The last time the Department of Aviation at the University of Oklahoma bought planes was in 2005. With nearly 10-year-old technology being used to teach aviation students, there’s the questions of safety and industry relevance of these planes.
In 2005 the OU Department of Aviation purchased 13 new Piper Warrior III airplanes, replacing a nearly 30-year-old fleet. The Department of Aviation consistently checks the Piper Warrior III fleet to ensure that even after 10 years they’re still safe for students to fly. Ken Carson, Program Director of the OU Department of Aviation, explained that the best way to make sure the planes are safe is by what he calls “preventative maintenance”.
“The neat thing about airplanes,” Carson said, “is it’s all about maintenance and preventative maintenance. If you have a good product and good preventing maintenance, the planes will fly a long time and last a long time.”
The process of preventative maintenance is a very complex one. There are many different checks that need to be done on a plane before it even leaves the ground to make sure that students are safe when flying.
“We have four FAA A&P certified mechanics,” Carson said, “they do 100 hour inspections and an annual inspection and they replace parts when they need to be replaced.”
That’s not the only safety precautions the department takes. There are specific inspections and checks that also need to be done to determine if the planes are safe to fly.
“So the maintainers do the work and then there’s an inspector that they have an IA, inspecting authorization, that cross checks the work.” Carson said, “They’re very thorough and then of course we take the plane out and the pilot also does a pre-flight checklist.”
Safety isn’t the only concern with 10-year-old planes. In the last 10 years technology has advanced tremendously and that affects the technology used in modern day planes. There are currently two major avionic systems used in airplanes – steam gauge and glass cockpit.
Carson described a steam gauge cockpit as “the round dials” – pressure gauges, temperature gauges etc. On the other hand, glass cockpit avionics is a newer computer based technology used in airplanes. The OU Department of Aviation has planes with both technologies, but Carson says that they intentionally teach students using the older steam gauge technology as a safety precaution.
“If the glass computer panel fails on a car you simply pull over to the side of I-35 and call AAA.” Carson said, “In an airplane when the panel fails or you have an electrical failure you revert to some standby gauges on the side.”
Learning on steam gauge airplanes is beneficial to students because it gives them a skill set they wouldn’t otherwise have that might come in handy in a time of crisis. Andrew Cook, an Air Traffic Control major at OU says that the 10-year-old planes are just as safe as new ones.
“If we compare [the 10-year-old planes] to planes now they won’t have all the same features as the newer planes,” Cook says, “but for the most part they’ve got everything you need to be safe.”
With planes in the industry beginning to use newer technology there’s also a conversation around how students will transition from training planes in college to flying modern commercial planes. Justin Blake, a professional pilot major at OU, says learning new planes is just part of the job.
“Transitioning to newer technology than what I’m going to be used to when I graduate I don’t think will be much of a problem.” Blake said, “Every aircraft you learn you have to start from the beginning and learn it all anyways.”
Carson also explained that transitioning to new airplanes is just something you have to do in the industry.
“There’s no way a university flight program knows what you’re going to go do.” Carson said, “Once you have [training] licenses then you move up to bigger equipment that can do more jobs.”