December 2013 Aviation Articles

Music and Aviation: A Match Made in the Sky

Dee Welch, a member of the Seaplane Pilots Association (FMA Corporate Member), has donated a guitar to be raffled off to support the Seaplane Pilots Association's New Headquarters project and the Flying Musicians Association. This is just one example of the projects the FMA is involved in.

"Many people don’t have a passion; we are fortunate enough to have two!"

This is the driving force behind the Flying Musicians Association – a non-profit 501c3 organization that is bringing aviation and music together – according to co-founder John Zapp. Formed in 2008 and incorporated a year later, Zapp and Aileen Hummel formed the company to aid pilots who are musicians to share their passions in order to inspire, educate, and encourage others by creating enthusiasm and promoting personal growth in both fields.

The FMA has an extensive list of goals – the first of which is to encourage youth to embrace STEAM power (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) through the use of aviation and music. Zapp and Hummel noticed much discussion for the need to grow the pilot population, and have identified musicians and music students as the most likely demographic to succeed. The musically-inclined have an aptitude for listening, scanning, multi-tasking and their pursuit of perfection – all skills and practices needed for piloting aircraft. The US Air Force completed a study of students in their flight training program to see which academic fields were the most successful in completing flight training. It wasn't the engineers who had the highest percentage of completion or any other discipline, it was the music students.

The FMA has already established chapters at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the Western Michigan University in an effort to extend their goals into learning institutions, and continue to seek expansion into other colleges, high schools, and aviation communities. They have also received a partial grant from the Wolf Aviation Fund to help FMA spearhead the "Focus on the Future" program held at the Global Pilot Career Conference & Job Fairs and the Regional Airline Pilot Job Fairs.

Zapp attributes much of their success so far to their own promotion, as well as their corporate members, which include organizations such as the AOPA, Sky-Tec, That Other Label, Barmstorming the Movie, Bose," Zapp listed as an example.

You can show your support for their cause as well – it’s only $25/year to become a member ($15 for students), and special rates for Life and Corporate Members as well. Funding, grants and sponsorships are their greatest need to continue the growth they’re experienced for the last five years.

Confessions of a Student Pilot

Over the past 5 years I have more than earned my right to be called a student pilot. Between when I was 12 years old and now I have attended 3 different flight schools, passed my FAA Written Exam twice, and been lightheartedly made fun of by CFIs for rookie mistakes countless times. It’s been said that it’s about the journey, not the destination, and this rings incredibly true in the world of aviation. I have learned more about life and passion through aerospace than I ever learned in my standard high school curriculum. I have been taught discipline, self-control, dedication, logical thinking... All through my experiences in chasing my dream of becoming a pilot.

I hope to help other student pilots remember why they are doing this. It can be such a challenge to continue training when you feel you are stuck in a rut, or you will never achieve the dream that we all chase after. I have compiled a few observations or "confessions," if you will, that have stuck out to me during my journey. A few come with stories, a few are simply food for thought. Here are my confessions of a student pilot.

Keep your training consistent. This may seem obvious, but it keeps many student pilots from advancing quickly enough to reach their full potential. It is far better to wait and save up enough money for a flight lesson every week or so than to attend your flight school sporadically. For the first 3 years of my training I could only afford one lesson every month (between allowance and babysitting money that wasn’t too bad!) If I could go back and do it again, I would have saved up for a year or so and had lessons sequentially in just a couple months. In having to wait, I kept relearning the same concepts every month and was nowhere near reaching my full potential.

