How Private Pilots Can Fly Like Airline Pilots

Fly like the big dogs: here are some little things private pilots can do to fly like airline pilots.

Vern Weiss

Private pilots who fly small aircraft are at a disadvantage when compared to airline pilots engaged in commercial airline flying. When you’re a “solo act,” you do not have the benefit of a large support staff taking care of peripheral planning and logistics for each flight. It can pretty much be said that an airline pilot needs only to show up and fly. When done flying, that pilot packs things up and simply leaves the cockpit while a cadre of others deal with baggage, security, clean-up and fueling.

Some of the protocols and habits that they do make their jobs easier, safer and less taxing. I concede that airline operations with two pilot crews permit the tasks to be split up. But I also contend that a private pilot adopting some of those airline methodologies will benefit as well.

Airline Pilots Know Their Airplane

It starts with knowing the airplane. 14,000 hours ago, I took my commercial pilot check-ride in a Cessna 150. I have not been in a Cessna 150 since, but I can still tell you from memory that it uses MIL-H-5606 hydraulic fluid. I remembered that because I had a terrific instructor who treated my prep for the commercial pilot check-ride like what is experienced in a commercial operation. He ground into me the importance of memorizing every C-150 limitation and systems fact. His philosophy was the same as that found in a Part 121 carrier’s training department: The more you know, the better you’ll be managing and controlling the machine. Rightfully, he believed commercial pilots should know all about their airplane whether it was a Boeing 747 or a Cessna 150.

Ask airline pilots the Vmo speed or maximum engine oil temperature allowed on their airplanes and they’ll tell you straightaway. A typical oral exam during an airline pilot’s “PC” (pilot check- ride) generally starts out with systems and limitations questions. The check airman points to a switch on a cockpit photograph and says, “What are the eight things that happen with this switch is armed?” Or “What is the maximum speed with 12 degrees of flaps?” followed immediately by, “…how ’bout at full flaps?” You’d better have the answer. Pilots who are new to the airline training discipline are sometimes blown away by the degree of detail with which they’re expected to recall systems facts and limitations. But when “flying the line” for an airline, sometimes there is no time to stop and look things up, so airline pilots must know the information.

This is typical of what is heard every day on ARTCC frequencies throughout the country:

Controller: “JetAir 463 can you give me 310 knots for spacing into LaGuardia?”

JetAir Pilot: “Uh negative…we’re unable 310 knots at this altitude but we can give you 280.”

How did that pilot know precisely what speeds could or couldn’t be flown at that moment? It was because he knows his aircraft.

So the first thing to give yourself an airline pilot’s “edge” as private pilots is to commit to memory as much as you can about the systems and limitations of whatever you fly. Do so and you’ll fly better, more confidently and integrate into the ATC system more professionally.

Study the Weather Briefing

At FBOs, I’ve watched general aviation pilots zip through cursory weather briefings, then blast off. A comprehensive weather briefing, in airline vernacular, comes to pilots in what is called “a package.” The “package” is created by dispatchers and includes thorough and pertinent weather information. The operative word here is “pertinent.” These weather briefings are not full of extraneous fillers but contain all the data necessary for that particular flight plan.

Before departure, airline pilots study it intensely. Even before their airplane’s wheels start rolling, they know the best alternate airports, best altitudes to maximize ground speed and minimize turbulence and predict the probable approach they’ll be using at their destination. Private pilots who take the time to obtain a thorough weather briefing have a leg up on making the best flight choices. To alter the American Express advertising slogan: Weather. Don’t leave home without it.

This means taking the briefing with you! Don’t obtain a verbal briefing or scribble a few notes on the back of a fuel receipt and consider yourself “briefed.” Most FBOs have printers available in their pilot lounges so print everything out and carry it with you. Don’t forget graphics like radar summaries. Enabling yourself to thoroughly digest it before departure and then referring to it in flight is important. Once airborne, you can determine if the weather is meeting the forecast or not because you’ll have the details to which to compare subsequent reports obtained via radio.

Take Off and Landing Distance Cards

Whether electronically or manually, airline pilots produce a Take Off and Landing Distance “cue card” for every flight and private pilots should too. Before every takeoff, calculate how much runway is needed for takeoff as well as landing. Why would you care about how much runway is needed to land at the airport you’re leaving? In the event that you must return immediately, you will know the amount of runway length you need to land which may render some of the airport runways unsuitable. With “TOLD” information, should the controller ask, “Are you able to depart from runway two-three at intersection Charlie…two thousand eleven feet available?” you can immediately look at your TOLD card and determine if the answer is yes or no. The same is true for the arrival airport. “Are you able to change your runway to runway one-five?” Look at your TOLD data and you’ll have the answer.

Delta Boeing 767 landing at an airport

Photo by: Andrew Cohen

Private Pilots Should Incorporate Airline Checklists

Airline pilots strictly adhere to checklists for every operation and private pilots would do well to adopt this as well. To streamline some of these checklists, airline pilots use what are called “flows.” The tasks for each checklist procedure (Preflight, Cockpit Preflight, Before Engine Start, After Engine Start, Before Taxi, After Taxi, Before Takeoff et cetera) is organized so that everything to be checked or configured falls into a pattern that is easily done without actually looking at the checklist. Then, once the “flow” has been accomplished, the pilot reviews the written checklist to confirm that each item has been accomplished. Generally speaking, flows are developed top-to- bottom, left-to-right. It is a far more efficient approach than singularly looking down to read each item, looking up to locate and accomplish the item, then looking back down to read the next item. Use of a “flow” accomplishes everything from memory but then you look at the checklist in one review, read it to yourself and can check off each item in your head, (“SET..OFF..ARMED..ON”).

Maintaining Consistent Procedures

Procedurally-consistent pilots are safer, don’t work as hard while flying and less prone to mistakes. Airline pilots fly every visual approach the same. They drop flaps at the same predetermined spots, lower the landing gear and complete checklists at the same point all the time. The same goes for precision and non-precision approaches. One ILS approach is done exactly the same way as another. I have watched private pilots make so much work for themselves because they don’t establish predetermined profiles for each stage of flying. Some pilots raise flaps and gear at vastly different times on takeoff as if they’re not quite sure when they’re supposed to do it. That is not a good habit to get into. Do you raise the landing gear at the same time on every takeoff? Determining a profile for every maneuver and sticking with it will make your job a whole lot easier. The beauty of flying consistent profiles is that regardless of whether everything is going smoothly or if you’re in the middle of an emergency (i.e. engine failure), everything is done pretty much in the same way. Ask a good instructor to sit down with you and develop profiles that you can use all the time based on your aircraft operations manual.

Have a Kit Bag

It’s called a “kit bag” and every airline pilot carries one. They also carry their charts and manuals in it, though with the advent of electronic flight bags, there is now more room in kit bags for other stuff. In my kit bag, I carry what is handy to have while on the road. Office supplies, tools, stamps, a stapler, Band-Aids, General Foods International coffee, fingernail clipper, a Swiss Army knife … anything and everything I might need or want to have access to while I am glued to a pilot seat. It takes a while to develop one’s personal inventory of what to carry in a kit bag; it’s trial, error, experience, and everyone is different. I flew with one co-pilot who had his kit bag filled with an arsenal of vitamins and herbs because he was really into that. Private pilots, too, should make up their own kit bag and have it accessible all the time while flying. Of course, the TSA has made much of what we once could carry in kit bags verboten if one has to pass through an airport check point. But most Private pilot operations involve only FBOs so you can still carry anything you need to conduct life on the road without fear confiscation at TSA airport checkpoints. One of the handiest things I used to carry I cannot anymore: a knife, fork, and a spoon. It was amazing how often I had to resort to using my own flatware while grabbing meals on the road.

Take It Slow

Slow up! Why are private pilots in such a hurry so often? Do you always taxi fast? Why? Do you start your take-off roll before you’ve lined-up on the center line of the runway? Why? I assure you that the additional 3 seconds it takes to square off with the center line is not going to be a liability. Rarely do you see an airline pilot “hot-dogging” with fast taxis and shortcuts. Pilot operations are deliberate, stable, defensive and done at an appropriate speed. They do that because they know hurrying can cause things to mount up rapidly and bite you.

Don’t Be Afraid to Cancel

Why are some pilots so afraid to cancel their trip? Flying magazines often talk about “get there-itis” and you know what they’re talking about. I concede that airline pilots can become impatient when delays are caused by inefficiency and stupidity, but impatience is scarce when safety issues might be compromised. If it is going to take a long time to get de-iced, so be it. If there are delays for planes headed to your destination airport and ATC has issued a ground stop; so be it. If the weather is deteriorating you won’t find any objection from an airline crew when the flight is canceled. It is taken in stride and they simply head to the hotel. Don’t push the envelope because it is not worth it. As a private pilot, it is prudent to adopt the same philosophical attitude about canceling. If there is the slightest doubt that the flight can be made safely, call it a day and come back tomorrow. That’s what the airlines do and their safety record confirms that it’s a good idea.

