By Ed Downs
Is there anyone reading this who cannot complete the title of this editorial? Sure, it goes, “just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get me.” Now, according to our friends at Wikipedia, the word paranoid, or paranoia, is defined in somewhat negative terms. It includes, “Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself.” Wow, that definition looks a lot like the guy looking back at me in the mirror every morning. But the fact that I continue to see that reflection is, perhaps, an indication the my “paranoid” behavior has served me well for an aviation career that has lasted well over half a century.
Early in my flying days I read a quote by Wilbur Wright that ended with the concept of “deliberately accepting risk.” Indeed, that is what we do in aviation. We exercise a metered level of paranoia and try to figure out what is out there, “conspiring” to get us. This could be weather, aircraft design, marginal skills, carelessness, overconfidence, human error and many other gremlins that can conspire to spoil your day.
Have I convinced you that “paranoid” can be a good thing? If so, you are invited to direct your “paranoia” to the future of ownership and private use of personal and business aircraft, an activity typically clumped together by the term “General Aviation,” or “GA.”
To be sure, the GA industry has been working its way through regulatory and economic challenges for years, as do all industries, but something has changed. Never before has this writer seen the type of anti-GA rhetoric being hurled about as we have seen in the last several years.
Think about it. Business aviation has been vilified at the highest levels of our electorate. The use of advanced aircraft as tools for conducting global business has been openly criticized as wasteful lavishness. The TSA took the time to issue a major press release just prior to the 10-year commemoration of 9/11 that claimed private aircraft represented the greatest threat we have from terrorists. Major news networks picked up on this and conducted “exposé” type reports while walking amongst rows of Cessnas and Pipers. Reporters pointed out the need for much tighter controls over small planes and played reruns of the tragic suicide flight into an IRS office in Texas. Certified Flight Instructors (CFI’s) and flight schools are now burdened with requirements to positively determine (through a passport or birth certificate) that new student pilots, or existing pilots upgrading their ratings, are U.S. citizens. It seems as though pilots are presumed to be “bad guys” unless they can prove different. Once citizenship is determined, records must be maintained and multiple logbook endorsements made.
Even this writer, as an instructor for Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics, is bound to verify the identity of each attendee through the review of personal documents. CFI’s are required to ensure that foreign national students undergo a complete background check, and then the CFI becomes an integral part of the TSA bureaucracy in keeping track of foreign nationals. In other words, the GA instructing world has been conscripted to be unpaid employee of both the TSA and INS.
Adding to the political vilification and civil rights issues directed at personal aviation, is recent legislation that proposes a $100 tax on each and every flight into controlled airspace. And finally, if you can afford to fly after paying new taxes and meeting complex TSA restrictions (multiple TFR’s), the hue and cry is out to stop all airport related fun activities, like fly-ins and air shows, just to make sure that our big brother is keeping us safe. How’s your blood pressure? We have admired the problem, so let’s get paranoid and get to work.
Even a slight application of paranoia will cause most aviation enthusiasts to realize that the current environment has placed our right (yes right, check out the wording in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations) to fly. Free travel across our great country is at serious risk. It is this writer’s opinion that it is time to establish “situational awareness” and Detect that our circumstances have changed, Estimate our need to react, Choose an outcome we can live with, Identify what we need to do, Do what is required and then Evaluate the effect. Did that sound familiar? It should, as it came directly from the DECIDE model contained in the FAA’s Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, Chapter 16 (ADM), page four. Let’s use the DECIDE model as a guideline to see if we can direct our paranoia towards some positive and effective outcomes.
DETECT – Are we chugging along in a business-as-usual environment, or do we see a rapidly approaching storm? You have read my thoughts on that question; what are yours? This writer sees a storm of unparalleled intensity.
ESTIMATE the need to react – Will doing nothing allow us to avoid the storm? Shall we simply hold our current heading and plow into the storm at maneuvering speed, hopeful that our machine will simply stand up to the onslaught? That is certainly not this old pilot’s choice!
CHOOSE an outcome – Define what you want success to look like, do not simply wave your arms and complain! Do you wish to fight for the American tradition of unrestricted flight and mobility, or will you accept some losses of freedom in the name of not getting stuck with a worst case scenario? Are the “alphabet” groups representing your view of success? This writer refuses to accept any result that ends up with a system mimicking the burdensome and innovation-killing standards (high taxes, massive constriction of available airspace and overwhelming bureaucratic policies) employed by many other countries around the world.
IDENTIFY what we need to do – With outcome defined, decide what actions you will take. Perhaps it is contacting or joining the powerful “alphabet” groups (AOPA, EAA, NBAA, GAMA, ICAS and many more). Maybe you have access to local business groups. The web can help you communicate with elected officials. Can you contribute editorial comments to local news sources? Can you develop and practice a “30 second drill” that allows you to present GAs argument to those who have no knowledge of what is going on (more on this thought in editorials to follow)?
Do what is required – Act! Don’t just talk about it when with a group of pilots. Tell your elected representatives what you really think. Invite elected officials to airport events, and see if they are willing to explain how the destruction of an entire infrastructure and loss of thousands of jobs helps America. Be aggressive! Remember, you will seldom avoid a severe storm in an airplane with only a 10-degree change in heading!
Evaluate the effect – Did your efforts work? Does one maneuver solve an emergency issue involving an airplane in flight? The issues we are dealing with today have been building up for years, with an intense acceleration of hostility in the last two years. Your first shots may have a positive effect, but in all likelihood, follow-up will be needed. This will certainly not be the only editorial this writer will offer on the subject.
There are certainly many more words that can (and will) be written about the current challenges facing GA. But these challenges are going to remain challenges unless we all begin to get involved and act. Words written by Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller (14 January 1892 – 6 March 1984) regarding involvement in social change seem appropriate to GA’s situation today. As many others have done over the years, allow me to alter some of his prophetic words to meet the issues we face:
When they attacked business aviation,
I remained silent;
I did not own a business airplane.
When they assailed civil rights and dignity,
I remained silent;
I was not in training and did not travel by airline.
When they sought to shut down airport festivals and airshows,
I remained silent;
As I have no time for such events.
When they levied tax restrictions against those who use ATC services,
I remained silent;
I fly only recreationally.
When they told me my kind of flying had no value and must stop,
I called for help;
but there was no one left to speak out.
This editorial reflects the views of the writer but not neccesarily the views of In Flight USA.