Archive for the ‘Aviation’ Category

I Should Be Happy

30 December 07

But I’m not. I’m on vacation. I’m in a beautiful country. I’m surrounded by family. I’m not happy. I love traveling, I just hate the actual traveling part. I’ve passed through 7 airports in the last few days. I’ve spent hours on airplanes and hours in airports, and I’m not happy. I’m angry. I’m pissed off that those of us who choose to support airline companies and airport economies by flying the so-called friendly skies must endure ridiculous security measures made to make the human race “feel” more secure, when they do nothing but cause grief, anger and delays. And oh yea, by the way, they don’t actually do anything to make us more secure.

I’ve been going over and over in my head exactly how to write these feelings and thoughts. Imagine my surprise when I open the New York Times website today and find an editorial that exactly expresses my frustration. Patrick Smith writes an aviation column for Salon.com and it is always right on. His NYT editorial should be required reading. We’ve got to do something about this airport situation, it is beyond reasonable! If I hear one more person say something along the lines of, “We have to endure it, because it is for our security!” I’m gonna scream! Wrong!!

An excerpt:

Six years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, airport security remains a theater of the absurd. The changes put in place following the September 11th catastrophe have been drastic, and largely of two kinds: those practical and effective, and those irrational, wasteful and pointless.

Indeed, the security measures I have endured over the last few days, (remove your coat! remove your belt! remove your shoes! remove your laptop! keep moving! bla bla bla), were definitely of the irrational, wasteful and pointless variety. I would, as one airport security agent suggested, avoid flying, but it is kind of impossible in my situation. Is there any sanity left in the world?

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First Solo!

14 December 07

Luke's First Solo

Luke – First Solo at JTFA (the force was with him)

Yesterday was an exciting day at JTFA – we had our first ever solo flight by a student! The first solo is a momentous occasion – the student is alone in the cockpit for the first time. Other than communication with the air traffic controllers, they are on their own! Luke’s first solo consisted of flying a circuit around the airport – the traffic pattern – and making several landings. He made two touch and go’s – touching down on the runway and then taking off again – and three circuits of the airport.

Luke celebrating

Once he had taxied and parked the aircraft, he practically floated over to the group waiting for him. There is still a lot of training to complete before he will start working for the airlines in China, but he is one step closer!

JTFA first class

Dogs & Airplanes

11 December 07

The last few days here in Linyi have been rainy and gray. This is the kind of weather I expect in winter, so it is not altogether unwelcome. I’m just glad that our trip to Mt. Tai coincided with blue skies. Anyway, although the skies are overcast today, our students were able to fly. Flying here has been a little hit and miss over the last month. The closer we get to winter, the greater the chance for low visibility. Fall is the best time for flying, but the number of clear days are slowly dwindling.

There are other challenges here that limit flying, and I’ve been meaning to post about those. I had some setbacks because of my grad school classes, however, and couldn’t spend a lot of time writing blog posts. Today I will share something that maybe can’t be considered a challenge, but is something unexpected, nevertheless.

One of today’s flights was delayed slightly due to a “runway incursion.” Not that an aircraft was at risk of colliding with another aircraft or vehicle, but rather a dog had wandered too close to the runway. Wildlife are often a problem at big airports, especially birds. A bird strike can damage airplane surfaces and engines. At many airports, loud noises are used to scare birds away. At others, poison is used to deal with them. I’ve even heard of some airports that employ trained hawks to keep birds away. A friend of ours who flies in Africa sometimes has to deal with elephants and giraffe wandering onto the runway. I’m really not sure what the procedure is for a dog, but today we felt sure someone would just try to scare the poor thing away.

Instead, someone was dispatched to “take care” of the dog. With a shotgun.

I guess the moral to this story is dog may be man’s best friend, but man is not always dog’s best friend. Dogs and airplanes don’t mix at our local airport.

Aviation in China – The Market

2 October 07

Wanna fly airplanes in China? Wanna teach people how to fly airplanes in China? Sounds crazy, but it is possible. If you are a commercially rated pilot with a flight instructor license, China needs you!

I’m writing this Aviation in China series to give a little more information to friends, family and potential flight instructors about working for a flight school in China. The first thing you need to understand is the market for airplanes and flight training.

