GA Needs a Break (Please)
When we report the news, especially the news about the FAA, we do so as if observing a dense, featureless black cube at street level. Occasionally, a statement of some sort emerges from the cube which we quote and this passes for “news.” In other words, we don’t have even a muddled picture of what actually animates the people inside the cube, although we can guess.
I see this all the time when I cover events where FAA officials are on the dais as featured speakers. When this happens, the script is predictable. The exec tells the audience what it wants to hear and by the end of it, you’d swear the guy is on your side. This is especially true when the topic is regulatory relief, which is a fashionable trend of late. At last year’s Aero show in Friedrichshafen, I got my ear bent several times by regulators and alphabet reps who are absolutely convinced that a new dawn is upon us, at least with regard to simplified aircraft certification rules. Are these people sincere or just blowing smoke? I absolutely think they are sincere. You can find at any level in the FAA people who are smart, capable, dedicated and get that GA is being ground to dust by overregulation and overbearing adjudication of minor rules. Yet, like a steamroller with no brakes, the FAA rolls on unhindered by evidence of regulatory restraint.
Why is this? It’s because big bureaucracies like the FAA are buffeted by the whim of political winds and are all but unmanageable from the top. So they’re nudged and jollied along by the desk dwellers in the trenches and no matter how sincere an individual FAA exec might be in appearing genuinely sympathetic at AirVenture or Sun ‘n Fun, he eventually has to deal with the hive when he goes home. (And now the hive is joined to other international hives so like it or not, what happens in Europe and Asia doesn’t stay in Europe and Asia.) Government agencies, like corporate entities, are composed of competing and often contradictory compartments. Even the people inside are sometimes baffled by the decisions that emerge from this construct.
And that’s not the worst of it. I really believe that the FAA, and perhaps the NTSB too, has little collective sense of how fragile the GA economy has become and how desperately it needs a lot less intrusion and a lot more injection of friendly governmental promotion of the sort I seem to recall existed during the 1970s, when I started flying. I’m probably delusional in remembering it that way, but I recall the agency was once as much service organization as it was regulator. Some people used to call that “old FAA.” Budget cuts and political entropy have eroded that.
So, like the old McDonald’s ads used to say, we deserve—need—a break today. The break I have in mind is this: Regulators need to inherently understand that the entire GA industry is so beset by difficult economics, soft sales, discouraging demographics and just flat-out depressing trends that the last thing it needs is more unnecessary regulation that nobody sees as beneficial.
I hate to say it, but we’ve probably wrestled GA safety improvements to a draw and not to sound too negative, but we’re not able to afford or tolerate impositional changes that will move that needle down much, if that’s even feasible.
As I’ve reported before, there’s compelling evidence that over-regulation has actually produced a diminution in safety. Want another example? The FAA’s decision to restrict hours earned toward the instrument rating on some desktop sims. This adds more cost to the rating for no discernible benefit and is just another reason not to train.
And we’re dealing with perceptions here, plus patience stretched to the breaking point. Additional regulation may or may not de facto increase the cost of flying, but the perception is that new rules do add costs and many in GA are hanging on with their fingernails as it is now. Just the mere mention of things like the recently proposed sleep apnea diagnosis requirement is discouraging enough to drive some pilots out of GA, I’m sure. Just look at the responses to Mark Rosekind’s guest blog explaining the rationale for the sleep apnea proposal. I think it’s fair to say this will foretell the docket comments in an NPRM, if this rule makes it that far. If we all vote no, must we still suffer the imposition of such rules?
What I most wish for, I suppose, is for the people who propose these regs—and the ones clinging to the idea that the Third Class medical requirement really has merit—to actually go out and rub elbows with the people in GA and listen to what they say. These are real people who have made real investments in expensive airplanes and equipment. Their interests create real jobs at real companies that these regulatory proposals harm in measureable ways in return for benefits that we, the regulated, don’t see and rarely want.
This industry needs every shard of help it can get, not more reasons in the from of regulation that simply discourage people from staying in it, much less coming into it.