Don’t Let Passengers Distract You

Although light planes don’t have separate compartments for passengers and flight crews, private pilots should (figuratively-speaking) “close the cockpit door.” Aside from present day security edicts, airline crews don’t want distractions in their cockpits, which is the reason they started putting doors on cockpits on larger aircraft in the first place. Although there is no door separating you from your passenger,s you can mentally “tune them out” from interrupting, annoying and distracting you. You’re not driving a car, you are operating a fast moving aircraft so you should not treat your pilot’s role as you might driving an automobile by engaging in conversations and entertaining your passengers. Advise your passengers that below 10,000 feet the cockpit is “sterile” (no talking unless it is of operational necessity). That’s the way it’s done on commercial aircraft. If you never fly above 10,000 feet then the cockpit should remain sterile throughout the entire flight. Is that extreme? Absolutely not. Below 10,000 feet is where there is the greatest likelihood of other traffic and where things happen fast, especially when approaching B, C or D airspace or uncontrolled airports. You don’t need someone prattling on with conversation when you should be focused on taking care of the business of piloting the airplane.

In Conclusion

Private pilots certainly cannot duplicate everything airline pilots do, but by simply adopting some of their routines, habits and behavior, pilots who fly alone can improve their own safety and efficiency.

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Exploring a Commercial Airline Pilot’s Quality of Life

Starting off as a commercial airline pilot is no easy task.

Jennifer Roth

To anyone on the outside of aviation, the life of an airline pilot sounds exciting and luxurious. However, that is just not the case, especially in the early years of a pilot’s career. Typically when a pilot begins their career in the airline world, they are probably carrying a load of student loans and surviving as best they can. And considering regional airline pay can start as little as $22,000 a year, it can be difficult for a person to afford much. Commuting, crash pads, time away from home as well as sitting reserve and allotted benefits from the airlines all affect the quality of life for a commercial airline pilot.

Commuting

With any job, commuting is difficult. The longer the commute, the more exhausting and draining it can be on a person. With commercial airline pilots, commuting will most likely be a part of life, at one time or another. Unless a person lives in a major city such as Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and so on, they will more than likely commute. And many times, even if they are living in a major city, they may not be able to have that city be their home base for a while so they will still be required to commute. Commuting can be difficult for a pilot regardless of their experience, but especially for a newer pilot who does not make a lot of money. Salary only includes scheduled flight time, so for a person who has to commute, that does not include the time they put in getting to the airport, making a flight and arriving at the location their actual scheduled flight will start. Weather also affects the ability of a commuter to get to their starting destination on time. If there is any weather at any point between where they live and where they work, it can cause a chain of events preventing them from making it there on time. Because of this, the pilot may have to commute a day early to prevent missing their scheduled flights. This is unpaid time and adds time to their trip as well as stress.

Commercial Airline Pilot Crash Pads
Crash pad for an airline pilot or flight crew

Photo courtesy of ABC News

If a person is commuting to a different city than where they live, they most likely will have to have a place to stay. Hotel bills can add up and, as mentioned, the starting salary of a commercial airline pilot is not much. Enter the “crash pad,” a term that pilots know well. It can be anything from a hotel room with multiple bunk beds, to an apartment with bunk beds in every room. This not so ideal living situation allows the commuter to pay a monthly fee anywhere from 50 to 100 dollars, depending on the living quarters, and it will provide a bed for them to sleep in. It is not ideal in the sense that you may not always have a bed (depending on how many pilots are there at the time) or you may be sleeping when other people are in and out, or your bed may be in a closet. This does, however, allow for an affordable alternative while stuck in the city and trying to get home. Many people have to rely on this to have a place to stay when either sitting reserve or stuck due to weather or maintenance issues.

Other pilots, or someone within the aviation industry such as a flight attendant, usually establishes crash pads. This is beneficial because these are the people who have had to rely on them, so they know what is needed as far as space, location and price. Without crash pads, pilots would be forced to either pay for expensive hotel rooms or sleep in crew rooms at airports. Pilots can usually find information about crash pads on airline forum boards, crew rooms, or even just word of mouth from other pilots.

The Commercial Airline Pilot’s Schedule and Time Away From Home

The airline’s totem pole also affects the pilot’s line. A line is their schedule for the month; usually, a new hire will have to sit reserve. So many times they only have a 2-hour call-out if they will be flying. For commuters, this means that on their days to fly they have to be in that city, so it is often the pilot who depends on the crash pads. Sitting reserve is difficult even if the pilot lives in the city they are based in. They may be home but they cannot really make plans because they have to be on call whenever they are on duty. As they increase in seniority, they are able to hold a line and therefore can plan their time off or time away more accurately. Reserve, unless specifically requested by a pilot, usually occurs for new hires if they have plenty of pilots to fly lines, and then again once they upgrade to captain. They fall back down the totem pole for the captain position and may have to sit reserve again depending on how many pilots they have working or their seniority number at that point.

Time away from home is the time that is spent working but not necessarily flying. Sometimes a person may have a flight but once they arrive at their destination, can have a 22-hour sit, or layover. On occasion, this can be fun for a pilot, giving them a chance to see and explore the city they are in. But many pilots have families and time away is difficult, and when they are not getting paid for those hours being away from home, it can be frustrating. Also, a 22-hour sit in Fargo, North Dakota may not have the same excitement that San Diego, California, would. So time away is not always fun for a pilot. Many experiences have shown that a pilot can be gone many days but only accrue a small amount of paid hours to bring home.

Because of this, as many pilots gain in seniority and no longer have to fly reserve, they work towards moving to the base of their choice, which allows them to use their own home instead of a crash pad or hotel, leading to a better quality of life.

In Conclusion

Now, with all this being said, there are many benefits to being a commercial airline pilot. The office view really doesn’t get better than the one they have. From mountains to oceans, farmland, forests, mountains, gorgeous clouds and sunsets, pilots often have amazing picture worthy days. They also have the benefit of flying free. If a seat is available, they can jump on almost any airline to any destination that airline flies to, whether in the US or overseas, such as Europe. They can also have these benefits extend to certain family members as well, so they can often travel with their spouse, children, and / or parents. And not many people get the opportunity to see as much of the United States as pilots do. Finally, as a pilot advances in their career, their pay does go up, especially as they transition from flying with regionals to major airlines. Many commercial airline pilots are able to very comfortably retire after a career with the airlines. And even with all of the struggles, it is a proud accomplishment for a person to say, “I am a pilot”.

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Featured Image: Keven Menard

The GPS Jammer: Understanding This Aviation Hazard

The FCC Is Cracking Down On GPS Jammer Use

Amber Berlin

With the ease and affordability of obtaining a GPS jammer on the internet, the average citizen can create chaos, often unaware of the extent of GPS usage and the widespread effect their personal jamming will have. This is bad news for aviation, as many new aircraft technologies are dependent on GPS. If interrupted at a critical time, the loss of GPS can have severe consequences and result in the loss of life. Because of the risks to aviation and other critical sectors, regulatory agencies have begun stepping up their enforcement efforts and new technology has found innovative ways identify and deter jammers. While GPS jamming is a real hazard to aviators, understanding the ways we can combat this unpredictable threat can bring us some peace of mind and increase safety.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the regulatory body responsible for the enforcement of anti-jamming laws. On October 5, 2011, the FCC promised to step up its efforts by launching a major enforcement initiative for actions that breach the Communications Act. Many citations and stop orders have been issued for seemingly benign civilian activities such as posting currently owned jamming devices for sale on Craigslist, while the intentional use of a GPS jammer is against the law and has garnered hefty fines up to $144,000 or more. These fines and citations against both individuals and companies speak to the zero tolerance position of the U.S. government on intentional GPS interference. The FCC’s enforcement division has made a public example from its initial offenders, which has been a powerful deterrent for those considering the sale, purchase, or use of jamming devices.

While GPS jamming is easy to locate in theory, it is much harder in practice. Using current technology the time needed to locate, identify and disable a single GPS jammer was 5 months (Department of Homeland Security, 2012). Whether intentional or unintentional, the hazards of GPS jamming remain the same, causing the United States to search for viable ways to identify where and when GPS jamming is taking place. One suggested mitigation strategy is the concept of Patriot Watch. Designed by Overlook Systems Technologies, Inc., Patriot Watch uses a variety of technology to identify GPS jamming attempts, including locating the offender. Patriot Watch attempts to “reduce the risk to CIKR [Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources] sectors dependent on civil GPS services” by providing a capability to “detect, locate, report and attribute GPS interference” (Overlook Systems Technologies, Inc., 2010, p.3). The Department of Homeland Security has adopted the architecture of Patriot Watch as a mitigation strategy to address malicious GPS jamming attempts.

According to Overlook Systems Technologies, Inc. (2010), the core strategy of Patriot Watch includes a comprehensive solution of “complementary and interdependent technologies, new or refined operational processes, and future command and control venues” (p.3). Patriot Watch technologies include monitoring and collection equipment, such as J911 smart phone crowdsourcing, which attempts to locate the jammer by giving the position information and signal characteristics from cell phones in the jammer’s area. According to GPS systems engineer Logan Scott of LS Consulting, cell phone density is around 1000/km2 in urban areas providing ample opportunity to locate the signal (Scott, 2014). Another deterrent for J911 is to show a warning on the screen of the cell phone that jamming is detected. By using jamming power, jamming duration and channel stability for identification, the likely suspect can be identified and a deterrent message delivered that can scare the GPS jammer into turning off the jamming device (Scott, 2014). JLOC (GPS Jammer Location) is another upcoming technology for Android phone users currently under development by NAVSYS Corporation of Colorado Springs, Colorado, which can provide JLOC sensor reports using internal GPS (Homeland Security Steps Up…, 2011). The JLOC Master Station threat database is a proposed part of the Patriot Watch system, with the capability to report threats to end users.

