"Mike Busch " Avstry #4

Mike Busch, the Savvy Aviator tells us about the early days of Avweb, his Savvy Aircraft Maintenance Management program, his aircraft maintenance webinar and announces the launch of the SavvyAnalysis website.

Published Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2012

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Show Notes

J.R. Warmkessel: Mike, thank you so much for being with us today. One of the things that I like to start these interviews with is I like to talk about the aviation licenses, credentials, and certificates that you hold. So, maybe you can share with the listeners what those are.

Mike Busch: I started flying, I got my private in 1965. I have roughly about 75hours piloting command all piston GA that I paid for. As opposed to the other way around. I am a commercial pilot with instrument, multi-engine glider ratings. I am a CFI for airplanes instruments multi-engine. I am an airframe and pilot mechanic with inspection authorization that's probably for the certificates.

J.R. Warmkessel: I see you have definitely been around the field a few times.

Mike Busch: Yes. I have been involved in GA for about 45 years give or take a year.

J.R. Warmkessel: Tell me about the beginning, your first flight, where you learned to fly? Take us back.

Mike Busch: I actually learned to fly in Phoenix, Arizona. I really cannot recall what prompted me to do it. But, I was between my junior and senior years at Dartmouth College, which is where I got my undergraduate education, trained as a mathematician, by the way. At the time, was involved in some enormously pioneering efforts at the dawn of the computer age. I was part of the group at Dartmouth that invented stuff like the Basic Language and so on.

I had the opportunity to take six months off between my junior and senior years to go down to Phoenix, Arizona and do some work for, at that time was the General Electric Computer Equipment Division, which subsequently was acquired by Honeywell. To create the first commercial computing utility based on centrally modifying the work that we had done at Dartmouth to turn it into a commercially viable product. That is what I was doing in Phoenix at the time.

For some reason I decided that since I had six months in the land of eternal sunshine that I would go study for my private certificate. I got my private just before I left Phoenix to go back to New Hampshire to continue my senior year at Dartmouth.

J.R. Warmkessel: Wow, you said that was in '65?

Mike Busch: That was in '65. I was class of '66 at Dartmouth. I then, subsequently, entered Princeton University doing graduate studies in mathematics. At that time, my career goal was to become a math professor. Things changed pretty radically for me but, that was the plan at the time.

I joined the Princeton Flying Club, had some interesting early flying experiences down there. Subsequently, moved to New York City. Entered Business School at Columbia University and while I was in New York, which is where I grew up. I was born and raised in New York City and spent my pre-college years on the south shore of Long Island, New York. When I was in New York going through Business MBA Program that's when I got my instrument rating. Then in 1967, I guess, I wound up moving to the west coast and I have been here ever since.

J.R. Warmkessel: So, any flights back in that time frame are memorable that you might want to share with us?

Mike Busch: You mean back in the, in the Jurassic time frame?

J.R. Warmkessel: Sure, absolutely

Mike Busch: Well, actually, I do remember a couple of particularly memorable flights. It would probably take me about two hours to do them all justice.

But, the first memorable flight that comes to mind is when I had just entered Princeton decided that I wanted to join the Princeton Flying Club and go out and get checked out in their Cessna 150, which at that time was based in Robbinsville, New Jersey Airport. So, during a break in my school curriculum I drove out to Robbinsville and introduced myself to the airport manager/chief 135 pilot/chief mechanic etc., etc. He was basically the cook and bottle washer of Robinsville Airport at the time.

Told him that I wanted to get checked out in Flying Club Cessna 150. I had basically done my private training in Phoenix then moved back to the east coast. This was going to be my very first flying since I got my private certificate. Anyway, he agreed to go up in the 150 with me and give me a check out flight so that I could fly the club airplane. We took off from Robinsville and did stalls and steep turns and all the usual stuff. He was quite satisfied and said okay let's go back and do a couple of landings and I'll sign you off for the Club Airplane.

So, we went back to Robinsville which at that time was a 3,000 foot uncontrolled airport. No taxiways just a midfield taxiway, and I proceeded to land the airplane at Robinsville, used about 2,900 feet of the 3,000 foot runway. Made what I thought was a very good approach and a very good landing exactly as my Phoenix instructor had taught me to do.

This guy looked at me with a slack jaw, and said what the hell was that and I said what do you mean. He said you used all the runway. And I said, well, yeah, this is a really short runway. I said this is the first runway I've ever landed on that was less than 10,000 feet long. He said do you know what speed you were carrying over the boundary. And I said yeah, 80 miles an hour, exactly what my flight instructor taught me. He said okay, we are going to go back and do it again, this time you are going to come over the boundary at 60 miles. I said 60 miles an hour that's impossible we'll fall out of the sky.

