Flying - Page 8 Aviation Articles

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.

The Flying Club Advantage


Until last year, I’d never been part of a flying club. I had always received training at established flight schools throughout the years and rented aircraft at local FBOs. I’d always heard that flying clubs, while less expensive, could be troublesome. Rumors of old airplanes, casual maintenance practices, scheduling problems and bad management always seemed to accompany discussions about flying clubs.

But as it turns out, it’s possible that I was actually just a victim of shady marketing tactics and misguided beliefs that implied that flying clubs were somehow not as good as traditional aircraft rental businesses and flight schools. The aviation business is a tough world, and the flight student often goes to the flight school with the newest airplanes and the best website. After years of flying, I’ve learned that sometimes the old airplanes are the best, and as much as I hate to admit it (I’m a marketing snob), marketing doesn’t mean anything if you can’t follow through. While I love a good marketing plan, the product is what really counts, and the same - or better - product found in traditional businesses can, in fact, be found in a flying club.

What is a flying club?
A flying club differs from a traditional flight school because it’s not-for-profit, whereas a flight school operates as a profitable entity. Flying clubs are completely run by the membership, with a board of directors leading the way. AOPA says there are about 600 flying clubs active today, and on average, each club has about 50 members and operates four aircraft.

Operating a flying club
Operating a flying club, like any flight school, is a lot of work for not much reward, and it’s often hard for clubs to stay in business. It takes a special group of people to manage a flying club and another special group of members to invest their own personal time and money into its success. Flying clubs will charge membership dues to offset operating costs, but otherwise don’t take in any revenue. And club members in a flying club operate club airplanes as owners instead of renters, which means they often have to pay a deposit upfront, but pay less in rental charges.

Advantages of flying clubs
The most obvious advantage of flying with a flying club is the cost. Aircraft rental rates are often high enough to just cover the operating costs, meaning you don’t pay the steep markup that a for-profit business charges.

But there are a lot of other advantages, as well, including the availability of different types of airplanes, the ability to take an airplane overnight or on a weekend trip (many businesses don’t allow this), the availability and presence of flight instructors who are also members, and the camaraderie. One of the most beneficial parts of joining a flying club is the camaraderie and the educational value of having other pilots and instructors around to answer questions or offer advice.

Joining a flying club has been the best aviation decision I’ve ever made. In the short time I’ve been there, I’ve learned more than I ever would have at another flight school or FBO. I’m always being challenged, and my flying skills are always being improved. The rates are less expensive than the other FBOs in the area, there is always another pilot around to bounce an idea off of, and there’s always a fly-out or an event to attend. And it’s family-friendly, too. I can bring my kids to the club building for a Saturday cookout, and they have just as much fun as I do socializing with other club members.

For me, the advantages of the flying club are clear. Not every club is perfect, but if you have a flying club nearby, it might be worth checking out!

7 Practical Tips for Instrument Training

I am happy to report that in my pursuit of a career as a professional pilot, I successfully passed my Instrument Rating checkride a couple weeks ago. Although this is just a milestone along the long road to my goals, I am proud of how far I’ve come from my first attempt at flying an approach. Several pilots warned me that instrument training is more difficult than any other training, and I have to say that I now understand what they meant.

Instrument training was different from private training in a lot of ways. Everything that I had already spent hours learning and practicing was expected to be second nature to me at this point. This really hit home when I executed a poor traffic pattern and my instructor scolded me, saying, "This is PRIVATE stuff! You should know how to land." I could not longer struggle to control any part of my flight operations and blame it on still being a student. In a sense, you change from being a student of the airplane to a student of everything outside of the airplane. Factor in how you cannot see outside, and the learning curve suddenly gets that much more difficult.

