February 2017

Download the Full February 2017 Issue PDF

Subscribers Only - At this writing, it’s impossible to know what ongoing investigations will determine, and whether either the flight crew or the controller will face consequences. This and other incidents, however, highlight a longstanding problem: air traffic control is designed by and comprised of humans, and it’s therefore imperfect. Controllers make mistakes just like the rest of us, pilots included. The challenge is to recognize those mistakes when they happen and take action appropriate to resolve the issue. A recent encounter I had at a towered airport reinforces the old, bad joke that the controller likely will feel really bad after an accident. The pilot likely won’t feel a thing.

Making The Grade

Self-evaluation can be an important component of a pilot’s ongoing training and currency efforts. If we don’t know how well we did on a given flight, how will we know what to practice on the next one? How will we know how well we’ll shoot an ILS when it counts if we can’t manage one in severe clear on a nice day? Presuming you, like me, always want to fly with the fewest mistakes, some kind of self-evaluation is both necessary and appropriate. How you go about it is key.

Fate Can Be The Hunter

Kudos to Robert Wright on achieving 50 years of accident/incident free flying and receiving the FAA’s Master Pilot Award (“On Getting To 50,” September 2016). I too have reached that milestone, but not without accident nor incident in my 6100-plus hours of private pilot flying, most of which has been recreational. My incidents occurred despite what I believed to have been reasonable risk management.

When ATC Screws Up

Subscribers Only - On December 16, 2016, shortly after takeoff at 0119 local time, an EVA Air Boeing 777-300ER apparently came well within 1000 vertical feet of mountainous terrain after departing the Los Angeles (Calif.) International Airport (KLAX). While a formal investigation reportedly is underway at the FAA and the carrier, unofficial transcripts and aircraft tracking data make it clear this event was a very near thing. The publicly available information depicts confusion and uncertainty in the 777’s cockpit. It also suggests non-standard phraseology on ATC’s part may have contributed to the event. The sidebar on the opposite page explores it a bit more, based on unoffocial sources.

Revising Slow Flight

Subscribers Only - By now, U.S.-based flight instructors and training organizations should be fully up to speed on last year’s formal implementation of the airman certification standards (ACS), which is designed to eventually replace all practical test standards (PTS). For now, only the private pilot and airplane instrument rating checkrides employ the ACS, but more are coming. The new standards went into effect June 15, 2016—if you’re in the primary training environment and don’t know about the ACS, you haven’t been paying attention.

Winter Weather Patterns

Subscribers Only - Winter is upon us. This doesn’t mean we have to strike a baleful note of doom, though it should remind many of us that winter generally brings more cloudy skies to North America. In 2015, an Alaska-based climate blogger, Brian Brettschneider, examined cloud coverage data from selected weather stations in the National Climate Data Center's (NCDC) Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN). He created a series of maps showing the cloudiest parts of the U.S., the distribution of cloud cover by month and the cloudiest months for each first order reporting station.

5 Ways to Crash an Airplane

Lately, the general aviation community has focused, quite correctly, on the very preventable loss-of-control in-flight type of accident (LOC-I). Too many people somehow manage to bend an airplane—or worse—each year basically because they forget to fly it. It’s a broad category, and includes a mix of accident causes, from low-level maneuvering, to VFR-into-IMC and to multi-engine training operations. As complex and dynamic as the LOC-I category is, it most assuredly doesn’t include the full range of things pilots do to make the accident reports. For example, a look at the “other” category of pilot-related accidents, as broken down by the AOPA Air Safety Institute (AOPA ASI) in its 25th Nall Report, highlights some other areas where pilots regularly make contributions to the aviation-accident records. Here are five of them, not related to LOC-I.

Preflight Strategies

Subscribers Only - Preflight inspections are kind of like landings: a good one takes some practice. As students, we were trained to walk around the airplane with a formal checklist, perhaps with our thumb pointing to the task at hand, so we wouldn’t miss anything. And in the rental/training environment, a methodical approach to preflighting what you’re about to fly has a great deal of merit: You never know who flew it last, the airplane’s condition afterward and what they broke until you look for yourself.

FAA Revises Part 23

The FAA December 16 released its long-awaited final rule making significant revisions to small aircraft certification standards. The new FAR Part 23 rule addresses how airplanes weighing up to 19,000 pounds can be certified and implements performance-based airworthiness requirements instead of the prescriptive design requirements it replaces. It apparently offers little regulatory relief to owners or operators of existing or aging aircraft. Given the scope of the rule changes, the FAA is delaying its implementation eight months, to August 30, 2017.

Automation Casualty?

One of the downsides of automation is that the pilot often is removed from the control feedback loop. In other words, he or she isn’t sensing what the airplane’s control feedback is saying. When manually making a certain control input, the pilot receives instant feedback—through the control system and the instruments—on whether the airplane is responding as expected. All that is lost when Otto is flying, even though the instruments may tell us everything is nominal.

NTSB Reports: February 2017

Subscribers Only - According to the pilot, about 10 minutes into an otherwise-normal the flight, the engine began to “run rough.” The pilot adjusted the power controls, but the engine started to backfire and continued to lose power. He made a spiraling descent from about 1000 feet agl and maneuvered the airplane to land on a paved area of a driving track. During the landing roll, the airplane struck a fence. The pilot stated the engine continued to operate throughout the landing and landing roll until the airplane struck the fence.

Not As Good As I Thought

Subscribers Only - The departure and en route phases were routine, and soon I was letting down for my destination. I already had the GPS approach procedure loaded and had joined the final approach course about five miles earlier. Slipping past the final approach fix, I lowered the gear and established an attitude I knew would give me a constant glide to the runway. The runway in use dictated circling and using the appropriate minimums, but the ceiling was high enough to make this a non-issue.

Fuel Injectors

The pilot reported a rough-running engine and made a precautionary landing. The technician found small amounts of dirt in the injectors of the affected cylinders. Injectors were cleaned and lines removed, flushed and reinstalled. Fuel transducers had been installed in the fuel lines as part of an engine monitor installation approximately five flight hours prior to this occurrence.