EDITORIAL. AVweb Executive Editor Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside has been watching the week's events unfold from a hotel room in Las Vegas, stranded until Friday evening by the grounding of general aviation. He's had plenty of time to watch and learn from the actions of the federal government since Tuesday, to speak with industry observers, government employees, airline pilots and others with insight into what happened to U.S. civilian aviation last week. He's also had the time to write an open letter to Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta as well as offer some thoughts on the coming weeks for the rest of us in this AVweb editorial.
September 16, 2001
What a week.
Like many of you, I've been stranded by the grounding of general aviation
since Tuesday, finally able to fly my Debonair out of Las Vegas, Nev., as of
Friday evening. Like many of you, I have some barely suppressed anger at the
federal government for its actions in grounding me and you when neither
of us had a single thing to do with Tuesday's horrible, unspeakable events.
Like some of you, I am finally able to get airborne again, albeit with
restrictions, to my home airport in Manassas, Va. Many of you and
AVweb has received numerous emails are not able to file and fly an
IFR flight and remain grounded, far from home. Soon, perhaps by the time you
read this, that will have changed back to something approaching "normal." I
feel for you.
Like it or not, U.S. civilian aviation has fundamentally changed since
Tuesday. Like me, you probably don't like it. Like me, you're probably still
very angry. Angry at a group of sometimes-faceless zealots who believe their
religious and political aims are justified and can be furthered by destroying
what they see as icons of the injustices they believe they have suffered and
by murdering innocent people from not only the U.S. but other nations, too.
Angry at the prospect that airports we've come to know and love may never be
used again, except perhaps for a final takeoff and dipping of restless wings
if and when such flights are allowed. Angry that even though you and I had
nothing to do with the actions of these murderous zealots we have already
paid a price: we have suffered the unwarranted restriction of our ability to
fly, however briefly it may last, at the hands of the federal government.
Of course, our anger pales when placed beside the raw anguish and sorrow
currently being experienced in the streets of New York City, near Washington,
D.C., elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world. If you are reading this and
lost a family member, loved one, friend or acquaintance last Tuesday, please
know that the entire AVweb team sends you our deepest sympathies and
hopes for your future. Sheet metal, bent wood, tubing and fabric can be
replaced or bent back into shape, soon to take again to the skies. Nothing,
NOTHING, can replace the loved ones you and so many others have lost. Nothing
can replace their laughter, their love and the support they gave to those they
If, like me, you have lost only your freedom to fly, however temporarily,
no matter what happens to U.S. civilian aviation in the days, weeks and months
ahead, keep uppermost in mind that others have lost far, far more. Please.
Since Tuesday, I've followed the grounding of general
aviation as closely as I can. When it became obvious that flight operations
would not be restored as quickly as we all hoped, thought or been told by
official sources, AVweb Editor-in-Chief Mike Busch and I worked hard at
keeping AVweb's home page updated with the latest status reports,
official advisories and related NOTAMs addressing the grounding. We will do
our best to keep our readers apprised of changes to and limitations within the
National Airspace System until all operations have returned to "normal."
|To help readers stay abreast
of the latest information regarding access to and operations in the
National Airspace System, AVweb has established a special page with
the text of pertinent NOTAMs and other information.
We will do our best to keep it up-to-date
as new information becomes available.
Along the path since last Tuesday, I've talked with a number of government
officials, aviation industry observers, airline pilots and others in a
position to shed light on the aviation-related events of last week. I want to
share with you some of the thoughts I've developed and information I've picked
up along the way. I also want to direct some comments to Transportation
Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.
Secretary Mineta, we've known each other for almost 20 years. During that
time, I've come to know you as a dedicated public servant one of the few
still around as a gentleman and as a genuine aviation supporter, all of
which makes you a rare creature in Washington. I hope you remember that I've
even had the honor of letting you fly left-seat into Washington Dulles
International Airport some years ago. (Not coincidentally, that flight was in
the same Cessna 172 that last week I came to Las Vegas to fly as part of an
AVweb product review.)