I’m no economist and I visibly recoil at anything to do with stocks, investment, business and economy. Give me ebola, heart attacks, card catalogs and Medline databases any day, (I’m a nurse studying medical librarianship who also happens to work in aviation.) but don’t expect me to authoritatively discuss market strategies. Still, even someone like me can see how China’s economic growth has spurred development left and right, and the growing middle classes increasingly want to fly across China – passengers on Chinese airlines have increased by 16.7% since August 2006. The commercial airline industry in China is doing well, with several new airlines entering the market – some government controlled, some private. Cargo-focused airlines are also growing. Across the board in commercial aviation, revenues are up and more aircraft are being purchased.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Boeing is reporting that China will need 3400 aircraft over the next 20 years to keep up with customer demand. They had previously predicted around 2000 aircraft. This booming commercial airline industry has sparked an entirely new industry in China – flight training. After all, who is going to fly all those new airplanes?

Most commercial pilots in China are either ex-military or graduates of China’s Civil Aviation Flight University (CAFUC), which has several campuses. However, they have been unable to meet the needs of the airlines alone. A recent article in China Economic Review says China needs at least 1200 to 1600 pilots per year to meet demands.

Enter private flight training schools. CAFUC can only supply about 600 pilots per year. Chinese airlines have responded by sending hundreds of students abroad to Europe, Australia, the US and Canada for flight training. Even an economics-challenged person like me can see that at $100,000 per student, that is a lot of money leaving China. PBS’ Nightly Business Report website has a transcript of a short report on the promise of flight training in China, done last year.

In the past few years, there has been great interest in establishing private flight schools in China to serve the commercial airlines training needs and, possibly, creating a new phenomenon – recreational pilots. I personally know of 3 such schools, two of which are operating – Beijing Panam International Aviation Academy and Jiutian International Flight School. I know there are more companies out there looking to make their move into the market.

I currently work for a private flight school, JTFA. I hope that through these postings I can share some of the challenges inherent in flight training, and the challenges of working in an entirely new industry in China – the challenges of ATC, airspace, military, educational practices, language and cultural barriers, and the environment. There are benefits as well as challenges, and I hope to touch on those as well.

As my students would say, it is time to fly to the sky. Thanks to The China Expat for posting about the Boeing report and Pan Asian Biz for posting about passenger and airline growth!

Flying Anytime Soon?

29 September 07

China’s National Day is just around the corner, which means the trains, buses and airports will be busy, busy, busy. Planning a flight in China anytime soon? If it is your first time flying in the PRC, there are a few things you should know:

• The captain never speaks – Don’t worry if you never hear from the flight deck during the flight. They don’t come on the overhead speaker to “welcome you aboard” or point out any cool landmarks down below, like they do in the West. Wouldn’t you rather they concentrate on flying the plane, anyway?

• The flight attendants all look identical – Well, much more than you would find on a western airline. They will all be of similar height and weight. This is really not all that noticeable until you later fly on a western airline. On my flight back to the US to visit family, it seemed really odd that the flight attendants were all so diverse! They were all shapes and sizes, old and young.

• There is always turbulence when approaching the airport or climbing away – Just be prepared for a sometimes bumpy flight. I don’t know why this is, maybe I should ask DH the pilot. It always happens to me, and I’ve flown on over 15 flights in China. Keep your seatbelt fastened.

• Don’t bother looking out the window – This is not always the case, but usually there is just too much smog to see much.

• Instead of peanuts, you will get a bag of dried squid bits. I love ’em, but my sister-in-law nearly ralphed them all over me.

• Upon landing, don’t be too surprised if your fellow passengers jump up and start taking out their carry-on bags – even if you are still on the runway. This one really surprised me the first time, but now it is just routine. Everyone will want to get off the plane as quickly as possible. It is the same thing you find on the train. I’m just waiting for the day the plane brakes suddenly and everyone goes flying forward. I wait until everyone has made their mad dash off before I de-plane. They’ll just be waiting at the baggage carousel anyway.

• Someone will use their cell phone when they are not supposed to (not really a big deal anyway, but..)

• You will pass through passport control even on domestic flights – I think that China must have the best passport control in the world. Be ready to present your passport, boarding pass and ticket receipt before going through security, and be sure to smile for the camera. Don’t try to bring a water bottle or anything like that. (No alcohol allowed in carry-on. They always sniff the water to make sure it is not booze. Do yourself a favor and finish it before security.)

The good thing:
• Jets in China are all shiny and new – complete with sophisticated computer systems that can fly the airplane automatically. China probably has the youngest fleet of airliners anywhere in the world.

Anything I miss? Any funny Chinese airport/airplane stories to share?

