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2017 Q2 Newsletter

Steve Blonstein, General Manager WVFC

A new “lease” on life 

On April 1, 2017 management of the Palo Alto airport finally changed to the City of Palo Alto.  We’ve been working closely with the airport manager, Andy Swanson, and his staff for the past several months getting ready for this momentous occasion.  Many members have already asked what this all means so here’s my chance to give you an update.

Palo Alto hired property consultants to appraise the value of the various offices and hangars to come up with proposed new rates.  The impact to WVFC is approximately a 50% increase in our monthly rent. Ouch!  That equates to about $3K per month more than we had been paying before., not an insignificant amount.  Most other businesses also received a 50% increase in rent causing one of the flying clubs, Advanced Flyers, to close their doors. While in the short term, WVFC benefits by picking up some planes and maybe some of their members, this doesn’t bode well for the future.  Competition is good and as GA struggles to maintain a foothold in the aviation world, this cannot be a good thing to have flying clubs folding.

You have all seen the new fences and gates go up around the airport.  While no one appreciates the idea of walling off our airport, unfortunately it’s a requirement for the airport to receive the “big bucks” required to upgrade the ramp, the hangars, and the buildings.  This is where Andy and his team show great promise.  While the previous County management starved the airport of money, the City is poised to raise a large sum of money (read many millions of dollars) to revitalize the airport and make it what it should be.

No facilities discussion would be complete without a bathroom update!  Most members had provided feedback over the years that the keys were a hassle.  Now that the city maintains the bathrooms, the keys are gone and some remodeling has already started to take place.  The city will also take over the cleaning of the bathrooms so we should have a better long term experience.

The city has granted WVFC a 2-year extension on our right to operate the Phillips 66 brand fuel franchise.  We will continue to pump fuel into the majority of the fleet at Palo Alto, which helps us keep costs down and thus rental rates as competitive as possible.

Overall, we’re excited about the changes.  The airport would have literally crumbled or sunk into the Bay had it not been transferred.  There will be growth and changing pains, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Fly Safe. 


Michael May, Standards Officer WVFC

BasicMed and WVFC

On May 1st the FAA officially rolled out 3rd Class Medical reform, also known as BasicMed. BasicMed has been years in the making giving pilots an alternative to the 3rd Class medical certificate requirement, allowing many that may not be able to pass an FAA medical exam a way to stay in the air.

I’m very pleased to inform you that WVFC is accepting BasicMed and have already gotten the necessary update to Schedule Master completed. The membership has expressed a high level of interest in BasicMed and several members have already turned in their paperwork, so we hope that this article will help shed some light on how BasicMed works, what the differences are, and where to find resources for those interested in participating.

Unlike the Light Sport option, BasicMed allows pilots to fly every airplane that WVFC operates under most circumstances. Pilots that choose to use BasicMed are prohibited from conducting commercial operations (WVFC member regulations also prohibit this), cannot fly at or above FL180 (although you can still fly airplanes that are certified to fly above FL180 as long as you stay below that altitude), cannot fly outside the U.S., and cannot fly an aircraft that is certified to carry more than 6 occupants. These are the restrictions that are likely to be relevant to WVFC operations but this is not a complete list, so if you intend to fly outside of WVFC you should familiarize yourself with the full list before deciding which medical option to use.

In order to qualify under BasicMed, you must have had a valid medical certificate within the 10 years prior to July 15th, 2016. You must complete an online training course every 24 months, and visit a physician’s office every 48 months to have a medical exam and form completed. As you can imagine, there are still a litany of medical conditions and medications that may be disqualifying under BasicMed, so it’s highly advisable to get more information if you think you may not qualify. It’s also important to note that there are significant differences in how medical conditions and/or medications affect a traditional medical certificate vs. BasicMed, so do not assume that a disqualifying condition/medication for a medical certificate will disqualify you under BasicMed. Again, if you fall into this category it’s strongly recommended that you get additional information based on your situation.

Once you’ve completed all the requirements, in order to fly under BasicMed you must carry your State-issued Driver License and your pilots license with you when you fly. You must store with your logbook or keep an electronic record of, your completed medical checklist and certificate of online training. You do not need to have these on your person when you fly. To comply with recordkeeping requirements, WVFC will require copies of the certificate of online training and the signature page of the medical checklist. For privacy reasons you should not send us the full checklist.

