The FAA sent a letter on December 17 warning charter broker BlackBird Air that pilots using the company’s online platform and app to fly passengers under Part 91 “are holding out and thus are engaged in common carriage.” The agency said it is planning to investigate BlackBird’s activities and possibly also pilots flying for BlackBird. In response, BlackBird has “paused” this feature of its offerings.
San Francisco-based BlackBird Air is primarily a charter broker, but also offers customers the option to hire a commercial pilot and lease an airplane to travel to a destination, all under Part 91. According to Crunchbase, BlackBird has raised $15 million in venture capital funding. BlackBird’s website homepage advertises: “Defy Gravity. Rent a plane and go anywhere. How it works: BlackBird helps you fly over traffic by connecting you with planes and pilots, bringing you true freedom of flight.”
The FAA doesn’t agree with BlackBird that this kind of operation is not a charter, and it said that the company and/or pilots must obtain a Part 119 certificate to transport people or property for hire or compensation.
According to an FAA spokesman, “We haven’t taken actions in relation to BlackBird per se, but we alerted pilots that they could be violating the regulations if they’re not operating under a certificate issued under Part 119.”
In the letter sent to BlackBird attorney Roy Goldberg, the agency’s Office of the Chief Counsel, Enforcement Division made a case that BlackBird’s pilot-hire and airplane-lease operation under Part 91 fits all the criteria that make an operation subject to requiring a Part 119 certificate and operating under Part 135 charter regulations.
For its part, BlackBird had sent a letter on June 10 to the FAA outlining its business plan, explaining that it facilitates its customers with “leasing an aircraft and…separately hiring a commercial pilot to fly the aircraft the user has leased.” Because, BlackBird wrote, it doesn’t “own, manage, or maintain the aircraft and does not employ pilots…” and the customer selects the aircraft and pilot separately, “operational control of the aircraft remains with the user at all times.” In the FAA letter, the agency wrote that “BlackBird represents that it only facilitates the agreements, processes payments, and provides customer support to all three parties (user, i.e., person leasing the aircraft and hiring the pilot; pilot; and aircraft lessee).”
According to the FAA, BlackBird, itself, outlined the agency's criteria for determining whether an operator must hold Part 119 certification. From the December 17 FAA letter: “As BlackBird noted in its [June 10] letter, to determine whether common carriage is present, the FAA assesses whether there is: (1) a holding out of a willingness to (2) transport persons or property (3) from place to place (4) for compensation.”
The FAA explained that BlackBird easily met the last three criteria, but “holding out” was subject to more discussion. The FAA letter went on: “We have little trouble concluding that the pilots listed on BlackBird’s pilot database selected by the user are transporting persons or property, from place to place, for compensation. Despite BlackBird’s assertion that the pilots are not transporting persons or property, it is clear that they are being hired for that very purpose. In addition, as BlackBird concedes, the pilots are being compensated for the flight service (whether the money comes directly from the lessee or through the BlackBird platform). That leaves only the issue of holding out.”
That BlackBird and its pilots are holding out is supported, the FAA claimed, by two legal interpretations involving aviation ride-sharing providers AirPooler and FlyteNow.
Essentially, because BlackBird’s online and app platform is available to anyone and pilots on the platform [from the FAA letter] “are available and willing to transport passengers who solicit pilot services through the platform…A pilot's participation in the BlackBird platform amounts to holding out a willingness to transport persons from place to place for compensation and requires certification under part 119 prior to conducting the operation.”
BlackBird doesn’t agree with the FAA’s interpretation. In its June 10 letter, the company had explained its operation thusly: “[u]nlike air carriers, BlackBird is not building an operation based on crews, aircraft, or routes. BlackBird is building an infrastructure that supports all of general aviation, which includes air carriers and operators." In the December 17 letter, the FAA elaborated, "BlackBird manages two databases: one for aircraft available for lease and a second one for commercial pilots (described as ‘independent person[s] with a specific skill set [pilot]).’ BlackBird uses the databases as part of a marketplace service that serves as an aggregator of information and connects third-party service providers (the pilots) with users seeking to charter an aircraft or purchase a ticket on a direct air carrier. BlackBird asserts, ‘the ultimate business goal is to create an online platform that surfaces the many options available to users; [and] NOT to provide air transportation.’”
