January 2014 Aviation Articles

Pilots Getting a Buzz

Recently the world of Aviation has been flooded with criticism of the Federal Aviation Administration's update of regulations regarding the crew rest period. Highlights of the new regulations state that all airline pilots get at least 10 hours of rest between shifts, eight hours of which must involve uninterrupted sleep. Depending on when the flight begins, pilots are also limited to spending only eight or nine hours in the cockpit.

These stricter regulations come as no surprise to many airlines, as incident reports stating "pilot fatigue" as a main contributing factor became too frequent to ignore. To quote the FAA’s Official Report on the amendment: “Fatigue manifests in the aviation context not only when pilots fall asleep in the cockpit in flight, but perhaps more importantly, when they are insufficiently alert during take-off and landing. Reported fatigue-related events have included procedural errors, unstable approaches, lining up with the wrong runway, and landing without clearances. ”

As most pilots know, human error is the #1 cause of aviation accidents. Add in fatigue and stress from a long flight and you have a recipe for disaster. These new regulations will assure pilots rest as much as needed before beginning a long period of flight.

One additional facet of this change is that more responsibility has been given directly to pilots in determining their fitness for flight. They must confirm that they are fit for duty before any flight operations, and may be removed from the flight should they display signs of fatigue.

It will be interesting to see how this has an effect on the daily consumption of certain stimulants, namely caffeine. Pilots are no strangers to a good cup of coffee, which many drink as a delicious energizer before flights. The short-term effects of caffeine can be great for feeling alert and awake, but these benefits wear off quickly and can put a pilot in danger.

Caffeine has been linked to such symptoms as anxiety, fear, sweating, irritability, nervousness, and feeling “on edge.” These are perhaps the worst feelings for a pilot to have during a complicated flight. Should they not feel these symptoms, they are still likely to suffer from insomnia and have a difficult time managing their rest period. Caffeine effectively blocks the chemicals in the brain which tell you that you are tired, causing the brain to be exhausted but unable to rest and recuperate.

The best thing for pilots to do is to only drink coffee or caffeinated drinks in moderation, monitoring caffeine consumption to assure the safety of their flight operations. Living a healthy lifestyle and eating foods rich in protein will also help give a natural “boost” without paying the price of negative symptoms.

Help Build the "One Week Wonder" at Airventure!

At the Zenith Builders in September, Charlie Becker (Director of Communities & Homebuilt Community Manager) spoke about the return of the One Week Wonder! project to AirVenture (Oshkosh) next year. Photo © Sabastien Heintz

EAA’s unique building project is focused on building a Zenith CH 750 kit aircraft during the seven days of EAA AirVenture 2014, beginning on July 28 and continuing through completion or the event’s final day on August 3. The goal is to completely construct, inspect, and taxi test the aircraft by the end of the weeklong event.

"We want people to discover that building an airplane is not that complicated and is within the reach of just about anyone, by watching this project take shape during the week and participating in it themselves," said Charlie Becker, EAA’s manager of the organization’s homebuilt programs. "This Zenith kit will arrive at Oshkosh just as any builder would receive it. The One Week Wonder will show how today’s advanced kits and technology make aircraft building accessible and affordable, especially with the support from many EAA programs and members. It’s a fun, interactive opportunity that will show thousands of people exactly how an airplane goes together."

The One Week Wonder project will also allow EAA to showcase how a person can build their own airplane, the technical achievements along the way, and EAA support programs for aircraft builders. AirVenture attendees will be able to add their own "hands-on" moment in the construction project and sign the logbook as one of the builders.

In the One Week Wonder display area, which will be located near the EAA Welcome Center in the main crossroads of the AirVenture grounds, other displays will include the completed Zenith CH 750 built by EAA employees – including many who had never built an airplane previously. There will also be interactive displays that highlight the aircraft construction process, the variety of aircraft available for builders, and information on getting started on an aircraft project.

More details about the One Week Wonder project will be announced as they are finalized. You can also learn more about building Zeniths at Sabastien Heintz’s blog

Valdez STOL Aircraft to be Showcased at AirVenture

Specially modified aircraft originally created for Alaskan bush-pilot necessity that also created one of the world’s most unique aviation competitions, will be part of the "Valdez STOL" (short takeoff and landing) flying activities at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2014.

EAA AirVenture 2014, known as "The World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration" and the 62nd annual convention of the Experimental Aircraft Association, will be held July 28-August 3 at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh.

Demonstrations featuring the unmatched capabilities of the airplanes that compete at the annual

"Most people think of airport runways of concrete a mile or more in length, but these aircraft can land on almost any flat surface – sometimes in less than 100 feet," said Jim DiMatteo, EAA’s vice president of AirVenture features and attractions. "The necessity of creating aircraft that can serve Alaska’s remote population also inspired a competition that is nothing like you’ll see in the Lower 48."

Further details and schedules of the Valdez STOL aircraft activities will be announced as they are finalized.

For footage of aircraft at the Valdez fly-in, see the video below:

Why You Could Land at the Wrong Airport, Too: Confirmation Bias in Pilots

Photo © Scott Scheiffer/Twitter

As humans, we tend to see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe. It's a psychological impediment known as confirmation bias, and it leads us to subconsciously seek information that affirms our beliefs and neglect information that might disprove the decisions we've already made.

