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Pilot Cell Phone Use: Don't Be That Guy

by Sarina Houston 16. April 2015 10:25
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Photo: Jorge Quinteros/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Let's talk about your iPhone. It's no secret that the selfie craze has made its way into the cockpit. And why not? As pilots, we get to witness so many beautiful things from a few thousand feet in the air - the sun reflecting off of a puffy cloud layer, a gorgeous sunset against a vast horizon, the city landscape on a foggy morning. We have a great view - some of us are lucky enough to call it our office and get to see it daily - and we should feel free to snap a photo and capture a memory from time to time. And what harm is done by answering that text while we're at it?

But are pilots overdoing it with the selfies and other cell phone distractions? Are we are putting the safety of our flight at stake when we stop to snap a photo or text a friend?

David Yanofsky, a writer for Quartz, seems to think so. In a recent article detailing the "Pilots of Instagram," Yanofsky calls out a number of pilots for violating the sterile cockpit rule and FAA policy on portable electronic devices (PEDs). Yanofsky, whose article made him wildly unpopular among aviation professionals in the social media world, brings attention to yet another way that pilots might become distracted in the cockpit, but he was widely criticized for bringing negative attention to something that really isn't a problem. An airline pilot who snaps a photo of the clouds from 30,000 feet probably isn't creating any sort of hazard at all. Common sense tells you that the short attention diversion in this scenario is really no different than if a pilot glances at his watch for a moments or looks down to read a chart, or is otherwise engaged in conversation with her copilot. But common sense - and a will to survive - should also tell us that taking selfies while flying an approach just shouldn't happen.

The trouble is that often times where common sense should prevail, it doesn't. And there are at least a few cases to prove it. Selfies, or using personal electronic devices for texting has been a contributing factor during a few recent plane crashes.

In Denver last year, a pilot made a series of errors in judgment and crashed after stalling his aircraft during an approach. He and his passenger both died. Soon after, the NSTB reported that the pilots had been taking selfies while in the pattern. At night. In low IMC. Using the flash. We all shake our heads in disbelief, but I'm guessing this person thought of himself as a smart guy. And maybe he was a smart guy. Common sense can clearly escape the best of us if it means we get an awesome photo to share in Facebook. (The pilot also happened to be flying at night and in IMC without meeting the currency requirements for either… but that's another story.)

In 2011, four people died when a medical helicopter operating a commercial flight crashed in a field in Missouri. The helicopter ran out of fuel, and the NTSB listed "the pilot's distracted attention due to personal texting during safety-critical ground and flight operations" as a contributing factor.

More recently, it was reported that a student pilot is suing his flight school, claiming that his instructor was on FaceTime during a simulated engine emergency last December, causing an accident that left the student in critical condition and killed the instructor. The NTSB accident report does not mention the pilot's use of his phone during the flight, but the student's lawyer says they're suing.

In 2014, the FAA issued a Final Rule that restricts Part 121 (airline) pilots from operating any electronic devices for personal during flight operations. The rules states that pilots are only allowed to use company-issued devices for tasks that are directly related to the operation of the flight, for safety-related purposes or for company communications. But this rule does not apply to Part 135 or Part 91 operations. General aviation pilots are allowed to use cell phone and iPads during flight, for which most of us are grateful. After all, where would we be without ForeFlight? And how convenient is it to use our phone to call for a clearance instead of relying on an RCO? And, of course, it's nice to be able to capture a beautiful sunset on camera every now and then.

But we should not be taking selfies on final approach at night and in IMC, or during any other critical phase of flight. And we should really try to limit our cell phone use during flight to aircraft operations and emergencies only to ensure we don't lose focus on the task at hand and find ourselves the recipient of an FAA violation or worse, a fatal accident.