Asked about the FAA’s warning in the December 17 letter, BlackBird founder and CEO Rudd Davis told <strong>AIN</strong> that the company is pausing its Part 91 pilot-hire, airplane-lease operations. Davis sent this statement to AIN: “We disagree with the FAA’s interpretation and look forward to continued discussions on this topic, given that their guidance isn’t law. BlackBird is the largest digital aviation marketplace in the world and the one place travelers can find and instantly book all private flight options. [Part] 91 operations are the minority of our business and for the moment we will pause that aspect of the marketplace and continue to provide charter flights and individual seats on private [Part 135] aircraft.”
The National Air Transportation Association has focused increasingly on the illegal charter issue, and NATA COO Timothy Obitts sent this statement to <strong>AIN</strong>: “We thank the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of General Counsel, Enforcement Division for the well thought out and articulate letter to BlackBird Air regarding non-part 135 operators' use of their platform. This letter is clear guidance from the FAA and confirms NATA’s understanding of the regulations. We hope that pilots pay heed to the FAA’s guidance. NATA, along with its Illegal Charter Task Force, will continue to work with the FAA on this very important safety issue.”
The FAA letter concluded that BlackBird pilots are holding out and “engaged in common carriage. Because these operations are subject to Part 119 certification, a pilot who holds an airline transport pilot or commercial pilot certificate must obtain and hold a certificate issued under part 135 or the pilot must be employed by a company operating the flight that is certificated under part 119. Accordingly, please expect further investigative activity into BlackBird's operations, particularly regarding its pilot database. In addition, we would be interested in learning of any action you intend to take in view of the jeopardy facing pilots who participate in BlackBird’s service.”
The BlackBird website no longer promotes the original pilot-hire, airplane-lease concept and now offers potential customers the opportunity to book flights with certified Part 135 providers, to “... fly over traffic by connecting you with charter operators.”
Laser attacks against aircraft are a major problem. There were over 7000 laser strikes against aircraft in the past year. Increasing the threat is the easy availability of hand-held lasers and the increased power of modern lasers.
Laser strikes have the potential to distract and blind pilots, and a solution is essential to aviation safety.
Dr. George Palikaras is a scientist who saw the need to protect pilots' eyes from laser illumination. His company, Metameterial Technologies, has developed a solution, and protection is available now.
There's a famous expression, "When one door closes, another one opens". That's certainly been my experience, although it didn't always look rosy when I was in the middle of a situation.
I was furloughed from United on April 1, 1981 (April Fool's Day). It was just after midnight, and I turned in my cockpit key, my company ID, and my flight manuals, and I was unemployed. Job prospects were miserable. The only pilots who had gotten work were the ones who were furloughed first. We had to sell our home, and moved out on our wedding anniversary. It was tough. A door had closed.
Through networking, I had gotten in touch with another furloughed pilot and heard that Lockheed was hiring. I interviewed and was hired for a job no one could tell me about until I had a security clearance. So I dutifully went into work every day and sat in a processing office waiting for my security clearance to come through. And I waited. Although I was getting paid - about the same as what I made at United - I hated the one-hour drive in California traffic, and I missed flying.
One day I came across an article in the Air Force Times about the Palace Recall Program, and I called the number listed. I told the person that I had left the Air Force almost four years earlier, and I was interested in geetting back in. He said, "You're not going to get in unless you're a fighter pilot". I said I was, and he let me apply. A total of 246 officers applied for the program, and 13 were accepted. I was one of them.
I ended up flying for the entire time I was furloughed, earned the Tactical Air Command Instructor Pilot of the Year Award, and eventually became a Squadron Commander. It was great, and it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been furloughed. A door had opened.
I've found this "door closes-door opens" numerous times in my career.