At any rate, basically, I had, you know, learned to fly out west on these huge runways. I learned all sorts of things about, you know, high density and altitudes and all that kind of stuff. But, I knew nothing about short field landings. Unbeknownst to me, the flight instructor, my primary flight instructor, who had been a DC9 pilot for Air West did a little instruction on the side. He believed in adding an extra 10 miles an hour for the kid and extra 10 miles an hour because the wind was above 10 knots. So, he taught me to make these landings at these screamingly fast speeds and that's the way I was taught, I didn't know any better.

So, anyway, I learned about how to land an airplane in that day. So, having been freshly checked out in that Club Airplane, the next week I scheduled the airplane for an hour and I decided I would go out and do my first little short cross country in central New Jersey and just get to see what the lay of the land looks like. And, so, I did dutifully made a flight plan on my sectional chart with all sorts of visual check points and stuff just like I had learned to do in training.

I took off in this airplane very quickly discovered that I was in very deep trouble because the prevailing visibility was about seven miles in haze and I had never flown in anything but 100 mile visibility before. I suddenly discovered that instead of being able to look over at the horizon and see mountain peaks and all that stuff that I was used to I could see a fairly small circle on the ground with highways and railroad tracks and all sort of stuff that looked exactly like every other highway and railroad track.

I started desperately searching my sectional chart and trying to correlate things that I saw in this very small restrictive circle on the ground or what I thought was very small restrictive circle, it was about seven miles visibility, to what I saw on the chart. And, every time I thought that I identified a landmark that I could find on the chart it turned out that there were three other landmarks that looked exactly the same.

I was too proud to, I really wanted to do this by pilotage, I was too proud to go in VOR and figure out where I really was. So, I kept desperately trying to figure out where I was by visual observation. And finally, after what seemed like the longest time, I finally was able to find a landmark that I could uniquely identify and that there was absolutely no question about what I was looking at and where I was. The landmark turned out to be the Statue of Liberty and I turned out to be right over the top on Newark International Airport.

Those were the days back before Class B airspace and back before we had transponders in the airplane. So, I sort of beat feet back to Robinsville using VOR Navigation and FAA was not the wiser of it. Today, I would probably have been busted three ways from Sunday and escorted by F16s stuff like that. But, those were fairly primitive days.

But, any rate, my first two flights after arriving at Princeton were both great learning experiences. And that's probably as far as I'll go with this.

J.R. Warmkessel: That's fair.

Mike Busch: I think the statute of limitations has run.

J.R. Warmkessel: Tell me about the path from the Princeton days kind of maybe onward to the beginning of Avweb what led you there?

Mike Busch: During my years at Dartmouth and Princeton and Columbia I gradually decided that my career was not going to be as a college math professor but was going to be in the fledgling field of computer sciences and in particular software development and I spent most of my adult career up until the mid nineties as a software developer originally with fortune five hundred companies then eventually I went out on my own and did some entrepreneurial things. In the mid nineties, having been a software developer for thirty years or so I kind of decided it was time to retire from that and I managed to make enough money to be comfortable and decided to try to turn my avocation into a vocation. In the mid nineties this was sort of a, more or less the dawn of the commercial Internet. When I say commercial Internet, the Internet originally was Arpanet it was a network that was designed to connect universities and so on but in the nineties it transitioned to something much broader and it was very obvious to me being a software developer type most of my life that this was a technology that was going to change the world and I wanted to learn something about it.

The only way to do that was to get involved with some project that involved the Internet. So I came up with the idea of developing an Internet based news service that would deliver originally a weekly newsletter to the general aviation community and I wound up running into another gentleman who had a similar idea but his idea was to not create a news service but to create an Internet based electronic magazine for general aviation. We wound up having some discussions and deciding that we would probably do better as partners than as competitors so we ultimately wound up launching Avweb which is basically a hybrid both an aviation magazine online which had never been done before and an aviation news service delivered by email which had never been done before.

J.R. Warmkessel: When was this?

Mike Busch: Well we started it I believe in ninety-five, I might be wrong but that might have been ninety-four but it was right about that timeframe. And I served as Colum editor and editor in chief of Avweb for about seven and a half years until I think sometime in two thousand and one if I'm not mistaken when we sold the company to Bellmore Publications.

J.R. Warmkessel: Back in that time at Avweb what kind of services, what might I find on Avweb back in ninety-seven or so? If I was looking at it what would I have seen?

