Welcome to the General Aviation Advocacy Group of New Zealand

Archives for March 2014

None so blind as those who cannot see: Transponders at regional airports

If our transponders are for Air New Zealand's benefit, perhaps the airline will pay for our ADS-B kit...

If our transponders are for Air New Zealand’s benefit, perhaps the airline will pay for our ADS-B kit…

An interesting – and revealing – incident occurred on a recent trip to the Mainland.

A bunch of Tiger Moths and others arranged to fly into Invercargill airport for a commemorative flight back to Gore, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first ever cross-country flight in New Zealand.

This was arranged and agreed to by Airways Corporation at the highest level, and under special conditions because some of the participating aeroplanes were not transponder-equipped.

The plan sounded simple enough. We were to depart Mandeville at one-minute intervals, each keeping one mile behind the one ahead and to report at specified points, with nordo aircraft spaced to follow and be followed by radio buddies. We assumed that the tower would be able to verify our whereabouts by those who were squawking transponders.

The only hitch was that it was a very hazy afternoon, and keeping sight of a Tiger Moth in profile one mile ahead was not that easy. Anyway, we achieved the task, with only one drop-out, a nordo who lost sight of his buddy and did the sensible thing by bailing back to Mandeville. A much better plan – and one we have used very successfully in the past – would have been to have any nordo fly formation with his buddy and break to stream on final approach, but this was not allowed.

The main thrust of this story, though, concerns two of the Tigers. A southern local had flown all the way up to North Cape and back on this trip, we suspect so he could claim the trophy for the longest journey to the AGM. He was keen to round Bluff to complete the trip, but Airways would not allow him to fly to Bluff because he had no transponder (though he had radio).

I was asked if I would shepherd him with my recently installed magic beeper. This I was happy to do. We arranged to overfly the tower and continue to Bluff, and were issued 1500 feet. Halfway there, I asked NV tower to confirm my transponder altitude squawk, only to be told they don’t have radar in that area so could not see me (or the other Tiger.)

So why was his non-transponder-equipped aircraft barred from flying to Bluff unaccompanied?

The only possible reason was that Air New Zealand Link crews want to be able to see a blip on their TCAS – but they don’t fly south of NV anyway.

The fact is that transponders are not for the regional tower to be able to see and control. They are for the airline to be able to control the sky their aeroplanes fly in. The towers have no discretion to allow flight in their space that is unlikely to conflict with airline flights.

A couple of weeks later, I flew to Gisborne and requested clearance into their zone to overfly the field, to locate an airstrip only two miles away from the field. I was cleared at 1500 feet over the field, and once more asked the tower to confirm my altitude by transponder.

I was told they do not have radar coverage below 8000 feet, so again they can’t see me.

So the only reason transponders are required for low level aircraft is for the convenience of the airline’s commercial operations.

This is why all light aircraft operators have to spend thousands of dollars and continue to pay for biennial checks just to be allowed into the same space as the airlines, regardless of the fact that a controller could easily separate them by radio.

The 2014 GAA User Survey results, Part 1: MetFlight is a disaster

Typical comment: Too expensive

Typical comment: Too expensive*

The first GAA user survey of 2014 reveals strong evidence of the shocking state of weather forecasting services for recreational aviators in New Zealand.

It shows beyond doubt that the move to paid subscriptions for MetFlight has:

♦ dramatically reduced the number of people seeking MetFlight forecasts

♦ sent former MetFlight/IFIS users to less reliable sources

♦ probably contributed insignificant revenue towards offsetting MetService costs, and

♦ failed to support the mantra of “safety”

Typical comment: It encouraged you to pick up the NOTAMS at the same time

Typical comment: It encouraged you to pick up the NOTAMS at the same time

Just under 500 GAA supporters completed our first survey, which ran from December 2013 to February 2014 and covered Met services and the CAA’s medical policies.

When forecasts were free from the Airways IFIS website (and for a time, the MetFlight site), 79.86% of 437 responders (or 349 of them) were using the service.

