Sunday, May 03, 2009

More from Class Bravo

While Christy and I approached runway 18L, the traffic information system (TIS) constantly announced, "traffic! traffic!". But we knew that. We could see the steady stream of jets lined up for 18R and the other stream of jets lined up for 23. Although the tower had asked me to keep my speed up on approach because of jet traffic behind me, the TIS showed no on lined up on 18L who was within 3 miles of me. As we sat waiting to be cleared to cross runway 23, Christy started to worry about traffic landing on top of us. I wasn't worried, though. The jet that landed on 23 startled her, but we were perfectly safe. Shortly after the jet passed, the tower cleared me to cross the runway.

The controller asked, "Cessna 7-7-0, are you familiar with the Charlotte airport".

I replied, "Only as a passenger, 7-7-0".

He then told me to taxi straight ahead on 18L and turn left on Delta-4 and that would take me straight to WilsonAir. He also told me to contact ground on "point 9", meaning contact ground control on 121.9.

Flying home was equally as exciting. After loading and preflighting, I called for clearance. I'm used to receiving clearances that are different from what I filed; usually I'll be assigned "radar vectors to XYZ" - when I file direct to XYZ. That's no big deal. This time it was different. I was cleared to depart via the HUGO-8 departure, then as filed. He did not assign a transition route, which made it difficult to plug in to the GPS as it expects a transition. That didn't matter though because as soon as I departed, the tower had me turn to a heading of 270 - completely off course for the HUGO-8 departure from 18L. I'm sure that they just wanted me out of the way of the jets that were departing from 18C.

Before all that happened, though, we had to taxi. After being cleared to taxi to 18L intersection Alpha, I was told there would be a three minute delay after the DeHavilland Dash-8 departed before me. I completed the run-up on the roll and stopped at the hold short line. When I announced that I was ready to go, the tower reiterated the 3 minute wait, to which I replied, "Understood, 7-7-0". We were cleared for take off and I responded, "Skyhawk 7-7-0, cleared for takeoff on 1-8-Left" and we began to roll.

Once we were airborn, the controllers had a field day vectoring me left and right. Finally I was told to resume own navigation and I flew direct to Columbia. We had awful headwinds for this trip. The briefing showed that we would encounter 20 to 24 knot winds almost directly in our face no matter what altitude we flew at.

The rest of the trip was uneventful although we began to encounter clouds the further south we went. We bounced through them without shaking any vital parts loose. Christy slept for much of the trip.

For the landing we were cleared for the visual to 14 and the winds were reported to be 100 at 12. The were a bit gusty and the plane just didn't want to stay on the ground. After initial contact, the plane became airborne again and I held the nose up and she dropped to the ground again. I still managed to make the first turnoff.

The flying this weekend was great. Flying in and out of Class B airspace without any miscues is particularly satisfying. I logged 2.9 hours CRG-CLT with about 0.2 instrument and 3.1 CLT-CRG with .4 instrument.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Safety at Flight Schools

Recently, someone who read this blog wanted more details about what I apparently described as unsafe practices at a local flight school. The purpose of this blog is not to bash any particular business. Therefore, I won't mention the name of the company at this point. A few examples of the operational practices that I think should be eliminated or improved on are the following:

1. During a lesson, immediately after take off - when I was still less than 200 feet above the ground, my instructor pulled the aircraft's throttle to idle and said "you just lost power, now what do you do?" I immediately pushed the throttle back in (PA-28/161) and said, "Don't ever do that on take off." He wanted to teach me to keep my hand on the throttle until the plane was 1000 feet above the ground. I had removed my hand from the throttle to adjust the manual trim.

2. A friend who was taking a lesson flew to the Palatka airport with his instructor. While in the pattern, he pulled the power to idle and asked the student if he knew what a windmilling propeller looked like. When the student said no, the instructor pulled the mixture to idle cut off and killed the engine. He then attempted to restart the engine by diving to accelerate and adding mixture. Although the attempt to restart was successful, the fact that they did this in the patter of an airport that is usually busy with student traffic and the fact that killing the engine was totally unnecessary suggest to me that this was an unsafe risk.

3. On numerous occasions I have witnessed instructors from this school violate Visual Flight Rules by either flying directly through or too close to clouds while operating under VFR. The practice area for this and other flight schools in the area overlaps the approach for the ILS 32 at Craig as well as several approaches at NAS-Jacksonville. Flying through clouds could result in a collision with similar training flights or with legitimate aircraft on instrument approaches. It is simply foolish.

4. Also on numerous occasions I have witnessed (and confirmed via handheld radio) instructors taking students much too low over congested areas such as my own neighborhood. 700+ homes in my neighborhood, the golf course and the nearby mall would seem to make the a congested area and flying lower than 1000' AGL is simply foolish.

5. Frequently the aircraft used by this company have squawks that take weeks to repair. Often these are minor such as a burned out bulb on the anti-collision lights or a landing light. But other problems include aircraft that sit for days with their fuel tanks in need of fuel. Leaving empty tanks invites water into the fuel and although this is not mandatory, it is a good practice.

6. Instructors do not enforce the use of proper check lists. For example, the Cessnas never have their fuel valve set to one or the other tank as prescribed in the POH. During runup, instructors do not test the trim controls as the tests that are shown in the POH are not shown on the checklist. Instructors do not check behind their students after tie down. Aircraft are left unlocked. Pitot covers are often lost or left in the plane. Control locks are not installed. Tiedown ropes are generally in a state of disrepair.

7. When renting aircraft, frequently, the aircraft were not refueled and ready even though they had been parked overnight.

8. The aircraft are generally not very clean. Oil streaks are found on the fuselages and a peek under the hood shows dirt an oil. The cowlings rarely are reinstalled after their 100 hour inspections in a proper way. They are generally misaligned.

Any one of these issues by itself would be minor and correctable. However, taken holistically, they suggest a pattern of operation that is in dire need of improvement. This doesn't even begin to touch on the customer service problems that I have experienced. For the most part, the people who work at this place are very kind and easy to deal with. However, when they think it is OK to call me the morning of an evening trip and tell me that I cannot take the plane that I had reserved weeks in advance simply because they wanted to use it for training flights, that is not acceptable. I understand that their primary goal is to be a flight school. Fine. But that doesn't allow canceling a flight and forcing a seven year customer to do a check ride in a more expensive plane at his expense. That is unconscionable. And trying to make up for that by giving me a free chart is not adequate. If I had been given adequate notice, I might think a bit differently, but that act was the straw that broke the camel's back. It was that incident that caused me to look elsewhere. And what I found was a selection of top notch aircraft for the same price. The competitor's aircraft were clean and have always been ready for me each time I have needed them.

So that's all I'll say on this topic. It saddens me each time I think about it and I don't care to hash it out again.