Thursday, December 29, 2011

Not the Weather Report

I have a few requests to blog about the weather more, and I mean to, but somehow haven't for a while. I was going to today, with a report on the Weather Channel as a jumping-off point, but then I realized something that sidetracked me on that entry.

There's two sorts of being identified as the blogger. One is when someone who reads the blog meets me, or perhaps already knew me but figures out that I am me. Those ones are great, because if you read the blog you must know I mean well, plus you like the blog: no one goes on reading something they dislike. The kind I find more uncomfortable is when someone who doesn't read the blog and who knows me, but not as a friend, discovers that I have a blog, and who then goes quoting me out of context. You see that sort of thing done by and to politicians all the time. They end up defending stupidly innocent actions like where they shop or what their kids wore to the prom. This hasn't happened to me, but I don't think I'd like it if it did. Sometimes I think I should put my real name on the blog so that no one can "out" me, my already having done it myself. Politicians do that, too, "full disclosure"--telling the public things we don't care, just to pre-empt anyone else claiming they are hiding it.

I don't think I will do that in the near future, but I will present for your amusement ...

The Top Ten Ways to Accidentally Out Yourself On Your Own Blog

(I have caught myself doing all of these).

  • 10. Forget to censor your own name when quoting conversations.
  • 9. Post a photograph that shows your recognizable reflection in a shiny object.
  • 8. Post a story about yourself that also makes the national news.
  • 7. Leave yourself logged in to a shared computer.
  • 6. Visit your blog from an FBO computer with a giant screen.
  • 5. Do a real life meet up with fellow bloggers who like to post pictures.
  • 4. Leave your blog in the browser history of someone else's computer.
  • 3. Post the callsign of your aircraft.
  • 2. Send e-mail to a customer from your alter ego e-mail address, with your blog URL in the signature field.
  • And the number one way to embarrassingly out yourself on your own blog is to ...

  • 1. Post a video taken of an amusingly dire report on the Weather Channel, when said video was taken in the hotel room, and clearly shows your reflection in the TV throughout ... naked.

And that's why this blog entry isn't about the weather.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Projected Absence

I'm really wrapped up in a creative project that is using the same part of my brain and my day as blogging, and for now I'm going to give it priority.

I'll try to catch up later, but here's a tidbit from my day.

While I was preflighting today I saw a Canadian Forces Airbus in military grey, with muted markings and the only colour the red Canadian flag on the tail. The FBO crew parked an airstairs truck at the forward door and a long line of soldiers came out, carrying duffel bags across the apron to the FBO. I don't know where they had come directly from, or whether the range of the airliner would support it, but it was most interesting to imagine that they were returning directly from Afghanistan. I shouted "Welcome home!" across the ramp, but it wouldn't have been audible above the sound of the APU and of other idling aircraft.

Later, after takeoff I heard the Canadian Forces callsign, with a female pilot's voice, check in with departure. She was on the same instrument departure as I was, and given the same instruction after departure. I realized that she was climbing up behind me, then was given another vector that would put her past me on the right. I wonder if they loaded more soldiers to take back to wherever they got the first lot, or if they were ferrying empty.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dauntless Aviation

I'm using software from Dauntless Aviation to study for the FAA exam. I definitely recommend it. It not only shows you all the questions you could see on the exam, with the correct answers, but highlights excerpts from the regulations that explain them and points out tricky parts of the questions. The merchant site is a little intimidating, but I think it's just that they are a very small company and hooked up with a somewhat aggressive payment processing company that they can't really rein in.
Today's confusion is over alternate requirements in the the US regulations. In Canada you always (with some very specialized op spec exceptions) require one alternate and there are complex but interpretable rules governing the weather conditions required to file a particular airport as your alternate. In the US you need one alternate, two alternates or zero alternates and whether you need them depends on what state you are flying in, the weather and possibly what operation type. I confess that I haven't got it all sorted out yet. I'm going to try and make a table of sorts:
PartTypeEngineLocation# alternatesRequired fuelOther
121flagturbine?02 hours

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sector Altitudes?

Question: What action should be taken when a pilot is "cleared for approach" while being radar vectored on an unpublished route?

Answer: Remain at last assigned altitude until established on a published route segment.

In Canada, cleared to the approach I would be able to, and probably would get into an untenable position later on the approach if I didn't, immediately descend to the 100 nm or 25 nm safe altitude published on the plate, as appropriate, in preparation for intersecting a published route segment. I would tell ATC I was "leaving one fife tousand for one zero tousand tree hundred" or whatever the sector altitude was, but I'm not sure I'd be required to do that. Saying it helps me remember it, and allows ATC to know what to expect.

I remember being told by a flight instructor long ago that in the US you were not allowed to descend immediately on being cleared for the approach, and commenters here told me that yes you were, but with this question I may have finally found the case that the original flight instructor was considering. It looks like if I'm on an airway or a published transition to an approach, cleared for the approach clears me to the MEA for that route, but if I'm off airway just being vectored towards the airport, I can't descend to a published safe altitude until directed? I suspect this is more because US airspace have more published transitions and routes and less just hammering around through the clag towards the NDB at the airport.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

American Weeks?

What the heck does this mean?

Each dispatcher must be relieved of all duty with the certificate holder for at least 24 consecutive hours during any seven consecutive days or the equivalent thereof within any calendar month.

The dispatcher is supposed to have one day off every week? The dispatcher is supposed to have one week off every month? The dispatcher is supposed to have one day off every seven days, but if Monday is his day off, and it's March and March started on a Monday, and he's had the 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th off so there are only three days left in the month he gets another day off because during the calendar month of March the last two days are equivalent to a week?

What does a calendar month have to do with anything? So there are different rules in long months than short ones? If it stopped after "seven consecutive days" it would make perfect sense. But what on earth could be equivalent to seven consecutive days, but wasn't adequately described by "seven consecutive days"?

And can ATPL holders automatically work as dispatchers in the US, or are they supposed to be policing their dispatchers' sleep schedules? Why would such a question be on a pilot's exam?

Also I have to know that if a drunk creates a disturbance on my aircraft I have five days to report it to the Administrator.

Lost Comm Altitude

If you are IFR in IMC and lose contact with ATC, you still have to fly somewhere. There are a set of logical rules that dictate the timing, route and altitude of that flight. I'd expect them to be the same in both countries, and they are almost word for word.

CFR 14, Part 91.185(c)(2) (USA)
Altitude. At the highest of the following altitudes or flight levels for the route segment being flown:
The altitude or flight level assigned in the last ATC clearance received;
The minimum altitude (converted, if appropriate, to minimum flight level as prescribed in § 91.121(c)) for IFR operations; or
The altitude or flight level ATC has advised may be expected in a further clearance.


AIM (b) (Canada)
Altitude: At the highest of the following altitudes or FLs for the route segment being flown: the altitude(s) or FLs assigned in the last ATC clearance received and acknowledged;
the minimum IFR altitude (see RAC 8.6.1); or
the altitude or FL ATC has advised may be expected in a further clearance. (The pilot shall commence climb to this altitude/FL at the time or point specified by ATC to expect further clearance/ altitude change.)

Curiously, while routing defaults to the flight plan, the flight planned altitude isn't mentioned in here, unless the last clearance received was the IFR readback including the flight planned altitude. So that means that if you're departing somewhere and really don't want to fly at the MEA to destination, you'd better get the controller to say "expect flight level 230" and not just "expect higher."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

American Birds Follow Airspace Rules

Both countries have a speed limit of 250 knots below 10,000', unless you're flying an airplane so crazy that it would be unsafe to operate it at a lower speed. In Canada the next speed limit restricts you to below 200 knots below 3000' within ten nautical miles of a control zone. In the US, it's below 200 knots below 2500' within 4 nm of the airport inside a class Charlie or Delta control zone. But in a class Bravo control zone, fill your boots at up to 250 kts. I'm writing Charlie out in full for the US version because that's how they say it (we say "cee"). That will maybe help me remember.

According to a document I read recently, the low altitude speed limits were established to reduce the severity of bird strikes, but I'm guessing that was just for the 250 kt ones, because I can't see that the birds would pay really close attention to which airspace they are in. The 200 kt speed limit is probably to help ATC control different speed aircraft.

Although the Americans have most of the same airspace letters as Canada, they don't really line up. They have class Bravo control zones whereas we only have class B airspace over 12,500'. If you pretend US Bravo is Canadian C you'll follow all the right rules, ensuring you have a clearance before entering the airspace. At 200 knots or below.

Monday, September 12, 2011

We Interrupt This Sequence

I'm going to suspend the trip I've been describing right there to describe--and solicit your help with--the process of converting a Canadian ATPL to an FAA one. I have an opportunity for an interesting short term job, and potentially others in the longer term, if I have an FAA licence. Don't worry, Americans, I'm not stealing your jobs, the job is not in the USA and is not for an American company. It's for a company based in country A that is operating an airplane in country B and that airplane just happens to be N-registered, that is, it's registered in the US. The law says that the pilot's licence has to match the airplane registration. (In many cases you have a period of time, typically six months to a year, to make the transition from in internationally respected licence such as a Canadian one to the local licence, but not for the US).

The process involves getting an FAA medical certificate, passing a written exam, and putting them together with a bit of paperwork and a processing fee. I've already had the FAA physical, and am just waiting for their approval. I'm studying for the exam so I can have that written as soon as possible. I haven't yet figured out if I need to make an appointment to write it or can just show up at a testing centre. Er, I guess that's a testing "center."

