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Congress Actually Getting Stuff Done…at Least in Aviation

Most small aircraft, including some twins, would fall under the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act.

Most small aircraft, including some twins, would fall under the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act.

It has been quite a productive couple of weeks for certain members of Congress.  Despite their complete inability to do anything related to the major issues, it is comforting to see that they can take care of at least some of the smaller ones.

Maybe I only noticed because these actions are related to a smaller area I care about, but either way it is great to see action being taken that should help out aviation.  I am glad to see that the General Aviation Caucus is doing their jobs to promote an industry that is essential to the people they represent.

Last month the Small Airplane Revitalization Act was signed into law.  As I understand it, this law will help make it easier, and thus cheaper, to bring new planes to market.  This is an important step in the direction of making flying cheaper and more accessible.  The law is designed to give manufacturers an incentive to develop new aircraft to bring to market that will include newer technologies, while not having so much red tape to gut through to get there.  The fact that the bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate says a lot about how badly this law was needed, and hopefully the impact for good that it will have.

The second piece of legislation, which was brought forward this week, is the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act which I have somewhat mixed feelings about.  On the surface, I think it is a great bill as it also aims to eliminate the some of the bureaucracy and general hoop jumping that the government seems to enjoy.

In short, the law would make it legal for a pilot to fly an aircraft weighing less than 6,000 pounds, with six seats or less, below 14,000 feet, and at speeds less than 250 knots as long as they possess a current state driver’s license and meet the medical standards involved in attaining that license.  It all sounds pretty reasonable to me.

In an article from AOPA, who initially petitioned for the law along with EAA, they make the comparison to driving a car, and that many large SUVs are in the same weight and passenger range so the risk should be viewed similarly.  I would generally agree, though I would say there are inherent risks of flying that make it more dangerous, or at least make it bear a little more scrutiny.  The act will be brought before Congress in January so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

In keeping with my recent theme of growing the pilot population I can’t help but think that this will have a positive impact on that movement, however, I think it is still just another short-term fix.  This bill will definitely benefit much of the older pilot population who either is unable to obtain a Class III medical, or is just tired of the hassle of doing so, and that is great.

However, I don’t think it will really make that much of a difference for the young population, which is where we need to see the growth more than ever.  I haven’t talked to a single peer who said they didn’t fly because of obtaining, or retaining, their medical.  I am sure there are some out there, and it is great to be able to help them, but I just don’t see the long-term impact that it will have.

That being said, anything that we can do to reduce costs, and probably equally important, to reduce BS is good for the industry.  The young generation is not very patient and understanding, so streamlining all of the processes from aircraft certification to obtaining a medical certificate is going to help.

But the challenge still remains of getting them out to the airport and interested to get the whole thing started.

December 11, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

35 Years of Deregulation of the Airlines

The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 has had a tremendous impact on the airline industry over the past 35 years.  Beyond the airline industry it has had a tremendous impact on countless other industries as well, most notably the tourism industry.  Before deregulation flying was mostly for the elite or business travelers who could afford the exorbitant fares that existed.  The relationship between the airlines and the CAB had created an excessively inflated system that made the airlines a lot of money, but also kept flying out of reach for most people.

DeregulationThe transportation industry was the first major industry to deregulate starting in the early 1970s, followed eventually by the telecommunications industry, energy industry, and most recently the financial industry.  All of these actions had similar goals at their heart: increased competition leading to a reduction in prices.  The success of each of these industries as it relates to deregulation can be debated all day, but as it relates to the airlines, it is hard to ignore the benefits that have come from deregulation.

Taking a look at the chart on the right shows just how successful deregulation has been.  Granted, you could probably make a chart that is equally convincing regarding the areas that may be seen as failures.  You can even attribute some of those numbers to the natural growth of any industry, but much of that growth would not have come without deregulation.

In an article written for Businessweek, former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer discussed some of the impacts of airline deregulation.  Perhaps the most telling statistic he presented was this, “In 1974 the cheapest round-trip New York-Los Angeles flight (in inflation-adjusted dollars) that regulators would allow: $1,442. Today one can fly that same route for $268.”

There can be no more clear indication that airline deregulation has been successful than reading numbers like that.  While it is true that ticket prices have risen recently, most of that can be blamed on two things: rising fuel prices, and the creation of TSA.  One of those you can’t do much about, but the other one is, surprise surprise, more government regulation.  I realize security and fare regulation are not the same thing, but it is no surprise that when the government steps in costs are bound to increase.  Just look at the Affordable Care Act.

