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Winter Weather Flying

by Lydia Wiff 15. December 2016 08:00
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As I sit here in Grand Forks, ND, blanketed under over a foot of snow, I think about aviation in the winter, especially at UND.  As a tour guide at UND Aerospace, I think the question I am asked most often this time of year is: do you fly when it’s cold out?  The answer: Yes!  This week’s blog is going to focus on winter flying and a few of my tips to enjoy flying despite the cold.

#1: Plan Your Airports Carefully

During the rest of the year, sans snow, we get pretty comfortable flying into just about any airport.  However, with winter and the cold temperatures it brings, it is important to consider which airports will be the safest.  For instance, metropolitan airports usually have more tenants, more resources, etc., which means if there is snow, they are more likely to get plowed sooner.

In the same way, airports that are more remote and do not have regular services like hangars, deicing, and plug-ins for your engine, should be carefully considered.  UND, for instance, actually has a list of airports that are considered off-limits during the winter because of their location, lack of services, and runway length.  UND recognizes that students may have weather come up quickly during a long cross-country flight and it is important to make sure students are not flying anywhere too remote without a safe place to be. 

Planning for airports with consistent snow removal, fuel services, heated hangars and deicing options is one way to make your winter flying more enjoyable and safe.

#2: Carry a Winter Survival Kit

You probably think that could never happen to me (a hazardous attitude, by the way) – finding yourself stuck in a field somewhere, or making an unplanned departure from the runway with no choice but to wait for hours for help to come.  It may seem like extra stuff to carry, but a winter survival kit could be the difference between freezing to death, and well, not freezing to death.

Some things to carry in that kit: extra socks, extra food, water, flashlight and batteries, heat packs (they are so nifty and fit into your gloves and boots), winter boots, an extra jacket, flares, and anything else you might need.  At UND, once the temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, students are required to bring jacket, hat, gloves, and boots on every flight.  Now, the aircraft at UND have their own survival kits, but it can’t hurt to carry your own.  The items I mentioned are pretty lightweight and should not affect your weight and balance too much.  However, if weight and balance is your excuse for not bringing a kit on your cross-country, you have bigger issues.  Plus, if you’re not at UND, you should have your own kit anyways.

#3: Watch the Weather

This may seem like a “duh” tip, but seriously, how many times have we gone flying and seen some weather front move faster than predicted?  During the winter, this is even more important as a sudden drop in temperatures can cool off your aircraft way too fast and make it more difficult to start.  It can also mean that airports might close early due a lack to traffic (especially at non-towered airports) or the line crew goes home early.

More importantly, large winter storms, or even blizzards, can dump lots of snow when you least expect.  Checking the weather often before a winter flight is important to making sure you avoid any potential hazards.  If you are on the fence after looking at a forecast, either get a second opinion, or just don’t go.  Putting yourself in a position where you’re not entirely comfortable with the forecast is just as dangerous.

Organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (www.noaa.gov) have great resources for forecasting as well as weather reports for airports.  Of course, local TAFs and METARs should be used as well when you’re planning your winter flights.  Additionally, don’t forget to check the airports NOTAMs and the new system of field condition reporting, Runway Condition Assessment Matrix (RCAM).  The RCAM is a new way of giving field condition report which started being used as of October 1st.  There will still be Field Condition Reports (FICONs) issued along with the RCAM, but I would expect the FICON to go away after the 2016-2017 winter season.  The FAA has a great Advisory Circular on RCAM here.

Stay Warm!

Hopefully you’re still excited about winter flying this year – that wonderful, clear air is the best to fly in and the views are spectacular.  Just be sure to give the above tips in mind and you’ll be all set to enjoy flying all through the winter. 

 

Have a winter flying tip?  Leave a comment with your winter flying advice!