My first impression as I look at the material to be studied is that there's a disconnect between what I have and what I'm converting to. There's an assumption that someone writing an ATPL level exam has mastered the material of the private pilot level, but I have to figure that out too. The material is totally unrelated to what I'll be doing, so there isn't a lot of point in thoroughly learning and understanding it. In the US all test bank questions are available in advance, so when you're in this situation you can just learn the correct answers with out really know why. I've never taken a test this way before, but when in Rome Washington, D.C. Things like I've learned that "part 91" means general aviation, "part 135" is on-demand air carriers and "part 121" is scheduled air carriers. But the questions mention "domestic carriers" and "flag carriers" and "supplemental air carriers." They must be defined somewhere. My local pilot shop has run out of the FAR/AIM because the new one is on order, so I've ordered one directly from the US.

I have to figure out how aircraft approach categories (A B C D) work in the US. There's something in the questions that implies that it's not just based on approach speed as in Canada. I have to figure out how the NOTAM system works. Apparently you get different sorts of NOTAMs with different letters from different sources.

Up until now I've almost deliberately not learned about US regulations that don't affect Canadian pilots (like needing one flight attendant for the first 10 passengers (in aircraft with a payload capacity of 7500 lbs and up) of for the first 20 passengers when the aircraft payload is under 7500. With 50 to 100 passengers you need two flight attendants, and one more for every fifty passengers or part thereof after that. And it's based on seating capacity, not boarded passengers, implying that you need three flight attendants for a B737-600 with four people in the back. Or something. Maybe I can store this in a part of my brain that's reusable.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Kind of Airplane?

"Huh. Wow. What kind of airplane?"

As far as I remember, that's more or less the first thing I said ten years ago on learning that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. Yeah, cringe, but I was trying to distinguish between incidents like this and something that would do more damage. Some context: I had driven to work listening to a CD (or maybe a cassette tape: it was an old car) because the radio reception along my commute was poor, and it wasn't a time of day when I could expect good programming. I had arrived, grabbed the aircraft documents, inspected the airplane, ensured it had been fuelled and come back to the airside office to drop off my preflight paperwork. It was a small shared office, so I had to squeeze between my coworkers and a television set to get to the filing cabinet where I needed to drop my operational flight plan and weight and balance documents. They were staring at the TV, but then it was a media-related company so they were always staring at the TV. On my way back outside to start the airplane, someone said, "An airplane just hit the World Trade Center." The TV wasn't at an angle that I could see it. In answer to my question, he told me it was a Learjet. I didn't even know which world trade centre it was. I assumed it was in the US, but I guessed Chicago, because the old airport was right by downtown. I ran up my airplane engine wondering if the crash was a control problem or pilot incapacitation or what.

I know someone who was woken up by a call from his friend that morning and ordered to turn on the TV. After seeing the burning buildings his response was even more cringeworthy than mine. "I think I've seen this movie."

My non-pilot coworker--yeah, I've always had jobs like this--jumped in the plane and tucked Walkman (look it up, kids) headphones under his aviation ones, as usual. I told you it was a media-heavy company. He was less conversational than usual, but I assumed this had to do with low caffeine intake, not realizing what he was hearing on the radio. Half an hour or so into the flight he said something was on fire.

"Where?" I asked, looking out the window for smoke or the flashing lights of firetrucks.

"The Pentagon is on fire," he repeated.

The pentagon? What pentagon? I sifted though associations with the word, my strongest image being something from witchcraft, imprisoning demons in a chalked pentagram ringed with candles. That made no sense. Then I thought of another possibility. "You mean bombs and missiles Pentagon?" I asked. He shushed me, so I tuned the ADF to a local news station, just in time to hear a synopsis of the morning's terrorism, and that US airspace had been closed.

Before I had a chance to call flight services to find out if this would affect me, the air traffic controller whose frequency I was on instructed me to land. I landed back at our base, not a major airport, and as I was on short final an ultralight took off, the pilot and the controller who cleared him still oblivious to the day's events.

This is probably the third time I've told the story on the blog and I imagine I've told it dozens of time in real life. Every generation has to have its "where were you?" moment. Ask an old American where they were when they heard Kennedy had been shot. (Yeah if you remember Kennedy, you're officially old. You're welcome). I hope the next such "everyone remembers where they were" event is a good one. There have been good ones, like humans landing on the moon. What amazing good thing could happen today that would be tweeted around the world and that would compel people to tell the story of where they were when it happened, even ten years later? What some people might consider good could be controversial, so please don't mock or condemn any commenter for their choice of an earthshaking positive moment. Is there anything? Or are we too jaded and too divided now to all be awed by an event?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Flipping Out Over Flight Planning

You know what's kind of annoying during flight planning? When you are working with both VFR and IFR charts and you have to remember to flip the VFR chart vertically and the IFR chart horizontally. Or is the other way around? If you always work with one or the other, it's no problem, it becomes instinctive. But when your job requires you to go IFR to work somewhere VFR or vice versa, you have to work with both. Flip. Damn. Flip. Flip. Damnit. Flip.

You know what's really annoying during flight planning? When the pilot forgets her copy of the job folder at the home base and doesn't have the paperwork she needs. Stupid. We've forgotten something almost every trip. The key. The GPU. That folder. In it is has a map of the lines and a list of the lines with their altitudes and photo blocks for each job, plus photo flight forms for each area control centre that we work with. I borrow the operator's map sheets, although they don't have the pilot-related mark up information I researched, and then I call Edmonton to fax me another copy of the missing form. They are happy to do so.

I think it's sweet that Edmonton Area Control Centre, which I frequently have cause to praise, has its own logo, and adorable that that logo looks like an old CP Air 737, but if the Nova Hotel is trying to impress me by putting hotel stationary instead of plain paper in their fax machine, it's not working.

Planning complete I taxied out, yold to the King Air, clomb to cruise altitude, shove five minutes of my filed flight time thanks to a tailwind and crew about it after landing. Or I would have, had the past tense of these English verbs not changed over the years. I kind of like yold and clomb, though. They sound better than yielded and climbed. Maybe I'll start a fad to reestablish them.

yield - yold
shave - shove
climb - clomb
crow - crew

The Shadin fuel flow meter always shows more fuel on board than there actually is. Taking notes, I think it may least accurate during high fuel flows. It always overreports fuel flow and underreports fuel remaining. I kind of like it that way, because I always have more fuel than it says. I still need to be careful though. A few years ago I hit a wingtip because a particular building always looked closer than it really was, and one day I took too much advantage of that safety margin. I cracked the plexiglass cover on the nav light and it had to be replaced. Maintenance shrugged and said it was the cost of doing business. The chief pilot said only, "The new one looks much better. Can you break the other one next?" The owner didn't say anything that I recall. I work with nice people.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

In Concert with the Season

It's warm on the ground, but we're headed back to the flight levels today so the operator has cleaned out the local Canadian Tire of chemical hand and foot warmers. I've also noticed that just having a clipboard on my lap made a difference to warmth, so we have taken a sleeping bag out of the survival kit to use as a sleigh robe. I think the American for that is car blanket, but I like the imagery of sitting behind trotting horses on a frosty morning.

There's no delay on our clearance or departure and we're soon in climb direct the project area entry point. Through ten thousand feet, checklist item: oxygen on. Through 18,000', checklist item, altimeter set to 29.92. Level off and go to work. At first it's warm because it takes a little while for the warm air we've carried aloft to be replaced and/or cooled by the subzero air around us, but inevitably it happens. "I'm ready for those footwarmers now," I say, and then I untie one shoelace and fly with my sock foot for a bit. Cold. There's a bit of shuffling and swearing from the back as the operator realizes he has disconnected his oxygen while searching for the Canadian Tire bag. He takes a few deep breaths, regains his equilibrium and then passes the first footwarmer up. "It's already broken and mixed?" I ask. He says yep, it should be starting to work now. It doesn't feel warm yet, but I put it in the toe of my shoe and put my shoe back on, then repeat for the other side. Not warm.

That's what you get for buying handwarmers in the summer. These things work because of an exothermic reaction between two different chemicals. Old stock. The barrier must have broken down over the last year and the chemical reaction was spent to no one's benefit. I squish my toes a bit and ask him again if he's sure he mixed them or shook them or whatever. He says the instructions just say to take it out of the package to make it work. It is at this moment that I realize there must be two varieties of chemical handwarmers. The kind that heat when two sealed chemicals mix, and the kind we have, that react exothermically with ambient oxygen. Pro tip: if there isn't enough oxygen for a human to breathe, then oxygen-activated footwarmers aren't going to work either.

We descend out of the flight levels to do some low level work. I filed this flight plan as a "Y": IFR then VFR, but I still have to say the words "cancelling IFR" to make the transition. Now that I don't need them, the footwarmers warm up. The low level work has the fuel low level light flashing before we land, but my calculations after we fuel show that we landed with 30 minutes in the tank.

The FBO guy carries my bag for me. "You don't have to do that!" I protest. "There's lots of things in life you don't have to do," he says. The hotel is nearby and Gene Simmons' bus is parked outside. So at Slave Lake we got everyone from Nazareth to Susan Aglukark to Dwight Yoakam and here we get Kiss. Northern concert tours are the best. Enough people come from surrounding communities that the size of the audience can exceed the population of the town.

In the restaurant I ask the server what the veggie burger is like. She says "I don't know, I'm not a ..." then midsentence realizes that non-vegetarians can eat vegetarian items and ammends it to, "I've never had it." She's confused when I want to know if she knows anything about it.

