19 December 2008

Are you and your passengers just "congestion!"

DSCN8766 smallAs you know, pilots flying under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) are required to read back clearances to ensure that they and the air traffic controllers issuing them understand each other fully.  But, pilots flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) are requested to NOT read back most clearances and instructions. For the rules check CAR 602.31 and for additional guidance check TC AIM Section 6.1.

The reason most often offered for this difference is that VFR read backs will cause frequency congestion. Are you and your passengers just "congestion"? We VFR types are only requested to say our call sign to let ATC know that we understand and will comply with the clearance or instruction. The only check to ensure the clearance or instruction is understood correctly is the controllers' observation of our action. It seems to me that an important opportunity to break the incident/accident chain is intentionally being overlooked, and just because of possible frequency congestion.

It's not against the Canadian Air Regulations (CARs) for pilots flying under VFR to say more than one's call sign. I usually repeat the key points of communications with ATC for no other reason then to demonstrate that I understood and will follow them, especially when there is more than one action expected, e.g., "cleared  take off two two , right turn, not above one thousand five hundred, November Delta Sierra."

I am going keep right on reading back multi-action clearances, and I would like the rest of the VFR crowd to join me in doing so. I'm not the only one asking for read backs. Even some control towers (e.g. Nav Canada's Ottawa Tower) wants us to read back taxi clearances which contain hold short of runway limits.

We don't need to make long read backs, just altitudes, headings...you know, the important stuff. Agreed?

14 December 2008

Update on 406 ELTs – Our Sector Must Equip

The following article was released by COPA 12 December 2008. Please post your comments!


Update on 406 ELTs – Our Sector Must Equip

By Kevin Psutka

I will cut to the chase. We are at the end of the long battle to bring common sense to this issue. Common sense has not prevailed. Transport Canada has decided to proceed with a multi-million dollar regulation that will require virtually all light aircraft owners to equip with a 406 MHz Emergency Locator Transmitter. Gliders, balloons, ultralights, parachute aircraft and a limited number of other operations will be exempt. The proposed transition period that would have required some owners to equip by 1 February 2009 and others to equip over a two-year period will slip a bit because it was stated at the meeting that it is highly doubtful, given the state of our government and its ability or willingness to process complicated issues like this one, that this will proceed to Gazette Part II and into law by the end of January.

Now for the details.

I will not repeat the many reasons why mandating 406 ELTs does not make sense. This has been covered many times in the course of this issue. Instead, I will concentrate on what occurred at a meeting with Transport Canada on 11 December.

An unprecedented number of responses to the Gazette consultation process and an unprecedented number of enquiries from Members of Parliament on behalf of their constituents caused Transport Canada to call a meeting of key stakeholders, including COPA, to examine the possibility of modifying the proposed regulation.

The Department of National Defence (DND) attended the meeting and held to their position that any alternative to 406 ELTs must be able to provide the same performance as they claim is provided by the ELT system: without activation from someone on board the aircraft, provide notification of distress to a Rescue Coordination Centre within 15 minutes from automatic activation and provide the distress location within 2.7 nm (5 km). Upon questioning from me about performance above 70 North and in mountainous regions, DND acknowledged that the notification time may be double or more in some situations because of satellite coverage and terrain masking.

I have long maintained that the 406 system is excellent when it works but the key component of the system, the on board ELT, fails at an unacceptable rate. Without this key component, it does not matter that the rest of the system may be working perfectly. When the ELT fails the SAR folks have nothing to help narrow the search area. Transport Canada’s Merlin Preuss picked up on this point and challenged DND to specify what reliability they need from an alternative system or from the 406 system for that matter.

DND stated that their research indicates that there will be a failure rate of less than 25% for 406 ELTs. This is an assumption because, of course, there is no reliable data on the performance of 406 since there are so few in existence. And because the Transportation Safety Board does not comment on ELT performance for all accidents, no one has solid data on performance. Thanks to some hard work by a couple of COPA members, we gathered data on the past few years of reports from the Canadian Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System (CADORS) to indicate that there is a 75% failure rate. I presented this at the meeting to counter DND’s claims of a much lower failure rate. DND claimed that our high failure rate is due to the fact that the majority of ELTs are old technology and that 406 will be much better. There is absolutely no proof of this claim. Transport Canada decided to proceed with effectively mandating 406 ELTs despite this significant issue.

In preparation for the meeting, Transport Canada prepared some draft wording in order to soften the notification time (it was “immediate”) and location accuracy (it was 2.7 nm) and consequently accommodate some tracking services. Although no specific numbers were determined at the meeting, it is clear that no matter what is chosen by Transport Canada for the maximum time to provide notification and the maximum location accuracy, it will preclude all affordable alternatives for our sector for the foreseeable future. Tracking services that could qualify currently cost thousands of dollars to install and thousands of dollars per year for the service, plus someone would be required to monitor flights real time for missing position reports and take action within a relatively short period of time. So, while it appears that it will be possible for some commercial operators to purchase a commercial tracking service that will also fulfill a distress function, it will be out of reach for our sector, certainly within the timeframe that we will be required to equip.

It was clear at the meeting that Personal Locator Beacons and affordable tracking devices such as the SPOT Personal Tracker will not meet any revised performance criteria that Transport Canada may develop. I stated that the only way that devices such as SPOT could qualify would be if notification was tied to the expiry of a flight plan and the location accuracy would have to be around 30 nm; the distance between 10 minute position reports at the typical top speed that smaller aircraft fly. I also stated that the one-size-fits-all approach should not be applied. While it may make sense to require higher performance for commercial operations or over certain areas of Canada, our sector of aviation does not require this level of service. It was clear at the meeting that Transport Canada was not prepared to go this far.

Transport Canada stated at the meeting that it is doubtful that the regulation will be finalized before the end of January. Faced with this reality, the conversation turned to the proposed transition period that involves a two-year phase-in starting on 1 February 2009, Transport acknowledged COPA’s concern that it will be impossible for many to meet the proposed transition period because of lack of availability of low cost ELTs and scheduling of installation. It is simply unreasonable, for example, to require everyone flying north of 55 North in western Canada or 50 North in eastern Canada, to equip on 1 February 2009. Transport Canada will reconsider the transition period but would not commit to specific dates at the meeting.

Transport Canada reaffirmed that there will be no exemptions for foreign aircraft and that they will be subject to the same transition provisions as Canadian aircraft. In preparation for the meeting, COPA learned from the Canada Border Services Agency that they processed over 63,000 foreign private aircraft in a one-year period from May 2007 to May 2008 and about 90% were US registered. This figure does not account for the large additional number of over-flights of Canadian airspace. The US will not mandate 406 so there will be a huge economic impact on business and tourism from the loss of this sector of trans-border transportation. Transport Canada is not concerned about this issue and our efforts to bring this to the attention of the politicians has failed to stop the development of the regulation.

Since it was clear that Transport Canada will proceed with effectively mandating 406 ELTs for our sector, my effort at the meeting turned to softening the blow. We have already achieved some concessions in the form of reclassifying ELT installations so that AMEs can install most of them and LiSO2 batteries are now acceptable in Canada. I suggested at the meeting that Transport Canada eliminate the annual recertification requirement. Modern batteries have a life of five or six years and the new ELTs have built-in test features to verify the condition of many of the components, rendering most of the recertification process redundant. I also pointed out that there are issues with dangerous goods when tens of thousands of ELTs are shipped around the country every year and that aircraft will fly with nothing on board for up to 30 days each time one is removed for inspection, thereby putting lives at risk. My suggestion was to tie the recertification to the battery life. Transport agreed to review the requirement. If my suggestion is accepted, it will save $400-$600 in each five-year period.

I also pointed out that there are relatively few low cost ELTs approved for Canada. Therefore, many owners will be forced to equip with more expensive ELTs unless the transition period is extended to both give manufacturers of approved low cost ELTs time to produce adequate quantities and to have more types certified. I pointed out that Pointer Avionics, the only Canadian manufacturer of low cost 406 ELTs, has a promising concept incorporating a GPS but it is not yet certified. I pointed out that it would be good, since our sector will be forced to spend millions of dollars in these difficult economic times, if the money could remain in Canada. Transport agreed to step up its efforts to certify the Pointer ELT.

For the near term, here are some things for aircraft owners to consider. Until such time as the regulation is finalized, everyone can continue to operate with their existing ELT. However, monitoring of 121.5 via satellite will cease on 1 February 2009. There will be no extension. If you do not replace your ELT with a 406 one by that date, your only means of alerting will be by over-flying aircraft and by a very limited number of NAV CANADA receivers. It will therefore be more important than ever after 1 February for members to tune a spare radio to 121.5 whenever possible in order to help our fellow pilots in need.

The list of approved ELTs is at http://www.tc.gc.ca/CivilAviation/certification/elt.htm . Be sure to check this list if you are uncertain of the status of a particular ELT you are considering for purchase. If you are considering an ELT from a foreign source, keep in mind that it must be coded for Canada. You could at least incur an additional expense to have it coded.

Whether or not you equip with a 406 ELT now or wait until you are captured by the regulation, you should carry an additional device to adequately protect everyone on board and make up for the shortcomings of ELTs. Don’t be fooled by the statistics that are presented by the government regarding performance. You are being presented with a false sense of security by a justification that is not based on fact.