Glad It’s Friday

28 September 07

Fall is here. (Even though by the Chinese calendar we are in mid-autumn already.) I’m wearing a jacket. It is windy and cool. It is even cool enough for my favorite treat – green tea oatmeal. (It’s way more delicious than it sounds!) How long will this last?

As predicted by our local meteorologist, September is turning out to be sensational flying weather. Despite the fact that today is a little rainy, visibility is great and the planes are in the air. The DH has been flying everyday for the past week. This is what we came to China to do, and it is a huge relief to see the instructors doing it!

I’m writing some posts about the challenges of flight training in China and some other aviation in China themed stories. I should be posting them this weekend or next week, and then on a regular basis after that. It’ll be my “Aviation in China” series.

In the meantime, I’m swamped with lots of reading and studying. When I left my last nursing job, I was so burned out that I never wanted to see a hospital or a sick person ever again, but I have to admit I’m really enjoying my medical librarian courses. I’m reading about infectious disease for a course, instead of my own pleasure, (I know, I’m twisted.) which is a huge change. I’ve never enjoyed reading a textbook before. Does this mean I have found my career? What I want to be when I grow up? I’m even watching medical dramas for fun. (House – Season 1) And sometimes, when I’m deep into an episode of House, and I have to turn to the DH and translate some of the medico-speak, somewhere down in a corner of my mind, I actually miss the hospital, just a little, tiny bit. Smiley

It is a little frustrating that I am studying about libraries in a country where I can’t actually read a book. In Linyi, there is no public library, and even if there were, I’m sure the English section would be minute. It’s times like these when I wish I was in a big cosmopolitan city like Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. There I might have possibilities of working in a library. Still, I have some outlets here. I want to build a virtual aviation library for our school and I’ve been reading about an interesting library project going on in China. Library Project is an organization that donates books and libraries to school and orphanages in developing countries. If there is a way I can be involved in this project, I’d love to be. More on that later.

Have a great weekend, wherever you are!

“Fly to the Sky!”

21 September 07

Another gorgeous day today – not a cloud in the sky. The DH and F. (another flight instructor) have been flying non-stop all afternoon. Yesterday, they flew 8 hours straight. Almost all of the students are now on their third or fourth flights and I must admit it makes me feel great to see their smiling faces. I spoke with a few students yesterday and they told me all about their flights, their fears, their excitement. They have been waiting over a year for this to happen. If the weather and Chinese military (who control the airspace) continue to cooperate, some of the students might be soloing by the end of next week. And to think when I first met them, most had never set foot in an airplane and didn’t even know how an engine works.

“Fly to the Sky” is a Chinglish phrase sometimes used by the students. As in, “When will we fly to the sky?”

Goodbye to Another Airport

14 September 07

Ball Airport is a small, private airport located in Victoria, Texas, where I used to live. I was always intrigued by this airport, even before I worked in aviation, because it had a grass airstrip and seemed sort of hidden away at the back of a quiet residential neighborhood.

The DH used this airport when he was working as a flight instructor in the Victoria area.

It is always sad to see another small general aviation airport close up. Especially when one is living in a country where general aviation is struggling to even get started. Here is an article from the local Victoria newspaper.

Historic Ball Airport is About to Close Up Its Hangars
Henry Wolff Jr. – The Victoria Advocate, Victoria, Texas
August 10, 2007

An end is coming soon to Victoria’s oldest airport that dates back 70 years to when a local dairy farmer took an interest in flying.

On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association will be hosting a final fly-in at Ball Airport, the property on the north edge of Victoria now in the process of being sold by the Kenne family for residential development.

Dolores Kenne is the daughter of the late Warren and Dessie Ball.

Her father founded the airport around 1937, after purchasing the property two years earlier from Frank and Julia Zirjacks. That was still a time when airplanes were something of an oddity in small towns like Victoria.

According to Dolores’ husband, Arthur Kenne, in addition to the property being ideally suited for future residential development, it has become more and more difficult in recent times to operate a small airport.

The private airfield is located on Ball Airport Road adjoining Highland Estates.

A very historic flying field, Ball Airport also served the military for a time when Foster Field was being built east of Victoria in the early 1940s. Victoria Regional Airport now occupies the area where Foster Field was.

After the war, Ball converted former military planes, mostly PT-19s and Stearman biplanes, for civilian use. He became an instructor in 1950 and gave flying lessons to several hundred aspiring pilots during three decades. At least 150 went on to get their private pilot’s licenses and some 50 who earned commercial or instructor ratings.

Dessie took care of the office and ground duties. She died in 2002 and her husband in 1993.

