November 2015 Aviation Articles

Safer Flying - Understanding the Aircraft Ignition System

The aircraft ignition system, responsible for creating and supplying the electrical spark that ignites the fuel air mixture in the aircraft engine's cylinders, has been a key part of aircraft engines since the very beginning. The Wright Brother's original engine that powered the 1903 Wright Flyer during their groundbreaking flights used a “make-and-break” style ignition system, powered by a low-tension magneto. Though today's piston engine aircraft still use magnetos, they have added many other parts to the mix, such as spark plugs and ignition leads, that are necessary for proper functioning. And, unlike those early aircraft engines, modern engines are required to have a dual ignition system (14 CFR 1.C Part 33 Subpart C 33.37). This dual ignition system provides two main advantages: increased safety, in the case of one magneto system failing, the engine can still be operated on the other system until the aircraft can be safely landed; and improved burning and combustion of the fuel/air mixture, which leads to improved performance.

In general, understanding how an aircraft works benefits the pilot. So in an effort to help private pilots become familiar with a key part of the engine, the aircraft ignition system, Disciples of Flight decided to put together a detailed ignition system video course. In this course, we cover such topics as how the ignition system works; how you service the ignition system; what you would look for to know if there's a problem; how to determine if the problem is solvable or would keep you from flying; and how to use the engine related flight instruments and determine what the readings obtained from them mean. We believe that taking the time to understand how an aircraft ignition system works will make you a better and safer pilot, by allowing you to make more informed decisions.

To start, here is the introduction to the course, hosted by A&P IA mechanic Jim Hoddenbach, who has over 30 years experience as a mechanic:

For this course, we chose to look under the hood of a Beechcraft Bonanza. For those not familiar with this much loved airplane, this segment provides a brief overview:

Performing an ignition check, also called a mag check, is a key part of the run-up process before every flight. In this segment, we discuss the ignition check process; how to read and understand the information the tachometer is telling you; and the graphic engine monitor, a popular aftermarket addition for high-performance airplanes:

So, how does an ignition system work? In this next segment, we go under the hood and cover the basic functioning of the ignition system; the components that make up the ignition system; the benefit of a dual ignition system; and why the ignition system uses magnetos:

There is a lot that goes into the ignition system of an airplane, and a lot to consider when it comes to keeping it functioning properly. These videos are just the first four out of sixteen segments in our ignition system course. The remaining segments cover such things as the process of removing, checking and installing spark plugs; how the magneto works, the process of timing a magneto, and why properly timing a magneto is so important; and what kind of ignition system care and maintenance can be performed by owner / operators under the rules.

To see the full course, please visit the airplane ignition system course page on the Disciples of Flight website. Our hope is that the information provided in this course will prove useful to private pilots, and aid in making your flying both safer and more enjoyable.

Guest writer: Disciples of Flight

In the Dark About Aircraft Lights? Here's When to Turn Them On

Do you have any idea when your aircraft lights should be on? If not, you’re not alone. Often, I’ll get myself strapped into the right seat of a Cessna with another pilot who prefers to turn on every available light switch, leaving all of the lights on all the time, day or night. And then other times, I’ll get into a Cessna with a pilot who doesn’t turn on a single light the entire flight.

When with a new student, perhaps during a checkout flight, I’ll ask why they use all of the lights all of the time, and the answer is usually something like, "That’s what I was taught." The follow up question I ask is, "Which lights are required?" and at this point, the student often admits that they don’t know, which is really why they just light up the whole airplane all of the time.

What gives? Why are general aviation pilots so confused about aircraft lights? The confusion comes because while there are some rules, regulations and suggestions for using the lights on airplanes, they’re often pretty ambiguous. And, as it turns out, when rules are ambiguous, nobody pays much attention to them at all.

Deciding when to turn aircraft lights on and off seems like a common sense issue, but time and time again, I fly with pilots who turn lights on or off because that’s what their instructor once told them, and that’s rarely a good enough reason to do anything. So here’s the real scoop behind aircraft lights.

Most general aviation aircraft are equipped with the following lights:

  • Position/navigation lights
  • Anticollision lights
  • Landing and/or taxi lights

Position lights, also known as navigation lights, include a green light on the right wing, a red light on the left wing and a white light on the tail of the airplane. These lights work together to illuminate an airplane during nighttime operations, indicating to pilots in the vicinity not only the location of the lighted airplane but its relative direction of flight. Pilots can identify whether an airplane is flying toward or away from them at night based on these lights.