Mike Busch: Well, I mean, as I said Avweb was started as basically the synthesis of two concepts, a news service and a magazine. From the news service standpoint I wound up hiring a cadre of aviation reporters and we basically did what Avweb does today except that when we started we were doing it only once a week and subsequently became twice weekly. And it's diversified into other things like audio and video and so on but the other side of Avweb was the magazine aspect and I wound up recruiting a cadre of really quite extraordinary columnists who would contribute an article once a month to be published on Avweb and people I recruited were actually quite extraordinary writers, John Deacon did the Pelicans Perch series, was probably the first person to seriously talk about power plant management and lean of peak and stuff like that, developed a huge following. Michael Mia Charles was one of our columnists who has published articles in all the major magazines and wrote a pretty extraordinary book and so on, very talented guy. I don't remember all the communists we recruited but we had a very impressive cadre of people. We started a interview series where once a month we would do an in-depth interview with some very notable or extraordinary pilot and that was a very interesting series that we did. I remember one of the interviews we did was with Ray Dolby from Dolby Labs, I flew up to Mossfield just north of the golden gate bridge to interview Ray and met Ray and we said, "Well, where should we do the interview?" he said, "Well, why don't we get in the cabin of my Pilatus PC -12 which is about the size of a very large living room and why don't we do the interview there and proceeded to do that. That's sort of how we got started and as I said it was really a...two major facets of that, one was the news aspect and the other was the magazine the feature magazine aspect.

J.R. Warmkessel: I have to tell you that I've spent a substantial amount of time reading all of the articles that John Deacon wrote and have always been thoroughly impressed with everything he ever did.

Mike Busch: An interesting story because I'd known John for years back from the old days where there was an aviation group called Avis on Compu-serve on, back in the pre-Internet days when we all dialed in with dial up modems and stuff. I'd always been very taken with Johns posts on Compu-serve and some of his wonderful war stories about the time he was flying for Air America the C.I.A. front organization in Southeast Asia an stuff. So when I was looking for columnists for Avweb I went and recruited John and John was totally unwilling to do it, he said, "I'm not a writer, I don't know anything about that" and I said, "John, I've been reading your stuff on Compu-serve for years trust me you're a writer and I'm a good editor and I think we could do something." I really had to twist his arm very hard and he said, "Ok, I'll try writing a couple articles, let's see what happens" and you know, the rest was history cause he developed this huge following but he was convinced that he was not qualified for the job and I had to convince him he was.

J.R. Warmkessel: That was something really special, I thank you. Cause I run my engine Lena Peak, I just could not have done it without his articles describing in detail, every step and how to do it and why to do it, was important to me. You sold Avweb to...

Mike Busch: Belvar Publications, it's the company that publishes aviation consumer and I-Afar magazine, aviation safety and stuff. They did not have any kind of e-publication they were all... you know, they had a significant number of publications based on dead trees and this was their introduction to the electronic publication world.

J.R. Warmkessel: So, what did you do from there, where did you go?

Mike Busch: Well, after Avweb bending about eight years, this wasn't my exclusive activity but it was probably the major thing I was doing in aviation. But I put together a seventeen hour, you know, sort of total emersion weekend seminar for aircraft owners. By this time I had become very interested in the maintenance aspect of things. For about twenty years I'd been a tech rep for the Cessna Pilots Association and I wound up getting involved with American Bonanza Society and The Cirrus owners and pilots association, helping owners with maintenance issues. Decided to put together a chorus for aircraft owners that would teach them how to manage the maintenance on their aircraft. It had been my observation that most owners were spending twice as much money on maintenance as they really needed to, having a lot of stuff done to their airplanes that didn't need to be done, suffering from very poor troubleshooting advice and so on. So I put together this weekend seminar it was seventeen hours of very intense training and for about eight years I went around the country putting on these seminars for aircraft owners. It sort of varied in intensity but I think one year I put close to thirty of these seminars on but other years I did fewer than that. Put probably fifteen-hundred aircraft owners through this seminar and one of the things that I learned from that experience and it was very, very interesting experience doing these courses and interacting with all these aircraft owners and hearing a lot of their war stories and so on. But one of the things that I learned was that only maybe a third of the people who went through that course to learn how to manage their maintenance, wound up actually doing a very effective job of it. One of the things that I learned was that, it's not really enough to know how to manage the maintenance of an aircraft, you also have to have the right mind set to do it and one of the phenomena that I found extremely interesting is to determine, is to see just how difficult it is for many aircraft owners, I guess I would probably say most aircraft owners to give direction to their mechanics. They're so used to taking directions from their mechanics, which, in my mind is a complete inversion of the natural order that very few aircraft owners are any good at telling their mechanics what they want done and what they don't want done. They find it very uncomfortable. In my current business, which will probably come to in a little bit, most of my clients are high net worth individuals, very active, busy entrepreneurs, mostly people who are, you know, type A or type A squared personalities that are kind of hard-driving and used to having things done their way, and it just fascinates me to see these people who tend in most aspects of their lives to be masters of their domain, will turn into sniveling wimps when it comes to dealing with an A&P mechanic. So it dawned on me that for a lot of aircraft owners, teaching them how to manage the maintenance is not going to get the job done because they either don't have the assertiveness or they're so far out of their comfort zone that they can't actually do it even though you teach them how. So that kind of brought me to the point about four years ago when I started my professional maintenance management company, something that had never ever been done before in owner-flown GA, of actually offering a service to aircraft owners to do this for them. Effectively they hire my company, we assign them a veteran A&PI, who is essentially their maintenance advocate and maintenance representative who basically just takes over the interface with the shop, gives direction to the shop, provides oversight to the shop, schedules appointments, verifies that the invoices are reasonable before we let the client pay them, just a million things that we do. We're heavily involved in the troubleshooting of the aircraft, and basically we do for the owners in the savvy maintenance program what I spent eight years trying to teach owners how to do for themselves with somewhat mixed success.

