Archive for 2012

The Runway Incursion Avoidance Task

Robert Chapin
2013-01-30T00:25:32+00:00

Page 1 of the new PHAK chapter.I just learned that the FAA published critical safety procedures back in April pertaining to the new runway incursion avoidance standards for pilot testing.  This is a surprise to me because I’ve taken several tests since April.  According to FAA Safety Notice NOTC3863, which I recently surfed into, that new information was removed from the public list of  notices in August.

Here is the critical bit:

A New Chapter has been added to the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK) entitled, Runway Incursion Avoidance. This chapter, contained in Appendix 1, provides the information pilots will be tested and checked on.

This is where it gets weird.  I went to update my copy of the PHAK today, but found the 2008 version is still the latest copy on the FAA website.  I had also checked for updates in May, August, and October this year, and only found the 2008 version.

A new chapter has been added to the PHAK.  But it hasn’t.  To get the new chapter, you have to visit the link above, or download it directly from PHAK Appendix 1.  I hope the FAA will notice the problem and update the PHAK information. (The PHAK page was indeed updated on 11 Jan 2013 and now it includes the extra link.)

I will take notes from the new material and include them below.  One of the more interesting points is that the runway hold-short position might not be where you think it is!

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29 Dec 2012

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Aeronautical Knowledge

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Fall Finals

Robert Chapin
2012-12-10T00:32:33+00:00
Rob standing in the fan duct of an A330 engine.

I like big fans.

Aviation Senior Seminar is coming to a close this week.  For future reference, all of my posts for the class are filed under AVT422.

Coming into this class, my career plans consisted of a few goals:  Graduation, entry-level pilot job, regional or corporate upgrades, and some day get to fly one of the Boeing 7×7 models.

Now I am making my plans more detailed, mostly with information presented in this class.  The most important changes pertain to the first officer qualifications starting 2013.  I think the full text of that FAA proposal should be required reading for all aviation students.  The qualifications will be very specific in terms of night flying experience and other résumé items that I had assumed would not be relevant to my selection of an entry level job.  As I see it now, those qualifications are everything to my career.

On the later topic of the pilot shortage, I was impressed by the need to consider international job opportunities and competition.  If there is any one topic that I might follow up with another blog post, it is that one.  Since writing that post in October, the topic has received enormous attention from the New York Times, NPR, and the guest speaker at our annual fraternity dinner, to name a few.  There is much more information to explore in that developing story.

Among the guest speakers at Seminar, the airline pilots and graduates of EMU were the most influential to me.  I admit, one of the highlights was asking a current Airbus captain for his opinions about the Air France flight 447 accident.  From his perspective, the changes in recurrent training and in the Airbus culture globally were profound.  From my perspective, that is an important aspect of system safety, and it is the part of the overall story that is always left out of the television documentary version.  The other highlights of the guest speakers’ presentations were the simple details of their career paths and the struggles and successes along the way.

My least favorite blog topic was the demise of Comair.  Maybe it was my unfamiliarity with the airline, or the open-ended topic starter, but I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm that I put into other blog posts.  There were some Comair enthusiasts in the class, so I had to give them a fair chance at out-blogging me that week.

After graduation, I will be pursuing employment and probably finishing a CFII or MEI rating.  My philosophy for the future is that I will be always learning new things, taking exams, meeting new people, and exercising the highest level of safety humanly possible.  I will be involved in aviation for very many years to come.

9 Dec 2012

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Emissions Trading Explained, With Stick Figures

Robert Chapin
2014-01-31T02:51:12+00:00
Government stick figure giving free CO2 allowances to power plant stick figures.

It begins with a number of allowances.

Behold the combination of my graphical design talent with my ability to explain the inner workings of the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS).  Both are amazing, I know.

Here’s the background.  Europe (the blue stick figure) has been concerned about air pollution and global warming for many years.  In 2005, to reverse the trend of increasing pollution, Europe invented a new market instrument called the EU Allowance (EUA).  That was how the trading system began.

Enough background, though.  I want to explain the less-technical parts first.  Instead of using the name EUA, I will call those things Alpha Bills to make them sound more like a currency.

To get a trading system started, Europe orders up two billion Alpha Bills from its printing presses and starts doing some trading of its own.  The blue stick figure visits Power Plant #1 and says, “I would like to purchase your air pollution.  I see that you are producing 100,000 metric tons of CO2 every year, so I will give you 100,000 Alpha Bills per year in exchange for your pollution.  The only catch is, if you produce more than 100,000 metric tons, you will either have to get someone else to buy the excess or you will have to pay me a fine of 100 dollars per ton.”  Of course, the power plant is European and doesn’t actually have dollars, but I’m trying to keep this simple.  Both the blue stick figure from the government and the red stick figures at the power plant get to keep their dollars because no real money has changed hands yet.

