Don't stop me if you've heard this: A guy walks into a pilots' lounge and asks, "Anyone here got an opinion?" Three hours later he staggers out, weighted down by the torments of the flying world. Similar thing happened on our recent Brainteaser survey. A mother-lode of angst burbled out when we fracked the depths of pilot sentiment with this question: "If you were the Secretary of Transportation or the FAA Administrator, what would be your top priorities? How would you, with the bureaucratic reigns firmly grasped, single-handedly save aviation? And once your superhero mission had been accomplished, whom would you appoint as your successor? (Note we said "whom" instead of "who" to make the survey appear more legit.) You'd be granted absolute power, with no project too obscure or department head too precious to tumble into the out basket of history. The fate of the pilot community rests with your keen insight and unflinching willingness to be ruthless. Or, if Ruth shows up, be willing to employ her to achieve your goals. Here now is an unscientific distillation of survey responses. As always, names have been scrubbed to prevent awkward emails, and no actual FAA officials were injured in the making of this report.
Don't Need No Stinkin' Medicals!
By far the biggest gripe respondents have is with the FAA's medical certificates, particularly the unloved Class III. Most pilots, and a few AMEs, simply want it eliminated. One reader -- we'll call her Karla -- expressed a common sentiment: "The future of GA depends on making it as affordable as possible. Removing the Class III medical requirement would dampen the Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) business but would reinvigorate the used-aircraft market and put more new pilots in aircraft. The Class III medical requirements are archaic and need to go!" Off with its head! About half as many respondents offered a grand bargain, allowing the FAA to keep its third class medical provided it was defanged by supporting the EAA/AOPA proposal to allow daytime VFR flight in small, single-engine, less complex aircraft without a medical. Drafting in the medical-reform wake turbulence is Sport Pilot reform. Armed with the FAA Administrator's unlimited power, several readers would raise the LSA gross-weight limits to include, among others, Cessna 150s, 172s, Cherokees, plus all Ercoupes and even the Piper Tomahawk. One reader wanted to rewrite rules to allow LSA flight at night. After all, the airplane doesn't know it's dark out.
Clean Up the Regs
About a dozen readers expressed concerns that can be lumped together in this reader's plea: "Rewrite the regs (FARs, etc.) so they make sense!" Leading the to-be-reformed list was Part 61.56, flight review requirements. It was suggested that the biennial requirement could be satisfied if a pilot logs a certain number of hours and/or landings. No mention was made if those landings had to be good ones or performed in crosswinds, standards to which a CFI might hold a client. Then there's the aircraft owner who liked the biennial requirement provided it only applied to how often the aircraft needed to be inspected. Or at least that's what I think he meant when he wrote: "Make aircraft annual inspections bi-annual" (emphasis mine). Perhaps he really wanted his aircraft inspected every six months, in which case you really have to salute his devotion to safety and to his I.A. mechanic. Which brings our survey results to the safety issue, or what's the FAA for? Four readers said that the FAA should concentrate its efforts on promoting aviation (mainly GA) and not focus merely on safety. Two readers expressed the opposite view -- safety first, promotion second. Who would you rather fly with? Whatever the FAA's mission, readers expressed varying desires to make the FAA less intrusive ("Stay the hell out of my cockpit!") while simultaneously giving the local FSDO inspectors more leeway in issuing field approvals. One reader offered, "Remind FSDO that without GA they wouldn't have jobs." Which brings up the old joke: A guy walks into a FSDO only to find an inspector crying. "What's wrong?" the visitor asks, to which the inspector blubbers: "My pilot died!" OK, it's funnier with beer. Further suggestions for FAA reform included lowering the barriers to innovation while keeping the FAA out of the business of creating innovation itself. In other words, let the users decide what's needed and leave the FAA to implement users' needs. Don't let the FAA decide what's best and then cram it down pilots' pitot tubes. An example offered to illustrate bad FAA innovation leadership was MLS (Microwave Landing System). All this innovation discussion segues nicely to users' views on NexGen ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast), or "The next best thing to MLS." The few ADS-B comments we received include these conflicting thoughts: 1) "Speed up the installation of ADS-B and require aircraft to equip out." 2) "Cancel ADS-B [both] in and out." ("Out" means the aircraft transits information. "In" means it receives.) This bipolar view of technical innovation will test any FAA administrator's Solomonic decision-making process. Pleasing opposing parties could wind up irritating both, which -- when you think about it -- is a sign of good government.
