We have a major problem brewing in the GA aviation sector: we are going to run out of planes.
Through the 1950’s, ‘60’s, and ‘70’s, aircraft manufacturers pumped out thousands of aircraft that the general aviation flying public bought and flew for personal and business activities. These weren’t big jet aircraft that corporations used as time machines to do more business, they were two to six seat planes the average pilot with a private pilot certificate or even the added instrument rating could fly with family, friends, and business partners to the thousands of airports around the country. These airports haven’t gone away, but the planes are going away.
Each year these aircraft get older and more of them get scrapped for any number of reasons ranging from engines passing beyond recommended overhaul times that cost more to overhaul or replace than the aircraft total value, accidents and incidents making aircraft unrecoverable, or owners passing away and leaving aircraft to estates that sit degrading in a forgotten hangar somewhere until they are no longer worth returning to service. Continue reading →
Ever line up to land on a runway you have been cleared for only to find out that you were slightly off and it was the wrong runway?
I’ll admit it, I have done it.
Ever not notice it until ATC “reminded” you of what runway you were supposed to be landing on?
Ok, you don’t have to admit to it, but it happens. It even happens to experienced airline pilots sometimes, so don’t feel too bad about it. When this happens, it is about what you do next, to fix the error.
On this recent 4th of July, an airline flight was approaching Kalamazoo, Michigan and was cleared to land on Runway 17. With 6500 feet of runway available, this runway was the one that is commonly used by regional jets of multiple airlines every day (or the opposite end of the same, runway 35).
As they got closer, ATC cleared them to land on runway 17.
You can listen to the audio I have pulled down and cut to just the relevant portions for the flight. Especially relevant was when ATC “queried” that they knew they were cleared to land on runway 17. It was obvious that ATC noticed they were aligned not to land on runway 17, but instead, runway 23, a much shorter 3500-foot long runway.
Click play to hear the transmissions between ATC and the flight.
What is important here, is that both ATC and the pilots made good decisions.
ATC called it to the attention of the pilot that their approach looked abnormal. In this case, the conditions were VFR and it was a visual approach, something that leaves more chance that a pilot will align themselves with the wrong runway than when they are loading up a specific approach to an intended runway of landing.
The pilots, as soon as they noticed it, did the right thing. They aborted the approach to the “wrong” runway, climbed, and flew a VFR pattern to the longer correct runway for landing.
You can see the flight track and the vertical path including the climb from the approach to the pattern in the following graphics.
Even a multiple crew member aircraft who flies professionally on a regular basis can make a simple mistake of visually looking for an airport, seeing a runway, and mistaking what they see as the correct runway.
Do I write this to chastise the pilots for their mistake in any way? No, not at all.
For most of us as pilots, if this happens nobody will ever notice. When an airliner does it, it is more noticeable, but not necessarily more concerning than when a private aircraft has the same happen.
Our aviation system includes cross-checks of ATC and pilots to coordinate traffic, and this includes what runways to land on and when.
Obviously, the 3500-foot runway would have been rather short for a regional jet to land on, but I also expect that the pilots would have eventually noticed that the runway was MUCH shorter than they would normally use to land. But by ATC making the query sooner than later, it gave the pilots the opportunity to make a corrective action prior to being at a lower altitude, slower speed, and closer to the airport.
Kudos to ATC here, kudos to the crew for making the right decision and eating their pride to go around and get to the correct runway.
What can we all learn from this?
Well, we are probably never too experienced to make a mistake like this, but we can never be too humble when we consider the need to be willing to “go around” and fix a mistake we have made.
A friend recently texted me a picture. It was a flight track screen shot of a plane a contact of his was onboard when they experienced a catastrophic pressurization system failure.
The flight was a demonstration flight for a Citation aircraft that was being considered for purchase.
After climbing to FL430, and while in a cruise, the two pilots on board heard a “loud bang” and got a pressurization system warning.
As I heard it, they grabbed for their oxygen masks and found that no oxygen was being delivered. Not having much time to trouble shoot the system at that altitude, they began an emergency descent. Continue reading →
A couple of short years ago, the certification process for ATP pilots changed. We are all familiar with the reasons and what the changes were, but we are starting to see data that can help forecast some of the effects. In short, our ATP certification numbers are trending down and we can expect that it is going to continue.
If we look at the trends of ATP certificates issued on a yearly basis since 2002, we typically saw stability and correlation between the number of ATP knowledge tests and ATP pilot certificates issued on a yearly basis and in comparison with each test. This made logical sense that we would expect to see those who took ATP knowledge tests continue on to take ATP practical tests (resulting in ATP certificate issuances).
In 2014, when changes were made that would require potential ATP pilots to complete an ATP CTP course prior to being eligible to take even the ATP knowledge test, we saw a significant increase in ATP knowledge test administration as pilots took the test in an effort to avoid needing to take the ATP CTP course. After August 1 of 2014, pilots were no longer able to take the ATP knowledge test without taking the ATP CTP course, and we see an unprecedented drop in pilots who took ATP knowledge tests in the statistical data for 2015.
We have traditionally seen strong correlation between those who took knowledge tests and those who took practical tests, and after conversations with numerous examiners and providers of ATP training around the country, we can expect to see the same correlation in ATP Certificates issues in 2016 (although we will have to wait for another year to see this data).