety and efficiency of the nation’s aviation system made fair resolution a must."
And with this agreement, we can all move forward at a time when moving forward seems like a really good idea. Again, NATCA's release:
“This marks a new day between the FAA and the air traffic controllers as we move forward with a spirit of cooperation,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “We are hopeful that once the review and ratification are complete, we can accelerate our efforts to adopt NextGen, the next generation air transportation system. This tentative agreement marks a turning point in the relationship between the FAA and its air traffic controller and traffic management employees.”
While this technically is a tentative agreement, I am assured from some of my NATCA contacts that accepting it by the membership is a slam-dunk.
So the next time you as a licensed pilot wants to stand up and shout rude disruptive comments about Barack Obama's health care reform plan, or want to paint swastikas on Democratic politician's office buildings while wearing your flag pin (as if it's better than mine), remember that your guy made it clear he wanted no part of airspace safety. As long as the flaming bodies raining down on Crawford didn't take out any cattle, he was good. Say what you want about our exploding deficit, but Obama came through for the aviation community when the Cowboy could not.
And yes, with this NATCA agreement, I am elated to close an ugly chapter in our country's aviation history, and vow never to type Bush's name again. He has now officially became irrelevant in my world.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
There are times in this aviation world when you see something so crazy, so outrageous and so unnecessary, it makes you wonder how some airlines remain in business. This week's example of customer service wrapped in dog poop is the ridiculous episode that saw 47 passengers become hostages on a Continental flight being flown by Expressjet.
In a nutshell, the flight departed Houston on a late night three-hour hop up to Minneapolis, but weather caused the flight to divert to Rochester, MN. Kudos to the system for having pilots and dispatchers in place that can look at WX and make this kind of decision. However, that would be the last correct decision anyone would make in this calamity.
The flight taxied to within 50 yards of the gate, but because of a reported lack of staff and no TSA on duty, the pax were forced to sit on the RJ..and sit...and sit. From the Houston Chronicle, we get this:
"Steve Leqve woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday to a ringing phone and a friend on the line begging him to get her and 46 other passengers released from a cramped Continental Express plane sitting outside the Rochester, Minn., airport terminal. By the time the woman contacted Leqve, the airport's manager, the airplane had been parked on the Rochester tarmac for more than four hours, as babies wailed and the cabin reeked from a single onboard toilet that didn't flush. The tarmac wait lasted another two hours."
See, in a customer service-based world, the airline would have rustled a gate agent and any goober who can drive a jetway out of bed and had them haul ass to the airport to let these people inside the terminal. And who cares that there was no TSA on duty, the gate area I assume was a secure area, so that excuse is completely absurd.
The KRST management told the Chronicle in no uncertain terms just who was to blame here:
"Leqve declined to identify the passenger who called him after four hours aboard the plane. He said he began making inquiries, but had to tell his friend he did not have the authority to order the jet to pull up to a gate and allow the passengers off. “This is not an airport issue; this is an airline issue,” Leqve said. “We don't park airplanes. We just maintain the building.” Leqve said all decisions to keep the passengers aboard were made by Continental Airlines dispatchers in Minneapolis."
I have to agree, this is pathetic service at it's worst. It's this kind of stumbling airline decision that makes me think about a song that may well define much of the Brass at so many American corporations. It's the classic manta of any gigantic reaking monolith with clueless management who ends up doing more harm than good...a great classic rock sung with passion some years ago by Dire Straights:
"Warning lights are flashing down at quality control - Somebody threw a spanner and they threw him in the hole - There's rumors in the loading bay and anger in the town - Somebody blew the whistle and the walls came down - There's a meeting in the boardroom – they're trying to trace the smell - There's leaking in the washroom - there's a sneak in personnel - Somewhere in the corridors someone was heard to sneeze - Goodness me could this be industrial disease?"
Well said, Knopfler.
I'd love to say that the managers who made the wrong decisions in this particular passenger stranding will learn their lesson. Yeah. Right. That's if someone caught up to them on the golf course to tell them about the public outcry.