"If you had a "meat burger" on your menu customers would ask you what kind of meat it was. What kind of vegetable is this? Rice? Beans?" She doesn't know but I order it anyway and five minutes later I hear another customer asking the same question. She does come over to find out what it's like, so the next customer will be able to get an answer. Dessert is Turtle cheesecake. No question there.

Next day's work is two projects in one in the city of Edmonton. I'll have to send the controllers a map so I can negotiate for each line, but neither map is any good. The maps are different scales, don't cover exactly the same area, have the rong landmarks on them and are completely unfaxable. I redraw it on a separate piece of paper, showing only the river, the major roads and the reporting points the controllers will know. I'm interrupted once by a fire alarm, but get it all done in time to meet the operator for a bedtime snack. We had dinner pretty early so we're having a snack now to tide us over to the morning. I show him my map and explain that I have renumbered the lines for the second project so that we don't have to say "line one on the second map" just "line twenty-one." He approves and he raves about my map. I'm proud of it myself.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Cabs and Cops

The Slave Lake cab driver is cranky after waking up to a post-concert party in progress in her own home. After chewing out the appropriate child she got in her non-taxi car to drive to wherever the cab she would drive was dispatched from and was promptly pulled over by the police, who had been sitting on the party, waiting for people to try to drive away so they could stop drunk driving. From there her account of the situation involved a lot of indignant bellowing at the squeaky new police officer, something about did his mother know what he was doing, until the slightly older partner intervened with, "We know her. She doesn't drink at all." Small towns. Hard to be a small town cop and act tough for your school friend's mother, when she was the one who put bandaids on your boo-boos, and caught you smoking as you were growing up.

There are clouds here, quite a few, and the other survey airplane that's supposed to be working these blocks with us is down with a camera problem. We hang about, read the paper, and eventually decide not to waste any fuel on the mission. We call the cab again and the driver asks us if we were playing a joke on her earlier. Apparently someone called for an airport cab, but there was no one here to be collected. The person called back, asking when the cab was coming, and interrogation revealed that the caller was in Edmonton. No ma'am, not us.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Battery of Battery-Related Thoughts

I walked all over town to find a 386/301 battery for my IFR timer and a couple of AAAs for my pulse oximeter. Who knew there could be so many different sorts of small round batteries. When buying devices, it's worth including battery availability in the comparison between brands. Everything in aviation should run off AA batteries. I carry a charger and a little pile of spare rechargeables so that when my headset battery cops out, or my flashlight isn't bright enough, I can swap them out.

Mark that against the Bose A20: the batteries are trickier to change in flight than for LightSPEED. They didn't intend you to change them in flight. They have an elaborate system of green and amber flashing lights designed to tell you your battery health and give you a chance to change them before the flight. These don't work with rechargeables, because of their square power profile: they work fine until they are almost dead then drop off to nothing too fast to give a warning. Bose tells you not to use rechargeable batteries for this reason, but I'm not leaving a trail of mercury all over the country for the convenience of flashing lights.

I keep my spare and used batteries straight in the cockpit using a pair of little plastic boxes, one red and one clear, that hold for AA batteries each. I was using it in the north and my favourite captain asked me where I got it. I didn't remember exactly, but told him I'd get him one, and I didn't, but I had to leave before I gave it to him. I asked for his postal address to send it to him, but then he had to leave, and the e-mail I had for him stopped working, but I kept the box all this time. Last time I was packing, I couldn't find my box, so I 'stole' the one I'd been saving for him, but I tell you, if you're reading this, you who forgave me for ripping the REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT streamer off the engine plug on my first morning at work, send me your address and I will be honoured to send you one.

I have to plug the computer in to use flight simulator programs. The battery runs down too fast otherwise. When I'm flying my toy flight simulator, sometimes the panel lights spontaneously turn off, and I have to cycle the nav lights to put them back on again. Bug or feature to make the whole thing as inscrutably unknowable as a real airplane?

If you thought that last thought was disconnected, how about this one: Originally the forest moon of Endor was supposed to be populated by Wookiees, not Ewoks (wook-ee/ee-wok: original, eh?) but George Lucas decided that since the Wookiee Chewbacca was clearly proficient with advanced technology (i.e. he was pilot and mechanic of the spaceship the Millennium Falcon and also repaired the damaged android C3PO), it would be confusing to show the Wookiees with a primitive, "stone age" culture on Endor.

That's stupid. That's stupid enough to make me angry. That's racist 'logic'. That's the logic that didn't let women run marathons, because they never had. You don't have to be a whiny white moisture farmer with exceptional midichlorians to study and learn things, and it is perfectly possible to learn things that your parents didn't know. You'd have to be keen, and have some aptitude for the subject to make up for the not having the experience of growing up with technology, like Anakin building his own robots and podracers, but there's no reason Kashyyyk couldn't produce competent pilots and mechanics.

You may think this post has gone entirely into deep space, but I'll bring it home by examining Star Wars stored power technology. The Death Star had a massive generator, and no fuel tanks, but the society had batteries, power converters, power couplers and other means of transferring, transforming and transporting energy. I wonder if Han Solo ever had to walk all over Mos Eisley looking for the right sort of power cell for his blaster.

Saturday, September 03, 2011


We're going to Slave Lake again, the community that had the fire. I checked NOTAMs carefully to make sure that services were available, but there is no sign from an aviation planning point of view that there is anything wrong there. Our work is far north of the community, up above the bush and lakes of far northern Alberta, and when we're done I plan the descent to bring me into the aerodrome environment at the right speed and altitude. I'm looking for the runway, right where it's always been, perpendicular to the lake, surrounded by the town, and then I get my first glimpse of the devastation. I have landed in Slave Lake enough times that I have subconscious landmarks that help me find the way to the runway, but it's like landing at an unknown aerodrome. The swathes of nothing are startling. I find the runway nevertheless and put the airplane on it.

I ask the fueller how things have been going in the town, with reconstruction and he says that almost nothing has been rebuilt yet, in fact they hardly have a handle on how to complete the demolition. So far the burned out areas have been fenced off and the remains of vehicles are been towed away, but nothing else has been done. He and everyone else I meet in town are pretty upbeat about their situation, though. They're northerners, I guess. Life goes on and they aren't dwelling on misfortune. We call all the taxi numbers but can't get one. There's a benefit concert going on, with big name bands at a venue just out of town and everyone is taking cabs so they can drink and party. We get a ride with an FBO employee, who tells us a "secret" that I can tell you now, because it's all over. She's just been finalizing arrangements for the arrival of aircraft carrying Prince William and his new bride Kate and their retinue. This was a surprise addition to the itinerary of the royal visit, but you can't keep secrets like that in a small town. Everyone I talk to has heard that they are coming, but some think it's just a rumour to buoy their spirits, and that a prince in line to the throne of Canada wouldn't visit such a small place.

The FBO employee gave us a tour through the destroyed parts of town. Entire blocks were completely razed, just empty yards with grey crumbled foundations and a few twisted pieces of metal. There was very little that was blackened or scorched. It was just gone. Completely incinerated. The fire was so hot that the foundations now crumble to the touch. Here and there is a house that the fire jumped over, or that the firefighters managed to keep from becoming engulfed. Sometimes such relatively untouched houses are sitting between two barren holes, intact except with the siding warped in curvy waves. There's one yard where the concrete steps that once led to the front door are still standing, covered in a waterfall of molten glass. It's a ghoulish little tour.

Our driver also filled us in on some of the worst parts of the fire, not what you would expect. Everyone was evacuated from the town with no notice, and they were not permitted to return for ten days, until power, treated water and emergency services could be provided again. Imagine a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant at four in the afternoon. Now imagine a KFC that was abandoned in full operation at four in the afternoon, then left there with no refrigeration, no air conditioning and no cleaning for ten days in the heat of summer. Now add in ten other restaurants, an entire supermarket, and everyone's homes. The stench, I am told, was epic.

I go out for a jog before supper, following the trails by the river, and then crossing a road onto a park playground and across the park. At the far side of the park is a fence, but not your ordinary chain link fence to keep soccer balls from rolling into the street. It's a barricade between the park and one of the burned out areas. I turn left and run along the fence, just looking for the exit, but except for where I came in, the park is almost surrounded by burned out areas. I look at the metal that is visible in the yards. There are some cars, they look ancient, aged a hundred years in a day. The post-nuclear LA scene from Terminator 2 that shows a highway full of burned out cars does not adequately represent the effect of heat. The glass and rubber is just gone, and what's left looks more like the ash casts at Vesuvius than metal chassis. In one yard two cars are stacked one on top of another and I try to envision how that came to be. There are the remains of metal garden sheds in some yards, and after seeing several examples I realize that another common theme is trampoline skeletons. The springs are gone, I guess scattered and buried in the other rubble or incinerated with the synthetic fabric of the bed of the trampoline and the tubes that once made the round or rectangular shapes are twisted too. In one yard is a living tree, it looks like a little fruit tree, and I feel badly that no one can get in through the fence to water it. It survived a fire but may die of summer.

One of the "island" homes, an intact house amid all the devastation has three coloured printed signs inside the front window, proclaiming DONE DONE DONE on blue, pink and yellow paper. I theorize at first that the resident did not want to live there anymore, but further down the street I see what is presumably the reverse side of the same coloured paper, noting NEEDS WATER, NEEDS POWER, NEEDS GAS. Locals probably were instructed to pick up these sheets and post them in their windows to alert the utilities people that the residents had returned and were requesting restoration of services. Another sign in the front yard of what must have been a duplex gives a name and phone number, saying, "I owned the other half. Please contact me so we can decide how to proceed." Even one lot of this rubble would be hard to clear. It's not surprising that so little progress has been made.