From this point on the focus of COPA’s effort will be on informing members about the options for equipping with 406; new products and prices as well as the merits of additional devices even if they are not approved. We are encouraging manufacturers to provide us with new product articles.

As we learn of developments and timings of the final regulation, we will provide reports on our web site and in the newspaper.

I hope that as competition develops, we may see the prices for 406 ELTs decrease and that some alternatives may develop to meet the requirement at an affordable price for our sector. For the time being, however, it appears that 406 ELTs will be the only option for our sector of aviation.

07 December 2008

Nav Canada in the Recession

Despite our PM's assertion just a few weeks ago during the election campaign that Canada would not see a recession, in November the economy lost 70,600 jobs. Apparently the country is in for many more job losses and a recession that may be the worst since the 1930s or even earlier than that.

While the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, held in Lima in November 2008, indicated that recovery would come in mid-2010. Our PM was not convinced that it will happen anywhere near that early. Other economists are starting to say that ten years would be more realistic.

The problems Nav Canada faces are similar to the last recession in 2001-02, following the 911 attacks, only on a much greater scale. That was the first recession the company had faced since its formation in 1996. Back in that rather minor recession Nav Canada burned through its $80 million "rainy day" fund very quickly as airlines cut schedules. Because Nav Canada gets almost all its income from the fees it charges users, its income is very dependant on airlines schedules. When airlines cut flights Nav Canada loses income right away.

The other side of the problem is that Nav Canada is operating an air navigation system that is very fixed in levels of service. They can't quickly shrink the operation and lay-off staff to save money. If airline flights at any given airport get reduced Nav Canada still needs the same number of air traffic controllers to man the tower and the centre.

On top of that the company has very few customers of any importance fiscally. Yes there are 23,000 private aircraft owners that get billed each year for "provision of services" but the total amount collected is about 0.08% of the company's budget - coffee money essentially. Of the commercial carriers Air Canada and Westjet are paying the vast bulk of the fees that keep the company afloat. The smaller bush airlines and helicopter companies provide a very tiny percentage of Nav Canada's fees. Essentially all the aircraft in the country not operated by the two biggest airlines are more of a nuisance to Nav Canada than a source of serious income. This means that Nav Canada is almost totally dependent on those two carriers, if they cut flights then Nav Canada can't do much to cut expenses and bleeds cash quickly. On top of that while a company like Westjet is able to cut routes with little notice, Nav Canada has a long and protracted aeronautical study process to close a single FSS or tower, even if traffic no longer warrants keeping it open. The process can take years just to get all the "X"s needed to close an obviously under-used facility. The government does not fund Nav Canada.

In good economic times things hum along. The company can slowly add staff and facilities as increased traffic requires. But the same constraints put the company in a very bad position when the economy goes bad. And when it goes very bad, very fast, as it has done in late 2008, then the company has very few options. In 2001-02 they were saved by the fact that it was a short recession. They increased fees, which caused howls of protest from the airlines who were cutting back and had no cash to spare. Air Canada even grieved the increases to the Canadian Transportation Agency indicating that it thought Nav Canada was not running the company in a "reasonable and prudent" manner. Air Canada's problem was that while they were cutting everything their fees were being raised by another company who was claiming they couldn't cut at all. The CTA sided with Nav Canada, of course and denied rolling back the fee increases. Basically Nav Canada got through that recession because it was a short one.

Some of Nav Canada's options today may be:

* burning their "rainy-day fund" again
* slowly starting the process of identifying places to cut services over the next few years
* increasing fees again
* running deficits and borrowing money

There have been aviation writers who have said that the whole privatized air traffic control model only works in good economic times and that in protracted bad times the company can't raise fees enough on the few remaining aircraft left flying in a long recession to make ends meet. It becomes a problem of diminishing returns as the fee increases make flying even less viable and cause fewer aircraft to fly.

Perhaps the end result will be asking for a government bailout, like GM, Ford and Chrysler, or perhaps just handing the keys back to the federal government once and for all?

What do you think? Can Nav Canada survive a long period of very low airline traffic, if so how?

21 November 2008

Planning a Panel the Easy Way!

It doesn't matter whether you are building your own amateur-built or refurbishing an older certified aircraft, one of the hardest parts is designing the instrument panel. This is because you have to balance cost, 2-dimensional panel space available, weight, ergonomics, cooling requirements and the one factor that usually bites everyone who tries, depth behind the panel.

In the past builders would make wooden or cardboard mock ups of the panel and all the radios and instruments. It was difficult going and mistakes were still made, especially when depth wasn't accounted for. But there is an easier way now.

Aircraft Spruce and Specialty have created a new panel planning software package. This is nothing generic at all as it includes panels for 300 light aircraft types and 1300 instruments and avionics units. Plus you can add instruments and avionics by specifying the dimensions and weight.

The software allows you to move everything around until you find a solution that works. It accounts for weight, electrical amps used and instrument depth as well. The program produces a summary shopping list by cost, Aircraft Spruce stock number weight and electrical load. It also can create a panel cut-out template and a JPG image of the finished product.

The software is available from Aircraft Spruce and Specialty exclusively and is mailed out on a CD. The cost is USD$250, but as long as you purchase panel components of at least USD$7500 then the company will credit you with the full purchase price, making the software free at that point.

The good news is that the software package will run on Windows and Mac. The bad news - no Linux software, because Linux applications are always free!

20 October 2008

Avgas - The Next Nail?

We have discussed the Future of Avgas before in this blog, and some of the predictions made there started coming true on 15 October 2008. That was the day that United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed the environmental standards for lead contamination from 1.5 microgram/m3 to 0.15 microgram/m3.

The new standard requires that the sources of lead in the United States, which includes lead smelting, airplane fuels, military installations, mining and metal smelting, iron and steel manufacturing, industrial boilers and process heaters, hazardous waste incineration and production of batteries reduce their emissions by October 2011. The EPA has named avgas as one of the most "significant sources of lead".

The new rules aren't clear as to exactly how non-industrial sources of lead, like those from burning avgas, will be impacted.

Most pilots see this as a bad thing, as this new standard will probably mean that 100LL will no longer be available to be used in the USA after 2011, but the story is more complex than that. The tetra-ethyl lead that is used in leaded avgas is a neurotoxin (i.e "brain poison"), as are all its combustion products. Those stories that you may have heard that the tail-pipe products of leaded gasoline combustion are harmless are not correct, all compounds of lead are toxic to humans.

So what does lead in the environment do? Mostly it causes mental retardation in children as well as cardiovascular disease and death in people of all ages. New research has conclusively shown that even in very low levels environmental lead causes retardation in children. In fact the EPA's own research shows that the acceptable level shouldn't be the new 0.15 microgram/m3 standard, but more like 0.02 microgram/m3, which is seven and a half times lower.

The last round of environmental standards imposing the old level of 1.5 microgram/m3 came about in 1978 and that resulted in the end of leaded auto fuel. Why wasn't unleaded avgas invented back then? The answer to that question is complex, but the short answer is that it was, sort of. A 100 octane lead-free fuel hasn't been invented, and may in fact be impossible, but a new standard was developed for 82UL. Aircraft designed for the old minimally leaded 80/87 avgas could run on 82UL, but it was never put into production. As long as 100LL was still being made no refiner was interested in making 82UL. Also 82UL will only work for those low-compression engines that can use an 82 octane fuel. For example, you can't run a Cirrus SR22 with its high-compression Continental IO-550-N 310 hp engine on 82UL, so it is not a complete solution.

Essentially because 100LL wasn't caught in the old lead standards in 1978, there was no major motivator for the fuel and engine makers to come up with either an unleaded high octane fuel or to find another technical solution. There are some possibilities on the horizon, like Unison's LASAR ignition system that will allow some high compression engines to use premium auto fuel, but in general we are still dependant on 100LL here in 2008 and just accept the lead it is putting into the environment. We probably should have spent the last 30 years developing real solutions, because it has been obvious since 1978 that leaded avgas's days are numbered.

This is all happening in the USA, how does all this affect Canada? Well 100LL is all made in the USA and shipped to Canada. So if they stop making it, it won't be available here. The Canadian volumes of avgas used are tiny and won't justify starting up Canadian refining of this difficult to make (because of the lead) product.

The key question is then, should we try to fight these environmental concerns to keep flying on 100LL? Some organizations, like AOPA, argued during the hearings before the standard was changed that 100LL should be retained, saying that "any changes that would force an immediate change in the current composition of avgas would have a direct impact on the safety of flight and the very future of light aircraft in this country."

Essentially we have a choice here: keeping flying on 100LL and accept that it will cause mental retardation in children or stop using 100LL and find something else. Which is the right thing to do?

The EPA seems to have made their choice.

Additional reading:






10 October 2008

The Economic Situation - Is There Any Good News?

The last two weeks have finally seen the global credit crisis started by the US sub-prime mortgage problem expand to affect all the stock-markets worldwide as well as the the global financial industry. Already credit, loans and mortgages are harder to get.

David Smick, a global strategic adviser, noted that the US Government had hoped that "The "shock and awe" of the sheer size of the taxpayer-funded bailout would somehow restore confidence. Instead, stock markets collapsed and credit markets remained frozen."

