Stephan Schwab's Personal Blog
A mindset is tough to change. It was formed over a significant length of time by being part of the surrounding culture, formal education and personal experience, interests, reading, etc. Over time experiences made are likely to more and more reinforce things thus creating a very clear and sense-making mindset - everything fits together for the person having it.
“You know what, Joe. What you believe in for the last 10 years has actually been proven wrong” is probably not a good start to change Joe’s mindset. That approach is likely to open up a battle. Even if Joe initially has asked someone to be influenced in order to learn about new ways of behaving or doing things.
With a slightly softer opening the battle may just be a struggle but a conflict will still be there. In the context of an organization not only Joe may struggle to change his behavior but also his colleagues. Within the group cross-influencing will also happen. On some days it all goes backwards, on others it seems that the mindset change leaps forward.
The more ingrained a certain mindset is, the longer it will be necessary to have some element that serves as a constant reminder for the need to change. Something like pain. Pain is a strong message. It’s meaning is: stop what you are doing. If you ignore the pain, it will become stronger and the meaning will be more like a last warning before breakdown.
Unfortunately there is something as an organizational pain killer. Chris Argyris in 1986 called it skilled incompetence. Those who are most likely to take it, probably at ever increasing dosage, is middle management. Not only are they medicating themselves, they are also distributing the drug and influence others to also take the same pills.
What we need in this situation is some sort of antidote to rid the organization from the pain killer medicine that has become poisonous.
That antidote may be visualization of all relevant process data and kanban boards to see and feel any process steps and states of work. However, the visualization and the message being shown is likely to be attacked once it gets too powerful or distributed too widely. People like to change other people but don’t like to be changed themselves. Once someone feels uncomfortable the bad message should go away. The person or group will reach for the pain killers and try harder to kill the pain. They are likely also to find an explanation for the issues they face by pointing somewhere outside their group - the enemy is somewhere out there.
So it becomes important to not prompt the use of a stronger dose of pain killers.
Kanban does not change anything from the outset. It is entirely possible to use kanban with a very complicated process with a lot of back and forth or whatever people decided to put into it. Kanban - or better called a simple value stream analysis - allows to observe and measure. It is the perfect tool to determine the current level of pain and pain killer dosage.
A kanban board visualizes how people work, what stations and process steps are involved to create something or get something done. People who are willing to look at it will eventually make discoveries - some earlier, others later. That way learning can happen, because the visualization provides quick feedback, which is essential for learning.
However, learning will only occur, if the dose of pain killers gets reduced. The challenge is to reduce it just a bit so that those with a low pain threshold will not start to scream and panic. Once they do it is likely that any change process will be stopped before it has actually started. So the goal in the first phase is basically to build up enough momentum, get enough people enlightened in order to build up their willingness to change.
Only a few weeks ago I started to enroll in a training class for the instrument rating. My goal is to extend my flying skills so that I am a bit less dependent on the weather. I don’t intent to fly in really bad weather. I can always wait an hour or two for the worse to move away.
However, as a VFR pilot one is quite limited. My last attempt to travel to Berlin shows that. It would have been a great and pleasant flight in blue skies over a thin overcast or broken cloud layer in probably FL75 (7,500ft). Passing those clouds would have taken maybe a minute for the Cirrus SR20 that I’m using.
First IFR flight
Earlier this week my instructor and I went for a short flight from our home base Egelsbach (EDFE) to Zweibrücken (EDRZ). The idea was to get to know how it feels passing through clouds and get an impression of flying an ILS (Instrument Landing System).
We filed our flight plan using the proposed routing from the EDFE website. As Egelsbach is VFR only we had to file what is called a Z flight plan. That’s one that starts out VFR and then you join the IFR system once ATC picks you up.
The proposed routing was RID Y163 ANEKI MANEM Z818 ZWN shown as the magenta line in the following map.
After we took off from runway 09 at Egelsbach and turned towards the visual reporting point KILO we called Langen RADAR to request IFR pickup. We were greeted and got “direct ZWN climb 3000 IFR starts when passing 2500”. So …. That was it?? The route actually flown is the blue line in the map above.
My instructor had told me that in real life controllers almost always give you a shortcut and you hardly ever have to fly the filed route which gets validated and has to be accepted by the EUROCONTROL computer system in Brussels. But skipping over 90% of the route for that flight was still a bit of a surprise.
It did make the flight a bit boring though… I had hoped for some more radio chatter with a number of instructions. All we got was a stepped climb to our filed flight level FL60 in 1000ft increments. At about 4500ft we got into the thin cloud layer and seconds later we were up in bright sunlight. Once we reached FL60 our flight path was a straight line to the ZWN VOR which also serves as the Initial Approach Fix (IAF) for the ILS at the destination airport.
Within reach of the ZWN VOR ATC cleared us for the ILS 03 and asked us to maintain FL60 for the time being. That was a good way to connect theoretical and practical knowledge. As we had been cleared for the ILS there was no need to ask for permission to start the descent once we were established on a part of the approach procedure. So we had to maintain FL60 until the ZWN VOR and right after passing it we were allowed to descent to 4000ft on track 217 (refer to the chart provided by the VATSIM community).
The autopilot was engaged the whole time so there was not much to do other than supervising what it does and to program the setup in the first step. Our aircraft made the turn towards the ILS localizer precisely at 11.9 NM from the VOR as laid out in the chart. Then it captured the localizer and glideslope and flew us down towards the runway. We had passed the clouds again, went through a few more pieces of cloud and were out in VMC at more or less 4000ft. A few seconds later the runway was in sight. At the decision altitude of 1370ft (that is 200ft above the runway elevation) we initiated the missed approach - we didn’t want to land there just use the ILS - and then canceled IFR for a VFR flight under the clouds back to Egelsbach.