J.R. Warmkessel: So now do you still offer that seminar program or...?

Mike Busch: I actually don't. I stopped doing the 17 hour seminars. The last one I did was in the summer of 2010, I think, so it's been about two years. The courses were just getting too expensive to put on. In order to break even on them I would have to charge a tuition of 500 dollars a person, and by the time you included their hotel bills and restaurant bills and travel, it was typically going to cost an aircraft owner, you know, 1,000 bucks to go through this program. So I just stopped it about two years ago and what I've been doing for the last two years instead is doing a series of a free maintenance webinars. I put on a free maintenance webinar, typically, oh, most of them are about an hour-and-a-half long, on the first Wednesday of every month. In fact, I'm going to be doing one tomorrow, and they're free, which is a much better price than 500 or a 1,000 dollars. Every one is on a different maintenance topic. All of the webinars are recorded and the recordings are put online within 24 hours after the webinar is over so that people who can't attend the webinars live can watch the replay. Basically the only thing you can't do is participate in the Q&A if you watch it after the fact, of course, but I did this for about a year kind of on my own, and then EAA became cosponsor so the webinars are now all hosted on the EAA's video site. We typically every first Wednesday of every month, we typically get, oh, between 400 and 600 aircraft owners showing up at these webinars and many thousands of them watching the videos of the webinars after the fact. It's an infinitely more cost-effective delivery medium than, you know, when I was doing the live classes I would be reaching 20 or 30 aircraft owners at a time. You pretty much can't teach a live class with more than about 30 people in it or it gets totally out of control, and now I can reach 15 times as many people and they can do it for free instead of having to pay a bunch of money to do it. Also, it's much more time-efficient for me with the incredible success of this manage maintenance program that I started four years ago. I mean, we've been growing at 5 percent a month for four years if you can imagine that, and the growth rate's actually increasing now. I just don't have time to be going out on the road and doing these things, so the webinars have worked out much better I think, both for me and the aircraft owners who participate, and it's been a really successful program.

J.R. Warmkessel: Can you give me a feeling or a flavor of what kind of topics you might have covered in the past or maybe in the near future?

Mike Busch: Well, I mean, the best thing to do would be to just go to the webpage. I think there's 16 different webinars that are recorded up there right now. It's I can pull it up on my screen and read you off some titles if you want.

J.R. Warmkessel: Just give me two or three.

Mike Busch: Probably two-thirds of the webinars are titled All About "blank," where "blank" varies from tires to spark plugs to cylinders, basically all the different pieces and parts on an airplane where we get into a lot of detail about that sort of thing. There's a webinar, "How to Properly Lean an Engine." There's a webinar about when the right time to overhaul an engine is, and, oh, by the way, the answer is not at TBO because I'm a total nonbeliever in TBO. The engines on my airplane are both at 200 percent of TBO and I'm not in any hurry to do anything with them, and we frequently get our manage maintenance clients to way, way beyond TBO on their engines. That's a reasonable cross-section, I guess.

J.R. Warmkessel: Oh, yeah. That's good, and certainly we'll link to your website from our show notes, so if the users have any questions...

Mike Busch: Yeah, there's got to be something like 30 hours of video up there right now. For anybody's that interested in maintenance, there's a tremendous amount of material there. I get a lot of feedback from A&P mechanics who have gone through there and said they learned a lot from the webinars. All these webinars are now approved by the FAA, both for wings credit for pilots and for A&P credit for mechanics. You can only get the credit, I'm pretty sure you can only get the credit by attending the webinar event on the Wednesday. I don't think you get credit just for watching the video, but this library of webinars just keeps growing because I do a new one every month.

J.R. Warmkessel: Fantastic. So, circling back, you said you have your A&P and your IA. Could you tell us about the process you went through to get your A&P and then subsequently your IA?