We go for dinner at Boston Pizza, me trying not to think too hard about what the kitchen must have looked like after the fire. I notice a help wanted sign, and have seen those all over town, so I ask the server. Of fifty-seven people employed at BP before the fire, only twenty-one returned to the town after the evacuation order was lifted. Restaurant servers are typically young people, free to move where the jobs are, and they took other jobs in other towns, or just saw no reason to return. BP was one of the first restaurants to reopen. It's a chain, so the franchise was probably quickly able to source and ship full replacements for everything unusable, and it was screaming busy because most returning residents couldn't use their own kitchens.

It's actually more surprising to see how mentally healthy everyone seems than it is to gawk at the destruction. I realized during my run that this is an ancient human experience. Humans built homes and humans used fire since before history was recorded, and humans have almost always returned to rebuild. I'm glad the stench was just restaurant and grocery store meat. No one was injured badly enough for it to be reported. There are a few lost dog signs on poles, "ran away during the evacuation" doesn't bode well for a little white dog, but you never know.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Advantage Cancelling

I should report in on my new headset. It is a fine thing. It is comfortable. I even find myself looking forward to putting it on in the morning, reminding myself of a horse I encountered once that was so eager to get out of the paddock for a ride that it walked right up and dropped its head in the halter I was carrying1. I can hear ATC clearly, and adjust the volume per ear, and there's a jack for me to connect my MP3 player. (It also accepts Bluetooth, but I don't own any Bluetooth devices to test it with). The MP3 jack is interesting because there's a three-position switch controlling how it behaves. Off doesn't allow you to hear the music at all. The middle position allows you to hear the MP3 player and ATC both at once. And the top position automatically mutes the music when there is any activity on the intercom (i.e. from another crewmember speaking or an transmission on an ATC frequency being monitored. I use the top position and it's remarkable effective.

I have some notes here that I didn't post earlier on the research I did before I realized that I would have to buy whatever headset was available. I could have ordered a headset directly from the LightSPEED website. They have international shipping, but they irritatingly only listed American units for the specifications. I wish Americans would learn that only they and the Liberians know what sixteen ounces is, and list things in grams. Also they're one of the sellers that require me to create an account in order to buy something. Hey, I want to click on the item and give you my credit card number. I could have traded in my old headset for a LightSPEED Zulu for $587 with trade-in and shipping, but the new Zulu isn't available through the trade-in plan yet.

I found this video while comparison shopping the Bose and LightSPPED. It's a little out of date, because it's the Bose A20 now, not the X and the new Zulu not the original Zulu, but it's a good discussion of the issues to consider when buying any headset.

Sennheiser lists international units on its website, but it doesn't sell headsets from the website and won't show me the location of a dealer. Their dealer-finder app maxes out at 300 nm, and finds zero that distance from where I was when I needed one. I would have loved to try one as they are known for good technology, but they don't seem to be in the 21st century. I think the headset is heavier, though, too. And then there's this, not so much about the headset as about the very attractive young lady who is wearing it.

I have to wonder about "Certified for commercial duty" though. Is there any country in which functional headsets have to be separately certified for pilots to use them while being paid? Throw one piece of balderdash like that into your marketing statement and I suspect that everything else you have to say is a deceiving distortion, too. Dumb sort of advertising to use on a very informed group. Or so we think.

Q: What do you get when you cross an ape with a pilot?
A: An ape with a big watch.

I was musing though, that my new headset isn't as good as my first ANR headset, even though the technology is better. Back then I was the only one in the company with ANR and I had superhuman abilities. Now everyone has them, so ANR is no longer an advantage over others. It's pretty much essential. I have a coworker who doesn't use ANR, just an old fashioned bulletproof set of David Clarks, and I wonder how he does it. I couldn't go back to a passive headset. I met someone recently whose first boss discouraged his employees from wearing headsets at all, because he said you can't hear the engine properly with it on. His employees weren't bold enough to tell him the reason he couldn't hear the engine, or much else for that matter, was that he had been flying for forty years without a headset.

Also, I wrote down this quotation from someone because it made me laugh, and have now completely forgotten the context: "It was so quiet it was like wearing a Bose noise cancelling headset, but without the noise cancellation, and without the headset.

1. Unfortunately for eager-horse, I was there to catch a different horse. A horse sufficiently less eager to be ridden that it bit me, if I recall correctly.

Meanwhile a reader in the USA writes:

I am wrapping up my dispatch training and am looking to talk to an active dispatcher. Do you know of anyone that might be able to answer a few questions for me?
If you can help, please drop me a line and I'll connect you two.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Morse Numbers

Morse Code numbers are easy. You can tell when the signal you're hearing is a number, because they are all five segments long, and no letter has more than four segments. And unlike the letters, the numbers follow a perfectly logical pattern.

1 . _ _ _ _
2 . . _ _ _
3 . . . _ _
4 . . . . _
5 . . . . .
6 _ . . . .
7 _ _ . . .
8 _ _ _ . .
9 _ _ _ _ .
0 _ _ _ _ _

It's as if the five dashes are five blanks into which you enter the numbers: one dot for one and incrementing up to five dots for five, at which point the dots become the blanks and you start counting dashes. If you're expecting letters you start hearing a one and you think " E, no A, no W, no J, ah 1." With two it's "E, no I, no U, but by the fourth dash it's revealed to be 2. You also know on the fourth dash for 3, but all the others you have to wait until the end to know for sure.

I can't read Morse code as in to hear a message that is being broadcast to me. I use it only to verify. I want to verify the XT beacon, so I think, "X, that's _.._ and T is _" then I listen to make sure that's what I hear. It does leave me open to hearing what I expect, but that's not a situation that changes whether or not you have your eyes on the symbolic representation on the chart. I think it improves safety to be able to be watching my VOR needle while listening to the identifier for the next beacon.

That's all I have to say about that, but I know I have some readers far more knowledgeable on the subject than I, and I anticipate some informative comments from them.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Direct, But Not From Here

I mentioned taking deserved flack on my PPC ride for not using the GPS (it had an expired database and thus was not approved for IFR operations) to improve my situational awareness. While approach procedures change, and airway radials get renumbered, it's very rare that an airport or navaid is actually moved and pilots are encouraged to use situational awareness tools that are available to them, whether $15,000 installations or reused pieces of cereal box. (You can make a hold entry cheat sheet that way, if you have the normal problems with holds and not the crazy, make up a new way to screw up a hold everytime ones that I devise. Hint: do not track inbound on your EFC). The GPS avaialble to me here is a Garmin 530W.

It is familiar. There's a large rectangular screen with buttons and knobs all around it. It's a navcom unit, meaning that you use it to talk on the radio as well as tell where you're going, but the radio transmission readibility is poor, so we only use it for monitoring frequencies. I suspect an antenna connection, just because that was the cause of a simiar problem in a C172 years ago, and the maintenance manager said they hadn't investigated that yet. On the left side are knobs to adjust com volume and squelch and nav radio volume, plus there are flip flops switches to exchange active and standby frequencies. That means you never adjust the frequency you are actually using, but select the new frequency on standby and then switch them. That way it doesn't sound like you're in scan mode on your car stereo.

The exact tuning procedure is easy, with one little trick. The bottom left knob tunes either comm or nav frequencies, and by default it's the commuications frequency. You push it to toggle between control of each and it will time out and go back to comm. It's a double knob, with MHz on the outside knob, and kHz, in 25 kHz steps on the inner one. I'm not someone who walks around with a perfect picture of the wavelengths and frequencies of all her devices in her head, so I'm grateful to a pilot who years ago must have forgotten the English word frequency, because while he was in the run up area he asked the ground controller to repeat it with "Vat is ze megahertz?" That simple call forever reminds me that com and VOR frequencies are in MHz and I can place the others in relation, thanks to having learned my metric prefixes in grade three.

The bottom row is buttons: CDI, OBS, MSG, FPL, VNAV and PROC, are also familiar from other modern Garmins like the GNS430, and the right side has a range rocker, the lovely Direct-to button (looks kind of like D> except that the line carries right through the letter and ends in a rightward-pointing arrow), and MENU, CLR and ENTER buttons. On the bottom left is a double knob that cycles between page groups on the outside and individual pages on the inside. Yes, this is pretty much like the GNS430. Not that that means I'm awesome with it. I have a resistance to being really good with GPS units because I fear the loss of the navigation skills I developed before they were so ubiquitous. But really I am already losing those skills, but using GPS badly. In fact, if I learn to use this so well that it needs only the least amount of my attention, and I know its limitations well, that leaves more attention over to do real navigation.

A quick example of something I've already learned and used is how to use the direct to funtion to select a track not direct from my present position, but along a particular track to a facility. It's so obvious, once you know how: select the fix you want, hit the direct-to key, and then on the screen that comes up verifying the fix you asked for, cursor through the fields to the one that shows the direct track and change it to the desired track. Hit enter twice and there is the radial/track displayed on the moving map. This can be used to intercept final approach, a VOR radial or a track to an NDB. It's great when doing the last in wind, because it provides great confirmation that I am really on track, and improves my ability to intercept a track that is a moving and very unsteady target in a turn. (Banking affects the direction an ADF needle points, so you can never be sure you're on track until you're wings level again, making it hard to know if you have to increase or decrease bank to have the turn work out).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Special Thunderstorms

A probably not so recent anymore AIM update identified two changes in the publication for which I wanted to look up the details.

