Tuesday, March 31, 2015

New Zealand, Day Two, Taupo and Napier

Huka Falls near Taupo

Craters of the Moon Thermal field

Waipunga Falls

Day two, saw us continuing down the "Thermal Explorer Highway," to Taupo, then on to the Pacific coast and Napier, where NZ's wine country begins.  Lake Taupo is absolutely gorgeous and is a huge lake nested in the center of North Island.  This drive through the interior of North Island is called the Thermal Explorer highway because of the geologic nature of the land.  Some areas are very "young" in a geological sense, only 150,000 years old.  From Rotorua on past Taupo are many areas where thermal activities like geysers and steam can be seen emitting from the earth.  We stopped and toured the "Craters of the Moon," in Taupo and because of our time table were not able to see the geyser, nor the Volcanic Valley of Waimangu, though we did stop at the center there and thoroughly enjoyed the drive, after which we were able to reconnect on our scenic drive to Napier.  
This was a drive though plains and mountains, beautifully scenic.  We saw a scenic overlook and pulled in surprised to see the beautiful Waipunga Falls.  We did not know that the scenic overlook was actually overlooking these falls.  It was a delightful discovery.  
Views of Lake Taupo
Our trusty "Britz" Explorer

Aotearoa, The land of the Long White Cloud, Day One

Flag of New Zealand

Aotearoa, is the Māori name for New Zealand.  It literally means "The Land of the Long White Cloud.". To the right is the flag of New Zealand which features a depiction of the Southern Cross, which is only visible near or south of the Equator.

The date line on this blog says March 31st, but it is actually the morning of April 1st (no fooling).  When I finally went to sleep last night, it was the end of the longest day for me.  It started Sunday prior to my flight aboard Air New Zealand flight 1 (I like the simple numbering system) that departed LAX at 10 pm Sunday night, March 29th.  After a 13 hour flight we  landed on Tuesday morning, March 31st having crossed the international date line. 
Surprisingly, my travel companion, my son-in-law Tanner and were not weary and after getting checked out in our "camper van," we set out.  Although Auckland is an exciting place, we were south of town near the airport and our goal was to see the country side and arrive in Wellington on the south end of North Island, by Friday to catch the ferry across the Cook Strait for our ultimate destination; the Omaha Fighters Air Show in Blenheim.
My travel companion, my son-in-law, Tanner and I
prepare to head out in our "camper van," after getting
"checked out" in it and watching a video about driving
in NZ (left side of the road, and right side driver's seat.

Mount Maunganui

Some of the extraordinary flora on North Island.

Thermal Waters in Rotorua

Saturday, March 28, 2015

New Zealand

Going to New Zealand has long been a "bucket list" item for me.  This year I am finally going to do it.  I had added motivation after coming across an article in an aviation magazine that featured a most unusual air show,  the Omaka Classic Fighters Air show.  I was intrigued immediately, and was surprised to learn that it was held in New Zealand!  The air show takes place in Blenheim, on the northern part of South Island.  It is held every two years.   I missed the show in 2013, so I made plans to attend the show this year, over the Easter week end, APR 3-5th.  
The venue is in the Marlborough region, which stretches across the north-east corner of the South Island of New Zealand. 

Blenheim, a town of some 27,000 sits in the heart of wine country.  

So, off I go.  I plan to arrive in Auckland several days prior to the show and drive the length of North Island on the east side to Wellington.  There I will take the inter island ferry to Picton, which is a short drive from Blenheim. 

I will update this blog as I can with photos and stories of my Kiwi adventure as I can.  

Here is the link to the airshow.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pilots and Mental Health

Photo by Juergen Lehle ( 
The unbelievable events of the recent Germanwings crash has suddenly made an issue of pilots and their mental health.  Even though Captains are required to submit to an FAA medical examination twice a year, they are not required to undergo psychiatric evaluations.

So this begs the question, especially to non pilots and the general air traveling public; "How safe are we from suicidal pilots?  

I can only respond from my point of view and my over thirty years of flying, sixteen as a commercial airline pilot.  I can also say that here in the USA, because of the way that pilots train, there are many ways that a mentally ill pilot will be "weeded out" so to speak.

In the USA, pilot training requires a lot of individual expense unless you trained in the military.  There is a very tough thresh hold to cross to be a successful military pilot. Moreover, peer reviews and constant testing and extremely comprehensive annual medical exams work well to screen any potential problems.  Also, if a pilot is seen as "troubled" by a peer or has been or is going through a tough time in his life, they are grounded by their commanding officer until cleared by medical authorities or sufficient time has passed. Military pilots are, in my humble opinion, the most mentally disciplined individuals that I have ever worked with.  Up until about ten years ago, a majority of airline pilots came from military back grounds.  This has changed as the military has downsized and military pilot production has decreased as commercial airline  pilot demand has increased.

So what about private sector trained pilots?
Well, let me say this.  In my experiences, these pilots are technically as talented, if not more so in the ways of commercial civilian flying than some ex-military pilots.  Consider that most of them had to be instructor pilots somewhere along their path to becoming an airline pilot. In teaching, there is much learning.  One becomes quite adept at judging, not just performance and proficiency, but character and mental toughness.  Evaluations are written after each flight, and each student is talked about among instructors.  Recommendations are made and "ups" and "downs" are given.  As a student progresses, he or she is evaluated every step of the way.  Someone with mental health issues is going to eventually be exposed.

Am I saying that it is a perfect system?  No.  Mental health is something that can be developed afterwards or be very subtle.  My point of distinction here is the difference between the way that many European and other countries develop pilots.  Since many other countries (not all, of course) lack a strong general aviation sector like the USA's, many non-USA airlines are forced to have what is referred to as "ab Initio" programs.  This is where they basically take someone who has never flown and start them "from the beginning," hence the term ab initio.  They are usually persons who have expressed an interest in flying and then are tested for their aptitude.  

Andreas Lubitz, the young co-pilot believed to have caused Tuesday's Germanwings plane crash, started flying as a teenager in gliders as part of a club.  In 2007 he graduated from high school and was accepted as a Lufthansa trainee the following year, enrolling at the company's training school in Bremen. Lufthansa said Mr Lubitz had flown a total of 630 hours before Tuesday's fatal crash

I am certain that the Lufthansa training is very rigorous.  This is not meant to disparage nor diminish their program.  But, it was all "in house."  There were vested interests in seeing this guy succeed.  A lot of company money was being spent.  MR Lubitz had no skin in the game, so to speak.  His investment was not his hard earned money, but his time, intellect and most likely an obligation to the stay with the company after becoming a first officer. Though realistically, no one really quits a dream job like this in Germany.  If he had spent his own money, time and effort flying in general aviation, building up his time, there would have been ample opportunities for his illness to be discovered.  Yes, perhaps he would have used a Cessna 172 for his suicide, but only himself, or a max of three passengers would have died, not 150 people.  Lufthansa did contract out basic beginning training to schools in the USA, but the advanced training was in Germany.  He was flying as a first officer with 630 total hours!  I don't know how many of those were spent being observed in a training environment,  but it's likely that less than a third were in training as you tend to accumulate your time after getting on bigger equipment flying longer legs.  Today, in the USA, a pilot must have 1500 hours before getting hired with any airline.    
I defer the details of mental health issues and suicides to the experts,  but in my observations, young men and women that I have flown with are committed, professional and seeking to advance what they view as the career of a lifetime.  They've invested heavily in their profession and take their job very seriously.  

So, should you be afraid to fly on a non-USA airline?  I still submit that the most dangerous part of flying on a commercial airliner is your drive to the airport.