Pitchforks and Torches

We have all just lived through a watershed event in our country’s history, one that is certain to change forever the political landscape, our own rights to fly, the spirit and joy of flight itself, and the very fabric of our society. September 11 will never recede into a vignette. Our country has responded, our leaders have responded, and we have been told there will be more attacks, but they don’t know what kind; whether chemical, biological, or nuclear. . For those that fear the worst, September 11 was just a spitball. (You don’t have to be a charter member of the Union of Concerned Scientists to know that there are large amounts of unaccounted-for fissionable material in the wrong hands out there.) Brave men and women, many of whom are pilots, are showing America’s might to those that would mock or challenge freedom. But many of us here at home feel that we have been left in the lurch.

The impacts of stricter regulation, over the coming months, could prove even worse than the short-term economic losses we have already suffered. We have all become inured to sudden and drastic NOTAMs, become re-familiarized with once-obscure acronyms like ADIZ, DVFR, and SCATANA, and learned about ZZZ NOTAMs (which means it was issued by NORAD). We’ve even become familiar with previously uncommon procedures such as constantly monitoring 121.5, or those for interception that until now had been associated with aviation’s more unseemly contingencies. We have read with disbelief about the threats of legislation, often with glaring inconsistencies, ranging from permanent changes to Class B airspace, intense monitoring of the aerial application industry, destruction of irreplaceable warbirds, and of course, the Temporary Flight Restrictions that have turned many area airports (such as those around the Washington DC area where I live) into ghost towns, and caused many industry businesses to be faced with the prospect of bankruptcy.

There is a palpably grim pall over our national airspace system — especially among pilots and aircraft owners in response to the continued and severe prejudicial grounding of general aviation near major U.S. cities. I wrote a snappy rejoinder to one of my editors at AOPA, asking how they were going to manage to maintain their heretofore perky and proactive temperament, in print. I was not disappointed when I saw that in the latest issue of Pilot, they had forthrightly printed more than a few accounts which are less that upbeat. AOPA has said that on average, for each of the 41,000 aircraft thus impacted, the economic impact will be $25,000, and that therefore more than $1 billion of our personal property has been rendered useless. (This was prior to the recent release of more Class B areas to certain GA activities.) Right now, we are going to be faced with more than impromptu NOTAMS, new TFRs, longer check-in lines and heavier cockpit bulkheads.

What is coming may make the recent re-write of the FARs a few years ago seem trivial in comparison.

The price of playing hardball with the bad guys is, for one thing, increased domestic security. The Office of Homeland Security is going to want to get to know the FAA, and regardless of whether or not terrorists choose to appear again from the air, we will certainly be flying in less friendly skies.

Besides the airlines, beneficiaries of large bailouts, how are our flying clubs going to survive? What will insurance companies do, if anything, to support us during these times? What will the half of general aviation pilots who do not have an instrument rating be left with as the NAS becomes inevitably more restricted and militarized? Well, more of us may want to get that instrument ticket. More of us should contact our legislators, because we know — and they know — that every letter written and received represents 100 others whom they know feel the same way but are either too busy or too apathetic to write.

All is not lost, grim though it may be. There are currently two measures pending before Congress; one introduced by U.S. Representative Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania would authorize the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide grants and other financial benefits to businesses affected by the terrorist attacks. In fact, it is now offering loans at 4% for 30 years to businesses affected, but outside of the declared disaster areas. Another measure from pilot and U.S. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, offering an amendment to the ‘Aviation Security Act’ now pending before Congress, would require an immediate report from the White House to Congress on all airspace restrictions and their justification. Many of us have already made use of those brief windows of evacuation, for the repositioning of our airplanes to outlying airports.

At the oldest continuously operating airport in the United States, Maryland’s College Park Airport, an ‘Air Rally‘ was held on Sunday, October 14. The idea was to rally for the cause of getting our airspace back, to let the public know who the people of general aviation are, and to seek support of Opening our Skies. As we approach the once-gaily anticipated centennial of flight, there, out of all hallowed ground, a number of pilots showed that they would stand their ground, calling on that same spirit and fortitude that allowed us our freedoms to fly. Will we do the same?

Editor’s Note: This was written two weeks ago and may not include all recent legislative events.