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Fixed Based Operators (FBO) | Lydia Wiff

The Speedtwin and Upset Prevention & Recovery Training (UPRT)

by Joe McDermott 8. September 2016 16:58
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No matter which sector of the aviation industry you work or play in, you will know the feeling upon seeing an aircraft type you just cannot put a name too. Well, I grew up assembling plastic Airfix kits, studying each new addition of The Observers Aircraft Guide, reading every new issue of Air Pictorial, Aviation News and countless other magazines to keep up with the latest developments. As I got a bit older regular visits to the big aviation show cases at Farnborough (UK) and Paris (France) helped keep me up to date with developments across the industry.

Nowadays it’s easier, it’s all on the internet, just Google or Wikipedia it or search YouTube. Except it isn’t, not always.

I was recently invited to oversee ramp operations at an air show support airfield. On looking at the list of acts I noted something new to me, a Speedtwin. Just what the hell is a Speedtwin? This led to much head scratching!

Further investigation via the web turned up a very limited amount on Wikipedia, and nothing on YouTube.

At the show I meet the demonstrator pilot and Managing Director of Speedtwin Developments Ltd., Malcom Ducker and fired off a barrage of questions about this unusual twin to which he gladly responded in detail.

The Speedtwin is a British designed and built light, twin-engine, 2 seat, tandem configuration aircraft that has superior performance, strength and flexibility when compared to other similar aircraft. Its superior maneuverability and twin-engine layout make it uniquely suitable for the soon to be introduced EASA and FAA requirement for all airline pilots to undergo Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT), as loss of control in-flight has become the No.1 single cause of air transport accidents.

The Speedtwin is the only fully aerobatic, civil, multi-engine aircraft around and is stressed to +6G and -3G, meaning it is tough and highly manuverable aircraft making it ideal for the UPRT role.

The Speedtwin’s short, rough field performance, twin engine configuration and economy make it highly suited for many other roles including maritime surveillance, border patrol and protection of remote industrial sites such as oil and gas installations.

It is specifically designed to operate from short, grass or desert strips hence the tail-wheel configuration, giving the operator great flexibility as it can be based anywhere there is 100 metres of dirt!

Visibility from the cockpit is superb and is an outstanding feature of this aeroplane. It is probably the best performing and safest aircraft in its class.

The example I examined is a prototype, made of aluminium with 2 x 205 hp engines and fixed pitch propellers, which is a bit like driving a car stuck in 3rd gear. Even so it has a good single engine performance, which means it is suitable for any over-water or other hostile terrain flying duties such as maritime surveillance, fisheries protection and other coastguard type duties. The production version will have constant speed props, which will enhance the aircraft’s performance significantly. It will be able to loiter on one engine while in the search area giving an endurance of more than 8 hours. The 400 litre fuel tanks give the aircraft a range of over 1000 miles or 1700km.

The aircraft has received UK CAA Permit certification and continues to be used for development and demonstration flying. Further investment is now required in order to achieve full EASA certification, which once received will enable the Speedtwin aircraft to enter commercial production.

Due to the relatively low cost of manufacture, (it is of all aluminum construction), the Speedtwin aircraft can be both competitively priced and highly profitable. It is estimated that the aeroplane can be manufactured for US$240,000, and sold for US$480,000.

Interest in putting the Speedtwin into serial production is mostly coming from China and the Middle East.

Malcolm Ducker flew Hawker Hunters in the Royal Air Force and was a training captain with Cathay Pacific Airways, flying Lockheed Tristars and Boeing 747-400s before seeking new challenges in aviation by taking on Speedtwin Developments Ltd

Malcolm says that the Speedtwin is a delight to fly and he enjoys flying it even more than the big Boeing and even the supersonic Hunter! No surprise for me there, as I walked up to him following one spirited demo flight I could not help but notice that he was grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat!

The manoeuvres Malcolm make during his display included ½ Cubans, loops, barrel rolls, aileron rolls, Derry turns, wingovers and steep turns.

Photographs: courtesy of Frank Grealish, WorldAirPics.com

FBOs – Putting Ramp Skills to Good Use

by Joe McDermott 25. July 2016 15:43
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High quality FBO staff training can lead to a secondary purpose, especially if your ground staff is truly dedicated, enthusiastic and proud of the skills and experience they have developed.