Cessna's CEO Jack Pelton had some things to say about the availability of credit at NBAA this past week. Essentially he said that in the 2001 recession credit was available, but there were fewer buyers, today there are lots of buyers for business jets, but credit is drying up.

Just about every economist says that we are in for a time of economic slowdown, ranging from a recession to predictions of worse. How bad it will or won't be and how long it will last, all depend on who you listen to.

All of this has implications for anyone trying to sell anything that people normally borrow money for. For instance with mortgages already harder to get, the number of potential home buyers will shrink and house prices will fall.

So what does this mean for small aircraft owners? On the minus side it means that the number of prospective aircraft buyers will decrease and this means that used aircraft prices will fall even lower than where they are now. It may be very hard soon to sell an airplane at any price as no one will be able to get financing to buy them. As people lose their jobs, buying or even keeping an aircraft will not be a priority. Flying activity will probably decrease and this may make it hard for airports to make ends meet. Some aircraft manufacturers, especially small ones, will have trouble staying afloat as orders dry up. Some people trying to sell aircraft will see prices drop so low that they will decide not to sell and, instead, take them off the market instead.

It all sounds pretty bad for aviation. Is there any up side to all this?

There actually is! Most forecasts indicate that oil prices are set to fall as demand drops below current production. Analysts have predicted oil may fall to as low as $50 per barrel in the near future, although that will largely depend on whether OPEC manages to cut production to hold prices at their target of $100 per barrel. All this means that for the next while avgas prices should stabilize and may even go down, especially as demand for oil falls.

The other upside is that for people in the market to buy an aircraft and who can pay cash, there will be some real bargains out there in the next while. The trick will be to wait a while for prices to fall further than they have done already.

If some owners do manage to sell their aircraft this may result in a glut of hangar space freed up. I think hangars are unlikely to fall much in price, but space may be easier to find than it has been in the past.

So we may have cheaper gas, available hangarage and very cheap airplanes available.

Tough economic times always create problems for everyone. There is no doubt that some aircraft owners will have to sell planes due to job losses or other financial pressures. There will be bad news for some owners, but it won't be all bad news for everyone.

Some worthwhile background reading on the general financial situation:


09 October 2008

What do local politicians think of General Aviation?

Below is the reply to the message I sent to candidates in the Ottawa - Orleans riding.

The first reply was Marc Godbout, Liberal.  The other candidates have yet to reply.

Here is what he said...

From: marc@marcgodbout.com [mailto:marc@marcgodbout.com]
Sent: 9-Oct-08 13:24
To: Michael Shaw
Subject: Re: Pilots concerns
Dear Mr. Shaw:
Thank you for your recent e-mail and the issues of concern to pilots that you raise.
While I am not personally informed regarding your question regarding replacing ELT's, I  would certainly be willing to look into it. With regards to the bridge at Kettle Island, I do support the recommendation of the consultants report that Kettle Island would be the best choice for a new inter-provincial bridge.  While I agree with the location, I feel that a sincere effort needs to be made to lessen the environmental and social impact that locating the bridge there would have.  This includes how it would impact the Rockcliffe Airport and the Flying Club.
I have learned that while aviation emissions account for only 2% of all emissions, aviation has been an industry of focus for environmental
activists and governments in other parts of the world.  The Liberal Party believes that the first step in fighting rising greenhouse gas emissions is to put a price on carbon.  However, the Green Shift does not propose any increases to aviation fuel in the first year of the plan.
Marc Godbout


"Dear Sir (or Madam)

"I am writing to ask for your support on the following issues that are important to pilots and aircraft owners living in your riding.

"1. Currently the Department of Transport of Canada has regulatory changes in Canada Gazette, Vol. 142, No. 32 - August 9, 2008; Regulations Amending the Canadian Aviation Regulations (Parts I and VI - ELT). The effect of these changes is to require Canadian and foreign aircraft owners to install the newer 406 MHz Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) in order to be allowed to operate in Canadian airspace. Contrary to what is stated in the Regulatory Impact Statement written by the Department of Transport, these newer 406 MHz ELTs will cost aircraft owners significantly more than $61 million. Also, these ELTs are no more likely to survive an accident and transmit its location than could the older ELTs that were mandated under the original regulation. We believe Canada should not mandate installation of the 406 ELT, rather there installation should be at the aircraft owners discretion. For complete details please see the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association's website, Http://www.COPANational.org.

"2. We ask that you not support the building of the Kettle Island Bridge across the Ottawa River unless there are clear assurances that it will not result in displaced thresholds and reduced capabilities for pilots landing and taking-off at Rockcliffe Airport. Information on Rockcliffe Airport can be seen at the Rockcliffe Flying Club's website at http://rfc.ca and the Canada Aviation Museum's website at http://www.aviation.technomuses.ca/.

"3. We ask that you eliminate the avgas fuel excise tax of 11 cents per litre currently imposed on purchases of aviation gasoline. When Nav Canada was selected to manage and operate Canada's Air Navigation System it imposed fees on all aviation sectors using the navigation system, including the operators of piston powered aircraft. The taxes on fuel sold to the airlines was reduced to compensate them for having to pay the new Nav Canada's fees.
"No such relief was given to the operators of piston engine aircraft. We would like to see this tax eliminated to help Canada's flight schools, commercial operators and private flyers continue to play their part in Canada's transportation system and economy.

"Finally, close to 60,000 private aircraft cross the Canada - USA boarder each year. Like all travelers, pilots of personal aircraft face more and more difficulties crossing the border. We therefore ask that you carefully consider the impact of any border crossing measures on the aviation community.

"Should you have any questions on these issues please do not hesitate to contact me.

"I look forward to your positive response to these issues.

"Thank you,

"Michael Shaw
Captain COPA Flight 8, Ottawa


28 September 2008

Internet Flight Crew Briefings

Have you Teterboroseen the online Flight Crew Briefing for Teterboro Airport, NJ (KTEB)? If not point you browser at http://www.airportflightcrewbriefing.com/teterboro/.

This is a really interesting way to deal with airport and airspace idiosyncrasies of individual airports. Most pilots have Internet access at their homes. Teterboro makes use of this capability giving pilots an opportunity to get the scoop on Teterboro's uniqueness before going there. Further, the FAA encourages this capability and even contributed to producing the Teterboro briefing.

I believe we should be exploring this approach for  some Canadian Airports? Rockcliffe Airport in Ottawa, while not particularly difficult to fly into, seems like a perfect candidate. The unnecessarily complicated airspace in the Ottawa area, not to mention the proximity of Macdonald-Cartier and Gatineau Airports, Parliament Hill and the governor General's residence, all suggest that giving pilots a heads-up on the best procedures for getting in and out of Rockcliffe would be a good idea. Sure, the Canada Flight Supplement has enough information about Rockcliffe and the area to permit any current pilot to operate there safely, but having access to well thought out advice and examples on the Internet would enhance safety. Finally, the CFS should contain the Internet addresses (URLs) for such briefings under the aerodromes concerned.

It would be a real advantage for pilots who do most of their flying in the less busy rural areas of Canada and fear flying into the more complex, busier areas like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. As I understand it flight schools and student pilots make good use of Teterboro's briefing. There is no reason it can't be done better right here in Canada. In fact, It might just ease the comfort level of US pilots before they fly into Canada.

What do you think?

16 September 2008

The Private Aircraft Fleet - What Could Be Going On?

Some odd things have been happening lately in the private aircraft fleets in the USA and Canada. The US fleet is shrinking as owners unload older light aircraft and many are exported, but in Canada the fleet is still growing and fairly quickly. The Canadian private civil fleet grew by 799 aircraft between July 2007 and July 2008, which is a growth rate of 3.2%. This is an enormous rate of growth, especially for economic times that can at best be described as "unsteady". This compares to a fleet gain of 597 aircraft in the period July 2006 - July 2007, which was 2.4% growth.

I got thinking about this recently because of a conversation I had with a pilot and aircraft owner. This person has a 1940s two seat certified taildragger for sale and it has been for sale for a number of years. He was mentioning that he has had quite a number of people come and look at it, but has had no offers at all. He was wondering what is going on, why it isn't selling. I have seen the aircraft and it is in nice shape. It has a recent finish on it and a recent engine overhaul as well. I asked him about the price he was asking. He indicted that he had just under $60,000 invested in it and had been asking just over $40,000 for it. More recently he had lowered the asking price to just under $40,000. A quick look around at the aircraft selling websites show that this year and model, in similar shape and with similar SMOH, are being advertised for US$18,000-$24,000, which is currently Cdn$18,900-$25,200. Those are "asking prices", too, not "getting" prices. Sellers will be settling for a couple of thousand less.

I mentioned to this pilot that his make and model are selling for these kinds of prices and his response was to indicate that he won't sell it for that little. He just walked away in disgust. I have been hearing this quite often in recent years.

So what is going on here and what does it mean in the larger picture?

Back in the 1990s, when there were no new light aircraft being built, used aircraft went up in value, way up. Flying magazine reported that light aircraft had appreciated an average of 12% per year for ten years at one point in the mid-1990s. This made them a great investment, better than the stock market in most cases. But it didn't last. A number of factors have brought values down, including new aircraft production, retiring baby boomers getting out of aircraft ownership, the weak US economy, the dramatic fall in the US dollar 2004-07 and high gas prices. It all adds up to the fact that, in Canadian dollars, many older aircraft have lost close to half their value since 2003.