Mike Busch: Yeah. I got my A&P ticket the hard way, I mean, I don't know if that's fair, but the easy way and the normal way is to go through A&P school. There wasn't any way that I was going to be able to do that. I always had a day-job of some sort. To go to A&P training is about a year and a half of full-time study, or progressively longer than that if you, like, do it at night school or something. And I live in a moderately rural part of California, located about 40 percent of the way from LA to San Francisco in an area of California called the Central Coast. I mean, it's wonderful to live in an area like this, but some of the resources are lacking and there wasn't any practical way I could go through any kind of a night school so I basically, through self-study, one of the requirements to even take the A&P test is that you have to meet a fairly daunting experience requirement, and the experience requirement involves either, graduating from an FAA approved mechanic school, which wasn't really an option for me, or demonstrating that you have 30 months full-time experience performing maintenance under supervision on certificated aircraft. The 30 months doesn't have to be full-time. You just have to meet the hours requirement, which calculates out to about 4,800 hours. So I basically spent 10 years swinging wrenches, mostly on my airplane and amassed the necessary 4,800 hours of experience over about a 10 year period. That allowed me to go to the FSDO and get them to sign off a form allowing me to take the test. Testing for an A&P is somewhat similar to the testing for a pilot's certificate, but it's quite a bit more demanding. There are three separate knowledge tests that you have to take called the mechanic general test, the mechanic airframe test, and the mechanic power plant test, and those knowledge tests are, you know, kind of similar to a pilot test in that nowadays they're done at a computerized testing center and then once you have passed all three of the knowledge tests, then you have to schedule the practical test, which is the mechanics equivalent to a check ride. In the case of an A&P practical test, it's normally at least a one full-day affair. Sometimes it's a day and a half, depending the mechanic examiner, and so on, and you take the test with a designated mechanic examiner the same way a pilot would take a tech ride with a designated pilot examiner, but it's a much more extensive affair than the pilot test. Obviously, I've got a lot of pilot certificates and instructor certificates so I've gone through lots of check rides, but the A&P practical is a, is certainly a much more difficult then to get through. I think that any of the pilot type check rides that I've been through. But, I manage to do it .[laugh]

J.R. Warmkessel: Something you'll never forget.

Mike Busch: No, I won't. That's right.

J.R. Warmkessel: So going on to a company that you work at now, and it sounds like you founded them.

Mike Busch: Yes.

J.R. Warmkessel: Tell me more. If I was so rich that I could afford an airplane and didn't want to maintain it, give me a little more detail, a little more meat, as to what your company provides from a service point of view that might help me want to use you.