When the aircraft is ahead of you
That flight was meant as an introduction. I did fly myself, manually and with the help of the autopilot, but many times I felt like the airplane was actually ahead of me and I were trying to catch up to it. When there is so much new in an already familiar activity all the new actions lead to an overload situation. Especially when I was riding along with the aircraft flying the ILS. As I’ve never done that before my instructor set up the system and I tried to follow what he was doing. I did manage to understand but always a bit too late.
There is a reason why about 50 hours of flight training are required to earn the instrument rating :-)
This week my schedule calls for some full day activities at a client in Berlin on Tuesday and some activities at another client near Remscheid on Wednesday and Thursday. I am based near Frankfurt. Berlin is to the far East from me and Remscheid to the far West of my position.
There are multiple options for being able to visit client companies that are located in different corners of Germany within the same week. I chose to invest in my capability to transport myself in a light aircraft for the reasons outlined in my writeup about business travel in light aircraft.
After regaining my basic pilot license earlier this year I was already able to take advantage of that capability on similar occasions. It is now two times that I had to see people at the two locations mentioned above within the same week. That resulted in three very pleasant flights each time.
But this week is likely going to be a bit different.
Aviation weather forecast for a flight from Frankfurt to Berlin
Today (Sunday) I’m looking at beautiful weather with some light cumulus clouds and good visibility. Perfect weather for flying VFR. However, the forecast for tomorrow tells a different story:
Early in the morning there will be a cover of low-level clouds all over. The image above depicts the forecast for a departure around noon and the 2 hours flight time to the destination. It appears that by noon the clouds might have disappeared mostly in the Frankfurt area but the low-level cloud cover will still exist all the way to Berlin.
The yellow line is set at 7500ft, which is my preferred en-route altitude going eastwards.
Being halfway still means you won’t make it
I have invested into my abilities as a pilot so that I can take advantage of quick, easy, and flexible air travel on my own schedule. The resulting capability is supposed to provide value to my business as a coach and also for my family and me as individual. (I won’t go into details now as it would dilute the point I’m trying to make.)
Piloting an aircraft is a bit different than driving a car. For pilots there are different licenses and ratings. A license is a permit to perform the basic activity (take off, fly around when the weather is good and land successfully). A rating is a permit to execute a special type of flight or use a special type of aircraft. An example for a special type of flight is a flight at night or in bad weather. An example of a rating to fly a certain type of aircraft, called a type rating, is the permit to fly eg. a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A340.
After the reactivation of my pilot license I am allowed to and able to fly light aircraft during day time in what is called VMC. The three letters stand for Visual Metrological Conditions and basically it means: stay away and out of the clouds, see where you are going and navigate by looking out.
It now appears that this basic ability is not enough as capability for performing my business trip to Berlin tomorrow. So in the end I’m not yet good enough and won’t make it.
Development of a capability means being in it for the long haul
Capabilities are not something anyone gets just so. Many capabilities are about something complex. It is not that someone learns something rather quick and then possesses a capability for all times to come. He has just acquired a certain skill for performing a certain type of task.
In my case I can fly an aircraft - I possess that skill. But I don’t have the capability for flexible air travel for business purposes - yet.
Here is a rough list of what is missing to gain and maintain the capability flexible air travel for business purposes:
- Instrument rating for flight at night and in bad weather
- Instrument rated aircraft
- Aircraft with protection against icing
- Have the aircraft stationed at an airport equipped for IFR flights at day and night
Those four things contribute to having the capability. The first one is a skill that requires an investment in learning. The second and third one refer to the proper equipment, which can be procured by purchase or lease. The fourth one is a question of choosing the proper location.
If I fail to provide any of these factors contributing to the capability, I will either have a degraded capability or won’t have it at all. How bad that is depends on how important the quality of the capability is to my business.
Acquiring a capability is a long and winding road
There is no best way to acquire a capability. There are many good ways to achieve the goal and there are many other factors, about which one doesn’t know much in the beginning, that lead to changes or even to the abandonment of the pursuit of the capability one was after in the first place.
Based on past experience and some common sense I know that I need an instrument rating to fly on a more stable schedule. Being limited to VMC operations it is likely that I will have to cancel flights, and therefore client visits, or seek a different means of transportation which may or may not be available or get me to the destination by the time required.
As of now I have access to an instrument rated aircraft that has no protection against icing. I know that this is a limitation for about half of the year as freezing levels will be rather low and without protection against icing I would not be able to climb through clouds. That means I know about a limitation that leads to a degraded quality of the capability. However, I may find that the remaining quality is still good enough. This is one of the known unknowns I may find out more about by performing experiments.
To mitigate the potential degration in quality of my capability I can acquire a more capable aircraft. That leads to more known unknowns. As of now I know the cost of flying. I pay a fixed amount per hour to the owner of the aircraft and I have permission to go on a multi-day trip paying just the time I actually run the engine. Unfortunately I already know too that I have a very sweet agreement that is extremely rare to find. So the solution to fulfill the requirement for a more capable aircraft is likely to purchase one or lease one. That in turn leads to a bag full of known unknowns ranging from questions about maintenance over operating costs to financial risk.