Don't be that guy. Don't be the guy taking selfies on final approach. Don't be that guy using FaceTime in the middle of a training flight. Don't be that guy messing with the GoPro at 300 feet on upwind because you forgot to turn it on during the preflight. Don't be the guy that dies in a plane crash, leaving photos or video footage of your mistakes in your wake.

Maybe we should just put down the phone, look out the window and enjoy the view.

Is Your Co-Pilot Depressed?

by Sarina Houston 2. April 2015 00:20
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Photo: NIMH

In light of the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash in which one of the pilots locked the other out of the cockpit and then intentionally flew an Airbus A320 into a mountain in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board, the issue of mental health in pilots has resurfaced.

After the captain of the aircraft got up to use the restroom mid-flight, 27-year-old co-pilot Andrews Lubitz locked him out and refused to allow him back in. Then he reportedly programmed the autopilot to descend from an altitude of 38,000 feet down to 100 feet with the intention of crashing into the side of a mountain along the way.

Investigators reportedly found an anti-depressant medication in the apartment of Lubitz, along with other evidence that suggested the Germanwings first offficer was seeing a doctor for depression.

Lubitz had not informed the airline of this most recent bout with depression, but people who knew him have come forward to say that he was suicidal at one point. And, according to an ex-girlfriend, he had a temper. But how could anyone have known that this person could commit such a heinous act?

CNN reported that Lubitz passed an aviation medical exam in 2014, which a Lufthansa official said didn't test mental health. But even if the exam did covered mental health issues in depth, what pilot would admit to depression or mood disorders knowing that he'd lose his job? For many pilots, flying is a life-long dream - a career that they've worked hard for - and to know that depression, suicidal thoughts or a more severe mood disorder would essentially disable them from flying professionally and perhaps even as a hobby, would be a tough pill to swallow. Because they'd lose their jobs, careers, and for many, their livelihood, most pilots who have experienced depression or other symptoms of a mood disorder or mental health issue, will, sadly, fail to report them.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that mental illness is common in the United States. In 2012, according to the NIMH website, about 18.6 percent of adults in the United States had some form of mental illness (not including those related to substance abuse.) Luckily for the traveling public, most of them are not suicidal.

We can probably assume that this statistic carries over to the pilot career profession, although statistics pertaining to pilots with a mental illness won't reflect this same trend due to the nature of the job. We rely on self-reporting procedures, and when a pilot's career is on the line, chances are good that he or she just won't report it.

Eighteen percent of adults in the United States have some sort of diagnosed mental illness. This could be anything from minor depression or social anxiety to bipolar disorder or suicidal behavior. To be more specific, the NIMH says that a Serious Mental Illness (SMI) occurs in about four percent of all adults. A serious mental illness is defined as one that interferes with normal life activities and results in "serious functional impairment."

So, according to these numbers, somewhere between four and 18 percent of people in general have some sort of mental illness. This means that if you're a pilot, up to one out of six pilots you fly with could be suffering from some sort of mental illness. Luckily, very few of these people are also suicidal, and flights continue to operate safely every day.

Germanwings Flight 9525 was, perhaps, a case that could have been prevented. But what's the fix for depression in pilots and the failure to self-report? Better mental health screening for pilots? Better working conditions? A mandate for two pilots in the cockpit at all times? (Most or all U.S. airlines already employ a strategy of this kind, by the way.) Take the human element out of the cockpit altogether?

While we need to do all we can to prevent another tragedy like this from occurring, how far will we go, or how far should we go, to save ourselves from… ourselves? "Better" mental health screening could lead to even less reporting by pilots. Two pilots in the cockpit will help, unless the second physically overtakes the first one. And can we really take the human element out of the equation altogether? Even RPAs - remotely piloted airplanes - are flown by humans on the ground. If one of these pilots were to be suicidal, they could still fly the airplane into a mountain.

Is there a solution to making certain that a suicide mission like Germanwings 9525 doesn't happen again? Or is there a certain element of risk - a low probability/high consequence risk like an aircraft suicide mission- that we must accept as human beings functioning in a world with other human beings? Or is there a happy medium? What are your thoughts?

