Category Archives: Politics

Zombie Politics

While flying toward downstate Illinois, I came across this cornfield and decended to 1,000 AGL for a better look:

Amazing what you can do with a tractor slaved to a GPS. The real question: What happens if you get lost?? Do you wait until it’s harvest time and the combine comes through?

Or seek help from Zombies?

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Can You Spot the Red Herring?

Lt. Kenneth Solosky, with 21 years in the NYPD, articulates the facts  regarding general aviation as a security threat after the February light airplane crash in Austin Texas. Some politicians and a whole lot of the MSM continue to view light airplanes as terrorist weapons and a hole in homeland security. The shrill cry goes forth for more pilot and airport regulation.

As law enforcement professionals, we must ask ourselves, is general aviation a significant terror threat or just a red herring? If history is our guide, the answer is no; general aviation poses no more of a threat than any other vehicle such as a car or truck and indeed, perhaps is less of a threat. ……..Even if a plane was loaded with explosives, the damage could never approach the devastation caused by a large truck bomb such as used by Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995….The weight limitations and relatively small cabin size of general aviation aircraft certainly limit their ability to carry a similar devastating deadly payload.

An informed voice of reason. Which is nice for a change.

Common Sense

It was good to hear the White House dropped the plan to impose user fees on general aviation and stay with the current tax on tickets and fuel . This will help prevent many more airports from closing. The 5,300 general aviation airports in the U.S. connect with others in the system in a way that the large 22 airports simply cannot by themselves and provides more capacity so that cargo and passengers don’t further clog the class B system. New levies on the already beleaguered aviation industry would have also  reduced available jobs. Taxes aren’t the answer to every problem. Thanks go out to the AOPA, EAA, GAMA and others for their persistence and hard work.

Who Needs General Aviation?

There’s been a lot of discussion about airport funding in recent weeks, given the squeeze on the economy. Small airports need upgrades and repairs to remain operational. Airport fuel taxes continue to fund a large part but they also benefit from federal funding.

Despite the valiant efforts of AOPA and others, to most people general aviation is the corporate high roller in their Gulfstream or possibly the rich adrenaline junkie. There are only 22 major airports in the country which the majority of travelers use. Why should tax dollars be used for smaller airports? Everyone who travels should recognize that to prevent further scheduling problems at the large airports, we need to support the landing facilities across the country that handle the corporate, law enforcement, small business, flight schools, fire fighting, air ambulance, freight haulers, so that these aircraft don’t use the large airports. All of the airport uses other than commercial passenger are still important to a strong economy. If small airports and ATC are funded by direct user fees, these industries will shrink or collapse altogether. I believe the funding system that has been working for decades can continue to work.

General Aviation includes crop dusters, overnight freight and business support. It’s the way most pilots get training. Forestry, search and rescue, firefighting, energy, and construction all depend on it. That’s why there’s over 5,300 general aviation airports in the U.S. in addition to the 600 that support scheduled flights. There’s at least 10,000 more private use landing areas and helipads.

Just as trucks place a greater strain on the national highway system,  paying higher taxes and fees than family cars, airlines must carry a greater portion of the financial burden for the air traffic control system. You may never drive to the tens of thousands of small communities served by our national highway system, and you might never visit thousands of small airports that make up our aviation system. A road system that serves only 22 cites wouldn’t work.  Similarly, when roads and airports connect thousands of cities,we all pay a share for their maintenance.

Of course we could revert to fees with $4,400 per flight plan with an advance 24 hour requirement similar to some countries. But then, the only ones who will fly will be the rich and famous.

The Right Stuff

Brett Stephens describes it in the WSJ.  

Modern culture has venerated actors and entertainers for years. On the 40th anniversary of one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments, I ask: Why isn’t more press  devoted to those who demonstrate courage and effort for a greater purpose instead of toward those who only seek fame and fortune?

It’s a safe bet that 100 years from now most half-way educated people will know about Neil Armstrong. It’s also a safe bet that in a century the name Michael Jackson will be familiar only to five or six cultural anthropologists and, possibly, a medical historian. So what does it say about the United States in 2009 that the late moon-walker is a household name but the living one is not?

Plenty has been written about the Apollo program: the technological wonder; its place in history; the fact that we haven’t gone very far since. Not enough has been written about the Apollo astronauts and, in particular, about their place in the history of American character. That’s a pity: What they have, or had, is something Americans could use.