That is just simple economics, but the rest is a bit more subjective. Many owners, like the pilot mentioned earlier, are not willing to sell their planes at a huge loss. They have put a lot into the aircraft and are not willing to let it go for a song. The result is that if you check the COPA classifieds there are lots and lots of aircraft for sale. Many have been for sale for a long time. A quick check of US classifieds show that the same aircraft, or better, can be bought in the USA for as little as half the asking prices in Canada. North America is one light aircraft market, they are easy to move and easy to import, so Canadians are buying in the USA instead of in Canada. This results in the record number of imports and the record numbers seen in the Canadian fleet.

But what about all those aircraft for sale? According to owners I have talked to, most of them aren't being flown much. The owners want to sell, but not for a loss and they don't want to run up the engine hours and decrease the value further while they are for sale. In the meantime high gas prices aren't helping and it seems that most are parked and not flying.

This means that the exploding Canadian fleet numbers aren't really indicative of the "flying fleet", but rather the "parked fleet". In fact, judging from fuel sale information, there are fewer aircraft flying fewer hours in Canada, not more.

So what can an owner who wants to sell an aircraft do? There are two possibilities:

1. Price the aircraft to the current US prices and accept that it has lost value while you owned it.

2. Hang onto it and hope that the US economy improves, gas prices go down, the baby boomers don't retire, the US dollar climbs against the looney and not too many new aircraft are built.

What if those factors don't reverse? Then it is very likely that used aircraft prices will continue to fall over the next few years.

What would that mean for the Canadian civil aircraft fleet numbers? Basically they will continue to climb as more and more aircraft are imported from the USA, as it has done so for the last four years. However it will continue to give a more and more distorted picture of actual flying in Canada as more owners decide to park, instead of sell, their aircraft.

What is the long term outlook? Because many owners won't sell at the large losses they face today and and because a large number of these unsold Canadian aircraft seem to be owned by older Canadians, it is likely that these parked aircraft will end up as "estate" problems for their heirs and executors to solve eventually.

17 July 2008

A Renaissance at Winchester?

Just a few years ago the small private registered aerodrome at Winchester Ontario seemed to be on the way to oblivion. There were few aircraft based there and even fewer services.

In January 2007 Chris Adams purchased the property and now operates it under the name Adams Aviation Services. One of his first tasks was to construct a new, large maintenance hangar on the property and offer aviation maintenance services. Adams is an experienced AME and holds both an M1 and M2 licence. Over the winter of 2007/08 he plowed Runway 07/25 and kept it open, no mean feat this past winter.

As a result of the construction Adams can now offer hangar space to rent as well as outdoor tie downs, too!

The field is now attended, as Adams lives in a house at the airfield. His stated goal in this endeavour is to "re-establish it as the busy airport".

The airport has two runways:

* 07/25 is turf and asphalt 2000X100 feet (centre 18X1800 asphalt)
* 16/34 is turf 2460X80 feet

Adams has put together a new flash-based website for the airport, including photos of the new buildings at www.winchesterairport.ca


Chris Adams
Adams Aviation Services
Winchester Airport
12355 Nesbitt Road
Winchester, Ontario

I would like to hear from any local flyers who have been down to Winchester airfield in 2008 - what did you see there?

06 July 2008

Aviation Trends and Expectations

AvWeb recently ran two back-to-back reader polls that produced some surprising and interesting results. I thought these might be worth discussing.

First off it is worth noting that these AvWeb polls are "non-scientific", in that the participants are "self-selected". People not interested in the issue probably won't take time to answer. Also the respondents might be from anywhere in the world and therefore may not represent Canadian or even US fliers.

Here are the complete results to both polls, as of today:

At what fuel price (if any) would you quit flying? (Choose the answer that's closest to your personal limit.)

They're already too high. (And I've already quit.) 28%
$7 a gallon 14%
$8 a gallon 10%
$9 a gallon 13%
$15 a gallon 12%
I could never quit, no matter how much I have to pay for gas. 24%

What would be the minimum acceptable speed, climb rate, cruise speed, payload and flight time endurance acceptable to make you consider owning a battery-powered electric airplane if it cost under $150,000? (Remember that fuel and maintenance costs would be greatly reduced!)

500 fpm, 60 kt, 200 lb (single seat), 2 hr 2%
500 fpm, 60 kt, 400 (two-seat), 2 hr 7%
500 fpm, 120 kt, 400 lb (two-seat), 2 hr 19%
500 fpm, 120 kt, 400 lb (two-seat), 4 hr 38%
1000 fpm, 180 kt, 800 lb (four-seat), 4 hr (and I might be willing to pay more) 18%
I would never consider an electric airplane. 4%
OTHER (My opinion doesn't appear as a choice.) 11%

As can be seen from the two questions AvWeb asked, one of the biggest issues facing aviation in 2008 is the price of fuel. With the loss of the value of the US dollar and the increase in the price of a barrel of oil, gasoline has doubled in price in the USA over the past twelve months and looks to keep going up for the forseeable future. In some parts of the US lower states 48 avgas is already around $7.00 per gallon.

What is surprising about this poll is that the largest group of respondents is those who chose the first answer - "They're already too high. (And I've already quit.)" If you account for the fact that avgas is already close to $7.00 per gallon, which was the second choice, then the number in that category is probably 42% of US pilots, which is a staggering number. My first thought is that if you think aircraft were cheap this spring, wait until this fall if all those pilots and owners are quitting and selling their planes!

The number of people who say they would quit flying at $8, $9 or $15 per gallon is fairly even, and then you get to the second biggest group - "I could never quit, no matter how much I have to pay for gas." Upon reading that I found it hard to believe that there really is no price that is too high to pay to keep flying for 24% of respondents. I wondered if perhaps it was just an emotional response. Then I thought about it and concluded that they are probably being honest there. They will always fly but will cut their hours down, at least until they are flying just five or ten hours a year, or even just one hour a year. But they will never quit. However the amount of flying they do may not be significant.

Here in Canada we have seen Avgas go up in cost by 50% in the last year, but unlike in the USA, it hasn't doubled in price. So I would expect that the results of a similar poll to this one, that just asked Canadian pilots, would not be so skewed towards the first response.

As gloomy as the results to that poll are, the second poll is much more positive, although we can examine how realistic the expectations are.

First off only 4% said they would never consider an electric aircraft. That means that 96% of pilots would switch to a battery-powered electric airplane to keep flying, or at least that they would consider switching. That is a result that reflects a lot of optimism.

The reason that AvWeb asked about battery-powered electric airplanes instead of fuel-cell-powered or hydrogen-burning or bio-fuel-burning aircraft is obvious, there are none of those aircraft flying right now and the difficulties of getting them flying outside a test environment are quite high. On the other hand battery-powered electric airplanes are here today, available commercially and they work. They are also quite cheap to fly, the "fuel cost" being under $1 per hour. Fuel cell aircraft (other than one Boeing test project) are still many years away and they will be expensive for the performance, if they are ever commercially available.

The most interesting results from the second poll are buried in the details. As noted in the last blog entry, you could buy or build an aircraft that matches the first response, today: "500 fpm, 60 kt, 200 lb (single seat), 2 hr", but only 2% would be happy with that kind of performance.

The largest response by far, at 38%, was for an aircraft with performance of "500 fpm, 120 kt, 400 lb (two-seat), 4 hr". That sounds like a battery powered CT-2 or something similar. The question is: "is that close to reality today, given the current state of the art?". Let's look at that.

The limiting factor in electric flight is the battery technology. ElectraFlyer uses lithium polymer batteries that can provide 5.6 kwh of power at a weight of 78 lbs, which is 13.9 lbs/kwh. To meet the performance goals stated, an aircraft like a CT-2 would need to produce 100 hp (75 kw) for 15 minutes and then 75 hp (56 kw) for 3.75 hours, for a total of 229 kwh, not counting any reserves. Using lithium polymer batteries this would mean that they would weigh 3180 lbs, a bit heavy for a CT-2-like aircraft, with a gross weight of 1320 lbs.

Of course lithium polymer batteries are just the best available today, not tomorrow. Right now the next generation of batteries with the best promise are probably hyper-capacitors. Instead of a big container of chemicals, these are banks of capacitors that can soak up a charge and then release it on demand to the engine. They have some real advantages over chemical batteries: they are lighter, nothing to spill and they can be recharged quickly, if you have enough amps and volts available to charge them fast.

One new state of the art hyper-capacitor is made by EEStor and will power the next generation Canadian-made CityZENN car. In the car application it will produce the power to let the car do 100 km/hr for 4 hours, which makes it a pretty practical electric car. The EEStor hyper-capacitor weighs 300 lbs and holds 52 kwh of power, which is a power density of 5.8 lbs/kwh. This is obviously twice as good as the lithium polymer battery.

With a hyper-capacitor our hypothetical CT-2-like aircraft could meet the mission requirements with a battery pack that weighs 1321 lbs. That happens to be the gross weight of the aircraft, but it is getting closer to reality. The current CT-2 engine and fuel weight for four hours is close to 310 lbs. Electric motors and controllers weigh considerably less than their gas-burning equivalent, so there is some savings there. Basically, though to have a practical "500 fpm, 120 kt, 400 lb (two-seat), 4 hr" airplane battery technology needs to produce a battery that will hold 229 kwh of power in a form that weighs around 260 lbs, for an energy density of 1.13 lb/kwh. This would be about 12 times better than lithium polymer or about 5 times better than the next generation of hyper-capacitors.