Equal Access To Justice Act: When Are Fees "Incurred"?

by Greg Reigel 1. April 2015 17:14
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As you may recall from previous articles, if the FAA pursues an enforcement or civil penalty action and then loses, the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) allows a certificate holder or target of the civil penalty action to seek reimbursement from the FAA for the attorney’s fees and expenses incurred by the certificate holder or target of the civil penalty action to defend against the claims asserted by the FAA. The EAJA is found at 5 U.S.C. 504 and is implemented in 49 CFR 826.

According to 49 CFR 826.1,

The Equal Access to Justice Act, 5 U.S.C. 504 (the Act), provides for the award of attorney fees and other expenses to eligible individuals and entities who are parties to certain administrative proceedings (adversary adjudications) before the National Transportation Safety Board (Board). An eligible party may receive an award when it prevails over the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), unless the Government agency's position in the proceeding was substantially justified or special circumstances make an award unjust.

In order to award EAJA fees to a certificate holder or target of a civil penalty action who is requesting reimbursement of fees (the “Applicant”), one of the issues an administrative law judge ("ALJ") must decide is whether the fees were actually “incurred” by the Applicant. In a situation where the Applicant has paid an attorney for representation throughout the enforcement process out of the Applicant’s own pocket, this is easy. Conversely, when an Applicant’s employer or union pays the fees then the Applicant did not incur the fees for purposes of EAJA. However, if the employer advances the fees and the Applicant is obligated to repay those fees regardless of the outcome of the action, then the Applicant would also be considered to have incurred the fees.

Also, it may be possible for an Applicant to incur fees by retaining an attorney on a contingent fee basis under which the attorney would only receive payment in the event of an EAJA recovery. However, this type of arrangement must be documented at the time the attorney is retained in order for it to qualify under EAJA. In general, documentation of the payment of, or obligation for, the fees is critical to recovery under EAJA.

But what if an applicant doesn't have documentation to show an agreement to pay or be responsible for payment to the attorney who represented the Applicant before the Board? Well, a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia addressed this very issue.

In Roberts v. National Transportation Safety Board the Court was asked to review a decision by the Board affirming an ALJ's rejection of Mr. Roberts' EAJA application on the basis that Mr. Roberts had not actually "incurred" attorney's fees. The ALJ found that Mr. Roberts' attorney also represented his employer and, in the absence of any written agreement between Mr. Roberts and either his employer or the attorneys to the contrary, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Roberts' employer had paid the attorneys. As a result, the ALJ held that Mr. Roberts had not personally incurred the attorney's fees as required by EAJA. The Board then affirmed the ALJ's decision, even though it reversed the ALJ's earlier finding that the employer had agreed to pay for Mr. Roberts' attorney's fees.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals, Mr. Roberts argued that the Board's determination that he had not personally incurred the fees was arbitrary and capricious. The Court agreed and found that the Board's refusal to consider that Mr. Roberts may have been obligated to pay attorney's fees under a quantum meruit theory (also called an implied contract theory) was arbitrary and capricious. The Court observed that Alabama law (the state law applicable to any relationship Mr. Roberts had with his attorney) implies a promise to pay compensation for services rendered to another that are knowingly accepted even in the absence of a valid written contract. The Court went on to observe that the Board's conclusion that Mr. Roberts had not proven that he was responsible for attorney's fees because the attorney's invoices didn't clearly say so defied logic. And the Court determined the Board's reliance upon the absence of an express contract as dispositive was in error.

However, although the Court held that Mr. Roberts had incurred attorney's fees, it noted that all of the fees and expenses claimed by Mr. Roberts may not necessarily be eligible for reimbursement. The Court remanded the case back to the NTSB for it to consider which submitted fees and expenses were supported by sufficient documentation and whether any reduction in award is appropriate.