The best I can do is to acquire as much knowledge from as many sources as I can find in order to understand the problem better. That doesn’t tell me whether the capability is achievable for me or not. Nor does it help me to say whether having it actually benefits my business.
In the end I need to perform experiments that are suitable to answer a clearly stated question and control risk by some mitigation measures.
The acquisition of a capability is not a straight forward process. It is a long journey and once one has embarked on it one needs to be willing to be in it for the long haul. Results may show up rather late. The more one reflects on the experiences made, the better risk mitigation measures are, the better one is able to decide on go or no-go along the way.
At the very least one may learn that a different capability is needed - something one would have never discovered without starting the process in the first place. The latter is called serenpidity and is another important concept to embrace when dealing with known unknowns and unknown unknowns.
Agile Coaching is a powerful medicine for an organization and can cause serious side effects. The risks of applying it should be clearly understood.
That sentence should probably said at the beginning of every day an Agile Coach performs his work - basically written on the package as a warning.
The client doesn’t understand what he is getting himself into
Many organizations are used to employ temporary workers as specialists. They are sourced on the market by using the services of staffing agencies that have a huge database full of well educated and experienced people. That works usually quite good when looking for an additional programmer on a C# project or for finding a capable SQL database administrator.
At some point the temporary worker will show up and perform his duties as being asked to do. It is unlikely that he will get involved into anything outside his immediate tasks and he probably has learned a long time ago how to stay out of trouble: do your job and keep your head down.
Coaching includes challenging the client
A coach - it doesn’t matter which kind of coach it is - wants to help the client be successful in some way. When he helps the client to be successful the coach is successful.
Going along with the way things are will most likely not help the client much. Something is about to be challenged the moment the coach shows up. It is inevitable that some change will happen. Were that not the case, nobody would call in a coach. Help cannot be provided by not touching anything at all.
So the coach will look around, turn over the proverbial stones, ask questions and highlight facts that are probably hiding in plain sight. People may have been talking in the hallway for some time already. That activity might be seen by some as sneaking around, as putting his nose into someone else’s business. Others may even perceive that activity as a threat.
The organization has no experience with being coached
All these activities may not be at all what a specialist is supposed to do. They may be seen as overstepping boundaries. It may be seen as causing turmoil in the organization. Management may grow afraid and accuse the specialist, who to them has gone rogue, of disrupting the work of their people.
Some of that actually points to a learning disability. See chapter 2 of Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline for common signs of organizational learning disabilities.
It makes a difference who hired the coach
From my point of view a coach hired by a lower ranking manager is more likely to be seen as a specialist hired for a certain task than one who got hired by senior management. The lower ranking manager is more likely to have not understood what he is getting into. He may want to improve something in his own area of responsibility but doesn’t yet know that the root cause for his problem is beyond that. Now the coach figures this out and starts to nudge. Suddenly some fragile working agreements fall apart.
If the coach has been hired by senior management the issues will be discussed on that level. There are more changes to explain or it was kind of expected. Now it depends on the wisdom and selfconfidence of everybody whether the coach gets fired in order to “protect” the organization or the issues discovered get addressed to help the organization mature.
A single coach is challenged to mitigate side effects
In the case of an Agile Coach there is a technical and a psychological side. On the technical side, amongst other activities, new techniques are introduced, things are getting measured and made visible. On the psychological side, again amongst other activities, help to deal with the changes is offered.
If the same person tries to introduce change and tries to help those affected by it to deal with it, it is highly likely that they will blame the coach instead of developing a trust relationship with him. Eventually it will be only about who caused them pain and how to stop it by getting rid of the obvious reason for the pain. That’s a variant of shoot the messenger.
Pair coaching is more effective
Pair coaching with a partner who never introduces any changes whatsoever might be a good solution to that problem. It is that person who has access to those feeling threatened. He can build up a trust relationship by being the only who always has an open ear, shows deep empathy and understands their concerns. But as he also understands the reasoning behind the changes being introduced by the other he can help from the other side to make the transition to a different mindset and to a different way of working successful.
Essentially pair coaching is more effective as it helps to avoid setbacks or, in some cases, the total failure of the whole transition effort.
The forecast for Saturday and Sunday for the Eastern Alps and further on to Frankfurt looked not great. So we decided to head back home on Friday. The route was planned towards SASAL to cross over into Austria and then overfly the mountains via Mariazell, stay south of Linz and enter Germany shortly after for a landing at Mühldorf. There we wanted to have lunch and continue in the afternoon to Frankfurt.
I did file the VFR flight plan and after refueling we took off from Szeged (LHUD). Upon calling Budapest ATC they assigned us a transponder code and asked “what is your requested altitude” to which I responded “8500”. At the time of the flight there were two restricted areas on our route towards Lake Balaton. As I write this they have disappeared from the SkyDemon map. My inquiry to Budapest ATC about their status had been responded to with “not active”. It appears they have now been withdrawn completely.
We were climbing towards an area with some clouds and shortly after I took the picture were above them.
While getting closer to Lake Balaton they clouds stayed left of us.
And then the lake came into view.
A bit closer to the exit point SASAL Budapest ATC asked us “G-NI descend to 8000ft due to traffic”. We never saw the other aircraft in the clear sky. It must have passed above and behind us. I wanted to get back to my original altitude: “please confirm traffic is no factor” which was replied to with “traffic no factor. You can climb back to 8500”.