There are a few volunteer groups of aircraft marshallers who, in their spare time, take these skills and put them to work in a variety of ways.

In the USA there is the Commemorative Air Force – Marshallers Detachment which supports Commemorative Air Force air shows and other events across the country. The Marshallers Detachment members are mainly drawn from former military personnel or in many cases family members have served in the military. The Lone Star Flight Museum, based in Galveston, Texas, has a similar group of dedicated marshallers. Indeed, the CAF Marshallers Detachment and Lone Star teams work closely together at some air shows, most notably at Wings over Houston, a CAF annual show held at Ellington Field, Houston. Incidentally, the Lone Star Museum is in the process of moving to Ellington Field to avoid a repeat of the devastation suffered during Hurricane Ike.

In the United Kingdom the North Weald Marshallers group are based at the former Royal Air Force station of the same name. They support several very large general aviation events each year, including the Light Aviation Associations annual get together at Sywell where they can have 1000+ movements over the four day event.

In Ireland we have Follow Me - Aircraft Marshallers (FM-AM), a small group (just ten members) of professional aircraft marshallers drawn from FBOs, retired FBO or airline staff (Landmark Aviation, Signature Flight Support, Universal Aviation, Weston Aviation, Aer Lingus) , who provide Aircraft Marshalling and Oversight of Airside Operations Areas for special aviation events, Fly-Ins, Air Shows and Open Days. More used as Ground Handling Agents to marshalling or towing Hawkers, Falcons, Gulfstreams, Boeing Business Jets and helicopters of every size, into tight spaces in all weather conditions, they have developed procedures and training to cover not only warbirds, but Class A light aircraft, micro lights and helicopter operations and are proficient at overseeing multiple ramps, e.g. Display Ramp, Visitors Ramp, Rotary Ramp, Refuelling Ramp, Disabled Pilots Ramp or Special Requirements Ramp.

It's Safety First Every Time! Follow Me-Aircraft Marshallers have been trained to international standards at their base FBOs, under the NATA Safety 1st - Professional Line Service Training (PLST) program operated by the National Air Transport Association or other approved safety training systems which are compliant with Irish Aviation Authority Ramp Training Regulations. Apart from aircraft marshalling PLST training covers aircraft ground servicing, fuel servicing, towing procedures, fuel farm management, fire safety, emergency procedures and aviation security with bi-annual recurrent training in place. A small number of members with no ramp training have been inducted since 2015 and they have been put through a mentored based training program. The first two trainees are expected to be signed off when the 2016 Winter Training and Recurrent Training Program is completed.

International Co-Operation: In 2011 Follow Me-Aircraft Marshallers received an invitation to join the CAF Marshallers Detachment at three of their events, TRARON (Training Squadron One) at Odessa Schlemeyer Field, CAF Air Show at Midland and Wings over Houston Air Show, all in Texas. Two senior members from the Irish group attended, underwent some integration training and were “patched”, signed off, the first non-USA marshallers to receive this honour!

Each year since, FM-AM have attended Wings Over Houston and worked the warbirds ramp alongside both CAF and Lone Star marshallers in what surely must be a unique trans Atlantic volunteer exchange of professional co-operation.

FM-AM has also been honoured by North Weald Marshallers with a number of invitations to cross the narrower Irish Sea to attend events in the UK.

I have no doubt there are other such volunteer groups across the globe and would be delighted to hear from them.

What’s in it for an FBO Manager or owner? Well, such coming together of like minded people can only result in the promotion of safety and professionalism within the FBO community. Ramp Ops staff who feel part of an extended professional group will bring a heightened sense of pride to their colleagues at your facility. So, if your staff show an interest in lending their free time and skills to support an aviation event in your region it could have a positive spin off benefit for your company.


Lone Star, CAF & FM-AM at Wings over Houston morning briefing.


FM-AM guide in B-29 Fifi.


