Late in the Game: A (Losing) Team’s Point-Guard Head-fake

March Madness: Cross-Court play between Congress and 800 Independence…

Hard to believe, but the FAA finally, officially addressed the joint AOPA/EAA petition to expand Sport Pilot-like medical qualifications to some pilots and operations…a petition built on reasonably crafted limitations.

That tardy response from the FAA is, of course, all the talk here at the 40th Annual Sun ‘n Fun fly-In at KLAL in Florida. GA, business aviation and airline pilots have a stake in this play and have been vocal in their support of the prospect.

So what’s the problem? Where’s the “yeah but” in that?

Well….Emerging, as it does, from the din of March Madness basketball action, the FAA’s non-endorsement endorsement of easing the Third Class Medical requirements looks a lot like a point guard’s head-fake on a fast-break dash toward home court and away from the opponent’s end of the hardwood — at least from these bleacher seats.

The “opponent” for my purposes here would be Team GA Caucus in the United States Congress. The Senate recently upped the game with a second piece of legislation to match December’s first proposal pending on the other side of Capital Hill.

AOPA and EAA crafted a balanced, reasonable petition; the medical exemption, as most people in GA know by now, would exempt pilots from the Third Class requirement for flying four-seat aircraft of up to 180 horsepower; those pilots who chose the non-medical path would be able to use only two of those four seats, fly day, VFR only, and have to learn some specifics about medical ‘self-certification’ — something every pilot does every time they fly since the FAA kindly avoided also requiring a pre-flight check by our AMEs before flying.

FAA published the AOPA/EAA petition as required; the petition drew more than 16,000 responses, overwhelmingly positive. The comment period ended…and since the FAA has spoken little to none about the subject. The AOPA, EAA and others in the Alphabet Group Cheer Squad also chimed in, complaining to FAA, then Congress, about the <ahem> appearance that the FAA was trying to ignore the petition and it’s support. Said one agency staffer, the FAA would have loved to see the petition issue “go away” for a while so FAA can concentrate on all those other efforts to help grow GA…whatever those are right now.

Enter Team GA Caucus late last year — also well into the game, but changing the balance on the court like a coach who just pulled his B Team from a game after already scoring a double-digit lead against the opposition — rotating in the A Team players. The addition of the second legislative proposal made the game suddenly feel like seeing a Bobby Knight run up the score on an NCAA opponent.

The General Aviation Pilot Protection Act introduced late last year runs up points by expanding the exemption to aircraft of up to six seats and 6,000 pounds, capable of speeds up to 250 knots — knots, folks, more than 285 mph — at altitudes to 14,000 feet. Oh, one more little three-pointer in this play: Night flying. No instrument flying, as proposed, but that can (and should) change with an amendment, as should the 14,000 msl limit. Make that ceiling FL180, a number consistent with where Instrument flight is already required and where the FAA elected to divide the requirements for ADS-B Out.

This really makes the Team FAA look, for all the world, to be playing defense at a desperate level, offering, really, nothing so far except a statement that an official rulemaking process is pending…nothing like showing up on the court after being absent through the entire first half of this contest.

The FAA’s promise of action, “soon,” plays like nothing more than a head fake by a point guard hoping to stave off a runaway game. Members of Team GA Caucus are, wisely, staying on the court, vowing to continue to advance the GAPPA; co-sponsors continue to sign on to the proposed laws, a good sign.

Can’t speak for any one else but me, but honestly hope Team GA Caucus runs out the clock with a double-digit win for General Aviation. After last year’s rapid, bi-partisan action to pass legislation to accelerate FAR 23 certification reforms, it’s obvious that where GA is concerned, members of both chambers can clearly work together — and get the President’s signature.

Congress should repeat that success with GAPPA and not be fooled by a head fake.

The FAA’s acquiescence is not a solution; absent the real proposal, Team GA Caucus should keep up the fast-break pressure and we should keep cheering them on, as members of the pep squad of pilots and Alphabet groups.

GA needs it.


Why the surprise? Presidents ALWAYS Propose FAA User Fees

Well, the predictable, durable reaction of amazement is here — you know, the shock that President Obama (again) submitted a budget that uses new FAA user fees to fund the agency.