Per CFR Part 91.209, position lights are required during night operations - from sunset to sunrise.

Anti-collision light systems include the aircraft’s beacon and/or strobe lights. Some aircraft have both a beacon and a strobe light system, and other airplanes just have one or the other.

Per CFR Part 91.209, an aircraft that has an anti-collision light system installed must not operate without the anti-collision lights on, unless the pilots deems it necessary to turn off the anti-collision lights in the interest of safety (while taxiing on the ramp, for example, a pilot might wish to taxi with the aircraft’s strobe lights off so as not to impair the vision of other pilots or ground personnel).

And this is where the issue of aircraft lights often becomes unclear. Many pilots operate with the strobe lights and the beacon on all the time because they interpret the FAR to mean that they must. Other pilots interpret the regulation to mean that as long as at least one of the anti-collision lights - either the beacon or the strobe lights - is on, then they’re operating within the guidelines of the regulation. Who is right? Either one, or both. A pilot should operate with the anti-collision light system on unless he deems that, in the interest of safety, a portion of the anti-collision light system should be turned off to prevent vertigo or spatial disorientation, or as a courtesy to other pilots in the vicinity. This means that while it is not necessarily illegal to operate with just the beacon on, it is prudent to use the entire system when able. For this reason, you’ll see that the common practice is to turn on the beacon before startup and to turn on the strobes right before takeoff, as a courtesy to others in the ramp area.

The use of landing and/or taxi lights, installed on most airplanes, is optional. If operating an aircraft for hire at night, a landing light is required to be installed on the airplane, but there is no regulation that states that the landing light must be on or illuminated in order to operate an aircraft at night. If a pilot thinks that a landing light is necessary, either to illuminate the runway environment or for collision avoidance, he should use it. If not, he can leave it off.

AIM Guidance and Operation Lights On
In addition to the existing regulations, the FAA has implemented a program called "Operation Lights On," which encourages pilots to use lights for collision avoidance and offers the following guidance (AIM, 4-3-23).

"Prior to commencing taxi, it is recommended to turn on navigation, position, anti-collision, and logo lights (if equipped). To signal intent to other pilots, consider turning on the taxi light when the aircraft is moving or intending to move on the ground, and turning it off when stopped or yielding to other ground traffic. Strobe lights should not be illuminated during taxi if they will adversely affect the vision of other pilots or ground personnel."

This guidance also encourages pilots to turn on their landing light for takeoff and landing, and anytime they are operating below 10,000 feet MSL and within 10 miles of an airport, and that all lights should be turned on when crossing an active runway.

Need more personnel? Document first!


"I think we need another pilot" 

"I think an A&P would be helpful in maintaining our aircraft availability." 

I hear this a lot from aviation managers, but when pressed for the data by their boss, it may not be ready to hand over.  A really savvy manager knows this: intuition is wrong more that it is right. You need the data to back up your gut feel! In fact, when your gut feel turns out correct, it is usually based on a well reasoned approach from your personal experiences and education. To put it another way:

You Can't Manage What You Don't Measure

When it comes to justifying additional personnel, you must have the data to support your position. Personal costs can be a business' highest single cost. One place to start is the NBAA Management Guide. It has the general approach to calculating now many pilots your flight operation needs. It involves how frequently the aircraft flies, and how much standby and duty time is needed to meet a schedule. At one extreme is the Emergency Medical Services operation which must have crew available 24/7. At the other extreme was a pair of helicopter pilots whose job was to fly the prince from his home on the coast to his yacht. They were scheduled weeks ahead of time and much of their "duty" time was sitting on the yacht at sea! The rule of thumb of three pilots per aircraft is a starting point. The NBAA Management Guide takes you down the path.

Another great reference is the NBAA Benchmark and Compensation Survey. It contains member information on not only salaries, but also utilization and days/hours worked by aviation department job titles. A lot of times just showing that you are working more hours than 95% of your peers is validation enough for another employee.