The following airports have been identified for SPECI criteria for significant temperature changes between hourly reports: about half of Canadian airports

It then lists almost half of Canadian airports, the biggest ones. Normally an aerodrome observation, called a METAR is published once an hour, but if one of a number of specific significant changes occur, like precipitation starts or ends, or the ceiling or visibility changes past a specific limitation, they issue a special update observation called a SPECI. It's pretty clear from the descriptions that they are aimed at given a pilot the best chance of making the right decision about whether or not she can land there with her equipment and training.

It doesn't say why they have added temperature to the criteria. Temperature in and of itself doesn't offer the same impediment to landing as fog, hail, or thunderstorms, but a sudden change in temperature indicates the passage of a front, which could mean an abrupt change in weather, or sometimes freezing rain.

The second change is to Met 3.13 and I was curious when I looked at it what they had changed.

(a) active thunderstorms–the cumulonimbus (CB) symbol is used when thunderstorms occur, or are forecast to occur, over a widespread area, along a line, embedded in other cloud layers, or when concealed by a hazard. The amounts and the spatial coverage (in brackets) are indicated as:

ISOLD (isolated) – for individual CBs (less than 25%)
OCNL (occasional) – for well­separated CBs (25 – 50% inclusive)
NMRS (numerous) – for CBs with little or no separation (greater than 50%)

It looked the same as I remembered. As an instructor I used to teach students to match ISOLD to FEW (1-2 octas), OCNL to SCT (3-4 octas) and NMRS to BKN (>4 octas), where an octa, or maybe it's an okta--damn you really forget this stuff when you're not lecturing someone on it every day--is a one-eighth proportion of the sky. I houled out an older paper copy of the AIM and looked up what it used to be, and the old version omits the bits that are in parentheses in the lines quoted above. I wonder how I knew it, then. I guess it was in the old, old version, the AIP and somehow didn't get added to the new AIM until recently.

That's exactly how lore is created, but someone added it back in, so now it's information again. I love lore. Especially when it's incorrect but it can be traced back to a loopily logical origin.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Connecting the Dots

Some people want to hear more about my flights and less about the hotels or the keys or the fuellers or the taxicabs, but my flights are a long sequence of lines with dots on them. Have you ever sat down to play a simple videogame, not a fancy one with a plot and cut sequences and realistic graphics, but the sort you get for your phone that mostly just have dots or blobs you have to shoot or catch, like Bejeweled Blitz or Pac-Man or Space Invaders or Stack the Cats and then looked up four hours later with sore fingers and almost no perception of the time passing? That's whatit's like flying photo survey, except that instead of being filled with guilty self-loathing over having wasted so much time, you have a great feeling of accomplishment of having taken seven hundred twenty three photographs without missing a dot.

Sometimes the lines are parallel with the endpoints lined up, so I can just turn around, and attack the next line, but sometimes the next line is longer or shorter or we skip one, so I need to be directed to the next one before it comes on screen. The scale jumps to zoom in as I approach the lines until it switches to what I call the "jumpscreen." (Yah, because it jumps. My creativity wanes when I'm totally focused on dots.) It depicts the track I have to cruise right down the middle of. The main dots appear on the screen green, then turn yellow and blue and sometimes red. Red is bad, and I should tell the operator if I see a red dot, but he has the same screen and has usually seen it before me, in that he isn't flying an airplane at the same time.

So there are two sorts of dots, the sometimes red one that I have to chase to make it stay in the middle and greem, and the ones on the line that I have to gobble up like Pac-Man. It makes me crave Skittles and Smarties (the Canadian kind: the American kind, which we call Rockets, aren't brightly enough coloured, enough).

I can do engine management, look up new frequencies, and all the other things you do while flying in the few seconds between dots, or in turns. And I listen to my MP3 player through the headset, on a setting that mutes the tunes as soon as there is any activity on the intercom or radio. This also has the effect of shutting the music off right away if I start to sing along, a blessing for the camera operator.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Morse Code, Part II

This is continued from a previous post on how I remember the signals for various letters in Morse code. So far we've done V B U D E T A N S H I and O. Here's the rest of the alphabet.

More Dashes

From the previous post on the topic, one dash is T, like the top of a capital T. Follow on from this to remember that two dashes is M, like serifs on the tops of an M. Okay no one draws an M that way, but you can imagine it. I have three more letters that I think of as dash-based, even though they aren't entirely made of dashes.

There's W which is a dot and two dashes: . _ _

You could think of that as E followed by M and concoct a story about the M saying "eee" because it was upside-down, turning it into a W, but I just hear it as "da WHIS KEY" like in the song, "Coulda been the whiskey, coulda been the gin ..."

Opposite to W is G: two dashes then a dot. If your name begins with G you can think of it as ME, but for non G-named folk it's "GO GO g!" Hey, I didn't say these were going to be really good ways to remember the letters.

My last dashy letter is J, a dot followed by three dashes (. _ _ _ ). It's the only letter that has three dashes and something else besides, and its the longest Morse letter. It was in the identifier of an airport that took a long time to get to while I was training. If the letter goes on for a long time and you can't remember what it is, maybe it's a J. Or maybe it's a number. I'll have to do those later.

Palindromes are Branchy

The letters with Morse the same backwards as forwards are the branchy letters. I continue to have weird ways of equating the dashes and dots with the shapes of the letters. K is a dash, a dot and a dash _._ and I just discovered that I can't put it in parentheses or it looks like an ASCII butt. That in itself is possibly more memorable than anything I can say next, but before I knew that, I thought of the dot as the upright of the K and the two dashes as the "branches" going off in different directions. X is like K but more so, with its branches going off in all directions, so it gets two dots in the middle. Imagine it an X-wing fighter _.._ if you like.

X and K ones have the dashes on the outside, but the curvy letters P and R have the dots on the outside. There's R ._. and then P ._ _. which is annoying, because the P ought to have one less dash than the R, to represent the fact that it is exactly like an R, except missing the little downwards branch. I've always had trouble with P.


Obviously you have to learn all the letters by rhythm eventually if you want to be any good at this, but some of them I know only by rhythm, because they say their own names, or something I can easily associate with them.

C _._. CHARlie CHARlie
F .._. Happy BirFday (you have to say it with a lisp)
Q _ _ . _ God save da Queen (I don't know if that works for non-commonwealth people)
Y _ . _ _ becomes instantly familiar to Canadian students, as it begins the identifier on almost every nav aid colocated with an airport, so you can't not recognize it. The few that don't begin with Z, and there's even a RUSH song commemorating YYZ, the main airport serving the Greater Toronto Metropolitan Area, that has the rhythm of YYZ in Morse, giving you also
Z _ _ ..

That leaves only L. I can never remember L. If I don't know what it is, it's L. . _ .. I try to say it as "a LOLlipop" but that's not working for me.

Later I'll do numbers. At first I thought, "ah, I don't need numbers and they look hard" but some nav aids do have numbers in their identifiers, and they are actually super easy.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Morse Code, Part I

One of Amelia Earhart's weaknesses was that she did not know Morse Code, and it seems that information wasn't communicated to the ships that were providing weather and guidance for her during her final flight. I don't know Morse Code well enough to send and receive sentences, and I discovered that I can't read visual flashes at all, but I can understand all the numbers and letters at the slow speed broadcast by nav aid identifiers.

I was triggered to learn by a ground school instructor who related what he thought was an amazing story about a student who didn't have to look at the dots and dashes provided on the charts while he was identifying the nav aid, because the student had "memorized Morse Code." I knew that memorizing Morse Code was not an amazing feat, and it sounded like a way I could get an advantage in the air. I knew already that if you can spend thirty minutes on the ground to save one minute in the air, you should do it. And you can probably learn Morse Code well enough to understand nav aid identifiers in about thirty minutes. It is not that hard. This post and the next couple are my hints for achieving that skill.

First thing is, and this doesn't count in your thirty minutes, because you'd have to learn it regardless and you probably know it already, is the idea of "dots and dashes." Morse code is produced by pulsing a signal. It doesn't have to be a wire or radio transmission or use a special device. It works with any signal. It could be light, sound, touch, arranged objects. The only requirement is that it is possible to differentiate two sorts of signal. The way to do that is usually long versus short, which is why this suggestion wouldn't work, even if the guns had been operational. Although it's a space ship, so maybe they could have pulsable laser guns.

Each letter in Morse code is between one and four pulses long, in some combination of short and/or long pulses. In transcribing a message, the short pulses are written as dots and the long ones as dashes. The short pulses are also called dits and the long ones dahs. If, like me, you learn by memorizing what things look like, you can picture each letter as its corresponding sequence of dots and dashes. They're just some associations that I use when I forget which letter is which. My suggestions here are not predicated on visual learning, though. There are also a stunning number of mnemonics on Wikipedia's page on the subject.

Morse Code You Probably Know Already: O S V

It's classic rock, but if you've heard The Police "Message in a Bottle" just once, you've heard about sending out an SOS about thirty times, so you should know what that is. The official Morse code distress call is an S, O, and S sent out with no spaces between. That's three short, three long, and three short signals. The triangle is the official shape of distress, and three is its number. All you have to do is remember that S is the three dots (...) and O the three dashes (---). O is fatter, while S is skinny, so S can is the fast three and O the slow ones.