Two additional supportive programs to complement Patriot Watch were also suggested: Patriot Shield and Patriot Sword. Patriot Shield is designed to harden GPS technologies to resist jamming attempts, and Patriot Sword is an offensive concept to deny civil GPS use to individuals identified as using it to do harm. Both of these concepts, combined with Patriot Watch, are designed to provide a comprehensive solution of GPS jamming mitigation.

GPS interference is not just a U.S. problem but affects countries worldwide. The United Kingdom’s government-funded Sentinel program, a 24-month program to determine GNSS reliability by using 20 roadside sensors, revealed more than 60 GPS jamming attempts in 6 months in a single sensor location. Charles Curry of Chronos Technology, the company leading the project, stated, “We believe there is between 50 and 450 occurrences in the UK every day.” (BBC News, 2012, para. 9). Jammers are illegal to use in the UK, but because of a legal loophole it is legal to import, buy, sell or possess them. In Germany, motorists have used GPS jammers to evade GPS-based road tolls, and the Kaohsiung International Airport in Taiwan reports 117 Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) events per day on average (Scott, 2014). Many countries have taken a stance against GPS jamming because of the potential for affecting critical infrastructures. However, in France and Japan, cell phone jammers are legal for use in public venues.

In 2014, the FCC imposed a fine on a Chinese company for selling GPS jammers in the United States. CTS Technology Co., Limited, an electronics manufacturer and online retailer, allegedly marketed 285 models of signal jamming devices to U.S. consumers and sold 10 of those jammers to undercover FCC personnel. The fine is set at $34.9 million dollars, making it the largest fine in FCC history (FCC, 2014). The FCC is making an example out of CTS Technology, just as it did for the individuals who intentionally used GPS jammers for extended periods of time. These hefty fines are designed to deter future instances of GPS jamming, including the marketing and sales of jammers through the internet. This shows the international community the U.S. has not wavered on its vow to pursue jamming attempts and step up enforcement of FCC regulations.

With more critical technology depending on GPS to function, GPS jamming mitigation has become an essential part of technological advance. Globally, the U.S. has taken the strongest stance against jammer use, with a zero tolerance policy for the marketing, sale, purchase, use, and possession a GPS jammer. With the potential to invoke loss of life, GPS jamming attempts should be met by the cutting edge technology of Patriot Watch, Patriot Sword, and Patriot Shield. This technology has the potential to quickly identify and locate jamming attempts and has initiated the production of hardened technology more resistant to jamming.

As the technologies of Patriot Watch mature and operational procedures are refined, locating and deterring jammers will also become faster. Because GPS is a foundational technology for our critical infrastructures, the FCC should continue to enforce anti-jamming laws to the maximum extent. Considering employee jamming is a large portion of the problem, companies that require GPS tracking should consider adopting the technology to identify jamming at the lowest level, and a no tolerance policy for employees paired with quick identification within the fleet tracking system will eliminate much of the unintentional jamming that could affect CIKR sectors, including aviation.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

References:

BBC News Technology. (2012). Sentinel project research reveals GPS jammer use. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-17119768

Department of Homeland Security. (2012). Patriot Watch: Interference Detection Mitigation (IDM) Vigilance Safeguarding America.

Federal Communications Commission. (2014). Press Release. FCC Plans $34.9 Million Fine Against Chinese Online Retailer of Signal Jamming Devices.

Homeland Security Steps Up to Protect GPS (But not from Light Squared). (2011). The Washington View.

Overlook Systems Technologies, Inc. (2010). Patriot Watch/Patriot Shield/Patriot Sword.

Scott, L. (2014). Strategies for Limiting Civil Interference Effects Inspired by Field Observations, And Why Civil Receivers Need to Have Jamming Meters. L. S. Consulting.

Reviewing Aviation Insurance Options For Pilots

This is the second part of a two-part article exploring the available aircraft and aviation insurance options available to pilots.  Click here to read part 1.

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

Approved Use Insurance

Approved-Use insurance covers reimbursement by non-owners who use an aircraft. Approved-Use insurance is similar to the approved-pilot clause since no specific premium is assigned to the approved-use clause, but as anticipated, commercial operations are confronted with higher premium rates than non-commercial operations.

Approved-Use clauses are included in all insurance policies, but because it is considered to be a “sleeper,” most aircraft owners erroneously assume that they can do anything they want with their aircraft.

Caveat: Just as with the approved-pilot clause, the approved-use endorsement varies greatly among insurers where each insurer maintains several versions it can use with varying degrees of [broad] coverage. Since the insurance broker negotiates the wording, it is wise to retain an experienced aviation insurance broker for representation in an effort to avoid being placed at a disadvantage when negotiating terms with the insurer.

In the event that subsidiary companies, business associates, friends, etc. have access/use to an aircraft, it is necessary to be sure that the broker is aware of exactly what compensation is changing hands, such as money, a case of wine, a week at a time-share, and so forth since it all converts back into a dollar amount. If an aircraft is involved in an accident, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration determines that due to the reimbursement you received, the flight was actually commercial in nature and should have been operated under Part 135 charter regulations instead of Part 91, the insurance claim could be denied.

Additional Aviation Insurance Coverages and Clauses

There are several other types of aviation insurance coverages and clauses that are also available:

Broad Form Names Insured Clause – This extends the insurance coverage to a subsidiary or affiliated companies of the named insured and other companies the named insured controls or actively manages.

Contractual Liability Coverage – To some extent, this insures against liability that is assumed under contract but this coverage requires vigilance so that any or all contracts or agreements related to the aircraft are submitted to the insurance broker. These documents include hanger agreements, dry-lease, time-share and interchange agreements, purchase/lease agreements, and leased/loaner engine agreements.

Non-Owned Aircraft Liability – This extends coverage under the policy for the use of non-owned aircraft which includes chartered and rental aircraft; however, it is wise to review any known or anticipated use with the aviation insurance broker.

Diminution of Value – This reimburses the aircraft owner for depreciated value caused by damage history that is due to a physical-damage claim; however it is rarely purchased due to the cost and the complexity of the formula that is employed to determine coverage.

Garagekeepers Liability – This covers the insured for his or her negligence to a non-owned auto in his or her care, custody or control, such as cars in hangars.

Helicopter Insurance – This consists of coverage that can protect the insured if:

  1. He or she owns a helicopter and rents it out to other helicopter pilots
  2. He or she is a helicopter pilot and flies for fun or recreation
  3. He or she is a helicopter pilot and flies rescue missions and/or medical evacuations
  4. He or she is a helicopter pilot and works in the firefighting division of the U.S. Forest Service

The aviation insurance coverage required will depend upon the risks involved in the particular use of the helicopter, where it is flown, and other factors, such as requiring personal helicopter insurance when flying for fun in contrast to needing business insurance when flying as part of a commercial operation. Because the policy is tailored to address the insured’s use and risk factors, it is imperative to work with a knowledgeable agent who can conduct an accurate needs assessment to formulate the best aviation insurance coverage.

Helicopter insurance covers a variety of risks including the following:

  1. Liability coverage addresses the insured’s legal responsibility in the event that he or she causes another person’s personal injury or property damage while flying or landing the helicopter.
  2. Passenger liability is required if the pilot carries passengers in the helicopter; however sometimes general liability or public liability will be packaged with passenger liability which offers an overall coverage limit that applies to public liability claims, passenger liability claims, or a combination of both.
  3. Hull insurance or property damage insurance for airplanes and helicopters can insure the helicopter when it is on the ground or when it is in flight. However, it is necessary to verify that the coverage offers protection from a range of risks, such as theft, vandalism, severe weather, and/or damage or a total loss due to an accident.

Private and business helicopter insurance coverages differ due to the wide variety of jobs and contracts that pilots perform ranging from flying for fun to medical evacuations, firefighting, traffic patrol, news reporting, business transportation, charter rides, and search and rescue. Although liability and property damage coverage is required for any of these uses, specialized endorsements or additional policies may also be necessary especially when flying commercially. Some additional coverages that may be required include:

  • BOP or business owner’s policy insures other business property and equipment in addition to one or more helicopters in the fleet as well as provide loss of income protection in the event of a covered business interruption.
  • Equipment coverage protects the use of specialty equipment or medical supplies depending on the nature of the work performed. This additional coverage often in the form of a rider covers the insured’s investment in the specialized equipment and supplies.
  • Business interruption coverage provides coverage in the event of a covered loss that interrupts business operations by bringing in money to pay bills and employees’ wages.
  • Workers compensation is required when employees are present to cover them in case of work-related injuries or illness. WC also provides a percentage of pay to employees if they are unable to return to work but laws vary, so access state regulations to ensure that the required coverage is in force.
  • Medevac insurance, medical equipment insurance, and other specialty coverages can mitigate the additional risks that can be encountered by medical helicopters, air ambulances, and Medevacs which often perform risky flights to transport critically injured patients or organ donors to medical centers. Increased risky conditions, such as night flights, inclement weather, mountainous terrain, and elevated stress levels can serve to increase the likelihood of a mishap.
  • Cargo insurance or inland marine coverage insures the cargo, mail, parcels, and/or equipment that is transported on a helicopter while it is in the care, custody or control of the insured. Note that each of these policies has certain exclusions so it is important to review the policy to determine if there are any gaps in the coverage which may require the purchase of additional coverage as needed.
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I Was a New Private Pilot, Flying Small Aircraft In Busy Airspace

The Night I Flew a “Heavy” … Make that a “Cessna Heavy”

Shawn Arena

This article is similar in nature to the previous flight experiences that I have documented for you. As a newly minted private pilot, this experience taught me how to successfully navigate the fast-paced ground and air portions of flying small aircraft into one of the busiest airports in the country, with a little help from my friend/flight instructor/passenger.

