15 December 2010

Continental Now Owned by the Chinese Government

This story posted on AvWeb yesterday is getting a lot of attention. In it Continental Motors announces that the company has been bought by AVIC International, which is part of Aviation Industry Corporation of China, which is 100% owned by the Government of the People's Republic of China.

Some people are very worried about this, does this mean that foreign interests are taking over the US Aerospace industry? Does this mean that every time you buy something "Made in China" that the Chinese government will take that cash and buy chunks of the USA?

After all the Cessna 162 is made in China by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, which in turn is again owned by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China. Of course that now means that this Chinese aircraft will have a Chinese Continental O-200-D engine in it.

I would contend that this is all nothing new, that it has been going on for a while, just that people haven't been paying attention. After all the Chinese government already owns a sizable part of the Alberta tar sands and most people don't realize that, either. What a lot of people seem to have missed or forgotten includes:

1. Cirrus Aircraft is 58% owned by Crescent Capital, the US arm of the First Islamic Investment Bank of Bahrain (now called Arcapita).

2. Liberty Aerospace is 75% owned by the Kuwait Finance House, a wholly owned subsidiary of Kuwait Finance House of Bahrain.

3. Piper Aircraft is 100% owned by Imprimis which is owned by the Government of Brunei.

4. Epic Aircraft is partly owned by China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co. Ltd., which is part of Aviation Industry Corporation of China once again and thus the Chinese government.

Should you be worried? Maybe, but in most cases if these foreign companies hadn't bought these US companies they might not be around anymore, since Americans didn't seem to want to buy them.

Of course some Canadians find this all a bit amusing and ironic. After years of having US companies running around buying up Canadian businesses the Americans are getting a taste of it. In their press release Continental tries to spin it like this:

"I am excited about the opportunity to work with the AVIC International team,” said Rhett Ross, President of Continental Motors. “AVIC International will greatly strengthen Continental Motors’ market access. In addition, increased investment will accelerate new products, such as Continental Motors’ TD-300 diesel engine, which is well-suited to growing regions given international fuel availability. The transaction will allow Continental Motors to continue to be a global leader in the general aviation piston engine industry."

"The sale of Continental Motors to AVIC International is the right long-term solution for Continental Motors, its workforce and the Gulf Coast Community,” said Robert Mehrabian, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Teledyne. “This sale allows Teledyne to focus on its core businesses, while ensuring a bright future for Continental Motors to build on its long, successful history as a manufacturer of proven piston engines for general aviation aircraft. This will significantly enhance Continental Motors’ opportunity to enter the global market for the sale and service of general aviation piston engines."

The outcome of all of this is anyone's guess, but while I am waiting to see what happens next I should go and practice my Tai Chi....

01 November 2010

A First Look At The Cessna 162 Skycatcher

Skycatcher serial number 16200010 (number ten built) was brought to Ottawa by Anna Pangrazzi of Leggat Aviation, the Canadian Cessna representative. The aircraft was displayed at Rockcliffe Flying Club on 30 October and Ottawa Flying Club on 31 October and a number of rides were given, limited by the inclement weather. I was offered a chance to fly the Skycatcher, but had to decline for ergonomic reasons, as I will describe.

As I have written before, the Skycatcher has attracted a lot of criticism for Cessna's decision to have it built at Shenyang Aircraft Corporation in China, especially when more than half of Cessna's workforce has been laid off and don't look to be coming back to work anytime soon. It probably makes matters worse that Shenyang was scheduled to build 300 Skycatchers in 2010, against an order book of 1200, but will only deliver a total of 30. The Skycatcher is built in China and then boxed and shipped to the USA without being test flown. The aircraft are then mated with engines and avionics and assembled by Yingling Aircraft of Wichita, Kansas, who test fly them then. As a production aircraft Skycatcher number ten was built in such a fashion.

The Skycatcher will inevitably be compared with its predecessor, powered by the same Continental O-200 engine of 100 hp, the Cessna 150. Both are two seat, side-by-side trainers, with a high, strut-braced wing and tricycle landing gear. Both are similar in size, although the 162 has 3 ft 4 in less wingspan and is two feet shorter. Looking at the specs the 162 is lighter with a 1320 lb gross weight, limited by the US Light Sport Aircraft rules, versus the 150's 1600 lb gross weight. The Skycatcher is also a bit faster turning in a top cruise speed of 112 KTAS versus 106 KTAS. Even with its smaller wing of just 120 sq ft (the 150 has 156 sq ft) the Skycatcher has a better climb rate of 890 fpm against 670 fpm for the 150.

Of course the 162 has the famous Cessna name on it and that guarantees it will sell. The current orders of 1200 aircraft attest to the strength of the Cessna brand and if Shenyang delivers the Skycatcher will make up about half of all the Light Sports in the USA in a few years time.

Obviously Cessna has got some things right in the 162 design, although I have to admit that they have also got a few things wrong.

In walking around the aircraft and sitting in it here is what I think they got right. First is the fit and finish. The aircraft has been put together as well as any light aircraft has been. The riveting on the metal structure is well done, the paint is flawless and everything fits together well, except the fibreglass cowling which had some wows in it where it should have been flush. Shenyang have built tons of supersonic fighters and even lots of airliners, they know how to built aircraft well. Sitting on the ramp it looks like a Cessna, the 150 lineage is evident, but with an updated look for 21st century flight training.

The second thing that is done right is access. The old 150 has struts in front of the cabin doors and the doors open until they contact the struts, about 45 degrees. The 162 has the struts behind the doors, which is the right place for them. The doors open hinged from the top and supported by gas struts to avoid damage. These are very nicely wrought and work well. The cabin is well done and features fixed seats and knob-adjustable rudder pedals, glider fashion. The cabin is very similar in size to the 150's, except that instead of the seats touching in the middle they are separated by a good eight inches, giving the occupants a bit of elbow room. The flap handle, yes it has good old manual flaps, thank goodness, occupies the space in between the seats. Cessna says the cabin is 44 inches (112 cm) wide at the shoulders, which is definitely an improvement over the 150. That Cessna can get this wider cabin to move through the air six knots faster on the same horsepower shows that a bit of comfort doesn't have to cost performance.