If you’re interested in learning more about BasicMed, AOPA has an entire dedicated website that explains the program in detail. Visit their website at to learn more. BasicMed provides a long-overdue alternative to a medical certificate, and WVFC is excited for our members that would otherwise be facing the possibility of being grounded, as well as our new and returning members that are finally able to fly again.


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor

The Unanswered Question

We all have a friend or a family member that has dated the wrong person.  Some of us may even have done that ourselves.  Sometimes we’ve even known it before our friend did.  Mostly, at some point, our friend figures it out, and after the (often acrimonious) break-up, always with anger, and sometimes tears, asks, “What was I thinking?”

Of course, we’ve probably asked the analogous question, “What are you thinking?” several or even many months earlier.  The unfortunate thing is that our friends WAY too often proceed to jump right back into the dating pool and do exactly the same thing again.

Whatever the underlying problem was (and we usually have a pretty good idea what it was) there is almost always a process issue, as well.  And that is that even though our friend asks, “What was I thinking?”, the question itself never gets answered.  Well, hardly ever.  Why else would people continue to date the wrong people?  Why do some people go through jobs like others go through magazines?  Why do some people have multiple ex-spouses?  It’s not like collecting ex-spouses is a popular or inexpensive hobby.

This raises the point that experience doesn’t guarantee success the next time.  The only thing you are guaranteed to get is older by the length of time your experience lasted.  If you want to get smarter and avoid the problem, you need to figure out the answer to the unanswered question: “What was I thinking?”  And even if we have a pretty fair Idea what was wrong from the beginning, we rarely pause to figure out what our friend was actually thinking, which isn’t the same thing, at all.  And our friend is even LESS likely to answer the question.

OK, so what does this have to do with flying?  A lot, actually.  It gets to the point of most accident stories in flying magazines, or the accident/incident reports in the West Valley file.  In most cases, we can see what the pilot did wrong.  We can see the chain of events leading to disaster or lesser issues.  And almost always, we KNOW we would never make the same mistake.

However, if you were to ask the main character in these dramas (before they occurred) whether he or she would do what was done in those circumstances, the answer would nearly always be, “no.”  Or perhaps, “HELL, no.” 

However, there are two disturbing facts (at least they are disturbing when considered together): 1) Most accidents (about 75%) are a result of pilot error, and 2) IF the pilot ever recognizes he’s done something wrong, the recognition comes too late to recover even with all the pilot’s skill, and at that point, it’s unlikely the pilot knows anything more than that he did something wrong, but perhaps not WHAT.

Back, then to the unanswered question; “What was the pilot thinking?”  Absolutely guaranteed, it isn’t what you’re thinking when you read the article that describes what happened.  Two thoughts occur to me: 1) “Things are going great.”, and 2) “I’m a little uncomfortable, but things will get better.”  Any more critical (read realistic) thought would have resulted in action that would have broken the accident chain, just as we all would have in our arm-chair analysis.

So, perhaps the actual unanswered question is “why doesn’t the pilot see what’s so obviously wrong?”

My intent here isn’t to answer that question, but to start what I hope is a useful discussion, but a couple of ideas to kick off the process would include: lack of situational awareness, get-home-itis, and lack of personal minimums.


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Decision Making - Maximize Pilot Capabilities

Aviation accidents can happen during any phase of aircraft operation. But statistics from accident studies highlight the types of operations where accidents are most likely to occur. Not surprisingly, takeoffs and landings are high on the list. Air Canada Safety Board accident statistics show that 22% are related to takeoff,17% during cruise, and 61% during landing.

Several months ago, I wrote about pilots exceeding their “capabilities” with regards to skills and cognitive reasoning and the resulting effect on aviation accidents. A pilot’s capacity to deal with various normal phases of flight (ex. takeoff and landing) and reserve capacity to deal with real-time (sometimes unexpected) situations is one of the foundations for safe flight operations. Air Canada published a nice diagram illustrating a pilot’s normal operational capacity and the decreased safety margin particularly during landing.

So, how can we increase our safety margin during takeoff and landing? Here are several ideas…)

1)     Avoid distractions during critical phases of flight. Distractions may include heads down work, adjusting radios/avionics, passenger interruptions, etc.