The other letter you already know is V (...-), instantly recognizable in the "da da da dum!" of Beethoven's fifth symphony. The symphony has even been used as a code signifying victory, for that reason. You can learn three more letters in relation to V.

Letters Related to V: U B D

This is just me, so maybe this doesn't work for you, but here goes. You already know V (...-). The written letter U is just like V except without the point. The Morse U (..-) is just like V with one fewer point, too. In Spanish B and V are extremely similar sounds, so I have no problem remembering that B (-...) is V reversed. And a capital D is shaped like a capital B except with one fewer thingy. Thus we get D (-..), one fewer thingy.

The Commonest Letters: E T A

If you've ever played with word games or cryptography, you know that the most common letters in English are E, T and A, in that order. Samuel Morse must have known it too, because he made them the simplest codes. E (.) is a single dot, the commonest letter and the fastest to send. A lower case e is a bit like a single dot, too. If the font is small enough: e e e . Meanwhile, T (-) is a single dash. Like the one on top of a capital T. If you put E and T together you have A (.-). But that's not how I remember A.

The A-N Beacon: A N

One of my favourite pieces of navigation history is the four course radio range, or the A-N beacon. Its operation is dependent on the fact that A (.-) and N (-.) have opposite signals. And that's how I like to remember A and N.

Hi Dots: H I

We know one dot is E and three dots is S, which leaves two dots for I (..) -- eyes are after all two dots in the front of your face -- and four dots for H (....). I think Morse code enthusiasts probably have a special Q-code for greeting one another, but if they wanted to say "hi" it would be an easy six dots.

That's enough for today. The next part of this post isn't finished yet, so there might be a few posts in between.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

B737 Down In Resolute Bay

On August 20th a Boeing 737-200 operated by First Air made a radio call "eight kilometres from the airport" the Resolute Bay airport, then crashed ten minutes later. I don't know the content of the radio call but as they don't say it was a distress call, I assume it was a routine call to airport radio. Eight kilometres is five miles, the DME of the final approach fix for the GNSS or LOC/DME approach. The plates at the link are outdated and I don't have a northern region CAP with me to check the current procedures, but there is no reason to assume they have changed.

A reporter's retelling of an eyewitness report describes the airplane coming into view not aligned with the runway and then starting a missed approach. Generally eyewitness accounts aren't worth much because humans aren't actually very good at seeing unexpected events, or at remembering what they saw, but in a community like that, the airplanes are life and everyone would be familiar with what the airplane looks and sounds like coming into land, so the report of a deviation from normal may be accurate. Here's another account, from one of the three survivors, Gabrielle Pelky, a seven year old girl, confirming that everything seemed normal. The Vancouver Sun story says Gabrielle literally walked away from the crash, but an Edmonton story says she had a broken leg, so there's either some inaccuracy here or one damned tough little girl. It's hard to imagine

An odd part of the story is that the emergency response was the best it could possibly have been, because the accident happened during a joint exercise of the military and emergency services, aimed at improving emergency response in remote communities such as Resolute Bay, response to disasters such as a cruise ship sinking or air crash. I wonder if there was a moment of confusion when a real emergency cropped up. Southern readers may find it odd that there were only fifteen people aboard a B737, but the First Air aircraft would have been configured as a combi, with cargo not only below deck as on most passenger airlines, but filling most of what would otherwise be the passenger cabin, with a bulkhead delineating the seating section.

Chances are every single resident of Resolute Bay directly knew or was related to someone on that airplane, and that almost everyone in Nunavut and the NWT knows someone who knew someone. Twelve people out of the entire Nunavut population of 33,000 is, percentage-wise equivalent to 2900 out of eight million residents of New York. Uh, that number is uncomfortably close to matching that of a disaster New York has experienced. I was going to switch to another state, but I think I'll let it stand. To the population of Nunavut, this is a major tragedy. I'm sure it's a horrible thing for First Air, too. It's a community unto itself, as large as many of the destinations it serves. My heart goes out to everyone touched by the loss.

There may have been an e-mail correspondent who was going to send something for this blog on the airplane, and the complete passenger list hasn't yet been released. I'll let you know in the next couple of weeks either by posting information on his research or telling you what it was going to be about.

Update: Here's a good newsreel from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and here's a passenger list with descriptions of the people. The researcher who died was not my arctic researcher. There's an eerie number of first-time air travellers,nervous flyers and and air crash survivors among the passengers. Remember the old joke about the passengers' belief in physics being required to sustain flight?

2nd Update: Reader Sarah linked this excellent article, showing me wrong in several respects, demonstrating the futility of speculating on these things. Commenters on the linked article continue to speculate nevertheless.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wind, Fuel and Tie-Downs

Before breakfast in the hotel, I get the desk clerk to fax my photo flight plan to the IFR data people and my OFP to company, then grab breakfast. They have oatmeal, my favourite breakfast food, but they only have the maple flavour. Basically, they've taken perfectly good oatmeal and put it in a paper bag with way too much salt and sugar. I can't remember whether I ate it or turned straight to the muffins, but I did try to get a muffin out of a plexiglass case. You can't really see or reach the muffins without opening the drawer, but when I pull it out it somehow locks at a negative angle and muffins start ricocheting all over the room. Someone comes to my rescue and we figure out how to disarm the muffin booby trap. Girl can operate a complex airplane but she's helpless against breakfast.

Despite it all I'm right on the dot for my filed take-off time. Airborne, I tune departure and before I can contact them, the first thing I hear on frequency is, "Are you really an F-18? That's a pretty good rate of climb."

"Yeah, we're light today. It's pretty fun," replies the pilot. 'Cause you know, ordinarily it's so boring flying an F-18.

We check in with the cheerful controller and are cleared higher. We get a rate of climb nothing like that of an empty F-18, but still fine for us and we're soon in the flight levels flying back and forth in straight lines. And dammit, I need to pee already. There's a sound from the back like a clipboard being dropped. I ask the operator if he dropped his clipboard. No, he didn't. It's that stupid heater malfunctioning again. I turn it off. So now I need to pee and I'm going to be cold in a few minutes.

I put on my gloves and coat, zip it up to my chin and continue working. I can pee in a bag if I get too desperate, but they say if you're in a cold survival situation you should hold it because it's warm. The idea is that you're losing heat if you evacuate it. I'm not quite sure I follow that idea, but I follow the straight lines, dot after dot. We use up those photo blocks and ask for more, which the cheerful controller gives us.

With an hour of fuel remaining, I start descent. I planned for thirty minutes to get down and land and I take an odd pride in the fact that landing too is right on the filed minute. We taxi to the pumps and I run and pee while waiting for the fueller. The operator makes a routine check of the camera and discovers that there is fuel on the lens. The air at altitude doesn't have enough oxygen to burn fuel at the rate the regulator supplies it to the heater, and despite the fact that this airplane is certified to almost ten thousand feet higher than we were flying, it has not been equipped with any means of controlling the mixture. You'd think there would be an automatic pressure-controlled leaning operation, but there isn't. So our theory is that the unburned fuel gets barfed overboard through the exhaust, and some of it has ended up on the camera lens. Some of it ignites in the exhaust, causing the clipboard-dropping sound, and the soot around the exhaust that I have to clean off again. But we just had both the heater fuel regulator and the entire heater replaced, so it shouldn't be doing this. Airplanes never know what they aren't supposed to do.

Or maybe that theory is bogus and the heater is working okay, but there's some fuel leak somewhere else. I do the math on the fuel burn, as I've recorded how much went into each tank during refuelling. The fuel burn is right on the money for my planning, and the difference between tanks is negligible. We talk to our AMO ("Approved Maintenance Organization" i.e. home base aircraft maintainers) and they have us check for leaks while running the fuel pumps, switching tanks, and everything else they can think of. We decide to delay departure to make sure there isn't another source of fuel leaking that could wreck our data. We open some inspection ports and eventually conclude that the fuel must have come out of the heater, and we're okay to fly again.

As we're parking the airplane at the end of the day, a November-registered Cessna 180 arrives. It's windy, and of course the wind has a greater effect on the little airplane, but the pilot taxies carefully and shuts down nearby. They've come up to Canada for hunting, fishing and visiting family here. The pilot comments on the absence of tie-downs here, and at most Canadian airports. It's true, in comparison, there are hardly any tiedown spaces for transient aircraft in Canada. It's routine in the states that there are metal cables running across the parking area, and often chains with hooks attached, making it easy for you to secure your airplane. I remember now an American friend who asserted that all airports provided tie-down chains. His experience was limited, but it certainly is common. In Canada there aren't usually even tiedown rings in the pavement outside the paid long-term area. Canadians travelling with a small airplane need to bring ropes and stakes, park on the grass and drive the stakes into the turf to secure their airplanes. Everywhere is different, but what has driven this difference? It's not about snowploughs, as the travelling couple is from Montana and they have just as much snow as here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Forecast That Cried "Thunderstorm"

I'm at an airport in the afternoon and the goal is to be at another airport early tomorrow morning. Ideally we should have left several hours ago, before the summer afternoon thunderstorms developed in the mountains, but the goal didn't exist then. Or at least I hadn't been apprised of it. This airplane does not have the service ceiling to fly over these thunderstorms; flying under them in the mountains is not a winning proposition; flying through a thunderstorm would probably mean icing and turbulence beyond the limits of the aircraft, so I'm plotting a route around them. Or at least up to them, so that tomorrow we won't have to go as far.