Not selling the issue short, but the level of rhetoric and occasionally shrill reactions continue to startle and surprise me. It’s not as if there’s been a recent President of the United States who set a precedent by NOT including an FAA user-fee in his budget proposal.

By now we should be used to this idea, that we’re unlikely to ever see a President’s budget proposals without a user-fee proposal.

This idea didn’t start with the 44th President; didn’t start with the 43rd or 42, the 41st or 40th…heck, it didn’t start in this century and dates back decades.

By all means, lets continue to make our excise-tax preferences known to our lawmakers who, it’s worth noting, have a record of rejecting each and every user-fee proposal to come along. Members of this Congress went on-record last year in opposition to that year’s user-fee proposal — like this one, $100 per flight, exempting piston aircraft, law enforcement, military and emergency services flights, of course. Divide and conquer — try to split off the piston-aircraft owners in hopes some of them will develop the same us-or-them, fat-cat mantra anytime business-turbine aircraft are the subject.

Won’t work; won’t happen.

Just in the past week members of Congress went on record against any new user-fee proposal — so the cycle continues. They pitch, we strike them out.

But please — enough with the shock and outrage. User fees for ATC are and remain a bipartisan desire for White House occupants; the proposals defy party affiliation — and may always do so.

Our best defense is our numbers and our voice. Which brings up where we’re truly vulnerable — and where we need to focus our energies: Reversing the decline in our pilot population.

We’ve been shrinking for 30 years — and without a reversal we’ll continue to shrink until one day, one President and one-half-plus-one of some future Congress will look at our numbers, our opposition and conclude there’s nothing to fear.

And when they worry only about whether tapping the pocket of some alleged “fat cat” jet user will risk campaign donations come election season, the rest of general aviation and the rest of the pilot population will have something real to worry about — and not the predictable aversion to a proposal that will go nowhere.

Every inaction has an unequal and opposite reaction…

The FAA stalled a bit to long on even answering the medical-certificate exemption petition filed two years ago by AOPA and EAA…now, Congress has noticed and moved with a new bill that would expand driver’s license medical.

What’s the arguable penalty for FAA inaction? Beyond the mere fact that Congress is now engaged? That this medical issue may be resolved without the FAA?

The penalty the FAA suffers is the prospect of a law that dramatically enlarges the realm of flying available to pilots — sans medical.

That two-year-old petition, that the FAA steadfastly refused to act on, lifted the 3rd Class medical requirement on flying with one passenger in aircraft of up to four seats and 180 horsepower — day and VFR.

House Resolution 3708 expands the exemption to encompass aircraft up to six seats and capable of flying 250 knots — no horsepower limit. The VFR limitation is there, but not the night prohibition. Similarly, complex aircraft — retractable with controllable props — and high-performance aircraft would be included but a weight limit of 6,000 pounds would cap eligibility.

In practical terms, the exemption proposed by AOPA/EAA opened the door to flying Cherokee 180s, 180-horse Skyhawks and similar as long as only one other seat was filled with a person. H.R. 3708 would expand eligibility to today’s Beech G36 Bonanza and G58 Baron, Cessna’s 206, most of Piper’s piston single line and the twin Seminole; you could also fly the Senaca V under the exemption, but flying a turbocharged speedster below 14,000 — the altitude limit in H.R. 3708 — won’t fly with most operators.

About the only thing missing to cover the vast majority of G.A. aircraft and private pilot flying is eligibility to use and earn an Instrument Rating without seeing the AME.

Already several pilots have asked why not include IFR? They persuasively argue that Instrument pilots tend to be safer in many circumstances — and that even IFR pilots suffer the consequences when they fly VFR into IMC conditions without filing for whatever reasons — but often due to a lack of charts or preparation time.

Looking at safety stats as medical events relate to instrument-condition accidents, there appear no more justification for requiring a medical than the other elements of flying on a 3rd-class medical.

In the meantime, how quickly H.R. 3708 moves through the House-consideration process should be a good early indicator of whether the Senate will show comparable interest, as Senators did with the House-introduced Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013. With the House ending its year today, Friday the 13th of December, any meaningful progress won’t come until the second session of the 113th Congress — after returning in January.