Hello APG fans! I am Captain Dana and would like to share a bit of my background with all of you. My first logged flight was on my seventeenth birthday in August 1987. Ever since I can remember as a child I always loved airplanes and flying. I graduated with my degree in aviation management from a small college in southeastern Massachusetts with a fairly large aviation program. While going to school I was hired by ACME JR in Boston as a customer service agent, eventually moving up to a supervisory role. Then I was offered a position with ACME and have worked in baggage service, ticketing, gates, reservations, ramp operations, supervisor, customer service operations instructor and Mad Dog systems instructor. While working full time I completed all my flight training all the way through flight instructor and started teaching on the side, bought a partnership in a PA28-161 (Piper Warrior), flew parachute jumpers and eventually became a corporate pilot earning my type rating in a Cessna Citation. I then took a position with ACME JR ATL leaving my career at ACME behind to fly the EMB120 and the CRJ200. Now I am fortunate to be back at ACME as a Mad Dawg pilot, which was my goal, since it is the aircraft I spent 3 years teaching and with the company I’ve spent most of my career. I have logged time over my flying career in 31 different civilian aircraft. I still currently hold a CFI/II and love to share my wisdom, experience and knowledge of my aviation career with anyone who listens. Thank you all for supporting Jeff, the APG crew and APG community. Fly safe.
Nigeria Airways Flight 2120 was a chartered passenger flight from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to Sokoto, Nigeria on 11 July 1991, which caught fire shortly after takeoff from King Abdulaziz International Airport and crashed while attempting to return for an emergency landing, killing all 247 passengers and 14 crew members on board. The aircraft was a Douglas DC-8 operated by Nationair for Nigeria Airways. Flight 2120 is the deadliest accident involving a DC-8 and remains the deadliest aviation disaster involving a Canadian airline.
The aircraft departed King Abdulaziz International Airport bound for Sadiq Abubakar III International Airport in Sokoto, but problems were reported shortly after takeoff. Unknown to the crew, the aircraft had caught fire during departure, and though the fire itself was not obvious since it started in an area without fire warning systems, the effects were numerous. Pressurization failed quickly, and the crew was deluged with nonsensical warnings caused by fire-related circuit failures. In response to the pressurization failure, Allan decided to remain at 610 metres (2,000 ft), but the flight was cleared to 910 metres (2,990 ft) as a result of the controller mistaking Flight 2120 for a Saudia flight that was also reporting pressurization problems due to Captain Allan mistakenly identifying as "Nationair 2120" rather than "Nigerian 2120", a mix-up that lasted for three minutes but was ultimately found not to have had any effect on the outcome. Amidst this, First Officer Davidge, who had been flying C-GMXQ out, reported that he was losing hydraulics. The crew only became aware of the fire when a flight attendant rushed into the cockpit reporting "smoke in the back ... real bad". Shortly afterwards, Davidge reported that he had lost ailerons, forcing Allan to take control; as Allan took over, the cockpit voice recorder failed. At this moment, the air traffic controller realized that Flight 2120 was not the Saudia flight and was in trouble, and directed them towards the runway. Allan subsequently contacted air traffic control multiple times, among his pre-mortem communications being a request for emergency vehicles.
When the aircraft was about 18 kilometres (11 mi; 9.7 nmi) from the airport and at an altitude of 671 metres (2,201 ft), a point where the landing gear could conceivably have been lowered, it began to experience an inflight breakup and a number of bodies fell from it, indicating that the fire by that time had consumed, at least partially, the cabin floor. Just 2,875 metres (9,432 ft) short of the runway, the melting aircraft finally became uncontrollable and crashed, killing whatever portion of the 261 occupants on board—including 247 passengers—had not already suffocated or fallen out of the aircraft. Nine of the fourteen crew were identified, but "no attempt was made to identify the passengers".
Last year found me teaching at Metro State and working on my podcast and my script. It was actually a fairly fun schedule, with interviews for each Monday episode and educational information for each mid-week episode.
Whenever I interviewed someone who had written a book, I would read the book before interviewing them. Altogether, I read about 30 books in 2019.
In 2019 I started doing some speaking engagements. So far, all of the appearances have been pro bono, but I'm hoping to start expanding to paid venues. My topics are "Air Combat Lessons in Leadership and Life", "Layover Security for Travelers" and "Airline Safety Improvements From Accident Investigations". In 2019 I started writing and revising books to accompany those presentations.
