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Why Flight Schools Are Vital to Our Industry

by GlobalAir.com 1. October 2009 00:00
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Too many Flight Schools are failing. The effect of this will eventually hurt us all.

In the past ten years it has been distressing to see five flight schools come, and go at my home airport at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport (KCPS.) There have been a variety of reasons for their independent demise; none so it appears was due to a lack of willing students.
According to a web-search that I performed while composing this article, I found that there are approximately 1,500 flight schools currently in operation in the U.S.A. This number is declining. The total 'pilot population' has also been in a similar decline, at a rate of almost 4% per annum.
So why is the decline in the number of flight schools so important to us?

Without flight schools there won't be student pilots. Without student pilots, eventually there won't be enough General Aviation activity to support the excise tax system that supports the Federal Aviation Administration and it's National Air Traffic System. The airlines won't pay for it, even though they pretend that they do in the carefully drafted propaganda that they pay to distribute to the public in the national media.  Without sufficient take-offs and landings at the 5,202 public use airports around the country, federal funding will be slashed. This is because the annual traffic statistics (take-offs and landings) at a public use airport is the most significant piece of data that the government uses to apportion it's funding out to all of these airports
The U.S.A. is still the greatest entrepreneurial power on this planet, due mostly to its freedom of mobility that it affords its citizens. As I mentioned before there are over 5,000 public use airports in operation here. These are supplemented by more than 14,000 other airports, heliports, balloon-ports, etc. This statistic is great for you and me; unfortunately however, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) views all non-military airports as a downside because of the massive perceived risk to national security that they appear to pose to the country, instead of understanding how vital all of these airports are to the entrepreneurial spirit of this nation. A diminishing pilot population further dilutes our argument against the draconian movement that is creeping in upon us from the DHS.

General Aviation here in the U.S.A. sets the standard benchmark that all other countries can only hope to emulate. There is no alternative model for us to follow as a road-map for change. I can say this because the statistics conclusively support this assertion. There are approximately 274,000 aircraft in operation in the world. 200,000 of these are based here in North America. Less than 40,000 are in Europe, less than 20,000 are in Latin America, about 12,000 are in Asia and the Pacific, 6,000 in Africa, while the Middle East comes dead last with less than 1,000 aircraft in total.

Until the Patriot Act was introduced after the fall of the World Trade Centre Towers, the U.S.A. was the 'Flight school' destination of choice for the World's pilot population. With taxation, lack of aviation infrastructure and a low volume of consumption; learning to fly, hour building, and advanced ratings cost two or even four times as much in most countries, compared to what it cost here. Thousands of foreign student pilots were processed through our effective flight school system every year. Bringing with them a massive, positive economic impact realised in Federal Excise Taxes; Hotel and Apartment Rentals; Airline, Train, Bus and Automobile fares/rentals; Grocery store and Restaurant purchases; and other retail sectors. The Patriot Act, the prospect of the Large Aircraft Security Program, the Economic Downturn, and the ever increasing arrogance of the European Economic Union's Aviation Safety Agency in making it harder for foreign students to convert their FAA certificates for use back home, are all significant burdens that our Flight Schools have been trying to bear-up against. Many of them, including some that have been in operation for sixty decades or more, are reaching critical mass, and are now choosing to close their doors instead of continuing the increasingly ugly fight that is necessary for them to survive. This loss through attrition must stop. Because if it is allowed to continue, the future of General Aviation will be placed into dire straits, the repercussions from which, shall be felt everywhere around the globe.

How can you help? Talk to the owner of your local flight school, tell him/her that you know how important they are to our industry, tell them to hold on a little while longer and explain that help is on its way. Talk to your airport manager/director to get a copy of your airport business directory. Ask about and fully understand what the movement statistics are for your home airport, and the surrounding airports. Once you are armed with this information you can now organize and form together a strong and informed local lobby group that welcomes all local airmen, aircraft owners, aviation businesses, etc. Now take your new found and immensely powerful General Aviation message to all of your Provincial, City, and State Elected Officials, and demand that they stop listening to the bad-news propaganda that is in-vogue now, demand that the Patriot Act be either demolished or radically amended, demand that the LASP be scrapped, demand that the economic impact of General Aviation be recognized by Congress and the Senate and then demand that they all stand-up and fight for easement and recognition for one of this country's main entrepreneurial engines; the General Aviation Flight School.

