Category Archives: Uncategorized

Drug and Alcohol Testing: A Cautionary Tale

Did you see the FAA’s recent proposed drug and alcohol testing violation civil penalty?

In April, the FAA proposed a six-figure civil penalty ($142,750 to be exact) against GoJet Airlines, LLC of Bridgeton, MO, for allegedly violating drug and alcohol testing regulations. The FAA alleged six GoJet employees performed safety-sensitive jobs without being included in the company’s random drug and alcohol testing pool. The FAA also alleged two employees selected for random drug and alcohol testing received drug but not alcohol tests. As is customary, GoJet had 30 days from receipt of the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond.

I don’t know any details about this specific case.  I mention it here merely to demonstrate how drug and alcohol violation penalties can multiply to enormous numbers.

Most Part 135 operators I work with take their drug and alcohol testing programs very seriously and pay special attention to new hire safety-sensitive employees and their random testing requirements. But even the most diligent companies are vulnerable to a particular oversight: moving a current nonsafety-sensitive employee to a new position that is safety-sensitive or changing an individual’s responsibilities to include safety-sensitive tasks without adding the employee to the random pool.

  • 120.109(a)(2) states, “No employer may allow an individual to transfer from a nonsafety-sensitive to a safety-sensitive function unless the employer first conducts a pre-employment test and receives a verified negative drug test result for the individual.”

You might think it’s better to just include every employee in your FAA-approved drug and alcohol testing program in order to avoid any slip ups but that’s likely to get you in a bind too. The FAA doesn’t have the authority to require testing of nonsafety-sensitive employees and can’t grant you that authority either. Further, the agency has accused companies of trying to “dilute” the random drug and alcohol testing pool by including employees not legally covered by the program.

Bottom line: Make sure your managers, human resources personnel, and others involved in promoting or transferring personnel or changing job responsibilities and descriptions understand the importance of abiding by pre-employment testing requirements and the potential severity of drug and alcohol testing violations.

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Santa’s Flight Locating Level: Expert

Santa is determined to maintain positive flight locating procedures on his journey each year and will once again do so with the help of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). NORAD has been providing flight locating for Santa’s annual round-the-world tour since 1958. This year, Santa’s location will be available through the usual NORAD website (, various apps, Twitter (@noradsanta), and other tools.

While many of us are shopping our fingers off (does anyone go to the mall anymore?) and planning holiday meals and parties, there are people in our own backyards in need of care and comfort. In lieu of holiday cards for clients and colleagues, MAC has made a donation to Washington, DC’s Food & Friends program, which provides men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses with specialized meals and groceries in conjunction with nutritional counseling. MAC’s office assistant Heidi (a lovable Border Collie/Husky mix) once again requested a donation be made to the Dumb Friends League, a humane animal rescue in the Denver area that places thousands of dogs, cats, and horses a year in loving homes.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve/Day, or another holiday I wish you a safe and fun time with your friends and family!

I had a good feeling about 2014 and it was definitely a wild ride. Let’s make 2015 great too! See you in January.

Happy holidays from McFarren Aviation Consulting!

General Aviation: Are You an Advocate?

Election Day has come and gone and the Denver TV market seems much less colorful without the crazy political ads we’ve been bombarded with these past couple of months. One commercial in particular really raised my hackles. The ad said this particular candidate was in the pocket of the wealthy and showed a man in a suit heading out to a private jet. Why is our industry often painted by the media to be only a toy for the wealthy and privileged?

Did you see these two stories about general aviation aircraft being used to transport Ebola patients? General aviation is uniquely qualified to handle this and other public service operations.

This story from New York Daily News shows the interior of a Gulfstream III that has been outfitted for Ebola transports. The pictures are pretty cool but the text indicates our industry has a lot of advocating to do with mainstream media. “The two Gulfstream III planes look like the ones owned and flown by bigwigs the world over – but inside, the 12-seater aircraft have been modified to fly highly-contagious Ebola patients and medical staff.”

These types of comments make me angry. General aviation isn’t just a “bigwig” industry. We do a lot of good work and heck – when we’re transporting “big wigs”? That’s good work too. We’re a tool in the beautiful machine of capitalism. But I digress. This article is about public service missions.

I love this article from General Aviation News by Jamie Beckett. Unfortunately it’s not a mainstream media outlet so it’s sort of preaching to the choir, but well done Mr. Beckett! I wish some mainstream format picked up this article or at least the general context.

“This might be a good time to take a closer look at the photograph that got everyone so excited. You know the one I mean.