Podcast guests Jason Harris and Lee Ellis have been incredibly helpful in guiding me on my journey. I met up with Jason at a local Denver meeting of the National Speakers Association, and Lee and I got together later in the year when he made a speaking appearance in Denver. Lee has been incredibly helpful in referring podcast guests to me, and his presentation left he huge audience mesmerized.
In February Nick Hinch told me that United was hiring ground instructors, and I applied. I was accepted, and started Basic Indoctrination training, along with 40 new-hire pilots, at the beginning of April. I was put on the B737 fleet, and my job is to be a Groundschool Instructor, teaching systems and procedures on the B737 NG. Although I initially had hoped to go to the B777, I am thrilled on be on the 737. I get to work with new-hire pilots and new Captains, and I get to influence these pilots for the rest of their careers.
United, it turned out, is a fantastic airline, totally changed from the toxic environment that existed in 2004. I attribute this change to the leadership under CEO Oscar Munoz, who is a breath of fresh air compared to the previous CEOs.
At United, I'm working full-time, so it's sometimes a bit of a challenge deconflicting my United schedule with my Metro teaching schedule. But I love both jobs.
In May the WGF Veterans Writing Group invited me to "pitch" my screenplay to eight Hollywood producers. The outstanding mentoring I had received throughout the previous year had really helped me refine my script to something I could be proud of. It was a fun experience, but I didn't get any nibbles at that time.
But my son Steve met another producer at the Austin Film Festival and mentioned my script, and the producer said he'd like to read it. So, hope springs eternal - Steve helped me put a final polish on the script and I sent it off shortly before Christmas. I'll be totally honest: it's not GOOD, it's GREAT!
Steve came out to Colorado in July and directed and produced the audio version of my book, Hamfist Over The Trail. He also produced the audiobook cover.
I did the narration, and it was certainly not a walk in the park! Altogether we spent five days recording, and then Steve spent a lot of time editing the file. He removed every audible breath and glitch and equalized the audio files. I think we ended up with a really great product. The audiobook is now being reviewed for release at ACX, and we hope to have it available to the public very soon.
As we start a new decade, I'd like to share my experiences of the last decade with you.
As I've mentioned in episode 300, my employment with Jet Airways in India ended toward the end of 2009. The Indian pilots were fully up to speed, and it was time for us expat pilots to leave. So there I was, 64 years old, unemployed, and no pension.
I filed to start drawing Social Security payments and started looking for work. As so many of our podcast guests have advised, networking is the key to finding employment. In my case, I recalled reading an update from a former United pilot in our retiree newsletter. He had mentioned that he had a job performing airline audits, and I contacted him to learn more. He put me in touch with the company he worked for, ARG/US Pros. Toward the end of 2009 I visited them for an interview, and they hired me.
In January 2010 I attended Auditor Training, and then went on my first assignment, to Japan, in February. One of the reasons the company sent me to Japan for a month - four audits - was because I mentioned in the interview that I spoke Japanese.
Each audit was five days long, and our team of five auditors (plus myself) would look at every area of an airline's operations, and debrief the airline CEO at the end of each day. On the weekends between each audit our team would work on our post-audit report and prepare for the next audit. During the first audit I mostly was observing, although toward the end I performed a lot of the auditing duties. For the last audit, I was "cleared solo" and operated by myself.
The audit process is called IOSA - IATA Operational Safety Audit - and during an audit the team uses an IATA (International Air Transport Association) checklist to look at everything an airline does, to determine if the airline conforms to the ISARPs (IATA Standards and Recommended Practices). There are over 1000 ISARPs the team examines. It's hard work.
For the next two years, I performed about an audit each month, and eventually became an audit team leader. Since I had studied Russian some 40 years earlier, I led a team to Moscow for a few weeks. By the end of the visit I was able to conduct the debriefs in Russian. Leading the team entailed planning for each audit and writing a detailed audit report at the end of each audit. It was a great experience, but I wanted to get a bit closer to airplanes.