That something is “The Right Stuff,” which in the movie version means fearlessness, ambition, unblinking patriotism and a penchant for understated irony. Most of us would probably think of the Right Stuff as some combination of piloting skills and a barrelful of guts.

But the really essential ingredient is personal modesty, if not in private than certainly in public. “One day you’re just Gene Cernan, young naval aviator, whatever,” recalls the commander of Apollo 17 in the documentary, “In the Shadow of the Moon.” “And the next day you’re an American hero. Literally. And you have done nothing.”

Mr. Cernan is the last man to have walked on the moon. Nobody can accuse him of lacking for courage. He is simply expressing the very human bewilderment of a sentient person caught in the blandishments of modern celebrity culture. Does America make men like Gene Cernan anymore?

Then again, Mr. Cernan is positively boastful compared to Mr. Armstrong. The flesh-and-blood “first man” is nowhere to be seen in the documentary. His media availability is nearly zero. He hasn’t pitched a product on TV for 30 years, and only then for Chrysler during its last bankruptcy. When he speaks of the moon, he never fails to mention the 400,000 people who worked to get him there. He doesn’t unload about his politics, pet causes or personal “issues,” including family tragedies.

That this should seem at all peculiar tells us something about the age. Codes of personal conduct were once what Americans—great ones, at least—were all about. In his superb book “American Heroes,” Yale historian Edmund S. Morgan writes about Benjamin Franklin and George Washington that “both men cared enormously about their reputations, about their honor. Their deliberate refusals to do things, employed to great advantage in serving their country, originated in a personal ambition to gain honor and reputation of a higher order than most people aspired to.”

I detest anti-Americanism, but I’ll concede this: It’s hard to watch American celebrity culture at work and not feel revolted. By contrast, much of what made the Apollo missions such a tribute to America was the character of the astronauts: their clipped exchanges between Houston and the spacemen; or Lovell, Anders and Borman reading from Genesis on Apollo 8; or the unflappable Flight Director Gene Kranz working the problems of Apollo 13 to triumph.

These sorts of people are still around, often in the military. Perhaps too often. Great democratic civilizations can’t survive on values that emerge from a single, undemocratic cultural stream. A century from now, who will be remembered as the early 21st century’s Neil Armstrong, the one who had all the Right Stuff? Barack Obama?

Stella Potential

This lawsuit may be eligible for a Stella Award:

Once again, I’m astounded as to how the airplane manufacturer  is to blame.

A Minnesota jury has found that though the pilot was 25 percent negligent in the January, 2003, fatal crash of an SR-22 that killed him and a passenger near Hill City, Minn., Cirrus and the University of North Dakota were 75 percent negligent.

…and yet The NTSB’s factual report states the pilot requested an abbreviated briefing for the flight noting that conditions at the departure airport were 2,800 feet overcast and that he was “hoping to slide underneath it then climb out.” So the weather was admittedly not ideal and the pilot elected to fly in conditions that required advanced training. His sign off provided Visual flight rules only.

Prokop was given a VFR-only completion certificate and high performance endorsement limited to the SR-22 upon his completion of the course.

I will repeat something I’ve said before: Almost every NTSB accident report ends with the conclusion -”pilot error”.  We are responsible for our safety and the safety of others. Flying has inherent risk and we seek to manage it.

I have rented aircraft in other areas of the country after a check ride from the FBO.  However, if I were to violate  conditions established in writing that led to an incident,  how could they be responsible? I don’t mean to marginalize the anguish of losing a loved one but someone should explain how the aircraft manufacturer is at fault. 

Traveling in aircraft at speeds and altitudes that are at once both lethal is inherent to the activity. An aircraft on the ramp is safe but it’s not designed for that purpose. Stella Liebeck initially won  $2.9M for spilling hot coffee in her lap but hot coffee is supposed to be , well….hot. “Are the people involved ..using the courts to redress justifiable grievances that can’t otherwise be settled? Or are they trying to extort money from anyone they can? Are the lawyers involved champions of justice? …Or are they helping to abuse the system in the name of getting a piece of the action?”

You be the judge.

Bad Flight Planning

While our Air Force One buzzed Manhattan , a  Cessna 180 decided to return the favor in D.C.

Guess who’s grounded and has a much bigger problem with FAA?

Sidenote: Using a GPS? Trust but verify.