Can it be done? I sure hope so!

27 June 2008

A Glimpse of the Future of GA?

These days Randall Fishman seems to be on the cutting edge of what may prove to be the future of general aviation. Last year his ElectraFlyer battery-powered trike won the Grand Champion Ultralight and Innovation Award at AirVenture. This year he will be bringing his ElectraFlyer-C at Oshkosh.

The ElectraFlyer-C is essentially a technological development of the trike's powerplant design, but with the electric engine and battery pack mounted in a Moni motorglider. The motorglider is a natural for this type of power, as its low drag profile and low span loading add up to an aircraft that is very efficient and therefore, can fly on a small amount of power.

The ElectraFlyer-C is powered by a 29-pound, 18-hp electric motor, a regenerative-braking-capable controller package and two lithium polymer battery packs. The batteries weigh a total of 78 pounds. The single place Moni has a 27.5-foot wingspan which gives it a respectable 18:1 glide ratio. It weighs 380 lbs, fully charged and ready to fly, less the crew weight.

The aircraft is expected to have a climb rate of at least 500 fpm, a cruise speed of 70 mph and a stall speed of 45 mph. With the current batteries it should be able to fly under electric power for approximately 90 minutes, giving a realistic one hour flight, plus a half-hour power reserve.

The plane can be recharged from a 110-volt outlet in about six hours. Using a 220 volt charger will cut the recharging time to about two hours.

The Moni airframe is no longer available as a kit and so Fishman will not be marketing a complete aircraft. Instead he is focusing on providing the complete power pack including the motor, controller and battery packs. This is aimed at home builders who will then mount this powerplant in their own aircraft.

What is the point? Well perhaps two-fold.

First the ElectraFlyer-C is expected to operate for a fuel cost of about 75 cents for a one hour flight. This compares to a minimum of $10-15 per hour for fuel for any gasoline burning aircraft, even in this horsepower range.

Second, GA has to be prepared to move away from burning gasoline and oil-based fuels. Many folks spend a lot of time complaining about the price of gas these days, but very few people are doing anything about it.

People like Randall Fishman and his ElectraFlyer are rarities - someone who is dealing with the issue of high oil prices head-on with practical, well-engineered solutions.

So kudos to Randall Fishman, he may well be showing us the way to the future of personal flying. I don't think too many pilots would argue that 75 cents an hour for power to fly is a bad thing!

Pictures and details on ElectraFlyer's website

16 June 2008

Walk Arounds are Getting More Important!

The increasing price of avgas is having an interesting effect and that is adding up to making doing better walk arounds a really good idea.

AvWeb recently carried a story about a commercial light aircraft in New Zealand that suffered a gas theft. This probably shouldn't be a surprise to anyone - avgas is worth a lot of money these days. In this case the thieves got away with 26 gallons (100 litres) of fuel, valued at $200.

Avgas is $1.67 this week at Carp, which would make this theft $167, even at the relatively cheaper cost of gas here over New Zealand.

In the case of the aircraft in New Zealand the pilot noticed the theft on his pre-flight inspection and reported it to the police. He gets full marks for doing a good walk around. How many of us fly in somewhere, gas up and then go for lunch, come back jump in and just go, without re-dipping the tanks?

It could be quite a surprise to start up and take-off only find that you only had enough gas left in the tanks to start up and take-off. In this day and age make sure you dip those tanks before you fly!

29 May 2008

Some News on Rebuilding Certified Aircraft into the Amateur-Built Category

There have been some troubling things happening in the amateur-built aircraft world recently, particularly for people who are trying to build an amateur-built using any components that were previous used on a certified aircraft.

This practice used to be allowed, as long as the project still met the 51% determination, in other words that the builder still did the majority of the work. This meant that quite a lot of formerly certified parts could be used and, in fact, some certified aircraft had some enough work done rebuilding them that they qualified for 51% and the amateur-built category.

In 2006 the FAA heard about what was happening in Canada on this issue and decided to object to Transport Canada. It has to be pointed out that there are many US home-builts flying with a lot of certified parts on them, in addition to engines, avionics and instruments, which have always been permitted. There are US registered Breezys that have whole wings and struts straight from Pipers installed on them. These met the 51% rule in the USA and are legal US amateur-builts.

The FAA is going though its own deliberations about the 51% rule these days and and so they objected and indicated that they would take action if TC didn't. So TC started telling people: no more certified parts on amateur-builts. This caused more questions than there were answers, of course.

On May 4th there was a Minister's Delegates, Recreational Aviation seminar and TC finally gave some useful guidance on what the new rules are.

RAA President Gary Wolfe explains the news:

"Yesterday's MDRA seminar (May 4th) largely clarified Transport's new policy on the incorporation of formerly certified major components to Amateur Built aircraft."

"It will remain legal to incorporate these into a project under certain
circumstances. Parts which are attached by bolts came under scrutiny. The removal and replacement of these components does not qualify towards a 51% determination, nor does the opening up of parts for inspection."

"Repair and rebuilding of components can qualify towards 51%, especially if the rework is to pieces that were originally assembled by permanent methods such as welding, gluing, bonding, soldering. Dismantling and reassembly of these components can be considered to be repair and rebuilding."

"Riveting was not discussed in the document, so RAA has already sent an email to TC for a clarification of this point. For awhile it had been TC policy to fast track owner-maintenance aircraft into amateur-built, but this will now become much more difficult."

"Earlier, the work that had originally been done to become an owner-maintenance aircraft had been allowed to qualify for the amateur-built 51% determination. Now this earlier work will not qualify, so it is unlikely that there will be any more fast track conversions, unless the owner-maintenance aircraft is being largely rebuilt again."

"Borescopes and video cameras had previously been allowed for internal inspection of closed components, but these will no longer be allowed."

"It will henceforth be necessary to unrivet skins or remove fabric to determine whether formerly certified major components are suitable for reuse. Rebuilding a major component can qualify it towards 51%. If for example a builder had begun with a complete Cessna wing but found that he had to remake more than 50% of the components, he could get credit for having built a wing. Every major component reuse will trigger the requirement for a 51% determination. There will initially
be a peer review by MDRA, then a determination by TC."

"Projects which have already had their 51% determination will be allowed to proceed to final, to become amateur-built aircraft."

The news here may not be what everyone was hoping to hear, but at least there is some clarification, at least at this point.

13 April 2008

The price of Avgas - What to do?

The price of Avgas - What to do?

The data definitely shows that more Canadians now own private aircraft than ever before. At the end of March 2008 there were 25,244 private aircraft registered in Canada. During 2007 there were 659 private aircraft added to the Canadian fleet.

So more people are flying more airplanes, right? Maybe.

The numbers on "hours being flown" are harder to come by, as Transport Canada don't publish what they get from the AAIR reports. One thing that we do suspect from talking to fuel dealers is that over the last few years they area't pumping as much Avgas as they used to.

So what is going on? More aircraft being purchased, built and imported but flying fewer hours?

It is possible, because of two facts.

First, right now aircraft are quite cheap. The plummeting US dollar since 2004 has made most used aircraft very cheap in the past three or four years. If you are building your own aircraft then the plunging US dollar has made aircraft building supplies and US kits cheap. Aluminium, engines, fabric, instruments are all far cheaper than they were in 2000.

Second, gas is expensive and it is going up. Everyone watches the price of car gas and in the last year it has gone from a national average of 92 cents to $1.19 this past week, which is a 30% increase. BMO Nesbitt Burns analyst Randy Ollenberger is predicting pump prices of $1.50 within a few months and that it won't come back down, due to high demand around the world.

Avgas hasn't gone up in price as quickly in the last year, but some northern locations are already selling at over $2.00 per litre and prices getting near $1.75 aren't uncommon in southern Canada this spring. Given the normal price differences between car gas and aviation fuel Avgas will likely end up close to $2.00 per litre across most of southern Canada this summer.

So "airplanes cheap, gas expensive" adds up to more people owning more airplanes and flying them less. It isn't a good trend, but with strong and increasing global demand for oil, while world oil production is flat or even declining, what is the future for personal flying?

At least one company thinks it is electric aircraft. They have taken the concept beyond the experimental stage and are selling production electric aircraft today.

In fact Electric Aircraft Corporation has been selling their ElectraFlyer since last year. It is a single seat US FAR 103 legal weight-shift trike, with a Northwing Stratus hang glider-style wing. It is powered by an 18 hp electric motor that weighs just 26 lbs. Instead of filling up the gas tank you recharge the 5.6 kWh Lithium Ion battery pack. The battery weighs 78 lbs. A charge should take about four hours and would cost under 50 cents at the 8 cents per kWh we pay here. That charge will give you a take-off and a flight of 1.5 hours at an average of 5 hp used. It is able to fly on this low horsepower because of light weight and a big wing area with relatively low drag. The trike weighs 247 lbs and can be purchased complete today for USD$16,885.00 ready to fly.

There is more, though. Not only can you fly for pennies an hour, but there is no gas to buy, no oil to buy and the electric motor is maintenance-free. The aircraft is also quiet. With a geared prop that turns slowly it is so quiet that you don't need hearing protection. Your neighbours will love this aircraft, because they won't know it is there. No more calling ahead for gas either - if your destination has AC power then you can get a "fill".