Don’t be scared to be assertive. On June 19th, 2013 I was on a routine flight with my instructor, going around the traffic pattern at Capital City airport. As my instructor continually pointed out, I was spending too much time with my eyes glued to the instrument panel and not enough time looking outside. As I turned for my downwind leg, he held a sheet of paper over the instrument panel to stop my nervous eyes from glancing inside too much. I huffed a bit, then began making a call to other traffic that I was on downwind. "Capital City traffic, Cessna -" my heart sank. I hadn’t memorized our tail number yet and the sheet of paper was obscuring my view of it. Without skipping a beat, I forcefully moved (read: slapped) my instructor’s hand out of the way, read the tail number off, and finished my radio call. I immediately felt bad and apologized for what I had done, but I had never seen my instructor so thrilled. "That’s what I’m talking about! THAT was a pilot in command move. If you know what you need to do, don’t ask my permission." The very next day I was endorsed and did my first solo flight. Which is the perfect segway into my next point...

Your solo IS as big of a deal as everyone says. Let’s say you have comprehended enough knowledge to safely takeoff and land an aircraft, and your instructor has enough faith in your abilities to let you do it completely by yourself. Congratulations, it’s time to fly solo! The whole ordeal in and of itself isn’t a big change from your previous lessons, as you have probably done exactly the same routine of taking off and landing many times before your instructor steps out. The real value and importance of a solo isn’t in the fact that there is one less passenger, it is that YOU are now the pilot in command. According to Federal Aviation Regulation 91.3, "The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft." You are now the CEO head honcho in charge of all aspects of safely executing your current flight mission. The boost of confidence that a student pilot gains after safely landing their first solo flight is astronomical. Celebrate this accomplishment and truly think about what it means to now be the pilot in command.

Networking is everything. I am a first-generation pilot. Nobody in my family has any ties to aviation, besides a strange obsession with warbirds my father and grandfather share. When I first started my flight training I felt like a very tiny fish in a very huge pond. All that I knew was that becoming a pilot was extremely expensive, difficult, and overwhelming... but that I absolutely could not live my life without doing it. I had not met a single female pilot in my first two years of training, but I knew they had to be out there. I began doing google searches, talking to family friends, and subscribed to seven different flight magazines in an attempt to gain an understanding of the general aviation community as a whole. Through a family friend I came in contact with a female UPS pilot, and she introduced me to the Ninety-Nines. From there I learned about Women in Aviation, AOPA, EAA, NBAA, all of these crazy acronyms which represented different organizations in the aviation community. I have met tons of interesting people who have taken a genuine interest in my future as a pilot, and I have learned so much about the different pathways that are available to me in the aerospace industry. Having a good network to support you is incredibly important for an aspiring pilot.

Do not give up. The most important "confession" I have for fellow student pilots is to not give up, no matter how difficult it becomes. Keep trying. Stay motivated. There have been times in my training where I have been completely overwhelmed and felt very unsure as to whether or not I would actually achieve my dreams. When this happens, I like to take a step back and evaluate what really draws me to aviation in the first place. I watch episodes of The Aviators, or read aviation literature and really soak in the pure beauty and freedom that a pilot can obtain. The challenge is half the fun, however daunting it may seem. I encourage all student pilots to really think about what keeps them going and to cling to it until they finally reach the day of achieving their ultimate goals.

Congress Takes Action on Driver's License Medical

Photo © Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

An overwhelming majority of pilots are in favor of new legislation that AOPA says would allow certain pilots to fly without an aviation medical certificate. This proposal isn't exactly new - it began years ago as a proposal addressed to the FAA but the FAA has either responded negatively or failed to act in each case.

So two members of Congress took the situation into their own hands. On December 11th, AOPA announced that a legislative proposal was submitted that would make it legal for pilots to fly without a medical certificate, as long as they remain under VFR flight rules with less than six passengers. The legislation, called the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act of 2013, is proposed by Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), House General Aviation Caucus member and Sam Graves (R-Mo.), House General Aviation Caucus Co-Chair.

It's the result of multiple failed attempts on behalf of AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) to enact an exemption to the aviation medical certificate standards. In March 2012, AOPA and the EAA submitted a combined request to the FAA to allow pilots who took additional medical training and had a valid driver's license to be exempt from the medical requirement for recreational flying purposes. Although more than 16,000 responses were collected from the aviation industry, according to AOPA, the proposal failed to manifest.

