Dangers of Relying On Oxygen Systems in Middle-Altitude Flying

“What’s the highest you have had this plane?” It’s one of the most common questions I get when I tell someone I fly a friend’s Cessna 340. As if there is some special badge of accomplishment I get if I have managed to get it all the way to the published service ceiling. The reality is that flying higher comes with some additional risks, ones that can be fatal if not carefully managed, or mitigated.

One of the riskiest segments of general aviation flying is what I call, “middle-altitude flying”. This is the flying that begins at altitudes where the FAA requires oxygen up to and including the middle FL20’s. For a select grouping of aircraft in our general aviation fleet, aircraft typically with turbocharged engines and some type of oxygen systems, operation at these levels becomes possible. Some examples include the Cessna 400 series, the Piper Navajo, some AeroCommanders, and a few Beech Barons and Dukes to name a few. Obvious benefits can be gained by flying at these altitudes, but one risk that seems to keep hurting pilots (and their passengers) is an encounter with hypoxia-related problems. Sometimes, these are fatal. Many times, the risks could have been mitigated.

Flying an aircraft above FAA oxygen-requiring altitudes comes with all the potential aeromedical risk we have all learned about in our training. I won’t dive into the specific risks here, but when flying at middle-altitudes pilots may be lulled into thinking that they are less of a risk because they aren’t flying at extreme altitudes. In fact, the risks may be greater! Continue reading

Myths and Complaints About Designated Pilot Examiners Discussed

As someone who has been acting as a DPE for a significant period of time and still currently provide CFI services to clients, I hear all kinds of assumptions and myths about DPEs.

After recently encountering a few of these myths, I thought I’d try to help explain the job that DPEs do and the services we provide to the aviation training community. There are many myths and misconceptions about why DPEs do some of the things they do, and I think it is important to help dispell them.

While I don’t claim to speak for all DPEs, I wouldn’t be surprised if many examiners would agree with my observations on the following.

Examiners Charge too Much, Need to Charge Less, or Should Provide Practical Tests for Free

Yes, we actually get told that examiners should do this for free, should not charge any more than a flight instructor charges per hour, or that the FAA should have a capped national price level.

Ok, “free” is just a silly recommendation. As an examiner, I can come back and say, “then why don’t flight training providers provide their aircraft for free?” Their answer is that they are in business to make money. The same is true of examiners. We work hard to gain the skill and experience to become examiners, keep our qualifications current, and provide the service. Charging for that service is a business endeavor. If examiners couldn’t expect reasonable compensation, why should they do the job?

I personally wouldn’t bother to go through all of the work and take on the liability that comes with being an examiner for free. Continue reading

Government Shutdown Effects on FAA Testing/Training

UPDATE 2:30pm 1/22/18 – A short term funding extension has been passed so tomorrow things should be back up and running. As long as no other shutdowns develop, it should be back to normal operatons.

Deja Vu all over again. I wrote almost the same thing in 2013. So, it made figuring out the effects easy(ish) again.

We all are hoping that the government shutdown will be over soon, but in the meantime, a few effects that will be felt during any continued government shutdown on airman testing, training, or certification: Continue reading

Local Airport Conditions Information (and a Lack Therof) During Winter Operations

While we all may be starting to wish Old Man Winter will take his leave of us soon, we still have a couple months of operating our aircraft, and Wings of Mercy trips during the colder season. This season brings with it challenges for pilots in obtaining current information about runway conditions that can be important to our decisions of what taxiways, runways, or even airports may be the best to use for some of our flights.

NOTAMs are the primary official delivery mechanism for current information such as closures of things like runways, taxiways, or even airports, but many times these are not issued for very “temporary” conditions. Which means a pilot may not be able to find critical information for flight operations through official sources. Certainly, check those NOTAMs, but in some cases, at smaller airports that may have less staffing infrastructures and official reporting practices especially, a well-placed phone call prior to a departure when any questions exist can be well worth the time.

Not all airports are all that good about getting current NOTAMs out for changing conditions. In many cases, airports are plowed, operated, and/or managed by the local municipality who has little interaction or even interest with day-to-day flight operations. Local road crews just plow the runway as a part of their normal route. Sometimes, this is right after the storm, sometimes, it can be days. Knowing what current conditions really are may mean doing a little more research than a pre-flight briefing. Continue reading