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Home Field Advantage

How good is your local-area knowledge?

Up here in Maine, we're famous for testy jokes concerning people "from away" who stop at a country store and ask for directions. The humor is at their expense, of course, and is made possible by the way they pose their question to the old salt who always delivers the punch line.

This traditional humor extends to aviation anecdotes. A visiting pilot asked one of the old-timers if it was possible to fly a particular route from Maine to Vermont at 3,000 feet. The White Mountains lie along the middle of this route, making a low-altitude passage a very bad idea. But that's not exactly the answer he got. The exchange goes something like this: The pilot asks, "Can you fly from Bangor to Rutland at 3,000 feet?"

The old-timer responds, "Only once."

Jokes at the expense of naive out-of-towners are a standard thing around here, but only partly obscured by the old-timer's less-than-loquacious lament was the fact that he was actually being helpful. Don't fly at 3,000 feet.

When I first settled in these parts and began flying with the old salts, I recognized the value of the intimate knowledge that they displayed of their flying environment. You could tell the ones who really knew their stuff from all the others by how much knowledge they had stored in their heads, and how quickly they could sift through it if an occasion arose. This was a valuable skill. I admired it and resolved to adopt it as my own.

Knowing the territory is one of those skills that says a lot about a pilot. It is one of the qualities that separates a pilot with mere technical competence from a pilot, or instructor, who is always absorbing knowledge from his or her flight environment. Sure, there are charts and books where you can find much of the data. But local-area knowledge of the more intimate type goes beyond what's contained in official publications. How up to date you are regarding your aviation environment is a direct measure of how much knowledge you can convey to someone else.

Here is a knowledge quiz that you can take in the privacy of your own thoughts. Official and unofficial knowledge are fair game. A passing or failing grade will be determined by whether you feel you can give someone who wants to "really know the territory" his or her money's worth. Let's start with official information available in charts and other flight publications. But without first reviewing those documents, get out a pencil and paper and try to answer the following questions:

How many VORs are there within a 100-mile radius of your home airport? Name them and then write down the identifiers and frequencies. How many of them offer voice transmission on 122.1 MHz? What other frequencies are available for voice? How many of the navs provide hazardous in-flight weather advisory service broadcasts? How many of these VORs do not have DME? Suppose you are at the intersection of the 090-degree radial from VOR X and, say, the 180-degree radial off VOR Y (make these up according to your mental picture of your area), how far and on what approximate bearing are you from your home airport? What is the nearest airport to this location? How many airports are within 50 nm of your home field? Write down from memory the identifiers and the communications frequencies. Now tackle the runway bearings and lengths. An estimate within 100 feet is considered passing. Then label the airports on your list A, B, C, etc. What is the approximate magnetic course from B to D? From C to F? Could you fly the route at 3,000 feet (more than once)? What are the highest obstructions on a flight along the A-C-F-A route? What kinds of airspace would this route penetrate? If the weather closed in, which airport would offer the best chance to shoot an approach and get down? What types of approaches are available at each? What airport in this area has the shortest runway? The longest? Which airports do not offer fuel? Which do you consider the trickiest field? This may not necessarily be the shortest runway; it could be one with a steep grade, obstacles, a rough surface, or some other feature that has given the place a bad name. Which airports have runway lights? How do you turn them on? Who has the best coffee? (In such knowledge does the CFI truly earn the big bucks.) From memory, list five things that have changed on your local sectional chart from that old chart tacked to the wall of the FBO. How many changed frequencies, newly paved runways, airspace changes, and new cell-phone towers can you find? The sectional, when does it expire? Has it expired?

When training primary students, I have always found it worthwhile to expose them to as many different airports and environments as possible before sending them off for the checkride. Suiting these destinations to the day's lesson plan, or to the wind/weather situation, sometimes requires a quick decision based on knowing the territory.

The observant student sees that this is "stored" knowledge and resolves to emulate the method of absorbing all those details of the local aviation universe. This could pay dividends in an emergency some day.

The best example of the pilot who has not achieved this level of awareness is also conveyed by a "Down East" story. A pilot runs low on fuel, makes a precautionary landing on a country road, and sees that he has touched down within a few feet of a gas station. Pleased with his luck, he rolls up to the pumps and hops out. There he sees the (inevitable) old-timer sitting in a rocking chair. The pilot says, "Don't see too many airplanes taxi up to your pumps, do you?"