Mike Busch: Sure. Well, it's a very comprehensive service. We have a very extensive web site at that describes it and has three long pages of FAQs and all sorts of information. So anybody who's interested in it probably needs to take a little time and go through the web site. First of all, let me make it clear that we don't, we don't do maintenance. Okay? We manage maintenance. Shops do maintenance. The very first thing that we do for our clients is to help them pick the right shops to work on their airplane. And this is one of the things that I've found that owners often don't do a very good job of, is picking the right shop. We deal with hundreds and hundreds of maintenance shops around the US. We're now to a small extent getting involved in international stuff, we're managing airplanes in Israel, and Switzerland and Germany, and the UK, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, but 95 percent or more of the clients that we manage are US-based airplanes. And we work with hundreds and hundreds of shops around the country and it's a pretty eye-opening experience to do that, because what you find is that there are a relatively small handful of really, really good shops, and the competence that we find from shop to shop varies dramatically. In fact, we actually put together a Google Maps application, which is highly secretive because if we ever let it out it would create a big crisis. But we created for ourselves a Google Maps application that's driven off of our service center database where hundreds of shops are depicted on a Google map that we can zoom in on. So if we have a client that has a breakdown in Sheep Dip, Nebraska some place, we can very quickly identify what maintenance resources are available in the greater Sheep Dip area. But we keep very close tabs on these shops, and we actually rate them and color code them so if you look at this map, which you can't do because I won't let you, there are green icons and yellow icons and red icons. And the green icons are, this is a really terrific shop, and the red icon is try to avoid this shop if you possibly can. But there's everything in between. So one of the first things that we do for our clients, and it's a very important thing, I think, is to try to convince them to have their maintenance, particularly their heavy maintenance, annuals and other sort of major things, done at the best shops and to try and avoid the worst shops. I guess the second thing we do is set up service appointments, which is sort of routine. The third thing we do is to enforce a set of formal protocols and procedures on the shops so that all the communication back and forth is done in writing, and it's done in a fairly formalized way to eliminate surprises and misunderstandings. For example, one of our policies is that we never, ever approve any work to be done on an airplane until the shop has provided us a written estimate for the work. Now, it probably sounds kind of obvious to somebody who isn't an aircraft owner, because in almost every state I can think of, that is actually required by regulation, or by state law, when you take your auto into a shop, that they can't just work on the car and then present you an invoice and say surprise, that they have to create a work order and, with a specific estimate, and at least in California, in most states that I'm aware of, the car owner actually has to sign that estimate and approve it. And then the shop is allowed to work on the car, but they're not allowed to go significantly over the estimate that was approved. And if something comes up that will, looks like it's going to cause them to go over the estimate, they have to stop work, go back to the owner, explain what the unforeseen contingency was, and get approval of a revised estimate. The weird thing is that 95 percent of the time, that never happens in aircraft maintenance, because there's no state that I'm aware of, for example, in California, where I live, there's a state bureau of automotive repair that has authority over the automotive service facilities and that enforces these sorts of protocols by state law. I'm not aware of any state that has a state bureau of aircraft repair. I guess the theory is that if you're an aircraft owner, you're supposed to be sophisticated enough to be able to handle all this stuff on your own. But it's amazing how much aircraft maintenance is done on the basis of a handshake or a phone call, with nothing in writing, and how often the first time the aircraft owner finds out what something is going to cost is when he gets the invoice. And then he has sticker shock and frequently there are disputes and ruffled feathers and occasionally litigation, because the whole transaction wasn't handled in a businesslike way. So one of the things that our managed maintenance brings to the table is to basically impose the same sort of businesslike protocols that are routine in the auto maintenance business, but that are so frequently lacking in the GA aircraft maintenance business. The best shops don't have any problem with this because they do it anyway. The run-of-the-mill shops often start out resenting it, but because we control so much maintenance business, they're willing to do things our way because we can bring them a lot of business. And it just eliminates the surprise factor. We don't ever want an invoice to be a surprise. We want an invoice to be totally anti-climactic when it arrives. And of course one of the things that we do for our managed maintenance clients is when the invoice arrives, the client is instructed never to pay a shop invoice until we have reviewed the invoice for appropriateness, made sure that it agrees, at least quite closely, with the written estimates that we received, ensure that all of the work that was done was work that was authorized, and we never allow shops to do any work without specific written authorization. Again, we do everything in writing with them. It's all handled online with a fairly sophisticated online ticket system. And if the invoice is appropriate, we approve it for payment, and our client pays it. And if the invoice isn't appropriate we go back to the shop and tell them that there's a problem with this invoice and we want them to fix it. We get involved in troubleshooting a lot because one of the things that I've found over the years is that most shops are a whole lot better at repairing things than they are at troubleshooting things. And that's not always the fault of the mechanics. Frankly, a very large percentage of the problems that we have with airplanes simply cannot be systematically troubleshot in a maintenance hangar because the problem only manifests itself when the airplane is flying, and if you can't reproduce a problem, you can't troubleshoot it in a systematic fashion. So typically when one of our clients has some issue with his airplane, the last thing we want him to do is take it into the shop. What we want him to do is work with us to gather as much data as possible. Sometimes that involves a prolonged series of 20 questions back and forth between the, between our account manager, which is what we call the senior IA that we assign to each of our clients, and the aircraft owner to try to pin down the exact details of the symptoms. Sometimes it involves asking the aircraft owner to go up on a test flight, perform a certain set of test flight profiles, dump his engine monitor data so that we can analyze it, that sort of thing. Only after we have gathered all the data that we can about the problem and either arrived at a diagnosis or come as close to a definitive diagnosis as we can and sort of narrowed down the possibilities as far as possible, basically what they call in medicine the process of differential diagnosis is what we go through. Only at that point is it appropriate to put the airplane in the shop, and at that point we can tell the shop either exactly what's wrong and what they need to do to fix it, or give them a very, very specific step-by-step troubleshooting plan to carry the troubleshooting forward from where we left off.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well, fantastic. If I didn't own an airplane but was thinking about buying one, is there any services that you might provide that would help me?

Mike Busch: We do a lot of, we do a lot of pre-buy examinations. In fact, at any given point in time, we are probably managing pre-buys on a half a dozen airplanes. We don't get involved in any sort of a brokerage thing. We never represent aircraft sellers. Our clients are always the buyer. Typically the seller, if he's represented, is represented by a broker. Normally we get involved at the point that a prospective buyer has narrowed his choice down to one or a few candidate airplanes, and then we will typically start off by doing a preliminary logbook review just to see if there are any show stoppers. And then managing the pre-buy, helping to pick the shop to do the pre-buy, evaluating the pre-buy results, coaching the owner on his final negotiations with the seller, because typically as a result of the pre-buy we find some airworthiness issues with the airplane that we want to get the seller to correct, and so we work with our clients to help finalize those negotiations. Once title transfers, once the sale is complete, probably about half the time we end up converting the pre-buy into an annual inspection. It just depends on how soon the annual is due and so on. Since at the end of a pre-buy pre-buy the airplane is still all opened up with its guts hanging out, and since the pre-buy involved doing a fairly significant part of what would be involved in annual inspection, it's often cost effective once the deal is consummated and title transfers to the new owner to wind up converting the pre-buy-in to an annual so the owner starts off with a fresh annual. We do that probably about 50 percent of the time.

J.R. Warmkessel: Fantastic. With regards to your customers, do they pay you an hourly basis, or is it a flat fee?