The aviation industry is as volatile as they come, and we will continue to see prices fluctuate just like any other industry.  Continued energy issues along with the retirement of the baby boomers will likely have impacts that we cannot anticipate, not to mention security concerns and the introduction of more UAVs to the national airspace system.  One thing is for sure though, love it or hate it airline deregulation has lowered ticket prices and made air travel a reality for a lot more people.

November 6, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Aviation Community Just One More Victim of Media Imposing Their Will On UAV Debate

It’s no secret that I am a big supporter of UAVs and all of their varied uses.  There are very real issues that need to be addressed when it comes to airspace usage, and how they will fit into the National Airspace System.  That being said, there are other issues being covered in the media that appear to not really be much of an issue.

One of the most common articles I can find as it relates to UAV complaints is the privacy issue.  People seem to be under the impression that everyone who flies a UAV is just looking to be a peeping tom with really nice equipment.

Something that I find really interesting is that every article I have read complaining about privacy issues created by UAVs cites different examples of criminals being caught because of a UAV.  It is never a story about some normal person having their picture taken, but of somebody breaking the law, that gets caught on accident.

Honestly, that just reaffirms how important I think UAVs are.  Maybe we will be able to catch even more criminals, and maybe some of those people will even think twice about committing a crime in the first place.

Apparently, people aren’t nearly as worried about their privacy as the media would like you to believe.  In one article from a local paper in Syracuse, NY they repeatedly mention that there has been little to no objection from the locals.  The article says that after the paper wrote two separate articles about drone training in their county the readers, “…barely batted an eye.”

Now if the media would stop wasting our time trying to make us worry about something that does not concern most people maybe we can focus on the real issues, and make UAVs a safer and more effective part of the aviation world.

August 27, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

DHS and Other Federal Agencies Wasting Time and Money Searching Aircraft?

I make it no secret that I am not a fan of TSA.  They like to waste a lot of money, and I don’t feel that they are as effective as they could be when I hear about people accidentally getting large knives through security.  That being said, they do prevent many weapons from getting on airplanes, and probably more importantly they deter more than we will ever know.

On the other hand I feel like other agencies are on a bit of a wild goose chase, and in some people’s opinions are targeting completely innocent people.  I came across an article from The Atlantic written by James Fallows talking about the rash of pilots being searched by various agencies for no apparent reason and it reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago.

The Cessna 208 Caravan is used by numerous cargo carriers all over the world.

The Cessna 208 Caravan is used by numerous cargo carriers all over the world.

I was working at an FBO in Austin, TX pulling the night shift which was generally pretty boring.  Other than the occasional late businessman most of our work involved getting ready for the next day, and handling the same few cargo planes that came in every single night.  We actually became friends with these pilots as they were our only company at night.

On one of these routine nights, we had a Cessna 208 Caravan come in with a pilot that had been flying this same route for at least five years.  I went out to greet him as I always did, and as I stood up from chocking his plane I heard another jet pull in that I hadn’t even seen because it pulled in so fast.  I quickly grabbed another set of chocks and ran over to the jet to chock it as well when I saw the words Border Patrol painted on the engines.

I approached the plane like always and greeted the crew asking what I could do for them.  It was about that time that I realized they had weapons out and they just lifted a hand and told me to wait, so naturally I did.  I merely went about my normal job just watching them all from a distance.

The Border Patrol agents performed their search without incident took a few hundred gallons of fuel and left within about two hours.  When I asked the pilot what was going on he said they felt he had flown to close to the Mexican border so they had followed him up for about an hour or so just to check the plane.

Just to be totally clear this is what happened.  A registered cargo carrier that flies the exact same route, in the exact same plane, with the exact same pilot, at almost exactly the same time every night MIGHT have flown straight on departure a little longer than usual.  In response four Border Patrol agents flew a private jet for a couple of hours to poke around at a few boxes, buy $6,000 in fuel, and go back home for the night.

In talking to the pilot this happens about once a year or so, which is an incredible waste of time and money.  In the grand scheme of things $6,000 isn’t that much money, and it wasn’t a terrible inconvenience for the pilot who has become accustomed to it, but that isn’t something that any normal law-abiding citizen should have to deal with.