The old man shakes his head. "No," he says. "A few have tried, but no one's ever made it this close before."

By Dan Namowitz

Too Realistic

Going from simulated to actual emergencies

Bruce Landsberg

In the quest to make training more realistic so that they can better teach and evaluate student response, flight instructors try to simulate emergencies. One essential goal is not to create an actual emergency in the process of training. Then it's no longer training, it's the real thing, and the risk level goes up significantly.

A Cessna 152 with a flight instructor and student pilot aboard was destroyed when it nosed over during a forced landing on a plowed field following a total loss of engine power. There were no injuries. The student had flown earlier in the day and the aircraft had an estimated 20 gallons of fuel on board when the CFI, "went up with her once again to check her status on the maneuvers."

The instructor said he, "turned the fuel off to simulate an engine failure" and the student performed the emergency procedures associated with an engine failure. When the fuel selector was returned to the on position, the engine did not restart. The instructor said he, chose "the best [field] in the area considering the altitude and our rate of descent."

The instructor said the airplane touched down in the field and that the next event he recalled was the student "calling his name several times." He apparently did not recall the rule about notifying the NTSB immediately after an accident. The mishap was reported to the NTSB about two months later and the airplane was not available for examination.

This problem, a real accident resulting from a simulated emergency, periodically resurfaces. The CFI may have been the victim of such a "simulation" in his training and since it had always worked in the past, it seemed like a realistic way to practice an engine-out with a student.

For reasons that should be obvious by now, the recommended way to simulate an engine failure is to reduce the throttle to idle. Cutting off the fuel by use of the mixture control or the fuel selector may introduce air into the fuel line and prevent a restart when you need it most, which is what happened to the CFI and student in the earlier example. The realism in this approach is fantastic, but the results may damage more than your reputation.

Bruce Landsberg is executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.

From the Right Seat: The Next Things to actual emergencies

Rod Machado

Over the years I've used a simple technique to help my students develop their ability to think ahead in the airplane. I begin by asking them this question, "What are the two most important things in aviation?" Of course, I'm always prepared for answers like, "Ah, well, let's see, never eat at a greasy airport restaurant and don't rent airplanes from an FBO operating out of a van."

Regardless of their answer, I say, "The two most important things in aviation are the next two things. Therefore, when I tap your shoulder, I want you to tell me about the next two things you need to do to fly this airplane."

By repeating the process often enough, the student comes to associate the finger tap with the need to think two steps ahead of the airplane. If, after tapping the student's shoulder, he looks over and says, "What? Huh?" you know that the technique needs a little more reinforcement.

Using this technique is a lot easier than having to ask the same question over and over. And it's especially useful when the cockpit's busy, which makes it difficult to ask questions in the first place.

For instance, I'll tap my student's shoulder when we enter the pattern. I expect him to say something like, "Report downwind and slow to 90 knots." I'll tap his shoulder again on base. He should say something like, "Apply 10 degrees of flaps and slow to 80 knots." Heck, if someone taps him on the shoulder while standing in line at a bank, he may yell, "Flaps 20, call the tower!" That's OK too.

It's important to be discriminate about when and where you tap your student's shoulder. Do it at a point when thinking two steps ahead of the airplane is absolutely essential. Vectors to final, entering the pattern, simulated engine failures, and other similar events are all appropriate times.

Like most behaviors that are repeated often enough, thinking two steps ahead will eventually become a habit. Does this mean that students flying solo need to tap themselves on the shoulder to elicit this "two-step" thinking behavior? No. Higher-order conditioning is at work here. Eventually, they'll come to associate thinking two steps ahead with the specific event (entering the pattern, vectors to final, etc.) that initiated the shoulder tap in the first place.

Professionally Speaking: Enthusisam Gets, Keeps Students

By Ralph Hood

Successful CFIs come in all shapes and personalities, but all seem to have one thing in common, they are enthusiastic about flying and teaching.