In the meantime…Thanks FAA friends — thanks for your reticence. Thanks AOPA and EAA for sustaining the exemption drumbeat. And thanks lead sponsor Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), a member of the House General Aviation Caucus, and that caucus’ Co-Chair, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), and all the other co-sponsors, current and future .

Maybe, just maybe general aviation will find the stars aligned to reverse a slide in the pilot population and feed new vitality into all aspects of GA. Maybe. Not looking good blue, holding my breath I’m not…But it’ll take only another act of Congress to convince me they see and understand the potential benefits. They did so a couple of times in this Congress, they can do it again.

via Now they’ve gone and done it….

Poor Skycatcher…hobbled, handicapped — and then ultimately heaved?

Well…this has wedged in my throat far long enough…time to clear the airway and unstick this from my craw: Last month’s backhanded remarks by Cessna boss Scott Earnest about his company’s beleaguered 162 Skycatcher LSA may sadly mark the end of a once promising expansion of the planemaker’s product line, downscale and back into the trainer/personal airplane market. Pity that the little plane suffered from, in my view, a parade of poor decisions stretching back to when it was but a gleam in Jack Pelton’s eye.

Jack, a savvy executive, recognized the potential — potential, mind you — for a well-conceived, affordable LSA to reinvigorate the general aviation pipeline with new blood. In contrast to remarks at NBAA about the lack of a business model for the plane, the business model for the Skycatcher followed a long-successful pattern Cessna helped pioneer and others mimicked: capture the student pilot’s loyalty to the plane that made that student a pilot, make it possible for the newly minted pilot to buy, and gain a step-up customer — likely for life, and for at least as long as that person could continue to move up the model chain.

The jet makers continue to validate this approach year after year. But seven years ago, Cessna had as a “trainer” only the venerable and suitable 172 Skyhawk, returned to production in 1996 — and by now adorned with a Garmin G1000 panel and a price tag that cut into the bird’s viability as rental trainer. Cessna decided against also resuming a two-seater on the input of large institutional flight-instruction operators who helped make their airplane payments building in time for flight students to pay to be observers, watching other students from the back seat — sort of like our driver’s ed classes. Sadly, students weren’t rushing to pay three-figure prices for instruction in rental Skyhawks…and the approaching Light-Sport Aircraft movement threatened to shut Cessna out of the game with waves of already in-production trainers and two-seaters from Europe and South America.

The old 152 could not be built to meet the LSA regs; a new design was in order.

In June, 2006, Cessna, still run by Jack Pelton, announced plans to study the feasibility of launching its own LSA. Options considered included buying an existing design — as Piper did before pulling out of the market — or a home-rolled design. In the end EAA member and aircraft designer Neal Willford got the task of designing the new plane. Cessna did surveys of pilots and flight schools and FBOs, asking: What engine? What avionics? What features?

Respondents split on the engine; institutional customers wanted the Continental O-200 offered by TCM; end-user types — the pilots Cessna wanted to actually buy the planes — favored the Rotax 912. Cessna went with the Continental touting its history and the familiarity of the shops and schools.

It was the first major mistake. It would not be the last.

Cessna wanted the airplane built a little heavier than execs were seeing in other metal LSA designs; end users wanted a parachute — Cessna made it an option. And the already high empty weight made the chute unattractive.

Then came the China controversy. Cessna, with the option to launch a new low-cost approach to manufacturing a simple airplane, opted instead for assembly by a partner in China: Shenyang Aircraft. The second big mistake — and one with two issues.

The first was the revolt of many of the 1,000 plus order holders who expected a U.S. made airplane. The second was the more damaging: the lengthy supply line and issues with quality control compounded the costs of shipping engines, props, electronics and avionics, wheels, tires, brakes and raw materials to China for fabrication into an airplane. After test-flying the product it’s disassembled and packed into a single ready-for-assembly package that then has to be shipped back across the Pacific to what were originally supposed to be three assembly points – to be reassembled and, again, test flown. Today, only one such assembly site operates, at Yingling Aviation in Wichita.