My First Night Journey Flying Small Aircraft Into Congested Airspace

It was around 1988-89, and my private pilot certificate was barely bent in my wallet (only 2-3 years old) when I participated in one of the most interesting and challenging flight experiences to date. You might have remembered from another writing that my initial flight experiences were out of a flight school based at John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Southern California.

I accepted an offer to participate in flying a Cessna 172 in a flight of three aircraft to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to tour a Lockheed L-1011 aircraft flown by Delta Airlines (the head aircraft mechanic for Delta at the time also flew privately with the flight school). I was to fly the second of three legs on our sojourn from SNA to LAX to ONT and then back to SNA. It was really fascinating to be in the ‘jump seat’ (i.e. backseat pilot-passenger) on that leg from SNA to LAX.

It was a summer night and most pilots will tell you that flying small aircraft at night is one of most serene experiences you can imagine, and between the twinkling lights of the cities below and the multicolored lights at an airport, it is pretty cool and also it is easier to spot other traffic.

It became very ‘real’ upon our approach into LAX. All seemed fine until the tower controller informed the pilot to ‘expedite approach, traffic is a Boeing 727 on 3-mile final.’ To say we landed and taxied off of runway 25L ‘hot’ (i.e. a lot quicker than a usual approach) was an understatement, but to all passengers, things went fine as we rolled to our stop under the left wing of the L-1011 parked at the gate for the night … yeah, you heard that right, under the wing!

Boy, It Is Tough Getting a Word In Around Here

The tour was awesome. For those not familiar with the L-1011, it was Lockheed Aircraft Company’s answer to McDonnell Douglas’s very successful DC-10. The L-1011 was state of the art at the time and one of the second generation commercial aircraft in automation and technology; featuring one of the first automated flight directors, area navigation (RNAV), configuration warning, and auto-land systems … a pretty cool airplane for its time!

OK, it was now my time to fly. Some of you ‘veteran’ pilots may remember that before headsets became the norm, when flying small aircraft, communications with air traffic control was via a handheld microphone attached to a cord right under the instrument panel. So it was with this Cessna 172 as well. I prepared for my standard communication chain with ground control and then tower control, when it became really apparent that this was to be no ‘typical’ departure process. When I would look out the left window and see that the BOTTOM of passing aircraft were HIGHER than the top of my aircraft, I knew it was to be interesting. Talk about living in the land of the giants!

After mentioning to the flight instructor / passenger in the right seat, “Boy, what does one have to do here to get any controller’s attention?” he did something that to me, at the time, was crazy (but it worked). He grabbed the microphone and stated: “Los Angeles Ground, this is Cessna 123 November Papa HEAVY request taxi.” A quick primer to those not familiar with ATC parlance in aircraft classification, the ATC system classifies commercial aircraft as ‘Large’ or ‘Heavy.’ According to FAA’s Air Traffic Control Policy, Order JO 7110.65V, a Large aircraft is determined by maximum certificate takeoff weight (MTOW) of 31,000 pounds but no more than 300,000 pounds. To be considered a Heavy, the MTOW is greater than 300,000 pounds.

After his bold statement, the ground control frequency went dead. The ground controller snapped back: “Last call say again!” to which my ‘passenger’ replied: “You heard me, we want to get out of here!” To say the least, our taxi and subsequent takeoff went off as clockwork. Imagine that!

Why Are You Doing “S” Turns on the Runway?

After our ‘adventures in departure’ from LAX, my flight into ONT was anticlimactic. I was able to identify ONT from about 20 miles out (I mean, it’s almost impossible to NOT notice two 12,000 ft. lit runways). As I lined up with runway 26L, there seemed to be lights EVERYWHERE, as if giving us several lanes to choose from on the runway. As I decelerated, but before we cleared the active, I began some ‘S’ turns to avoid (what I thought) were light posts on the runway. My ‘passenger’ flight instructor shouted out “Why are you doing “S” turns on the runway?” My answer was “I’m trying to avoid those lights sticking up.” to which he replied, “Ah, son, those are flush-mounted runway lights to assist aircraft in landing at night.” In my mind I thought, “they’re assisting me alright, almost to the point of distraction!

Final Thoughts

Many of you by now are chuckling or flat out bursting out in laughter, but to me, this experience of night flying small aircraft into busy airspace was a great learning experience, one that still resonates some 28 years later. In aviation, it’s all about learning. A good pilot is always learning. Safe journeys!

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Commercial Flight Training for Jet Aircraft: Details Matter

Modern jet airliners come equipped with a multitude of indicators and switches. Strict attention to detail during commercial flight training facilitates the safe carriage of passengers.

Noah Timmins

Becoming a commercial pilot, or an airline transport pilot, according to the FAA, requires 1500 hours of flight time. In the context of working, this would take nine months of full-time work to complete, just to enter the bottommost rung of commercial piloting. Even the most dedicated zero-to-hero first officers complete their generic flight training in 18 months and sometimes spend an extra six months finishing their type rating.

Commercial flight training takes so long because the FAA must ensure that carriage pilots can successfully complete their tasks every time. The act of ferrying persons requires strict adherence to safety rules and regulations in order to be completed successfully. This exposes itself in many different forms: pilots complete their tasks with written checklists, maintenance facilities undergo FAA safety audits, and every person involved in a flight, including ground crew, line technicians, pilots, flight attendants, schedulers, and fuelers, must have extensive and rigorous training on their specialty.

Type-specific Training

Each aircraft operates as a type. A pilot qualified to fly a Boeing 767 does not automatically gain qualification to fly the similar Boeing 777. These two aircraft have remarkably different cockpit layouts, which form a critical component of safe flight. After spending thousands of hours piloting a 767 on long-haul oceanic flights, a pilot jumping into a 777 could reach up and, for example, disable the electronic engine control instead of the yaw damper. The positions of these switches are different in these two airframes, so the pilot’s memory of location is incorrect.

Additionally, two aircraft delivered to separate fleets could even have opposing cockpit layouts. Both Southwest Airlines and WestJet Airlines are delivery customers for Boeing’s 737NG aircraft, but they request slightly different cockpit layouts. While 99% of the cockpit of these two aircraft operators are identical, that 1% difference creates an issue. After all, in-flight accidents only occur when multiple things go wrong at the same time, something commercial flight training is designed to address.

The classic story to illustrate this point is one less-known among the general public. Today, the FAA standard for switch direction requires that to turn a system on, its switch must go up, regardless of where the switch is located. Activating hydraulics on a Boeing 737 entails flicking a switch on the cockpit ceiling up, which is a backward motion. TWA, a vintage airline that no longer flies, requested a cockpit layout from manufacturers wherein all switches pointed forward or up in the activated position. Now, activating this same hydraulic system on the 737 entails flicking a switch on the cockpit ceiling forward, or down.

TWA’s cockpit layout choice here created a major problem for pilots transitioning to or from the TWA fleet. Retraining requires vast amounts of time and money to break the physical habit of switch direction. In an in-flight emergency situation, the difference between throwing a switch forward or backward can seem minute, but could start a chain of events culminating in an airframe loss.

In 1996, a pilot destroyed a Gulfstream GIV when attempting a cross-wing takeoff at Chicago Executive Airport. No one aboard survived the crash. The aircraft veered off the runway into the grass, suffered airframe damage, became airborne, and then impacted terrain next to the airport. The official NTSB ruling points to a single switch in the cockpit that was selected incorrectly.

Large jets have nose-wheel steering through the rudder pedals and a secondary system through a hand tiller, allowing for more extreme nose wheel control during taxi. This particular system, on the GIV, allows the pilot to disconnect the rudder pedals from the steering system, steering only with the hand tiller. This position is intended for use only during a taxi situation. Unfortunately, the pilot – on his preflight – failed to notice this switch, leaving it in the pedal disable position. Thus, during rollout, he lacked the ability to control the nose direction with the rudder pedals, sliding off the runway.

This single selector switch could have made the difference between life and death. Earlier, the GIV had been flown by a different charter company with a different preference for nose wheel steering. Additionally, the pilot in command was relatively inexperienced with the GIV aircraft and may have forgotten about this selector switch. In either event, the pilot noticed the nose veering off the runway, attempted to correct it with rudder pedal input, and did not realize it was disconnected.

This highlights the necessity behind commercial flight training needing to address even the smallest issues. Type-specific training must be in depth and detailed, highlighting every system responsible for aircraft control, no matter how insignificant. In this case, the pilot in command had 16,000 hours of flight time, a remarkable achievement. However, he only had 500 hours in the young GIV type aircraft, meaning that the existence of this selector switch was something that did not exist for 15,500 of his flight hours.