So here's the deal: The new General Aviation Pilot Protection Act proposes that pilots be allowed to fly without obtaining an aviation medical certificate under these circumstances:

  1. The pilot holds a state driver's license and complies with any medical restrictions on that driver's license.
  2. The pilot flies with no more than 5 passengers.
  3. The pilot flies in visual flight rules (VFR) only, in visual meteorological conditions (VMC).
  4. The pilot would not be able to operate:
    • for compensation or hire
    • above 14,000 feet MSL
    • above 250 knots
    • >outside the United States
  5. The pilot is restricted to flying aircraft that weigh less than 6,000 pounds with no more than six seats.

If enacted, pilots would be able to fly almost any type of single-engine piston airplane and some light twin engine aircraft like this Beech Baron 58 or a Cessna 310.

House member Rokita, a pilot himself, made this statement: “This bill eliminates a duplicative and therefore unnecessary medical certification regulation that drives up costs for pilots and prevents the general aviation industry from fulfilling its economic potential.”

While the overwhelming majority of pilots are in favor of the new proposal, opponents argue that pilots shouldn't be trusted to self- evaluate their own medical health. The fear is that with this initiative, many pilots will be encouraged to fly with known medical conditions and without seeking medical advice from an aviation medical examiner.

In addition, some opponents argue that a deteriorating medical condition is cause for concern and should be evaluated by a medical doctor in order to really assess the situation properly and keep pilots safe.

The role of an aviation medical examiner is also important in determining what the FAA allows and disallows when it comes to prescription medication. A regular doctor might prescribe the most common type of medication for a medical condition without regard to flying, making it possible for a pilot to be prescribed medications and given medical advice from a regular doctor that violates FAA medical policy.

The verdict among pilots and aviation advocate groups is almost unanimous: The act would certainly benefit pilots and the industry as a whole, making it easier for pilots to fly without going through the process of obtaining a special issuance aviation medical certificate, a lengthy but necessary process for those with both minor and major health conditions.

Proponents of the act argue that pilots are perfectly capable of self-assessing their health and flying fitness. The sport pilot certificate has demonstrated this with a perfect record so far- no light sport aircraft has crashed due to pilot medical insufficiency. And with a third class medical certificate valid time of five years, that means for the five years in between exams, pilots are self-assessing their own health already. What's to say they can't continue to do it in a safe manner, without the check-up every five years?

AOPA and the EAA are both heavy advocates of the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, which will certainly garner more interest in aviation and potentially make it cheaper and easier to become a pilot.

Share Your Story
What do you think? Is this act a "no-brainer" or are there hidden risks that pilots are missing when advocating this proposal? Do you have a medical story to tell? Share it with us in the comments below!

Yearend Aircraft Purchases - A Good Deal?

There is less than a month left in 2013. For many businesses, this is a time to look at yearend capital purchases. Buying in December can get a business a nice tax deduction for the year while spending the money as late as December 31. With new business aircraft, you commonly see strong sales and deliveries in the last quarter, December especially. To see if this makes sense from a tax perspective, consult an aviation tax authority, not me. Here are three tips if you find yourself in an airplane-buying mood.

Tip #1. Take the time to plan on what aircraft to acquire. If this article is your first inkling that you want to buy, wait until next year. Buying on impulse often leaves you disappointed. What looked or sounded great in the moment can turn out not to be what you thought you were getting.

When looking at what aircraft to acquire, be objective. Objective means choosing criteria that can be measured. Objective criteria should also be specific to the mission assigned to the aircraft. That way you can avoid over-buying - getting far too much aircraft than you really need. If you are clear about what you need, it is easier to set up your criteria. “Go anywhere, anytime” might set you up for a supersonic tilt-rotor amphibian, but can you afford that? Make sure that whatever aircraft you acquire, that it meets objective criteria for meeting your business’s air transportation needs.