We overflew SASAL and contacted Wien. Radio communication in Austria is performed in English with just the small talk and “complicated questions” being in German. I mention this because in Germany on a FIS frequency it is mostly German. It does have a certain twist to hear German speaking Austrians communicate amongst themselves in English with the location names all being in German. Actually it is a good thing. That way foreign pilots passing through are not left out when it comes to situational awareness regarding the activity around them. With our British registered (G-…) aircraft probably nobody assumed I were speaking German neither :-)
But a slight problem showed up. There we were just past SASAL and ready to head to our next waypoint: the airport of Mariazell. We would not have been able to get over the clouds at FL85. Now what?
I didn’t want to go higher. The forecast had shown clouds over the mountains, although they were supposed to be a bit further south. I didn’t want to go lower neither, because I didn’t want to risk being in a narrow space between mountain tops and cloud base and then probably being forced into a valley.
So I turned north and asked the controller “can you coordinate with Wien to penetrate class C airspace for about 20 miles?” His reply was the frequency for the entity that owns the class C. A very friendly lady voice granted me permission to enter.
After traveling about 20 NM she said “G-NI climb and maintain 9000ft. Wien QNH 1012” followed by her question “when can you turn west?” I told her my next waypoint would be GISPO and I would advice shortly when able to turn.
Shortly after that conversation we saw a Lufthansa Airbus descend from left to right in front of us. It was a great sight and it was clear to me that we were apparently crossing one of the STARs (Standard Terminal Arrival Route) into the Vienna International Airport.
Not long after that the clouds to our left stayed back over the mountains and I was able to make the turn to GISPO.
We were leaving Vienna’s class C airspace. Without a frequence change the controller changed and was now a male voice.
Now we had a different cloud problem. This time we had a few clouds a bit below us and in the distance it appeared as there were more on our present altitude.
So I requested a descend to 6500ft. The reply was “descend after passing GISPO to 6500 granted”.
We were then traveling along the mountains in the south of Linz to the next waypoint MATIG.
I don’t remember any frequency change since contacting Wien ATC to request permission to cross their class C airspace. We stayed on the same frequency even after we were well clear of it. Maybe they started to trust that VFR pilot talking to them about RNAV waypoints :-)
When we were getting closer to Salzburg class C airspace I received “G-NI say further routing through Salzburg”. I responded “MATIG followed by ESEGA to cross over into Germany”. We were basically at MATIG so he replied “report ESEGA next”.
The autopilot turned towards ESEGA …
… and within reach of it the Austrian controller told me the frequency of München Information. I switched and made my initial call.
All the prior days over the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Austria we flew with an assigned transponder code and in contact with “real” ATC regardless of the type of airspace we were in. Now what a drastic change occured:
“G-OUNI München Information. RADAR identified. Squawk VFR”
I was on a FIS frequency which is just an informational service. When the workload permits they give you traffic information. You can ask them about weather and other things. But in no way do they offer US style flight following nor are they controlling anything. You are flying VFR and everything is on you. By requesting “traffic information” you get a second set of eyes - again, if the workload permits and he looks on the RADAR screen when not eg. on the phone. It is actually common to not get an answer from FIS. Later you can hear “I was on the phone. Which station called?”
This experience has not changed in the 17 years I didn’t fly. When I made my very first trip to a destination outside Germany and then returned from Brussels after crossing over into Germany and calling FIS the very same happened.
But then it is not wrong to be reminded that looking out is the best way to avoid other traffic. And VFR has the word “visual” in it.
Due to the detour via Wien we landed after 2 hours and 52 minutes in Mühldorf where we had a wonderful lunch with desert and coffee.
Here is the full flight log:
And the vertical profile:
On Monday the weather over Romania looked pretty bad:
And the morning view from our hotel in Szeged showed fog and rain. That definitely was a no-fly situation.
Our initial idea from Sunday evening was to use Monday to visit the Szeged zoo for some family time. But with rain any outdoor activity would not have been fun. So instead we had to stay inside the hotel and find other things to do.
The forecast for Tuesday looked promising. According to it there would have been cumulus clouds similar to those that we encountered on our way to Ostrava in the Czech Republic and over Slovakia on our way to Szeged.
However, we didn’t count with the huge delay issues with the authorities would cause. I’ve already written about that episode and will stick to the aviation related part of the story here.
As I already mentioned in the other article we had to turn back and never made it to our destination Bucharest. Here is route actually flown:
And the corresponding vertical profile:
Shortly after crossing over into Romania Budapest ATC handed me off to Arad Approach which controls a good part of the area around Arad and Timisora.
To my surprise Arad Approach asked for a radio check every ten minutes. There was nobody else on the frequency. After ten minutes I called in “G-NI radio check” and the controller responded “I read you five”.
The clouds looked ok with enough holes to see the ground and potentially descend.
At that point we were 44 minutes or 96 nautical miles away from our first waypoint GAVPO which is located a bit south of the Karpatian mountains to the North of Bucharest. I had selected GAVPO because the fligh path would keep us south of the mountains and over mostly low terrain with only some higher hills of not more than 4800ft. After GAVPO there were additional restricted areas shown on the map and so I had figured out a routing around them before going below Bucharest’s class A airspace (no VFR flights allowed) for landing at the destination LRBS (Bucharest Baneasa).
The forecast predicted scattered clouds along the way and more open sky towards Bucharest.
But after a few more miles the clouds below us became a solid layer for a few minutes.
At this point Arad had handed me off to Bucharest ATC already and I asked the controller for a METAR for Bucharest. He reported BKN036. That means a broken cloud layer at 3600ft above ground level.