These agencies do provide a valuable service with certain things that they handle, but it seems to me that some of the decision-making processes need to be reviewed.  If people are really being profiled in any way like the above article suggests then they may need a little more than a simple review.

May 30, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Idaho Drone Bill Outlaws Spying From the Sky

This 4-rotor UAV helo designed to aid farmers was featured on

This 4-rotor UAV helo designed to aid farmers was featured on

Legislation relating to drones is starting to actually get put into place, and so far I think it has all be pretty reasonable.  The most recent law was signed into law by Idaho’s governor, Butch Otter.  According to an article on the Capital Press website:

The new law, which prevents any person, entity or public agency from using a UAV to conduct surveillance or observation of private property, requires law enforcement to obtain warrants in most cases before using drones to collect evidence.

This legislation is exactly the type of level-headed, fair lawmaking that we need to see.  It protects people from unlawful searches, but at the same time still allows for increased drone usage on private property.  This is extremely important as more and more farmers start to utilize UAVs to better monitor their crops.

I have written previously about the many uses of UAVs, and agriculture is one area that can benefit greatly from this rapidly evolving technology.  Farmers can better monitor the growth of their crops and more efficiently use things like fertilizer and pesticides.  For those farmers with livestock it is easier for them to monitor their herds without using excessive amounts of time, or using expensive tools like manned planes or helicopters.

This small UAV from Headwall Photonics can be used by farmers to better monitor their crops.

This small UAV from Headwall Photonics can be used by farmers to better monitor their crops.

What really makes this law important is protecting the farmers from groups like PETA who could use drones to spy on farmers and create unnecessary legal issues.

This is one of countless laws that we will continue to see popping up over the coming years relating to drones, and it is a very important one.  We can only hope that the rest of the new laws will be equally moderate and allow the technology to grow and evolve while at the same time protecting the rights and privacy of everyone.

What types of legislation do you think we need to see as it relates to drones?

May 21, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Utah Valley University Bidding to Become UAS Test Facility

Unmanned aerial systems(UAS), unmanned aerial vehicles(UAV), remotely piloted aircraft(RPA), drones…whatever you want to call them, I’ll go with RPAs, are one of the biggest topics of discussion in aviation these days.  Whether you like them or not, they are rapidly becoming more common all over the country, and in ways that we may not have previously considered.

I’ve recently posted about the Boeing Phantom Eye that is designed to provide long periods of surveillance, likely for military and civilian use.  There are the well documented Predators and Reapers that can provide surveillance as well as weapons employment, which was the topic of Rand Paul’s filibuster last week, wasting half a day of work for Congress.  These three are only an incredibly small sampling of all the RPA’s out there, and the list just continues to grow.

With the rapid growth of RPAs it is becoming increasingly important for the FAA to create rules and regulations to govern their use, and how they will fit into the National Airspace System (NAS).  Some would say it is as simple as making them all fly under instrument flight rules, but with a system that relies heavily on a “see and avoid” mindset, it really can’t be that simple.  Though it doesn’t need to be super difficult either.

Whatever the FAA decides to do with regulation, they are asking institutions to put in bids to become one of six sites across the nation that will conduct tests to aid in the development of future regulations as RPAs get integrated into the NAS.  From what I have read recently, many of the groups applying are based around universities, which makes a whole lot of sense.  Today I read about one such university that I think would be a perfect fit.

Utah Valley University(UVU) is leading an alliance of universities, and private companies that are involved in research and development of RPAs.  The name of their alliance is the Mountain West Unmanned Systems Alliance or MWUSA.  UVU supports a well-respected aviation program, that is rapidly growing along with the university.

With their campus in Provo, Utah, they are in a great position to conduct all kinds of different research into RPA’s and how they will interact with other aircraft in the NAS.  Provo itself has only a small airport which will be good when it comes to basic testing of atc and other radio communications.

However, Provo is only a short distance from Salt Lake International Airport which is a relatively busy airport, being one of Delta’s larger hubs.  This would allow researchers to interact with relatively busy airspace, while not interfering with the major operations that would be going on at LAX, O’Hare, or Atlanta.  Ultimately, the major hubs will have to be included, but initially I would think researchers would rather have busy, but not overwhelming airports to conduct their research.