One thing I think Cessna really got right is the control stick. It is a true centre stick, but it is mounted to a horizontal rod that disappears underneath the instrument panel. In fore-and-aft elevator control it slides in and out as you would expect. Aileron control is not the expected twisting motion, but instead it pivots in an arc as if from a pivot point located on the floor. The motion feels very natural, but best of all, without the floor-mounted stick, it stays clear of your legs throughout its range of motion. I think the stick design is truly inspired.

In my opinion Cessna also got a surprising number of things wrong with this aircraft. First is the name, Skycatcher. I am sure that the Cessna marketing department thinks it goes well with Skyhawk, Skylane, Skywagon and so on, but neither pilots nor the public get it. At the flying club get-together I overheard one wife-of-pilot exclaim, "Its called a Flycatcher, no? Skycatcher, why would they call it that?" It is getting called Flycatcher, Skysnatcher and other less polite things. Even my spellchecker thinks it should be Flycatcher. Overall the name is not that important, most people will probably call it a "162" and leave it at that.

The biggest thing Cessna got wrong has to be the ergonomics of the plane. Out of a group of about 12 pilots who came out to look at the plane, four could not fit in it. We are all taller and the aircraft, with its fixed seat and moveable rudder pedals cannot seat crew over about 6 foot 1 inch without your shins hitting the instrument panel and not being able to properly actuate the rudder pedals. There is room to have installed the seat up to three inches further back, but it is bolted to the floor and that makes this no aircraft for taller people. At 6'4" I could not get in it and COPA Publisher Michel Hell had to decline a flight for the same reason.

The second biggest problem with the aircraft is payload. It doesn't have much. The Skycatcher started life as a proof-of-concept aircraft powered by a Rotax 912S 100 hp engine. The 912 is a great engine, cruising on 4.5 US gal/hr of premium auto fuel, but in surveys the US flight schools didn't like it and so the Continental O-200-D was installed instead. The O-200-D is a special new lightened version of the venerable O-200-A, the first version of which was run in 1947. It produces the same horsepower as the 912S, but burns 5.5 US gal/hr in cruise. Lightened as it is, the O-200-D still weighs 48 pounds more than the 912S does. Today Cessna advertises the 162 as having a standard empty weight of 830 pounds (in the Cessna brochure) and a typical equipped empty weight of 834 lbs (Cessna website). As I had indicated I was very keen to see what the demonstrator has for an empty weight. This aircraft has a basic weight of 833 lbs, to which is added "installed" equipment. It is equipped with the second EFIS tube, fire extinguisher, ELT, wheel pants and sun visors. Yes the basic weight excludes all those things, even the sun visors. Something that is very unusual is that the basic weight does not include the unusable fuel or the engine primer, these are also on the list of "installed" equipment. Considering that the engine cannot be started without the primer and the aircraft cannot be flown without unusable fuel it seems very hard to understand why these are listed under options and not included in the basic weight. The engine oil isn't indicated on the weight and balance either, so presumably it has to be subtracted from the useful load, too.

The "installed" equipment, including the primer and unusable fuel, brought Skycatcher serial number 10 to an amazingly high empty weight of 865 pounds. Fill up the tanks (144 lbs) and this particular 162 will carry 311 lbs of people and baggage, or most likely 304 lbs with some oil in the engine. Compare this to my old Cessna 150, with its empty weight of 1065 lbs, which would carry 408 lbs of people and cargo with full fuel. It is hard not to conclude that the 162 is not really much of a two-seater.

As confirmed in October 2010 with Transport Canada, the Skycatcher is eligible to be registered in Canada in the Limited Class, allowing it to be flown privately with AME sign-offs on the maintenance. It will not be able to be used for flight training until the LSA category comes to Canada. This was a recommendation of the 2005/06 TC Recreational Aviation Working Group and has been accepted by CARAC and Transport Canada, but today it looks to be at least ten years off in implementation, if ever.

Leggat Aviation's Anna Pangrazzi reports that the company has already sold one Skycatcher in Canada to a private owner. Rockcliffe Flying Club has two on conditional order, the condition being that the rules change to allow them to be used for flight training. As I have previously written it would be possible for a flight school to have Cessna 162s as rental aircraft outside their operating certificate, but check-outs and insurance could be an issue.

Overall the 162 is an attractively-designed aircraft with reasonable performance. It looks well made and should prove a good aircraft for private owners in Canada, provided you are small in stature and light in weight.

Some additional information:

*Wikipedia background on the Cessna 162
*Video of the Cessna 162 at the Ottawa Flying Club 31 Oct 10

28 October 2010

Buttonville Closure Announced

After years of speculation the announcement on 27 October 2010 that Buttonville Airport is closing within five years should come as no surprise. The airport has been a money losing venture for years, propped up by subsidies paid by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority the airport is sitting on prime condo land in Markham that is worth billions. The airport is privately owned by the Sifton family and will be turned into "a vibrant, 24 hour, mixed-use community".

The question everyone is asking is where will all the private and corporate aircraft go along with all the associated businesses on the field. There are no easy answers to that question, as the Island Airport is moving small aircraft out in favour of airliners instead and most other airports within any distance of Toronto are either filled to capacity or threatened with closure themselves, like Markham Airport.

AvWeb has run the story indicating that the final nail in the coffin was declining traffic at nearby Toronto Pearson, which caused the GTAA to remove the subsidy it paid to Buttonville to keep it open and light aircraft traffic away from the International.