Broken means 5-7 oktas or in other words between 5/8 and 7/8 of the sky is covered with clouds. For a VFR pilot descending through a broken cloud layer essentially means that he will likely fly through clouds on the way down and that is dangerous.
Scattered on the other hands means 3-4 oktas so basically half of the sky or less is covered with clouds. That refers to the harmless cumulus clouds one sees on a sunny summer day.
In that situation I asked the controller about any other station in the area that were reporting scattered. There was actually one, although I don’t remember anymore which one, that were reporting SCT036.
But while that conversation happened we had traveled much further and in the distance ahead I spotted two well developed cumulus nimbus clouds - a thunderstorm.
We were over an area with very few clouds but we had ahead an area with higher terrain before it gets flat all the way to Bucharest. The thunderstorm was still far away and so I decided to go under the cloud layer to have a peek. One thought was to go further south to stay clear of the hills and maybe be able to go around the thunderstorm. The wind was blowing from the south and the thunderstorm was almost north of the straight line from our present position to Bucharest.
However, after a very quick descent to 3000ft it became clear that those clouds were reaching down to the tops of the hills. It also looked like rain was about to start - all in all way to dark to consider anything other than to climb up again and head back to where we came from and where the weather was better.
Before the descent I had informed Bucharest ATC that I would like to look around for options and after reaching the original altitude again I told them that we were going back to our origin in Hungary. Minutes later I was in contact with Arad Approach: “welcome back”.
I was aiming to cross the border between Romania and Hungary at the same waypoint MOPUG as before. However, what have been nice cumulus clouds below us 30-40 minutes before had become little towers. The flight log shows that we weren’t traveling back in a straight line. That is because I navigated a bit around those towers to keep a safe distance.
On the way back towards the border the weather improved and the space between the clouds got wider and wider. Shortly after crossing the border I started to descend into Szeged where the wind had changed and now the other runway direction was in use. When we landed we had the same wide open sky with a few cumulus here and there as when we departed.
Flying Into The Schengen Zone
An interesting bit of this episode is that when I was handed off to Budapest from Arad Approach the Hungarian controller advised me to land in Arad. He was telling me that I was about to enter the Schengen zone and it sounded like a bit as he was implying unauthorized. I responded “Negative. We just departed from Szeged and will enter a bit south of MOPUG”. That was answered by a simple “report MOPUG next”.
We had a flight plan from LHUD (Szeged) to LRBS (Bucharest Baneasa) and that was in the system. We were probably in touch with Budapest ATC before the message from the Romanians about us turning back arrived.
Shortly after our departure from Ostrava-Mosnov we climbed to 7500ft to be well above any and all obstacles and terrain. Our flight place took us over some mountains with the peaks up to 5800ft high. The clouds above us were probably at 10,000ft.
A bit further into the mountains visibility improved. By now we were over Slovakian territory and I was in contact with Bratislava ATC. The very friendly controller offered to climb higher into class C airspace but at this time I declined due to the clouds above us.
As you can see from the map on the iPad we were also off the planned course. Bratislava wanted us to proceed direct to the waypoint DEMOP which is the exit point from Slovakian airspace. That was a nice service as it cuts flight time and therefore cost.
However, a bit further ahead the clouds were on the same altitude as we were and the straight line direct to DEMOP would have taken us right through them. There were still clouds above us and so I let the controller know multiple times that I will deviate a bit to the left and right to avoid the clouds.
He again offered a climb to a higher altitude but only later I was able to accept when the cloud layer above us disappeared.
Eventually we left Slovakian airspace at 9500ft and I was handed off to Budapest with 106 NM or 46 minutes to go to our destination Szeged.
The whole experience has been a bit like flying IFR. We were on a flight plan with a predefined route. There were entry and exit points and we were in controlled airspace. At one point the Slovakian controller wanted me to switch to another frequency as it appeared on his RADAR that we were about to enter an airspace not under his own control. That was when I had to change the heading a bit to avoid clouds. I told him that I would return to the original course towards DEMOP in one minute and his reply was “in that case stay with me” and so I did.
After the hand-off to Budapest the flying IFR experience continued. There was no need to leave our crusing altitude or ask for permission to enter other controlled airspace ahead of us. The controller in Budapest had coordinated everything for us.
30 nautical miles into Hungarian airspace the clouds were a bit lower than over Slovakia. We were over the great plains - “puszta” in Hungarian. To avoid the clouds I started a step-down descend all the while in radio contact with the controller from Budapest.
The Szeged airport is at an elevation of 299ft MSL. I had planned my descent down to 2000ft. Whenever I am not familiar with an uncontrolled airport I like to arrive well above the traffic pattern and only descend further after I have positively identified the airfield. Many years ago before GPS was available I once landed on an airstrip that seemed to match the description given to me by the man on the radio. It turned out it was an improvised landing strip for crop dusters - the same type of crop dusters parked at the other airfield too.
When I finally had the airfield clearly in sight we were too high for a landing so I overflew it and joined the traffic pattern from the other side.
Here is our aircraft parked on the hard soil covered by dry Hungarian puszta gras. Also this is considered a soft field it feels like moving on asphalt.
The crop dusters I just mentioned from a past experience were pretty much like this airplane - only yellow.
They had all kinds of interesting airplanes and helicopters around. This one later took off. The engine start required several attempts with thick smoke coming out of the exhaust pipes.
||1 hr 56 min
|Refueled AVGAS 100LL
||89.96 liters @ 690,74 HUF incl. VAT
||landing was free coming from a Schengen country
That makes it 207.17 EUR for the fuel.