Monday, August 10, 2009
The ABCs of flying have been a critical but often loathed part of piloting since the CAA became the FAA. But as things progress in our wild world of aviation, will Average Joe pilot be able to translate an exchange like this between an inbound airplane and ATC:
It used to be that new flight students were scared to use the radio for fear that they’d say something to ATC that made them sound like a rookie. But as we move quickly through the 21st century, it is more important than ever that we are all up to speed on the radio.
Here is a downloadable PDF that I have compiled that shows every FAA acronym I could find. Oh, and yes, this WAS complete crapola, because everyone knows a GA plane can't be included in PAMRI, and the frequency for the SMGCS inbound to WTF is 123.85, not 126.45.
Cherokee 8527W: “Center, Cherokee eight five two seven whiskey with you six thousand five hundred inbound for landing WTF, and FYI, we have the airport on our GPS and the GNSS GUI is showing clear and a million over the ITWS.”Whew.
ATC: “Cherokee two seven whiskey, confirm you have the current MSAW from the NMCC and are following safe RNP procedures for your PATS.”
Cherokee 8527W: “Roger center, two seven whiskey is squared on the AOAS and is expecting my ALTRV of four thousand. And be advised the DARC shows minimal LFME traffic inbound on the SWAP, so we’ll need a UPT for the alternate STARS as we cross EARTS via the outer MARSA LOC.”
ATC: “Two seven whiskey, roger the alternate STARS, we have NARACS frequency interpolation in effect today, so the NPIAS requires you to monitor the PRM and REGIS simultaneously as you pick up the RML for inclusion into the PAMRI system behind the 747 heavy that we show is at your twelve o'clock opposite direction same altitude closing fast. For immediate traffic avoidance, you’ll need to initiate a STVS switch to 126.45 and monitor the SMGCS for spacing.”
It used to be that new flight students were scared to use the radio for fear that they’d say something to ATC that made them sound like a rookie. But as we move quickly through the 21st century, it is more important than ever that we are all up to speed on the radio.
Here is a downloadable PDF that I have compiled that shows every FAA acronym I could find. Oh, and yes, this WAS complete crapola, because everyone knows a GA plane can't be included in PAMRI, and the frequency for the SMGCS inbound to WTF is 123.85, not 126.45.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
At EAA Airventure recently, it was crystal clear which airframe makers had cash flow problems and which ones were rolling fast and strong down the runway. Based on the size of their outdoor displays, booths, sales tents, tractor-trailer rigs and aircraft on display, a few things were apparent:
Cessna by far had the biggest display at the show from what I could tell. Their "booth" took up the most space, and spread over a full "city block" of Airventure's prized real estate, it was clear Wichita was out to prove the point that cash was flowing in and out of Textron coffers in an unstoppable stream. But close behind was Cirrus, which had an equally-impressive display of aircraft and merchandise. The Cirrus "booth" left no doubt in anyone's mind that this company is very much a leader in GA manufacturing. The sheer size of their uniformed sales force gave the impression that it took massive amounts of bodies to keep up with the writing of so many orders for new hardware at the show.
At one end of the Cirrus booth was their jet, the SF50 Vision. As I stood next to this beautiful flying machine, I swear you could almost feel the drama swirling about it's sleek fuselage. There has recently been more questions about this project than answers, with Cirrus co-founder Alan Klapmeier making a much-publicized bid to round up investors and buy the jet project from Cirrus and form a new company. I was dying to ask one of the many Cirrus people about who might be building the jet in a year, but this was such a fluid situation even during Airventure, I know that getting a straight story would have been impossible.
In researching the SF50 Vision project recently, I found this story during Aero-News Network's spectacular Airventure coverage that clears up the question of who will build the Cirrus jet, at least as far as Cirrus is concerned:
"Cirrus President Brent Wouters says Cirrus is proceeding with the Cirrus Jet project, calling it a strategic initiative for the company that is attracting investor interest and is moving forward into detailed design. "We remain committed to it. Nothing about this has changed that," he said."
