On a Wing and a Prayer

A series of grave failures and flaws have been exposed in a new Ministry of Transportation report on ultralight aviation in Israel. The report, signed by the chief air safety investigator, attorney Yitzhak Raz, examined the background conditions that led to the fatal accident from last January at the Reshafim landing strip, in which pilot Eitan Gedalizon, former director general of Tel Hai College, was killed in the ultralight plane crash.

According to the findings of the report, the accident at Reshafim and an accident two weeks later at Gan Yoshiya are clear examples of the huge gap between the performance of ultralight aircraft and the knowledge, experience and skill of those who fly them.

The report notes that, "while the aircraft have become more complex, with far better performance and with flight characteristics more suited to general aviation," hardly anything has been done to suit the pilots to the aircraft.

There are more than 450 pilots in the Israeli Ultralight Association, some of them with a professional background in aviation that they acquired in the air force or commercial companies - and some of them amateur pilots, with only ultralight plane experience.

"The huge difference constitutes the two extremes of the spectrum and explains the need for adapting the qualification, training and refresher courses to the pilots' professional flight experience," said Raz. Basic knowledge: The basic knowledge for many of the pilots does not reach the minimum in the areas of standard familiarity with the performance of the plane and the understanding of the way to calculate weight and balance, take-off and landing distances, fuel amounts, navigation preparedness and systems structures.

Pilot training: Pilot training is done at a small number of schools and sometimes by private instructors, after the owner of the plane and his instructor have presented a syllabus and received approval for it from the licensing department.

"Examination of the syllabi shows differences among the syllabi that are studied and gaps in the topics of instruction," states the report. "It is essential to re-think the material that is studied and to supervise the schools. The length of pilot training is very short and is derived from the conditions that prevailed 20 years ago or more, which is not sufficient today for the training of an amateur pilot who at some stage is supposed to fly an advanced plane."

Instruction: The instruction in the training courses is not sufficient in its extent, content and level. "There is room for examining the creation of advanced courses for enrichment in various areas," according to the report

Instructors and examiners: One of the key points in the training and the flight level of ultralight pilots is the list of instructors and examiners, they way they are qualified, the maintenance of their standing and the supervision of them. When looking at who the instructors and examiners are, it is easy to form the impression, as the report puts it, "that there is no common denominator or compulsory framework for qualifying instructors and examiners - there are those who have come from the air force or commercial aviation and there are those who have been licensed with hardly any practical learning."

"There is no proper supervision of the way the instructors carry out their work, there is no review of the material that is studied, the teaching methods, the extent and the efficacy," said Raz. "Until recently, there was no required instructors' forum or examiners' forum and not enough has been done for the cross-fertilization of the two with respect to methods and means. The meetings with the instructors show that there are different approaches and significant differences, which have a long-term effect."

In this area, the office of the chief air safety investigator intends to examine the connection between pilots who have been in accidents and serious incidents where they are to blame, and the instruction they received at school, the teachers and the examiners.

Continued testing: Ultralight pilots are required to pass tests of their competence every two years. "Currently, there is no follow-up and there is no enforcement, so that in fact most of the pilots do not take the required tests of their competence or this is done for the sake of appearances. In this area the Civil Aviation Authority currently has no effective mechanism for enforcement and it is possible that it is necessary to find solutions, such as annual competency tests, free or for a symbolic fee to the association," states the report.

Apprenticeship: The population and nature of the ultralight pilot community and the nature of its makeup, says the report, is eminently suited to the development of an apprenticeship approach.

"It is necessary to find a way to give apprenticeship opportunities to pilots who show an interest in this and who would like to fly from time to time with more professional and experienced pilots. Currently there is sometimes a parallel informal relationship between plane owners who fly with their friends and, ostensibly, receive lessons. However, it is necessary to distinguish between orderly instruction and apprenticeship."

Flight culture: The Civil Aviation Authority and the population of pilots, according to Raz, have not seen to the development of a culture of professional and disciplined flying.

"There are differences and large gaps among the pilots and there is not yet sufficient crystallization to achieve that goal," he said. "The way the pilots are scattered all over the country makes this crystallization and the creation of a fitting culture of flying difficult, and therefore ways should be sought to create this."

Airmanship: A concept that expresses "the combination of skills, standards, values and above all a comprehensive understanding of flying, in accordance with the circumstances, the conditions and the mission. Most amateur pilots lack airmanship, which is the 'spice' of flying," according to the report.

Retraining for an advanced aircraft: Under flight regulations, a pilot who has qualified for a certain plane must go through only a small number of hours of retraining to fly a different plane from the same group. However, in ultralight aviation, the differences between the types of planes can be "tremendous," according to the report.

The ultralight group includes both simple planes made of a maze of pipes with a tiny display of instruments and advance aircraft that are superior in their quality and systems to general aviation airplanes.