Adding an extra pilot takes a bit more calculation. An on-demand pilot such as a charter pilot may not be able to fly a lot of hours. The scheduled pilot, like for an airline, can get a lot more flying hours. You need to look at the schedule variability and duty days, plus non-flying responsibilities. Also take into account the availability of part-time or contract pilots.  One thing that is important in your calculation for an extra pilot involves what the current pilots' duty time is like. Here are a few things to look at:

  • Total duty days
  • Total duty hours
  • Days away from home for flying
  • Non-flying duties and hours required
  • Days away for training, vacation, sick leave, etc.

For maintenance personnel, the list of considerations center around they aircraft types and and maintenance philosophy. Items to consider include:

  • Aircraft trip profiles - on the road a week at a time or back every night?
  • Aircraft utilization, and whether it is driven by calendar limits or hourly limits
  • How close are you to overhaul and repair facilities? Is there support on the field?
  • How old is the aircraft? Aircraft require more maintenance as they age.
  • Do you perform maintenance while the aircraft is not being scheduled for flights? i.e. Do you fly by day and maintain by night (or weekend)?

General considerations for both need to look at what the future demand for flights is. Are you anticipating increased flying activity? Are you unable to meet the current demand for trips? Are you having to turn down trip requests on a more frequent basis? Consider a survey of your aircraft users to ask if they have more demand and to see if there is a requirement for the use of more than a single aircraft at one time. The users of your aircraft will learn what your limitations are and will adjust their schedule. Ask them if they need to fly more but cannot.  You need to be tracking this. If you can quantify that the unmet demand is based on lack of available personnel (or needing to overwork people) , then your justification for the added personnel is complete.

Most organizations like to stay lean. But that does not mean working your people to bare bones on a regular basis. Aviation has a very strong safety component that extends beyond the cockpit to anyone who has a physical impact on the aircraft. Even so, adding additional personnel takes solid data. 



Why attendance at the NBAA Conference is a “Must-Do”

Guest writer: Jeremy Cox
Vice President of Jetbrokers, Inc.


The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) annual Business Aviation Convention and Exposition (BACE) is scheduled for November 17, 18, and 19, 2015 in Las Vegas. I expect that you have already made all of your travel bookings to attend, but if you haven’t, and are still trying to decide if you should go, or stay at home, please allow me to convince you that it is a “Must Do” for you to go this year. No matter from which part of the World that you work within the business aviation industry, NBAA is the single biggest, and most important event on our industry calendar. Sure, you can attend LBACE, EBACE, or ABACE, as well as Farnborough/Paris, Dubai Airshow/MEBA, etc. All are good events, all in their own way, each specifically designed in-part, to bring a flavor of NBAA to those located outside of the USA. None of these aviation events draw as many of your business aviation peers to one location, as does NBAA. Attendance is pushing 30,000 business aviation professionals from almost 100 different countries every year. All of them are able to interact, network, and conduct business – both with peers as well as more than 1,000 exhibitors alike. As I said before, no convention on this planet is dedicated to promoting, and showcasing the business aviation industry, is as big, and pulls as many attendees as NBAA does.

Why do you attend Mr. Jeremy, you might ask? Well let me tell you…

Over the past 25 years I have had the pleasure of meeting new and old friends at NBAA, many of whom are located just too far away for me to visit with them more than once a year. There are many familiar faces that I get to see every year, and yet I still have not managed to exchange more than just a few pleasantries with many of them…Me being the same as them, ‘a familiar face’; there are just so many people to meet and talk with that the task is huge. This is the beauty of NBAA. If I actively attempted to get to know 1,000 people every year, for all of the years that I have attended NBAA I still would not have physically met, and talked with everyone that has attended this event over the past 2 ½ decades. No, the best way to get in as much face-to-face-time with the people that you want to talk with at NBAA, is to start planning your visit several weeks out, and setting up meeting places, and times. Fortunately over the most recent years, the NBAA has made a handy little smartphone/tablet App available to everyone that attends the show. If you haven’t downloaded this year’s App, I urge you to do so, just as soon as you can.