Tip #2. Get your acquisition team together. To get the tax deduction for a business aircraft for 2013, you will generally need to take delivery and place the aircraft into service by year’s end. Ownership involves the title, insurance, sales tax planning, and possibly financing. The bigger the aircraft, the more complexity these deals seem to have. Make sure that your team: legal, tax, insurance, finance, etc. are informed and prepared in advance. Note: in advance is not the day prior to delivery. These professionals are quite busy in December.

Tip #3. Evaluate all of the costs involved in the owning, and operating, of the proposed aircraft. You may be getting a sizeable discount on the aircraft you are looking to purchase, but if it is going to eat up a lot of money in operating expenses, then the deal may not be the best one financially. Look at the total Life Cycle Costs: acquisition, operating costs, finance or lease costs, and potential resale value after a period of use.

Being able to get another tax deduction in 2013 with the acquisition of an aircraft may be great in 2013, but may not be as helpful to your company in 2014 and beyond. As part of the aircraft life cycle costing, you may want to look at your company’s projected profits over the next few years. 2013 may be a profitable year (congratulations), but having a larger write-off next year may be better.

Bonus tip #4. Good things come to those who will wait. When the new aircraft manufacturer makes a lot of year-end deliveries, many of them will come with a trade-in. So Early 2014 should see these same folks with some good deals on pre-owned aircraft. Maybe, just maybe, the deal on the older aircraft might exceed to deal on the new model.

I did not see any “Black Friday” deals on new aircraft. But, depending on the manufacturer and model, there may be some great deals to be had prior to yearend. If you have planned for this in advance, you should be able to make things happen. P.S. - cash is king here as the deal would be guaranteed to close.

Aircraft Accident Prevention: Getting Uncomfortable

Photo © Phil Ostroff/Flickr

As pilots, we do a number of things to prepare for a safe flight: Pre-flights, checklists, flight planning and a proper weather review. But are we too comfortable with our safety measures?

For those of us in the aviation industry, safety is the number one priority. It's instilled in us (hopefully) from the first time we step foot into the airplane. I don't know of a single pilot who would categorize himself as anything but safe, but even pilots with the utmost regard for operational safety can find themselves in an emergency situation without recognizing it.

There's an old theory that a person is better off flying with a brand new pilot than one with thousands of hours. There is both absurdity and truthfulness in this single statement. With experience comes knowledge and of course, the right knowledge can keep us from danger. But that same knowledge also brings a certain level of ease into our every-day flying habits, and this comfort can lead to a casual disregard for safety.

Instead of simply following the safety protocols we find in checklists and ops manuals, we need to be on the lookout for an accident-worthy chain of events. We need to change our mindset from "I follow the rules, so that means I'm safe" to "what decisions do I face that present a risk?" Pilots need to remain uncomfortable.

The moment we get comfortable is the moment we begin to ignore the warning signs of an impending emergency.

Aircraft emergencies aren't usually the result of a single wrong decision. Instead, accidents tend to occur after a series of ill-fated events, so it's important that we weigh the risk and value of each and every decision we make - even the small ones. If the decision doesn't bring us toward a safer flying environment, is it leading us toward risk? How far will we allow ourselves to venture from accuracy and perfection in flight? Are we comfortable with a certain decision because it's a habit or because we thoroughly weighed the risk? How many red flags do we come across before we change our course?

Take Air Florida Flight 90, for example. Flight 90 crashed into the Potomac River during takeoff as a result of icing conditions, but the investigation provided insight into a long chain of events that occurred before the accident: corporate culture problems, departure delays, taking off with icing, failure to use anti-ice, failure to reject takeoff, failure of the first officer to speak up and limited crew member experience, to name a few. Had one of the pilots interrupted that chain of events somewhere, the accident may have been prevented.

We won't fly perfectly every flight. But if we keep ourselves from getting too comfortable in our flying operations, we can work to remove as many unsafe decisions as possible in an effort to prevent the downward spiral of events that could lead to an accident.

Remember, removing a single link from a chain of unfortunate events can prevent an accident.

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