Here is the press release from Toronto Airways:

Media Release

Date: October 26, 2010

Subject: Future of Airport
For Immediate Publication

Markham, Ontario, CANADA – Toronto Airways Ltd. (TAL) owns and operates the Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport (CYKZ). Their resident businesses include Million Air Toronto - an established FBO of long standing and Toronto Airways Flight Training - the largest flight school in Canada. Others who call Buttonville their base include the Buttonville Flying Club, aviation college operations, corporate and business aviation charter operators, rotor craft schools, private flight operators and aircraft sales/brokerage/management firms.

Announcement of airport future . . .

Derek Sifton, President of TAL has announced today that a business agreement has now been put in place to redevelop the airport lands. Armadale Co. Limited (the parent company to TAL) and The Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited have formed a joint venture for the development of the airport lands.

In speaking to his staff and tenants about the announcement Sifton stated “I can tell you now with certainty that in the coming years, this airport site will be closed for redevelopment under this agreement. While this will not happen tomorrow, it is going forward and will occur sometime over what we expect will be a five year period.”

“This is not the end of TAL” said Mr. Sifton. “We see this as the beginning of a further development and refinement of our business. TAL is and for some time now has been actively pursuing relocation and/or diversification plans for its aviation businesses. These plans include our customers, suppliers and the general and business aviation community. We have a lot to offer and the ability to take what we do to places where it is welcomed and needed. Now that we have concrete information to work with regarding the future of Buttonville, we can proceed on the options and opportunities and hopefully have an agreement soon with something further to announce. In the interim, it is business as usual for all of us. We have great facilities, a great team and we will continue to support this airport in the best possible manner to ensure safety, security and service responsibility.”

- 30 -

For additional information contact Robert Seaman – by telephone at (705) 250-0473 or by email at rwseaman@bizav.ca

Light Sport Aircraft in Canada - Some Background

With the upcoming visit to Ottawa this weekend (30/31 October 2010) of the first Cessna 162 Skycatcher to visit Canada I thought it was probably a good idea to review the rules for this aircraft. The C-162 is being brought to Ottawa on a demo tour by Anna Pangrazzi of the Canadian Cessna representative, Leggat Aviation.

I have written before about the C-162 in April 2008 and outlined some of the controversies surrounding the lightest plane Cessna has ever built:

*The Cessna 162 SkyCatcher in Canada

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

To get some updated background on this visit I contacted Transport Canada to see what the options are in 2010 for registering a C-162 in Canada. Basically not much has changed since 2008. The C-162 was designed to be a US Light Sport Aircraft and that category still does not exist in Canada. Back in 2005/06 the Transport Canada Recreational Aviation Working Group that I chaired recommended that the LSA category be adopted as an additional category in Canada. That report was accepted by TC, but it still hasn't happened and is unlikely to happen for many years to come. The reasons for that are complex, but in essence the increased workload created by the attempt by TC to allow the business aircraft sector to self-regulate and the requirement to bring all that work back in house has created so much work for TC that all other initiatives have been put on hold, including bringing LSA to Canada.

Otherwise the Cessna 162 is still a manufactured aircraft with a gross weight of 1320 lbs that doesn't fit into the basic ultralight, advanced ultralight, certified or amateur-built categories in Canada. It fits the Limited Class, but in the past TC senior staff expressed some reservations about putting the C-162 in it. The class was intended for long out of production warbirds and not new mass production aircraft. That reluctance is gone and the way seems cleared for registering imported C-162s as Limited Class aircraft under the new Limited Class rules. Putting the aircraft in the Limited Class means that maintenance must be signed off by an AME and that the aircraft cannot be used for commercial use, including flight training, although aerial work is allowed (banner towing, crop spraying). There isn't much aerial work that this small aircraft could be used for, however.

This all means that the C-162 is a viable aircraft for private ownership in Canada, but not flight school use. The requirement for AME maintenance will make the costs higher than buying a similar AULA, however.

It is also possible for flight schools to use it as a rental aircraft for solo rentals outside their flying training operating certificate, but not for flight training. I am not sure how a school would check someone out on the aircraft, though!

Meanwhile some of the controversies surrounding the 162 that I wrote about in April 2008 still remain. The outsourcing of production to Shenyang Aircraft in China is actually more controversial today than it was in 2008. Back then it was justified by the company because Cessna was out of plant capacity, but since then they have laid off more than half their workers and seem unlikely to hire many of them back in the near future. It is much harder to justify contracting out to China when more than half your own workforce is out of work.

The other controversy remaining is the 162's payload carrying capacity. Cessna still reports the 162's standard empty weight as 834 lbs, which, with full fuel (144 lbs), leaves only 342 lbs for people and baggage, making it not much of a two-seater. I am very keen to see the empty weight on the demo plane and see if it makes that empty weight or if the production bird is actually heavier or lighter. Hopefully we will all have a chance to check it out this weekend, VFR weather permitting.

30 August 2010

The 2010 Classic Air Rallye

August 28 and 29 was the 2010 edition of this event, now in its fifth year. Even though it is billed as an "Air Rallye" it is really a small airshow and is held at Ottawa/Rockcliffe Airport, right next to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, a great location and right in the City of Ottawa.

The show promo bills the show with these words: "Unlike traditional "Boom and Zoom" air shows, this event takes us back to a quieter, and in some ways, more gentle age. Our primary focus is on providing an attractive venue and event for owners and pilots of vintage and classic aircraft who appreciate the chance to bring out their treasures for our mutual appreciation."

This year marked a first for the Rallye, it was the first year that they didn't get at least one day of rain or otherwise suffer from bad weather. Late August is usually a pretty dry time of year in Eastern Ontario, but the Rallye's chosen time slot on the last weekend before Labour Day just seems to have been jinxed by the climate change demons in the past. But not this year, Saturday saw clear skies, light winds and 28C. Sunday was identical, but hit 30C. It seemed like an ideal year for the Rallye: ideal location in the city, ideal summer weather and even lots of parking and transit connections. And yet the people didn't come in very large numbers. I didn't get an official count on the Saturday when I was there, but I would be surprised if 500 people showed up. For most of the day the organizers, security and participants outnumbered the visitors. You can see the lack of crowds in the video that I shot of the show.

