By Staff Writer | July 1, 2008
Too many times, information goes out without having the facts right. Your recent item in Rotorcraft Report on our company is a prime example ("FAA, Vendor, Operators Sort Through NVG Turmoil," June 2008, page 10).
It is true that Aviation Specialties Unlimited has been sorting through and correcting problems regarding the installation of night-vision systems and the associated paperwork. However, your article seems to have a similar problem where someone failed to get the facts and data right before going to press. I’d like to get the record set straight.
There are not 100 helicopters suspended from night-vision goggle (NVG) operations and there have been no safety of flight issues.
The aircraft in question have all been added to the operation specifications (op specs) of the operators by qualified and knowledgeable principal maintenance inspectors of the FAA in the field nationwide.
The issues were present for four-plus years and we owe our "congressman" a great "Thank You" for flushing out the problem that "no one" officially came to the table with until we made our complaint to our congressman to try to find out what the problem was.
It is true that we had issues (vs. "broke"). Those issues and the failure to address them is and should be shared by all participating parties, to include FAA inspector personnel who added the aircraft to operator’s op specs.
It isn’t an "FAA inspector" helping us. It is a project manager out of the FAA’s Northwest Aircraft Certification Office who stepped to the plate and has been instrumental in our recovery. We owe an incredible amount of gratitude for his willingness to take our challenge on. We also have support from key personnel of the FAA Rotorcraft Directorate, who have been excellent and gone the extra mile in their support. We have been provided with additional FAA support, as needed, such as a technical inspector who was incredible in his efforts in guiding us back through being reissued our Part 145 repair station certificate. Surrendering the repair station certificate was necessary to put to closure the issue Aviation Specialties had with the data.
It is our understanding that more companies than ours were identified as having the same problems with data concerning night-vision system installations. However, we are the biggest modifier and have been the most in-demand solution provider to operators nationwide. We are the biggest problem because we are the largest modifier.
There was an investigation with an end result in a report by the FAA, which should be public information. The report indicates that to date there have been 65,000 hr flown at night by 81 operators, of which more than 28,000 hr have been flown utilizing NVGs. Of that 28,000-plus hr, more than 25,000 have been flown with our cockpit installations. As previously stated, this is not a "safety of flight" issue, but a paperwork issue.
Aviation Specialties is committed to addressing the data issues and it frustrates me to have to take time out in the effort to address this article about our company. We would expect that you would work diligently to get the correct and true information before publishing an article that is full of assumptions and industry gossip.
Our customers have enough experience and understand the challenges that we have been dealing with and the majority of these customers have stayed with us through these difficult times.
The data packets that are being delivered to our customers are better than ever. To survive the scrutiny and continuous oversight we have experienced the last eight months says something about a company and its employees. I challenge you to personally visit with our FAA project manager and come visit our facility to find out the "real" facts before your next article about our company.
I am personally overseeing the NVG cockpit modification evaluation of data and our staff is working tirelessly to hit our agreed-to goals with the FAA. But my efforts have the support and efforts of many individuals within the FAA, new designated engineering representative support staff who have been incredible in their guidance and the tireless efforts of Aviation Specialties staff who believe in what we do for the industry. The FAA and our company are working very much together on this.
Your inaccuracies have discredited your organization’s credibility in the aviation industry.
Chris Atwood Vice President, Aviation Specialties Unlimited Boise, Idaho
Aviation Specialties Unlimited says that no more than 10 helicopters had use of their night-vision systems suspended as a result of discrepancies between installations and the paperwork submitted to the FAA, and that those were limited to two operators. — The Editor
Recently, we have seen some very disturbing events take place in the bottom end of our industry. The collapse of Silver State Helicopters is one, but even more sinister perhaps is the ever-tightening restrictions on financing available to potential new students.
Sallie Mae is tightening its purse strings. Key Bank is no longer providing alternative student loans and, from what I am hearing from various acquaintances working in flight schools and around the country, there is an ever-increasing lack of students keeping those helicopters in the air.
This brings up a lot of questions about short- and long-term effects on the industry and what some people are doing to get around these problems.
As a freshly minted but mid-life certificated flight instructor, it is very discouraging to see the current training situation. We have all heard and all have our own theories about the alleged pilot shortage, but if there truly is a shortage right now, how much worse is that situation going to be in the next few years?
The U.S. Part 141 schools have some advantage because of GI Bill financing for students. But even that requires a student to find his or her own way to pay for a private license. Will we soon go back to the days when you either had to learn in the military or have wealthy parents?
Don’t get me wrong, I believe every able-bodied young American should spend a couple of years serving our country. But flying was not an option for me when I was in the military some 30 years ago, and wealthy parents was not a curse I ever had to endure.