Mike Busch: No, totally a flat fee. We charge flat annual fee that is 750 dollars a year for any single-engine piston airplane. 1,000 dollars a year for any piston twin, and we have also prices for single-engine turbo props, single-engine jets. We don't, we do not do multi-engine turbines. We do not do anything over 12,500 pounds gross weight, and we don't do anything on a 135 certificate. All of those categories of aircraft have much stricter and much more restrictive maintenance regulations and we just don't want to get into that business. One of my commitments when I started this company was that I didn't want to take on any customer, or any client, where I didn't feel that we could save him several times as much in reduce in maintenance cost as what we charge him to manage the maintenance. We have huge latitude when it comes to piston engine aircraft and single-engine turbine aircraft, and that latitude allows us to just say no to a lot of unnecessary maintenance items and stuff, and we frequently save our clients many thousands of dollars a year, and in some cases tens of thousand dollars a year on maintenance for an investment of 750 or 1,000 dollars in management fees. But if we're talking about aircraft like King Airs and Citations, the maintenance rules are so rigid that I didn't feel we could earn our keep, if you will, so we elect not to manage maintenance in those categories. Basically, we concentrate strictly on owner-flown airplanes. 90 percent of our clients fly piston-powered single-engine airplanes. Almost 10 percent fly piston twins. We just do a handful of turbo props at this point.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well, that's fantastic, and if any of our listeners would be interested in getting a hold of you to retain some of your services, is the website the best way or...?

Mike Busch: The website,, is the best way, and there's a contact form on the homepage that will get an email directly to me. There's also a contact us page that gives email addresses and phone numbers and stuff for all of the key managers in our company, including me and our technical director, Jeff Iskierka, and our operations manger, Ann Devers, and so on. So there's a ton of contact information on the website. There's one other thing, if you have a moment, that I want to mention to you that's only peripherally related to what we've been talking about. We are in the 11th hour of a new initiative, in fact, the press release went out last week and was carried by AOPA and EAA and all of the press outlets, Avweb and so on, but we are launching a new, free website called The website's actually up right now. You can go register a free account. The actual platform is still in the very final stages of beta test and our plan is to open it up to the public on the first of July, although it looks to me like we probably will beat that date a little bit. But what is the world's most advanced platform for analyzing engine monitor data. More and more of these aircraft have digital engine monitors installed, whether it's simple thing like the JPI 700 or the JPI 760 I have in my twin, to the very sophisticated Avadine and Gramin glass cockpit things that are in the Cirrus and the Corvalises and stuff that we manage. A large number of piston aircraft nowadays have digital engine monitors, but there's never really been any resource for analyzing the data and most of the data that's captures by these instruments winds up just going into the bin bucket, as we say, without anybody looking at it. We have developed and are about to open for the public called that allows you to upload your engine monitor data where it can be archived as long you want. We provide unlimited storage for doing this and, most importantly, we provide the most sophisticated tools for graphing and analyzing this data that has even been put together. The site is free. It doesn't have ads on it. There's no strings attached. Sometime later this year, probably September-ish time frame, we will start offering professional analysis subscriptions for people who would like professional analysts to take a look at their data, and either analyze the condition of their engine or analyze their power plant management and leaning procedures and give them some coaching as to whether they're managing the engine right or not and how they could do a better job. That's something that we plan to make available later in the year, and that will be another flat-rate annual subscription, obviously a much, much lower number. We haven't really nailed down the figures yet, but it'll be a fairly low priced annual subscription if you want a professional analyst to review your engine monitor data, but the site that's opened on the first of July, and is in final stages of beta test now, is completely free and will be free forever. The site has a user guide up there right now so people can go download and study how it works and see a whole bunch of screenshots and stuff to understand exactly what this site will do. You can even sign up for an account right now, but the site won't actually let you upload data until we open the door, which will be no later than the first of July, and anybody who's signed up for an account prior to the first of July will get an email saying that the site is open, but I did want to mention that. That's a brand new thing. As I said, the press release on that just went out to the aviation media last week and it appeared in the AOPA and EAA e-newsletters and on Avweb, and so on.

J.R. Warmkessel: That's really fantastic, being someone who's had an engine that almost was lost and having my JPI EDM 800 actually, catch the problem before I flew the airplane into the ground, I appreciate the value of being able to watch the trends, look at the problems that the engine monitor records and try to analyze and solve these problems while they're small.

Mike Busch: Absolutely. We find that the engine monitors or the most amazingly powerful tools for diagnosing engine problems, but there's only a relative handful of people who have any experience doing it. I mean, there's almost not a shop we work with that every downloads data or would have a clue what to do with it if they did download it. This is just not something that A+P taught. Kind of amazing to me that...we've actually had pretty good engine monitors now for, I don't know, close to 20 years. I don't remember exactly when the Insight Gem first came out, which is I guess the first engine monitor that actually could record data, but it's been...I think it's been at least two decades, and yet, there still is really no organized way to get that data analyzed in the same sense, for example, as we have with oil analysis, that sort of thing where you can send your oil sample to a lab and get back a report. Of course, we do that for all of our managed maintenance aircraft because I'm a big believer in oil analysis, but it seemed to me that we needed something similar to oil analysis for engine monitor data and we just didn't have anything like that, so we've been working very hard to create infrastructure to make that possible. We developed this site with really quite extraordinary analytical capabilities to meet our own needs, but I decided that it did make sense not to just open it up to anybody. If somebody wants us to actually analyze the data, we'll have to charge them money for that because that involves people time, but the, you know, the computer resource for uploading the data, charting it, even all of the fancy tools that we've developed, like, we've got a tool that automatically calculates a Gami spread to determine if your fuel nozzles are properly balanced or not. All that kind of stuff is up there and it's free for the taking.

