GAARMS Report: July 2017
THE FUTURE OF FLIGHT SERVICE
On June 16 and 17, my wife Kelly and I attended the National Weather Service’s Southwest Aviation Weather Safety Symposium, held this year in Long Beach, California. Friday was weather forecaster and meteorologist day, with some very technical presentations on some very interesting weather initiatives. It was well attended by the NWS folks, with representatives from all over: Washington, DC headquarters, several of the Regional offices, and several of the Center Weather Service Units (CWSU’s) from several ARTCC facilities located here in the western part of the US. One exception was my wife: this stuff was certainly NOT up her alley!
Saturday was pilots’ day, with over 60 pilots attending in addition to the weather folks –quite a full house! Kelly did attend “most” of this day, but I think only to critique my presentation! Most of the programs were about what the NWS was developing to further improve weather products, forecasting and hazardous weather detection, including a presentation on the demise, or getting rid of, the old Area Forecasts and replacing them with a graphical product for easier reading and understanding. There was also quite a lively discussion on “Raw Data” vs. plain text, and the “why” factor for raw data.
My presentation was on the future of flight service and the services you receive today. What the future holds could be very interesting. For instance, the FAA is looking to significantly diminish those services by pushing the burden of ascertaining a pre-flight briefing onto the pilot through the use of automation instead of talking to a briefer. For many of you, that doesn’t pose any problem – you simply continue to use your computer and/or iPad to get the weather as you always have. For others who grew up with flight service and despise computers, it will pose a problem. However, for all of you, the devil is in the details. Ever wonder why flight service keeps you on the line so long and gives you all that “STUFF”? The answer is simple – the Flight Standards organization, responsible for maintaining standards and safety have, over the past 60 plus years, determined what they think is necessary for you to know prior to departing on a flight, and flight service is RESPONSIBLE AND HELD TO THOSE STANDARDS to ensure any pilot receiving a standard preflight briefing receives all that information. Notice I keep referring to a preflight briefing, NOT a weather briefing! That is because a preflight briefing includes both meteorological (weather) information and aeronautical information (NOTAMs, TFR’s, Presidential movements, etc.), data usually only available from flight service in any kind of a timely manner. Penetrate a Presidential Movement Area and you WILL hear from the FAA after being intercepted, and the excuse, “I did not know about that notice,” cuts no ice. Flight service would have told you about that – that is their job! However, now the FAA is talking about putting all of that responsibility on you, the pilot. Do you know where to go to get it? Can you read and decipher what it says? Can you read and understand NOTAMs? Your acceptance of doing self briefings implies you can do all that, including the reading, deciphering, and understanding of all meteorological and aeronautical data. A saving grace is that - while the FAA would like to eliminate flight service to save money, but not your life – they reluctantly acknowledge that some flight service specialists will still need to be available to the pilot community, sort of like a help desk, but reaching them may not be a quick process. In the old days, one performance metric strongly adhered to was a national call answer time, or an average wait time for a briefer to answer the phone. The old standard was 20 seconds; the new proposed standard is 3 minutes, on average. Flight service will become like the banks – most transactions are done outside at the ATM. When you have a problem, or a complex transaction, you need to go into the bank – and wait in line for whatever amount of time it takes for the lone teller to handle everyone’s complex, and usually long, transactions. It often gets frustrating having to wait so long, right?? Well, that is what will happen under the new FAA Future Flight Service Program.
The flip side of that coin is the safety aspect. OK, push the preflight briefing onto the pilot. Are you as smart about weather as a flight service specialist? Can you read and decipher the weather as well as a flight service specialist? Do you actually know the requirements of FAR91.103, Preflight Actions? As a side note, learning to fly in Arizona does not prepare you weather-wise to just take off and fly into southern California, the Oregon or Washington coast, or mountains, or even into the mid-west. Arizona has NO weather to actually experience. It is 350 days of severe VFR and 15 days to not even go out of the house, so the weather decision is a no-brainer. This is not so in other parts of the country. We even turn out instrument rated pilots with no experience in weather and no actual IFR!!
Technology is a wonderful thing, but it also has its downsides. I hear students say:
“I don’t need to know that; I will just look it up on Google!”
“I don’t need to learn that; my electronic calculator will do that for me.”
“I let the autopilot do most of the flying.”
“I don’t need to know pilotage, I just fly the magenta line.”
“Why use or understand VOR navigation, I only use GPS!”