The Rallye used to compete with the bigger show at Ottawa/Carp Airport, but that show died a couple of years ago. The Air Rallye attendance this year contrasted strongly with the Vintage Wings Open House and Airshow that was held at Gatineau Airport on the 4 July weekend. Reports indicate that there were 25,000 people there for that event. I even confirmed that with an ice cream vendor who was at both events. At Gatineau he sold $25,000 worth of ice cream in a couple of hours, at Rockcliffe he was lonely, despite the warm day and sunshine. Both shows largely featured the same aircraft from Vintage Wings, although the Snowbirds did perform at Gatineau. Since everyone in Canada has seen them so many times they don't seem to be a big draw on their own anymore. The Air Rallye was well advertised, too, with lots of posters up all around town, newspaper and radio ads and more. Fewer people live close to Gatineau Airport than Rockcliffe, so it is hard to understand why turn out for the Air Rallye was so low.

I asked a number of people at the Air Rallye where they thought the people were. COPA President and CEO Kevin Psutka suggested maybe the weather was too nice and that with fall around the corner most people went to the cottage or the beach instead. He thought that an overcast day might have brought out more people. Some other pilots posited that the show is too slow paced, with only fly-bys and no jets (other than one very quiet Challenger) or aerobatics, so it doesn't grab much attention.

The biggest factor suggested by most pilots I talked to was the price. The Air Rallye costs $20 per person to get in, with kids under 12 free and includes admission to the museum as well. This compares favourably to airshows like Abbotsford, which was $35 per person this year, but then Abbotsford is a much, much bigger show. A number of people mentioned that the July Gatineau show was free, which is hard to compete with. It is possible that if people were going to go to one airshow in the area that they chose "free".

Airshow attendance this year seems to be generally down, with Oshkosh reporting far fewer visitors, although due to the way the organizers have reported numbers there in the past it is hard to compare Oshkosh attendance figures from year to year. Certainly people who did go to Oshkosh this year indicated that there were not very many people there, compared to past years.

So is it just that the Air Rallye is too small, too expensive and is competing with a free airshow, or is is something else, like the economy, that kept people away?

23 June 2010

YOW Volunteer Airport Watcher Fired

For seven years Stephanie Nicholds was a volunteer with the CYOW Airport Watch, but not anymore.

That group was originally made up of "plane spotters", the people who hang around airport fences watching airliners and noting registrations. After 911 the airport authority had an inclination to kick them all off the airport as a "security risk", but cooler heads prevailed and the local airport police convinced the airport authority that this group of people, who like hanging around fences with binoculars, could be a great resource for keeping an eye on things and improving security. So they got organized and the plane spotters got some identifying car door stickers, some hats and a phone number to call if they saw anything suspicious. Everybody won, except perhaps potential terrorists looking to sneak onto the airport. So far so good.

The fly in the ointment has been that Airport Watch chair Nelson Plamondon has had problems with Airport Watchers in the past saying uninformed things to the press. You see the problem is that when something goes wrong on the airport there is often an Airport Watcher on hand to see it. They become the only source for eyewitness information for the press. Plamondon's policy is that Airport Watchers should not make statements to the press. That is what got Stephanie Nicholds fired as a volunteer Airport Watcher this week.

Stephanie Nicholds just happened to be on hand on Wednesday 16 June 2010 when a United Airlines Express Embraer 145 went 500 feet (150 metres) off the end of the runway on landing and ended up in a ditch. The runway was wet and so when the press cornered her Nicholds said that the plane "was hydroplaning down the runway, and all of a sudden the airplane just ditched into the grass."

The Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport Authority accused Nicholds of a "serious breach" of the rules. It was the airport authority who passed the problem onto Plamondon for "corrective action."

Plamondon indicated that ever since a similar incident two years ago volunteers have been warned not to speak to the media, something he has been "constantly reminding" them of ever since.

For her part Nicholds thinks everyone has overreacted and stated to CBC: "I think they made a big mistake taking me off the watch. I just hope they can reconsider."

For many aviation and legal people this is probably an "open and shut" situation. Uninformed witnesses shouldn't be telling the press what happened in an aircraft accident, that is the Transportation Safety Board's job. Many posters on CBC.ca see this as a human rights issue, however, that the constitution guarantees freedom of speech, especially when this person was not even an employee, but just a volunteer.

Some of the most-agreed comments:

"what's to prevent her, as a citizen of a free country with supposedly free speech, from standing outside the airport perimeter and continuing to report what she sees, to the media, the aviation authorities, or whoever else she wants to speak to?"

"I can't find any clue, where the authority finds "serious breach" ? Stephanie expressed to the media what she witnessed, there is nothing hidden. This is ridiculous !"

"Yes you should never talk to the media until the powers that be get a chance to put a spin of all sorts on whatever happens. That way the powers can really confuse the issue and make lots of money trying to unravel the mess they created."

Perhaps the point here is really that if the plane was hydroplaning then the airport might be liable for not designing or maintaining the runway better to prevent the standing water hydroplaning requires. Nicholds may have helped make a court case against the airport authority that she volunteers for. That is except for one detail - she didn't see the aircraft hydroplaning, that happens between the tire and the runway. She did see the aircraft go off the end of the runway, but hydroplaning is a conclusion that will have to be determined or refuted by the tire and skid mark evidence and probably the Flight Data Recorder as well. Hydroplaning isn't an observation that can be made by an untrained witness outside the fence hundreds of yards away.

What do you think - should airport volunteers be allowed to exercise freedom of speech to speak to the press, even on subjects they are uninformed about or should they have to agree to keep quiet to volunteer there?

CBC article: Airport volunteer fired for talking to press

Aviation Going To The Dogs?