Conclusion

This decision will certainly help anyone applying for an EAJA award after having to defend themselves against an unjustified certificate or civil penalty action. However, properly documenting both the obligation to pay fees, as well as the amount of the fees is still recommended. But at least the Court's decision provides the opportunity for an applicant to claim fees have been incurred even in the absence of a written agreement. And that's a "win" in my book.

Choosing among on-demand charter, jet cards

by David Wyndham 1. April 2015 15:34
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I'm working on a little project right now for a high net worth individual. I'm generalizing his needs for this article. He flies from his home in Northern California to Colorado once or twice a month (not the Bay Area to Denver). He stays there a week or so and then returns. He currently charters either a light jet or turboprop. Since he stays in Colorado at least a week, the trips are all one-way. He finds himself paying positioning or deadhead fees on every trip. Thus, his average trip cost is quite high. He loves the convenience of on demand travel, but wants a more cost effective option. His utilization, in a light jet, is probably no more than 50 hours per year.

He's happy with the level of service with his current charter providers and has no desires to own his own aircraft. All the travel is personal, so taxes and depreciation are not a factor. He just wants to see if he can get the same level of service for less than he is currently paying. He'd also like to keep the scheduling as simple as possible and know up front what he will pay.

I looked at the costs of leasing a fractional share. The costs for a light jet share are greater than what he pays right now, and he's not interested in a long term commitment. His flying habits may change in a year or two. 

Next to look at were the various Jet Cards available. While Jet Cards used to be just pre-paid block charter with a guaranteed price, there are now many choices of providers and many different ways to customize the card experience. Item one was to keep the high level of safety. Using card providers who guarantee an Argus or Wyvern top rated carrier (or the equivalent) are needed.

Next requirement for him is the one-way pricing.  While one-way pricing does have a cost allowance for the positioning or deadhead, the card programs that we are evaluating offer some incentives to lower the cost. Many Jet Card programs have a minimum 2.0 hour billing. In a light jet, his trips range from 1.7 to 2.1 hours so the 2.0 hour minimum might be a deal breaker. Fortunately, some card programs will customize and one already stated they would reduce the minimum billable to 1.5 hours per leg.

Another customization is newer aircraft versus "standard" aircraft. You pay more for the newer models but again, the card programs guarantee an equal level of service and comfort. Think of it as the Beechjet 400A versus a Beechjet 400XP: up the steps, turn right and you don't notice the difference. But if you prefer newer, it is available at a higher price.

My client knows his travel several days in advance. So a 10-hour or 24-hour minimum scheduling window is not an issue for him. But it could be a nice feature.

He needs about 50 hours per year, perfect for a 50-hour program. While the hours do not expire, the price per hour guarantee does. He's currently in a sweet spot, but if his flying declines, he may face an increase in his hourly cost. 

Another price consideration is, are the funds in an escrow account? And for how long is the price guarantee? While not necessarily advertised, a 14-month guarantee is worth asking for in order to make a 50-hour card sale.

So far, he's looking at an all-inclusive cost (taxes and fuel surcharges) from about $4,250 to $5,500 per hour depending on his options and "newer" aircraft preferences. On a per trip cost, it is very competitive to what he's paying on most trips. There is still more research to be done and a couple more vendors to evaluate.

The toughest part is, if the Jet Card meets his requirements, and he has two or more to pick from, who does he choose? At this point I'd say it comes down to two things. First is how is he treated when he contacts the card vendor? Are they really asking him what he needs? Can he talk with the person who would be his account manager or his scheduler? Doe they offer references for him to talk to? In other words, do the people he's dealing with reflect the promise of the card program?

Second is to pick his top two and take a charter trip. Fly one vendor out to Colorado and a different vendor back to California. What is the experience like? He needs to realize that unless he uses a vendor from a fractional program like Marquis, he will likely get different charter vendors from trip to trip. But still, this is a fair test of the card program scheduling, flight following and follow up. Unless he's after the absolute best price, I'd say one that costs a bit more may be worth the extra expense if he's more satisfied - that is his call.