When dealing with would-be students, enthusiastic CFIs don't just cover the nuts and bolts; they explain how much fun it's going to be. They mention the excitement of the solo flight and point out that it may come in just a few weeks. They communicate the challenge and joy of learning things that most people will never understand; the elation of seeing things that, as John Gillespie Magee wrote, "You have not dreamed of."

The enthusiastic CFI, as the Delta ad says, loves to fly, and it shows. The would-be student gets the idea that flying must be wonderful, indeed. The CFI talks about the awe of night flight, the beauty of a sunrise from the air, and the special camaraderie among pilots. He talks of special flights to interesting places and the wonder of it all.

Because enthusiasm is contagious, the enthusiastic CFI signs up more students than does the been-there-done-that, bored-with-it-all CFI. And the enthusiastic CFI keeps and graduates more students than other CFIs.

These CFIs are not just enthusiastic about flying, they are genuinely interested in and enthusiastic about the progress of their students. Such CFIs truly enjoy first solos and ask about the details. "How did you feel taking off by yourself without me sitting in the right seat? Did you notice the airplane climbed better? What was it like?"

The enthusiastic CFI gets excited when the student finally gets it right. He brags in front of other pilots about the student's great crosswind landing. He spends at least as much time congratulating as criticizing. He is interested in why the student got a little off course on the solo cross-country, and how he got back on course.

Enthusiastic CFIs never put students down and never communicate disdain for basic training aircraft. They call the trainer a "great little airplane" instead of a "dinky little thing."

The enthusiastic CFI has more fun, and so does the student.

"Ah," you might say, "that is all well and good for those naturally enthusiastic people, but I'm just not that way." Maybe not, but you can and should learn to be enthusiastic. Notice, I didn't say learn to fake enthusiasm. I said learn to be enthusiastic. If you make the effort, you will quickly learn that enthusiasm will be so much more fun for you and your students that, lo and behold, you will actually become enthusiastic.

Start with your next student. Tell him what's going to be exciting about this particular lesson. What you like about it. What will be new. Then make the lesson fun. You might be amazed by the results.

Ralph Hood is the national CFI marketing mentor for AOPA Project Pilot Instructor.

Professional Opportunities: The New FBO Business

Starting Fresh

One Airport's Renaissance Is A Boon For Flight School Businesses

By Amy Laboda

I grew up flying out of Page Field airport in Fort Myers, Florida. Over the years it changed from the principal landing facility for our region to a general aviation reliever airport. In 1983, when the airlines moved off the field to a new jetport six miles away, things got slow. The ramps deteriorated, the tiedown ropes disintegrated, and the hangars, well the old ones were ravaged by our tropical climate until they began to melt into piles of rust and dust, sometimes with the airplanes still inside them.

By the time I returned to the field as a flight instructor in 1990, there were only two flight schools left and, according to Peter Modys, the current director of general aviation and facilities for the Lee County Port Authority, the airport was losing $250,000 to $300,000 each year. The Port Authority, which manages Page and nearby Southwest Florida International, wanted the losses to stop.

"It was around that time that the airport took a proactive role in its own survival," recalls Modys. "We were collecting revenue for capital improvements by asking the businesses on the field to hand over a percentage of their net profits each year, and it was not working." To begin the turnaround, the airport bought out the businesses it could and became the sole FBO on the field in 1996.

"We developed a set of minimum standards for Page Field businesses and then opened the field up to new players," Modys says. The minimum standards, he maintains, helped to bring quality businesses to Page Field, businesses that could afford the start-up costs and that would generate fuel sales for the Port Authority. Today, those same standards serve to guarantee that established and growing businesses cannot be undercut by low-budget upstarts.

It didn't take long for the airport to begin to see a reversal of the revenue hemorrhage. Some undeveloped airport land was parceled off and used for non-airport businesses. It wasn't a popular move, but it turned out to be a lucrative one. The leasing of right-of-way for a road and the development of one 200-acre parcel of land began the trend toward a positive cash flow. The Port Authority also changed the way it handled money, guaranteeing that revenues raised at Page Field would remain at the airport rather than being used by Southwest Florida International Airport as they had in the past. The Port Authority's makeup changed too, and more aviation-trained administrators joined the group. These new administrators, first order of business was to renovate the runways, the ramps, and the existing buildings, so new businesses could find a home on the airport.