We could leave super early to go tomorrow instead. I do the math as to when we should get up to be where we need to be when we need to be at seven am. It's something like half hour to get ready, plus half hour to the airport plus half hour preflight, plus fifteen minutes for engine start, runup and taxi, plus three hours en route, plus an hour to land, pee, refuel, taxi and take off again, plus half an hour for generally screwing up somewhere in there. That adds up to leaving at 12:45 a.m., or just enough time for me to reset my duty day. But neither of us really wants to do that, so I look again at the going around the weather option. I chat to a flight services specialist to get his interpretation of the latest radar imagery. Together we select a route that should keep me free of the storms without too much inefficiency, and I file it.

Depart, call the departure frequency, fly a heading, maintain an altitude, fly direct a fix and cleared own navigation as filed. I'm through the lower level stratus with a good view and there are no TCUs en route as far as I can see. A centre controller calls me and offers me direct destination, but I decline, citing weather concerns. The next controller says, "You're not negative RNAV today are you?" Now I'm not exactly going to the most popular airport in the country, but surely someone else is getting diversions for this weather. I call up flight services, give them a position report and ask for an update on the area of thunderstorms. The specialist says they are still a threat and describes the locations of the largest-painting cells. What the hey? We're past the biggest one, and I passed that little thing without a second glance. I ask centre for the vector direct they have been trying to give me for an hour, and then we never see anything we have to avoid the whole way.

Darn you, weather forecast. If there's nothing dangerous going on, don't make me look stupid and waste time and fuel going all the way around when i could go straight. I go straight from here on in, skip over the proposed intermediate airport and land at airport B for the night. We're in position for the morning's mission and we have enough time for dinner and a good night's sleep, despite incredibly slow restaurant service.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Do WAC charts exist in your country? WAC stands for Wide Area Chart World Aeronautical Chart, but clearly I can't remember that, therefore I just call them "WAC charts." WAC Chart is one of those redundancies that can be used to annoy the same people who cringe when you enter your PIN number into the ATM machine. A WAC is a 1:1,000,000 scale visual navigation chart, and that is a really good scale for long trips in a medium-sized airplane. WACs have not been revised in ages, and have become increasingly difficult to buy in Canada. They are still occasionally available, but haven't been printed for years, so as they go out of print, they're gone. Then, in a recent AIM update, it was announced that "the term “WAC” was removed" from GEN 5.2, the section of the Airman's Information Manual where it appeared. I always think this kind of revision is kind of 1984. The WAC has been erased from existence. Some people would argue that with modern GPS technology the need for WACs was literally a relic of 1984, but my GPS screen can't be unfolded to cover a hotel bed, damnit. They're a really good planning size.

Also, for my current job, they are the only aviation chart that identifies photo blocks right on the chart.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pipeline Around the World

We're flying a pipeline today. The pipeline has already been built, so presumably the owners know where it is, but they want pictures of it, and we get paid to take pictures, so we fuel up and go. The flight is a little unusual in that we're training a new camera operator, so there are three people on board. But the more the merrier, as far as I'm concerned.

Linguistic aside I wrote the previous sentence and then tabbed over to my notes file to see what in particular I had to say about the pipeline flight. By pure coincidence, while I scrolled past the random thoughts at the beginning of the file, looking for the flight-by-flight notes, my eyes found something I wrote months ago about the expression I had just used. The grammar of the more the merrier isn't explainable through modern English grammar. The adverbial use of the is a relic of Old English þy, which was originally the instrumentive case of the neuter demonstrative þæt. So it literally meant something like "in what degree more, in that degree merrier." I think it's cool that I randomly use expressions of such ancient lineage and my language happily accommodates them. The people who have little fits about "hopefully" or "could care less" really don't have a leg to stand on. English has forever been about what people say, not what makes any kind of logical sense.

But merrily and numerously we taxi out for takeoff and persuade the controller to give us a departure clearance. There's a double delay and I wonder if I've managed to file the flight along some airway that is not authorized for use on Tuesdays, but the controllers are just puzzling out where to fling a CVFR flight. The first controller seemed to understand that I was CVFR, but there was a controller handoff between my calling for clearance them receiving it from centre and the new controller gave me an IFR departure. I don't really care. IFR or VFR I'm going to take off, switch to the next frequency, and follow their vectors and altitude restrictions until I'm in my photo blocks, so I accept the departure and follow it after I'm given a take-off clearance. The next controller gives me a vector that is close enough to direct my entry point that it doesn't matter, and I'm cheerfully following it when he calls back.

"Are you IFR or controlled VFR?" he asks.

"I'm on a controlled VFR flight plan."

"Have you been IFR at any point today?"

"I accepted a published IFR departure."

I think he asked me if I considered myself IFR right now. I tried to give him a professional and aviation-speak version of, "Seeing as I'm pointed in the direction I want to go, climbing towards the altitude I want, I really don't care." If we didn't have the op spec for extended single-pilot IFR duty days it might matter, but as it is it makes literally no difference to me. The only functional difference between VFR and IFR in cruise on a nice day is whether I have to read back clearances or not. And in busy airspace where most traffic is IFR, I often read back VFR clearances to fit in with the crowd. Technically under IFR the controller not me is responsible for my terrain and traffic, but it's not like I'm really abdicating those responsibilities, especially as I can see the terrain.

It shouldn't make that much difference to the controller, either. Under CVFR he's responsible for separating me from other traffic. That's the whole purpose of CVFR: to allow VFR traffic in airspace where IFR separation is required. But I don't mind. I wish I knew the words to make this controller happy. He tells me I'm CVFR and I'm happy with that. He hnds me off to another frequency.

The pipeline goes into the foothills, so that's where we're working. Usually I get a clearance for such and such photo blocks, for such an such a block altitude and then I just work, without a peep out of the controllers. But this lady won't give me a block altitude. I have to ask for every altitude change and heading change, and as often as not it's denied. There's traffic at that altitude, I can't have it. We end up skipping some lines for cloud and other lines because we just can't get by the controller. The thing about filing photo blocks is that theoretically they are supposed to give you the whole block, yours, exclusively. It never really works that way, and I wouldn't really want it to, but this controller doesn't get what is going on.

If I want to fly direct Calgary at 11,000' and there's traffic preventing me from doing so, I can continue towards Calgary at 9000' until the traffic is by me, then accept the climb to 11,000' and I have been inconvenienced only a tiny bit. If my direct Calgary course is 150 degrees and I'm restricted to south for five minutes, I've still been making progress towards Calgary and not a lot of time has been wasted in the five minutes before the controller says, "cleared direct Calgary." But if I want to fly along a line that starts exactly here and goes to exactly there on a track of 150.27 degrees (yes, my heading is displayed in front of me to two decimal places. I remember thinking +/-5 degrees on the commercial flight test was rigourous) at 11,000', it is completely useless to me to be cleared along it at 9000'. And if I need to turn NOW to get onto the line, a five minute heading restriction is worse than useless, because it will have carried me five minutes away from the start of the line and I have to turn around and go back.

In order to improve efficiency I start calling her a few dots before the end of a line, multitasking with my radio call and my dot tracking to try and get the next turn or next altitude approved before I hit the last dot and am ready to turn. It's a little overloading, as I'm focusing almost all my attention on those little dots and don't have a lot of attention over for the designations of photo blocks. The conversation is supposed to go like this:

Me: "In one mile Dotsmasher One requests left turn to zero eight five at one four thousand seven hundred."

Her: "Dotsmasher One cleared left turn zero eight five degrees at one four thousand seven hundred."

Me: "Left zero eight five degrees at one four thousand seven hundred, Dotsmasher One."

Her: "Readback correct."

Yeah, what is usually me flying around doing what I need to has turned into a four line conversation. And what is really going on includes both operators telling me what I need next and me reading back what they have said if it isn't clear or I think I have forgotten. So sometimes when I ask the controller for an altitude and she approves it I just say "Dotsmasher One." She corrects me snippily when I miss or muss a readback and the second time I apologize with, "Sorry, I'm just not feeling as though I'm IFR today." I'm turning and swooping and visually negotiating hills. There's a pause as she talks to other traffic then she calls me back just to deride me for that comment. "It doesn't matter," she says, "whether you are VFR or IFR you must always read back assigned altitudes and headings." I just bite my tongue on that one. It's a nice sunny day and she's stuck in a box with a screen while I get to fly in the mountains. I do my best to read everything back and am glad when our progress is sufficient that I am passed on to the next controller.

I give him a request based on the town I know we are working our way towards, then I realize I'm overhead it. Despite the cranky clearances we've been making good progress. The new controller finally gives us a block of airspace and leaves us alone. We keep flying along the pipeline, watching the scenery go by. There are some clouds on the horizon, but we hope we can complete the job before they cast shadows on our work. The senior operator says he wants someone to build a pipeline around the world so we can fly it, segment by segment, all the way around the world. I'd like to do that too, but I tell him he'd have to give me a bit more notice of where he wanted to land so I could arrange customs clearance. We're almost finished when clouds arrive and we're done for the day. We spiral down out of the sky towards the nearest airport for fuel.

The FSS there has a single in the circuit but no other traffic, and I let him know how many minutes I'll be in descent before arriving. I descend over a nearby navaid, then head for the airport when I can arrive at circuit altitude at a reasonable speed and descent rate. He points me out as arriving traffic, calling me a Piper Cherokee. I'm not usually too picky about what controllers call me, as long as they call me cleared to land, but I correct that one. If you're looking for a single and a twin turns up on final you may think you have a conflict.

