Wild Nordics

Where Passion & Survival Converge

Flying with Andy – Frequently Asked Questions

By on 03/06/2020

Here is a list of Frequently asked Questions

 

Is flying safe?

The short answer: Mostly yes (if you follow the rules and don’t do silly things)

The long answer: It is important to know what sort of flying we are talking about. There are 3 main categories of flying:

  • Civil Aviation (ridiculously safe)
  • General Aviation (quite safe)
  • Light Sport (less safe and usually the crashes you read about in the newspaper)

The main difference between them is the training level for the pilots, the quality and sophistication of the equipment and the regulatory oversight.

I fly General Aviation – All commercial pilots started in General Aviation and most still participate in it as a hobby, very often as examiners or instructors.

Within the General Aviation category there a two main types of aircraft that fly – Certified and non-certified aircraft. I fly certified aircraft which by law need to be maintained to a higher standard by professionally trained people.

Most accidents across the board come down to pilot error. Usually flying in bad weather or in an unsafe way. Very seldom if at all is it due to equipment or structural failure.

Within the General Aviation category and for Cessna 172’s, the fatality rate is 4 deaths per 100,000 hours, or put in another way, 1 fatality per 4.65 million km flown.

The numbers tell us that General Aviation flying (all types of aircraft) is 4 times more dangerous than driving a car, but 7 times less dangerous than riding a motorcycle. If you fly for 30 min with 4 people in the plane you have a 0.00002 chance of dying. My recommendation is that you take your chances. Flying is fun!

Do you offer Commercial Flying Services?

No. I am a private pilot PPL(A) which gives me the privilege to fly with friends and family. By law I can share costs with the people I fly with but I must pay my share and not make any profit.

Commercial pilots have a lot higher proficiency and are licensed for commercial activity. If you are looking for professional services please check out these operators:

 

How likely is a flight to go ahead on the date we plan it?

It depends.

For starters, I take no joy in rescheduling flights. It’s a pain in the ass to line up calendars, book planes and all the other stuff.

Fundamentally though, General Aviation is very different from the commercial scheduled flights. We are much more subject to weather and other restrictions and our planes are a lot less sophisticated.

The Summer months are usually much easier to fly in as the sky is clear – Usually the wind is the limiting factor. During the Autumn, Winter and Spring it’s usually cloud height and snowfall that limits us.

Sometimes the aircraft will also need unscheduled maintenance. The planes we fly are in very good condition, but sometimes things like radios or navigation equipment break, and we need to fix those as a priority.

In short, we only fly when it is legal and safe to do so and if we need to reschedule we will. The pilot always has the last say on whether we fly.

What weather conditions are appropriate for flying?

My license is restricted to Visual Flight Rules (VFR) which means I need to be able to see the ground and be a certain distance from cloud, depending on the airspace type (A,B,C,D,E,F,G). Most of the time we fly in G airspace which is shown below.

In terms of maximum wind, this is specified by the aircraft manufacturer. For a Cessna 172 it is usually around 15 knots crosswind but I personally don’t land in any more than 12 knots.

If the wind is the same direction as the runway it doesn’t matter but wind direction can change rapidly so it’s not a good idea to fly on a too windy day.

The Wind off the coast of Helsinki tends to be a bit gusty at times, especially when it is coming from the south off the Baltic sea. I recommend calmer days for first-time flyers as the flight will be a lot more comfortable.

How many passengers can you take?

Planes I fly like the Cessna 172 have 4 seats but usually, the limiting factor is the weight. Often we have to make a choice between carrying more passengers or more fuel. After fuel and a pilot, the plane I fly has around 200 kg and 3 seats left for passengers and luggage.

Do I need to bring any special clothing or equipment?

No, just bring normal clothes that are suitable for being outside. Once in the aircraft, we can control the temperature to make it comfortable. As for equipment, most people bring a camera or water bottle but nothing special is needed.

Is it okay to fly with kids or pets?

Well firstly to kids. I fly with my kids all the time. They are quite chilled and usually relax in the back. There are also less buttons to touch back there.

When kids come it’s important that they can be patient – we have a lot of checks and preparation to do before we take off. Also the headsets are very expensive so they need to take care of them.

Kids and everyone in the plane need to be quiet on the intercom when we are talking to other aircraft and controllers on the radio.

Teens are fine to sit in the front as long as they understand the responsibility that comes with it.

And now to pets. From my experience, pets don’t particularly enjoy flying but my dog would rather come on a family outing than stay at home.

At 30kg though he definitely has an impact on the weight and balance and as the kids get heavier he will be staying at home more.

I don’t recommend my friends bring pets as having an animal freak out at altitude is not a good thing. Plus it is a loud environment – even from the rear luggage compartment.

Am I too old to fly?

