April 2005 Issue

Unicom: 04/05

NTSB Summaries
Having just resubscribed after a several-year hiatus in flying, and having just received the February 2005 issue, I am disappointed in the sparse information included in the NTSB summaries of recent accidents. For example, the Canadair CL-601 accident at Montrose, Colo., makes no mention of the fact that the runway was in the process of being cleared, that only a 40-foot-wide section had been plowed, and that a four-inch-high berm of slush surrounded the cleared part of the the runway. The other runway at Montrose was also in the process of being plowed. There was no mention of the fact that the aircraft did get airborne but then struck a wing tip, which tore off. Nor was there any mention of the fact that ATC had issued the aircraft an IFR clearance with a very tight time window.

Omitting factors such as these casts the accident in a totally different light. One has to wonder what relevant facts were omitted in all the other reports.

R.T. Wojciechowski
Via e-mail

The brief mentions of recent mishaps carried in our monthly Accident Briefs feature are taken from the NTSB’s preliminary reports. In this instance, the NTSB preliminary report contained none of the information you cite. Within obvious space limitations, we always try to include enough information for readers to understand the conditions leading to an accident or incident. But if the official information isn’t there, there’s little we can do until a probable cause is determined.


Fate Is The Hunter?
I’m a student pilot and new subscriber. I think your publication is excellent, but have a question about the utility of the Accident Briefs section.

It seems that flying is a continual process of risk/reward evalution and that your magazine exists to help pilots with that process. The Accident Briefs, unlike the Accident Probe feature, just manage to discourage me without informing. If an Arrow can spin itself apart in VMC and with no reason given, driven by someone who probably had more experience and training than me, it leaves the impression that fate’s fickle finger played a large role. Some of the examples implied a possible cause, but I would find the report including the cause after investigation to be more useful.

I’m not overly risk-averse—past and current activities include skydiving and auto racing—but these affect only me. Without additional information, the accident reports suggest just going by commercial jet.

Jonathan Micocci
St. Petersburg, Fla.

Our summary of recent accidents and incidents is designed to be educational, not frightening. By reviewing these recent mishaps, we hope readers will put themselves in the mishap pilot’s seat and discover not only some of the ways we can find ourselves in trouble but problem areas associated with specific aircraft, airports, conditions or experience levels well before the NTSB determines a probable cause.


Far Apart On Parts
I just finished reading Mike Busch’s article, “Fix It Now, Or Later?” in the February 2005 issue and came away shaking my head.

First he tells us “Never pay list price for any expensive part. Your shop can often get 40% off.” I’d like to know the place where he gets these discounted parts so I can order them for my shop!

Under the sidebar, “When To Say No,” he tells us to “buy standard parts from a non-aviation source whenever possible.” I don’t like to pay what seems like absurdly high prices for microswitches or fasteners when I can get them from other sources, but the fact is they are not supposed to be installed on an aircraft. Period!

If the part doesn’t have traceablity and/or an FAA 8130 Form, it doesn’t get installed on an aircraft, even it appears to be truly identical. Mr. Busch tells us to “just make sure that the parts are truly identical to the originals.” I’d like to ask how he expects an aircraft owner to do this?

I run an FAA-approved repair station and I need to be competitive on pricing so I don’t lose my customers to the next guy down the street, but I will not install a part in an aircraft unless it meets the FAA’s requirements. It’s the law.

Jared Gowlis
Via e-mail

Mike Busch responds: If your shop sometimes pays list price for parts, then I respectfully suggest you fire your parts manager. Nobody in the industry ever pays anything remotely close to list price for anything. I’ll concede that occasionally there are parts that can only be purchased at 25 percent off list, but there are plenty that can be had at a 50-percent discount. In my experience, if you’re not averaging at least a 30 or 35 percent discount across the board, you’re not trying.

Your assertion that a part must have traceability and/or an FAA 8130-3 form is just flat wrong. Would the FAA be happy if every part installed on an aircraft had traceability and 8130-3 paperwork? Sure they would. Have they issued Advisory Circulars suggesting that mechanics might want to do this? Sure they have. Is this required by the regulations for maintenance of a Part 91 aircraft? No!

For standard fasteners and electronic components, the situation is even clearer. FAR §21.303(a)(4) explicitly says that “standard parts (such as bolts and nuts) conforming to established industry or U.S. specifications” may be installed on a certificated aircraft without the need for any PMA paperwork.

If an A&P installs a part without an 8130-3 form, then the A&P has to vouch for its airworthiness. Some A&Ps are unwilling to do that, even if it means the customer has to pay through the nose. It may be your policy (or your employer’s), and it’s understandable why you might prefer to do it this way (to minimize your liability). But it’s definitely NOT the law.


“Popping” Flaps
I enjoyed “Flap Secrets” (February 2005), but the author’s analysis of flap-popping on takeoff is a little confusing. Deploying flaps on a short field will certainly reduce the rate of climb, but it’s not the best rate we’re after on short fields; it’s best angle of climb.

The flap-popper’s intent is to shorten ground roll by initially running flapless. Once airborne with flaps extended, reaching a climbable airspeed in a shorter distance by accelerating in ground effect instead of on the surface is consistent with the AFM/POH. Flaps increase the coefficient of lift. In a steady climb, however, they actually decrease rate of climb. That’s why Vy is flown flapless.

Clark Slade
Via e-mail

Sorry for the confusion. When not prohibited, flap use on takeoff depends on a variety of variables, not least of which is the airplane’s ability to clear obstacles at the runway’s end. “Popping” flaps is something usually reserved for soft fields without obstacles and the flaps should be retracted as soon as it’s safe to do so. As someone wiser than us once said, “It all depends.”


Stuck On Top
February’s issue was excellent, but I have a couple of comments. In the “Stuck on Top” article, the author—not an IFR qualified pilot—files an IFR flight plan, assuming ATC knows he’s not qualified, because he stumbles through it so badly. Don’t be so sure.

I’ve been an en route controller for 22 years, and if somebody files IFR, we assume he can fly IFR. There are lots of pilots whose radio skills are lacking. The theme of the article—confess and ask for help—is excellent. Just make sure ATC knows you’re confessing that you’re not IFR-qualified or ready, not that you “forgot” to file, or are looking for a VFR to IFR change.

If we think you’re IFR-qualified, you’re likely to be cleared into weather you don’t want to be in. If you make it clear you are a VFR-only pilot, we’ll do everything we can to help—-including trying to get you down without flying in the clouds.

If you’re worried about certificate action, all I can say is I’ve seen at least a dozen of these situations over the years and while we usually ask the pilot to call us when he gets on the ground at non-towered airports, that’s so we don’t worry that he’s crashed. As far as I know, that’s been the end of it each time.

Brian Von Bevern
Via e-mail