2)     Use checklists… preflight, take off, cruise, and landing checklists. If interrupted, start the checklist again.

3)     If unusual situations occur (ex. emergency, aircraft problem, or unusual ATC instructions), focus on “Aviate”, Navigate, Communicate (ANC).

4)     Focus outside the cockpit to maintain situational awareness.

5)     Get plenty of rest, exercise, reduce stress, and eat healthy.

6)     Practice, Practice, Practice (takeoffs and landings)


Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC

Mammoth Ski Trip

I enjoy going on adventures while flying.  My coworker's suggestion that we fly to Mammoth Mountain for a weekend of skiing was an adventure opportunity.  It was something that could only reasonably done with general aviation: a less than two hour flight to Mammoth instead of an at least six and a half hour drive.

When my buddy first proposed the flight, we planned to go in the middle of February.  As you probably recall, it was raining and snowing what seemed like most of the winter.  By the time we had to purchase lodging, I figured we were more likely to have a flyable weekend at the end of March than in mid-February.  We pushed the trip to the end of March.  As it happened, when the February weekend rolled around, it was perfect flying weather and would have been pretty good for skiing.  Oh well, when planning trips you've got to make the best decision you can with the information available at the time.

So, the March weekend got close and I began looking at the weather a week out.  Again the deadline to cancel lodging was approaching.  With seven days before the trip, it looked as if a storm would move in for a good chunk of the ski weekend.  Because plans had already been made to take off work, we contemplated just changing the trip to head to Tahoe instead.  Not the same as Mammoth, since our backup plan would be to drive.  But, at least driving would be an option if the weather was not good enough for flying over the mountains.  As the week wore on, the forecast turned unambiguously positive for the flight over to Mammoth and we pressed forward.  Three different storm systems would go through over the next several days, but the ski weekend was forecast to be bookended with clear weather between storms.

When Thursday dawned, the weatherman had been correct.  The flight over Yosemite and the High Sierra was gorgeous.  The snowcapped peaks were unobscured by clouds.  We enjoyed flying over the closed Tioga Pass road that might not open until sometime in June. 

Upon arrival at the Mammoth Lake airport, the lineman was wearing just a light fleece.  There was little snow anywhere near the airport.  But, as snow was expected to fall over the next few days, I made sure to have a phone number to ask the crew to move the plane to a hangar if heavy snow seemed possible.

As I woke up the next day, snow was already beginning to fall in Mammoth Lakes.  I did not want the plane to be covered by snow, then have it melt a little, then freeze overnight onto the wings and other surfaces.  I called the airport and asked them to move the plane into a hangar.  This would cost on the order of $35 a night which is why I did not arrange for it the first night.  With snow starting to fall and several inches predicted, though, it now seemed the prudent course.

The first day of skiing was good.  This was my first time at Mammoth.  Due to high winds and blustery and blowing snow, the upper mountain was closed.  But, it's an enormous resort with plenty of terrain to check out.

After the lifts closed, it was time to start looking to see if we'd need to leave at the end of skiing the next day, Saturday, or stay the night and leave the following morning, Sunday.  My preference was to stay the night to enjoy the full day of skiing and another evening in Mammoth Lakes, but if the weather was not going to cooperate for a departure Sunday morning, I didn't want to be stuck in Mammoth an extra day or longer.  The weather briefing at that point, about twenty-four hours in advance, was inconclusive.  It looked as if cloudy weather with a freezing level of around 5000 feet would be possible for Sunday morning.  That would argue for a Saturday afternoon departure.  The weather briefing on Saturday morning also didn't make the decision clear.  We resolved to check at lunch on Saturday and make a decision.

By lunchtime, the forecast had become clear.  A flight on Saturday afternoon would have been inadvisable, given the windy conditions over the ridges and low clouds.  Additionally, the clouds and wet weather originally predicted for Sunday morning had been pushed back to around 3pm on Sunday.  We were able to enjoy a full day of skiing with the mountain open top to bottom. 