This August I wanted to travel from Egelsbach, Germany, to ALE2013 taking place in Bucharest, Romania, in a light aircraft. The aircraft has a safe range of about 4 hrs plus a 30 minute reserve. A quick look at the map shows that the total flight time will be more than that and so a point somewhere in the middle of the overall distance was choosen.
The general routing is depicted by the blue line. It goes from Frankfurt-Egelsbach to Sarmellek at Lake Balaton in Hungary and on to Bucharest, Romania.
The conference will start on Wednesday with many participants arriving on Tuesday. As the two legs will probably be of about 3 hours each the plan needs to include some time to have lunch and refuel the aircraft. The ALE conference welcomes kids and spouses in order to combine a business trip with some family vacation. We are a family of three with a small child. To make it less challenging I decided to spend a night at our stopover in Hungary and then continue the next day.
Based on that the plan was to leave on Monday, continue on Tuesday and then leave Bucharest on Saturday with a return on Sunday.
Constrained By Weather
As I am not an instrument rated pilot I need to stay clear of clouds in all phases of flight. Although the aircraft (a Cirrus SR20) is equipped for instrument flight I don’t have the required training and any attempt to do it nonetheless would not only be a violation of the rules but also likely kill me and those I carry.
Therefore the first dynamic constraint for the trip is the weather.
A few days ahead of my schedule I started to watch the overall atmospheric conditions in Central and Eastern Europe. It happened that there was a negative forecast for Monday with similarly bad weather for Tuesday. Sunday also didn’t look too good. Basically crossing the eastern part of the Alps would have been difficult and I didn’t want to accept the risk resulting from the forecasted conditions.
However, it was a long-term forecast. Weather forecasts cannot be trusted for more than about three days in advance and even then the atmosphere is a very dynamic environment…
So I started to look for options.
Commitment: Leave Ahead Of Schedule
By Friday it appeared that the weather in Eastern Europe will be very good (cloudless sky) but there will be a challenge to get there from Germany on Monday and even on Sunday. So I decided to leave early on Saturday and make it as far East as possible to be away from the bad weather.
The value of that option was to be able to make it to ALE2013. The price was the cost of about 2 hours of additional flight time plus accomodation for the extra day. This option was about to expire on Saturday as the forecast for Sunday said it will be difficult to leave Germany.
Now that we got far enough to the East the routing (read the plan) had to be adjusted. Our layover destination Ostrava in the eastmost part of the Czech Republic was too far away from Bucharest to make it in one go. In addition and contrary to the former forecast bad weather in the form of predicted thunderstorms and more clouds had shown up over Romania. As the Karpatian mountains north of Bucharest are equally as high as the Eastern Alps, I didn’t want to experience challenging weather over challenging terrain.
Commitment: Choose Next Days Destination
Far away from the destination but with plenty of time the first choice for the next destination was Debrecen in Hungary. Flying there would get me close enough to Bucharest and keep the additional flight time at minimum. It is more or less a straight line from Ostrava to Bucharest.
However, I learned that the Debrecen airport closes at noon on a Sunday. With about 2 hours of flight time I would have to be in the air before 10:00 and there is usually always some delay. I would have had to make the family rise and be ready quite early to then sit at the airport waiting.
Further there was an issue regarding flight planning. When overflying Slovakia the flight path will cross two restricted areas. Those are usually for military exercises. Unlike many other restricted areas these were not marked as “on weekdays only” but instead the information was that their activation time will be published in some European Airspace Usage Plan - a document not easily available to me.
Option 1: Plan flight with a larger detour around restricted areas with destination Debrecen.
Value: Essentially this option has no value, as making it to Debrecen is not of particular interest.
Cost: The price for the additional flight time.
Expiration: Expires, if not airborne slightly before 10:00 AM.
Option 2: Plan flight through the restricted areas and arrive very early at the airport to get clarification from the local briefing office in order to still make it on time to Debrecen.
Value: Essentially this option has no value, as making it to Debrecen is not of particular interest.
Price: Making the family get up very early, very quick breakfast and then have them wait at the airport.
Expiration: Expires, if not airborne slightly before 10:00 AM.
Option 3: Choose a different destination without a time limit and work out the status of the restricted areas with the local briefing office.
Value: Being able to choose a more suitable destination that possibly also is of value to the family.
Cost: The time needed to clarify the status of the restricted areas.
Expiration: Does not expire until the moment when arrival at the destination during daylight seems unlikely.
Evaluating the three options it quickly became clear that only option 3 has some value while the others have just cost and expire early on. So I picked Szeged as next destination in Hungary. Szeged is located in Southeast Hungary and a direct flight path from there to Bucharest keeps you south of the Karpatian mountains.
It turned out that I was busy at the briefing office and with the handling agent at the airport almost 2 hours - just to figure out the likely answer to my question about the restricted areas myself and then get the clarification from Slovakian ATC in the air. The very friendly lady working the briefing office didn’t know how to find the information and her calls to Slovakian AIS (briefing office) went unanswered on a Sunday morning.
If I had choosen any of the two other options, it would have expired and probably I would have been forced to land somewhere else anyway.
Change Of The Environment
The next forecast in the afternoon (Sunday) showed that Monday will be a day with low ceilings in the whole area. Bucharest was still in the clear but it would be unlikely to be able to leave Hungary VFR towards Romania. We were hoping to simply do some ground activities, eg. take our child to the local Zoo. Unfortunatly the next day started with fog and rain and it never changed.
