Archived Posts from this Category

Recording “To Shiver the Sky”

Posted by on 31 May 2020 | Tagged as: aviation, culture, music, personal, travel

The conductor beat out a measure. A rich orchestra sound flowed from 80 headphones into 80 heads. With a sound like an earthquake’s rumble overlaid with angelic choirs, 80 voices sang out: “Una Volta che Avrai…“. And I was sitting 10 metres in front of them. Wow.

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Pilots, emergencies, and “heroes”: thoughts on Southwest 1380

Posted by on 30 Apr 2018 | Tagged as: aviation

Every so often, an emergency happens in aviation. 17. April 2018 was one such day. The left engine on Southwest flight 1380 failed. Shrapnel escaped from the engine, damaged the airplane, and broke a window. Sadly, that killed one of the passengers on board. And then news filled with phrases like “heroic pilot” and “nerves of steel”, framing the story around one person who performed well that day.

I am an amateur pilot. One of the habits of many pilots is to read about aviation accidents. From this we learn about what went wrong for others, so that we can do better when things go wrong for us. Like many who know aviation, I would like to suggest a different frame. It’s not about “a” pilot. It’s about a wide range of people: a crew of five people on that Southwest Airlines flight, Air Traffic Controllers, and more. It’s not about “heroic” deeds or “nerves of steel”, it’s about well-trained, competent people, thrust into a stressful situation for which they trained, performing their training well. And while these people are admirable, so are their peers. Continue Reading »

Communications for the Canadian Paragliding Nationals, 2017

Posted by on 31 Jul 2017 | Tagged as: aviation, Paragliding

I have just returned from the Canadian Paragliding Nationals of 2017, held this past week in Pemberton, B.C. Organised by Guy Herrington of Sea to Sky Paragliding, the event went very well. My role was to organise VHF radio communications for the event. Some other time I want to tell the backstory of how we chose commercial VHF frequencies over amateur radio frequencies for the comp. But here, I wish to lay out the range of communications tools we used. This forms a record, and may be a useful reference for others planning free flight competitions. Continue Reading »

Proposed exemption from the FAA Class 3 Medical

Posted by on 31 Mar 2012 | Tagged as: aviation

You pilots have probably heard about a proposal to exempt certain pilots, who fly recreationally, from having to hold a Class 3 Medical Certificate. Instead they would take training on how to better make their own decisions about whether they are fit for flight. Their drivers license would be the document which shows they meet basic medical requirements.

This proposal is open for comments from the public now.  I made a comment, which I’ve included below. If you are interested in the subject, I encourage you to  chime in also. You don’t need to be a pilot, or a US citizen, to comment. Just go to Regulations.gov and look for Document ID FAA-2012-0350-0001. I encourage you to read about the proposal, and consult EAA’s guides for commenting (PDF).

For those who haven’t heard, here is some background. Pilots who fly for fun with US licenses, for example me, need to be medically fit enough to make the flight safely. For most general aviation pilots, that means getting a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) medical certificate. Those who fly for pay need a stricter Class 1 medical, those who fly for fun can get a Class 3 medical. I agree with those who make the case that the money the FAA spends on the Class 3 medical, and the restrictions it places on pilots exercising their freedom to fly, is out of proportion to the small safety benefit all that hassle provides. Not that many accidents result from unfit pilots. A medical exam once every two (for me) or five (for you whippersnappers) years doesn’t really catch all that much. And both anecdotes and my own experience say that the FAA medical office imposes creeping burdens on pilots by a) demanding more and more doctors statements, each costing someone money, and b) delaying the issuance of certificates, grounding pilots. I would be happy if the Class 3 medical were abolished altogether.

The aviation groups who know these things say that the FAA is not willing to contemplate abolishing the Class 3 medical. (Someone has tried, and just got turned down.) They think, however, that they might succeed in persuading the FAA to exempt certain pilots doing certain low-stakes recreational flights from having to hold the Class 3 Medical Certificate. Two of the groups, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), just submitted a request for this exemption. They think they have carefully crafted it to maximise its chances of getting approved by the FAA. For instance, it requests an exemption from a rule, instead of a change to a rule.

Here’s what I wrote.

I am a US citizen and private pilot, resident in Canada and flying recreationally in Canada and the USA. I hold a Private Pilots License and 3rd Class Medical certificate from each of Transport Canada, and the FAA. I have about 220 total hours of total pilot time.