But when we asked how many were now using the user-pays MetFlight service, we found that only 14.8% of the 472 question respondents were signed up. That’s about 70 pilots out of 472 checking the weather using MetFlight, before embarking on a flight. This is in line with anecdotal information that indicates MetFlight has little more than 400 paid subscriptions across the entire recreational GA population.

In simple terms:

♦ External funding was removed

♦ MetService decided to charge for MetFlight

♦ Users abandoned the MetFlight service in droves

Typical comment: It is wrong that GA pilots should have to pay for weather

Typical comment: It is wrong that GA pilots should have to pay for weather

Some of the non-subscribers said they now use a club subscription to access MetFlight. Others use Metvuw, or the US-based SkyVector website, which should give the CAA Director Graeme Harris and his Chief Met Officer Peter Lechner cause for grave concern.

A feature of some comments was that – because the user flew infrequently – the cost of MetFlight was far too high for their needs. It might cost “around 30c a day”, but for some that works out at $10 per forecast. One or two stated that they no longer flew in bad weather, and so had no need of any kind of forecast!

But the most frequent complaint was the old (and as-yet unresolved) chestnut: Why User Pays for aviators, when boaties and trampers get their weather forecasts free?

Conspiracy theorists may speculate that general aviators were just a captive bunch of guinea pigs used to test out the idea of charging boaties and trampers for weather forecasts, if the experiment worked.

It clearly has not.

So MetService, Maritime NZ and sleep-walking pollies will probably lay off seafarers and hikers (at least until the election is over) because two things are clear from this survey:

♦ If you charge for safety-related weather information, people may try to save a little money and then might take potentially lethal risks

♦ The financial return to MetService does not justify the subscription policy

Typical comment: I borrow someone else's logon!

Typical comment: I borrow someone else’s logon!

So much for the discredited idea of charging low-level, recreational pilots for a weather forecast. As one of the respondents says so succinctly: Charging for this information has tempted some pilots to operate without it, which is dangerous.

Airways “welcomed” our survey results, saying they appreciate feedback, “the good and the bad”. But despite our invitation, Airways did not offer any comment on more than 60 pages of survey comments, many of which show to all but the blind, dumb and deaf that subscriptions for weather forecasts do not work and the charging policy is counter-productive.

In a statement which flew directly in the face of the evidence put before it, MetService said:

MetService believes that recreational pilots take responsibility for their own safety very seriously, and understand the importance of weather information designed to their specialist requirements (as outlined in Civil Aviation regulations). We do not accept the inference that pilots would risk their safety just to avoid payment of a subscription costing as little as 30 cents a day.

MetService will continue to offer fit-for-purpose weather information that meets aviation regulations under the low-cost MetFlight GA subscription service. We encourage aviators to consider the various subscription options available, which have been designed to meet the needs of all GA pilots, whether flying regularly throughout the year, less frequently, or over short periods of time. This information is available on our website:

http://about.metservice.com/about-metservice/business-services/aviation/

This is empty PR-rhetoric, born of Einstein’s Definition of Insanity: Repeating the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

GAA asked MetService to confirm the number of current MetFlight subscriptions. On March 13, MetService stated that the number of subscribers was 429.

Graeme Harris says he shares our concerns

Graeme Harris says he shares our concerns

CAA Director Graeme Harris commented: “Many of the issues raised about the provision of meteorological information to recreational aviation are ones that the CAA has limited influence on so I will correspondingly make limited comment in that regard. I also understand that the parties directly involved are considering potential solutions so would not want to disturb that work. As you know, strictly speaking the CAA’s only involvement in the provision of meteorological information to domestic aviation is to ensure that any party that chooses to provide such information complies with the provisions of Civil Aviation Rule Part 174. From the broader safety promotion perspective, however, we have a very clear interest in ensuring that pilots do access and use appropriate meteorological information when flying. Thus, I’d certainly share the concern you have referred to about the possibility of pilots increasing safety risk by not meeting their responsibilities in this regard. As a matter of policy and practice, I will continue to promote the case for easy access to meteorological information for domestic aviation. I’d also prefer that the method of funding and/or its pricing did not constitute an unreasonable barrier to use.”