J.R. Warmkessel: That's absolutely fantastic.

Mike Busch: My vision is to try to turn this into the, if you will, the Google or the eBay for engine monitor data, just where everyone will be uploading their data to. And a side benefit of this, is after a while, we will have kind of a unique database of actual engine monitor data that just doesn't exist right now, that I suspect the NTSB for example may be very interested in being able to crunch and stuff like that. We're setting up a privacy policy for the site. Where, when you upload data to the site, your identifying information like your name and email address and N number and stuff is secure and nobody will be able to look at your flights unless you explicitly, you like to share it with them by sending them a sharing link. But we reserve the right to use all of this data in the aggregate, be identified for research and so on, and I think after a while its going to be a very valuable resource for looking at things fleet-wide and trying to understand how people are actually running these engines and how frequent various kinds of failures like pre ignition events and stuff are occurring across the G8 fleet and so on. It's also an aspect of this thing that's kind of exciting to me.

J.R. Warmkessel: I'm really excited about the engine monitoring website. I'm going to sign up right now.

Mike Busch: Yeah It's been a really exciting project for us. As a career software developer it's been a lot of fun putting this thing together. It's exceeded my expectations and will be going through an ongoing enhancement program I'm sure over the next year. One of the things that really sets it apart is that for the first time ever, in the history of the world, there's one platform that can accept data from literally every make and model, engine monitor, on the face of the earth. We're even supporting things like the demon, which is an uncertified box but very popular with the home builders and so on. And our basic policy is if you have an engine monitor data file that we can't parse, it automatically goes into a queue for our developers and we will have a parser up within a week.

J.R. Warmkessel: That's fantastic.

Mike Busch: Cause we just want to be able to support anything that you can throw at us. The concept is to kind of become the Google of engine monitor data.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well that's a great idea. You know had a clogged injector, a partially clogged injector, and I was taking off and one of my engines, one of the cylinders spiked. What was going on here? And I chopped the power and came around and landed, you know no big deal.

Mike Busch: And of course without an engine monitor you never would have had known

J.R. Warmkessel: I would have never known. And you know it was, the temperatures were up, I don't know what they were, 820 830 on takeoff at full power at sea level. And it was, you know, wow. This could have been a real problem. And the engine monitor paid for itself in one flight

Mike Busch: That's what I always tell people who don't have engine monitors. I said this is one investment that will pay for itself very quickly. The other thing that drives me nuts is that there seems to be this prejudice which I believe is completely bass-ackwards. That engine monitors are something that you only need on high performance sophisticated aircraft. My view is the exact opposite. If I have a head to barrel separation on my Cessna 310, I fly to the destination, cage the bad engine, and think about how expensive it is going to be to fix. If that same head to barrel separation happens in a Bonanza or Cessna 182, you're going to land the airplane at the next airport and change your underwear. If it happens in a 172 with only 4 cylinders, you're probably gonna land on a road. So from my standpoint, the less redundancy you have, the more you need this kind of equipment. And the prevailing opinion seems to be quite the opposite.

J.R. Warmkessel: And it's so incredibly cheap.

Mike Busch: Yeah.

J.R. Warmkessel: I mean it's a few hundred dollars, maybe two thousand by the time you get it installed.

Mike Busch: Yeah about two thousand bucks I think for a JPI 700 or something installed.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well I want to thank you, I really appreciate all the work you did at Avweb, the seminars that you've had at Oshkosh, which I guess is coming up. Do you want to pitch that a little bit?

Mike Busch: This year as in years passed, I will be giving a series of maintenance oriented presentations on the forums plaza at air venture 2012. I'll be doing eight different talks this year, one or two every day of the show from Monday through Saturday on a variety of different maintenance subjects. My speaking schedule is presently up on the site. If you go to the events schedule, you'll be able to pull up that schedule. It will be eight different topics. I think on Wednesday I'll be doing one on engine monitor data analysis, the subject we were just talking about, but there are also seven other topics that I'll be talking about. Each presentation is an hour and a quarter on the forums plaza, so I'll be looking forward to meeting a lot of your listeners at air venture this year.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well and I'm sure that they'll come and say hi. Mike thank you so much for your time, it was a real pleasure and we look forward to seeing you on the internet, or possibly at Oshkosh.

Mike Busch: My pleasure J.R.

J.R. Warmkessel: Thank you so much.

Direct link to mp3 audio file of show (right-click to download/save).

Show Notes