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2 Dec 2012

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NextGen is About Safety

Robert Chapin
2012-11-12T00:22:20+00:00

The NextGen program is an ongoing effort to modernize the airspace system in the United States.  It encompasses several long-term objectives, looking forward through 2020 and beyond.  I use the term “ongoing” because I believe this program grew from the public perception in the 1990s that the government was relying on decades-obsolete equipment for air traffic control, and had not even fully transitioned to solid-state electronics. Some of those concerns have been put to rest, and there is now a more proactive approach to upgrading the entire system.

Safety is the top priority of NextGen in the sense that it is the only one of the four “pillars” that is public facing.  If all future plans are seamlessly executed, there should be a very high standard of safety maintained, and this will be championed as the result of years of improvements.  On the other hand, changes in flexibility, sustainability, and economic impact would never be noticed unless a serious problem arises.

I believe flexibility is the second priority because the airspace system needs room to grow.  The remaining two pillars, sustainability and economic impact perhaps temper the plans with cost effectiveness and environmental considerations.  Each is important.

For me, the most noticeable effects of NextGen will be the further integration of GPS and ADS-B technologies into flight procedures.  This means more airports will be open on cloudy days and more airplanes will rely on satellite navigation rather than ground-based or inertial systems.  It will also mean less radio communication and a transition to at least partial text messaging between pilots and ATC.  Aviation has a very tech-savvy future.

11 Nov 2012

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Space Flight and Tourism

Robert Chapin
2012-11-04T23:59:18+00:00
Rob sitting on the wall of the Zero G 727

Zero G Training in Las Vegas

In response to Jason’s article about SpaceX, I will give my view of the utility and future of private space flight.

First of all, I think it’s great that some of my classmates are aspiring to have careers in the private space flight industry.  This is a novel idea in the sense that there were no private companies or passengers more than a decade ago and NASA has only recently stopped flying its fleet of space shuttles.  In my parents’ generation there were some aspiring astronauts, but the chances of being selected for that opportunity were close to none.

For me, space tourism is something I can imagine within my lifetime.  Sure, the industry will need pilot/astronauts to command missions, and perhaps civilian pilots will be able to qualify for that future upgrade.  I just think it’s more likely that I will be a passenger tourist enjoying space flight as a rare luxury.  With terrestrial flying as my career, taking a trip out into space would be more like a vacation.

4 Nov 2012

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Pilot Shortage: Just the Facts

Robert Chapin
2013-01-29T20:59:06+00:00
Graph showing the number of active pilots from 1999 through 2011.

Pilots in the U.S. the Past 12 Years

The aviation industry is famous for its booms and busts.  While all industries are subjected to business cycles, aviation is unique for its cries of a “pilot shortage” looming or existing during each boom.  Airlines leverage this perception of a “shortage” to lobby for relaxed hiring rules, while flight schools use this in sales pitches to convince students they are in high demand.

This often leaves pilots wondering: Is there really a shortage?  How long will a shortage last?

In my opinion, this concept of a pilot shortage, real or not, is disseminated by the media.  It seems somewhat implausible that the same problem is occurring again and again for the same reasons, with the same forecasts, in different political and economic circumstances.

Consider, for example, a 1989 article in The New York Times that describes an imminent shortage that was caused by:

  • “An aging corps of pilots.”
  • “A decline in the number of new students.”
  • “A lack of growth in the airlines’ customary supply of aviators from the military.”

Compare that to a 2012 article in USA Today that describes a pilot shortage that will be caused by:

  • “A wave of pilot retirements at U.S. airlines.”
  • “Tougher qualification standards for new pilots.”
  • “The pool of military-trained pilots that airlines have relied upon in the past has largely dried up.”

Well have I got a news story for you!  Pilots always get older, students never want to pay for anything, and World War II ended a long time ago.