I just received an e-mail today from Bob McDonald of COPA Flight 124 Cobden. Bob distributed it far and wide:

"I'm sorry but this is a funny page.... I love my dog but the indignity of
this stuff would make her bite airplanes ;>)
I honestly never knew they made this stuff..I assumed owners custom made it for their pets."

The page he is referring to is Aircraft Spruce's canine aviation products page which as you can see includes doggy hearing protectors, bark bags (don't ask), bandanas, and even a bumper sticker that says "Dog is my Co-pilot".

There is a doggy oxygen mask for which the description says "Previously, pet owners who want to fly at altitude with their canine family members have had few choices. This has all changed thanks to AEROX who have developed an aviation based supplemental oxygen system for pets. An estimated 60 million households have pets and many of those households fly and own aircraft."

Bob thinks it is funny because his dog wouldn't put up with it. I think it just shows that many people treat their dogs better than they treat other people.

Is this controversial, silly or something else?

18 June 2010

Avgas In Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Recent news from the world of avgas has not been good and I believe that the parties involved have collectively painted themselves into a corner here. Let me explain:

This all started because the US Environmental Protection Agency is under pressure to get the tetra-ethyl lead out of aviation fuel. There is no doubt this has to happen as there is ample evidence that lead is a neurotoxin and its presence in avgas is causing measurable brain damage in children. It has to go away and soon and the EPA is going to make it go away soon, too. The debate is over what to replace it with.

Teledyne Continental Motors was concerned that no one was stepping up to the plate to act as a leader in this problem, so they have made a decision to go with 94UL fuel. 94UL is essentially 100LL with the lead removed. It can be produced today very easily and for probably about the same price as 100LL. The only problem is that while about 80% of the existing engines out there can run on it, that leaves about 20% that can't. 94UL would be great for the engines that were designed for the old 80-87 avgas as the lead in 100LL is hard on them and they don't need the octane. Continental's response to the 20% of owners of aircraft that can't use 94UL is that there will be kits to lower compression ratios to continue to use existing engines, but probably with lower gross weights to compensate. Owners will also be able to upgrade to larger engines, for instance trading in an old Continental O-470 for a Continental O-520 to maintain horsepower.

Textron Lycoming has responded by rejecting 94UL and betting on 100 unleaded instead. One form of 100 unleaded is G100UL which is being developed by General Aviation Modifications and is intended to be a new fuel developed from existing refinery products that will replace the lead with other more exotic, but safer, compounds. Some aircraft type clubs, representing high-powered engine aircraft owners, including the American Bonanza Society, the Malibu Mirage Owners and Pilots Association and the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association have formed the Green 100 Octane Coalition to advocate for a 100 octane solution over 94UL as they believe that anything less will ground their aircraft. The downside of G100UL is that right now it looks like it will cost quite a bit more at the pumps than 94UL would or than 100LL currently does, perhaps double. This fuel would be usable by all present piston aircraft.

There are also some advocates who say "why not make both 94UL and 100UL?"

Unfortunately I think all of these approaches are dead ends.

Lycoming has a good point in its arguments against 94UL, indicating that the loss of power with 94 octane fuel will severely limit the solutions for more powerful aircraft. Lycoming's General Manager Michael Kraft stated in June 2010 that 94UL would be a mistake that could cost the aviation industry billions. The aircraft type clubs note that while the aircraft that need 100 octane are only 20% of the fleet, they buy 80% of the avgas and that if they are sacrificed that the remaining fuel sales will not be enough to keep the airports open and that the result will be a collapse of general aviation as not economically sustainable.

The main problem with G100UL is the cost. 100LL avgas is currently about $1.30 per litre in the Ottawa area. Look for G100UL to start out at about double that and go up from there as the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the global flat production of oil in the face of increasing demand bring on more high gas prices. In 2008 the US price of avgas hit about $7 per gallon and it seriously curtailed flying at that price. I think that an initial price of about $10 per US gallon is a non-starter for G100UL, but it is likely to cost about that at first and only go up from there. Those kind of prices will seriously hurt general aviation as quickly as the 94UL solution will. That makes neither a good answer to the lead dilemma.

The solution of "why not make both?" is also a non-starter. Airports are today equipped with just one avgas tank. Stocking two grades of avgas would require a huge investment in fuel tanks and pumps and that is just not going to happen. The other side of the coin is that avgas is essentially a very niche market item, the refiners are not going to want to make and distribute more than one kind.

This entire leaded fuel issue has been completely ignored by the aviation industry for more than twenty years, as they were all hoping it would just go away. It hasn't gone away and now the regulators are forcing change in a hurry when long-term planning should have been done by the aviation industry decades ago. Rather than letting the engine manufacturers fight over this issue, we need a single forum where the pilot groups, type clubs, engine and airframe makers can all get together with the regulators, including TC, the FAA and ASTM who control the fuel specs, and work out a solution that won't exclude lots of aircraft and drive people out of flying and also won't greatly increase costs and also drive people out of flying.

09 June 2010

Why Am I hearing so much weak radio work?


“ABC Downwind 27 full stop.” (Ident changed to protect the pilot)

That’s the whole call! It was made by a pilot in the circuit at Rockcliffe Airport a week and half ago. In fact, this pilot made several calls on Rockcliffe’s ATF and never once mentioned that he was at Rockcliffe Airport. There aren’t many airports in the area using 123.5 MHz.

While this guy was circuiting Rockcliffe another pilot was arriving. The guy arriving was calling “Smith Falls Traffic...” Ironically the first guy corrected the second pilot, telling him he was at Rockcliffe not Smith Falls.

Another time there was a student and instructor doing circuits in a Cessna 150. As they were on their take-off role off runway 09 another pilot 3 miles east called saying he intended to join straight in to the downwind for zero nine. As the 150 climbed out he called he arriving pilot and informed him that he believed there would be a conflict if he continued straight in to downwind. As it happened there was no conflict as the arriving pilot was well ahead of the 150 in the circuit.

