Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The missed opportunity

I met the person who may be one of the smartest people I' ve ever heard speak at Oshkosh tonight and it's a shame -- a damned shame -- that more people in the RV community and the experimental aviation community didn't turn out to here him too.

Mark Giron is an FAA safety inspector. He's also the guy who's going to start putting a response together to the National Transportation Safety Board recommendations on experimental aviation. Did I mention he's also an RV-6 owner?

Mark is one of us. By the warped thinking of a lot of people in the homebuilding community, he's also "one of them."

He held a safety chat out in the homebuilt camping area of Oshkosh tonight and it wasn't much of an accident -- no pun intended -- that he didn't do in the big FAA pavilion, standing up on a stage at a podium with the big FAA shield. He invited people just to sit around on the grass, enjoy some free corn on the cob and talk as if we actually are adults about how we can fly safer.

I spent a few minutes with him today when he was a guest on my EAA Radio show (it'll be archived and you can hear it probably next week). I'm impressed. I'm impressed with his thoughtfulness and his insight and his position and his guts and his willingness to extend a hand to the EAB community to help formulate that response.

And so it was disheartening around 6:30 when only a handful of people -- Andrew Barker and the TruTrak staff, Mike Regan, the Dynon folks -- showed up to listen to him. It was more disheartening when I overheard his cellphone conversation to the AOPA government affairs official when he said, "the experimental community doesn't care."

That one's on us and we deserve what we get. The notice was posted on Van's Air Force site, I made it clear on the EAA radio site, and you can draw a crowd at Oshkosh by burping loudly. So there was no legitimate excuse for not having more people show up.

Those recommendations are going to come out, and then people will have a lot to say.

The crowd did get larger over the course of our discussion and it was just the people you'd expect to see -- the best and the brightest: Paul Rosales, Paul Dye, Kyle Boatright, Gary Sobek, to name a few.

Admittedly, I'm in the minority in the RV community and in particular, at Oshkosh -- the world's largest Tea Party convention. If it takes a regulation to start to ground some of the idiots who are flying homebuilts, I'm all for it. I was alone in this thought. The AOPA official, in particular, seemed to make it clear that that organization is against any addition regulation of any kind. I get the sentiment, I just don't think it gets us anywhere.

The discussion was quality stuff, however. Should people be allowed to take a person on a first flight as part of transition training? From the sound of things, it sounds like that will be recommendation.

And Mark is no fool. He knows people are faking their test periods and logging enough hours to say they've properly tested their plane. He wasn't surprised when I told him I've met at least three people at Oshkosh who flew up here while in Phase I testing. This guy is not a fool. But he should be our friend and we should've been there and nobody should ever be saying the homebuilt community doesn't care about having a seat at the table of recommendations.

In the end, the sentiment seems to be that peer education is the way to go, rather than education. Twenty-five hours? Forty hours? Mark isn't sure how arbitrary those numbers are. What he is sure of, though, is that people are testing their planes, and that people are using Phase I as pilot training. That's not what Phase I is for.

It falls to use -- especially in the stance of AOPA that no regulation, no policy is acceptable -- to police ourselves. That doesn't make me very confident. Maybe if people had showed up to partake in tonight's conversation, it would. Trust me, when the recommendations come out, people will be complaining on all the bulletin boards and at Oshkosh. My response? Where were you when you had your chance?

There is some progress being made. Mark says Chad Jensen, EAA's homebuilt community now has a list of everyone who offers transition training by type. You'll be able to find a trainer, presumably off the EAA website, instead of hearing things through word of mouth.


  1. Well, you're not the only un-Teabagger on VAF. I myself am a Banned-For-Lifer but sneak back for tech stuff. Yes, a shame that more people didn't turn out but not too surprising. Provide free grub, some explosions and a country band and you'd have a line to the Minnesota border.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Sorry-found an edit to make:

    Well, as a relative av-outsider I wasn't ware of that kind of AOPA-FAA dynamic. That's too bad, and I'm sure terrible for long term safety outcomes. It seems like Burt Rutan is sort of the best case outcome of the libertarian spirit in homebuilding and hidebound non-cooperation with approachable FAA officials the worst.