During an interview with the couple in 1980, I recall Mrs. Ball commenting that she “kept them all flying.”

Ball was proud of having over 10,000 accident-free hours in the air.

It all began when Ball let a Lane Wells employee, Frank Davis, keep a little 40-horsepower Taylorcraft on his property, it being good flatland for taking off and landing. One day another pilot, Harold Kendrick of San Antonio flew over and noticed the plane down below.

Kendrick happened to be looking for a place to set up a flying school and made a deal with Ball, who got some of his early flying experience by trading use of the airport for time in the air.

Ball had his pilot’s license by 1939 and is also believed to have been the first certified aircraft mechanic in Victoria County.

In cooperation with Victoria Junior College, now Victoria College, students learned to fly at Ball Airport as part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program toward the beginning of World War II. Other than for the airport also being used some by early arrivals at Foster Field, operations were interrupted during the war years when the government required that all private planes be disabled or placed under 24-hour guard.

With Ball Airport destined to become a site for some 500 homes, Kenne says the developers have indicated an interest in preserving the history of the old airport and perhaps even saving the hangar as part of a recreational facility.

He also noted that some of the streets might be given appropriate aircraft names.

As for the airport itself, Kenne says plans are to have all operations shut down by the end of the year.

While it is sad that the day will soon come when take-offs and landings will end in Warren Ball’s old cow pasture, nothing is forever either on the ground or in the air.

What will be remembered is the old airport’s significance to local aviation during times of war and peace.

****
And a photo audio essay, also from the Victoria Advocate:
Goodbye to Ball Airport

Flying

13 September 07

I don’t blog very much about work here in China. I’m not sure why, other than the fact that for the most part my work is monotonous and boring. However, we are experiencing interesting times right now – working for the second private flight school in China as it begins its flight operations. I think I will write more about what it is like to teach students basic aviation vocabulary and watch them as they learn more theory, practice in the flight simulators and finally, begin flying.

Today that is not my concern, though. For the last few days, the DH has been up flying several times.

DSCN1991.JPG

 This is my view of the aircraft hangar and ramp area, from my office window. Here the DH and a FI are waiting for the taxi clearance from the control tower. I am not really afraid when the DH goes flying. I don’t really think about it too much, to be honest. It’s just what he does – and what he loves. And what he does really well. I know that he is highly capable, so I just don’t worry.

I did, however, hold my breath slightly as the airplane began its ground roll and lifted off down the runway.

DSCN1995.JPG

Here they are taxiing on to the runway. And in case you are wondering, they are flying a 1996 Cessna 172R – a single-engine piston aircraft long used for flight training and recreational flying. (In other words – dependable, proven and safe)

Look for more posts on life at a Chinese flight academy…

Clipped Wings

30 August 07

Working at a flight school in China that isn’t yet flying is frustrating. Here’s a clue as to why we are not in the skies:

Clipped Wings
Wealthy mainlanders want to fly in their own aircraft but the growth of private aviation is shackled by prohibitive rules and lack of facilities, writes Joey Liu – South China Morning Post 29 August 2007

Zhejiang businessman Wang Bin had it all worked out when he decided to buy a helicopter from France last December. It would relieve him of the tedium of a six-hour drive from his building materials company in Yiwu city to factories in Shaowu, in neighbouring Fujian province. It would also impress clients and help win more contracts if he offered them a whirl. And when not in use, he could charter it out to make extra money.

Wang forked out 12 million yuan for his Eurocopter EC120B, 6 million yuan for related equipment and another 2 million yuan for maintenance and operating fees. But the helicopter turned out to be a white elephant. It was used fewer than 20 hours during the past eight months, and never flew outside Zhejiang province. Most of the time, the helicopter was parked at an airfield in Dongyang city, the nearest approved site, about two hours’ drive from his head office. “It’s too hard to get a flying permit, especially to fly in a different province,” he says.

The businessman is so fed up he advertised in the Zhejiang Daily last month to sell it, but has yet to find a buyer. The adverse publicity surrounding his purchase was another reason to sell the helicopter. “[The media reports] made it sound like I was showing off,” Wang says. “People were talking about how rich I was and turning to me for help. It’s a lot of pressure.”

Wang’s woes are typical among the few owners of private aircraft on the mainland. Although there are a growing number of people in the country who can afford to have their own aircraft, tight control of airspace and inadequate airport facilities are hampering the development of private aviation.