In 2012, through networking with some of my former Jet Airways pilots, I heard that Boeing was looking for instructor pilots (IPs), and I applied. I went out to Seattle and interviewed, and was hired to be an IP on the new B787. I started as a contract employee on the anniversary of my United new-hire date, October 16th. I went through the 787 course as a student, took a check ride and received another type rating: B787. Then I went back through the course again as an instructor-trainee. Since the 787 was not yet flying, Boeing didn't have any real airline students, so three of us instructors would practice our teaching on each other. Two of us would play student while the other instructor would go over the planned lesson in the simulator, then we would each trade places. Finally the 787 was cleared to fly and we started getting real airline students.
I really enjoyed being back in a cockpit environment, but wasn't crazy about always being away from home. One day, a Boeing check airman told me that Omni Air International was looking for B777 IPs, and they were using the United simulators in Denver for their training. I applied to Omni, had a telephone interview with the Chief Pilot and the Director of Training, and was hired on a contract basis. So now I had two contract jobs: Boeing and Omni.
Omni was great with scheduling, giving me work assignments a month in advance. Boeing operated a bit differently. Typically, I would get a call saying I had a work assignment in two more days. Sometimes I could accept the assignment, but often it conflicted with my Omni commitment. After I turned down several assignments, Boeing advised me I was no longer a contract employee. So I was all-in on Omni.
Unfortunately, the United Training Center in Denver was getting busy with internal training, so Omni had to look elsewhere for simulators. Eventually, all of the Omni training was conducted at the Delta Airlines training center in Atlanta or in the Boeing training facility in Miami.
In 2016, again through networking, I heard that a training company in Tennessee, ARCS Aviation, was looking for a B777 Subject Matter Expert (SME) for some software development. I contacted the owner, and he drove up to Atlanta to meet me when I had finished an Omni simulator period. We hit it off, and I started doing consulting work for ARCS.
After a few years, Omni decided to use only their line pilots as simulator instructors, so we parted ways, and I spent all of my time as an SME, first on the B777, then the B787, then the B747. It was a great job that I could do at home, on my computer. Finally, the software programs were complete, and my work for ARCS was over.
In 2016 I started the Ready For Takeoff Podcast at the urging of an Omni pilot, Phil Pagoria, and my son Steve. Phil became one of my first guests on the podcast, and will make an appearance again soon! Steve walked me through everything I needed to do to produce a podcast, and has been my go-to person every time I need help.
In 2018 I heard from a friend, Nick Hinch (former RFT guest) that Wheels Up was looking for pilots. I hadn't flown in nine years, but had stayed current in simulators, and figured this would be my last chance to be employed as a pilot again. But, of course, my medical certificate had expired. So I made an appointment with my Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).
And I did something really stupid. For over 30 years, I had gone to the same AME, and every time on my application I had listed all of my visits to healthcare professionals since my previous visit (6 months earlier). And for some reason, I don't know why, I simply did the same thing. I listed all of my doctor visits since seeing him last. This is important: the form only asks for doctor visits in the last three years. But I foolishly listed all of them, and some from five, six or seven years earlier, were no one else's business, certainly not the FAA's.
My AME said he needed to send my information to the FAA, and the FAA Medical Department wanted some tests. Expensive tests, over $10,000 worth of tests. I saw the Wheels Up job disappearing, and asked the FAA if I could change my application from First Class medical to Third Class. No can do. Once you apply for a medical certificate, it must be either Approved or Denied. After many exchanges of letters, mine was Denied. After a Denial, an airman cannot get ANY medical certificate, including the new BasicMed. So, the only solo flying I can legally perform is in a glider, which does not require a medical certificate.
One of my first jobs when I had retired from United in 2005 had been teaching at Metropolitan State College of Denver, in their Aviation Department. In 2018 I visited them, now renamed Metropolitan State University of Denver, to see if they needed a classroom instructor. My timing was perfect, and I started teaching Fundamentals of Aviation and Basic Instrument Flight, two days each week, as a contract employee. Eventually, I became a full-time employee with the title of Lecturer, and I still teach courses two days every week.
In 2018 I was accepted to the Writers Guild of America Veterans Writing Project, and started working on a screenplay adaptation of my Hamfist novel series. (That's my son Steve sitting next to me in the first picture that comes up on that website).
In the next RFT episode I'll visit the year 2019.
Have a GREAT 2020!