If you like your irony spread as thick as apple butter on biscuits, you'll enjoy this recent speech by Senator James Inhofe in the U.S. Senate. (mirrored at right) The occasion of the speech was to explain a bill Inhofe is introducing that would establish a pilot's Bill of Rights, presumably protecting us all from FAA enforcement overreach. That's fine as far as it goes, but I viewed the speech with what I can only describe as a sour reaction.
The reason, of course, is that what prompted Inhofe's bill appears to be his own run-in with the FAA following an incident last October in Port Isabel, Texas when he landed when he landed his Cessna 340 on a closed runway occupied by a work crew. The workers evidently thought the encounter close enough to run for the tullies. A subsequent FAA investigation and potential enforcement action netted the Senator a slap on the wrist, with a recommendation for additional training. It's natural to believe that Inhofe's status as a Senator got him special treatment. I have no way of knowing that.
But it doesn't bother me much. What does bother me is that Inhofe never conceded that he did anything wrong and insisted that no one ever checks closed-runway NOTAMs anyway. This was rightly taken as an affront by those of us who duly check NOTAMS before every flight and who would take swishing a work crew very seriously.
That Inhofe did not (and still doesn't) rankles and, for me at least, tarnishes what might otherwise be a laudable effort to balance a pilot's chances in an enforcement action. At one point, he seems to compare his own tussle with the FAA to that of Bob Hoover nearly two decades ago. Hoover was caught up in an enforcement debacle that clearly was not of his own doing. The same can't be said of Inhofe, so I can't get myself too outraged that he had to wait a few months for phone recordings of the runway event he precipitated.
I think most people look at such events with a fair mind and (mostly) apolitically. But a fair-minded person, and especially pilots, take a dim view of people who make mistakes and then fail to take responsibility for them with an acknowledgement and/or apology. (This is number 2 on the list of five attitudes that lead to accidents: Anti-authority and the inability to accept criticism from others.) For as much as we all despise the FAA's occasionally heavy handed enforcement actions, we are even less respectful of sloppy piloting and arrogance that casts a dark shadow over the entire industry. That threatens GA's survival just as much as the FAA over regulation does. Inhofe's arrogance diminished us all. His bill doesn't fix that.
If there's bright spot in this dismally poor example of airmanship, maybe it's this: If Inhofe's bill passes into law, perhaps people truly maligned by the FAA's enforcement system will benefit. Given the state of general aviation, I suppose we should be happy with support from any quarter, even if bumbling incompetence inspired it. Sometimes I think if it weren't for low standards, we wouldn't have any standards at all.