So we sat idle but not worried at all, because the forecast for Tuesday was still looking good.
Commitments Based On Insufficient Data
According to the forecast the weather in Szeged were to improve by noon. So we didn’t plan on being early at the airport. The forecast for the en-route section called for some cumuli and I expected to be able to go on top of them to descend before reaching the boundary of Bucharest’s class A airpace (limited to IFR flights).
However, we didn’t count with the authorities. One member of our family is not a European citizen and we were about to leave the European Union. That alone shouldn’t be a problem but we learned that the area is also known for a lot of illegal activities and the Hungarians are closely monitoring everything that is going on there. So what could have been a one minute passport check turned out to be a two hours procedure with many phone calls by the two police officers. Add to that the fact that they hardly spoke any English or German and you can imagine it would have taken much longer had we not had the help from the staff of the Szeged airport.
Eventually we were airborne by early afternoon. Cumulus clouds had developed (common in the afternoon of a sunny day due to moisture rising into the atmosphere). According to the weather forecast model there should have been less of those clouds but they didn’t pose any threat.
60 or 70 nautical miles into Romanian airspace we found ourselves over a layer of scattered cumulus clouds with a base at 3000ft and reaching up to 6000ft. In front of us were two nicely visible cumulus nimbus clouds - a thunderstorm in development.
The forecast did not mention anything about a probability for thunderstorms in the afternoon. It did mention scattered cumulus clouds. I assume that the amount of data in that area is not as high as elsewhere and therefore the metereological model were off.
So I quickly decided that it will be too risky to continue or stay in the area looking for ways to go around the thunderstorm. Plus the current weather report for Bucharest had already deteriorated to broken clouds in 3600ft - which is essentially a solid cloud layer for a VFR pilot. That turned out to be a wise decision. On the way back to the Hungarian border the small scattered cumulus clouds we overflew 30 minutes ago had developed into small towering cumulus and I had to fly around them. We landed safely in Szeged again to look at our options.
Keep Yourself An Out Option
Although we did try to make it to the destination after the huge delay and got burned I do want to mention an important option that you should never let expire: keep yourself an out option.
The following are examples of out options in aviation. There may be different opinions about those options amongst the aviation community. As this blog post is not primarily about aviation and pilot decisions but about a practical application of the concept of real options, I will keep them short.
Option 1: Stay where it is safe
It is much better to be above the clouds with good visibility than under the clouds in low visibility and close to an unknown mountainous area.
Option 2: Be able to return to good weather and land there
It is ok to overfly an overcast area where one cannot descend through the clouds, if there is information about nearby areas with good weather. Close monitoring of the situation is important.
Option 3: Carry enough fuel to be able to execute all options
Aircraft don’t fly far without fuel, therefore to carry enough fuel and watch how it is consumed is important. One is not able to return to good weather when the engine quits.
For the third time the ALE network organized its yearly conference. Last year it took place in Barcelona, Spain. This time a location in Eastern Europe was chosen: Bucharest, Romania.
After I regained my pilot license earlier this year and were already able to use it for perfoming smaller business trips within Germany I wanted to try something bigger. The idea was to travel to ALE2013 in Bucharest. From a pure time and distance perspective that is a trip of less than 6 hours flight time. The route would cross Austria, call for a landing in Hungary to refuel and eat something and then continue on to Romania with the final landing in Bucharest.
As the concept of ALE conferences is to also bring your family along so they can participate in the kids & spouse program the idea was to keep it slow. Originally we had planned to travel from Egelsbach, Germany, to Sarmellek, Hungary. There we would spend the night and continue the next day to Bukarest. That would have been two flights of less than 3 hours each and a night to rest between them.
Unfortunately, the weather called for a change of plans. The forecast for Monday showed low level clouds over eastern Austria. That would have made it difficult to reach Sarmellek for a pilot without an instrument rating. So we decided to maybe start earlier and accept a detour towards the easter part of the Czech Republic. This is how the forecast for Saturday looked.
We would be coming in via Pilsen (PLZ) and then make it to Brno (BRN). The sky would be mostly blue without clouds with some scattered cumuli around noon. However, when looking for accomodation for the night it turned out that there was a motorcycle event in Brno and all hotels were fully booked.
So we decided to fly to Ostrava instead. You can see the full route flown below. Just scroll West to East. The little circle north of the Tabor airport was to get us down from FL95 (9,500ft MSL) below the clouds for the approach into Ostrava.
Coming from Frankfurt-Egelsbach we crossed into the Czech Republic at FL75 over the waypoint VEMUT. Enlarge the image by clicking on it. You can see the the VEMUT waypoint in white letters on the aircraft’s map display below the little airplane symbol.
In case you are wondering… The aircraft is equipped with two GPS receivers and has two ways to display a map. In addition to that I use an iPad application called SkyDemon for flight planning purposes. It does have a flight mode and then acts as a moving map display. That adds to my situational awareness and it also takes care of logging flight time. Another feature is to put breadcrumbs onto the map. The result is the map with the flown route shown above.
After a while the clouds were a bit too high to stay at FL75 so we had to climb to FL95. I prefer to fly above the clouds, if possible. There is less turbulence up there, which is better for passengers, and of course the view is great. However, flying VFR without an instrument rating above the clouds comes with a slight risk. If at some point the clouds form a solid layer, then one would be trapped up there. So it is a good idea to watch them closely to make sure that there is enough space between them to descend below the clouse base without touching them or getting to close.