“I DON’T NEED TO KNOW ANYTHING; I JUST ASK SIRI…”
So, to help vent my frustrations, I found this great sign for my deck. It says:
“Where are we going?
and why are we in a hand basket?”
PS: I think it has far more implications than just flight instructing!!!
AVALON, CATALINA ISLAND
After the symposium, Kelly and I jumped back into “The Speed Monster” and winged our way all 26 miles across the sea to Santa Catalina Island, landing at the famous “Island in the Sky” airport. Check out the approach… you do not want to be high or fast or land long – it could be hazardous to your health. Now, it is 3000 feet long, slightly uphill, landing to the west on runway 22, and not a big deal as long as you land correctly, at the right speeds, and the right place on the runway, like the first 500 feet!! If you land a little bit long, it looks like you are running out of runway quickly, because the last 500-800 feet slopes back downhill, and you can’t see the end of the runway until you crest the rise, raising the pucker factor considerably!! Same thing happens on takeoff; you think you are running out of runway and have a tendency to pull up to early and too slow! And, by the way, landing and parking fees apply, so bring money…
PS – DO NOT CALL FOR A CAB TO COME PICK YOU UP TO GO INTO AVALON, BECAUSE THAT WILL COST YOU OVER A HUNDRED BUCKS IN TAXI FARE!! The airport runs a shuttle van into town for only $32. After you pay your landing and parking fees, just ask the airport attendant to purchase a ticket on the shuttle van. He works on the 2nd floor in what looks like a tower, but it isn’t. There is only Unicom there…
The ride into Avalon is a real trip, down through the mountains where the buffalo roam… literally!! The road is a monument to switchbacks, steep cliffs, and outstanding views. The airport is 1600 feet above sea level, and Avalon is at sea level. Oh, did I mention the road is not paved!! And you have to watch out for the buffalo wandering all over the place, but Avalon is a fantastic spot for a quiet, relaxing get-a-way… almost like being on a Greek island.
We departed there on one of the hottest days of the year, and we were quite aware of the density altitude issues, not only for the airport, but for our cruising altitude coming home. I worked SoCal approach all the way across California and Albuquerque Center the rest of the way home, climbing to (slowly because of temperatures) and cruising at 11,500 feet. OAT at 11,500 feet was a PLUS 12 Centigrade! Standard temperature (ISA) for 11,500 feet is -8 centigrade, thus it was 20 degrees Centigrade warmer than standard! We were also on oxygen, even though we were only at 11,500. We made it from Santa Catalina to CMR (Williams, Arizona) in 2 hours 20 minutes. Why Williams and not Flagstaff you might ask? Well, I had to move the airplane off of the Flagstaff airport during the week of runway repaving, and left the car at the Williams airport when we departed for Long Beach, plus I got to fill up the Monster with cheap gas when we got back! A great flight, even if the haze and smoke layer topped out at over 12,000 feet, screwing up our usually great 100 mile visibility!
On an entirely different subject, I now hold a new 3rd class medical dated June 22, 2017, as well as a new BasicMed certification and certificate dated the same day. It was easy. The Doc just did both at the same time, using the class 3 requirements and filling out the BasicMed forms I prepared beforehand and provided to him. (Make sure you and your doctor keep a copy for the record). Those forms become your medical certificate in lieu of the 3rd class certificate. Then I went home and did the required online BasicMed course, completed the quiz, entered the appropriate data required by the FAA, and printed out the course certificate. Why both you ask? Well, just in case you did not know, you CANNOT fly into Mexico using a BasicMed medical. So, I got both just in case I need to go there, or into Canada or any other country in the world. BasicMed is only valid for private pilots flying in the US. If you fly commercially, except for flight instructing and/or banner towing not for fee, you CANNOT use BasicMed. I recommend that if you own your own airplane, make a copy of the BasicMed forms and the certificate and put them in your airplane with the registration and airworthiness certificate and never take them out again until you replace/update your BasicMed course certificate 2 years from now.
As an active instructor doing lots of BFRs, I currently require all BFR applicants to do the Flight Review course, ALC-25, online prior to their BFR and I include a copy of that certificate in my/their record of the BFR. Tomorrow I think I will also start requiring a copy of the BasicMed certificate, and I may just recommend that everyone do the BasicMed course in conjunction with their BFR. It makes your and my life (as a CFII) easier and helps you to stay current and legal.