On September 11…

Our country was defiled, our way of life was visibly threatened, and our citizens were traumatized by an act of war — of unprecedented proportions — visited upon our soil. It became very apparent to us all that freedom isn’t something to amortize, and it became something that few of us will ever take for granted again. Many of us know someone who suffered far more than we ourselves did. What also happened on that day, especially for general aviation, was what you might say is a trauma of added dimension. Our beloved airplanes were turned against us. They became not a symbol of freedom and unlimited promise, but instead instruments of terror.

I feel as though promises slipped through my grasp, my dreams were shattered, and my future — for which I have worked so hard — will be stolen from me as our economy struggles to come to terms with the new order… whatever that might be.

As I write this, we are living through a new age, as our armed forces, our intelligence community, and our leaders seek mitigation, recovery, and (I am hoping) retribution. So this is the twenty-first century? How does one recover from a nightmare like this?

If any good came out of this, it was how wonderfully the American people have raised their consciousness to a level such that the soul of the nation seems to have emerged into almost visible being, as it did once before, over a half-century ago. We can only hope that this experience will have a lasting, evolutionary effect, good not only for our nation, but also for the world.

In the meantime however, there are more trivial matters to address. Many pilots are grounded … and none of them did anything wrong! I have seen a parade of over-reactive, ever-changing, and seemingly Draconian NOTAMs that have turned my airport, which lies within 25 nm of DCA, into a ghost town. Flight instructors were laid off so that at least they might collect unemployment insurance. Our national economy has already lost over a trillion dollars, an almost-unfathomably huge number, and the impact on our spirits has been just as crippling as it was on our portfolios. As I write this, almost every airplane within 25 nautical miles of DCA and JFK is grounded. I’ve just today heard about a possible NOTAM allowing what could be aptly called a kind of aviation hegira comprising brief windows over a very few days, and for a few hours at a time, during which aircraft may be ‘evacuated’ from these newly-restricted areas. I drove up to an outlying airport last week and flew a rented 172, albeit a brand-new one, for almost a hundred dollars per Hobbs hour — more than twice what I would have paid in my flying club. (Can you say “repositioning”?)

Short of hoping for the FAA to rescind their rules, as the dust settles and we look around; most of us are feeling like the friendly skies are dead. There are new limits on certain types of VFR flight, and the way we open and close IFR flight plans, just to name two. We’ll have to check FDC NOTAMS much more assiduously, we might just have to get used to monitoring 121.5, as well as knowing intercept procedures. What next? FSDO safety flyers on how not to inadvertently get shot down?

Will it ever be the same again? Probably not. As in other areas of our lives, we may just have to accept some inconveniences for some time to come. The inevitable end result will be higher costs, and less freedom in the skies to protect our freedoms on the ground.