The pilot’s responsibility for ensuring safe flight, in respect to weather, does not include a requirement to access MetService forecasts or MetFlight in particular. The unreasonable barrier is the cost.

By…

♦ charging recreational aviators (but no other recreational interest group) without due regard to the consequences, and

♦ prohibiting the sharing of subscribed-for information – MetService terms, 5. Prohibited Use, clause 5.1: “The User must not resupply all or part of such information (whether for consideration or not) to any other person”

… MetService has breached the spirit and possibly the terms of CAA Rule Part 174, namely this clause:

174.9 Issue of certificate

An applicant is entitled to a meteorological service certificate if the Director is satisfied that

(3) the granting of the certificate is not contrary to the interests of aviation safety.

MetService’s terms would tend to suggest that those who are using the login/user name of an organisation in an unauthorised manner may be acting in contravention of the MetService Terms and Conditions. Our survey disclosed that just over 48% of respondents accessing MetFlight were using an organisational password/login.

And how could the cause of aviation safety be served if, on some lonely airfield and in questionable weather, a subscribing pilot obeyed the MetService terms and refused to share his or her MetFlight forecast with a non-subscribing aviator? It’s a complete nonsense.

So how should MetFlight be funded?

Typical comment: Should be free, like marine and mountain forecasts

Typical comment: Should be free, like marine and mountain forecasts

A clear 46.2% majority rejects the idea of pay-per-user-per-forecast (with around 26% of others in favour and the rest undecided), most citing their belief that weather forecasts should be free of charge, and a few others worrying about the admin difficulties in charging per forecast.

Instead, a massive 84.40% chose joint funding by the CAA, Airways and the Ministry of Transport as an alternative source of funding.

One of the handy aspects of the weather forecast within IFIS was its close companion, the NOTAM.

Typical comment: This would be way too logical to ever happen

Typical comment: This would be way too logical to ever happen

The survey gives more than a hint that having this jointly important information on the same site was more than convenient, and another strong hint that – because the forecast is no longer there – the habit of checking the NOTAMs at the same time as the weather has also been degraded.

The Airways IFIS website works well (particularly since its face-lift) and has the ability to be a “one-stop shop” for GA pilots. Flight plans can be filed electronically, NOTAMs checked and we once had the ability – as happens in other developed countries – to get en-route, destination, and alternate airfield weathers along with SIGMETs.

Typical comment: Barking mad!

Typical comment: Barking mad!

(A small aggravation to infrequent users of the Airways IFIS website is that they may be required to submit a new user name and password when logging on. Airways has confirmed that the current policy it applies to inactive IFIS user names is to deregister any that have not been used for at least nine months. Initially, the inactivity time used was six months but this was increased several years ago, following user feedback. Airways has also confirmed that this period could be extended to 12 months if it was considered desirable.)

GAA supporters long for the good old days. Almost 92 percent of them said they want an IFIS website that provides weather and NOTAMs in plain language.

And while we are on the subject of plain language, those few who still read MetFlight forecasts are unimpressed by the CAA’s bowing down to obey the ICAO’s rules and making the SIGMETs’ arcane coding even less easy to interpret.

Typical comment: I didn't know there was a translator

Typical comment: I didn’t know there was a translator

When we asked if users considered the removal of geographical references in SIGMET reports was a retrograde step, 88.5% said it was. This places them alongside Canadian aviators, who appreciate the enlightened attitude that Transport Canada took in providing two choices of forecast: one for ICAO-interested international aircrew and the other for Canadian GA operators like us.

Only 13 people out of 468 thought it was a good thing. This places them alongside the CAA’s Chief Met Officer Peter Lechner and the Manager of the Aeronautical Service Unit, Michael Haines, who clearly need all the support they can muster.

About 85 percent of respondents would like their weather forecasts (and their SIGMETs in particular) to be provided in plain language.

♦ Download your PDF copy of the full Met section results: Survey No 1 Part 1 Met

* Click on any graphic to enlarge it

♦ We will deal with the medical aspects in Part 2

♦ Sincere thanks to everyone who took part. Now you know the results, why not log in and leave a comment below?