What says Rotor & Wing? What effect do you think these events will have on the industry and what do you or your readers say about possible solutions to the financing problem? I, for one, have all but given up on the possibility that I will ever be able to fly for a paycheck. I spent $50,000 for an instructor certificate, but it appears I’ve purchased little more than a hobby that I can never afford to use and am having trouble paying for in the first place.
Keith A. Hamblin Layton, Utah
"Which is a more critical issue," you asked, "the supply of pilots or the supply of mechanics?" (Question of the Month, May 2008, page 7)
The answer should be obvious. From my view, all I can see are helicopters grounded waiting for someone to perform maintenance and a pilot’s lounge full of folks in flight suits sitting around waiting for us to get a helicopter airworthy.
It takes a lot less time to "make" a pilot than it does to "create" a master helicopter technician. Nobody wants to do this kind of work anymore, and I don’t blame them. With all the responsibilities, stress and not so great pay, I ask myself every day why, after 24 years, I still do it.
Mark Galoustian Pasadena, Calif.
The mechanic shortage will have an overall larger effect on all aviation in the coming years.
It is hard for all U.S. Part 147 schools to keep up with the waves of retiring airframe and powerplant mechanics. With the airline industry in trouble, many perspective students fail to see that mechanics are needed in general aviation, too. The students who do complete the A&P program (many of them with rotorcraft experience) are focused, driven and knowledgeable. What good can come out of this?
Hopefully as we enter these waters together, both flight and mechanic schools will work together to inform society that a life in sky and hangar is a great, well-paying way to make a living.
Greg Null West Mifflin, Pa.
The simple answer would be that we need more pilots than engineers (as we call them outside the United States) as modern aircraft, like modern cars, are becoming more and more reliable, with technology improving all the time.
However, as a full European Aviation Safety Agency B2 engineer currently working on the Eurocopter Super Puma Mk2 in the North Sea environment, I say the simple answer is not that simple. With improved technology, we gain reliability, which means more flying hours per maintenance hour. This again points to the fact that, with aircraft becoming more reliable, why should we pay for maintenance engineers to sit around on the ground whilst our hard-working pilots are doing their bit in the air. In actual fact, they are not usually sitting around. Engineers are usually performing other functions, such as system training, component repair, aircraft husbandry, etc.
This being the case, why do we have a shortage of engineering staff in the North Sea? To answer this, we have to go back to the early 1970s, when companies had access to highly trained, ex-military personnel who were being offered buyouts as the armed forces downsized. Needless to say, aircraft then were low-technology flying machines that required more maintenance per flying hour.
It was less expensive to maintain aircraft then. There were ample skilled engineers to carry out the work and they were not as expensive to employ as the pilot. Most pilots ended up on the board of directors or as CEOs of these companies. Making it to this grade was the way to look after fellow pilots. Feeding the cattle on the shop floor was simple. There was an excess of them and they could be easily pleased.
With today’s technology, the skilled engineer has to be better than he was in the 1970s. Computers now monitor all onboard systems. Yes, the aircraft became more reliable, but when a fault does occur, engineers find a lack of resources when it comes to training or the correct training. Companies who build and supply the aircraft know of the new equipment. Diagrams are supplied to operators with empty boxes, wiring going in and out of the boxes is not marked, and even highly skilled engineers have problems following a working knowledge of the systems.
Aircraft manufacturers haven’t changed the content of their courses for decades. Test equipment that is affordable to operators still isn’t available for testing printed circuit board input/output information.
The ideology of the computer storing codes onto CRT and LCD screens has arrived, but the problem is that the codes presented are not user-friendly information supplied on CD-ROMs. Most aren’t even covered during type-certification courses as that is deemed time-consuming and not really necessary. Aircraft that develop system problems spend longer periods on the ground due to insufficient systems experience and poor training.
EASA changed the licensing system. Airframe and engine engineers overnight became electricians, and the role of electrician or avionics engineer changed overnight.
After a four-year apprenticeship, the electrician is looking for something better. Most leave the industry, and replacements never arrive. Young men and women don’t want to be in engineering, with its long shift patterns and very little rewards.
Today, we are so short of experienced, licensed personnel that companies in the North Sea have only now put together college training courses that, on completion, will allow the engineer to take the title of fitter. Thereafter, the fitter must self-study to gain his EASA license or be lucky enough to have the company for which he works put him into a licensed training course.
I hope that, from the above, you will understand my concerns and see that all staff, no matter what they do — be it logistics, groun-handling, flying or engineering — are part of a company’s future. Without investing in your personnel, you will have nothing. Therefore, the real answer to your question is that the staff required should be sufficient to carry out the tasking which you have been contracted to do by your oil company. When I say "sufficient," you should take into account the working hours of your staff, the salary and training offered to your staff and a suitable shift pattern that should not cause your staff to be fatigued in any way that could cause a link in the chain to be broken, resulting in a flight safety hazard.
Ed McIlroy Ayrshire, Scotland
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