  4. All true, Bob, but do keep in mind that very few in the RV community possess enough knowledge of the current regulations to have chimed in with anything of value had they been there. As you said, Mark's a smart guy. He's aware that at a venue like Oshkosh most people have other things on their minds, and he went away with some good input from some very bright guys.

    It was a beginning. Another venue, another time, will likely garner a larger audience. If it was a one-shot deal, then it wasn't advertised well enough, and that's a shame.

  5. Bob, you wonder why more people didn’t attend Mark Giron’s safety chat. Consider this. The thing was scheduled from 6:30 to 8PM Wednesday. RV pilots spend all day hiking around the AirVenture grounds – and the heat Wednesday was brutal -- then watch the airshow which included Team RV that day. And Bob, even though you don’t like the airshow, many do. It’s an excellent airshow. After all that, most people are tired, hot, and hungry. They want to sit down, have a cold drink and eat dinner. The last thing they want to do is sit out in a field talking to an FAA rep, no matter how smart or nice the guy is.

    Perhaps pilots consider dealing with the government a waste of time. Seven years ago, the governmental powers-that-be had two town-hall meetings and collected 20,000 on-line comments concerning the Washington D.C. ADIZ. Despite 99% of the comments going against making the ADIZ permanent, the government just went ahead and made the ADIZ permanent anyways. Many of the comments were very well written like the following from a retired Airline pilot:

    “Both I and my fellow pilots who fly from here agree that making the ADIZ in the Washington DC area permanent is a flawed proposal for two reasons:

    First, there is absolutely no clear evidence that imposing the rule will in any way reduce the risk of terrorists' use of aviation assets and, second, the rule will impose a dramatic penalty on law-abiding US citizens, both in terms of the adverse economic impact on the area's businesses and - I think even more importantly - on the ability for Americans to exercise their legitimate rights and to enjoy the freedoms for which our founders fought and which have been defended for over two centuries.

    The concept of denying citizens' access to what is perceived to be a "tool of terror" (in this case, an aircraft) is fundamentally flawed. A much more effective strategy to protect American lives and property would be to aggressively pursue, detain, and punish the perpetrators of terror.”

    Now known as the SFRA, it is still in effect today, hurting the GA airports in the area, scaring away pilots, and keeping the politicians safe from, well, we’re not sure what.

  6. But let’s say 100 RV pilots showed up to Mark’s townhall. Is Mark really going to get valuable feedback at a Townhall, where extroverts dominate the discussion and introverts can’t get a word in? In a mere hour and a half? With background noise from planes departing every minute after the airshow?

    Then, despite the low turnout, you say the discussion was quality stuff, because guys like Dye, Sobek, Boatright and Regen were there. Do you want a quality discussion, or just high attendance?

    Regardless, Mark would get much better feedback talking to experimental pilots one on one. There are many RV drivers at his home airport of Montgomery Country (KGAI) or nearby Frederick, Carroll Country, and Easton. Or he could simply communicate with the heavy posters on VAF.

    “Should people be allowed to take a person on a first flight as part of transition training?” Is this trivia what you expect people to waste their precious AirVenture time on? I bet I could review the accident reports from all 73 fatalities in FY11 and not find one that was could have been prevented if a second person was in the cockpit during Phase I.

    “[Mark] knows people are faking their test periods and logging enough hours to say they've properly tested their plane.” Again, did this lead to any of the 73 fatalities in FY11? Or the 65 the year before?

    “What he is sure of, though, is that people are testing their planes, and that people are using Phase I as pilot training. That's not what Phase I is for.” I’m not sure what this means. Phase I is for testing your newly built plane. Are you implying that people take an instructor with them during Phase I to train them in flying an RV? If so, is this really a significant problem?