It sounded to me like the 150 pilot was telling the arriving pilot that he was not allowed to join the circuit straight in on the downwind leg. The CARs don’t support this view, but they do require arrivals to avoid traffic already in the circuit. Still I believe the student and instructor could just as easily extended their climb off zero nine to accommodate the arrival which they stated they saw. In fact, that is what I likely would have done. Unless I am significantly faster, my preference is to have traffic ahead of me where I can see and avoid it.

Finally the C150 pilot, I’m guessing the student, spoke so quickly that he mumbled all the words together so they became incomprehensible. In three or four circuits he always did a full stop, a 180 and back tracked to the button, but I never understood their intention to do that once. I would not have wanted to follow them in the circuit.


17 May 2010

406 ELT Regs Create a Stir

As recently posted on the Flight 8 home page as well as on the COPA website itself it looks like the 406 ELT issue has been decided by the Minister of Transport in favour of the military and not in the favour of small aircraft owners.

The story was also picked up by AvWeb this week: 406 ELTs To Be Required To Fly In Canada By Russ Niles, Editor-in-Chief where he says "After a brief reprieve, Canada's Transport Minister, John Baird, is reportedly ready to sign a regulation that will require most aircraft operating in Canadian airspace to have 406 MHz ELTs. The rule will apply to foreign-registered aircraft, and those not equipped will not be allowed to enter Canadian airspace."

Niles points out that this rule will not only affect all the Canadian aircraft that have to equip, but also US aircraft that will not be allowed into Canadian airspace without a 406 ELT. This will certainly affect traffic to Alaska and US tourism in Canada.

What do you think of Transport Minister Baird's decision to require 406 ELTs? Will it affect your flying?

01 April 2010

Seditious Circuits

AvWeb's Paul Bertorelli has decided he has had enough of student pilots being taught to fly circuits the size of Florida and so his response has been a sarcastic video trying to get pilots to straighten up and fly right. The video is well worth four minutes of your time.

Personally my philosophy of huge circuits has always been: "If you have an engine failure on downwind and the subsequent landing leaves you more than a day's walk from the airport then your circuit was too big".

Flight 8's Ruth Merkis-Hunt was a flight instructor for many years and here is what she has to say on the subject:

"Based on my own experience, too many flight instructors lack the knowledge and confidence to do circuits the way Bertorelli advocates. Even when I was learning to fly and to become an instructor, the message on all those horrible accidents pilots get into by turning at too steep a bank angle too close to the runway was drilled into our overawed heads."

"Another thing to consider is that flight schools that hire these instructors are out to make a buck, anything else is gravy. That means that anything that can keep a student flying longer will bring in more money for the school. Why would a school advocate nice tight circuits if by extending the downwind so that final approach is initiated in a different time zone that school can squeeze yet more money out of a student?"

"There are also some instructors who just enjoy being on a long final approach; perhaps seeing that as a way to tie up the circuit so that they are the focus of all the attention of ATC. A funny personality change takes place once a pilot evolves into a CAT IV instructor. Suddenly, sense and sensibility evaporate to be replaced by cockiness and stupidity (a substitute for the lack of confidence these barely qualified instructors still have). It is those observations that often lead to the same accidents that flight schools use to drive the point home to novices that circuits must be several nautical miles in length and breadth."

"There is a lot more room for more sarcastic flight instructing videos but they need to be a little more polished. The "interruptions" by the "legal department" were pretty lame, imho. Otherwise, as I said, there is a lot of room for a really cool series. We'll call it, "Dumb sh*t instructors do"."

30 March 2010

CYOW Noise Management Committee


Vickers VC10

As you may know, I am itinerant GA’s representative on CYOW’s noise management committee. CYOW is required to have a noise management committee under provisions in its lease with the Federal Government. I believe it also want to seriously deal with noise issues emanating from its activities.

The fact is that compared to other Canadian airports Ottawa has few complaints about noise, averaging about 50 per year. In fact, aircraft movements are up slightly and noise complaints per movement therefore are down slightly.

There have been spikes related to single events, for example in February of this year a Vickers VC10 took off on runway 14 at 03:40 and generated 10 complaints from all quadrants, even Gatineau, Quebec.  This event will see the banning of Stage II noise aircraft during the over night hours. There was a spike in complaints about light aircraft which has since been resolved by the published departure procedures from runway 22 which tends to keep aircraft over farm land rather than residential neighbourhoods.

It is no surprise that First Air’s older B727s generated most complaints, while their B737-200 also gets significant complaints. Surprisingly, Cessna’s generate a significant number of complaints too, one  year Cessna’s had 20 complaints. Unfortunately the airport authority’s statistics do not differentiate between Citations and C150s. It is likely safe to assume these were training flight.

Also, not surprising, departures from runway 25 create the most complaints. Departures from runway 32 also generates significant complaints. In fact, the complaints seem to follow runway use patterns at the airport. As noted light aircraft doing circuits also generate significant complaints.

In general, arrivals result in fewer complaints. Currently as part of the Windsor Montreal air space studies, Nav Canada is looking at  separation between arrivals from the west (Toronto) and departures off Runway 25. To do this they may increase the number of arrivals transiting the city along 417 from Kanata to Orleans on downwind for runway 25. The goal is to allow arrivals to descend at idle power from the top of their descent to near final approach. At the same time, departures toward the west may be able to climb unrestricted by the arrival stream. The result of such changes would see more, say 55% of arrivals over Orleans at 4000 feet. Currently about 18% of arrivals over fly Orleans on base leg for runway 25. This will not necessarily be nosier since many will be at idle power until they turn final.

I raised a minor concern that the length of entry in the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS) for Ottawa is getting too long and maybe there could be some thought to reducing it. Examples that I mentioned that lengthen the CFS entries seemed to relate to procedures for the based flight training operations and not itinerant GA pilots. Also, I noted that the item on sand and FOD seemed more appropriate as a Caution rather than a Procedure, especially since the Pro section is used to reflect regulatory sanctions and few other than the military do formation take-offs.