I know that most of the aviation-related decisions made this week many
of which you announced were ultimately made by others. That's not always a
bad thing: Extraordinary events required extraordinary responses. You and your
staff, plus Administrator Garvey and her staff, were placed in an impossible
situation. Some of it by your own making; some of it beyond your control. What
concerns me most, however, is that we all especially Congress, the DOT and
the FAA must learn from our mistakes and take the steps necessary to help
prevent the events of this week from ever happening again.
Bluntly, the new airport security measures you announced last week won't do
a darn thing. Eliminating curbside check-in, removing knives from food-service
locations near airline gates and aboard airliners, and not allowing
non-passengers past security checkpoints would not have prevented a single
event of last Tuesday. You know it; I know it. Please, don't pretend that
these meager, too-little-too-late measures can have an impact on the plans of
well-organized, well-financed and motivated terrorists. Instead, please use
the sad lessons we all must learn from last week's events to make meaningful
changes that won't further inconvenience and erode the privacy rights of
innocent and blameless individuals.
Sunday afternoon, you held a press conference announcing formation of two
"Rapid Response Teams" focused on airport and aircraft security. This is a
good first step, although some of the people named to this task force have
a history of being part of the problem, not part of the solution. Some
of the suggestions this task force will consider will be useful, some will be
self-serving and some will be unworkable. Here are a few that deserve your
- In particular, require that all aircraft operating in scheduled service
have a real door between the cabin and the cockpit. The flimsy
aluminum and plastic doors presently installed don't do the job. Something
solid, with a deadbolt openable only from within the cockpit, should be a
minimum requirement. Yes, it will weigh more and require more fuel. Do you
know how much? Neither do I, but I'd bet that it's a drop in the bucket when
compared with what the alternatives can cost.
- Mandate that all cockpit door locks be changed and that only one flight
attendant have the key. Do away with the so-called "Boeing keys" that allow
one key to open virtually every cockpit door in a fleet. Do it soon.
- Consider requiring flight crews to be armed. Train them in the use of a
firearm in a pressurized cabin. Give them low-velocity ammunition, perhaps
shot-shells. Even a worst-case scenario rapid decompression is not
usually fatal and is much preferred to the alternatives.
|AVweb News Editor
Glenn Pew lives in Manhattan. He's fine, physically. He wrote the
following to the AVweb news team and, with his permission, I'm
publishing it here.
While the buildings are secondary, they were of huge
importance to my life and, I'd imagine, many other New Yorkers. I am
grateful to have come through this without loss of life amongst my
immediate family and very close friends, but am deeply upset by the
substantial losses suffered by friends and people I pass on the street.
Our local fire house is missing eight, with one more confirmed deceased.
There are piles of flowers several feet deep and notes all around the
When I lived downtown, I spent a lot of my spare time at
the financial center a truly inspirational place. I've always taken
every visitor down there ... just to see it ... and said that if I
decided to stay in New York, that is where I would want to live. I was
there when I decided to build my plane.
I didn't mention to you, but my plane is ready and
received FAA paperwork 9/6/01. I thought hard Monday night, because I
knew I might fly it on the 11th.
Everyone who has ever flown with me in this area has
flown with me down the Hudson corridor, past and below the top of the
towers Jeb and I flew up the corridor together. I looked at the
pictures just today. For years, I've dreamed that one day I would fly
*my* plane down that corridor, if the regulations did indeed allow it.
Now I'm sitting here listening to the F-15s fly cover for the
President's visit, breathing the odor of what happened, which you can
literally smell from time to time anywhere in the city. I've snuck
through some of the barriers and signed up on every volunteer list I'm
aware of, but there's nothing I can do.
My dreams to fly my own plane began in earnest in the
shadow of those towers. They gave me the inspiration and strength to
commit to the task.
One day I hope I can fly my plane past the towers again,
and see my dream through.
- Revive and reinvigorate the Sky Marshal/Air Marshal program. This should
be a no-brainer.
- Take heed of the many airport security critiques your department has
received over the years. Bluntly, a group of bored people being paid minimum
wage is not the solution to ensuring the security of passengers and their
luggage. Raise the bar for airlines and provide incentives for them to
improve their security. Or ground them until they do.