Nothing has changed? That was a week ago, which is a year in Cirrus time these days. As many suspected, and from what ANN reported in this story, you would need a machete to cut through the tension in the Cirrus Board room. As the story broke that Klapmeier was attempting to locate investors to buy the project, many writers - including me - were working overtime trying to connect the dots on what exactly might be going on up there in the wild and wooly Northland. And this week, we see an AIN Online report by Matt Thurber that seems to prove that yes, something big has in fact changed at Cirrus:
"Cirrus Visionary Alan Klapmeier Leaving Company - Although Cirrus Aircraft fielded a large display at EAA AirVenture last week in Oshkosh, Wis., notably missing from the Cirrus exhibit area and Cirrus’s press conference was cofounder and board chairman Alan Klapmeier. Now the Cirrus board of directors has decided not to renew Klapmeier’s contract and to seek a new chairman when his term expires at the end of this month. Late last week, Alan Klapmeier halted his efforts to acquire the Vision program. “It is us that ended negotiations when I thought we could go no higher and they could go no lower,” he told AIN. “I will not be chairman of the board, and what our future relationship is, [that] is undecided. It was clearly their choice ."
It is huge news any time a company founder is shown the door, if in fact that is what is happening at Cirrus. Klapmeier says his future relationship is "undecided", and in the most high profile and dramatic soap opera in general aviation, nobody outside of a handful of insiders has any clue what that means for Cirrus.
But this I do know: I remain one of Cirrus's biggest fans, and would be honored to own anything off their showroom floor. The company is redefining GA transportation every day, leading the pack while everyone else chases them across the sky. Since I am not a Cirrus insider and know not one person who works there, I can only speculate with the rest of the GA community. And if Cirrus is really on stable financial ground, and if they certify and deliver the SF50, all will be perfect in Duluth for the NextGen of aircraft buyers who are today still in diapers.
However, when any large industy leader changes top management under what appears to be rather turbulent conditions (think Eclipse), there can only be two results. One, they will continue their dominance as a sector leader, or two, they will be re-arranging the deck chairs as they hang on for dear life in a troubled economy that sees more factories shuttered each week. With GAMA reporting piston sales down 58% in 2Q09 vs. 2Q08, everyone's order books are thin. The challenges for Cirrus are great, and I believe this is crunch time for Team Wouters. I am sincerely hoping that at this time next year, and the year after that, and five years from now, Cirrus is still selling all the airplanes they can build.
They are a great company and they deserve no less than many more years of success.
Update @ 945A on 08.07.09: Comment on Twitter from someone saying I am "siding with Cirrus" in this post. Here's the deal... since I do not know who is doing what to whom, or who said what, or how anything in Duluth is coming down, I refuse to make one side the victim and one the villain. Since I have no allegiance to either side - if there ARE sides - all I care to do is wish Cirrus well as they move forward.
Monday, August 03, 2009
On Tuesday night of EAA's Annual Airplane Party, Swap Meet and Aerobatic Orgy, I hosted a "Tweetup" so I could meet a few of the "Tweeps" I have been communicating with throughout the Twittersphere. It was a casual event held in the EAA Press Office's Hospitality Tent, a venue made possible by the generosity of their Media/Public Relations Director, Dick Knapinski.
By 730P on the second day of the show, it was clear everyone at the Tweetup was shot from a full day of chasing stories and airplanes from one end of Wittman Regional Airport to the other. Knapinski and I pulled up a couple of chairs, hoisted a few cups of free soda pop, and talked about Airventure. The story I heard from this professional PR guy was almost unbelievable given the sad state of this nation's economy. Had this been the PR mouthpiece of an insurance or pharmaceuticals convention, surely his story would have been received as pure bullsh*t. But Knapinski's story was genuine:
He told me that on the first day of the show, Monday, July 27th, EAA got "slammed" with an overflow crowd. So many planes flew in, they had to scramble to open more camping areas near the North 40. So many cars were trying to park, they had to open up rarely-used lots so far away from the action, you'd need to catch Greyhound to get to Aeroshell Square. He told me online pre-sold tickets were up in the neighborhood of 20 percent, and vendors were reporting very good sales. All this, in a down economy when we flyers were supposed to stay home and piss/moan. Yeah, right, tell that to a bunch of pilots during the last week of July.