According to official statistics, the mainland had fewer than 70 private or corporate aircraft in 2005, while Brazil, whose GDP is half that of China’s, has more than 700. The US has about 200,000 private jets, the largest number in the world. “The problem of developing the private jet industry in China lies more in the policy than the funding,” says He Chi, vice-president of Beijing Jingong Flying Club.

Military control over all airspace on the mainland makes for a lot of red tape. For a private jet to secure a landing slot at a civil airport within a flight area that may encompass three or four adjoining provinces, the pilot must submit a flight plan 24 hours in advance. That compares with a couple of hours in the US or Europe. To land at an airport in a different flight area, the plan must be submitted anywhere from a few days to a week in advance, He says. Before the Regulations for General Aviation Control came into effect in May 2003, pilots had to apply at least 10 days ahead for the right to fly between two civil airports.

The hold-up is due partly to disagreements within the government. In April, Beijing Business Today reported the chief pilot of Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), Yu Zhenfa, as saying it had drafted a plan to open up low-altitude airspace. But this was immediately contradicted by an anonymous top official from the CAAC, who told the Legal Daily that the military controls all mainland airspace and the administration can’t make unilateral decisions.

Political considerations weigh heavily on decision makers. “The CAAC has been looking into the issue of opening up low-altitude airspace for years and even made some plans. But after 9/11, all these moves stopped,” says an industry insider who requested anonymity. “In fact, in places like Beijing, the airspace control is becoming more restricted.”

For instance, flying clubs in Beijing have been ordered to stop flights in March, when the two key annual political meetings, the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, are held.

In Wang’s case, he couldn’t get permission to fly from Zhejiang to his factories in Fujian because the two provinces come under different flight areas, and Fujian is under tight control due to its proximity to Taiwan. “Fujian is a sensitive place, where a lot of airspace is out of bounds,” Wang says.

Technical limitations also hinder the expansion of private flight. The radar systems in some regions aren’t advanced enough to identify small planes, so the military decided the simplest and safest step was to prohibit private flights, says the industry insider.

The lack of suitable airstrips for private use is another barrier. Wang earmarked some land near his Yiwu office and Shaowu factories and applied to aviation authorities to use the plots as helicopter landing sites, but has had no response. “We’ve submitted applications for months, but didn’t get any feedback,” he says.

Although most of the mainland’s 156 airports are accessible to private jets, many lack suitable ground-handling facilities. In some cases, the refuelling nozzles or battery recharging couplers are incompatible with some types of aircraft. Only Beijing Capital Airport and Shanghai International Airport have separate facilities for private jets. But traffic at both places is so heavy they can’t handle many private jets. “Beijing Capital Airport can only manage private jets for VIPs like state leaders. Corporate jets often have to wait for hours for landing or taking off,” He says.

The mainland also lists 68 airfields for general aviation and 329 temporary airstrips, but most are located far from urban centres, which means they’re inconvenient for aircraft owners such as Wang, who wants to use his helicopter as a flying taxi.

Beijing businessman Xing Jizhu loves to fly. After receiving his pilot’s licence for fixed-wing aircraft in 2001, he considered buying a plane but dropped the idea when he learned about the tough restrictions on flight and the types of aircraft he could buy.

Individual purchase is restricted to the domestically produced Bee series, and small planes from three CAAC-approved manufacturers – Cessna, Diamond and Cirrus.

The safety of locally made planes is also a concern for potential buyers such as Xing. In April, Tan Chengnian, dubbed by the media as the mainland’s first peasant pilot, died when the Bee-4 that he was flying crashed into a hillside in Shandong province.

“[The Bee] is no fun. I can’t fly it over long distances. The most common use is to fly it over the golf course to study the holes,” Xing says.

He shares that view: the mainland’s nouveau riche is only interested in advanced, imported aircraft, he says. “Rich men despise the cheap planes.”

That’s why he started the Jingong, a high-end flying club with its own airfield at Badaling, near the Great Wall. It will open next month after taking delivery of four new Cessna-172 planes. It’s also expecting four helicopters at the end of the year: two Sikorskys and two Robinson R2s.

He anticipates a big demand for use of club aircraft within adjacent Hebei province, but says it’s hard to offer flights to other provinces, which businessmen such as Wang want, although he’s negotiating with airfields in Shandong and Inner Mongolia.

Despite the high concentration of rich Chinese and expats in Beijing, its status as the seat of power means the authorities are unlikely to loosen their grip on surrounding airspace anytime soon.

The regions where private aviation will first develop are the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta, most experts say. “There’s stronger demand for private jets and less control,” He says.