News and Comment
Following the runway excursion of United Airlines Flight 8050 on 16 June 2010, a few of our students went to have a look at the aircraft.
A Antonov AN-124 took off from runway 14 today. Even taxing to the runway, the big jet dwarfed our aircraft parked in the infield. It used most of the 10,000' runway and almost disappeared from view under the hump before appearing again on its climb out.
OFC provides float training each summer at Constance Lake with the support of Lake Country Airways. Float flying is one of the most fun things you can do in a plane. It brings a whole new dimension to your flying experience and removes lots of hurdles and constraints associated with wheels and airports. There are no runways or control towers, just the lake, the wind, you and the plane. The sense of relaxed freedom is wonderful.
It also opens up the country. Canada is a land of lakes and float flying opens up the country like nothing else. For this reason alone, I can see myself owning a float plane and using it in the summer just for fun. Every lake becomes a potential landing spot. Rivers are like mile-wide runways that go on for ever. Beaches that would take hours to reach by boat are just minutes away by plane. There is no shortage of places to go.
I've been taking my float rating this summer and it is a blast. Today we were practising landings. We rarely got above 1000' and spent most of the time below 500' moving from one location to another as we practiced. At most, I landed twice in the same location. The highlight was a beaching exersize on an island in the river. It was a great day.
Aviation has lots of tradition - usually based on rules that have long since been forgotten. In training, one of the main traditions is the celebration of the first solo. That first solo flight is really special - an event that will never be repeated twice in your life. It starts as a normal instruction flight. You perform a few circuits with the instructor sitting quietly beside you. You land and the instructor gets out and leaves you on your own for a circuit. The plane feels more responsive and quieter. There is more room. But mostly, it is the sense of accomplishment to have learned a new skill and to be able to actually fly - by yourself. The first solo is also a major milestone in your career. Its the day you really started to learn to fly.
There are many ways to celebrate the solo. One common tradition is to cut off the tail or back of the pilots shirt. Its an old tradition dating back to the days of tandem trainers and no intercoms. To get the students attention, the pilot would tug on the shirt and then yell. Once the student went solo, there was no longer a need for the tail of the shirt and it was ceremoniously cut off, signed and nailed to the wall.
Another tradition is the soaking with buckets of water. At OFC, its is the preferred method of celebrating a solo flight and a welcome refreshing event after sweating through that first flight - at least in the summer. (We try to use warm water in winter.) It involves lots of people and is meant as fun. To add a bit of dignity to the event, we will shortly be handing out dry towels as a keep sake.
Personally, I never liked either of these rituals. I think they lack dignity and would rather the opportunity to buy a round of beer for everyone. I also understand if other people feel the same. Celebration should be fun for everyone, including you. So I offer you the choice of celebration. Do you want the traditional celebration or something else? What would make it a happy and memorable event for you? Handshakes? A group cheer? A presentation of flowers? Photos? Let us know before you go solo.
Otherwise, bring a set of dry clothes as you get close to solo. You will get wet.
There have been lots of comments and questions in the past few months about our fleet of C-150 aircraft and why we keep them rather than purchasing new planes. New planes would be nice. The shiny-new factor makes the planes cool to fly and would attract more students. The C-150s are old and tired and in rather rough shape. Still, the C-150 is the most successful training aircraft every built. As a training aircraft, they can take tremendous abuse without suffering damage. They have an unlimited life and can be easily maintained. The only problem is that they look old and ugly and uninspiring. Perhaps we should upgrade them.
What to do? From a business perspective, I'm more concerned with cash flow. Assuming the old and new aircraft rent for the same amount and fly the same amount, what do you need to consider in comparing upgrades versus purchases? First, lets assume we have $30,000 to invest in a new aircraft or in upgrades to a C-150. Note that $30,000 will buy you a C-150 in reasonably good shape, but I want to upgrade a C-150 to be better than what I can find on the market. It should have some of the shiny-new factor when finished but will still be a C-150. Just what we can do with $30,000 is another discussion, but it will have to have a wow! factor.
In terms of costs, we have fixed costs and variable costs. The fixed costs don't change with flight hours and include insurance and financing costs. If a new aircraft costs $100,000, to use a round number, the fixed costs of ownership will be slightly more than $2,000 a month. In comparison, the upgraded C-150 has a fixed cost $315 per month.
In terms of operating costs, a new plane may have slightly lower maintenance costs and possibly better fuel burn. However, inspections are still required every 50 hours and aircraft maintenance is not cheap, even for new aircraft. Provisions for overhaul are required in both cases and both face the same list of fees and charges related to their operation. The new aircraft will face depreciation where the C-150 is fully depreciated. With all the variable costs taken into account, the new plane will cost $74 per hour to operate versus $81 per hour for the upgraded C-150. If you ignore the non-cash affects, the numbers will be $58 versus $67 per hour respectively.
The breakeven calculation is straight forward, with the new aircraft needing about 6 times the number of rental hours each month to break even. So from a cash flow perspective, upgrades are much better. The questions is will an upgraded C-150 be attractive? I'd appreciate your thoughts.
Over the last year, we have been working to replace our old IT systems with a newer enterprise resource management system. We went live today, following several months of trials.
The system is an open-source package called ADempiere and provides a fully featured ERP system. We have it interfaced with our flighsheet and booking system to track flying hours. The orders and invoices are generated authomatically saving a lot of time for the dispatchers. The information is provided directly to our accounting systems, eliminating hours a work a day that used to be spent in hand transcription.
The new system is already proving its worth in providing quality assurance reports on our flight training progress. We are able to track student progress against the syllabus and assess the progress against a variety of measures and statistics.
Next, we will be tackling the maintenance functions that are currently being tracked by spreadsheet. With this I hope to have an inter-organizational link with Canadian Aviation Maintenance so workorders, purchase orders and invoices can be passed electronically. It will also allow us to start tracking snags with much greater precision.
Best of all, the software is free and fully extendable to suit our needs.
All of this is aimed an improving our performance and efficiency so that we can reduce the cost of flight training. If you have any ideas to add, please let me know.