From about 2900m we were able to spot this lake with boating activity going on.
The Ostrava airport is a former military base now being used for some scheduled flights. When we arrived there was no traffic in the area. Here is a close-up of the approach part of the flight log:
The airport is surrounded by class D airspace. The outer section of it starts at 4000 ft MSL and goes all the way up to FL125. The inner section begins at 1000 ft AGL. Inside of that is the regular CTR (control zone), which is also class D airspace and starts at ground level up to 5000 ft MSL. To enter class D airspace the pilot requires ATC clearance. The outer airspace is owned by Ostrava Approach while the inner CTR is owned by Mosnov Tower. Mosnov is the actual name of the airport.
Flying VFR means you are not really inside the ATC system. A VFR flight is uncontrolled and you can basically do whatever you want while staying clear of restricted areas and controlled airspace. There is an information service available to VFR pilots to get weather information or to request the status of a restricted area. You get in touch with real ATC when you request to cross controlled airspace or to land at a controlled airport.
So in the case of the approach into Ostrava I did expect to call Ostrava Approach and had planned the route to the BAXEV waypoint (a little red triangle with the name next to it). En route I was in contact with the information service Praha Information. When we were near BAXEV Praha told me to contact Ostrava Approach - so that worked out very well. Ostrava then issued an ATC clearance “direct OTA”. OTA is the identifier for the VOR beacon located at the airport. Nobody wanted me to report any of the visual reporting points shown on the map. When I was getting closer to the CTR I was told to contact Mosnov Tower and then it was simply “report final runway 04” followed by “cleared to land”. The 3500m long runway looked great with the width of 63m making it even more impressive. Our little Cirrus SR20 did not require a lot of room to slow down and we left the runway at the first taxiway.
While taxing to the parking position I called for fuel and we were greated by a follow-me car, the crew bus and the fuel truck. It was a very pleasant arrival.
||3 hrs 1 min
|Refueled AVGAS 100LL
||112 liters @ 75.45 CZK incl. VAT
|Airport fees with overnight parking
||2,202.20 CZK incl. VAT
That makes it 85.55 EUR for the airport and 328.25 EUR for the fuel.
The good news is: I’ve become a pilot again.
After 17 years I’ve recently renewed my German Private Pilot License (PPL) and done a step up towards flying more sophisticated aircraft than during my earlier times as a pilot. When I first went solo I used to fly a Piper PA-28 aircraft. Its design is from 1960 and it wasn’t very fast. But it was fun to fly and it took me and passengers to many places including trips outside Germany to cities like Brussels (my first trip outside German airspace) and as far as Budapest in Hungary through the Alps.
Now in my second career as a private pilot I’ve gone solo in a Cirrus SR20 aircraft. Its design is from 1995 and it is fast. That fast that one has to slow down in the traffic pattern around an airfield in order to avoid running over most other aircraft. And it isn’t even the fastest one in its class. There is a bigger brother called the SR22.
So this is me during my first solo flight on my way to Berlin. If I look quite concentrated and a bit tense it is just due to difficulties of taking a self portrait using a cell phone camera in bright sunlight. I was actually enjoying being at 7500ft above sea level on my first solo. It felt great.
In front of me I had two TFT computer screens instead of the round instruments of the past. Since my very early experience with a Garmin GPS 100 more and more software has been integrated into small aircraft. Now an aircraft such as the SR20 has what is called an EFIS. The letters stand for Electronic Flight Instrument System. The sensors for attitude, speed, temperature, etc. are still the same but the integration with communication and navigation systems has created a total different experience for the pilot. It does resemble a bit a computer game. But let’s not spoil this by looking at the challenges and risks due to that at this moment.
On my way to Berlin I decided to go over the clouds. Being on top of clouds is always a great feeling. It’s so peaceful of there and clouds from the top look so beautiful. However, they might be quite nasty on the inside. Flying VFR and not being instrument rated I, of course, have no first hand experience of how nasty a cloud might be on the inside. Actually I’m supposed to stay clear of them and I do.
After a little while the clouds below me disappeared and I had a clear view onto the Elbe river and the widespread flooding that occured due to heavy rain over several weeks.
As this was my first solo flight in that type of aircraft I didn’t want to put myself under pressure and flew to Berlin the day before the event I wanted to attend there. The ideas was to have plenty of time with no reason to make it other than to enjoy the trip. After I arrived with time to spare I enjoyed the Scrum Day event on the 11th of June and meeting friends there. In the afternoon I returned to the airfield and took of for another flight of 1:40 hours to land close to my current client’s office where I stayed for the remainder of that week. I can say with a grin that I actually managed to fly to work :-)
On Friday I left my client a bit after noon for a short flight back home. It took me about 50 minutes to travel from Meinerzhagen back to Egelsbach (Frankfurt area).
Unfortunately in the vicinity of my current client there are no paved runways. There is a grass strip close by but it is short and the Cirrus SR20’s manual states that soft field operation is not recommended. That means I had to use a taxi and spent about 45 minutes to travel to the only suitable airfield in the area. Back in Egelsbach it takes me another 30 minutes to get back home. So it takes basically the same 2:30 hours to fly as it takes to drive. And it’s significantly more expensive.
However, on my recent trips to that client I found myself quite tired due to a lot of traffic jams. What could be a 2:30 hours trip actually ended up being something like 3:30 or even more.
See a listing of all posts on this site