It features a team of medical care workers in biohazard suits as they wheel a gurney up to a waiting airplane. Their mission is to extract from the gray twin turbine powered machine a patient who is infected with the scariest disease to hit these parts since smallpox went the way of the wooly mammoth. That photo freaked people out from coast to coast. Most were looking at the folks in biohazard suits. Some were looking at the gurney. Everyone was thinking, ebola. Almost no one was looking at the airplane.

This is general aviation at its finest.

Sure, Congress and the president can whoop-up on some automakers for flying their private jets to Washington to testify before Congress.

But nobody notices when general aviation moves patients or medical teams quickly, from where ever they are to where ever they need to be, without coming in contact with others who would like very much to steer clear of the cooties on board.

Can you imagine if we had to transport these people by train, or ship, or bus? How comfortable do you suppose the average homeowner would be to see H1N1 flu strain carriers pass by their house in a tour bus with big stickers reading,  ‘Do Not Tailgate, Communicable Disease On Board.’  Somehow I think that would be worse.”

Are you an advocate for general aviation, like Mr. Beckett is here? Or are you silent when someone cracks a joke about your industry being part of a “fat cat” world? Widely held perceptions are not changed overnight but if each “big wig” comment is countered with a story about general aviation being used for air ambulance, humanitarian aid, or other public service missions, we might make some progress towards a more positive perception of our industry.

And even flying the “big wig” isn’t flying for the devil, but that’s a topic for another day.

Bring Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Hot… Topics

It’s that time of year, my friends – time for the annual pilgrimage to NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition! I love convention in any location – it feels like a giant family reunion to me – but I particularly enjoy the Orlando version. My first NBAA convention was in Orlando. The hotels are closer together than in Atlanta or Vegas so it seems easier to meet (or just run into) friends and colleagues. The weather is usually pleasant. What’s not to love?

This year it’s not all fun and games for me. I actually have responsibilities too (gasp!). I’m moderating “Part 135 Compliance Hot Topics”, a session that will feature attorney Kent Jackson of Jackson & Wade and Tim Sullivan of Chantilly Air. In this session we will discuss current Part 135 hot topics and challenges related to regulatory compliance and educate attendees on various methods to mitigate regulatory enforcement action, including voluntary disclosure reporting programs, aviation safety action programs, and more. Hot topics to be discussed will include:

  • Flight Crew Records
  • Part 135 Flight Training Programs, Check Airmen, and Instructors
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Operational Control
  • Exclusive Use Aircraft
  • Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in Two States

We won’t be PowerPoint-ing you to death. This will basically be a discussion among three friends that happens to take place in front of a live studio audience (which hopefully will include you). If you know any of the three of us, you know the style will be pretty casual and we will strive to entertain as well as educate. The session will be more like reading this blog than reading the FARs!

So join us Wednesday, October 22 at 1:30 PM at NBAA2014 and be sure to bring some of your hot questions about Part 135 compliance!

This is Your Brain on Drugs – In an Airplane

Please say someone else remembers the 1980’s commercial with the egg frying in the skillet? “This is your brain. (crack egg) This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?”

The NTSB has just published a study that examines the prevalence of drug use by pilots who died in crashes between 1990 and 2012. Almost all crashes – 96% – in which the pilot was found to have medications or drugs in their system were general aviation accidents.

We all know using drugs is stupid. Using drugs and flying an aircraft is stupider. We all know this, right? Then why do accidents involving pilots with drugs in their system still happen?

Less than 5% of the accidents examined involved illicit drugs. That means 95% of the pilots were using “impairing medications” – some over-the-counter, others prescription, but all legal. The most common impairing drug was a common antihistamine (diphenhydramine). Pilots aren’t smoking crack before they fly. They’re taking cold and allergy medications.

Have you ever popped a DayQuil and got in the cockpit? Did you think about how it might impact your performance? Here’s the catch – each human body responds to medications differently. Sudafed might make you jumpy but have no impact on someone else. Benadryl knocks me out for hours but other people take it without trouble.

The bottom line is to know the side effects of medications you’re taking, whether they are prescribed by a doctor or purchased over-the-counter.

With cold and flu season approaching, now is a great time to remind your employees – and not just pilots –  mechanics, line personnel, and flight followers should be reminded too – of the potential side effects of common over-the-counter medications. Advise employees of this danger by:

  • Adding a blurb about the NTSB study in your next safety newsletter
  • Including a discussion on this topic in your safety training
  • Discussing this issue in your next safety or all-employee meeting

Don’t fry your egg. Educate yourself about medications BEFORE you get in the cockpit.