I have taken friends of all ages flying. Usually, everyone enjoys the experience.

Some people though can find flying in small aircraft stressful. Even though the plane weighs 1.1 ton fully loaded it still moves around on windy days.

If you are older and have a medical condition it might be best to seek the advice of your doctor before coming along.

How do I pay my share of the flight?

Before we organize a flight I will let you know what your share of the cost will be.

After the flight, you can pay the amount either with Mobile Pay or Cash. Mobile pay is preferred.

What costs do you split when flying with friends and family?

When I fly with my family I usually have to pick up the whole bill but I make them wash the aircraft.

When I fly with friends we share the costs between us. With rental aircraft, it is straight forward. It’s the hourly rental fee, plus any landing fees. If we buy pizza we usually split that cost too.

How much experience do you have as a pilot?

I currently have just over 150 hours of flying experience. That translates to about 200 flights and 450 landings. Usually at around 150 – 200 hours, pilots start their journey to become an instructor if they choose that path.

This question is usually asked from me by family and friends to determine how safe it is to fly with me. Currency, or how often you fly is actually a better question. So far this year I have done 25 flights which is a very good start for the year.

Funnily the statistics show that most pilots who die have around 400 – 500 hours. The young and inexperienced pilots and the old and wise ones seem to survive. I believe it has a lot to do with complacency and risk-taking when people get a bit too much confidence.

Have you ever had an accident or close call?

Fortunately not and I would like to keep it that way.

Our training as pilots is a lot about how to recognise potential danger and to mitigate it early. For example when coming in for a landing and getting hit by a strong gust of wind – We are trained to power on and go around. In 5 min when you come back to try it again the situation will probably be better.

Most accidents with landing happen when pilots try to salvage a bad situation instead of just going around – things usually go from bad to worse. Youtube is full of examples where a simple go-around would have been all that was needed to land safely. (Example 1 Example 2)

Weather is another hazard where you can get easily caught out. When I was a newly licensed pilot I was on a cross country flight when the cloud descended on me very quickly. It was terrifying.

I calmed myself and thought back to my training where we had simulated the situation – Wings level, trust your instruments not your senses, fly the plane – 180 degree turn if you can and when you have things under control ask for help.

I did all that and radioed Helsinki air traffic control – they found me on the radar and gave me vectors back to my airport. It was a beautiful moment when I saw my airport.

Now I would hopefully not even find myself in that situation because I have taken the time to learn better how the weather works here and what indicators lead to that phenomenon.

Situational awareness is also very important – when we fly we are always looking out for other aircraft and listening to the radio when they report their location.

When we land at remote airports we take great care to check the runway for animals and other obstructions.

Do the planes you fly have insurance?

Yes, in order for aircraft to legally fly in Finland, Aircraft need to have insurance, just like cars. The insurance has two parts; One part covers the possible people and property damaged and the other part covers the aircraft hull. How much you insure the aircraft hull for is negotiable but the other part is not.

What happens if we lose the engine, do we drop out of the sky?

Losing an engine in a Cessna due to mechanical failure is almost unheard of. The engines are simple and reliable, with a lot of redundancy built-in.

The leading cause of engines to stop in-flight is fuel starvation caused by pilots not putting enough gas in the tank. We had a case about 15 years back in Finland – the pilot landed on the highway. I personally am quite paranoid of this situation and travel with extra fuel on top of the mandatory 45 min reserve fuel.

When aircraft lose their engine they become gliders. The glide ratio for a Cessna 172 is 9:1 (if up 1 km high you can glide for 9 km).

As pilots, we do a lot of training for this situation despite how rare it is. During my training, my instructor would often reduce the aircraft power to idle and tell me to find somewhere to land. We would simulate the approach down to about 500 feet.

As I fly I am always looking out for places to land if we would lose an engine. Finland has a lot of good fields.

Even most controlled crashes into forest or water are survivable – but I would still take the field or highway over the forest or lake any day.

Where did you learn to fly and how long did it take to get your license?

I studied with Aeropole at Malmi Airport in Finland. They are a very professional and highly regarded school. I was taught by two Instructors who now fly for the airlines and one retired Finnish military fighter pilot. The main reason I went for Aeropole was that they did all the training in English and they had full-time instructors who were easy to schedule.

I trained on a modern Diamond DA40 NG. My license cost me about €25K. I also obtained a Night Flight rating.

With the clubs you can usually get a Private Pilot’s licence for around €10K and depending on the club the training can be quite good.

I flew solo for the first time after 27 flights and got my license with a bit over 45 hours of training. It took me a year to study and pass all the exams and do the flight training.

What is required to keep your Pilot’s license valid?