Just in case you happen to be a flight school owner who is reading this article, and you have thought about relocating your business. Please contact John Bales, the Director of the Spirit of St. Louis Airport. I know that he would be delighted to explain to you the benefits of making your move to his airport. He can be reached at +1.636.532.2222.

Do you have additional experience with this topic? Tips, Tricks, or Advice? Please discuss it with us!

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Jeremy Cox

The FSS Weather Briefing: How Much Information Is Enough?

by Greg Reigel 1. October 2009 00:00
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As pilots, one of our responsibilities before each flight, per FAR 91.103, is to make ourselves "familiar with all available information concerning that flight" including weather reports and forecasts when the flight is "not in the vicinity of an airport. With the proliferation of weather services available on the Internet, such as Globalair.com's Airport Resource Center (ARC) many pilots look to those services first when preparing for a flight. Many pilots will also still call their local flight service station ("FSS") to obtain a weather briefing for their intended flight.

When you call FSS, how much information is the FSS specialist/briefer required to give you? Or, from a legal perspective, what duty does the FSS Specialist owe to a pilot who calls for a weather briefing? A recent Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision answers this very question.

The Parties

The case, Glorvigen v. Cirrus Design Corp. ("Cirrus"), arose out of an aircraft accident involving a Cirrus SR-22. Unfortunately, the pilot and his passenger did not survive the accident. Subsequently, their representatives sued Cirrus alleging, among other things, that Cirrus had improperly designed the SR-22 and had failed to properly instruct the pilot in the operation of the aircraft. Cirrus then brought a third-party complaint against two FSS specialists and, ultimately, the United States, alleging that the specialists were negligent because they failed to adequately inform the pilot of the weather conditions and weather forecast the morning of the accident.

The Background

The non-instrument rated pilot was a low-time pilot with 18.9 hours in the SR-22. Based upon his limited experience, the pilot and his flight instructor developed a set of "personal weather minimums" for the pilot of 3,000-4,000 foot ceilings and visibility of at least 4-5 miles. The pilot apparently agreed that he would not fly when the weather conditions were less than these minimums. He was also advised by his flight instructor not to fly at night when snow was on the ground to avoid the difficulty of trying to distinguish between clouds and snow-covered ground.

The flight departed from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, at 6:30 a.m., over an hour before sunrise, on a flight to St. Cloud, Minnesota. Snow was on the ground. The aircraft initially climbed to 3,300 feet above mean sea level ("MSL") but then the aircraft's altitude began to fluctuate erratically. The pilot attempted to return to the airport, but the aircraft crashed approximately 8 minutes after takeoff.

Prior to the flight, the pilot had called FSS and obtained two briefings: a standard briefing over an hour before departure and an abbreviated briefing less than an hour before departure. In the first briefing, the FSS specialist advised the pilot of an AIRMET for potentially instrument flight rules ("IFR") conditions over the intended route due to low ceilings. The specialist reported low ceilings for St. Cloud and other airports along the route and informed the pilot that the ceilings were forecast to increase later in the day.

The second FSS specialist provided the pilot with much of the same information conveyed in the earlier weather briefing including the AIRMET for IFR conditions. However, the FSS specialist also stated that none of the airports along the route of flight were reporting actual IFR conditions at the time of the briefing. The FSS specialist concluded the briefing by updating the pilot on the current conditions at the airports along the route.

The District Court Grants Summary Judgment To The United States

The United States moved for summary judgment (dismissal of the case against it), arguing that the FSS specialists had not been negligent in briefing the pilot and that, even if they were negligent, that negligence did not cause the accident. The district court agreed. The district court concluded that although the specialists could have provided the pilot with some additional information, neither of them breached the duty of care owed to the pilot. It also concluded, in the alternative, that any breach of the duty of care in the briefings could not have been a substantial cause of the accident. Cirrus then appealed the district court's decision.

The Eighth Circuit's Affirms The Grant of Summary Judgment

The Court initially observed that FSS specialists have a duty to provide pilots with an accurate and complete summary of the relevant weather information. It noted that the FAA has assumed a general duty to advise requesting pilots of weather conditions. Further, the FAA publishes a Flight Services Manual (FAA Order JO 7110.10P Flight Services) instructing FSS specialists on how to conduct briefings and pilots rely on the service. As a result, FSS specialists are under a duty to ensure that the information which they furnish to pilots is accurate and complete.