After some delays and early quality issues the first Skycatcher was delivered to Rose Pelton in December 2009 and she began here flight training in her new LSA. The stage was set…but problems seemed to continue.

When quality control problems surfaced the process of correcting the problems was exacerbated by the location of the factory; changes and upgrades to some airplanes waited for them to arrive in Wichita.

These mistakes proved costly and, to a certain respect, irreconcilable with the little plane’s mission.

Jack Pelton wanted an airplane costing around $100,000; adorned with the special Continental and the G300 Garmin panel, weighted down by the shipping costs of two trips across the Pacific, and handicapped by its low useful load and fuel requirements, the little bird has lost most of the 1,000 orders it once commanded. The Skycatcher can’t compete in payload or range with several other LSAs in the same and lower price ranges.

The lighter weight and lower fuel burn of the Rotax would have, could have, made the plane more competitive and less costly to own and fly. As it is, two 175-pound people and 50 pounds of luggage leave you with fuel capacity enough for about 250 miles between stops — OK if that’s what you want. But other options exist that don’t have such challenges — some at considerably lower costs.

It isn’t a flawed business model that brings the Skycatcher to the point of “no future.” It’s corporate ignorance of its end customers’ wants and needs, a myopic focus on detail costs and a resulting series of more-expensive, erroneous decisions that failed to considered end users — the ultimate owners. And then China’s middle class started commanding higher wages, shipping costs went up, and choice of China lost any of its presumed logic.

And here’s the irony of the whole thing: The Skycatcher flies wonderfully and could be an excellent teacher for a new generation of pilots. It cruises fast, is fairly comfortable and has far more room than its payload lets you use — though the lower fuel use of the Rotax would boost range by about 35 percent on any given amount of fuel.

Fortunately for the future of general aviation, the Skycatcher, if indeed destined to be a footnote in aviation history and not a headliner, leaves plenty of other LSA out there able to supply what pilots want — albeit few yet at a pricepoint that we need to set the world on fire with LSA sales numbers.

RIP: Paul H. Poberezny

Seeing Paul briefly during Oshkosh a few weeks ago made me smile; cruising with a driver in Red One, his presence reminded me of the irrefutable influence “Papa Paul” has been in aviation — general aviation, specifically.

From our first face-to-face visit at EAA’s old HQ in Hales Corners, Wisc., he exuded enthusiasm and delight at introducing a young, green aviation writer to the inside story of EAA…he made my hang gliding feel more a part of aviation than we “hippie pilots” got from any other corner of aviation.

And when ultralight aircraft started to catch fire Paul wanted the newcomers to understand there were rules and a system to work within, even as he pushed back against others in aviation who wanted us barred from airports, banned from the skies or otherwise relegated to someplace the existing aviation establishment wouldn’t suffer from seeing us operate our “flying lawn chairs.”

“We’re all part of this and we all have the same rights to enjoy that great ocean of air above us,” he told many a critic. “It’s not your airspace or mine — its ‘our airspace’ and if we want aviation to grow we need the kind of fresh blood and fresh thinking the ultralight and hang glider people represent.”

The influence of Paul and his band of EAA founders extends to vintage, into warbirds and antique airliners, throughout the homebuilding movement and, not least by any means, the Light Sport Aircraft and Sport Pilot categories — which EAA championed in the same spirit it championed those other segments of personal, recreational flying.

It was Paul’s continued dedication to aviation that prompted him to found the Sport Aviation Association several years ago and, with the cooperation of his old friend Rudy Frasca, launch a magazine and an annual Sport Aviation fly-in in Illinois. I’ve held on to my SAA stickers and my membership card (#499) as tightly as Paul seemed to hold on to his aviation ideals.

His influence will live as long as people fly their own airplanes for the love of flying and we’re all the better for the contributions of the organization he helped found 61 years ago.

Condolences to Audry, their children and all the EAA family. We grieve with you.

My congressman’s Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013 passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this morning. H.R. 1848 directs the FAA to implement the FAA’s Part 23 Reorganization Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) recommendations by December 31, 2015. That would be about two years if Congress gets it to the President and he signs it by year’s end. And all of general aviation’s woes would lessen, airplanes will be built and sold at lower prices, thousands will flock to flight schools because learning to fly will be cheaper and easier…that’s the pitch, at least.