The other great feature that UVU has at their fingertips is the geography of the State of Utah.  There are not many places that have mountains climbing up to over 10,000 feet(Wasatch Mountains) within 20-30 miles of some of the flattest ground in the world(Bonneville Salt Flats).  As an Air Force aviator, terrain is something that we talk about on every single flight, so I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be a major factor in understanding how RPAs will interact with the current system.

The FAA isn’t planning on naming the sites until later this summer, but whoever gets the nod will certainly have their work cut out for them.  The FAA is under a mandate from Congress to integrate RPAs into the NAS by 2018.  5 years may seem like a long time, but with as fast as technology is changing, and as slow as government agencies generally work, I think they will need all of the time they can get.

March 14, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Alaska Airlines Letting Passengers Tag Their Own Bags; Processing Passengers 30% Faster

For anyone that has been late for a flight and needed to check a bag, they know how painful it can be to stand in line while someone in front of you takes fifteen minutes to check their bag.  I have always found it interesting that I can stand in line and watch ten people take a good 5-10 minutes each, yet I walk up and am out of there in under a minute.  Whether you are late or not, it is painful how long some people take.

Alaska Airlines is now making that process simpler by allowing passengers to tag their own bags.  Much the way that we have been printing our own boarding passes for years, they will now let you tag your bags and hand them to the TSA agent.  Apparently, in many other countries they will let you do the whole thing unsupervised, but naturally TSA wants to maintain their job security, so they have to watch you.

This was one of those things that made me go “duh” when I read about it, because it just seemed to be such on obvious way to save time in the whole process.  According to an interview Jeff Butler of Alaska Airlines did with The Cranky Flier, it has actually shaved 30% off the time it takes passengers to be processed, which is a significant enough that Alaska is working to make this a reality at all of the airports they serve.

Unfortunately, TSA is once again trying to make it as difficult as possible.  The above mentioned article goes into more detail about the whole process Alaska went through to get permission, and it is pretty ridiculous if you ask me.  Not only did they have to prove the safety of their program, they must reapply for permission to implement it every time they want to roll it out somewhere new.

Time is quickly becoming one of the biggest assets in aviation.  People want, and in some cases need, to be able to flow through an airport as quickly as possible from the time they pull up, until they drive away after arrival.  That is why we see all of these new programs to get you through security faster, and why airlines have invested so much money on kiosks that allow you to print your own boarding pass.

A 30% reduction in processing time is a big enough benefit that every airline will likely look at this option, if they aren’t already.  Maybe that is the push that TSA needs to streamline the process and make it easier for airlines to use this new concept.

I remember as a kid being able to walk into the airport, get through security, and be at the gate in fifteen minutes or so, but now I have to plan to be at the airport at least an hour early if I don’t want to miss my flight, and I live in a relatively small city.  Speeding up the whole process would be a benefit to everyone involved, and hopefully TSA will not be the speed bump that prevents everyone from taking advantage of it.

July 17, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

With the Choice of Dropping TSA will Airports Make the Switch?

I hate TSA.

I know that I am not alone in that sentiment.  I think it is one of the biggest wastes of money in the federal government.  The quality of the product borders on ridiculous.  There are the well documented cases of not being allowed to take a cupcake through because it has too much “gel” in the form of frosting, and the obvious removal of shoes, jackets, and who knows what else in the future.  Of course there is also all of the uproar over full body scanners that can easily be seen as an invasion of privacy.

Beyond the well documented accounts, we all have experiences of forgetting a knife or some other weapon in our bag that gets completely missed.  I even had one friend who had forgotten two knives, but only one was found by the screeners.

An article in the New York Times made me aware of something that many people may not realize: since TSA was created in 2001 airports have been allowed to request permission to replace federal screeners.  To this point only 16 airports have been given permission to make the switch, but others are beginning to consider the option despite TSA saying they will no longer accept applications last year.

In response to that decision by TSA, Representative John L. Mica, Republican of Florida, included a provision in aviation legislation that strengthens the ability of airports to switch to private screeners which passed in February.  Mica represents the district that includes the Orlando Sanford Airport that is anxiously trying to switch to private screeners.

According to the above mentioned article, the committee that supported the provision estimated that  if the 35 biggest airports in the country switched to private screeners, the government would save $1 billion over five years.  I wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers were inflated to prove their point, but everyone agrees that private screeners are cheaper than TSA.