Two FM-AM on the Tora, Tora, Tora Ramp


FM-AM team


North Weald crew


FM-AM were entrusted with Heli-Ops oversight for the Dalai Lama visit to Ireland


FM-AM Heli-Ops support

FBO Mergers and Acquisitions What Next?

by Joe McDermott 8. June 2016 10:40
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Not unexpectedly, the subject of FBO mergers and acquisitions was one of the many talking points at this years’ EBACE, the annual European Business Aviation Conference and Expo, held at the end of May in Geneva, Switzerland.

The BBA acquisition of Landmark Aviation at the start of the year and subsequent rebranding as Signature Flight Support took many by surprise. Having divested itself of six Landmark locations, Signature still find themselves with 199 worldwide stations.

EBACE hosted the “Big is Beautiful” consolidation discussion with Mark Johnstone, Managing Director, EMEA region, BBA Signature Flight Support, Laura Pierallini of Studio Pierallini, Patrick Hansen, CEO of Luxaviation Group, Greg Thomas, President and Executive Chairman of PrivatAir and myself representing Global FBO Consult. Moderator was Taunya Renson-Martin. Looking at business aircraft management, the FBO sector and charter operations it became clear quite quickly that there was agreement among the panellists that mergers and acquisitions in the FBO sector will certainly continue for some time. Consolidation in the sector offers advantages of branding, purchasing power and economies of scale. For the smaller FBO chains or independents finding themselves sharing the ramp with a new or rebranded, well-funded competitor, it is not good news and can lead very quickly to a price “race to the bottom”.

 

And BBA are not the only movers in the FBO market place of late. Just a day ahead of EBACE, Dubai based JetEx announced that is has secured a tender from the Moroccan National Airports Authority to establish five new FBOs, the first such facilities in the North African country. It has already begun business aircraft ground support at Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport, Marrakech Menara and Rabat-Salé, where Swissport was also chosen to provide handling services. At the seasonal destinations of Agadir-Al Massira, and Dakhla, Jetex was named as the exclusive ground services provider. Jet Aviation, a General Dynamics company, seemed to be strongly hinting on their stand at two new locations to come very soon!

Luxaviation Group, new owners of well-established Execujet, Unijet (France), MasterJet (France), Abelag (Belgium), London Executive Aviation (UK), sound very bullish, so we can expect them to keep up the momentum for a while yet.

In the week following EBACE, French company Sky Valet announce it has completed the acquisition of JetBase, Portugal’s leading FBO network. JetBases’ ten FBOs, situated at the main Portuguese airports of Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Cascais and Beja, on the islands of Madeira, Azores and Cape Verde and in central Africa in Mozambique and Angola, will now operate under the commercial name of Sky Valet. This move follows on from the acquisition by Sky Valet in Q2 2015 of Gestair, Spain.

The addition of these new destinations consolidates Sky Valet’s international expansion strategy, which aims to create a network of FBOs located in the most iconic areas. The company already provides ground handling support services at Madrid, Barcelona, Gerona, Valencia, La Coruna, Santiago de Compostela, Palma de Majorca, Ibiza and Malaga airports. Dominique Thillaud, chairman of the management board of Aéroports de la Côte d’Azur (ACA) and Sky Valet, commented, “This acquisition allows us to expand our expertise across a new attractive area of the Iberian peninsula with a reach that even extends to Africa.”

Last April, Florida based Sheltair Aviation announced it had given its FBO network in the Sunshine State a major boost with the purchase the Tampa International Jet Center.

In the same month there were further notable indicators pointing to the continuing trend of aviation fuel suppliers actively expanding their services and branding across the industry, working closely with independent FBOs.

Skylink Services, the lone ground handling service provider for business aircraft at Cyprus’s Larnaca International, became the 52nd Diamond Service member of the World Fuel Services (WFS) Air Elite Network, the international group of FBOs established in 2011 from the remnants of the Avitat network.