For the first 8 years at NBAA, I was representing aircraft modification, maintenance and refurbishment services to individuals, corporate flight departments, and charter companies. During those years, my NBAA experience consisted of manning a booth inside the convention hall. For the past near 17 years, I have attended NBAA as a delegate Jet Broker, buying and selling used business aircraft for a multitude of individuals and companies. No longer tied to a booth, these many years at NBAA have enabled me to meet many thousands of aircraft owners, operators, and support friends, all whom have enriched both my business and personal life. Yes, I have sold several aircraft while attending NBAA. I have also listed quite a few aircraft too. Most importantly, I have made so many friends that I would never had had the pleasure of meeting, had I not attended NBAA each year. Many people assert that even if you don’t have any active reason to attend in a certain year, if you choose not to go, you will be missed by more people than you would care to imagine.

The static display has enabled me more times than I can remember, to quickly guide a client into narrowing his/her search criteria down to the most suitable business aircraft for their mission. Where else can I host a client in virtually every model of business aircraft cabin, on the market, in the space of a couple of hours? The physical show and tell is worth 6-months, or more of looking at floorplans in a brochure. Where else can I walk with a client that is armed with a shopping list of cabin entertainment, and technology needs, and have all of his/her needs fulfilled after only 1 hour of walking in the exhibit hall?

With upwards of 300 different makes, and models of jets, and turbo-props that I must be intimately familiar with, to be able to knowledgeably serve my client’s around the World. Where better to be able to attend a Maintenance Managers, and Operators Symposium (MMOS), or a Technical Up-Dates Forum, as well as face-to-face discussions with the Test Pilots, and Designers of most of today’s current production aircraft? If the aircraft make and model that I am seeking knowledge, or advice on is out of production - no worries because at least 1 exhibitor at NBAA is a specialist on my topic aircraft. All of this knowledge base is assembled for me at one time, and in one location: NBAA.

Every year at NBAA, I come away wishing that the event was just a day, or two longer. This is a very strong reason to come back the next year, and the next, ad-infinitum. There was a time that once I got home several days after NBAA, each evening I would be craving a cocktail as five-o’clock rolled around – a surprise to me since I am predominantly a non-drinker for the most of the year. There have been times when I went back to my hotel room while attending NBAA to only shave, and change into a fresh suit, because somehow I had pulled yet another all-nighter with my business aviation community friends. One fond memory that sticks in my mind, is closing down the bar at the Peabody one year, and ordering room service beers to be served up on the pool deck. Later that morning as the sun started rising up into the skies of Orlando, we mad NBAA revelers breakfasted at the Beeline Diner before going up to be ready for our meetings ahead of us that day. I’m 50 now, so I have definitely slowed down my revelry tendencies. These days I struggle with getting up for either the crack-of-dawn Press Breakfast, or Falcon Family Breakfast, or conversely staying up to see the Honeywell, or some-such party draw to a close. Age catches up with all of us eventually.

I can say that I have experienced many joys, and triumphs while attending BASE over these many years. Conversely I can also say that I have had my fair share of disappointments’ too. One of my greatest joys, and also one of my greatest disappointments with NBAA, both center on the great city of New Orleans. In 2011 when NBAA was postponed thanks to the jerks in Al Qaida, the subsequent show that resulted in November of that year, holds fond memories for me because I have never, even to this day, have had as much one-to-one quality face-to-face time with people at NBAA, due directly to the attendance being severely cut, thanks to the reschedule. The most disappointing thing to me about NBAA, is how the NBAA has not put New Orleans back on their rotational calendar. Every time that I went to NBAA in New Orleans, I found that even if I spent the entire day in bed (I didn’t of course), I would still meet everyone that I wanted to see at the show, just by spending the evening walking Bourbon Street. And don’t talk to me about the Cessna Party – Some of the best firework displays that I have ever seen, were all put on by Cessna at their shindig at the Lakefront Airport, in a New Orleans suburb during NBAA.

So maybe all I have achieved in writing this piece about the virtues of attending NBAA, is to show myself up as a reprobate scallywag – who I am really not, by the way (self-professed as not being so.) Hopefully though, if you have read this while still not having already committed to attending NBAA in Las Vegas this year, I have managed to instill in you enough impetus and drive to get you to opt to attend, instead of missing the show again this year. Better yet, if my article has given you the shove that you needed to come to Vegas, then look me up, seek me out, and we can celebrate your attendance over one of the many cocktails that are in abundance at every NBAA each year. See you there!


Guest writer: Jeremy Cox
Vice President of Jetbrokers, Inc.