The Dream List Continues
Three readers pledged -- as Supreme FAA Commander -- to prevent Class C or B airspace expansions. Two swore to limit TFRs, while a more ambitious respondent pledged to eliminate the roving pilot certificate killers altogether, and another swore to do away with the DC SFRA (Special Flight Rules Area). A half-dozen readers had no love of contract air traffic control towers and wanted them all closed, thus converting Class D airspace to Class E surface airspace. CTAF and AWOS/ASOS would easily replace expensive tower services without compromising safety, the reasoning goes. Nobody loves TSA, but only one unidentified reader said it should be eliminated. NOTAMs: At least one reader finds them unreadable and wants the FAA to revamp them. It'd be interesting to see if more pilots would read them if they miraculously turned comprehensible. One PC-speak promoter suggested changing Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) to Notice To Air Persons (NOTAP). Two pilots stood spinner-to-spinner on the ELT 121.5 MHz issue. One proposed eliminating the Bronze Age devices, and the other pilot promised to keep them alive and beeping to a SAR world that no longer listens. Lest you think all comments were from GA, here's a submission from the airline crowd: "Eliminate the cargo cut-out on crew rest for the Part 121 freight-only airlines." Meanwhile, a comment from the aircraft-maintenance side suggested that the FAA "globalize FAA training standards," which would force other countries -- except North Korea -- to buy said standards from us, making for a sweet return to the FAA coffers, where it would be managed wisely.
Game of Drones and More
One reader, dreaming of unchecked power, promised to unleash a wave of un-personed (you thought we'd say "unmanned"?) aerial droids along the U.S. borders, although no mention was made just what these RC aircraft would keep in or out. Recognizing the inevitable, another reader insisted that all drone pilots undergo mandatory training on VFR rules, such as repeatedly announcing on CTAF, "Human traffic in the area, please advise." Speaking of mandatory, it was suggested that -- this is wild; you'll laugh -- FAA employees who make pilot policy actually be licensed pilots. What's that all about? Next, you'll want taxpayers running the IRS. And before we think about training FAA/DOT bosses to fly, perhaps -- one reader offered -- we should redo the FAA's private pilot written exam to reflect conditions the modern aviator might encounter. What, you don't think the ADF will replace this ADS-B passing fancy? A great swath of "how I'd save things if I were FAA or DOT chief " might reflect the collective yearning to make flight affordable. A sampling of how this would come about includes:
- Refusal to implement user fees
- Lowering fuel taxes
- Reintroducing accelerated depreciation on aircraft purchase
- Charging only a minimal amount for digital charts
- Preventing the president from "raiding the aviation trust fund"
- Limiting product liability
- Firing 90 percent of FAA lawyers
- Accelerating the discovery of 100LL's miracle replacement, but until then ...
- Forcing manufacturers to sell 100LL at cost (not sure whose cost we're discussing here: FBO? Refiner? Drillers? Transport?)
- In the spirit of nationalizing the aviation industry to control costs, one reader suggested the FAA/DOT chief should persuade manufacturers to build affordable aircraft. (Hey, Cessna has a fleet of Chinese Skysnatchers they might like to unload ...)
- Government strong-arming of industry to produce desired results didn't appeal to one reader, who suggested that all FAA services be privatized, because when that happens "operator satisfaction goes up, as happened in [wait for it ...] Canada." Or with AFSS!
- And the best suggestion ever: "Suspend all air travel to/from Illinois until Meigs Field is reopened!"
Who Will Be The Next FAA/DOT Generalissimo?
The survey was a two-parter: After saving aviation, who would be your successor? Cirrus founder Alan Klapmeier took an early lead in our straw dog poll, but soon shared the field with Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who jumped from several aircraft in his Army career, but it's unclear if he's ever flown any. Still, heading the FAA or DOT shouldn't require aviation experience, as evidenced by the nomination of NTSB's Deborah Hersman. Although not a pilot, she does hold a masters degree in conflict analysis and/or resolution, which might come in handy when implementing all the competing survey suggestions. Not impressed, a contrarian reader voted for "anyone but Ms. Hersman." No reason was given. This being a secret ballot, perhaps it was Ms. Hersman herself scuttling her chances, knowing what a thankless task lies ahead. But no nominee could hold a flaming roman candle to a nominee whose last-minute entry came across the transom and left our staff scratching its collective head. But upon more than a few seconds reflection, I have to admit that this candidate just might be able to navigate the lunacy of D.C. politics, because he's ... well, let's just say the most qualified nominee in this survey is North Korea's second greatest basketball player, Dennis Rodman. P'yongyang has yet to return our calls ... or to get telephones. That's the survey. It's apparent a great deal of thought went into some of the responses, which of course, will be discarded, and life as we know it will fly on as usual. But that's just my pilots' lounge opinion.