Moving along smooth pavement, it’s sometimes disconcerting to find a pebble or two lying in the roadway. Bicycle tires spit them aside with a “ker-chung”, they may bruise a runner’s thin-clad foot, and motorcylists fear an accumulation of them, particularly on a curve. Yet, they are to be expected; life is populated with pebbles in our path.
Even flying activities, while lofted as we are on laughter-silvered wings, pick up a few pebbles once in a while. Metaphoric pebbles can include health issues that are minor to earthlings but career-interrupting for pilots. Unanticipated engine work can toss us a budget-busting pebble. And the dreaded Airworthiness Directive or service bulletin can threaten our aircraft’s value if not complied with – forthwith.
From whence cometh these pebbles? Sometimes, they are simply dropped in our path by the Flying Fickle Finger Of Fate; othertimes, they originate with company legal departments, anxious to detach a product liability tail. And some are well-intentioned mandates devised by government agency bureaucrats.
For example, if you’ve tried to check in with Flight Watch on 122.0 or one of the high-altitude Flight Watch channels, you’ve found that the friendly weather voice is no longer there. The FAA determined it to be non-vital and underused, so the Flight Watch function is now part of Flight Service’s air-ground support, obtained by looking up the local area’s frequency. Minor pebble, but a nuisance.
A bigger pebble is the coming shift away from our venerable FAA Flight Plan format, now scheduled for October 1, 2016. Most of us can rattle off the flight plan information in sequence, from years of familiarity. Come next year, we’re going to have to file in the much more complex ICAO style, even for domestic flights, an arcane overreach that can only be accommodated by using prestored PED data. Why the FAA thinks this pebble needs to be planted in our road is beyond my comprehension. One of the joys of returning to the U.S. from another country has always been the freedom to move about freely with minimal documentation or notification.
ADS-B started out as a big boulder, plopped down some time ago by FAA planners seizing the NextGen opportunity. After years of driving around it, we’re seeing ADS-B chipped away into smaller, more-manageable pebbles, as avionics suppliers and shops devise ways of meeting the 2020 mandate. Lots of gravel still in our path, but we’ll deal with it.
For piston-engine airplane owners, the stony problem of fuel availability roughens the path ahead. Gnat-straining environmentalists want to eliminate any perceived health risk, so our very-effective octane-booster, tetraethyl lead, is on their hit list, despite aviation’s statistical insignificance. Hopefully, the efforts to develop a replacement unleaded avgas will clear the pebbles of cost, performance loss and availability.
Now, private aviation is too valuable a part of our existence to let a few pebbles in the road throw us off our stride. As long as we can negotiate the FOD debris, we’ll keep on using our aircraft to provide the wonderful service we enjoy. But, it was sure nicer when the road was clear…