However, the Court went on to state that a FSS specialist does not need to recite verbatim the contents of every weather report before him or her. Additionally, a FSS specialist is not required to provide a pilot with every detail from every relevant weather source. Rather, the FSS specialist must provide an accurate and complete synthesis or summary of the relevant weather information. As a result, the Court concluded that some information and repetitive facts will inevitably be left out of a FSS specialist's briefing.

The Court concluded that both FSS specialists provided the pilot with an accurate and complete summary of the relevant weather information. The Court found that the first specialist warned the pilot of the possibility that he would encounter IFR conditions and accurately conveyed the current conditions and forecast for the departure airport, the destination and along the intended route of flight. By advising the pilot of the AIRMET for potential IFR conditions along the route of flight, the specialist sufficiently conveyed the fact that the AIRMET called for occasional ceilings below a thousand feet and/or visibility below three miles. The Court held that the specialist did not need to specifically state that the AIRMET called for occasional ceilings below VFR minimums because it would be "gratuitous and counter-productive" to demand that FSS specialists reiterate those minimums during every VFR weather briefing. After all, the Court observed, the pilot should know those minimums and, if the pilot wanted more details or clarification, the onus was on him to request them.

With respect to the second briefing, the Court initially observed that the pilot's request for an abbreviated briefing limited the specialist's duty to providing an update on appreciable changes in the weather conditions, advising of adverse conditions and only providing additional specific information if requested by the pilot. The Court found that the second FSS specialist fulfilled his duty when he informed the pilot of any significant changes in forecast or current conditions that arose since the pilot's last briefing, described the current conditions at the pilot's destination, advised the pilot of any relevant pilot reports, and described any present or forecast adverse conditions.

Finally, the Court determined that the FSS specialists were not negligent for failing to give the pilot a VFR Flight Not Recommended ("VNR") warning. Since the current and forecast weather conditions on the morning of the flight were not so extreme, the Court found that the specialists did not have a duty to give a VNR warning. As a result, the specialists' failure to give a VNR recommendation did not constitute negligence.

The Court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment. It concluded that the FSS specialists had provided accurate and complete weather briefings to the pilot. As a result, they did not breach their duties to the pilot.


What can we learn from this case? First, FSS specialists have specific standards and obligations for conducting pilot weather briefings established by both the FAA and Courts with the expectation that pilots will rely upon the information that is provided, and in some cases not provided, to them during a weather briefing. Second, FSS specialists' standards are minimums. Although many specialists will exceed those minimums when they conduct a briefing, if a pilot receives a briefing that only meets the minimum standards and the pilot would like more, it is the pilot's obligation to ask for further, more specific information.

At the end of the day, it is the pilot whose certificate and/or life are at stake when he or she flies. Pilots should heed the requirements of FAR 91.103 and obtain all the available information necessary to conduct a flight. With that information in hand, pilots can then use good judgment to determine whether a flight can be conducted safely, legally and consistent with their personal minimums. Better to learn from court opinions than to be the subject of a court opinion.

Tell us your thoughts, we have all run into the dilemma "should we fly or stay and wait". We would like to hear from you and your experiences.

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Greg Reigel | Airports

The Science of Hull Deductibles

by Darryl Abbey 1. October 2009 00:00
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Just like your home-owners or auto insurance, if you own an aircraft and purchase physical damage or Hull insurance, your insurance coverage has a deductible provision.

What is the purpose of that deductible? Well, there are two theoretical purposes in the eyes of insurance carriers: 1) to save the insurance carriers from having to pay for small "nuisance" type losses and 2) to promote safe actions by the insured since it is the insured's money (the deductible amount) which is paid first in any loss. These both sound reasonable and, in the case of promoting safety, a laudable goal.

"But, what's in it for me? Do I save money?" are the questions that most policy holders ask. The answer is simple, at least in theory. Yes, in return for assuming the first portion of any loss (the deductible amount), the Insured does pay a lower premium but only lower than they would if they did not take on this portion of risk. This seems reasonable too and is a good example of the positive side of risk = reward.

Ok, now that we have gotten the theory out of the way, let's move to the practical side of hull deductibles. It is true that all aircraft hull insurance coverage has a deductible provision. However, that does not mean that there is an actual deductible amount or a meaningful deductible amount. Hull deductibles can vary widely depending on aircraft make and model, type of use and even which insurance carrier is issuing the policy. While some types of aircraft operations have significant deductibles (Rotorcraft, amphib, cargo and airlines to name a few), many types of aircraft or operations have little or no deductible at all. Light aircraft used for pleasure and business tend to have low deductibles of $250 each loss or $100 each loss or even $0. The same is true for aircraft at the opposite end of the spectrum. Corporate aircraft, such as Gulfstream, Falcon, Citation and other turbofan equipment, typically have a hull deductible of $0. We all know that, unfortunately, even a small amount of damage to an aircraft can cost thousands of dollars to repair so, with deductibles or $100 or $0, the theory of deductibles preventing the insurance carriers from paying attritional losses seems to fail.