Even Circuit Breakers Are Important in Commercial Flight Training

 

MD-80 cockpit instrument panel

Photo by Kent Wien

Beyond cockpit switches, circuit breakers are a crucial part of any advanced flight training procedure. There is a very specific and detailed procedure for electrically disabling systems by opening circuit breakers and locking them open. This ensures that the system, physically, cannot be reset so it remains open. Pilots and crewmembers must be vigilant in noticing any circuit breaker irregularities and responding to them appropriately.

TWA Flight 841 touches on this issue. The pilot was flying a Boeing 727 in 1979, in level flight, clear skies, with the autopilot engaged. Suddenly, without warning, an odd buzzing sound began and the airplane entered an inescapable right roll, becoming inverted twice with the nose pointing down. Accomplishing every task in the book for slowing the aircraft down, he managed to level off after a substantial altitude loss and later land the aircraft without any loss of life.

This incident occurred for one specific reason: the flight engineer – a necessary crewmember in the old style 727 cockpit – was using the lavatory when the pilot set up the airplane for level flight. One of the classic “cut the corner” strategies employed by cowboy TWA pilots was to extend the flaps one notch with the leading edge slats disabled, extending the span of the wing and allowing for a faster groundspeed. This operation was never approved of or stated in any TWA pilot training documents, but was passed down the ranks through tribal knowledge.

Disabling the leading edge slats entails pulling the circuit breakers controlling their operation. Because of this, the pilot had pulled these circuit breakers but left them unlocked, meaning that any person could have simply pushed the breakers and reset the system. The breakers on a 727 are located behind the pilots and right next to the engineer. Upon his return from the lavatory, he noticed the breakers pushed and simply reset them, without calling out to the pilots or informing them of his decision. This caused the leading edge slats to extend since their control circuits were now energized. However, the extreme speed of the 727 in cruise means that the systems are put under tremendous aerodynamic stress, creating the buzzing sound heard. One slat on the right wing ripped off, causing the roll. This was not established until the aircraft landed and the slat was found seven miles from the incident site.

When undergoing commercial flight training, a large portion of time is spent explaining and practicing circuit breaker procedures. Circuit breakers are electrical safety devices that are required to exist on nearly every electrical system on aircraft. They are designed to automatically open circuits when dangerous situations are possible. They also can be opened manually in order to test or purposefully disable certain systems, such as leading edge slats, weather radar, or lavatory flushers.

Airlines have policies and procedures designed specifically to detail how to properly manually open a circuit breaker for testing, maintenance, or deferral. These procedures exist because situations like TWA Flight 841 exist. By improperly locking the circuit breakers the pilot manually opened, and not telling the absent flight engineer, it seemed to the engineer that these breakers had opened themselves. There was no indication or locking device showing that these were manually opened. Standard procedure is to reset the breakers in this occurrence and monitor them for additional openings, so the engineer did so. This one action almost lead to an airframe destruction and potential loss of life.

These systems’ complexity requires similarly complex training. If the pilot had spent twenty extra seconds to properly follow his training and slip a locking collar on the breakers, the whole incident could have been avoided. A simple mistake involving only a single switch or circuit breaker can result in a complete loss of property and life. Thus, the training procedures for advanced and commercial pilots must cover even the smallest situation possible.

Training Responses To Input

Commercial flight training extends beyond simply where the switches and controls are but also what they do. Pilots must anticipate and find the expected result when undergoing training. A typical trainer aircraft has a run-up check where a pilot tests flight controls and engine controls. The expected response from something like an aileron input or magneto switch is tested for by observing the corresponding gauge or control surface. Pilots are trained to look for these responses and make sure that they match what should be expected.

These kinds of checks are necessary even on larger aircraft. An Airbus A320 operated by Lufthansa named Papa Whiskey exhibited trouble at take off in 2001 at Frankfurt. The pilot could do nothing to stop the left wing from drooping on takeoff, causing the first officer to assume control and fly the plane up to a level flight path at 12,000 feet. The pilots, investigating the issue, found the pilot in command’s control stick was giving backward input compared to the expected response. Pulling it right cause the aircraft to bank left and vice versa.

This specific flight control problem arose from Lufthansa’s maintenance department, where a complete rewiring of the entire interconnected elevator flight control system was required, a total of 420 wires. This is no small task. Once it was accomplished, the maintenance personnel completed all functional checks as required and signed off the plane as airworthy. Interesting, the functional check required by Airbus does not entail physically observing the control surface or forcing the use of both control sticks in the cockpit.

All of the electronic displays in the cabin indicated that the pilot’s side control stick gave correct control input. The pointers all deflected correctly. One would do well to remember that these pointers are only electrical signals received from a computer in the electronics bay of these aircraft. Two wires had been wired up incorrectly during the rewiring, causing the pilot’s stick – and that one alone – to give opposite input to the aileron control systems. Thus, the state of the indicating system in the cockpit and the physical system on the wing were in disagreement.

Lufthansa modified their training and maintenance manuals to add in physical verification of control surface deflection after performing maintenance, specifically to address this issue. The expected response from the control input was not present on the physical airframe itself, but there is no way a pilot can view that portion of the wing from the flight deck without extensive gymnastics. Additionally, the maintenance personnel were trained to look for a response only in the cockpit, which in this case was not sufficient for proper operation.

In Conclusion

Aircraft are some of the most complex vehicles piloted. They come equipped with myriad control switches and circuit breakers, with complicated interconnections and failsafes. Despite this, extensive and deep levels of commercial flight training are required to properly equip pilots and maintenance personnel to recognize the correct switches to operate, how they operate, and what to expect when they do. It is the goal of every airline to equip their employees with the ability to complete these tasks successfully, ensuring the safe and timely carriage of passengers worldwide.

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Featured Image: Kent Wien

When Did You Know You Wanted To Be a Pilot?

My personal aviation lineage and the first time I knew I wanted to be a pilot trace back to my grandfather.

Shawn Arena

Those of us who have been fortunate to have received the gift of flight or just the enjoyment of aviation can usually trace back to where that flame to be a pilot was first kindled. Perhaps it was a friend who owned an aircraft and gave you your first flight. Or it may have been a family member who long ago instilled that love and passion for airborne experiences. That is how it was born in me – through my maternal grandfather.

The Start of His Influence

My grandfather was born in Rochester, New York in 1907, a mere four years after the Wright Brothers’ flight in 1903. He and my grandmother moved to California by the mid-1950s where they lived the rest of their lives. I was only 8 – 10 years old at the time and remember vividly him taking me to either the local airport to watch planes take off and land or to a hole-in-the-wall photo gallery where he would purchase pictures of anything aviation. Being just a kid at the time, I did not understand the significance of those weekly trips – to me it was just ‘time with grandpa.’ My bedroom would be adorned with pictures of the Spirit of St. Louis, or from early aircraft designed by aviation royalty such as Douglas, Curtiss, Langley or the Wrights.

Aircraft builder posing with a vintage WACO aircraft

My grandfather, circa 1927-28, with a WACO aircraft he’d just helped build.

As years went on and life unfolded before me, I was unknowingly aware that the kindling aviation fire was simmering within. By the time I was a junior in high school, that kindling of a desire to be a pilot had grown to a full-blown blaze (which it remains to this day). I enrolled in the school’s fledgling 2-year old USAF Junior ROTC program, whose curriculum included not only the mandatory Drill and Ceremony protocols but frequent aviation-related field trips. One of those trips was to one of the two local active duty U.S. Air Force Bases in southern California – March AFB (now March ARB), where I stood in awe as the Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-52 Stratofortress fleet based there would lumber down the runway in a very deceiving manner that looked as if it was not moving enough to even take off!

His Physical Decline

By early September 1975, his physical state was in serious decline. After surviving six heart attacks, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body which left him not only unable to speak but only able to walk with the aid of a walker. I had been accepted into the University of Southern California as a biology major and he and my grandmother followed my parents and I as we drove the Los Angeles freeway system to my new life as a college freshman living in the dorms. That was the last time I saw him alive, for two weeks later he passed away- at the young age of 68. Little did I realize at the time, but from that day forward he would become greater than life to me as aviation slowly but surely took a hold of my career.

Carrying On And Working To Be a Pilot

Four the next four and half years, my total focus was concentrating on ‘surviving’ the college experience. By the end of 1979, I had not only changed my major but was able to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Psychology. By November 1980, I was able to land my first ‘real’ job as a Civil Engineering Aide with the County of Orange, CA. This turned out to be my personal gateway that would lead me back to aviation, because the County owned and operated John Wayne / Orange County Airport (SNA), and provided me with an avenue to someday working there. In January 1984 I began flying lessons at SNA. By February 11th of that year, I was ready to solo. I took the time to commemorate the occasion by penning a tribute to my grandfather entitled “You Gave Me My Wings.” I earned my private pilot certificate on April 11, 1984. I was living in a small condominium nearby and took stock that night to offer a toast to grandpa – “We are on our way” I stated to myself that night.

Man posing with an aircraft

My grandfather in the mid-1960s, at a Southern California airport.