How I wish this legislatively mandated regulating excited me more than it gives me pause. Congress’ track record at regulating through legislative fiat suffers from the realities of its spotty record of helping — and documented record for hurting.

No question, general aviation needs the relief and progress possible through implementation of many of the ARC’s 150 recommendations. It took the FAA longer than two years to draft, publish, review comments and fix the regulatory proposals made to implement what we today call the Light Sport Aircraft and its Sport Pilot licensing. Following the Administrative Procedures Act required patience — but gave us input. Neither patience nor influence are ever in massive supply where business opportunities are concerned.

Consider the airline industry and the safety help Congress gave it by forcing the FAA to up the bar to 1,500 hours for flying right seat in most commercial service. The community didn’t need the change from 250 hours and actively resisted, But Congress knew better, so the airlines continue to deal with a congressional mandate that shrank the pilot pool and uprooted the career plans of thousands. Did Congress hear the airlines and schools and students and pilots who thought they were about to qualify for the show? Eh…they’re only involved people — what could they know that Congress doesn’t know better?

Then there’s the congressman who introduced legislation he imagines will better save airliners from terrorist threats and deranged celebrities: a SECOND, armored, cockpit door. Costs and weight be damned, someone conceived the idea and the FAA just must act on that idea — because.

Now don’t take this as a love song for the FAA. The agency seems deaf to many general aviation issues and across the board sluggish in many areas it could easily move on quickly.

If Congress truly wants to wade further in the philosophy of legislate the regulations you want, how about whipping up a small bill to force the FAA to act respond to petitions to eliminate the Third Class Medical for a narrow range of personal flying?

OR, at least, force an FAA response…if they think they can.

Even if H.R. 1848 passes — and it has wide support so far — and the FAA becomes subject to yet another bit of regulating through legislating, the simple legal and structural logistics of implementing the ARC’s recommendations leave many, me included, doubtful that the job can be done as it should by 2017.

And before someone suggests that 2015 is viable if Congress merely waive all the checks and balances of the Administrative Procedures Act: Be careful what you wish for. We recently signed on to allowing AIP money be used for operations — and we’ve yet to see how this precedent-setting break from long-fought-for funding philosophy takes its next beating. Rest assured — it shall, the very next time needed spending faces off against someone’s desire for another tax cut.

So let’s be careful what we wish for; the potential for Congress to mandate something screwy is never off the table.


“Mythbusters’” Duct Tape BeLite Rewind…

Not quite like Bill Murray and “Ground Hog Day” — it’s a day early, for one thing…but if you tune in “Mythbusters” the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 1, you just may think you’ve experiencing a flashback…

You see, we just got word from our friends the Wiebe’s at BeLite that the “Mythbusters” Duct Tape Airplane episode is returning…here’s James’ note:

“The Discovery Channel has scheduled a rerun of the “Duct Tape Plane” episode for this Friday, February 1, at 2:00 EST / 1:00 CST. Check your local listings for the time in your zone.

“Many of you missed seeing James and the Belite perform in the MythBusters Duct Tape plane — now’s your chance to catch the rewind!

“Here’s some trivia:

“1. The aircraft featured in that episode was a Sun N Fun winner from 2011, reworked from a tricycle gear configuration to a taildragger configuration to meet the needs of Mythbusters. It is currently in the Mythbusters traveling tour.

“2. The airport were the episode was filmed was the New Jersualem airport in California, about 60 miles from San Francisco and the MythBusters production facility.

“3. James did all of the flying, except for the last segment when the plane was totally covered in Duct Tape. That segment was flown by a well known test pilot, Dave Morss.

“4. The airplane had a small 28HP engine, yet gave great performance.”

Additionally, James has updated his blog with photos of the MythBusters Duct Tape Plane experience, some of which have never been published before.

Here’s that link:

Since this runs during my work hours, looks like a job for the DVR….going to snag it to watch this weekend….

Shiny side up! And don’t forget to “DUCT!”