If anyone has any comments or concerns on Noise Abatement Procedures at Ottawa please do not hesitate to pass them along to me and I will bring them to the attention of the committee.

Let’s be part of the solution!

22 February 2010

Bush Caddy and the Aviation Safety Letter

COPA Flight 8 recently received a disturbing story about Bush Caddy manufacturer Canadian Light Aircraft Sales and Service (CLASS) and how they were unfairly maligned by the Transportation Safety Board with the help of Transport Canada's Aviation Safety Letter.

Unlike TC and the TSB I have checked these facts out with their originators and have received permission to post these items.

Notice from RAA
by Gary Wolf, President RAA

How many of you have read the 1-2010 issue of the Aviation Safety Letter? There was an article in it penned by an unidentified TSB author who had an axe to grind against amateur aircraft. His article described several structural failures in Bushcaddy aircraft that had resulted in fatalities.

BushCaddy was immediately inundated with phone calls and emails from angry customers who had read the article, especially the part that stated that the wing spars were undersize and that BushCaddy recommended changing the shear webs to .080" thick material.

The problem is that none of the planes in question were actually Bushcaddy's but the TSB author was so intent on making his point that he never checked the facts. There has never been a fatality in BushCaddy nor has there ever been a structural failure. The part about the heavier shear web was the opinion of the TSB author, but he has never identified himself nor has TSB stated whether he has any engineering credentials.

RAA contacted BushCaddy and then the editor of the Aviation Safety Letter to get to the bottom of this and found that the ASL editor had not checked any facts either. We then prevailed upon TSB to correct the situation, and upon the ASL to delete the offending article and in its place put a correction and an apology.

ASL removed the article two days ago and TSB rewrote the article but the damage has already been done to Bushcaddy. ASL intended to wait for the next quarterly issue to make the correction but that is nearly two months away, so we pressured them to write a correction and an apology, and to post these asap. For the sake of Bushcaddy I hope that this will happen this week.

If you hear of anyone slagging Bushcaddy please correct the person on this matter. Aviation is in a down market and this unconscionable mistake by TSB, compounded by inaction by the editor of the ASL, has seriously damaged a good Canadian manufacturer who does real engineering and testing on their products.

We have a right to expect accuracy from both TSB and the ASL and both entities have seriously compromised their credibility.

Sean Gilmore, CLASS President and Designer, writes about Gary Wolf's letter:

Yes unfortunately the facts are even worse than all that. Not only have they harmed our company and the Bush Caddy products but they have caused much unnecessary concern among CADI owners. CADI although they were pretty unsophisticated have produced a strong reliable product, many of them have flown for 10 years and more without so much as requiring a single replacement part. The L160 is perhaps the weak sister of the fleet, the wings in our judgment did require beefing up, this was our first major mod to the CADI design.

Notwithstanding however, the L160s built by CADI have been flying for years without mishap of a structural nature.The first incident referred to in the SL i.e. C-FYUB in 2003 has never been clearly shown to be the result of an in flight wing failure. We feel it was included in the article simply for effect. The question has to be asked, if it were an inflight failure why has it taken seven years for the TSB to report it as such.

The second incident however is a different matter, this aircraft had as told me by the owner, shown evidence of wing movement early on. To correct this movement the owner made a part of his own design. The part did stop the evidence of movement the owner however could not identify the cause of the movement. Neither CADI nor CLASS were made aware of the part change. This did fit the purpose of the SL but was ignored.

Another issue demonstrating the overall lack of focus in the SL is the inclusion of the Eco Flyer in the context of "Major Modification to Amateur Built Aircraft", this really baffles me. That aircraft was a prototype and first of its kind returning from Oshkosh and flown by the owner of the manufacturing company why include this at all? The impression I'm left with is, this letter represents an overall biased opinion with regards to Amateur Built Aircraft on the part of TSB and the care less attitude towards our industry by Transport. TC attempts to beg off from any responsibility, by its "we printed it as is" without editing "in good faith" sort of a National Inquirer approach to publishing.

And here is the response to all of this from Don Sherritt, Director, Standards, Transport Canada

Dear Mr. Gilmore

I am writing regarding the most recent issue of the Aviation Safety Letter (ASL). As the Director of Standards, I am responsible for the publication of Transport Canada's ASL.

The ASL is a key way of informing the aviation community of various aviation issues, including safety matters raised by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB). Consequently, the reprinting of information such as the TSB's Aviation Safety Advisories has been a common practice.

The article titled "Major Modifications to Amateur Built Aircraft", printed in Aviation Safety Letter Issue 1/2010, was a direct reprint of the TSB's Aviation Safety Advisory A09Q0071-D1-A1. As such, its content was unedited by Transport Canada and was reprinted by the department in good faith.

After consulting with the TSB on this matter, the department acknowledges that none of the aircraft mentioned in the subject advisory and ASL article were actual Bush Caddy aircraft.

Due to the identified errors in the subject advisory and ASL article, Transport Canada has removed the article from all web versions of the ASL, and the next print edition will include a retraction notice.

Please be assured that we have taken all necessary actions to address this matter.

Don Sherritt
Director, Standards
Transport Canada

20 February 2010

Vintage Wings Ground School announcement

We recently received this announcement from Vintage Wings:

There are two places where you can become a Harvard Graduate. One, we've heard, is somewhere in Massachusetts, the other is right here at the Canada Aviation Museum and the Vintage Wings of Canada facility.

Have you ever wanted to know how the landing gear on a Harvard retracts, locks, or drops? How best to do an aileron roll? Or how to do a crosswind landing in this heavy tail-dragger?

Possibly you have always wanted to know how the wings fold on a Corsair? Or how to start 18 massive cylinders and a 13 foot diameter prop that weighs more than small car? Or how to fly an approach with 20 feet of nose blocking your view to the runway? Or damn it... Just how the heck do you even get in that big beast?