On Sunday morning, I called the airport and asked them to pull the plane out of the hangar.  Additionally, because the weather had been well below freezing overnight, the hangar unheated, and the outside temperature just now beginning to rise above freezing, I asked the lineman for preheat.  Starting a cold-soaked engine can do as much wear as 500 hours of flying at cruise.  Given the cost of the preheat at $65, this was the right thing to do.  After the preheat and a thorough preflight, we were off.  The flight home was marked by thin overcast clouds around 14,000 feet, winds aloft around 15 knots, and beautiful scenery above the wilderness west of Mammoth.  Tioga Pass and the mountains over Yosemite were obscured by clouds, making this other trans-Sierra route the preferred option.

This first foray into flying into Mammoth for a weekend of skiing was a success and a lot of fun.  Nevertheless, because it involved mountain flying in winter, I had to assess and reassess the weather and the forecasts as they changed both prior to and during the trip.  The two nights in the hangar and the preheat added a little bit of extra expense, but not having done those could have greatly reduced the life of the engine or been a hassle to clear off the airframe.  I look forward to the chance to spend another ski weekend in Mammoth, made possible by General Aviation.

WOW – Women of West Valley Flying Club

In spite of the winter storms, we flew on all three flyouts this quarter.  HAF, Willows (KWLW), and Paso Robles (KPRB.).  We had to dodge scattered clouds along the way to Willows, but Nancy’s restaurant and her famous pies made it worth it.

Joe’s One-Niner Diner on the field was a great lunch destination.  It’s nice to have a restaurant again at PRB.

Upcoming Flyouts:


May 20th - 3O1

June 10th - 3O8

July 22nd - KAUN

August 19th KJAQ


(Dates and locations subject to Change.  Contact Sue Ballew for further information:


Bob Lenox, Vice President – PAAA (Palo Alto Airport Assoc)

Palo Alto Airport Association and YOU

If you’ve been around a couple of years, you’ve noticed that the airport is slowly improving; the runway smoothed out and potholes filled.  The City took back operation of the airport from Santa Clara County, and has been very proactive in making small improvements, as budget allows.  If you’ve been here longer, you know that the County really did treat PAO as a stepchild.  The County owns and runs South County (E16) and Reid-Hillview (RHV), but only operated PAO under a lease arrangement.

For many years (over a decade, really) the Airport Association worked tirelessly to convince the City to take back the Airport earlier than the lease termination date of 2017.   Due to the County’s management and accounting practices that allowed the infrastructure to deteriorate, even while maximizing profit-taking from our users, the airport’s condition was shameful, and in some cases, downright dangerous.

Over time, the airport has had an (please pardon the too obvious pun) up and down relationship with the City Council and the residents.  The recent Council has been the most favorable one in memory.  With help from the City Manager’s office, the Public Works Department and our Airport Staff, there has not been a better relationship in over a generation.  However, it doesn’t take a historian to remember that there have been groups of residents, with allies on the City Council, who have wanted the airport closed for many different reasons – Noise, “dangerous little planes”, returning the land Tidal Basin, or to build Soccer fields or a Park, or even to build Anaerobic Digesters on the property.

There are currently some troubling developments among the populous.  A group called Sky Posse Palo Alto has formed, mostly concerned with airline traffic into SFO and SJC.  However, they have spawned and egged on the membership to complain about PAO operations, low flying little planes, leaded fuel and any and all other concerns they can think of.  Sky Posse has gotten the ear of several Council members, as well as Congressional members.  They have aligned with other groups in the area, in Southern California and the nation.  They are well organized and vocal.

Some of their members have done their homework, and are asking the City Council to stop accepting Federal grants.  This of course, would mean an end to airport improvements, and could eventually lead to closure.  Now, I’m not suggesting that the Council will do any of that soon, but the Council is constituent driven, and if all they hear from are anti-aviation interests, I can assure you that, in the long-run, things will not go well.

The Palo Alto Airport Association (PAAA) has been at the forefront of advocating on behalf of the Aviation community, and relies on those interested in promoting, protecting and defending the airport for volunteers.  At the very least, a membership shows interest; there is strength in numbers when we speak to the Council.  We need you, too, to volunteer for Airport Day, our annual open house when the Community is invited out the airport for a day of education and information.  Please join the Association and help us as we continue to move forward with the vision of PAO as a world-class local airport.


Thank You,

Bob Lenox


AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer