Unicom

October 2001 Issue




Defeating a Trap

Training for electronic cockpits is hard to come by, but help is on the way

Your cover story, Tech Trap, [Airmanship, August] definitely underscores a very acute problem today for both pilots and CFIs. The NTSB report of the JFK Jr. accident concludes that Kennedy did not have the autopilot engaged at the time of the crash.

Neither Flight Safety Academy in Vero Beach, Fla., where both John and I received much of our flight training, nor any other flight school in the United States is mandated to train on the use of autopilot, GPS, weather, terrain or traffic warning equipment in order for a pilot to earn private, instrument or commercial rating.

Last fall I had my new Garmin 530/430-equipped Piper Saratoga upgraded to include Honeywell’s new Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, Goodrich’s Stormscope and Skywatch Traffic System. To my amazement, neither the manufacturers nor the avionics shop offered me any meaningful training.

While I did fly with the technician to check out the equipment, he seemed to be fumbling along with me as to the specific detailed operation of each component. When I confronted Honeywell with the issue they confirmed that they did not offer any form of end-user training aside from the pilot manual and sending a salesman out if requested.

There is little doubt that technology is rapidly changing the cockpit and forcing the transition of the pilot from “airplane driver to system manager” as Ron Levy’s article states.

Having just returned from Oshkosh 2001, I am certain that the explosion of new avionics hitting the market has only just begun.

Multifunction displays, enhanced ground proximity warning systems, uplinked digital weather were omnipresent, but none of the manufacturers or their dealers offer any form of rigorous pilot training.

To address the situation I have combined my 30 years of successful business and technology background with aviation and have founded Electronic Flight Solutions Inc. precisely to support GA pilots and corporate flight departments in transitioning effectively to cockpit automation.

Focusing on cockpit automation, Electronic Flight Solutions offers pilots and corporate flight departments both front-end consulting services helping clients with the proper selection of equipment and a competent avionics shop. Then after installation of the equipment we provide rigorous ground school and flight training on each piece of new equipment.

The airliners have been flying much of this technology for years, and that is part of the reason airline travel has become the safest way to travel. Meanwhile, the Air Safety Foundation’s Nall Report shows the GA fatality curve virtually flat over the past 20 years.

I think the time is right for a new breed of organization committed to help make general aviation safer through the implementation and education of cockpit automation.

-Howard Reisman, President
Electronic Flight Solutions Inc.


You can get more information on Electronic Flight Solution at www.ElectronicFlight.com or by calling 508-477-7660.

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Does Renting Equal Death Wish?
I’ve been a pilot for two years. At this point I have 300 hours and I expect to take my instrument checkride soon.

All of my flying has been in rented airplanes, and most of that has been in a 172XP. I’ve flown this plane to the East Coast, California and last week, Canada.

I rent this plane from the same company that I learned to fly with, and they have a full fleet of GA airplanes. My question concerns the general state of rental planes in the U.S. and their overall safety record.

Since I started flying I’ve had the alternator go out twice (two different airplanes), the vacuum system once, one brake has failed and I lost the transponder. All these failures have been in VFR conditions and none have been life-threatening. Should I expect more from the planes I rent and should I be overly concerned by these types of failures?

-Tom Strong
Via e-mail


Frustration with the condition of rental airplanes is a factor frequently cited by people who take the plunge into airplane ownership. However, we feel you cannot paint the rental fleet with a broad brush in terms of maintenance quality. For every FBO that rents rattletrap airplanes that barely squeak from 100-hour inspection to 100-hour inspection, there is one that offers nearly new airplanes and pays scrupulous attention to mechanical fitness and cosmetics. Most, of course, fall somewhere in between.

Flying 300 hours and experiencing the handful of problems you’ve encountered is not unusual. We know one unfortunate soul who suffered three total engine failures (on three different airplanes) in his first 100 hours.

Your best bet is to make sure the operator where you rent your airplanes is clear on your desire for high-quality maintenance, even if it means higher rental costs. Some operators try so hard to undercut the price of the competition that they lose sight of the bigger picture.

You can help yourself by conducting thorough preflight inspections and insisting upon reviewing the airplane’s maintenance log books periodically. Furthermore, plan your flights in accordance with your comfort level with the operator.

Remember that any airplane – rental, privately owned or airliner – suffers mechanical breakdowns on a more frequent basis than any of us would like to admit. The important thing is to stay on top of fixing things, check what you can before you launch, and leave yourself an out in case something critical fails.

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Sport Pilot Wannabe
What, if anything, did FAA announce at AirVenture at Oshkosh regarding a new pilot rating with reduced or no medical requirement?

-Ray McGrath
Via e-mail


The FAA hoped to have the approval of the Office of Management and Budget for the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Airplane rules by AirVenture, which would have meant the agency could then start the public comment process. The OMB approval did not come, but at press time was expected in the first week of September. The FAA will then publish the rule, gather comments for 90 days, and then have up to 180 days to respond to those comments and/or amend the proposed rules accordingly. Just how long it actually will take is anyone’s guess.

The medical requirements you refer to will allow you to fly by meeting the requirements for a state driver’s license or a Class III medical. It’s on the honor system. If you already have a pilot certificate and a valid medical, you can get a logbook endorsement and allow your medical to lapse. To exercise your recreational or higher privileges, however, you must reinstate your medical. If your medical has already expired, you will be able to take a flight review and get an endorsement in the sport pilot category once the final approval has been granted. For more information, see www.sportpilot.org.