22 December 2007

Richard Collins Scraps His Plane

Richard Collins has been one of general aviation's foremost advocates for well over 50 years. He is well-known as an editor for Flying magazine and used to manage AOPA Pilot at one time. His father, Leighton Collins, was a well-known aviator and writer as well, having founded Air Facts magazine.

Richard Collins' name is familiar to just about everyone flying in North America, as he not only writes about aviation, but has traveled widely, speaking all over the continent and traveling to most of his speaking engagements in his trusty 1979 model Cessna P210N Pressurized Centurion.

So it came as rather a surprise to open the January, 2008 issue of Flying magazine and learn in his column, On Top, that he had scrapped the plane! For those of you who don't have that issue of Flying handy the story is available on line. It is well worth reading.

This story is an interesting one from several perspectives

Collins bought N40RC in April 1979 as a new aircraft. He even registered it with his initials as part of the "N" number. That is pretty personal. He was the sole owner of that P210N and flew it for just under 9,000 hours over 28 and half years. There is no doubt from his writing that he was very attached to that P210.

So why did he scrap it?

First off, he makes the point that he wasn't flying it as much as he used to. In the past Collins would put several hundred hours a year on the plane, getting to places for work and pleasure. In 2007 he was headed for a flying year of well under 100 hours. He says that was due to his age (73 years old) and his reduced work schedule.

Then there were the maintenance problems. Collins is a stickler for proper maintenance and didn't fly the plane with outstanding snags on it. He mentions that the plane has been difficult to keep serviceable, mostly due to the lack of parts. He adds that using reconditioned parts has not been a good experience in recent years and new parts are often not available. The plane was coming up for a few expensive items soon, too, including $13,000 for new deicing boots.

He talked to a Cessna engineer when he bought the plane who told him that the P210 was tested by Cessna to the equivalent of 10,000 hours. There is no life limit on the airframe and no indication that it should be retired at 10,000 hours or at any other time limit.

He does argue that the P210 is a demanding aircraft to maintain and fly, describing it as a "complicated and temperamental" design. He points out that "the P210 has the worst fatal accident rate of any certified piston single" according to his analysis of the NTSB data. He was concerned about selling it to an inexperienced pilot who might have joined the P210 wreck statistics.

He states that at his age he couldn't get liability insurance in the higher limit amount that he wanted and that was with almost 9,000 hours on type.

So what have we got? An older pilot with a 28 year old plane that is a maintenance hog, hard to get insurance for and not using it enough to justify the cost.

Why not sell it?

Actually that was Collins' first inclination. He advertised widely it and only got one serious inquiry, which didn't turn into a sale. The used airplane dealers wouldn't take it either.

As a result Collins decided to scrap the plane. He really didn't have a lot of choice at that point. Perhaps he could have donated it to a museum, if he could find one looking for a P210. I can only assume it had some residual value as parts.

Collins has written on several occasions that he doesn't believe that old airplanes last forever, no matter how well maintained they are. After 28 years, many engine and prop overhauls and almost 9000 airframe hours, he figures he "had about worn the airplane out". He scrapped it "when I thought the airplane told me that it was tired and wanted to go to bed, I had to listen and to agree."

And so N40RC will fly no more, although some of its parts will probably fly again, but that will be as close as it will get. As for Collins he will be renting airplanes from now on.

Here in Canada, we have lots of light aircraft that are flying with many more than 28 years and 9,000 hours on them. Heck a 1979 model like the one Collins scrapped is considered a relatively "new" aircraft north of the US border. Some of those aircraft are maintenance hogs and many of them don't fly enough to justify their costs. Their owners just don't want to add up the total amount spent each year and divide by the number of flying hours to get the true hourly cost.

Collins' action in scrapping his plane and then writing about it challenges aircraft owners to think about their own situation. Today with the high Canadian dollar, used aircraft are very cheap and can be quite hard to sell. Is there a time to scrap older aircraft instead of endlessly passing them onto new owners, some of whom are younger than the aircraft?

I don't have an answer to this question. Feel free to post your thoughts here on the COPA Flight 8 blog.

30 October 2007

A Snapshot of Canada's Fleet – What Do You Think?

In the past I wrote a series of articles on the trends in Canada's private aircraft fleet. Each January I analyzed the numbers from the previous year from Transport Canada's Civil Aircraft Register to see if the number of private aircraft is growing or shrinking and to find out where the growth is. For instance are ultralights growing more quickly than certified aircraft?

When I started doing this exercise about six years ago the private fleet was growing very slowly, with ultralights leading, followed by amateur-builts. The number of certified aircraft in private hands was actually slowly shrinking.

The really low Canadian dollar was preventing people from buying airplanes. The lowest point was in 2002 when the Canadian dollar was at $1.62 against the US dollar. Even an old mid-sixties Cessna 150 with a half time engine was around $30,000 and most older 172s were in the $60,000 range. Fleet growth was between 1-2% per year and certified aircraft were being sold south of the border to Americans with their strong currency.