For the sake of presenting pertinent facts about this topic, I’ve gathered up several small piles of numbers.  The first, graphed above, is the number of pilots estimated to have active certificates in the United States for the past 12 years.  This information comes from the U.S. Civil Airmen Statistics compiled by the FAA.  Below are my observations:

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28 Oct 2012

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General Aviation in China

Robert Chapin
2012-10-22T00:11:11+00:00

Have you heard that the Chinese market for pilots who want to fly privately (as in general aviation) is growing?  Well, this particular market is not one in which China will outgrow its competitors any time soon.  The reason this growth is occurring now is that it was essentially illegal to fly privately in China until very recently.  According to Xinhua, pilots must apply for a flight approval from the Chinese Air Force before every flight.  As of January, this requirement was lifted for the first time in airspace above six cities and 32% of overall Chinese airspace, up to an altitude of only 1,000 meters.  This plan was announced in 2010, and it includes the opening of additional space in future years.

Another aspect of the boom in China is the export of general aviation aircraft manufacturing jobs from the United States to China.  In 2007, Cessna announced it would start manufacturing its new light aircraft in China.  This would have the advantage of making the aircraft more affordable both in China and the United States.  This became a trend during the 2008 recession and it now looks inevitable that all Cessna aircraft will be made in China some day.

Last week, a deal to sell Hawker Beechcraft to a Chinese investor fell through on concerns about an international conflict of interest, according to the Wall Street Journal.  This will force the company to follow through with bankruptcy proceedings and perhaps keep its operations in the United States.  Beechcraft may find itself in direct competition with Cessna’s lower price point and need to focus on a “Made in the USA” label or on military contracts to stay in business.  With the trend of moving business to China, American-made airplanes and American aerospace jobs could become scarce commodities.

21 Oct 2012

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Detroit Airspace Redesign

Robert Chapin
2014-01-28T04:01:11+00:00
Diagram of the proposed Class B airspace configuration

Proposed Airspace Configuration

This is a heads up for anyone interested in commenting on the new Detroit airspace.  NPRM comments must be received by the FAA deadline next Monday, October 15.

I was able to get a sneak peek of the proposal back in March, so I’m already psyched up to start flying in a much larger and more complex terminal area.  Here are a few observations about the changes:

Over Ann Arbor, 3,400 ft will be the only usable level without a clearance.  On the bright side, the ambiguous sector where Class B at 3,000 ft overlaps Class D at 3,300 ft will be eliminated.

At Willow Run, it will no longer be possible to depart the Class D airspace VFR to the south without a clearance to do so.

The FAA makes an interesting remark about Eastern Michigan University training traffic.  According to the NPRM, “the FAA does not agree, therefore, that the proposed Class B airspace area would render the EMU training area south of ARB unusable or force a concentration of VFR training aircraft in EMU’s north training area.”

I think both EMU and the FAA have good points here.  The FAA suggests training may continue in the south practice area so long as a Class B clearance is obtained by each pilot operating above 4,000 ft.  This is true, however those clearances are issued on a workload-permitting basis, and Detroit is sometimes unable to take VFR requests even in the current configuration.  EMU may be correct that this would occasionally lead to congestion north of Ann Arbor.

There is also one statement I have to disagree with, where the FAA says, “the other half of EMU’s training area remains completely useable; either under a proposed Class B airspace shelf with a 6,000-foot MSL floor or outside the lateral boundary of the proposed Class B airspace area altogether.”  The only portion of the training area that is actually outside the proposed airspace is a tiny triangular corner, approximately 1.5 miles on each side.  I hope for a more precise consideration of this point if it gets mentioned in the final rule.

Next Post: New Detroit Airspace Effective April 2014

12 Oct 2012

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Comair

Robert Chapin
2012-10-08T00:21:20+00:00

This week, the topic is Comair, and the so-called regional airlines.  These businesses are sometimes difficult to identify because their operations are owned or at least re-branded by major airlines.  Comair flew for Delta Air Lines from 1984 until 2012.  They used hundreds of “regional jet” aircraft, with the Delta logo, to take passengers on short haul flights.

Originally, Comair was just a tiny operation based in Cincinnati with three little airplanes.  It started in 1977.  The company went public in 1981, and was bought out by Delta in 2001.  Delta went bankrupt in 2005 until 2007, putting enormous pressure on costs.  It was at that point Delta was forced to begin dismantling Comair.  The basic reason was that Comair had a successful business model for the short haul market of the 1980s, but it failed to adapt to changing conditions over time.

This move to shut down Comair doesn’t mean the regional airline market is going away any time soon.  SkyWest, another regional airline, is still in business and currently hiring pilots.  Some of their recent hires are showcased by ATP Flight School.  According to Airline Pilot Central the starting pay is $22.

7 Oct 2012

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Airfare

Robert Chapin
2012-09-30T22:48:42+00:00

What is the ideal price for a ride on an airliner?

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30 Sep 2012

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