We're all guilty of it, whether we know it or not. In fact, you're probably reading this right now with a hint of confirmation bias, seeking out the words and sentences on the page that confirm the thoughts or opinions you may already have.

It might sound like a lot of psychological babble, but it's a huge problem for pilots. Pilots trust in automation even when it's wrong because time after time, it works perfectly. Pilots land at the wrong airport even when the visual cues are there to tell them they're in the wrong place because they believe they're in the right place and look for indications that support that belief.

On two different occasions recently, aircraft have mistakenly landed at the wrong airport. Additionally, many aircraft accidents and incidents can be partially attributed to confirmation bias. Here are a few examples:

  • In 1989, a Boeing 737 operated by British Midland Airways crashed after encountering engine problems Both pilots incorrectly identified the engine that was malfunctioning and shut down the incorrect engine. When the perfectly good engine was shut down, the vibration lessened, confirming the pilot's belief that they chose the correct engine to shut down. The pilots then chose to ignore various other indications regarding the affected engine, like the engine instrument system (EIS). Confirmation bias was studied as a result of this accident.

  • In 2006, a CRJ-100 operating as Comair Flight 5191 crashed during takeoff from the wrong runway at Bluegrass Airport in Kentucky. Though there were many contributing factors in this accident, confirmation bias was listed in the NTSB findings.
  • In November 2013, a Boeing 747 Dreamlifter landed at Jabara airport, a small uncontrolled field in Wichita, instead of their intended destination, McConnell Air Force Base.

  • In January 2014, a Southwest Airlines crew landed at the wrong airport with a Boeing 737 full of passengers. The runway length at M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport, where the 737 landed, is just over 3,700 feet and the Boeing 737 stopped with just a few hundred feet to spare.

    The investigations for these incidents of airplanes landing at the wrong airport are incomplete, and I'm no investigator, but it's very possible that confirmation bias played a role in both of these incidents, causing the pilots to see and believe that they were on approach for the right airport while ignoring important visual cues such as runway lights, heading and instrument indications, which could have given them a reality check.

Preventing Confirmation Bias:
It's easy to fall into the confirmation bias trap, and general aviation pilots are not immune. In fact, confirmation bias is especially dangerous for GA pilots, who often fly by themselves. And we don't know when we're doing it, so it's a difficult problem to fix.

The FAA recommends that pilots make a conscious, unbiased effort to make decisions and remain cognizant of how reality might differ from our perception. A second person in the cockpit can help with this since two minds are better than one, but the accidents and incidents mentioned above tell us that confirmation bias can affect us, even with two or three people in the cockpit.

Another method for avoiding confirmation bias involves constantly looking for reasons to disprove your beliefs or decisions. If you see more reasons faulting the decision than supporting it, it's time to reevaluate.

While there is no absolute solution for confirmation bias, being aware of it is a step in the right direction. Knowing it exists might just help you evaluate - or think twice about - your decision making process.

Traceability Equals Peace of Mind

Getting Exactly what You Want from Your Parts Vendor

Thomas Rountree – Parts Manager for Elliott Aviation

Everyone wants to have a hassle-free shopping experience and shopping for aircraft parts is no exception. It’s likely that you and your company are short on time and resources so the less time you have to research aircraft parts, the better, especially in an AOG situation. This is where a computer maintenance management system can save you dozens of hours.

If your parts dealer has a good computer maintenance management system, they will be able to tell you the history of that aircraft part from the time the order was placed, what work order it went on, when it was installed, or who it was sold to. It also allows them to trace a specific part to a serial number or lot number sequence so you know how close in age available parts are to the one you have specified.

I recently had a customer experience a computer problem in his airplane and he wanted to know the serial number of the part. At the time, he either wanted his existing equipment repaired or exchanged for a newer model. With just the serial number of his aircraft, we were able to give him options in less than a minute and shipped him a loaner to install the following day while we repaired his faulty device.

A good computer maintenance management system can also help you if you happen to lose your trace documentation. Any reputable company with a good system could replicate and send you the documentation in a matter of minutes. It can also provide you with logbook/date of installation validation. Ultimately, it saves you a lot of hassle. You are the customer; make sure your parts supplier is taking the time to do the research on your behalf.

Thomas Rountree started in logistics when he joined the US Army at the age of 18. His entire career has revolved around that field, including 25 years in retail distribution. He joined Elliott Aviation in 2006 as a shipping-receiving associate, after one year he moved into the Avionics procurement group. A short year later he became the Parts Department Manager and was later promoted to Material Support Manager. He is currently the Director of Parts & Component Services overseeing the Parts Departments, Accessory Shop and Elliott Parts Sales (EPS) group for Elliott Aviation, Inc. ).

Elliott Aviation is a second-generation, family-owned business aviation company offering a complete menu of high quality products and services including aircraft sales, avionics service & installations, aircraft maintenance, accessory repair & overhaul, paint and interior, charter and aircraft management. Serving the business aviation industry nationally and internationally, they have facilities in Moline, IL, Des Moines, IA, and Minneapolis, MN. The company is a member of the Pinnacle Air Network, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), National Air Transportation Association (NATA), and National Aircraft Resale Association (NARA).

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