…and to all a good flight!

Merry, Happy, Ho-Ho to all…no matter how you celebrate the season, no matter why, here’s hoping you have a wonderful one and a great New Year!

Be On the Look-Out for a troubled pilot….via NATA Compliance Services…

…so just copying the alert from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force — or JTTF:
TSA and FAA Issue BOLO Advisory for Possible GA Aircraft Threat
September 13,2012

JTTF notified Region 2 of a potential threat of an individual wanting to crash GA aircraft (Piper) into his girlfriend”s house or another building. The subject is Michael L. Sills, DOB 1/29/49. Aircraft type: Piper Archer, PA-28-181, tail # N2453U.

Local PD searched aircraft hangar at the Apopka Airport in Florida and found the subject”s vehicle containing blood and vehicle exhaust hooked up for suicide attempt. The subject was not at the scene and aircraft was gone. The aircraft has a range of approximately 500 miles and from witness accounts departed Apopka Airport at approximately 2130 hrs on September 11. It appears the subject may have landed at another airport or may have already crashed the aircraft.

Please provide the above BOLO information to all General Aviation Airports and Fixed Based Operators. FAA has been notified and is also sending BOLO through FAA channels.

If anyone locates aircraft or subject; contact JTTF FAM Cheyenne Sykes at 407 702-8677.
I don’t expect to see it in Kansas…but stenciled tail number above navel just in case

Your chance to sound on on Through-The-Fence Policy…and help GA

As it sometimes does, Congress tries to force the FAA’s hand on a policy or regulation; these efforts have but mixed results. Sometimes the FAA has no wiggle room — other times, like in this instance, the agency staff not only wants to wiggle away, but effectively reverse Congressional Intent on residential Through-the-Fence agreements (rTTF)

From a close reading of the FAA’s notice of proposed rulemaking to revise FAA policies governing rTTFs, it appears that the FAA — or, more to the point, two FAA staffers — are intent on thwarting the intent of Congress to preserve, allow and allow expansion of residential through-the-fence arrangements between public-owned, public-use airports and the residents — largely aircraft owners and aviation supporters.

This became an issue about five years ago, in the waning months of the last administration, when two FAA staffers in the Washington DC FAA Airports office, Acting Associate Administrator for Airports Katherine Lang and Director of Compliance Randall Fiertz, decided, unilaterally and without citing any credible evidence, that hangar homes were an incompatible use of adjacent airport property.

The two, Lang and Fiertz, cited reasons for their campaign as incongruous as “hangar home owners complain about airport noise” to “hangar homes are harder to condemn” than cemeteries for future airport expansion.

Lang also stated, in written hearing testimony, that “hangar home owners had undue influence on airport boards because they testified at public meetings.”

Wow…how can that be? Actually allowing users and stakeholders a word in the operation and policies of the airport they support with their fees and taxes and fuel purchases!! Wow…who do these FAA people think they represent?

Interestingly, TTF agreements for businesses didn’t face the same hostility from these two FAA people….and that hostility apparently remains since now they’re working to thwart the will of Congress through a proposal that serves only to assure they can be barriers to current rTTF renewals, expansions, and new agreements.

Congress’ rTTF language protects airports from losing airport improvement grant monies from the FAA due to past, current, or future Residential Through The Fence agreements. The FAA’s openly hostile NPRM serves solely to ignore Congress and send the FAA down the ill-advised path these two mistakenly took five years ago.

If you’re interested in preserving airports as viable public utilities, rTTFs help — and attitudes like those represented in the FAA’s NPRM hurt.

Two suggestions: first, catch up here: and be sure you read Brent Blue’s comments…

Second, read the NPRM here …

And third, then if you agree with Dr. Blue, me and a host of others, submit your own comments to the docket and let the FAA know you expect the rule to reflect the intent of Congress and NOT the biases of two bureaucrats who couldn’t leave well enough alone — and got themselves a Congressional comeuppance.

And one last thing: Since a majority of both houses of Congress concurred with Brent Blue and others, make sure you contact your lawmakers — both in the House and the Senate…and make sure you copy the FAA Office of the Administrator…tell ‘em we sent ya…