Many insurance carriers have a provision in their insurance policies which requires annual recurrent training in the make and model aircraft which is insured. Even if there is no such requirement in the policy, most responsible pilots receive recurrent training, attend safety seminars or similar events on their own in the interest of keeping their flying skills sharp. So, the idea of using a $100 deductible to promote safety by having the aircraft owners own money at risk really doesn't hold water either.

Now, let's go to the question of whether or not deductibles save money for aircraft owners. The answer is yes and no. If there were no hull deductibles applicable to any type of aircraft operations, the cost of insurance for all aircraft operators would likely increase. (The premium of the many pays for the losses of the few.) So yes, by virtue of the fact that deductibles exist, most aircraft owners are saving money. However, if your total
annual premium is $2,000, you have a $100 deductible and you ask your underwriter how much money you can save if you increase the deductible to $500, the answer is not going to be "Your premium will go down by $400". In fact, you would be lucky to save $100 off the premium. This shows us that, in this case, the risk = reward calculation does not work in favor of the aircraft operator.

Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that insurance carriers should impose higher deductibles on all operators. Low deductibles are good. Rather, I am trying to point out that there is very little science and a lot of subjectivity in the use of hull deductibles and that you should ask your underwriter about deductible options and the cost/benefit associated with them. If it is possible to get a $0 hull deductible for the same cost as a $250 deductible or a 5% for the same cost as a 10% deductible, I know which one I would choose. It doesn't hurt to ask.

Do you have additional experience with this topic? Tips, Tricks, or Advice? Please discuss it with us!

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Money Talks

by David Wyndham 1. October 2009 00:00
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Over the past two months, the number of turbine airplanes for sale as shown by AMSTAT has decreased from 15% of the available fleet to 14%. This is not a huge decline, but it indicates that the used aircraft market is starting to move. It also indicates that manufacturer's adjustments in new aircraft production rates have taken effect. Aviation is at the economic bottom and starting to turn the corner.

If you have been waiting to buy, now is the time. From all indications, this aviation recovery is starting with the business jets - slowly but surely. Vref indicated values are steady in much of that market, while turboprops are still bottoming out and pistons twins are falling in value. The selection of aircraft is excellent. There are still a few obstacles out there.

A tight credit market is going to make this a slow recovery. Lenders and lessors are not anxious to extend credit, even as they have their own inventories to dispose of. If you are seeking financing, you need to have all your paperwork in order, show excellent credit, and have some assets beyond just the aircraft you are interested in acquiring. Deals that were approved a year ago won't even get a second look today after being disapproved. You need to show the financial institution that you are very low risk.

As a result of the tight credit, the cash buyer thus leads the way. If you can pay cash, you can negotiate the better deal and close the sale sooner. You'll do better leaving your money in the aircraft versus the stock market.

Some buyers listing their aircraft as "for sale" really mean "for sale when prices rise." There is no easy way to estimate this number other than anecdotal evidence suggests that for many, they need to sell, but have the ability to wait out this market a while longer. So "buyer beware" if the seller wants to play hard ball: have a backup aircraft in mind.

Again, the cash buyer can make the reluctant seller move. What the seller declined in February is a reasonable deal in September. Cash deals can close far quicker than any other and this can be a leveraging point for the buyer.

For the seller, prices will be slow to recover. If you want prices to increase before you sell, withdraw your aircraft from the market! If this were to happen in large enough numbers, then selling prices will increase as demand and the "real" supply become apparent.

For the buyer, don't over-buy! What got you a nice light jet in 2008 gets you a mid-size or bigger jet today. This holds for most airplane categories - bigger is cheaper now than smaller was in early 2008. You still have to operate, insure and hangar the aircraft. You still need to get the right aircraft for your mission. Increased size, speed and capability all comes with increased operating costs.

Things are looking up and now is a good time to buy, especially if you can pay cash. If you are selling, the market is what it is and it will take a while for the seller to see much improvement. Hope things work out for everyone involved.

Do you have additional experience with this topic? Tips, Tricks, or Advice? Please discuss it with us!


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