Wednesday, 11 November 2009

BFR time

I did a BFR (Biennial Flight Review) just before leaving the US. For anyone not familiar with FAA regs, it's necessary to complete a BFR with a flight instructor every two years (hence the biennial bit).

The FAA stipulates that a BFR should consist of an hour of ground instruction and an hour's flight. I met Chris, my instructor, and we sat down and talked through some FAA rules and regulations with the structure provided by some questions...

- What do you need to fly in Class B/C/D airspace
- Point to some Class D on the chart
- What does it mean by *L next to an airfield
- What are the visibility requirements below 10,000' for Class B
- What documents do you need to carry
etc.

It's fairly basic stuff and the questions are typical of every BFR I've done, but as I only fly in the US a couple of times a year, it's a useful refresher. If you're hiring from the instructor's employer, it's also a good opportunity to get briefed on any local procedures. I've not yet finished one of these hours thinking that it was a waste of time.

The ground portion over, we moved to the aeroplane via a weather check from www.aviationweather.gov - Chris had already done a NOTAM check. We flew a fairly recent but somewhat tired and dirty C172SP - the one with THIRTEEN fuel drains - there was a bit of a blustery crosswind, but before long we were climbing away and towards the practice area where we did some slow flight, flew some stalls and did some steep turns. It was pretty bumpy below 1,500' but smoothed out above.

After the manoeuvres, we set course for Lakeland where we did a couple of touch-and-goes before returning to Peter O'Knight for a full stop, after which Chris signed the BFR in my logbook and said goodbye. The cost, for an hour of aeroplane rental and two hours of instructor time, was $250.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the flying was the differences that we all get used to. The weather was overcast at something like 10,000' with visibility of at least six statute miles. It seemed like a standard UK day, but Chris thought it was pretty hazy. He went on to encourage caution for the approach to Peter O'Knight's shorter runway, which at 2,600' is, in his opinion, short.

It would be easy to be a little smug and think that they're spoiled with (usually) decent weather and long runways, but perhaps the bigger learning point is just how quickly we can get used to our own type of flying. I learned at Gloucester but mainly fly from a strip these days, yet a while ago after visiting Gloucester I still managed to start up and request taxi having completely forgotten to book out or pay a landing fee.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Taking the temperature

AOPA's Summit has just closed and it is time to take stock. Trade shows often reflect the health of an industry, so I consider Summit as a thermometer temporarily inserted into the backside of GA. The prognosis is that the patient is in need of some regenerative oxygen, and perhaps even a heart transplant.

Unsurprisingly exhibitor and visitor numbers at Summit were down, and GAMA's Q3 shipment figures (which show aeroplanes shipped, not necessarily sold) showed a decline of 58% for piston aircraft.

It may sound everything in Tampa is doom and gloom, but that would not be true. The vast majority of people involved in GA are passionate about flying, and many of the companies involved are running lean of peak, just waiting for things to start to recover, which according to most won't be before 2011 at the earliest.