The company says that it is "The closest thing to a magic carpet ride ever attained." They may be right.

Okay I can hear the grumbling already, "Sure, great if you want to fly some open air ultralight at 25 mph, but am I going to be able to run my SR-22 on a battery?"

Let's see: A 310 horsepower Cirrus is 231 kW. Assuming 15 minutes at full power and four hours at 75% power cruise, you would need a battery pack with a capacity of 750 kWh or about 134 times that of the ElectraFlyer trike. Using Lithium Ion batteries that would bring the weight of the battery pack to about 10,000 lbs. Maybe not.

I don't think battery powered aircraft are going to be practical above the ultralight level, at least unless some amazing things are done with battery technology.

There are some promising things being done with hyper-capacitors. They work like batteries storing a charge, but do it through banks of capacitors, rather than chemical means like batteries. Zenn Motors of Toronto are planning to bring out a new car soon that will be powered by an EEStor ceramic hyper-capacitor that will produce 70 hp and drive the car at 100 km/hr for four hours, giving it a range of 400 km with an electrical storage unit that weighs 300 lbs. The best part is that hyper-capacitors can be charged in a few minutes from special high voltage/high amp charging stations. This has promise for aviation applications.

One thing is clear: the private aircraft of the future will look different from the aircraft of today, they won't be 1950s airplanes with new engines. They will need to be able to fly on less horsepower and that means greater span and lower wing loading than we see today. It is not an accident that Boeing's fuel cell test plane was a Dimona motor glider.

The good news is that innovative things are being done and, thanks to companies like Electric Aircraft Corporation, you could be flying silently and free of high gas prices today, if you want to.

07 April 2008

The Cessna 162 SkyCatcher in Canada

My last blog entry outlined some interesting controversies about the Cessna 162. These are global issues for the aircraft type, but there are also some issues that affect this aircraft only in Canada.

I should start by pointing out that these issues have been known for quite a while, but they have no current solutions. I talked to Transport Canada this past week to confirm that this information is still current.

The primary question is - as a Canadian can you buy and fly a Cessna 162?.

The answer is "yes, sort of, maybe, depends."

If you are planning on buying a C-162 for private use then the answer is "probably". If you want to use it in a flight school operation then the answer is more complex and closer to "no".

The whole issue hinges on the status of the C-162. It is a fully manufactured aircraft with a gross weight of 1320 lbs that meets the ASTM rules for a US Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). It is not a FAR 23 certified aircraft.

In Canada the C-162 does not qualify to be a CAR 523 or CAR 523 VLA certified aircraft. It is too heavy to be an Advanced Ultra-light Aeroplane (AULA) or Basic Ultra-light Aeroplane (BULA), as they are limited to 1232 and 1200 lbs respectively. It only fits into one category in Canada - the Limited Class.

The Limited Class was really developed to allow old out of production non-certified aircraft to be flown in Canada, such as warbirds and non-certified experimental gliders. Even though the C-162 fits this class, putting brand-new, mass-produced Cessnas in it wasn't TC's intention and in talking to them recently they are still a bit uncomfortable with the notion.

If a private owner were to put a C-162 into the Limited Class then it could be flown like any other light aircraft. The only restriction would be that maintenance releases would have to be signed by an AME, not by the owner as in the US LSA class.

Aircraft in the Limited Class can be used for commercial use, but only for CAR 702 Aerial Work operations. This means banner towing, aerial photography, crop spraying, etc. It can't be used for flight training. To be honest there aren't too many aerial work applications for this small, 100 hp aircraft.

So what do you do if you want to use C-162s in your school? Well you could try applying for an exemption to the CARs, but don't count on it being approved.

The next question most people would ask is "So what is going to happen?"

There is some good news here. The CARAC Recreational Aviation Working Group which I chaired in 2005-06 actually addressed this exact issue. It recommended that the LSA category be established as an additional category in Canada, among other recommendations. That report was accepted by CARAC in 2007 and moved on towards the TC risk assessment and NPA drafting processes.

In talking with TC officials this past week I confirmed that the recommendations are still on the way to becoming rules, but that the massive reorganization that TC is currently going through have brought work to a stop on this and many other projects.

So when will the LSA be a category in Canada, allowing private ownership of C-162s with owner-maintenance and their use in flight schools?

The soonest I would look for this is in about ten years. Due to TC priorities (i.e. not small aircraft) and shortage of manpower at TCHQ, I think "never" is a better bet.

Free advice:

If you are thinking of buying a C-162, or any other LSA that doesn't qualify to be an AULA or BULA in Canada, for private use then contact TC Airworthiness before putting any money down. Find out if they will issue a Special Certificate of Airworthiness - Limited for it. Be prepared to have the maintenance signed off by an AME.

If you are thinking of buying a C-162, or any other LSA that doesn't qualify to be an AULA or BULA in Canada, for flight school use then contact your TC principal inspector before putting any money down. Find out if there is any chance of an exemption to operate the aircraft in school use. If not, it may be possible to put it in the Limited Class as a private aircraft and use it for rental only, as that use is not under your operating certificate.

03 April 2008

The New Cessna 162 SkyCatcher - Three Controversies for the Price of One!

Cessna's new two seater, the Model 162 is a remarkable aircraft for a number of reasons.

It is the first two-seater Cessna has produced since C-152 production ended in 1985. It is the lightest aircraft Cessna has produced with an LSA gross weight of 1320 lbs. It has control sticks, instead of the ubiquitous Cessna "ram's horn" wheels. It even has swing-up doors, unique in the Cessna line-up.

Overall, though the Model 162 is remarkable, it is not that innovative. It is made of sheet metal, like all the other Cessnas have been, although the up-and-coming NGP may break that rule as do the Cessna 350 and 400, although Cessna bought those designs already flying. It has a Continental O-200 engine, just like its Cessna 150 predecessor of 1959. Despite its lighter weight it will have a performance very close to the 150 or 152 as well.

Where the 162 does stand out is that it has proven so controversial. In fact there are three controversies involving the SkyCatcher, not including the choice of name, which most pilots seem to dislike.

The aircraft's name is pretty minor compared to the biggest controversy - building the C-162 in China. Cessna announced on 27 November 2007 that the 162 would be built by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, which is a subsidiary of China Aviation Industry Corporation I (AVIC I), a Chinese government-owned consortium.

This decision resulted in a blog article by Cessna spokesman Tom Aniello on the aircraft's website www.skycatcher.com. Don't bother looking for that website - it doesn't exist any more and that is part of the story, although you can read an archived copy of the page here.

Aniello's blog was an attempt to put forward the logical business case for building the aircraft in China. His best two arguments were that the aircraft would have cost $71,000 more to produce in the US and that Cessna was out of plant capacity in the USA anyway.

Aniello also pointed out that Shenyang is a long standing producer of airliners and fighters and that they build parts today for Boeing's airliners. They are a reliable source.

The blog was just like this one, an article with a chance for readers to post their thoughts. And they did - thousands of them. I read them all. About 10% were positive about the decision and expressed understanding. The remaining 90% were very negative. They cited shoddy Chinese products being subject to recall in the USA, Chinese products being painted with lead-based paint, China's human rights record, exporting of US jobs and China's less-than-friendly relations with the west and the USA in particular. Many posts were from people who claimed to have either been considering buying a 162 and now wouldn't, or from people who had ordered one and canceled their order. The outpourings were sometimes ill-thought out and sometimes very eloquent and well written.

Cessna's response was also ill-thought out. On January 25, 2008 they deleted the whole website and issued a new statement.

It says:

"First off, we would like to personally thank everyone who has joined the conversation about our new Cessna SkyCatcher. Your comments and opinions surrounding this bold new venture are extremely valuable to us and especially as first flight gets closer."

"As the excitement builds, our site has also evolved. We’ve implemented new methods and editorial protocols to better facilitate communication. At the same time, we’ve added a new site feature that will include all of the very latest SkyCatcher product updates. This section is called e-Briefs."

"Here’s how the site works: we now invite you to submit your comment to our site editors for consideration of on-line posting, much like traditional publishing. This will give us a better opportunity to respond with our own comments on a more regular basis. You can rest assured that views representative of all sides of an issue will be chosen for display on the site by our editorial staff."

Naturally most people have understood this to mean: "to serve you better, we are ending all debate." Other aviation blogs have taken up the cause, but at least Cessna isn't hosting their own criticisms anymore. Obviously Cessna' mistake was to host a debate in the first place. They completely underestimated the results. Someone in Wichita got debriefed over this one.

Incidentally despite their new invitation to submit comments it looks like no negative ones have been posted. Big surprise. Lots of people are still unhappy over the decision to produce the aircraft in China and also that Cessna invited and then cut off debate.

There are two other controversies that the 162 has produced, but these are talked about less often, overshadowed by the Chinese out-sourcing issue.

The first is the cost. Cessna is now offering the 162 for USD$111,500, having sold the first 1000 orders at $109,500. Cessna's statements indicate that the price, if it were built in the USA would have been $182,500. This seems like a far-fetched claim. The current price of the bare-bones C-172R is currently $234,500. Given that, $182,500 doesn't sound out of line for a smaller two-seater. The odd thing is that other companies are building LSAs in the USA and are making money selling them for a lot less. A good example is AMD who sell the Chris Heintz designed Zodiac XL for USD$99,900.00.