WFS and Deer Jet Group expanded their eight-year relationship by signing a memorandum of understanding for the former to provide global aviation support solutions for Deer Jet’s eight FBOs in China and business aircraft handling subsidiary Honor Aviation.

Under the agreement, World Fuel Services will allow Deer Jet FBOs and Honor Aviation to accept its Avcard charge card for payment. More than 30,000 aircraft operators and pilots use Avcard worldwide for aircraft purchases such as fuel, ground handling and maintenance. Avcard is accepted at more than 7,600 locations in more than 190 countries.

If you consider the known facts, talk to key personnel, listen to the rumours, filter out the uninformed comments, you will get a broad sense of how the FBO sector will evolve over the next five to ten years. I believe mergers and acquisitions will be accompanied by co-branding, strategic partnerships and franchising. Realistically the worlds’ capitals and most major cities are fully populated by FBOs, restricting expansion for those not already present in these centres, with many airports restricting the amount of FBO licenses they will issue compounding the problem. Other factors to be considered are the forthcoming sale of a number of airports (France, Germany for instance) and the issuing of new FBO franchise agreements by governments (Morocco just completed, Oman in the process and many more in the pipeline). Right now Africa, Central and South America, India and some of the Pacific Rim countries are getting a lot of attention, maybe it will be from these regions that we will see the next exciting developments emanate!

Keeping your FBO customers happy

by Joe McDermott 4. May 2016 16:57
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Whether you run a small regional airport GA FBO or a major BizAv corporate facility there are many things you can do to keep your customers happy, be they crew, owners or trip support providers.

Here are just a few often over looked areas worth considering:

Billing: Must always be prompt, transparent and complete. Airport fees such as landing, parking and security fees should be clearly displayed as such, ideally shown as a sub item, right up the top. FBO fees should always be accompanied by a full description. Third party fees, such as catering, taxis, chauffeurs etc. again should be in one section & accompanied by a full description. If a flight department or trip support service provider supplies special billing instructions they should be followed. Nothing is worse for a crew (billing wise that is) or trip support provider than a late or incomplete invoice. For the FBO, it can result in late payment, part payment and even loss of the customer. Every FBO needs to have a front line staff member in the billing loop as accounts department staff very often do not have any understanding of what happens on the ramp and probably could not care less. Almost every FBO I have consulted for was found to be losing out on significant revenue due to a disconnect between the services provided by the ramp agents and the accounts department processing of the bill.

Aircraft: All aircraft owners or flight crew are concerned about their aircraft while left on the ramp or in the hangar. Security, hangar rash (minor incidents involving damage to aircraft that typically originate due to improper ground handling in and around a hangar, other aircraft or objects on the ground) and FOD are a constant consideration. A well kept hangar and tidy ramp will always be noticed by pilots and will instil confidence.

Ramp staff: Your front line defence! Well trained, courteous and knowledgeable staff will always stand out. Clean, tidy and with matching uniforms suitably selected for ramp operations will catch the eye but also ensure your team are provided proper PSE and always ware/carry it.

Customer service: “Going the extra mile” is often cited as the mark of a good customer orientated operation. Frankly, the simple things come first, reading, understanding, confirming and carrying out the handling request instructions. Have everything in place and be ahead of the curve at all times. Get all of this right and it’s a great start. When the customer throws a curve ball, that’s when your team need to be able to fall back on training, back office contacts lists, excellent communication and a will to source a solution. Sometimes the customer will be unreasonable, looking for something that is just unavailable or not possible at that time. This is when team members get the chance to either pull out all the stops to comply with such a request or to fully explain why the request cannot be fulfilled and to explore all the alternatives. Above all, staff should try to anticipate clients needs, learn what specific clients likes, dislikes and patterns are for future reference.

Pet hates: Owners or passengers can react badly to staff for what they may see as over familiarization, inattentiveness, sloppiness, unkempt dress, cheap aftershave/perfumes or abrupt manner. Handling their baggage with due consideration is paramount. If an owner takes a dislike to a member or members of staff it can cause all kind of problems and can lead to a change of FBO and loss of business.



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