Perhaps you wondered why the Curtiss-Wright P-40 Kittyhawk made such a good ground attack aircraft. And what's it like to fly behind an Allison? Why that crazy landing gear retraction sequence? Want to know first hand how it was to fly with the legendary Stocky Edwards?

Well, you can find the answers to these questions and much, much more in our new series of Warbird Ground Schools. Vintage Wings of Canada has teamed up with the Canada Aviation Museum to bring three information packed two-day ground schools dedicated to the idiosyncrasies and habits of three of the most important aircraft of the Second World War. Get first-hand knowledge from the pilots who fly and manage three of Vintage Wings of Canada's most important aircraft - the North American Harvard, the Goodyear FG-1D Corsair and the P-40N Kittyhawk.

Starting in late February, 2010, with the Harvard, these ground schools will offer students a range of experience, first hand knowledge, technical detail and shared passion. Each ground school will begin at the Canada Aviation Museum with a full day of presentations, discussions and audio-visual material. As well coffee breaks and lunch will be provided to fuel you as you learn. On the second day, we move across the Ottawa River to the Vintage Wings of Canada facility for additional presentations, a personal cockpit checkout and then a photo session with you and your warbird. At the end of each ground school, attendees will each receive a certificate of course completion.

For more information about these Ground School courses and tuitions. please contact:

E-mail: info@vintagewings.ca

Telephone: 819.669.9603

31 January 2010

"The last fighter pilot's already been born"

Career fields change all the time. Getting into the manufacture of buggy whips in 1910 turned out to be a poor move, like training to be a travel agent is today. Careers in aviation are undergoing huge changes right now, too. Some of that is driven by technological advances, but much will be driven by other factors, like much higher fuel costs in the future.

With the upcoming career-focussed National Aviation Day at the Canada Aviation Museum scheduled for 23 February 2010, this seemed like a good time to listen to what some of the experts have to say on aviation careers.

Mike Nelson is a retired fighter pilot who now teaches aviation at the University of North Dakota, a school well-known for its aviation programs. But he isn't teaching fighter pilots at UND, he is teaching unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Nelson says: "The last fighter pilot's already been born. The last fighter is being built. And these [unmanned aircraft systems] are just getting started." Like a number of people these days he thinks the F-35 Lightning II is going to be the last manned fighter aircraft built, at least in the west. Even today in Iraq and Afghanistan many of the missions it would be doing, if it were already in squadron service, are being done by unmanned aircraft. This is only set to increase in the future until all military combat aircraft are unmanned, probably by sometime around 2030.

Why is this so inevitable? I think there are four reasons: Cost, risk, capabilities and fuel.

There is no doubt that UAS cost less to do a military mission. Even today battlefield missions, like photo recce, which would have been done by a F-18 or SR-71 in the past, are being done by UAS with cameras. It doesn't take a $60M aircraft to take really high quality photos, these can be done by UAS weighing just a few lbs, because it doesn't have to be big enough and armoured enough to carry a crew.

Risk is a big factor in combat missions. During the Vietnam War tens of thousands of American aviators were killed, including 2202 Huey pilots. Today missions in Iraq are being flown by pilots and crews sitting on the ground in the US. If their aircraft gets shot down they still drive home to a warm meal at the end of their shift. The risk to the enemy is high while the risk to your own aviators is minimal and that gives your forces a huge advantage. And, of course the fewer casualties your side suffers, the less outcry there will be on the home front, too.

Capabilities are critical advantages to the UAS as well. Many combat systems in use today, like the Predator and Reaper give more than 24 hour loiter times, meaning that the troops on the ground have constant air coverage and recce photos available. These UAS operate up high and being small and quiet are out of visual and aural detection range. Crews sitting at home in the States or even in theatre just change shifts every eight hours and the aircraft stays on station over the battle doing its job. Taking photos and video is one thing, but current systems loiter with antitank missiles ready for a target to appear, the capability is in the air now and the ground troops can have a target hit within seconds when they need that. Upcoming UAS fighters will be much smaller than any manned aircraft they are fighting and they will be able to manoeuvre at 24g or better, making the bigger and less maneuverable manned aircraft a sitting duck for them.

Fuel is going to be an increasing issue in the future, as oil prices are set to rise once again like they did in 2008. Small recce UAS are being flown today with electric engines and with their small weight can remain aloft many hours on one charge. As a bonus their electric power makes them silent, even at low altitudes and gives them zero heat signature. Even larger UAS that run on gasoline are often powered by Rotax 912s or other smaller and efficient engines that burn only a few gallons per hour. No comparison with an F-18's fuel consumption.

So for military aviation this means that a pilot will be someone who sits on the ground and manages a semi-autonomous UAS half way around the world, controlled by satellite data-link. The face of military aviation is changing and along with it the traditional fighter pilot will soon go the way of the buggy-whip manufacturer. For the military this means more combat capability at much less cost and risk, which is what they want. It also means the passing of the career of fighter pilot into history and its replacement with the less romantic and glamorous "UAS Operator".

What does all this spell for civil aviation? Probably at least two things. First off the more obvious factor is that we are going to have to give up more airspace to unmanned aircraft operations. Right now they can't see and avoid other traffic and so they operate procedurally separated from other traffic, under IFR clearances or in their own reserved airspace. Here in Canada we haven't lost much airspace to UAS operations yet, but in the US they certainly have civil flight restrictions when UAS are flying.

The second factor is a bit more subtle. I think that a lot of the younger people who get into flying do so because they are hoping for careers like airline pilot and yes, fighter pilot. Few actually go on to be fighter pilots, but it is the glamour of the fighter pilot that draws at least some of them into aviation in the first place. With that gone we will need to find a new draw to keep young people interested in getting into aviation. Telling them they can aspire to sit in an office and watch a robot airplane flying itself half way round the world is not going to inspire young people to want to learn to fly. We are going to need a new approach.