I am exactly the kind of safety-oriented, recreational pilot who would benefit from this exemption. And I am suffering from the cost and burden of jumping through the hoops for an FAA 3rd Class medical certificate, costs and burdens which I argue do not greatly increase safety.

I am in my late 40s, and have had two chronic medical conditions for decades. I disclosed both when I applied for my FAA medical certificate six years ago. The FAA decided that one condition required annual physician reports, and the other didn’t. Then, last year, the FAA started to require annual reports on the other condition. Complying with these reports costs  hundreds of dollars, and considerable hassle, each year.

However, these are chronic conditions which don’t prevent me from flying safely. When flareups happen, I detect them and ground myself until they pass. It is that personal discipline which provides medical safety.

I am on the verge of abandoning the FAA 3rd Class Medical, and with it any flight of US-registered aircraft, due to this burden. My contribution to the US economy will drop accordingly.

The exemption requested here would relieve me of the annual burden of the 3rd Class Medical, a mechanism which doesn’t provide much safety. And it would reinforce my training and personal decision-making, which is the mechanism which does ensure my safety.

I request the FAA fully count the status quo burden of a creeping rise in special reporting requirements for 3rd Class Medical applicants, in evaluating this proposal.

View from the CZBB control tower

Posted by on 29 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: aviation, British Columbia, Canada

CZBB runway 12-30 and the apron buildings, from the towerCZBB, Boundary Bay airport, is my home field. I rent aircraft from Pacific Flying Club there. And the friendly air traffic controllers in the CZBB control tower are my rock and my safety. Saturday, I was at the airport with some spare time, and lousy weather made it a quiet day on the airfield. So I drove over to the tower for a brief visit. I had a great chat and got some nice pictures.

I think it’s great for pilots to visit towers and ATC sites, and for controllers to fly along with pilots. During my primary flight training, my instructor, Raeleen Ranger, made a point of getting me up into the tower at CYPK, Pitt Meadows Airport.  It was interesting to see their gear, and invaluable to put a human face on the voices who tolerated my bumbling in, and on, the air. I admire the patience and supportiveness of the controllers at training airports, like Pitt Meadows and Boundary Bay, who give novice pilots a safe place to learn and make mistakes. I was particularly touched when, after I flew my first solo, a CYPK controller was one of the people who came down to congratulate me. Continue Reading »

Paragliding: an “us” thing

Posted by on 31 Aug 2011 | Tagged as: aviation, personal

This spring my spouse Ducky and I took up paragliding training. The training so far has given us many vivid experiences, and I’m itching to share those stories with you. Let me start by telling you why we wanted to enter the sport.

Vancouver from a small powered aircraftI’m a big fan of flying, in just about every form. I’m a licensed private pilot. I’ve done skydiving in the past.   I go nuts over airplanes and airshows. I have dreams where I’m able to simply leap in the air and swim (wait, so does everyone else). I enjoy scuba diving and swimming in part because they let me move in three dimensions. My beloved spouse, however, isn’t really excited by any of these pastimes. We have gone scuba diving together. But she finds my powered small aircraft to be noisy, cold, and boring. Flying has mostly been a “me” activity, without her participation. She in turn has her “me” activities that don’t involve me. Continue Reading »

In opposition to the TSA’s proposed Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP)

Posted by on 28 Feb 2009 | Tagged as: aviation, USA

I write in opposition to the [United States Transportation Security Administration]’s proposed Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP), Docket No. TSA–2008–0021.  I am a United States citizen residing in Canada, and a private pilot licensed by Transport Canada and the FAA. I fly for fun. [Background: this blog post consists of a public comment I just submitted to the docket.]

Security is valuable, and I’m in support of sensible measures to advance security. But security measures are trade-offs, and the trade-off has to be a good one. The benefits must outweigh the costs. The TSA’s proposed LASP fails this test spectacularly.  The costs will be huge, the benefits meagre. Additionally, the TSA’s justification is based on flawed reasoning. Continue Reading »

CASARA BC, the missing recruiting page

Posted by on 23 Jul 2008 | Tagged as: aviation, British Columbia

One of my community service projects is volunteering with CASARA BC, the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association in British Columbia. They are a great bunch of folks providing a very important service.  But they are hidden in a Romulan cloaking device as far as the Web is concerned. When I tried to join them, I couldn’t find a single page that described the basics of who what where when how and why they are and do.  So I’m writing it, and here it is.  I hope this will be helpful to others, at least until CASARA BC gets an official recruiting page up.

Or until the one obscure BC Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA BC) page can be discovered by a straightforward search. (A sneakily search-engine friendly link to it is part of my contribution.)

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