Why would it cost Cessna twice as much as a small company to make an airplane in the USA? The size of Cessna and its experience should make aircraft cheaper, not more expensive, one would think. They must be making a lot of money building them for $111,500 in China, or perhaps the profits are eaten up by shipping the made-in-USA engines, avionics, etc to China and then back again?

The last and least-mentioned controversy about the 162 is its full fuel payload. With a gross weight of 1320 and a full fuel load of 26 US gallons (144 lbs) the aircraft has just 346 lbs remaining for occupants and baggage. That means that it won't even carry one standard TC weight man (200 lbs summer) and one standard weight woman (165 lbs summer) without draining an hour's worth of gas out. Don't ask about baggage.

Of course many will argue that with an LSA-imposed gross weight of only 1320 lbs how can the plane have any payload? Here is what the competition offers for full fuel payload:

AMD Zodiac XL - 370 lb and that is with 30 gallons of gas. With the SkyCatcher's 24 gallons it would lift 394 lbs

Flight Design CT - 476 lbs and that is with 34 US gallons on board. With the SkyCatcher's 24 gallons it would lift 536 lbs.

So why is the SkyCatcher so heavy, compared to other designs in its class? I don't have an answer to that question.

For me the most interesting controversy involving the 162 is its sales figures. Cessna claims to have over 1000 firm orders for the aircraft. If so that would mean that once these orders are filled almost half the LSAs in the USA will be Cessna 162s. Given the higher price and the poor load carrying capabilities, not to mention the huge backlash against the Chinese outsourcing, why is it selling so well?

Perhaps the answer there is the same answer as why brand-name Tylenol outsells the identical and much cheaper generics by ten to one: the power of brand names and advertising.

The Cessna 162 is a fascinating story to follow, more controversial than any other aircraft that Cessna has ever built. I am sure that as production starts and C-162s are delivered to customers we will hear a lot more about it!

Further recommended reading

15 March 2008

Uncontrolled Airport arrival - Joining the circuit...

circuit joining aim Quoted here is the kind of sloppy work in the TC AIM that really bugs me, in the section on traffic circuit procedures uncontrolled aerodromes it says, "...once the pilot has ascertained without any doubt that there will be no conflict with other traffic entering the circuit or traffic established within the circuit, the pilot may also join the circuit on the downwind leg (Figure 4.6)."  My problem is that the statement quoted above and and as repeated in figure 4.6 are misleading at best and conflict with the CARs at its worst. Also, transport's authors use the word "conflict" which is not defined, but I take it to mean likely risk of collision with known traffic.

First, the statement and figure seem to suggest that in spite of any conflicts, one can enter the circuit with impunity from the upwind side as shown in figure 4.6  above? Not! The CARs clearly require one to ensure that one will not risk a collisions with other traffic (CAR 602.96) no matter how one chooses to join the circuit. Also, I doubt that the rules right-of-way (CAR 602.19) are made void by CAR 602.96.

In my view pilots doing circuits should give way to traffic joining straight in to the downwind by extending their climb straight out a little farther from the airport for separation. If there is traffic on downwind and they turn crosswind they risk collision with that traffic (thereby contravening CAR 602.19). I believe it is better to climb straight out farther from the airport for separation than it is to ultimately extend the downwind leg far past the airport because of traffic ahead. Check the midair at Mascouche in 1997 where the downwind legs stretched outside the airport's five mile zone. If someone is 5 miles from the airport they are on a cross country not the downwind leg!


If on the other hand the airport has a right hand circuit, then traffic established on downwind will have any traffic arriving from the upwind side on their right. If they collide who had the right of way? You got it the guy joining from over head is on the right of the pilot on downwind and has the right of way.

I see nothing in the CARs that say traffic established in the circuit can ignore the rules right-of-way. What the CARs say to me is that arriving traffic must avoid collisions and conform to the pattern of other traffic. They do not say don't give way to aircraft on your right when in the circuit. Also keep in mind that the CARs require all pilots to avoiding having collisions (CAR 602.19) in spite of who has the right of way.

Here is a summary of what the CARs (CAR 602.96) say about operating an aircraft on, or in the vicinity of an aerodrome (controlled or not). These are my words not the CARs.

  • Before landing or taking off the pilot must be satisfied that there will be no risk of collision with other aircraft or vehicles. And that the aerodrome is suitable for his intended operation.
  • The pilot must observe the traffic circuit so as to avoid a collision.
  • The pilot must conform to or avoid the circuit made by other aircraft operating at the airport.
  • The pilot must make all turns to the left when in the circuit, unless a right hand circuit is specified in the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS).
  • The pilot should, if able, land or take off into the wind.
  • The pilot must maintain a listening watch for air traffic control communications or if unable watch for visual signals. (As I read them the CARs do not require radio equipped aircraft to monitor the ATF.)
  • If at a controlled aerodrome the pilot must have a clearance to land, take off or taxi.
  • If not intending to land the pilot must be at least 2000 feet above the aerodrome elevation when over flying it.

No where do the CARs say one must join the circuit from the upwind side or on the downwind leg or from anywhere in particular. Nor do the CARs relieve pilots of their right of way obligations under CARs 602.19.

Let me state it quite simply, Transport Canada's statements in the AIM  about avoiding conflicts when joining the circuit on the downwind leg, appear to apply to all situations when joining the circuit, not just joining on the downwind leg as depicted in figure 4.6.

Good airmanship suggests we follow the circuit joining procedures that TC lays out in the AIM, but they should fix the wording to reflect the CARs more closely.  We are better off if we all follow known procedure--it is better to know what the other guy is likely to do and vice versa.

Michael Shaw


10 March 2008

Conflicting traffic please advise...and other useless phrases!

  "Rockcliffe Traffic Cessna 172 Bravo Romeo India five east over Orleans at one thousand five hundred in bound landing Rockcliffe. Conflicting traffic please advise..."

"Conflicting traffic please advise...", give me a break! What does this add to the system except wasted verbiage and frequency congestion. Why broadcast of your position and intentions on Rockcliffe's frequency if not to advise other pilots in the area that you are there and what you are planning to do? The whole point of making the broadcast is to coordinate your arrival with other traffic in the area. Only an idiot would not respond to your broadcast, especially if he thought there might be a conflict. I don't just want conflicting traffic to advise me. I want all traffic in the area to report their position and intentions. If I shut up and listen I will likely hear them all calling out their positions without my "please advise" request.

My normal routine is to build a mental picture of reported traffic in the area so I can decide if I will continue with my original plan or change it to ensure a smooth, safe flow of traffic. I need all traffic to broadcast their locations and intentions, not just those who think they might be in conflict.

Mr. "Please Advise" is almost as annoying as the sunny Sunday afternoon pilot who requests  an airport advisory on the ATF when there are three reported in the circuit and several others calling in bound, all broadcasting position reports. What, prey tell, is one going to find out that is not already obvious by shutting up a listening on the ATF? Nothing! Spare us the request for advisories when it is busy.

And then there is the, "Rockcliffe Traffic BRI is clear of the active..." If I am in the circuit I can see that you are clear of the active runway. On the ground, if you can't see the way is clear don't take off...We really don't need to waste frequency time with useless stuff.

For that matter, why say "Cessna 172 Bravo Romeo India." Shorten it to "172 Romeo India" or better "romeo india turning final 27 Rockcliffe, number two." I know TC expects a longer call sign but this is faster and is just as clear, as long as there is not another romeo india on the ATF.

Michael Shaw


18 February 2008

What is the future of Avgas?

This has been an interesting question for a number of years, but most people haven't been paying attention.

The heat was recently cranked up a notch by comments made by the new President of Teledyne Continental Motors, Rhett Ross.

In an interview with AvWeb Ross stated that he thought it would only be a matter of time before aviation was "forced out" of using 100LL. His company is proceeding full speed in the development of a 300 hp diesel engine that will be the first of a series of jet-fuel burning diesels from 100-300 hp. You can tell by the fact that they hope to have this new engine certified by late 2009 or early 2010 that Continental considers this a priority issue.

But is there a threat of 100LL disappearing in that sort of short term window?

The answer is an emphatic "yes" and GA needs to be ready for it.

We used to have four grades of Avgas - 80/87, 91/96, 100/130 and 115/145. The refining industry just stopped making each one of those over time and it caused some real heartache, especially for owners of aircraft that needed 115/145, because they couldn't go to a higher grade. A lot of engines stopped flying and some aircraft left service or got re-engined to turbines.

A few years ago there was a specification developed for 82UL (for unleaded), but no refiner has shown any interest in making any of it. Too small a market to bother.

What might cause 100LL to go away?

There are currently two different types of threats to the one remaining grade of avgas. The first is economic and the second is environmental.

From a refiner's economic perspective 100LL is hard to justify making at all. The market for it is tiny and spread out far and wide. The specifications for it are very tight which makes it expensive to produce. It also needs special handling at the refinery and during transport, because it contains tetra-ethyl lead (TEL) - it can't come into contact with other fuels. It requires dedicated everything as a result.

Overall making 100LL is a pain for the refiners and they wish they didn't have to do it. There are only two refineries in North America that make 100LL.