On June 17, 1987, I was selected as a Noise Abatement Specialist at John Wayne Airport and performed those duties until May 1994, when I received a promotion as a Noise Officer at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) in Arizona. For the next 27 years, I became an airport administrator at four commercial service airports and airport manager at four general aviation airports (while also teaching aviation education to undergraduate and graduate students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide Campus, where I earned two Masters Degrees). All through those years, however, I did not forget where that passion for flight came from. At every airport, I would make it my duty (of which my superiors were glad to see) to conduct self-inspection tours – not only to satisfy associated FAR Part 139 Certification and Safety requirements – but to spend time with my grandfather as we drove the perimeter road to make sure all was well, and to reflect on him. When I saw a vintage airplane I would stop the vehicle and gaze at it…” Imagine” I would tell myself, grandpa saw or heard about these planes when they were in their prime.

The Tradition Continues

January 22, 2016. My youngest son Andrew graduates Western Maricopa Education Center (WestMec) at Glendale Municipal Airport (GEU) with his Airframe & Powerplant Certificate. Now I know many of you may be thinking “Oh, that’s nice he took his father’s advice and followed in his footsteps.” Well, not exactly. He decided on his own that he was going to ‘give it a try’ because in his mind he was out of options of what he wanted to do in his life…yes, dad was proud of his achievement. He now works at one of the busiest flight schools in the U.S. at the second busiest general aviation airport in the country (and one I used to manage), Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (DVT). Another generation of aviation in the Arena family… one that started long ago and who’s tradition continues. Thanks Grandpa!

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Aircraft Insurance: What Type Should Pilots Carry?

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

Your aircraft and flying skills represent wonderful business and personal capabilities, but they may also constitute one of the largest exposures to catastrophes that you can imagine. So, the following summary details a list of the most critical aircraft insurance coverage types and [potential] losses:

Aircraft Hull Insurance

Aircraft hull insurance covers physical damage to the aircraft as a result of an accident where the insurer has the option to pay for the repairs or to declare it a total loss, which requires that the insured pay the insured value that is stated on the policy.

Aircraft hull insurance premiums are calculated on $100 of the insured value of the aircraft where the higher the insured value, the lower the rate per $100 drops. For example, the hull premium for a midsized jet that is not used for commercial purposes and has an insured value of $10 million might cost $13,000.00 or 13 cents per $100 of insured value. In comparison, an older version of the same jet that is insured for $5 million might have a premium cost of $10,500.00 or 21 cents per $100 of insured value.
Aircraft hull insurance is required by the bank if you have a lien on the aircraft; however, you would also need it unless you can afford to withstand an uninsured loss.

Caveat: Since aircraft hull insurance is predicated upon the aircraft’s agreed-to or stated value rather than its cash value, there is a potential for over-insuring or under-insuring it which can be problematic. For example, when the hanger collapsed at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. in 2010, many of the damaged aircraft were significantly over-insured. This resulted in a situation where the insurers were forced to repair aircraft that the owners would have rather declared as total losses. Therefore, the accurate insured value to carry on the aircraft is its current market value or lien amount whichever is greater; coverage for war-risk perils should also be included since it offers broad additional coverage for a small additional premium. Annual reviews of aircraft insurance coverage should be conducted and adjusted at the time of renewal if necessary.

Aircraft Liability Insurance

Aircraft liability insurance covers liability for bodily injury or property damage that arises from an accident, and the insurance is written on a single-limit-per-occurrence basis, such as $100 million per occurrence. This type of aircraft insurance includes [legal] defense costs over and above the stated liability cap.

Aircraft liability insurance premiums are typically a flat amount that is based on factors, such as the selected liability limit, the pilot(s) who are flying the aircraft and/or the owner/pilot, and the approved use (Part 91 versus Part 135). Using the midsized jet mentioned previously as an example, with an insured valued of $10 million, the approximate annual premiums for ascending liability might be $8,500.00 for $100 million of coverage, $17,000.00 for $200 million of coverage and $25,000.00 for $300 million of coverage. These quotes will vary based on the age of the aircraft and the extent to which the underwriter opts to place a greater premium on the hull insurance and less of a premium on the liability component of the coverage. There could also be rate surcharges of up to 25 percent depending upon how much or often the aircraft is used for charter flights.

Aircraft liability insurance is needed by everyone since it protects against the largest catastrophic loss exposure, such as accidents resulting in injury or property damage due to which you are most likely to be sued even if the suit is groundless.

Caveat: Buy as high a limit of coverage as you can afford since it is likely that you will not find out whether you have enough coverage until after you have experienced a loss. The liability claims generated by a crash while carrying one or more high-net-worth individuals or when flying over a populated area could easily exceed $100 million. So for that reason, carrying $200 million to $500 million liability limits can certainly provide additional peace of mind. As with hull insurance, carrying coverage for war-risk perils is recommended since it offers broader additional protection for a small additional premium.

Approved Pilot Clause

Approved pilot clause covers who is authorized under a policy to act as pilot-in-command or second-in-command on an aircraft.

There is no specific premium associated with this approved-pilot clause, but the overall policy premium directly correlates with the pilots’ experience level and their training protocol. Obviously, the better qualified the pilots and the more stringent their recurrent training and safety initiatives, the lower the premiums will be.

Approved pilot clause is included in all policies; however, a disproportionate number of claim denials are directly related to the fact that the pilots flying aircraft did not meet the exact criteria of their pilot clause. For example, a Falcon 900 that aborted a takeoff and exited the runway causing extensive damage to the aircraft was denied the claim by the insurer because the copilot that day, although well-qualified, had not completed the insurance-related training for the make and model of the aircraft.

Caveat: If only one section of the aircraft insurance policy is renewed each year, this should be the section and it should be negotiated by an aviation insurance broker as the broadest approved-pilot clause possible. The clause varies greatly among insurers so if the insured is not represented by an experienced broker, he or she will be at a distinct disadvantage. Be sure to provide the flight department and/or any other pertinent parties with a copy of this section combined with any evidence of required recurrent training when the insurance policy is received annually. Also, note that virtually without exception, the primary pilots of all turbine/jet aircraft must complete annual recurrent training at an insurer-approved facility whether or not such training is stipulated in the policy. In addition, this training is critical when statistics purport that 85% of aircraft accidents are a result of pilot error.

We will continue to explore additional aircraft insurance options in an upcoming Part 2 on this topic.

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Why Pilots Need To Know About The Mesoscale Convective Complex

Beware. The Mesoscale Convective Complex feeds on itself and grows like rapidly-spreading cancer.

Vern Weiss

It is called the Mesoscale Convective Complex and pilots should be keenly aware of the term when it appears in a weather briefing. Of course, all thunderstorms require caution but what makes the MCC so nasty is that it becomes a long-living, slow-moving, self-regenerating system that covers an enormous area of ground.

It wasn’t until 1980 that we even knew about them when meteorologist Robert Maddox identified its characteristics while doing research at the NOAA Environmental Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.1 Until then Mesoscale Convective Systems were known but primarily in the tropical regions of the world. What made his MCC discovery significant is that it is a product of “the good ol’ USA.”

I am sure we agree that all thunderstorms can be nasty. They all can spawn lots of rain, hail, wind and short-term titillation like wind-shear and tornadoes. With an MCC we cannot even call it a thunderstorm; it is a multiplicity of thunderstorms. If you put a pot of water on a stove top and bring it to a rolling boil, you are watching something analogous to a Mesoscale Convective Complex. As one bubble diminishes, another grows. As that one begins to diminish, another one adjacent to it erupts.

One of the best-known events that was caused by a Mesoscale Convective Complex occurred in 1977 when flash flooding surprised everyone in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and killed 76 people.2 In 1985, a Delta Airlines L-1011 got snarled in the grip of wind shear believed to have been associated with an MCC, smashing it into the ground on the approach to DFW and killing 134 people.3

More recently in May 2015, MCCs deluged and clobbered Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Nebraska. Typically 10 to 14 inches of rain fell on concrete bridges that were busted to bits. “It has been one continuous storm after another for the past week to 10 days in several regions of the state,” said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, a Texas state climatologist.4

Pilots know that all thunderstorms require 3 main ingredients: moisture, unstable air, and a lifting force. It is the lifting force that gets the storm’s engine to start. The four primary means of providing a lifting force are through convection when the sun warms up a parcel of air. Since warm air is lighter than cool air the parcel begins to rise. When it rises high enough the moisture in that parcel begins to condense and there’s your rain. Another means is through frontal activity. The lifting force is provided by the “scooping” action of a front as it is pushed along by the winds rotating around the big “L” in the center of a low-pressure area. By the way, I’ve been flying a long time and seen my share of bad weather but have yet to ever see the “L” at the center of low pressure. One time I was looking up in the sky on a CAVU (Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited) day and I thought I saw the “H” of a high-pressure system but it turned out to be just 3 high altitude aircraft making contrails that crisscrossed.

The third primary type is the nocturnal thunderstorm. A simplification of this one’s description is that it is a variation of the convective type. The sun beats down on the Earth all day, warming up the ground. After sunset, the air cools quickly and then the ground starts releasing its stored- up heat. Warm air rises and the parcel of air adjacent to the ground begins rising. Once it reaches an altitude where its dew point is achieved, the moisture condenses and if the air is unstable the mechanism for a thunderstorm is launched. These typically occur after 10 PM, so don’t ever fly after 10 PM if you want to avoid them.

