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

Landing Where Seaplanes Go…but on Wheels (or Skis)

‘Tiz the season for cold weather flying, and in a few cases, pilots may find the opportunity presents itself to do a few landings on a frozen lake or two!

For pilots from the further north, the question of whether to do this is not a matter of if, it’s just a when each season these landings become a part of normal general aviation operations. Sometimes, the ice is in better condition than the runways! Southern pilots who have never done this may think we are crazy, and those of us that live in the middle zone of the country (I happen to live in Michigan), find that we get lucky enough with the right conditions to be able to do this some years and not others. With that said, under the right conditions, there is no reason it can’t be done safely.

Now, there are a bunch of precautions that I obviously must recommend, but when the conditions are right, it can be a unique and pretty fun way to spend an afternoon of general aviation flying.

First question, is the ice thick enough?

Naturally, no-one wants to sink their aircraft to the bottom of a frozen lake. So, making sure the ice is thick enough, and I mean consistently, is the first task to even start thinking about if you are going to try to make some landings.

There are general rules of ice thickness that can be considered for comparable objects, such as people, vehicles, or other things. If we extrapolate those weights and compare them to some aircraft, we find that for most general aviation aircraft it is a good idea to make sure there is at least 7- 8 inches of ice before considering any landings.

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CFI Staffing Availability for Flight Training Providers in Consideration of Certification Trends and Compensation Practices

Flight training as a business has been going through changes in the past few years. In some respects, it is growing up and becoming a more stable, more mature business offering training for students seeking career pilot employment. These changes are consolidating where training takes place and include fundamental changes in the approach that must be taken to successfully provide career focused training. With these changes there has been a shift away from a traditionally smaller footprint, local airport, business model to one that is focused an economically successful model while continuing to provide output of pilots needed to meet industry pilot hiring needs.

As flight training for career focused pilots funnels more would be professional pilots to academy, collegiate and university, and large footprint training providers, this change allows businesses to actively take advantage of economies of scale in training with respects to overhead, assets utilized in training, and securing of adequate staff to provide the training services.

A realistic evaluation of the flight training business will recognize that the historic methodology of providing training at small scale training providers with minimal flight instructor staff and limited aircraft resources is not able to meet the current modern demand of output for career pilots. Lack of standardization in training, lack of available funding for pilot trainees, and lack of full time instructors to provide training result in training delays and cost increases for customers seeking training. These and other detracting considerations often drive customers seeking professional pilot careers to overlook any convenience that might be gained by training close to home with many smaller scale training providers. Many of these customers now seek training from larger scale training providers, even if it means travelling to the training.

In addition to efficiencies and conveniences provided to customers by larger footprint training providers, many of these providers also have developed strong partnerships with airlines and other professional pilot employing companies. These hiring relationships are developed as employers seek to fill professional pilot positions and develop recruitment relationships with the training providers that are putting out the largest number of certified pilots who may be employable. Doing this allows potential employers to maximize their hiring efforts by recruiting pilots from training providers who are putting out large numbers of applicants (hundreds and in some cases thousands per year) instead of having to visit multiple smaller training providers who are putting out only a few pilots per year, which can increase the human resource cost of recruitment.

As the customer base for training becomes more savvy, these hiring relationships are seen as reasons to seek training from particular training providers and the market of customers further funnels from local small scale training providers to larger providers. Some of these providers have national scale training operations. Continue reading

Charlie “Checkup”

Whenever you send a new aircraft for its first maintenance work after you buy it, it is always a fear that you are going to find a bunch of things that need attention, and as a result, can get expensive. So, when we sent Charlie to a mechanic friend of mine a little over a month ago to address an AD inspection, one that we thought was not actually applicable and for which we wanted to eliminate the need to inspect it on a recurring basis, with a little nervousness, we also asked the mechanic to, “give her a look over and see if there is anything else that should be fixed.”

Charlie sits awaiting my pickup…perhaps a little sad she won’t get to hang out with the P51 and Stearman in the hangar in which the maintenance was done. I have to think if these aircraft have souls, that as that sat quietly in the hangar for many nights, they shared with each other the decades of adventures they have had as we pilots transition in and out of them and pass along, with generations of pilots still flying these classic and historic aircraft.

Asking a mechanic what else they would like to fix on any vehicle is a scary, open-ended invitation to make that inspection open all kinds of Pandora’s box moments. But having a good mechanic I trust, we also wanted to know if there was anything lurking that should be addressed.

The AD we wanted to address was an old one, one that required inspection of the carburetor linkage every 25-hours. A frequent AD such as this is certainly a detractor in the regular use of an aircraft, and we suspected it had been made exempt many years ago, but the last two annual inspections had written it up as still applicable. Continue reading