There is also only one company in the whole world that makes the TEL that is an essential ingredient and that is Innospec of the UK. If they decide to stop making this very toxic substance 100LL cannot be made anymore. On any given day the world has about a 30 day supply of 100LL on hand. Gone are the days of vast quantities of gas being stored - it is all "just in time" delivery these days.

These economic factors make 100LL's existence very precarious - today, not just years from now.

Everyone knows that leaded auto fuel was phased out in the early 1980s. Why? Because lead in gasoline is a toxic substance. No matter what the combustion process or temperature the tailpipe products of lead combustion are toxic to humans and most likely cancer-causing as well.

In the USA, the Environmental Protection Agency is once again looking at 100LL and why it is the last leaded fuel in use. Many environmental groups want it removed as well and not without good reason.

As Continentals' Ross pointed out this week, this will happen at some point, either from the economic or environmental perspective.

The question for pilots and aircraft owners is "what then?"

Auto fuel will still be available for some time, so if your aircraft is designed to run on auto fuel or can use it through an STC, you will be using that. I would bet that those empty 100LL tanks at the airport will start to be filled with premium autofuel, rather than sit empty.

What if you can't run on autofuel? Lots of aircraft can't, like 2007's best-selling new aircraft, the Cirrus SR22, for just one example. Cessna's new 350 and 400 can't either.

Companies like Continental will be very happy to sell you a jet-fuelled retrofit diesel engine a few years down the road. Hopefully you won't need one before they have them available. Many aircraft types will eventually have diesels available under STC. The folks at SMA diesels already have some STCs for their one product, the 230hp SR305 engine. It has been available for the Cessna 182 for a few years. There have been few takers, because of the cost.

If the cost of the SMA conversion is any indication then be prepared to pay around $100K for the conversion to jet fuel. The added bonus will be lower fuel consumption and longer range as a result. Of course for many older aircraft this cost will be several times more than the aircraft is worth. Also the removed gasoline engine will not fetch much when there is no fuel for it - perhaps scrap value.

I don't think used avgas-only powered aircraft are going to fetch high prices at that point.

So what can the lowly aircraft owner do in light of Ross's comments? Probably make like Boy Scouts and "be prepared". You now know what is going to happen when the 100LL taps run dry, so make a plan. Will you run on autofuel? Will you retrofit a jet-fuel burning diesel. Will you transition to rubber band power?

Just don't be surprised on the day when Ross's prediction happens and general aviation is "forced out" of 100LL.

13 February 2008

Falling Like Flies?

What is happening to aircraft manufacturers? We seem to be losing them at a rapid rate these days, especially start-up manufacturers of light aircraft.

Let's look at the recent score sheet:

Symphony Aircraft of Trois-Rivières, Quebec. Manufactured the Symphony SA-160, completing about 18 aircraft. Started production in May 2005, bankrupt in January 2007.

Tiger Aircraft of Martinsburg, West Virginia. Manufactured the AG-5B Tiger, produced 51 aircraft. Started production in 2002, bankrupt in January 2007.

Adam Aircraft of Centennial, Colorado. Manufactured the A500 twin, produced seven of them. They were also flying the single prototype of the A700 twin-jet. Started up A-500 production in 2005, bankrupt in February 2008.

Let's consider the details:

Symphony Aircraft

I actually visited Symphony Aircraft on 10 August 2005 to interview their CEO, Paul Costanzo. You can read my review of the aircraft on the COPA website.

At that point production had just begun and he was very confident that they had sufficient capital to see them through the start-up phase. His priorities at that time, with customer deliveries of the certified SA-160 already under way, were certifying the BRS parachute installation and the Avidyne glass cockpit installation. Customers wanted both those items and work was progressing on them. He had orders and he had skilled workers building planes.

Costanzo was very upbeat about the company at that point. He was convinced that many new aircraft manufacturers fail because they don't have sufficient capitalization to get through the certification and start-up of production to the point where they can create cash-flow by getting customer's aircraft out the door. He was confident that his company was more than adequately capitalized.

I think he was right about the first point, but he was obviously wrong about Symphony being adequately capitalized because they ran out of money and just couldn't raise any more. Costanzo was quoted as saying that the venture capital market in Quebec was "dismal".

Costanzo had plans for a four-place Symphony and also a floatplane and a diesel version, but work hadn't really started on those projects, awaiting the money to do that.

Tiger Aircraft

Tiger had actually started producing AG-5Bs in 2002. Again it was not a lack of orders for the aircraft or skilled workers, but it was financing to get through the start-up and certification period. Like Symphony, Tiger was working on certifying a glass-cockpit installation for the AG-5B when they ran out of money. Customers wanted them in the Tiger, but they couldn't find the financing required to get over that hurdle.

Adam Aircraft

This company had been around for ten years when it finally closed its doors on February 11th, 2008. They had a real attention-getting product, the twin-boom, push-pull A500. Heck it was even in the 2006 film version of Miami Vice, because it was so stylish-looking.

There was little indication of problems at Adam until early in the New Year 2008. The aviation media carried stories about Adam trying to raise US$75M-150M to complete the certification of the A700 jet and get the A500 into full production. In the end their closing press release indicated that the reason for the failure was "due to the inability of the company to come to terms with their lender for funding necessary to maintain business operations."

What is going on here?

It is easy to read these three stories of new aircraft manufacturers and think that the problem could be summed up as "under-capitalization" - not enough money to get them through the the certification and start-up process and into production. Smarter companies would have had more money, right?

There are indications that even the most heavily capitalized companies are having problems getting through the costs of certification. Eclipse Aviation, makers of the best selling Eclipse 500 jet that is just starting to come off the production line, have been asking their customers to advance a bigger down payment to the company to help it get all the components certified and production ramped up. The customers have put up an additional US$30M too. Hopefully Eclipse is over the certification and start-up hump now. But if really-well-funded Eclipse has to keep going back for more cash the question remains - is there such as thing as "adequately capitalized" for a new company to start production of a new aircraft?

I don't believe that the real issue here is under-capitalization, I think the real problem is that certifying an aircraft and its systems is far too expensive, and, most of all, that it is not money well spent.

I am not the only one who thinks that certification is too expensive. In a conversation with Zenair principal Chris Heintz a few years ago, just after the company had certified the CH2000 as the AMD Alarus, I asked him how much it cost. He said "Too much.". I asked him if he would certify another aircraft. He was quick to answer, "No".

Talking with the folks at Found Aircraft after they had completed certification of the BushHawk produced the same response - certification was too expensive to make it worthwhile.

The governments of both the US and Canada have created enormously complex sets of rules to certify that aircraft are safe. The rules that a manufacturer has to comply with to build even a small and simple aircraft are bizarrely excessive. Read them yourself on the TC website.

Now I know that there was a good reason to introduce standards for manufactured aircraft in the 1930s. Before we had standards manufacturers produced some very dangerous and badly designed aircraft and sold them to the public. All that ended with the introduction of the first light aircraft certification standards, which were sensible, short and relatively easy to comply with. Aircraft became a lot safer as a result of these rules.

The problem was that the bureaucrats figured even more rules would make aircraft even safer and every year more and more rules were added until we came to the insanely complex rules that we have today. The problem is that beyond the early days the data is pretty clear: they haven't made aircraft safer, just a lot more expensive.

It costs a lot of money to pay to have large collections of engineers in Ottawa and Oklahoma City sitting around making up rules and then enforcing them. The end result is the new manufacturer carnage described above. You just can't have enough money to pay for it all. And new aircraft are not safer than the older ones certified to much earlier and simpler versions of the rules.

The problem is that you can't seem to fire all the certification bureaucrats or even find a way to force them to simplify the rules. Every time an aircraft crashes they add more rules in an attempt to prevent that last accident. If you wanted to certify the Cessna 206H in Canada today it would only be allowed to carry one person - no kidding!

I proposed a few years ago that he CARs be fixed in size and that any time TC wanted to add a new word to them that they would have remove an existing word. People laughed, but I wasn't kidding. You can't have rules that just get more and more complex over time - it destroys creativity in the short term, costs too much money in the mid-term and results in the end of the industry in the long term.

Here is a warning - very soon here we are going to need some aircraft engines that do not burn gasoline, jet fuel or diesel. We are going to realize that we are going to need them quite quickly when the price of oil gets too high and people can't afford to fly or run commercial air services. There will be some great research done on fuel cells, electric engines, hydrogen-burning engines and perhaps other things undreamt of today, but the certification hurdles will stop the innovation needed from happening at all. You can't certify a new type of aero engine today that doesn't run on oil-based fuels, in less than 20 years. The result is not going to be pretty.

In a way the certification process is making the skies safer, because it is keeping aircraft out of the skies in the first place or at least new aircraft out of the skies. Ironically this means that potential buyers of those new aircraft may just have to buy an old aircraft instead. They may have little choice. You can't buy a new Adam A500 today, no matter how much you would like to, but you can buy a 40 year old Cessna Skymaster.

There have been several attempts to create ways around the huge roadblock that is our certification rules. The Canadian advanced ultralight rules and the American copycat LSA rules are two examples. Amateur-builts are another.

But without wholesale reform of the certification rules and also of the the bureaucracy that they serve, I am afraid that the future of certified aircraft is going to be a short one.