Airports mostly look the same once you're on the ground, even if they are quite large, because you can't really see that far. We taxi to the self-serve fuel pumps and I shut down and fill out the logbook for the flight. The operator discovers that he has forgotten the company credit card, and his personal credit card doesn't work. Can I possibly ...?

I have an insane credit limit from all those years of ferrying airplanes around North America, so I toss them my credit card as I head to the terminal to find a washroom. I open the door to the terminal and see that there are airline counters and uniformed security inside. I have my pilot licence with me, but I need to make sure I can get back out again. I wave down one of the security guys and make sure he'll let me out. He tells me the code to get back out the door, and says it's written on the outside. Oops, didn't see it. I use the washroom, pick up the payphone to file an ordinary VFR flight plan home, and go back out the door. The code is written on the outside in teeny, tiny letters I didn't see. The senior operator is coming in as I go out. I tell him the code and he says, "I know." He's been here before.

It's funny these little airports. They're all the same to me. There's nothing in the CFS to indicate which ones have which level of security. It's not a function of runway length or altitude or type of air traffic service or of any other published datum. You land and look for somwhere to dump the contents of your bladder, and at some that means watering the grass at the edge of the taxiway while at others it means running the gauntlet of CATSA and throngs of passengers at the x-ray machines. It's disorienting, and without local knowledge you have to be on your toes to walk in the correct door, know the correct codes, have the correct documents and get back to your airplane.

In the meantime a small airliner has landed, but it doesn't need the fuel pumps. We all get back in the airplane and take off before the airliner needs out. We fly home. It takes a quarter the time to get back as it did to get here, because we're not circling around to get on the right lines, and we're talking only to traffic on 126.7 until it's time to talk to the airport controllers.

I land and taxi in, and the boss is waiting with a cheque for the exact amount of the fuel. The operator called ahead with the amount. Fastest expense reimbursement ever.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Invasion Has Begun

As I arrived at the airport in the morning, I saw this airplane. I could barely bring myself to ask the fueller about it, for fear that it would turn out to belong to some northern resource company with a stylized flame logo. But no, it's what I thought it was. What did I think it was, and who knows the story behind it?

You may name the aerodrome, too, if you're feeling sharp and sleuthy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Alerting Services

Flight plans serve multiple purposes. One of the purposes is to allow ATC to anticipate my arrival in their airspace, making it easier for them to provide traffic separation and other services. In Canada, except for VFR arrivals at a busy airport, that function is pretty much exclusively for IFR flights. For both IFR and VFR flights, flight plans make it clear where search and rescue should start looking for me if I don't show up at destination. Those two functions are filed together in one flight plan but can be perceived to be separate when an IFR flight plan is cancelled. Cancelling IFR to continue a flight VFR doesn't turn your flight plan into a VFR plan, as you might expect. Instead you have cancelled your flight plan, leaving only alerting services remaining. The difference between a VFR flight plan and alerting services, I discovered, is that you can't amend alerting services to reflect a revised destination. If you need the flexibility of a VFR flight plan following IFR work, you have to file a Y flight plan that actually has separate filed IFR and VFR portions.

The other way to get alerting services without activating a flight plan is to take off without a clearance. Unless From the AIM:

7.10 Alerting Service IFR Departures from Uncontrolled Airports

At locations where communication with ATS is difficult, pilots may elect to depart VFR and obtain their IFR clearance once airborne. In Canada, if IFR clearance is not received prior to departure, SAR alerting service is activated based on the ETD filed in the flight plan. However, if departing from a Canadian airport that underlies airspace delegated to FAA control, then responsibility for SAR alerting service is transferred to the FAA and FAA procedures apply. In such cases, alerting service is not activated until the aircraft contacts ATS for IFR clearance. Therefore, if the aircraft departs before obtaining its IFR clearance, alerting service is not provided until contact is established with ATS.

Once upon a time a Canadian flight plan, and thus alerting service, was not opened until the pilot opened it, but to close the window of vulnerability from a departure accident, flight services will now "assume you off" at the filed departure time. If your departure was significantly late or early, you can call in and amend their recorded departure time. That's important because the time they judge you overdue is based on adding your estimated time en route to your departure time.

Monday, August 15, 2011

ForeFlight versus Nav Canada

A company called ForeFlight has released data for their iPad app that covers IFR procedures in Canada. It includes all volumes of the Canada Air Pilot (approach and departures plates, plus taxiway diagrams) and the IFR high and low enroute charts, and is legal for inflight IFR use. It's not clear whether the database includes the terminal charts, but it kind of has to because the information density around the big cities isn't sufficient in the regular LO charts. It doesn't seem to include the CFS data, but I can't think of information you need for safe IFR navigation that is in the CFS but not the CAP. We'll also have to wait for VFR chart data. Nav Canada is not forthcoming with its data.

There is Transport Canada guidance document and an FAA equivalent governing Electronic Flight Bags, as these systems are called. Page ten of the US version explains how the paper documents can be completely phased out once the system is verified reliable in a given operation, and wording in the Canadian version implies that it allows for completely paperless applications as well.

This isn't something astonishingly new, and I'm sure lots of you are already using such products. What caught my attention today was the price. As far as I can tell, you download the core of the app for free and then pay to add a subscription to the data you need. A ForeFlight Canada subscription costs US $149.99 for a year. For comparison, a subscription to all the editions of the CAP and the high and low charts costs $441 a year, plus taxes. If you only fly in only two regions of Canada, an annual mailed subscription of paper charts will cost you $142, so if you already have an iPad, that's the same cost for paper or electronic. The iPad is probably also about the same weight and the same difficulty to stuff in your flight bag as one LO and one region of the CAP.

Advantages of paper documents over the iPad are that they are unattractive to thieves, still work after they have been dropped or slammed in the trunk door of a cab, will probably dry out to a usable state if you get drenched by rain, are better for starting a fire in an emergency situation, you can write clearances on them, you can unfold them all over the hotel bed to have a wide-screen view of your proposed trip, and the batteries cannot run out. Also they make good auxiliary sunvisors, if you don't have a newspaper.

The iPad wins on staying the same size even if you are flying in all seven regions of Canada, being self-illuminated, allowing scrolling without having to flip the map over, letting you zoom the scale in or out and it probably has a search function. I don't know if you can mark it up with virtual post-its, but you can play Plants versus Zombies on it and check your e-mail while waiting for maintenance to release the aircraft.

What's it like flying with one of these? Does it have a function to do your cold weather corrections automatically or is there a way to mark up a plate after you get the latest METAR, to show all the cold weather corrections and the time to go on a non-precision approach? An iPad seems kind of bulky to mount on the yoke. Where do you put it? How far did you get on Plants versus Zombies?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Nerdy Flight Planning Answer

I asked a few days ago how you would file a long IFR climb segment at a speed well below the normal filed true airspeed for the aircraft. I asked on the blog, and I also asked in real life, asked an IFR data centre employee who codes flight plans. I called the same number I call to file a photo plan and asked.

"I have an incredibly nerdy flight planning question ..."

She said that yes, they know that a light airplane won't be climbing at 170 knots and, and if it's 5 or 10 minutes in climb, don't bother filing anything special. But for a thirty minute climb, yes, code it as N120F210, for the 120 kt climb to flight level 210. I like coding IFR flights. I've always liked languages and codes and getting the grammar and spelling right. Such a nerd.

And while I'm being nerdy, I'll let you know I spent a good day's pay on a new camera, a Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS Digital ELPH, which is the same as an IXUS 130. It is smaller than almost anyhting else I looked at, has all the features I need and was on sale. It has almost four times the resolution of the old camera. I also considered a shockproof, waterproof Sony, but it cost almost twice as much, and if I'm in an aviation situation involving shock and water, I probably have better things to do than take pictures. I'm not a camera power user and probably could have spent less on a simpler camera and not missed anything, but while I'm just pointing it at things and pressing the button, I can pretend I'm going to use the zoom someday, or put it in different modes.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Free the FAA

This article, Free the FAA, came across my desk today and I felt compelled to tell its author, through talking to my monitor, that almost everything related to air travel is a matter of air safety. Unionization gives workers the power to say no to unsafe working conditions or to refuse to sign off inadequately repaired aircraft, because the union can protect them from retribution. Disputes of any kind are a source of stress and intra-workforce friction, a documented factor in accidents. I don't think there is any community in the contiguous United States for which subsidized air service is an essential service, but if it were, the provision of such service would be a safety issue, because left to the free market, communities that the larger airlines found uneconomical to serve would be served instead by the sort of company that undermaintain and overinsure their aircraft, so that a hull loss results in an upgrade.

By Edward L. Glaeser THE FEDERAL Aviation Administration does a fine job at its main duty - making air travel safe. But it’s is also involved with a lot of things it shouldn’t be, from disputes about unionization to subsidies for rural airports. If Americans want to keep flying safely, Congress must free the FAA from obligations unrelated to preventing accidents. The agency got back to work recently after a two-week, politically charged shutdown that had nothing to do with safety. To continue some operations related to planning and maintaining airports, the FAA needed new authorization from Congress. But the Senate initially balked at a House plan that also capped "essential air service" subsidies to rural airports at $1,000 per passenger. Some Senate Democrats also opposed a House plan that, by reversing a pro-union ruling last year by the National Mediation Board, would make it harder for workers on airport projects to organize.

I'm not saying there aren't gross inefficiencies and waste in the FAA giving opportunities for cost savings without loss of function. It's a government body, and one attached to the very large government of a traditionally rich country, so that's to be expected. But it's very difficult to draw a circle around "safety" functions yet exclude some aspects of air travel oversight.