A pessimist might have written Knapinski's story off as so much PR fluff, but not me. I knew he was right, as I could see the crowds first-hand each time I attempted to get near a food concession. When 50 people are in line at every Brat stand, and 200 people are waiting to catch the bus from the dorms each morning, you just know this is one huge show. And today, EAA released numbers to prove Knapinski was right, people were in fact giving the down economy the middle finger and aiming their Chevy or Cessna at the shores of Lake Winnebago. Here is Oshkosh "by the numbers":
578,000 - people in attendance – An increase of 12 percent over 2008
10,000 - total aircraft arriving at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh and other airports in east-central Wisconsin
2,652 - total showplanes (highest total since 2005), including 1,023 homebuilt aircraft, 1,007 vintage airplanes, 355 warbirds, 116 ultralights, 99 seaplanes, 36 aerobatic aircraft and 16 rotorcraft
750 - total number of commercial exhibitors
2,182 - international visitors registered from 75 nations, with Canada (700 visitors), South Africa (220), and Australia (208) the top three nations. (NOTE: This total includes only non-U.S. visitors who register at the International Visitors Tent, so the actual international contingent is undoubtedly larger.)
41,000 - total estimated campers (fly-in and drive-in camping areas)
907 - media representatives on-site, from five continents
EAA president Tom Poberezny commented on why this show bucked the economic odds and delivered these large numbers:
“When times are tough, people make choices. Those with a passion for aviation made their choice this year … Oshkosh was the place they couldn’t miss in 2009. I've been chairman of AirVenture since the mid-1970s and I have to say we’ve never had a better lineup of airplanes, people and programs than we had this year. I’m pleased EAA invested nearly $4 million in site improvements over the past 11 months, allowing us to handle this year’s increased attendance. We’ve received extensive and positive feedback on those site improvements and enhancements. This year we highlighted emerging new aviation technology such as electric-powered aircraft. We will continue the emphasis on those innovations at Oshkosh in 2010. In addition, there are several significant aviation anniversaries next year, such as the 75th anniversary of the DC-3, and further developments in Virgin Galactic’s space tourism efforts.”
So as the Dow inches above 9,000 and the big airframe manufacturers slowly hire back employees, the growth at Airventure has to be viewed as a big step out of the quagmire we've been stuck in. Are we back to the financial high cruising altitudes we saw in 2006 and 2007? No, not even close. But I feel comfortable in saying that without question, the nose on the airplane we call GA is again pointed up and the VSI is showing a positive rate of climb.
I want to personally thank Dick Knapinski and EVERYONE at EAA Airventure that put in the tireless work to make this year's show such a roaring success. I'm sure We the People have no idea what goes into putting this extravaganza on, but this I do know: The GA community is elated to have EAA and the good people of Wisconsin to do this for us each year. Just imagine what our summers would be like without Oshkosh.
I don't think any of us wants to go there.
Saturday, August 01, 2009
As I sit here in the Outagamie Regional Airport (KATW) waiting to depart Wisconsin after two days of sun and fun at Airventure, I am reflecting on many things that I have seen and done in the past few dozen hours.
EAA's Airventure Oshkosh is a mega compilation of all that makes our general aviation world so unique and special. It is the joy of seeing beautiful new flying machines and museum-quality vintage birds up close. It is the camaraderie of rubbing elbows with the best quality people on the planet. And, it is wandering jam-packed exhibit halls gawking at everything from the latest avionics to the all-in-one airplane repair tool/flashlight that fits in your flight bag and can slice and dice kumquats, open an MRE and allow a Missionary pilot to rebuilt his engine while stranded in the Amazon jungle.
And speaking of Missionary pilots, I met one on this trip that exemplifies all that makes the pilot community so special to me. You know about Missionary pilots, those adventurous men and women that fly Cessna 206s, Helio Couriers and now the Quest Kodiak into tiny remote mud strips carved out of the side of a hill in a "one way in, one way out" canyon deep in the most exotic corners of this Earth. Their work often goes unnoticed by many outside of aviation, but it is these courageous sticks who sometimes make the difference between life and death to native tribes that have no other contact with the outside world.