The fourth mechanism providing a lifting force to unstable and moist air is through orographic means. This is a fancy word that, translated for we who were solid “C” students in school, means hills or mountains.

Now let’s get back to the Mesoscale Convective Complex.

The generation of an MCC is usually detected with satellite infrared imaging. I’m now going to throw a whole bunch of generalities at you. Bear in mind that these are not absolutes; they’re just typical.

Photo by Keven Menard

Photo by Keven Menard

Mesoscale Convective Complexes are most often found in the central part of the US but begin with frontal and orographic movement. This is not to say that they don’t occur elsewhere. (remember Johnstown and Delta at DFW?). They generally are strong for 12 hours or more and commonly form in the late afternoon and continue until sunrise the next morning. They typically form when the dewpoint is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This last ingredient is particularly savory because a dewpoint above 70 degrees is also considered the trigger for plain, old garden- variety tornadoes. So yes, it should be no surprise that an MCC will be rich in tornado activity.

From a pilot’s standpoint, there are obvious cautions: Wind-shear, heavy rain, high winds, intense lightning, hail and damaging tornadoes; lots of all those things because this is a thunderstorm that covers a wide area and moves slowly, feeding on itself. Even Dr. Maddox (now with the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Oklahoma) warns pilots that, with an MCC, “the agglomeration and expansion of thunderstorm cells may occur so rapidly that the pilot of a slow-moving light aircraft may find himself literally engulfed by thunderstorms.”5

Mesoscale Convective Complexes are huge and minimally will cover an area of nearly 39,000 square miles (or roughly the size of the State of Virginia). Aircraft attempting to skirt the northern side of such a large area will experience extremely strong winds which may be a factor, depending on the direction of travel. Pilots skirting the southern side of an MCC will observe very light winds which may diminish any anticipated “help” from tailwinds. But, c’mon…with such a weather system are we really worried about “on time” arrivals? Of course, if the wonky winds create fuel concerns it becomes a serious matter.

We’ve got some incredible aircraft now. Big…tough…powerful. But even those “heavy iron” monsters are no match for Nature. The more dangerous the weather forecast is, the longer you should study it. Flying in the vicinity of thunderstorms can be dangerous but, carefully executed, is do-able. But when a Mesoscale Convective Complex is sitting on your destination it might be a good time to head to the Motel 6. Because they’ll leave the light on for you.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

References:

1 – Maddox, Robert A. Bulletin – American Meteorological Society, “Focus on Forecasting,” November 1980.

2 – Reynold, Harold, “Mesoscale Convective Complex – An Overview”, 1990

3 – National Transportation Safety Board Aircraft Accident Report, August 15, 1986.

4 – https://weather.com/forecast/regional/news/plains-rain-flood-threat-wettest-may-ranking

5 – Maddox, Robert. A., and J. Michael Fritsch, Weatherwise, “A New Understanding of Thunderstorms-The Mesoscale Convective Complex,” 1984.

Featured Image: Keven Menard

Pilot Salary: What Is The Pay Like In Different Careers?

A pilot’s salary can vary just as they do with any other job. Experience plays a big role as far as what a pilot makes, mainly because the different companies and positions available depend on the experience of a pilot. First, if we look at what the different types of jobs there are for pilots, then we can begin to narrow down the pilot salary range. Then when we look inside each job, we can see what affects the pay of the pilot at that point, whether it be experience within that company, the state of the economy, or other factors.

There are many opportunities for a pilot such as flight instruction, agriculture (crop dusting), regional and mainline airlines, corporate, shared operations and even tour guides. Jobs such as flight instructing, tour guides and even regional airlines tend to be on the lower end of the pilot salary scale. The instructing and touring jobs are generally for newer pilots to build their time while making some money. Hourly, they usually make what seems to be good money, anywhere from $15 to $40 dollars an hour, depending on where they work and level of experience. However, although that sounds like a good amount of money, an instructor or even a tour guide makes money when the propeller of the aircraft is moving. So, for every hour in the plane or helicopter, there is probably at least another hour to two hours spent preparing for that flight. For 8 hours of pay, at least 15 to 16 hours is actually worked. It is generally too expensive for most pilots to build flight hours on their own dime, so these types of jobs allow for them to work while reaching that goal.

If pursuing an airline career, regional airlines are generally the next step. And though pilots have to have a specific number of flight hours to be hired on, they are on the lower end of the pilot salary scale. In many cases, they have been known to pay less than flight instructing. Although regionals have been increasing their initial pay from what it once was, it can still be difficult for a pilot. Depending on the airline, starting pay can range from $22,000 to $38,000 annually. The pay does increase as more time is put in as well as upgrades and a captain can potentially make $80,000 a year flying for regional airlines.

A Boeing 747 landing at an airport -

Photo by Mike

Once a person builds their time and experience within a regional airline and is able to get on with a major airline such as Delta, American or United, the pay increases. For a pilot who has dreams of flying the big commercial airlines, working their way up to the majors is a long and hard process but if they get there, it’s generally very worth it. Major airlines set starting pay for first officers at around $60,000 to $80,000 yearly. Pay here will also continue to increase over time, of course, and a captain could make over $150,000 a year, depending on the airline. Another job on the higher end of the pilot salary scale is flying for UPS or FedEx or one of the major cargo companies. They tend to choose experienced pilots, who are paid well, and don’t have to deal with the passenger side of aviation. The average pay for a cargo pilot is in the neighborhood of $150,000. These positions, though they come with long hours and other considerations, tend to be desired due to the pay and passenger-less element.

Airlines and cargo are not the only opportunities for a higher pilot salary. Many large companies have their own aircraft and pilots can fly on the corporate side of things. The flying is different in that they do not necessarily have a set schedule and many times are on call. Salaries can range widely within this type of flying, based on the company and type of aircraft, but with the right set-up, pilots can make a good amount. The downside with corporate flying is there is usually very little room to grow. Once a person has reached captain, they have maxed out their potential within that company. So with each job, it really depends on where a person is at in their life as far as meeting their expectations and desires. A large part of this is the company and how much they value their employees. There are many corporate type operations where pilots make $40,000 to $50,000, with no real chance of an increase. Those operations tend to have a revolving door and don’t care as much about keeping the same pilots. Other companies can pay $80,000 to $120,000 and possibly as much as $190,000 for a Gulfstream 650 pilot, according to a 2014 survey conducted by Professional Pilot magazine. They value their pilots, but also rely on them heavily and fly them often. And with more money can come longer flights and more time away from home, though it can also mean more time off and more opportunity to travel outside of work. So just like aviation in general, the choice is up to each person with the effort they want to apply and the sacrifice they want to make as they tackle a new position.

As with any other job, aviation is affected by the economy. When the economy is booming, airlines are branching out, more flying is being done, and more people are learning to fly. When the economy begins to suffer, so does the flying. The price of everything goes up except for pilot salaries. So where “X” amount of money was once a great income, it may now be just enough to live off with no extras. Pilots begin to weigh the benefits to the negatives and decide if flying is really for them in those types of situations. If a pilot has a true passion for the skies, then the pay might not be the most important thing to them. However, everyone has to be able to survive off the income they make working so it is up to each individual person to figure out what their limits and desires are and head down that path.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

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The Most Effective Diet For Pilots

Amber Berlin

Every year at Thanksgiving we gather around the table and consume massive amounts of turkey. Then we spend the afternoon napping on the couch in a turkey coma. We know from experience that turkey is a food that promotes a state of sleepiness, and we also know that you wouldn’t want to eat that same turkey dinner and embark on a flight requiring you to be awake and alert. But why does the turkey dinner cause us to get sleepy? And what other foods can contribute to being too sleepy when you need to fly, or too awake when you need to sleep? In an effort to provide a complete understanding of why these foods work like they do, let’s get started on the main course: an easily digestible neuroscience lesson.

Understanding The Best Diet For Pilots

The body must gain certain nutrients from the diet, and these nutrients keep the body and mind performing at maximum efficiency. There are 9 essential amino acids that we must obtain from our diet in order to stay healthy (Young, 1994). All of the other amino acids required by the body can be produced from these 9 essential amino acids. Any lack of nutrients will have a direct impact on how the body and mind function, creating an environment which is detrimental to its recovery. Of the chemicals consumed by our body in the foods we eat, the following four chemicals play a significant role in achieving a state of sleep or wakefulness:

Tyrosine – a non-essential amino acid produced inside the body from Phenylalanine. Tyrosine contributes to an increased state of alertness and wakefulness in the brain.

Tryptophan – an essential amino acid found in most protein. Tryptophan has the ability to increase brain levels of serotonin, which produces a relaxed, calm state.

Serotonin – Biochemically derived from Tryptophan, Serotonin is primarily found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, platelets, and in the central nervous system (CNS) of humans and animals. It is a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being.

Dopamine – a catecholamine neurotransmitter present in a wide variety of animals…in the brain, this phenethylamine functions as a neurotransmitter, activating the five types of Dopamine receptors—D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5—and their variants. Dopamine has many functions in the brain, including important roles in behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, motivation, punishment and reward, inhibition of prolactin production (involved in lactation and sexual gratification), sleep, mood, attention, working memory, and learning.