When Is A Touch-And-Go Landing Not A Landing?

As pilots, we all know that with every takeoff we perform, at some point after that takeoff a landing will occur, some better than others. This is true whether we are flying to a destination or simply performing touch-and-go takeoffs and landings in the local pattern. However, the term "landing" may mean different things in different contexts.

For example, in a recent decision issued by the National Transportation Safety Board, Administrator v. Boylan, the Board determined that a touch-and-go landing did not qualify as a "landing" for purposes of determining compliance with 14 C.F.R. § 91.151(a)(1). The case involved a round-trip flight in which the airman departed from his home-airport with the intention of performing touch-and-go's at two other airports before returning to his home-airport. Unfortunately, after performing the touch-and-go's at those two airports, the airman was unable to make it back to his home-airport due to fuel exhaustion and the flight terminated in an off-airport landing.

Naturally, the FAA was not pleased. The FAA initiated an enforcement action to suspend the airman's ATP certificate for a period of 120 days for the airman's alleged violation of 14 C.F.R. §§ 91.103(a) (failure to become familiar with all information regarding the proposed flight), 91.151(a)(1) (day VFR fuel minimums requiring enough fuel to fly to the "first point of intended landing" and for another 30 minutes) and 91.13(a) (careless and reckless). The airman appealed the order of suspension and after a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") determined that the airman failed to adequately preflight the aircraft because he did not ensure the aircraft contained sufficient fuel for the flight. As a result, the ALJ found the airman violated §§ 91.103(a) and 91.13(a).

However, in a surprise decision, the ALJ concluded the airman did not violate § 91.151(a)(1) because his touch-and-go landing at the first airport was a landing that occurred at the airman's "first point of intended landing." As a result, the ALJ reduced the suspension of the airman's ATP certificate to 105 days. Not surprisingly, the FAA appealed the ALJ's decision to the full Board.

On appeal, the FAA argued the ALJ's determination that a touch-and-go qualified as a landing for purposes of § 91.151(a)(1) was in error. The FAA also argued the ALJ should have deferred to the FAA's interpretation of the regulation. The Board agreed with the FAA and concluded “first point of intended landing” in § 91.151(a)(1) is "the point at which the aircraft finally comes to rest."

In support of its decision, the Board stated:

The Administrator could not achieve the safety purpose of reducing the risk of fuel exhaustion accidents if an operator only needed to have sufficient fuel to conduct a touch-and-go, as well as fly for an additional 30 minutes, notwithstanding the duration of the remaining flight before the aircraft finally comes to rest.

The Board also rejected the ALJ's reliance upon 14 C.F.R. § 61.57 (recent flight experience: pilot in command) and observed that "[w]hat constitutes a “landing” or “landing to a full stop” under § 61.57 does not define what would constitute the “first point of intended landing” under § 91.151(a)." It further disagreed with the ALJ's finding that a touch-and-go landing marks the end of one flight and the beginning of a new one. Rather the Board found such an interpretation would be illogical because a pilot performing a touch-and-go doesn't have a chance to perform a preflight checklist or visually inspect the fuel tanks before the aircraft takes off again.

Additionally, the Board observed that if the ALJ's interpretation were correct, then § 91.151(a)(1)'s fuel requirement would begin anew with each touch-and-go takeoff. As a result, even under the ALJ's interpretation, in the case before it the evidence still supported the airman's violation of § 91.151(a)(1) because the off-airport landing due to fuel exhaustion showed that he did not meet his fuel reserve minimums when he departed his second and third airports. Thus, the Board reversed the ALJ's decision regarding the § 91.151(a)(1) violation and reinstated the 120 day suspension of the airman's ATP certificate.

So, what can we learn from this case? Well, the obvious answer is to make sure you have enough fuel for your intended flight in compliance with the applicable regulations. The not-so-obvious answer is that a "landing" isn't always a "landing." Not particularly helpful, I know.

However, this not-so-obvious answer highlights the importance of understanding not only individual regulations, but also the distinctions between the regulations. Although it may seem reasonable to think that the language of one regulation should mean the same thing in the context of a different regulation, that isn't always the case, unfortunately. As airmen, we all need to understand the meaning of each regulation applicable to our flights in order to operate in compliance with the regulations and safely.

End of content

No more pages to load