As I tried my luck with United Airlines flying commercial to Oshkosh last weekend, I got as far as ORD in Chicago when my luck ran out. The last plane of the night – a Mesa Airlines quick-hopper up to KATW – had been delayed a few hours, and the full flight, made up of mostly aviators trying to get to Airventure, was getting restless after two gate changes. But when the Gate Agent announced our flight had been canceled, we 60 or so Oshkosh-bound customers were at that point screwed.
But wait, we are PILOTS, we can surely find a way out of this mess. And we did:
When they made the announcement that we were not flying to ATW tonight on any airline, and with no car rentals left anywhere in Wisconsin, our options were running out fast. We all were herded to Customer Service and began waiting for the bad news. We were not getting to Oshkosh in time for the opening day on Monday. I was standing next to a tall gentleman and while not trying to listen in to his conversation, his phone and my ear were maybe 24" part. I heard him arrange to have a van come all the way from the Oshkosh area and get him. When he hung up, I quickly apologized for accidentally overhearing his conversation, but told him if he had any room in the van, I'm in for as much cash as he needed if he could get me to Oshkosh that night. He had five seats left, and I jumped on one. Problem solved.
Turns out the van's drivers were actually coming from Wautoma, WI, about 40 minutes west of Oshkosh. Their drive to ORD would be well over four hours, so we had plenty of time to kill. And I used that time to make friends with the man who arranged the van, Dave Voetmann, who happens to be one of the "Co-Visionaries" of Quest Aircraft, makers of the Kodiak turboprop. Also along in the van were other complete strangers who became fast friends, Gary from Santa Monica and Joe, an international 767 Captain for United. And yes, Joe made it crystal clear that it was Mesa Airlines that should be cursed this night and not his employer.
But it was Dave Voetmann who made this night the kind that we pilots hold dear. Our community is small, but the fellowship we share is huge, and each pilot has his/her story to tell. Voetmann was one of the founders of Quest, and worked directly with Missionary pilots around the world to take a blank sheet of paper and design the nearest thing to the perfect aircraft to serve their purpose. He has flown into the most difficult strips anywhere since the very early 1960s, and his stories were the sort that are so intriguing that you just know every word was true, this stuff you just can't make up. While waiting for the van and then for the next fours hours as we pushed north to Oshkosh, Dave entertained us with endless stories that all went something like this:
A tired looking but capable Cessna 206 loaded 200 pounds over gross is lumbering along up a remote canyon in the Amazon. Low clouds obscure the steep cliffs just off the wingtips, and without GPS or even a working VOR station, navigation is out the windscreen. Inside the plane are boxes of bibles, medicine, food, trading trinkets and even a few live chickens. Flying the plane, Voetmann slows the plane to near stall as he descends around a blind corner, dancing with the Devil as he must stay fast enough to remain airborne, but slow enough to make the approach that lay ahead. As he and the 206 rounds the turn, a short muddy "strip" cut literally by machete out of the jungle is seen, and he sticks the plane on where the numbers would be if this kind of remote strip HAD numbers. He stands on the brakes, the live chickens freak out, and as the prop stops, the native people emerge from the trees to welcome him. After offloading his cargo and refueling from barrels of avgas that had to be trekked into the strip on the back of animals or in some sort of wagon, he points the prop out of the canyon and performs a dramatic max performance takeoff to clear tall trees that mark the "perimeter" of this "airport".
Dave Voetmann and his fellow Missionary pilots will do this same type of edge-of-your seat flying tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. He has done this for years, and for decades. Today, the company he helped to birth is hoping to deliver thousands of very capable Kodiaks to his brethren around the world, allowing them to haul more, go farther, and do more of God's work. The idea is simple, take some of the profit from every nine Kodiaks delivered for commercial use and use those funds to reduce the cost of the 10th one to near cost for delivery to the many Missionary groups waiting in line for this extremely capable aircraft.
The way this van trip to Oshkosh developed, and they way we wayward flyers came together as quick friends to pool our cash and made the trip happen is what flying is all about. I don't believe I have ever met such a colorful, generous, more respectable man that Dave Voetmann, he is just a class act in every way. The number of people this man has helped around the world cannot be counted, but I promise you this: Not one of those native people who have met one of his mission flights in a jungle far from civilization will ever forget this skilled but honestly humble pilot.
And neither will I.