Finally, next week you'll likely be meeting with airline executives
bemoaning the state in which they currently find themselves. They'll come to
you asking for government assistance to help them weather the coming hard
times and the government-imposed restrictions that have been in place since
Tuesday. While some of their claims may be valid, please remember that these
same executives are the ones who made the economic decisions to not reinforce
their planes' cockpit doors; they are the ones who saw to it that one key fits
all these doors as a cost-cutting measure; they are the ones who cut corners
on airport security at their gates throughout the country. They are not
without blame for the situations they now find themselves and they are not
deserving of what they are seeking.
When Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder truck in front of the Murrah Federal
Building in Oklahoma City, the federal government didn't require that Ryder
trucks be parked. Last year, when terrorists floated a boat up beside the
U.S.S. Cole, the federal government didn't mandate that all boats be placed in
Yet, when some terrorists managed to outsmart airport security, stroll to
their airline seats and commandeer four airliners, non-commercial aviation got
grounded and the airlines were the first to resume operations. Where's the
logic in that?
The least well-considered action taken this week was allowing commercial
operations to begin again but keeping Part 91 flights on the ground. You and I
both know that the average general aviation aircraft is not and never has been
a threat to the security of this nation. Conversely, we both know that general
aviation is, has been and must continue to be a major contributor to this
nation's economic vitality, especially given what appears will be happening in
the coming months.
Someone I spoke with this week suggested that a plane with 160 passengers
aboard was more valuable and deserving of the privilege to fly than one with
four. What if those 160 are vacationers headed to Aruba and the four are
businesspeople flying from one small town to another to open a new factory or
invest in a thriving business? Who's to say which is more "valuable"? What
about the tens of thousands of businesspeople this week who found themselves
unable to travel aboard the airlines many of which have still not returned
to full operations at this writing and whose company airplanes were
grounded? My God, even crop-dusters were grounded. At this writing, gliders,
hot-air balloons, registered ultralights and untold numbers of fixed- and
rotor-wing GA aircraft still are. Pipeline patrols can't operate; ranchers
can't inspect their herds; traffic reporters can't advise motorists of the
Most important, what about the precedent this ill-considered decision has
set? One of the keystones of your service as chairman of the Subcommittee on
Aviation and of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation was ensuring
equal access to the National Airspace System. The next time someone decides
that access to the National Airspace System must be restricted whether for
reasons of capacity, safety or security which segment of the industry will
be first to take the hit? Thanks to last week's actions, the answer will be
"Ground GA; those guys aren't important we've done it before." Sadly, this
happened on your watch.
I know you tried and that there wasn't time for you to educate those making
these decisions. I also know that the restoration of at least IFR Part 91
operations before the weekend was a direct result of your specific actions.
Thank you for that. But help us plan for the future; help those of us involved
in this industry and who know its value understand whom we must educate and
how we should go about it.
Please do something about the dissemination of relevant information to
aircraft operators. There was absolutely nothing nada, zip, bupkiss
posted last week on the FAA's main Web site about operational restrictions. I
know I looked, repeatedly (until I gave up), and I'm pretty good at it. The
only way to get accurate information on access to the National Airspace System
was to either wait for the overwhelmed ATCSCC
web site to stop giving database error messages or
tie up DUAT to get a pre-flight briefing. Even flight service station briefers
often did not have the most accurate information and there are many instances
of which AVweb has learned where their advice was simply wrong. Yes,
it's hard to keep up with a rapidly changing situation, but we deserve
Finally, don't let them get away with it. Not the bureaucrats, the
terrorists. (Well, don't let the bureaucrats get away with it, either.) They
are envious of our economic might, of our freedoms, of our ability to use
personal aircraft for transportation, for recreation and for commerce. They
want to take from us these cherished freedoms to make us pay for the wrongs
they perceive we have caused them. By grounding GA, by restricting personal
air travel, by removing butter knives from airliners, by pitting one segment
of this industry against another, they win. We lose. Not on my
Thanks for listening.
|AVweb's research and
proofreading goddess Jennifer Whitley also shared some thoughts with her
co-workers. This was written on Thursday, September 13.