Upon landing and being told I had passed my checkride, my DPE told me that he strongly believed that instrument training was more difficult than ATP training. This surprised me, and I will have to report back in a few years on if I find this true for myself or not. Regardless, my previous instructor’s warning that it will be like a "fire hose to the face" when I began training was definitely true. I struggled for months in the ground course and every flight seemed to make me feel more emotions than Private training did. If it was a good flight, I definitely knew it and felt like a champion. If it was a bad flight, it was more difficult to recover from and I felt more like a failure. I am sure this is because the acceptable margin of error in instrument flight is so small.

During my training I jotted down some notes on things I would like to tell other students currently working on their instrument rating. Hopefully some of these tips will be helpful for navigating the difficulties you will face along the way.

Accurate representation of what it feels like to study for the Instrument Written.

Knock out the Written Exam

There is nothing more frustrating than getting grounded during flight training because you haven’t completed a written test. It is policy at my school that if you have not passed the written test before you start the second "flight lab" (25 hours of training) then you cannot move forward. Even if the threat of being grounded is not looming over your head, the written is a huge hurdle to pass and I recommend taking it as soon as possible to get it out of the way. Some concepts are more difficult than Private, but it’s nothing that a few extra hours of studying cannot remedy.

Reference the Instrument "Know All" Handbook

My instructor sent me a link to this page early in our training and it was a game changer. It lays out the highlights of regulations and procedures in a way that is easily understood, and it is perfect for printing out and highlighting. I even made some sections into flash cards for further memorization. Being a pilot is about knowing how to use every resource available to you, and this is certainly a goldmine of helpful information.

Memorize Approach Plates you use Often

I would say that in almost every other flight lesson we flew over to KLEX and did an approach into whichever runway they were using. I became really familiar with the VOR-A, ILS, LOC, and RNAV approaches for 22 and 04. Knowing that I frequent these approaches so much, it was extremely beneficial to me when I sat down by myself and mentally flew the approach plates several times. It made the approach briefing less confusing, and helped me to understand exactly what I was doing as I went along. Even before a cross country, I recommend looking over the plates a few times to get familiar with them so that you are never a few miles out and looking at the plate for the first time.

Don’t Stress Over the Brief

When I first began my training, it seemed like every time we were getting close to the airport and I needed to brief the approach to my instructor my palms suddenly got sweaty. There was so much to go over. There is so little time. Don’t let yourself stress over the approach plates, and find an acronym or method that works best for YOU. I always use "FACTM" approach. Frequencies, Altitudes, Course, Time, and Missed. I go over this in my head, and find the information that relates to it on my approach plate.

Invest in Good Foggles/Hood

One thing that I almost got in trouble with during my checkride was the type of foggles I used. They are clear, except for the opaque white around the edges. When I was coming in on my final approach, I experienced a familiar phenomenon: a blinding glare from the sun. As we were coming straight towards the sun, it reflected off of the opaque part of my foggles and I could not see any of my instruments. I had this happen before but never to the extent of during my checkride. My extremely kind check airman held a binder up to block the glare as I finished the approach, and recommended that I look into a hood for future flights. Find what works best for you and consider all the possible negatives of all options.

Get into Actual IMC

Near the end of my training, when I was pretty comfortable with approaches, my instructor called me up on a particularly overcast and nasty looking day. He told me that I had better not think I wasn’t flying that day, and to get to the airport as soon as possible. That was the day that we went into real, solid, terrifying instrument meteorological conditions. Up to this moment I was sure that I could handle it, after all I had about 40 hours in simulated instrument conditions. Immediately when we burst into the clouds my entire body tensed up. It was the most disorienting experience I had ever had. I asked him to please take over the radios so that I could get a feel for it. I highly recommend going into IMC multiple times during your training to truly understand the mental aerobics that come with completely trusting what you see on the panel.

Keep a Reminder of Why You’re Doing it

I won’t lie, I thought about quitting a couple times during my training. Everyone said that Instrument training either makes or breaks you as a pilot, so I thought that if I could not get it down then I was not fit to be a professional pilot. I watched as a few of my friends switched majors or quit their training because it was just too difficult. Every time I had to remind myself that this has been my dream since I was a young girl, and I could not quit until I had given it all that I had. It absolutely pays off in the end if you dedicate the time and effort, and keep motivated.