Today's Jet Card programs are not one size fits all. There is a lot of competition and if you know your travel pattern and requirements are consistent, you can find one that is a good fit. Don't overlook fractional.  Traditional charter may still be a best fit if you need a lot of options. But, the Jet Cards are evolving to offer a nice mix of convenience and flexibility that for many, is just right.

 

 

 

 

 

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David Wyndham

Checklist for Flying Your Private Aircraft Internationally

by Tori Williams 1. April 2015 15:31
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The view leaving the East Coast from inside a Mooney

One of the most appealing benefits of owning your own aircraft is having the freedom to fly whenever and wherever you want to. Although sometimes you are limited by TFR’s or weather, you still have more freedom than the typical aircraft renter. Without having to deal with availability or tedious flying club paperwork, you are free to explore the skies more thoroughly. There are thousands of airports to explore in the US (Approximately 18,911 for those curious) and thousands more internationally. There are valuable skills you must learn in order to fly internationally, and it is certainly a challenge worth pursuing.

A good friend of mine recently flew with his family in their Mooney M20C to the Bahamas. After flying 210 nautical miles over open water, they landed at North Eleuthera Airport and took a boat to the tranquil and beautiful island of Spanish Wells and spent a week fishing, snorkeling, and relaxing. When you fly out of the U.S. you can explore exotic and interesting places in the world that many others do not have access to.

As I said before, flying out of the U.S. comes with its challenges. There is a lot of paperwork, planning, and in some cases extra gear for your aircraft involved. AOPA has a great series of guides for flying to specific international destinations. They have guides for the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Canada, Central America, Alaska, and Mexico. Pilots certainly have to reference these along with multiple other sources before leaving for their journey.

I have put together a list of a few of the major items you must have when flying internationally. This is not comprehensive, and a few international destinations have specialized legal information they require, but it will give you a good idea of what is to come if you choose to begin a flight plan out of the U.S.

1. Passports and legal Information. When you go through Customs and Boarder Protection, you will be asked to show all legal documentation as though you had flown in on an airliner. This is in addition to your usual flying legal documents. It is important to locate and carry your passport, pilot license, and medical certificate. All passengers must have a passport too, and any children flying without one parent must have a notarized statement of approval from the absent parent for the dates of the trip.

2. Paperwork for the aircraft. In addition to all of the paperwork required to operate an aircraft in U.S. airspace (Airworthiness certificate, registration, weight and balance, etc.) you must also have aboard a radio station license.

3. Charts You will have to seek out and purchase charts of the route you are flying. These foreign charts are similar in typography to their U.S. counterparts, but it is important to look over them and memorize features along the route of flight well before you depart.

4. Aircraft Insurance Certain aircraft insurance policies do not cover international flight. It is important to contact your insurer and discuss appropriate coverage. Proof of insurance that covers international flight is required to be carried aboard for certain destinations.

5. Radiotelephone Operator Permit You may remember vaguely from your Private Pilot Written exam that you need a Radiotelephone Operator Permit to fly outside of the U.S. Here is all the information you need to obtain one. Thankfully they are issued for the holder's lifetime.

6. Life Vest When flying over open water, you are required to have onboard a life vest or flotation device for each passenger. It is also recommended that you bring a life raft, but it is not legally required.

7. Sunscreen This one is certainly not legally required, but if you are traveling to a tropical destination such as the Bahamas or the Caribbean it is certainly recommended. Keep your skin safe to ensure that you get the most fun out of your vacation.

I hope that this article inspires you to look into the possibility of flying your private aircraft somewhere internationally. The new experiences are unbeatable and you will have fascinating stories to tell. Do you have any advice for pilots who are new to international flight? Let me know in the comments!

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Flying | Tori Williams





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