I wonder if you guys have been watching Flight Explorer, too. When
I first launched it at about 9:00 a.m. CDT this morning, there were 194
planes being tracked. Now, I see 1,894. I have yet to see one overhead
here in Texas it is an unnatural and eerie silence, an odd sky for
one so long accustomed to looking up at the first sound of an engine
But the virtual picture painted by FE, gradually
swelling with little blue dots representing pilots and aircraft doing
what they do best, filled me with pride and peace.
I am first an American and a citizen of the world, and
share all our pain over what was committed here. But I am second a
pilot, angry as hell that these people took something I love and twisted
it into an instrument of destruction. Though I realize general aviation
will face many hurdles in the upcoming months, I am yet undaunted by
that and in fact, doubly resolved that by whatever means I will share
with as many as I can the joy that flying has brought to my
There has been a lot of water over the dam of general aviation in the past
few days. Email lists, Web sites and USENET newsgroups literally exploded with
traffic far from the topics for which they were created. Some useful
information was exchanged; some downright silly, self-serving and stupid
comments were made; and some wars were waged with words between participants.
Much of this resulted from pent-up frustration, from being forced to cancel an
important business trip, from being stranded in a strange location far from
home and from fear that general aviation "as we know it" was endangered. Well,
general aviation is endangered, but it was endangered before Tuesday,
Even as CNN Saturday reported that "most" of private aviation was again
allowed to operate, a caller to a nationally televised talk show asked about
the security of those "private airlines" and whether "private airports" near
his home were secure. A panelist whose only qualification to answer the
question was his proximity to a microphone responded authoritatively that
private aircraft were a problem.
As the last week's events have shown, we do have a problem; but it's not
security, it's education. You've heard the litany before: We must educate
opinion leaders on the utility, safety, security and economic necessity of
general aviation and the airports it serves. This cliché has never been more
true than it is today.
Guys and gals, last week GA took a major hit. Even though the aircraft used
to commit last Tuesday's horrifying acts had airline logos on them and GA
operations are seemingly returning to "normal," the damage has been done:
General aviation has been effectively and permanently relegated by the federal
government to the status of a non-essential mode of transportation and a
security risk. That Part 91 operations are being allowed at all is more a
testament to the perseverance and persuasion of some people in this industry
than it is to the realization that GA serves a vital role in the nation's
There have been numerous stories this week involving the pilots of GA
aircraft intentionally attempting to defy the NOTAMs and directives that
prevented operations and taking off anyway, then proceeding merrily on their
way. Invariably, each incident ended with one or two armed jet fighters
intercepting the flight and escorting it to a nearby landing.
I hope these "pilots" become ex-pilots very soon.
It's this kind of behavior that gives those who have and would ground GA or
subject us to unwarranted, unreasonable restrictions the ammunition they use.
Especially in those cases where a NOTAM is deliberately ignored, I truly hope
that the FAA revokes the pilots' certificates. We simply cannot afford to have
these yahoos flitting about the airspace, thumbing their noses at rules they
don't like and giving the rest of us a bad name. Indeed, by ignoring rules
they believe shouldn't apply to them and bringing down on the rest of us the
inevitable consequences, they are no better than the terrorists who would take
away our other cherished freedoms.
Some believe it's ignorance on the part of the relevant officials that
leads them to ground GA. That may be, and our efforts to educate these
officials must be reinforced. But don't rule out ignorance on the part of the
pilots themselves, either. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy and this is
the time if there ever was one that we all need to play by the rules,
stay attentive, be on top of our game and fly safely, correctly and
Finally, remember that these errant pilots no matter where they were
were easily and quickly intercepted by armed warplanes. That they were so
quickly met and escorted to a safe landing should tell you that these are not
normal times in which we live. If these incidents don't relay that message,
then the sight of combat air patrols above some of our major cities
If neither does it for you, then I suggest you curl up with a good book and
forget about flying for a while.
Look at it this way: The U.S. airspace right now belongs to the military
they're just letting us use it occasionally. Eventually, if we keep our
fingers crossed and play our cards right, they might let us have it back.
Deliberately ignoring such a NOTAM endangers you, your passengers and the
crews of the planes sent to greet you. It's dumb, it's irresponsible and it
could get us all grounded for a long, long time.
The men and women responsible for the security of this nation's airspace
are playing for keeps. Their planes are fully armed and they are just as angry
about things as the rest of us.
This is not a drill.