I wish you all the best in your instrument training, and I hope that these tips will at least encourage you to stick with it. Stay safe and keep working hard towards your goals!

For Pilots, Driving is Harder Than Flying: Busy Airport Taxi Tips

For pilots, getting from point A to point B on the ground is often more challenging than doing so in the air. The maze of runways, taxiways and ramps at large airports like Atlanta or JFK can be intimidating even for the most professional pilots.

If you’re terrified of making the wrong turn at a busy airport, you might be somewhat comforted to know that most taxiway and runway incursions are made by airline pilots. Of course, airline pilots frequent the busiest airports more often than small airplane pilots do, but it’s still helpful to know that even professional pilots have a difficult time navigating through the taxiways of LAX or Chicago O’Hare. I pulled up a few NASA ASRS reports made by pilots and controllers who experienced a runway or taxiway incursion. Most of these reports are wrong turns, many are the result of not checking NOTAMs and others are from vehicles on the runway.

It’s interesting to note, however, that a surprising number of ASRS reports are from pilots who mistake another airplane’s call sign for their own, accepting a clearance that was not theirs because they thought they heard Ground Control say their call sign. In addition, a surprising number of reports are from pilots who took off of landed from the wrong runway. And finally, maybe less surprisingly, there are numerous reports from pilots who moved beyond the runway hold short line or otherwise entered a protected are due to a distraction in the cockpit or because they lost situational awareness.

So how do you prevent a runway incursion? How do you ensure that you never hear those dreaded words November 00000, call tower after parking? Start with these tips:

Study ASRS reports.
In just a few seconds, I pulled up 245 pages of runway and taxiway incident reports from NASA’s ASRS database, totaling 12,218 reports. But you can narrow the search more by studying the common problem areas for airports you frequent. If you’re planning an flight to DFW, for example, a review of the common ASRS reports citing a runway incursion or excursion will give you some valuable insight into what goes on on the ground at that particular airport.

Study the airport diagram.
If you know which runway is likely to be in use, you can study the likely path that a controller might give you to your destination on the ground. In real life, it might not happen perfectly the way you hope it will, but if you run through a few likely scenarios that you might encounter when you get your taxi clearance as part of the preflight planning process, you’ll be glad you did. And always have an airport diagram on hand in the cockpit! (P.S. You can find all of the airport diagrams on our website.)

Ask the controller for progressive taxi instructions.
The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) states that if a pilot is unfamiliar with the airport, he or she may "request progressive taxi instructions which include step-by-step routing directions." It’s a service provided to help unfamiliar pilots. If you’re one of those unfamiliar pilots, why not just make the request for progressive taxi instructions?

Know your taxiway and runway signs and markings.
Study up. It’s possible that if you often fly out of small airports, you’re used to a single runway with a single parallel taxiway, and the signs are pretty easy to interpret, even if you haven’t read up on them lately. Large airports with multiple runways, intersections and a variety of taxiways that go in every direction, the runway and taxiways signs can be confusing. Know which signs are location signs, which are directional and which are mandatory will help a lot when it comes to navigating the taxiways.

Read back all hold short instructions.
On the ground at JFK is not the time to skimp on radio calls. It’s mandatory that you read back the taxiway clearance properly, including any hold short instructions. Controllers are required to get a read back of all hold short instructions from pilots. If you don’t read back the taxi clearance in a way that includes the hold short instructions, the controller will continue to tell you the clearance until you do. Listening to ground control on a handheld radio or on LiveATC.com would be a useful exercise for pilots who want to get used to how to red back these clearances properly.