Because of the chemical composition of foods and the way the body metabolizes these foods, eating a certain diet can either create a state in the body which promotes wakefulness or sleep. If you have a busy duty day ahead of you, it makes sense to indulge in the foods that support a state of wakefulness. However, if it’s the end of your duty day and you need to relax, it makes sense to consume those foods which promote sleep.

Foods That Increase a State of Wakefulness

High protein/low carbohydrate meals increase Tyrosine in the brain. Foods high in the essential amino acid Phenylalanine include:

  • Soy Foods, Soy-based Protein Powder
  • Parmesan and Swiss Cheese
  • Peanuts, Almonds, Sunflower Seeds
  • Lean Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Turkey
  • Tuna, Lobster, Salmon, Mackerel, Crab, Halibut, Cod
  • White Beans, Lentils, Chickpeas
  • Wild Rice, Brown Rice, Quinoa, Oats, Oat Bran, Wheat Bran
  • Gelatin
  • Milk

Dopamine is also derived from the essential amino acid Phenylalanine and contributes to wakefulness. Dopamine is easily oxidized and foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, may help protect dopamine-using neurons from free radical damage. Sugar, saturated fats, cholesterol, and refined foods contribute to low levels of dopamine.

Foods That Increase a State of Sleepiness

The essential amino acid Tryptophan promotes increased sleepiness and is the building block for Serotonin, which produces a calm, relaxed state. Foods high in Tryptophan include:

  • Turkey, Rabbit, Lean Pork, Lamb, Beef, Chicken, Fish
  • Baked potatoes with their skin
  • Cheddar, Mozzarella, Romano, Cottage Cheese
  • Shrimp, Scallops, Clams
  • Pinto Beans, Kidney Beans, Lentils
  • Milk

Tryptophan intake has been shown to increase blood melatonin levels fourfold (Sinha, 2015). Melatonin production normally occurs in response to the darkness of the evening hours and assist the body to gear down for sleep. Final meals of the day should include protein, carbohydrates, and calcium, which assist in the production of Serotonin.

Wait a minute! If some of these foods are on both lists, then how can I eat to promote wakefulness or sleep? Let’s go back to the Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey contains both Phenylalanine and Tryptophan, which is very good for your body. However, in order for the Tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier, it needs carbohydrates. Eating a high protein, low carbohydrate meal provides the essential amino acids your body needs to function and also limits its ability to use those amino acids which promote sleep. The turkey by itself will not make you sleepy, but when you add all the carbohydrates found in the rest of the dinner, the Tryptophan has a ticket into the brain where it can produce what we know as the turkey coma (Richard, Dawes, Mathias, Acheson, Hill-Kapturczak and Dougherty, 2009; Zamosky, 2009). Armed with this information, we can now see a diet for pilots that promotes wakefulness and sleep:

Pre-flight – Breakfast meals should contain proteins and minimal carbohydrates

In-flight – Lunch meals should contain proteins, fruits and vegetables and minimal carbohydrates

Post-flight – Dinner meals should contain proteins, carbohydrates, and calcium

And as always, limit your intake of sugar, saturated fats, cholesterol, and refined foods

As you can see here, your eating habits can either support or undermine your pilot work schedule requirements, making you sleepy or awake at the wrong times. However, when you line up your daily dose of food chemicals to support your duty day, everything works in unison to achieve the ultimate goal of keeping you at peak performance. If the moment requires you to be alert, you can set yourself up for success by minimizing carbohydrate intake. If the stage is set for sleep, you can finally indulge in those carbs and drift off to dreamland. Many times we grab a high-carb snack to keep us going when we should grab some beef jerky instead. Changing these small habits can make a big difference in how you feel as you will no longer be struggling against your body, but working together toward a sustainable and successful aviation career.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

References:

Richard, D. M., Dawes, M. A., Mathias, C. W., Acheson, A. Hill-Kapturczak, N., Dougherty, D. M. (2009). L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research, and Therapeutic Indications. Int J Tryptophan Res. 2009; 2: 45–60.

Sinha, A. (2015). Remedies and cures for the common diseases. Page Publishing, Inc.

Young, V. R. (1994). Adult amino acid requirements: the case for a major revision in current recommendations. J. Nutr 124 (8 Suppl): 1517S-1523S.

Zamosky, L. (2009). The truth about tryptophan.

The Dangers of a Falsified Pilot Logbook

Avoid rattlesnakes and falsified flight log books. Each has a nasty disposition and sharp fangs that bite.

Vern Weiss

In August 2012, a Federal Court in Des Moines, Iowa sentenced a pilot to 4 years probation and fined him for falsifying his pilot logbook hours when going for an FAA instrument rating.1

Federal court! We’re not talking about something that can be taken lightly. It would be bad enough to be taken to task with an FAA action but when you’re hauled into Federal court, you’re really in a big-time quagmire.

In the FAA’s eyes, forgery of a certificate is on a par with air piracy and it is not treated as a simple administrative action. In fact, it is considered a criminal act and the US Department of Justice gets involved. The “bible” used by FAA inspectors is called “FSIMS” which stands for Flight Standards Information System. This manual guides FAA inspectors as to how to handle things that can come up within the scope of conducting their duties. Here’s what it says an inspector should do when an altered certificate is detected: “An inspector should never attempt to confiscate a suspected forged, fraudulent, or counterfeit certificate. Since fraudulent certificates are sometimes used for criminal activities, the person in possession of this certificate may be armed and dangerous. If an inspector suspects that an airman certificate is counterfeit or forged, the inspector should immediately contact the Investigations and Security Branch of the Regional Civil Aviation Security Division or a local law enforcement officer.2

Is the inspector really in the restroom or did he leave the room to phone the cops?

In recent years more and more things aviation matters are falling within the purview of the Department of Justice, including mistruths of all kinds, and things like pilot logbook falsification are becoming criminal acts.

Over in FAR §61.59 the nitty-gritty is laid out for us regarding falsification of a pilot logbook: It’s defined as “Any fraudulent or intentionally false entry in any logbook, record, or report that is required to be kept, made, or used to show compliance with any requirement for the issuance or exercise of the privileges of any certificate, rating, or authorization under this part.” It further warns that “The commission (of such an act) is a basis for suspending or revoking any airman certificate, rating, or authorization held by that person.

But beyond the administrative laws of the FAA, let’s consider how it might affect a pilot in his or her career. When you’re hired by a commercial operator you will usually be required to bring your pilot logbook(s) to the interview. Very often, there is one person in the interview team who thumbs through your logbook. Although they likely do not have the time to actually total up all the columns and determine if the hours stated are accurate, they more often are picking out select flights you made which will surface later on in the interview. For instance, 3 years ago there might be a flight in a King Air from Austin, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas. During the interview, you’re asked if you have any turboprop time and you naturally will say yes. They’ll probe a bit more: “How long ago was this?” “Was it corporate or Part 135?” Who was this for?” They’re zeroing in on one of the details they’ve found and seeing if you are digging yourself a hole that you cannot climb out of or if you’re verifying that the ground is level before building a relationship with them. They may check out the tail number, who owned it and contact the company. If the company never heard of you, you just wasted your time interviewing with them.

There are other ways a falsified pilot logbook can be detected. We’ve all had less-than-sterling simulator check-rides but when someone claims an enormous amount of flight time and flies like a beginner, the logbook numbers become suspect.

Insurance companies have become ravenous vultures of data mining. When you go to work for a company, you will probably have to fill out a form for their insurer and flight time totals will be asked. This data will be entered and disseminated so if you were with Company “A” for six months and joined them with 3,000 hours but when Company “B” offered you a job you entered 6,000 hours, it will flag. You’ll also be tagged as a liar and may have problems for years to come getting an insurance company to believe you are who you are.

When there is an accident which ends up in a civil court proceeding or in a lawsuit, you can bet your logbooks will be subpoenaed and the lawyers will pour over them carefully. The ramifications that come out of this are obvious and not too pretty.

Some years ago I worked for a large pilot training school. Prior to signing anyone off for a check-ride, we had a dedicated session we called “the preflight.” “The preflight” had nothing to do with checking fuel and making sure the wings were attached but, instead, was the administrative portion of signing someone off for their check-ride. During this period, the instructor meticulously went through all the paperwork (this was prior to the implementation of the FAA’s IACRA system) including the student’s logbook(s) and confirmed all the hourly requirements had been achieved and proper endorsements made. One day a gentleman appeared at the school to train for an instrument rating. He carried a brown paper grocery sack with him and in that sack were hundreds of pieces of paper. Every flight of his piloting career was detailed on a small scrap of paper. Every training session he had experienced was documented on a valid receipt. That was his log and it was perfectly legal. Perhaps not every examiner would have been as patient with him as the one used by my flight school but he got through it even by using his non-traditional log-keeping system.

Today such a log style would probably not work. Even though you only have to log those flights that are required to show currency or for purposes of meeting the requirements of an FAA certificate or rating, a sloppy logbook reflects badly on the pilot whether you’re defending yourself in a serious legal entanglement or trying to woo an airline to hire you.

Your pilot logbook should be a matter of professional pride and visible proof of your integrity. Both things are as important for a pilot as safety and competence.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Footnotes and References:

1 – Pilot Sentenced For Making False Statements In His FAA Flight Logbook

2 – Flight Standards Information Management System (FSIMS) 8900.1 09/13/2007 Para. 5-193 SUSPECTED COUNTERFEITING, Federal Aviation Administration.

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