"We felt strongly that the general aviation flight schools needed their own building, separate from the corporate terminal we had purchased from one existing FBO," says Modys, a former flight instructor and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "There was a building in need of repairs that had plenty of space and its own ramp, so we renovated it and created office space and classroom space. We chose to rent it at $8.50 a square foot, which is the bottom end of fair market value. In a lot of ways, the building, called the General Aviation Center, is an incubator for new businesses on the field. It is an inexpensive way for them to get started."

Flight schools such as I&E Aircraft Rental agree. "One-and-a-half years ago we were pretty much a freelance operation on this field," says Michael Gal, chief pilot for I&E. "The Port Authority instituted landing fees for all commercial operations on the field, including flight instruction. That hurt, especially since we were buying fuel here. Now the Port Authority waives landing fees for any business that rents space from them," he says. The office facing the ramp has paid off in other ways, too.

"Some 20 percent of our new business this year has been walk-ins, something we would not have if we did not have this office and classroom space," says Gal. "People come in and, because all the flight schools are right here, they can shop prices and aircraft before deciding which school to fly with. We are competitive and provide quality instruction, so we like that."

Beaver Aviation, which runs a large pilot shop and provides flight instruction and FAR Part 135 charter flights, agrees. "I've seen our sightseeing business go up appreciably in the last year," says Bill Nash, chief flight instructor. The company has had the cash flow to afford new engines and new paint for its fleet of Piper Warrior aircraft, and it has added a Cessna 172 for sightseeing flights. Pilot shop business is brisk these days, too.

The numbers back up the stories of growing business told by companies at the airfield. In 1997, net revenue for Page Field was $316,163. Last year, that figure reached $471,477, and increase of nearly 50 percent. But this year is expected to mark the real turning point for the field as a number of development projects are implemented. Two new tenants alone are expected to bring in approximately $624,000 in yearly revenue. And, Port Authority officials say, any revenue that exceeds operating costs will be used to fund a series of airport improvements over the next five years.

Port Authority representatives such as pilot Jim Cawthard believe in promoting the businesses at Page to help them grow. "I carry business cards for the flight schools and the avionics and maintenance shop wherever I go. I'll hand them out, too," he says. Beaver advertises for sightseeing tours and flight instruction in the German airline LTU's in-flight magazine. Classic Flight, another new flight school, runs its ads in the local paper. Doug Keen, president of Classic Flight, also is involved in community outreach programs. He recently took an airplane to a local shopping mall during its "Adult Toys" promotion weekend.

"Exhibitor space cost $1,000, plus the expense of taking one of my trainers off the field and setting up shop with half my staff off-airport, too," says Keen. "I'd been a little leery of this project. I wondered if we'd really find hidden pilots and pilots-to-be amongst the mobs of everyday shoppers. I'll never make that mistake again. My staff of flight instructors and I spent the weekend doing more than just answering questions and lifting children in and out of the aircraft. We really talked to people. It became apparent after only a few minutes of conversation who the good prospects were. For them only, we offered a raffle for a free introductory flight if they would give us their names, addresses, and telephone numbers. The weekend ended with more than 100 in the drawing, all excellent prospects for new business."

Even those flight schools without promotional budgets benefit from the larger schools' successes, since anyone who walks into the General Aviation Center can check out each school with ease.

Two large flying clubs, the Cub Club and the Sundowners, also help to draw new people to the airport. The Experimental Aircraft Association's Chapter 66, which fought to keep its own clubhouse when Page was renovating, stages pancake breakfasts and Young Eagles flights from its ramp. The club has also teamed up with a local elementary school to bring aviation into the classroom. Those kids take field trips to the airport and talk to people such as Colleen Baker, the airport manager, and Ed Switlik, mechanic and owner of the maintenance facility. The kids take home to their families a positive experience and a sense of the importance of general aviation in their community.

The last decade has seen a renaissance in general aviation closely linked to tort reforms that limit manufacturers' liability in aircraft accident claims. Page Field was ripe for renewal, but it took some aviation-minded people with a keen sense of what could be done to pull it off. Maybe the same model could work for an airport near you.

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