In an economy, and aviation industry, where every dollar counts, how can this not become a more viable option for the nation’s airports?  The answer is TSA being unwilling to give up their monopoly.  If they are forced to compete against private companies that have to operate efficiently, they will have to change the way they operate.  They will no longer be able to waste millions of dollars on useless purchases like changing the color of shirt their employees wear, and that is awesome.

If this provision does nothing more than force TSA to operate more efficiently and effectively, then it is one of the best bills I have heard about in recent memory.  Here’s hoping that airports are actually able to have the screeners they want to have without any unnecessary hoops to jump through from the government, but what are the odds of that happening?

What is your take on the value of TSA over private screeners?

March 26, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Will the FAA Reauthorization Really Speed Up NextGen Implementation?

Like many people, I am very excited that the FAA finally has a stable source of funding, as you may have already read.  Probably the biggest reason that I am excited is that NextGen Air Traffic Control may finally get the funding it needs to get fully implemented.  This is something that has been in development for over a decade, if not longer.

One of the problems with the implementation is that there are two sides to NextGen, and without both sides doing their part the whole thing is just a big waste of money.

The FAA has to develop the system at airports, and throughout the entire air traffic system.  They have to install ground stations and train their controllers on how the whole thing works.  They also have to develop the departures, en route tracks, and arrivals that are supposed to save millions of dollars, and a good amount of time.

The other side is the aircraft owners, mostly the airlines, who must upgrade their aircraft to support the new technology.  That means spending billions of dollars on equipment that right now isn’t even fully functional.  That is a lot to ask of companies that are running on fumes as it is.

The cool thing about the new funding bill is that it included provisions to help move the whole process along.  An article written by Alan Levin of discusses a couple of very important aspects of the new bill that will definitely aid in the implementation of the NextGen system.

Like so many things, money is a huge aspect of the whole situation.  NextGen is supposed to lead to huge fuel savings by making routes, and air traffic in general, far more efficient.  But, in order to realize those savings there must be an initial investment.  The new funding bill provides a mechanism where the Department of Transportation can guarantee loans to help with the upgrading of all these aircraft.  While a gift is better than a loan, it is definitely a much better prospect than having to find the funding themselves.

Maybe one of the biggest time savers that the bill offers is the ability to receive a “categorical exclusion” from environmental reviews for flight paths if they save fuel, and reduce noise.  Now I love the environment as much as the next guy.  Many of my fondest memories are from time spent in real wilderness areas.  That being said, it is ridiculous how long many of these environmental studies take, and even then the results are somewhat questionable.

Most people realize that pretty much any data collected can be twisted to suit the needs of whoever wants to use them.  While there is some complaining from environmentalists that this exclusion will become too commonplace I really don’t see what they have to complain about.  It only applies if the new route reduces fuel use and noise, or in other words, if the new route does exactly what the environmentalists want them to do.

The full bill is 375 pages so who knows how many provisions are in there that may help the process along, or how many other points there are that may actually hurt the process.  All I know is that our current system is based on ancient technology, and it needs to be updated.  The technology is there and ready to be used; it is just a matter of getting the whole system set up.  I am extremely happy to see that the new bill is doing its part to speed up the process.

March 1, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Rep. Mike Pompeo Explains Very Simply Why User Fees Are Bad for America

User fees seem to be the simple answer for so many people in Washington who have no real understanding of what general aviation does for this country.  They think it is all about rich people cruising around in their big expensive jets on vacation, and while those people do exist, the vast majority of general aviation is in support of business both big and small.

Rep Mike Pompeo of Kansas is a long-time advocate for general aviation.  That is not too shocking seeing as how he comes from Wichita, KS which is home to companies like Cessna, Learjet, and Beechcraft; as well as being the birthplace of Air Force One.  He gives a great response to President Obama’s proposed budget which includes user fees for general aviation.  Here is the video:



Like so many types of regulation in this government, user fees will hurt the little guys.  Big companies write off fees like this as nothing, or they find a loophole to get out of paying them entirely.

A better idea for funding aviation is to create a more efficient system that doesn’t throw away money on things like replacing the uniforms for all of TSA for millions of dollars.  There are plenty of areas where cuts could be made, or money could be generated, but the people making decisions are too clouded by their own special interests.

What type of an impact do you think user fees would have on an already struggling industry?

February 16, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.