Be Careful with Your Balls

Ping pong balls, that is. (Geez what did you think I was talking about?) Recently a pilot dumped 3,000 ping pong balls on an interstate near Blackfoot, Idaho. The ping pong balls were intended to be redeemed for prizes as part of a community festival. Instead, the pilot dropped the ping pong balls early and they landed on a highway. According to several online sources, the pilot “didn’t understand ping pong balls lose speed quickly and drop straight down.” Apparently no criminal charges were filed against the pilot.

I see. No charges. Yes that’s good. Maybe I’m overthinking this (yes definitely) but does anyone else think the fact the pilot dropped the balls early is really not the problem here? Wasn’t this whole concept flawed from the beginning?

I seem to remember a regulation that prohibits low flight over assemblies of people. Does 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft ring a bell? (Hint: 91.119) I wonder how high a pilot would fly to dump 3,000 balls over a crowd of people?

But wait folks! That’s not all! How about 91.15 which prohibits dropping objects from an aircraft? Granted, there’s an exception to 91.15 if reasonable precautions have been taken to avoid injury to persons or damage to property, but have you ever been caught outside in a hail storm? Hail doesn’t have to be very big to smart a bit if it hits your noggin. I’m no physicist but kinetic energy … it’s a doozy. Earlier this year Myth Busters tested a myth that a ping pong ball moving at a high enough speed could cause lethal injury. The myth proved false but they did determine a ping pong ball can cause serious injury.

I’m sure I’m overthinking the regulatory implications of dropping a load of 3,000 ping pong balls over a crowd of people but the absurdity of this story made me go “Hmmm…” Do other events feature ping-pong-ball-to-human dodgeball with the promise of candy and maybe a $100 gift card? It’s a strange world we live in.

(Clearly this is a light-hearted summertime post. I’ll be back with something more useful – hopefully – in a week or two.)

MAC’s Anniversary: “Strive Not to be a Success, but Rather to be of Value”

July 1st marks McFarren Aviation Consulting’s fifth anniversary! I can’t believe it’s been five years since I went out on my own. That first month of July 2009 was a little slow, as one would expect just starting out, and I remember being at my condo’s pool by 3 or 4 PM every day thinking, “Wow – self-employment ROCKS.”

Of course self-employment isn’t all about pool time and cocktails at 4 in the afternoon. I work hard when there’s work to be done and I play hard when work is quiet. And more than anything, I keep learning. After five years I’ve realized I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I am fortunate to have a motley distinguished group of mentors who are kind enough to share their experience in our industry, in relationships, and in life. These guys make up my personal “board of directors” and I’m grateful for their differing perspectives. One is always asking about my ten year plan (what’s that?), another knows just how to help me fill up my luck bucket when I need it the most, and others provide brilliant tactical advice that has helped me grow my business over the past 5 years.

Sadly two members of my board slipped the surly bonds of earth this year. I will be forever grateful to these two men for their guidance, love, and support. Jim Christiansen served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot and suffered serious injuries there. He taught me that every day is a blessing and that in almost any situation if you look hard enough “there’s a pony in there somewhere.” Henry Ogrodzinski (also a U.S Army veteran) taught me what it means to be a true statesman but always knew I wasn’t wired to be so distinguished and graceful. Instead he encouraged me to make a positive impact on the industry in my own sometimes quirky way.

Most importantly, these men showed me how to make a difference. Albert Einstein once said, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Jim and Henry lived this ideal and in doing so, each was not only incredibly successful in their own right but helped those around them be successful too.

I have made a few course changes in my life and career that I feared would disappoint my board. Amazingly, each time I said, “I’m going to quit/leave/move/start something new,” I found this group of gentlemen pushing me forward to pursue my dreams. One of those dreams took off 5 years ago today with my board’s enthusiastic support.

Some businesses have anniversary parties (“I heard there’d be punch and pie!”) to show their gratitude to their clients but since my clients are spread all over the country, it is my tradition to give donations to charitable organizations to share the year’s successes. This year I chose the Veterans Airlift Command (VAC), First Book, and the Henry M. Ogrodzinski Scholarship Program to honor my dear friends and board members.

I don’t mean for this anniversary post to be a downer. Although I am deeply saddened by my friends’ too-early departures from this world, I am so, so blessed to have known and loved them and that makes this a happy post. I am very grateful to my unofficial “board”, as well as my family, friends, colleagues, and clients who have supported and encouraged me over the years. I can’t wait to see what year 6 brings!