Minimize distractions.
Many runway incursions happen when one or both pilots are heads-down in the cockpit, or are busy talking to the passengers or on another frequency. Many of these incursions included pilots who taxied just a few feet past the hold short line of a runway without clearance just because they were recalculating TOLD data or pushing buttons on the CDU. Pay attention while you taxi.

Never cross a runway without a specific clearance.
Never, ever taxi onto a runway or other protected area with knowing for certain that you are cleared to do so. If you aren’t sure, query the controller.

If you aren’t sure, ASK!
As a final note, if you’re ever in doubt about which way to turn or whether you’ve been cleared onto a runway or to cross a runway hold short line, always ask. In all cases, it’s better to be absolutely certain than it is to hear the controller screaming at the Boeing 777 on final approach to go around because you taxied onto a runway when you weren’t cleared, which will always be followed by N0000, call tower when you land.

2015 Business Jet Traveler Readers Expect to Fly More in 2016

The October/November issue of Business Traveler Magazine contains the results of the 5th Annual Readers' Choice Awards.  As with previous surveys, they let the results speak for themselves. Go read it, but first, my observations.

 

Good news for 2016, their readers expect to fly more in 2016 than in 2015 (37.9%) with just over half flying about the same next year. Only 7.3% expect to fly less. This is encouraging since more than one in five (22.7%) reported flying less in 2015 than in 2014. I'd say this is more of a sign of stability or slow growth. Still, slow growth beats a slow decline.

Why people fly is as you think. These private aircraft "save time" by getting people to airports that are not served by the airlines and all the travelers to be productive while en route. These simply spell productivity.  Comfort, privacy and security round out that list. Those last three imply quality of life to me. 

What people fly remains consistent with previous years. It's the economics. That, along with range and cabin are the big three drivers in the aircraft the reader flies. A slight change from 2014 is economics is now the top driver, slightly more than range. Interesting was the number four response: Aircraft Manufacturer. The OEMs try to get brand loyalty and this indicates some level of success in that effort. Aircraft age and speed round off the top half of the list. 

Among the readers using fractional, charter and jet cards, customer service rated top for all three. Overall satisfaction also rated consistently as ver good with no clear advantage to any of them. Value for price paid rated best for Jet Cards. Fractional rated lowest for value which ties into their ranking for residual value terms. That was the lowest average score among all the fractional rating categories. If the reader had not used the provider previously, the biggest factor in selecting the provider was a recommendation of a friend or colleague. Step aside Internet, word of mouth from someone you trust is still the number one reason to buy.

Speaking of value for price paid, for the fixed-wing aircraft, Embraer rated quite well in that category. They also rated very well in cost of maintenance and were close to survey-leader Gulfstream in product support. Kudos to them. Overall, the strongest fixed-wing OEMs were Embraer, Gulfstream, Dassault, and Pilatus. 

Regarding aircraft reliability, Pilatus and Gulfstream received the highest marks. Al the OEMs did well, with Hawker (as in the 800 series) and Bombardier receiving more "fair" ratings and fewer very good to excellent ratings. Regardless, all the fixed-wing OEMs having from 87% to 100% ratings when adding the very good and excellent scores. The wireless and cable providers would love rating like that.

On the helicopter aircraft, Business jet traveler only had sufficient data for Airbus (nee Eurocopter) and Bell. I was surprised that Sikorsky had too few responses. Like last year, neither helicopter OEM received greater than a 40% excellent rating in any category except for reliability, where Bell had 52.4% excellent ratings. That would be last place if put in with the fixed-wing. I'm not sure why the expectations aren't being met.

BJT did ask its reader's that if they could get a year of complimentary flying, which would it be for various categories of aircraft? Read the article to see what folks favored. Most choices were the popular new aircraft for each category. Of note, 6.5% of the Super Mid-Size Cabin Jet readers wanted a Hawker 4000 over the current production offerings. As with last year, no one listed a P51 Mustang. 

2016 looks promising from this survey. It's a small list, but here's hoping its representative. How about you, will you be flying more next year? Let us know if the replies.

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