Then things started heating up. As most people know our currency started to rebound as US debts running the war in Iraq mounted and confidence in the US dollar slid. As our dollar surged, aircraft, all priced in US dollars, got cheaper and cheaper. Growth in the Canadian private fleet climbed and the trend in certified aircraft reversed.

By 2004 Canadians were going south of the border and buying up American aircraft, especially older certified aircraft. The average import was probably a 1965 Mooney or C-182.

By 2005 the growth in the private fleet was over 2.5%, which is a lot. Airplanes had come down in price, insurance was cheaper as hull values slipped, meaning owners didn't have to buy as much coverage, and fuel, while not cheap, wasn't too expensive. Demand for hangars soared at small airports to take all the new aircraft.

Looking at the pilot population numbers over the last few years the same story wasn't being told there. The pilot numbers weren't growing much at all. It all added up to a picture like this: existing pilots were buying up aircraft through 2004-06 and at an increasing rate each year.

We know that this growth was directly fueled by the low US dollar. That $30,000 average Cessna 150 from 2002 was worth $21,600 when the dollar stalled out around $1.17 at the end of 2006. The $60,000 C-172 from 2002 could now be purchased for $43,300.

The airplane buying spree was probably also fueled by the “pent-up demand” driven by aging baby boomers, the leading edge of which hit age 60 in 2006. These are people who wanted to buy an aircraft in 2002, but couldn't afford it. The climbing Canadian dollar opened the floodgates on aircraft ownership. Between September 2001 and September 2006, there were 2385 more private aircraft added to the register in Canada. This represented growth in the private fleet of 11% over five years.

By 2006 annual fleet growth rate had hit just under 3% per year.

I am planning to look at the year-end numbers as I do every year, because I want to continue to see how the fleet is changing over time. But I also wanted to find out what has happened in the last twelve months, since the Canadian dollar has shot up again, making airplanes very, very cheap. Since January, the Canadian dollar has gained 22% and so airplanes are 22% cheaper than they were at the beginning of the year. I wanted to know if this had driven fleet growth to new heights or not. It should have.

That Cessna 150 that cost $30,000 in 2002 should now cost $17,600 in the fall of 2007. The $60,000 C-172 is now worth $35,300.

So I analyzed the most recent numbers, which were for September 2007, looking back at the same time of year through the past seven years to see what was happening annually. The results were interesting.

The growth increased each year since 2001 as we know, until this year. Here are the Sept-Sept annual growth numbers:

2001 0.83%

2002 1.40%

2003 1.56%

2004 1.96%

2005 2.62%

2006 2.92%

2007 2.49%

As you can see the growth dropped off in 2007 by 15%, even through airplanes have become much cheaper during this period. Normally a drop in price like that would result in increased demand, but it hasn't this year and I am not sure why that is.

Here are a few theories. It is possible that it could be due any or all of these:

  • Perhaps the pent-up demand is satisfied – everyone in Canada who wants an airplane has pretty much got one now
  • Perhaps people expect the dollar to go higher – they are waiting for better bargains
  • Perhaps used airplane prices in Canada have not caught up with the market, are far too high and buyers in 2007 are intimidated by shopping in the USA
  • Perhaps fuel prices are worrying people – the price of oil has increased from $60 to $93 a barrel this year, although Canadians haven't seen great increases at the pumps recently due to the dollar climbing with the price of oil
  • Perhaps people are concerned about climate change and owning a gas-burning toy doesn't fit those concerns
  • Perhaps our aging population means that people are worried about losing their medicals and so aren't buying
  • Perhaps aging baby-boomers are more concerned about retiring than buying planes since planes have proven to be a really bad investment since 2001. Perhaps these same baby-boomers aren't buying because airplane values may drop even further soon
  • Perhaps it is some other reason that I haven't thought of.
So here is where you can help!

Post your thoughts here on this blog. Let me know if you did or didn't recently buy an aircraft. If you did, why did you buy recently? If not then what is the reason that you haven't? Are you planning to buy an aircraft?

19 October 2007

What’s a Voice Generator Module (VGM)?

Technobabble, that’s what! Nav Canada is implementing a service at Muskoka, Ontario (CYQA) called VGM? Say what? Actually it’s just going to broadcast some AWOS information on 124.575. In Nav Canada’s words, “This new VHF (Very High Frequency) transmitter will make up-to-the-minute altimeter and magnetic wind direction and speed available to all pilots operating in the area.” Part of the goal is to reduce frequency congestion. Great!

But why confuse pilots with talk of VGMs when we already know what an AWOS is? More importantly, pilots would like to know if the AWOS broadcast will also include clouds, weather and visibility? Equally, we need to know what form the communication should take. We really don’t care that internally Nav Canada employees call the device that converts the AWOS data into a voice for broadcast is called a VGM!