The license is valid forever but you need to keep the ratings valid. I have a Single Engine piston rating which allows me to fly all small aircraft with one engine. I get my rating renewed every 2 years and I need to fly at least 12 hours in the same year I get my rating renewed. It is renewed by doing a practical test with an instructor or examiner.

On top of this, I need to keep a valid medical certificate. Now I am over 40 it needs to be renewed every 2 years.

To carry passengers I need to have done 3 landings in the last 3 months.

Do you own your own plane?

No, but I would like to one day.

The big challenge of owning a plane is being able to afford the upkeep. You can buy planes for as low as €20-40K but be forking out €10-20K a year in fixed costs (maintenance, repairs, insurance, storage etc.). Engine and Propeller overhauls when the engine has reached the end of its life (1500-2000 hours) can easily set you back €30-50K.

I am a member of a great club and we have about 250 members to share the costs with. The downside is the availability of the aircraft at popular times like evenings and weekends.

Where do you usually fly?

I love flying all around Finland. Tampere, Turku, Hanko, Lappeenranta, Jyvaskyla, Pori and all the little airports in between. I have not flown to Estonia or Sweden before but will try it at some point.

A very easy flight which I often do with friends is off the coast of Helsinki. Sometimes it is a little bumpy but it is very scenic.

Is flying expensive?

Yes. Even with the clubs which are not allowed to make a profit, the hourly rental rates can be in the hundreds.

The reason for this is the fixed costs (mentioned above), and the fuel costs. Most of the old planes run on special aviation 100LL fuel which here in Finland is €2,50 a litre. They are burning 30-40 litres per hour.

Maintenance can cost as much as €250 for a mechanic on certified aircraft. All parts are also certified and tracked by individual serial numbers to ensure their authenticity. It’s a paperwork nightmare for the poor people involved but this is how it works with certified aircraft.

Some clubs buy new planes like the Diamond DA40 that I trained on. They run on Jet A1 (airliner fuel) which is around €1,08 a litre but then you need to take a loan from the bank for €500K to buy the plane – These planes cost so much new usually due to the difficult manufacturing process, high certification cost and low volumes.

The workaround to make flying cheaper is to fly shorter flights and share the costs friends and other pilots. Some pilots also pull gliders and take skydivers as a way to keep their hobby affordable.

What preparation do you need to do before a flight?

Before a flight, I start with performing a “Weight and Balance” calculation based on the people and fuel we need to carry. I usually like to carry a couple of hours of fuel for safety even if doing short flights.

I then check the weather and calculate the performance of the aircraft (Density altitude, how much runway we need, Crosswind, climb rate etc.). Then I check the airport notifications (Notams) and look at the route for any restrictions or obstacles and plan the altitudes we will fly at.

Then where needed, I log a flight plan or any other mandatory notifications.

Then I untie the plane and do a detailed inspection, refuel, prep the cockpit and brief the passengers.

For short flights it usually takes me 60 min to prepare for the flight and 30 minutes after for paperwork, cleaning and tieing down the aircraft.

For longer flights, it can take up to 2 hours to prepare, depending on if I am doing it old school with paper maps, or using flight software which makes the planning faster.

What Mandatory documentation is required for the Aircraft and Pilot?

Each Aircraft needs to have the following documentation:

  • Airworthiness Certificate
  • Registration Certificate
  • Radio Station License
  • Operating Handbook (POH)
  • Weight and Balance statement
  • A Noise Certificate
  • An Insurance Certificate
  • A detailed Logbook which is filled in after each flight

There are also very detailed maintenance logs kept for the aircraft right back to when it was being tested by the factory after manufacture. These documents are usually kept by the Maintenance organization responsible for taking care of the aircraft.

The pilot must carry the following:

  • Personal Detailed Logbook filled in after every flight
  • Pilot Licence which lists ratings and their validity
  • Aircrew Medical Certificate
  • Current Maps in either digital or paper format

 

What do you like about flying?

I am still as fascinated today as I was as a kid about how planes fly. I love the freedom of soaring over the forests and fields and seeing the lakes and islands from the air.

It’s also fun managing the cockpit, navigating, and communicating with the other pilots. Sometimes there is a lot to do and it definitely keeps my mind active.

 

What are your flying goals?

I also really enjoy watching other people discover the joy of flight. That is one of the reasons I want to become an instructor.

When I was younger I wanted to become a pilot but I got busy raising kids and trying to survive. Only in my mid 30’s did I get to follow that dream. It’s not practical now for me to dream of becoming an airline pilot but I intend to take my flying as far as I can.

Most pilots see instructing as a means to getting experience for the airlines but I want to do it because I feel passionate about it. When I have sufficient hours I will start a course with my club to become an instructor.

My goal is to try to get 50 hours of flying this year which will give me enough hours to move towards instructing.

I would also like to get an instrument rating (flying in clouds) and learn to fly a floatplane.