    ”the world’s largest Tea Party Convention”. Why do you have to draw politics into this? Isn’t the FAA-GA relationship already difficult enough?

  7. “If it takes a regulation to start to ground some of the idiots who are flying homebuilts, I'm all for it.” Bob, you are pretty cavalier with other people’s freedom.

    You want to talk truthfully about safety? OK, let’s talk truthfully about homebuilt aircraft safety. We are talking about 60-80 fatalities a year. Most of these were in accidents caused by the usual things: flying into IMC, running out of gas, engine malfunction, stall/spin at low level. While all human life is precious, let’s face it – that’s a low number. AirVenture 2012 just ended with thousands of homebuilts flying in and out. Not a single fatality. Frankly, that’s amazing, when you consider it’s mostly amateur pilots flying homebuilt planes.

    Eighty is an insignificant number compared to the carnage every year on the roads: over 30,000 fatalities in 2010. And in our cities: In 2011, there were 423 murders in Chicago alone.

    Yes, homebuilts crash, but most of them don’t crash. Do you see what I’m getting at? What regulation is going to make any difference? And we already have enough regulation, and the loss of freedom that comes with regulation.

    Homebuilder’s do not want to commit suicide. I have yet to meet one who was not deadly serious when building their plane, having more experienced builders and A&Ps look at it throughout the build, educating themselves on every aspect of building and flying their aircraft, testing and promptly fixing any discrepancies, and maintaining their aircraft diligently throughout its life. I know you did, and do. And if they don't, well, you can't fix stupid. There is nothing the FAA can do to make them do what is right.

    I know off the top of my head three RV forced-landings for engine/fuel flow reasons by three big names in the RV community, all repeat-offenders. They did not ignore the rules or take shortcuts. No regulation could have prevented the forced landings. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone. Regulations can not take the risk out of flying.

  8. The Experimental community does care. They just don’t think safety can be improved by more regulation with the resulting loss of freedom.

    The homebuilders community has a good thing going exemplified by more than 7700 RVs built to flying completion. Why does the FAA want to poison it? Because some arbitrary not-to-exceed limit of 70 fatalities was exceeded? Don’t they have anything better to do?
    The reality is that GA accident rate is settled into an irreducible minimum. Safety awareness efforts should continue to keep the accident rate low. No one is saying we should get rid of the programs and procedures that got us to this low rate. We just don’t want more regulation.

    One thing the government/FAA could do to enhance safety and promote aviation at the same time is reduce the cost of AvGas so that pilots could afford to fly more, and more people would join the hobby. The government could do this by eliminating strangling regulation on U.S. energy companies and allowing drilling in this country: on land and offshore.

    Finally, “He [Mark Giron the FAA rep] wasn't surprised when I told him I've met at least three people at Oshkosh who flew up here while in Phase I testing.” I think you do a disservice to your fellow pilots by implying to the FAA there is some sort of widespread problem when you have just a few anecdotes. Now an FAA official is thinking, wow, we’ve got a major problem on our hands. These homebuilder guys are out of control. I can truthfully tell you that of all the homebuilders I know, not one has cheated on their Phase I period. It is irresponsible to represent the homebuilder community as you do, telling FAA reps and writing in your blog “the sky is falling”. I know you make a living in the media, and you fit right in with my perception that the mainstream media is indirectly responsible for most of the problems this country has today.

    I guess you think you are doing our community a favor, but in reality, your opinion represents a miniscule minority. Because of your media position, you have influence, and with this influence you are hurting the rest of us. Please stop. Why don’t you just accept the way things are – which for the homebuilder community is generally good – and enjoy flying your RV like the rest of us?

    I'm posting as anonymous because I really don't want the FAA to know my name. The safety issue is similar to political correctness. Anyone who pushes back on any idea improve safety -- regardless of the consequences, such as loss of freedom -- is targeted. Give me the choice of government nannies keeping me "safe" and freedom... I'll pick freedom.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. No, you're posting as "anonymous" because you don't have the courage to put a name next to your comments. At least be honest.