Starting 25 October, before operating in the Muskoka’s Mandatory Frequency Area (MF) you are expected to listen to the AWOS, and report receiving the altimeter and wind information to Timmins Radio (the MF provider.) Good idea Nav Canada!

Still, I for one would like to know how the communications should be worded, for example, “Timmins Radio this 172 FABC at 3000 feet over Sparrow Lake VFR to Muskoka with the AWOS numbers…” Or maybe “…with Victor Golf Mike numbers…” Or perhaps simply“…with the numbers…” Finally is a time group need? Say, “…with the 24 numbers…” where 24 is the minutes past the hour.

Aviators have enough trouble remembering all the abbreviations and acronyms already in use, a new one with so little aviation meaning does not help. What we need is clear communications, both in the air and in Service Project Implementation Announcements. Kudos to Nav Canada for the new service. But I will only give a “D” for communications.

Michael Shaw

source: Service Project Implementation Announcements at the bottom of the front page of Nav Canada's website.

08 September 2007

Which runway? Where’s the windsock?

Like me, you were probably taught to fly over an uncontrolled aerodrome above circuit height to get a look at the runways, look for traffic and to see which runway the windsock indicates is most aligned with the wind. To do this, I was taught to cross the airport five hundred feet above the circuit altitude. That puts me fifteen hundred (1500) feet above the runways and the windsock. I should be able to see the windsock from here, eh? Actually no! Canadian regulations require a wind direction indicator that is visible from an aircraft at one thousand feet (1000) above the windsock, i.e., normal circuit height.

In short, Canadian Aviation Regulation 301.06 calls for a wind direction indicator to be a conspicuous colour, cone shaped and visible from an aircraft flying at 1000 feet above the indicator. I guess it's just luck that all these years we have been able to see the windsock from 1500 feet.

I ask, should Transport Canada amend the regulations and standards to fit reality?


From the CARs

301.06 (1) Except where the direction of the wind at an aerodrome can be determined by radio or other means such as smoke movement in the air or wind lines on water, the operator of the aerodrome shall install and maintain at the aerodrome a wind direction indicator that is

(a) of a conspicuous colour or colours;

(b) in the shape of a truncated cone;

(c) visible from an aircraft flying at an altitude of 300 m (1,000 feet) above the wind direction indicator; and

(d) illuminated when the aerodrome is used at night.

(2) When an aerodrome is closed permanently, the operator of the aerodrome shall immediately remove all of the wind direction indicators installed at the aerodrome.

From Canada’s AIM

(iii) If it is necessary for an aircraft to cross the airport before joining the circuit, it is recommended that the crossover be accomplished at least 500 ft above the circuit altitude.

From Aerodrome Standards and Recommended Practices, TP 312

The colour or colours should be so selected as to make the wind direction indicator clearly visible and understandable from a height of at least 300 m, having regard to background. Where practicable, a single colour, preferably white or orange, should be used.

01 September 2007

NOTAMS affecting Rockcliffe Airport...

I find it strange that NOTAM 070191 for this weekend closes Rockcliffe Airport's runway but does not mention any reasons. From other sources I understand that the reason is the Skyhawks Parachute jump team will be jumping at the Balloon Festival about 2 NM west of Rockcliffe. So why close the runway?

Equally strange, Montreal FIR NOTAMS (i.e.,070738) advise pilots of the balloon festival 2NM west from Rockcliffe but it does not mention parachute jumpers.

NOTAM 070193 for Gatineau Airport advises that there will be parajumps a the Casino.

Finally, NOTAM 070192 advises pilots of fireworks approximately 2NM WNW of Rockcliffe tomorrow. Is this associated with th Balloon Festival or is there another event slightly North of the Balloon thing?

I guess pilots are expected to be able to associate the Rockcliffe's runway closures, Balloon Festivals, Casino parajumps and fireworks.

Furthermore, why prevent aircraft from landing and taking off at Rockcliffe, but not prevent them from flying in the airspace above the runway? What is happening on the runway? Clearly most parachute operations do not require closing runways. Most of the time all that is required is notifying pilots of the time and location of parachute activities.

Can't the powers that be coordinate these NOTAMS to make it clear what is actually happening and where?

Michael Shaw
Capitan COPA Flight 8

So what follows...

It seems to me that a healthy exchange of ideas and opinions on issues related to flying in the Canada's National Capital area, and beyond, would benefit all. Hence I started this blog where we can have a civil exchange of ideas on topics of mutual interest. Some of the topics that come to mind are:

  • Area events
  • NavCanada's Aeronautical Studies affecting our air space
  • Airports
  • Local Land Use issues impacting on aviation
  • Local Events
  • Transport Canada
  • Publications
Michael Shaw

12 August 2007

COPA Flight 8 Ottawa, Canada

Does the Canadian Owners and Pilot's Association Flight 8 need a blog?

Michael Shaw
Captain Flight 8