Hal Shevers Told the FAA to Rent Airplanes Somewhere Else: Here's Why

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How many times have you heard this when someone is talking about the FAA? "They have some really good people at the local FSDO" or "My PIO is really a nice guy, but…" and then the sentence trails off into a litany of how miserable it can be to work with the FAA at the down-in-the-trenches level.

I thought of this the other day when I called Hal Shevers for an opinion on another issue. At the end of that conversation, he described for me an unhappy series of events that led him to ask the staff of the local FSDO to go elsewhere to rent airplanes.

As many of you know, in addition to operating the Sporty's pilot emporium, Shevers has a flight school at the Batavia, Ohio Airport, where he has some newish Cessnas on the line. Anyone who knows Hal also knows that he's Mr. Aviation when it comes to promoting anything to do with flying. If ever there were an unconditional booster of all things aeronautical, it's Shevers. To him, turning away an aircraft renter is a sacrilege.

But all of us have our limits, thus Shevers found himself at the local FSDO recently gently informing the staff that they would no longer be welcome to rent airplanes at Sporty's. Why? Several incidents, but in general, Shevers said, when the inspectors showed up to fly, the smooth tick of a well-run flightschool starting skipping a few teeth. Instructors and students became paranoid and the inspectors had a habit of turning their visits into impromptu inspection sessions, disrupting the daily routine and making it more difficult than it already is to conduct business at a profit.

In one incident, an inspector shutdown the flightschool-it's a Part 141 operation-because there were no partitions between the test-taking stations. The school addressed the issue and reopened the next day. Sporty's still does multi-engine training in an old Aztec and on one flight, it got away from one of the FAAers during landing. The crumped landing caught one of the props and, is usually the case, insurance paid for most of the repairs. But most is not all and when Shevers asked the FAA to make him whole on rest, the agency dragged it out for months until an FAA lawyer told him he just didn't have time to crack the file. He offered Shevers 90 percent of his claim. "I can't make money recovering 90 percent of my costs," Shevers says.

These events illuminate two issues about the FAA. While it may be true that the agency is staffed by nice guys whose hearts are in the right place, the reality is they often render services with sad incompetence in ways that are utterly ignorant of the needs of the people they are supposed to serve. If I was the manager of this FSDO--or any FAA manager, for that matter--I'd be embarrassed to have someone of Shever's stature ask me to take my business elsewhere. I'd be further mortified to learn that this sort of thing was going on under my watch without my knowledge. Oh, and Hal tells me the inspectors are as nice as they can be.

The larger issue is the cost-benefit of FAA services for general aviation. In case you're still in denial, know this: segments of the industry are about to go on life support, due to high fuel costs and the general softness of the economy. The industry can ill afford pointless regulation that delivers no benefit and I can assure you that closing down a flightschool for lack of office partitions is about as pointless and lacking in benefit as it gets. There was a day when the FAA--it was called the CAA then--would have given a friendly reminder on something like this, but no more.

We are rapidly reaching the point where, simply as a means of survival, light aircraft GA needs to transition away from detailed FAA oversight. We can no longer afford and do not need this kind of government regulation for little airplanes. Bluntly, it, along with high fuel prices, is killing us.

Going forward into the next presidential administration, the cost of government services will become a post-election issue because governance has found such a bottom-dwelling nadir that it can only go up from here. But the money won't be flowing like water so agencies that waste it should find themselves on the chopping block.

That argues for the FAA spending its time and money doing what it ought to: competent, careful and cost-effective oversight of for-hire aviation and consulting advice on everything else.

The rest of the world ought to be jolly well left alone to police itself.

Comments (29)

Unfortunately, we get the government we deserve. We the people seem to have allowed the FAA to become an agency primarily focused upon job security. The regulatory excesses are almost always wrapped in the justification of enhanced or required "safety" initiatives. The net result is burdensome and excessive regulation which of course helps with agency self perpetuation. The "safety" the FAA is most primarily interested in seems to be job safety. Expect more of the same unless we can privatize some of the services the FAA provides. They have no incentive for efficiency, and no need internally to match the costs with benefits from their regulation. With no limits this will continue until no one can afford the FAA's products. As my flight instructor told me years ago - avoid the FAA at all costs - they will almost always hurt you in the process of serving you. I'd like to believe otherwise but I'm always very wary of dealing with the agency. Sadly, Hal Sheaver's experience is not the exception. Caveat emptor.

Posted by: DAVID J FOGARTY | July 3, 2008 6:08 AM    Report this comment

Dream on Paul. GA is toast.

Posted by: Steve Zeller | July 3, 2008 6:08 AM    Report this comment

OK, the FAA needs more money to run its inefficient self, and to implement technology that will make itself redundant (open skies, ADS-B). Money can come from the budget, fuel tax, passenger tax or user tax. The one who can make the most 'electoral' noise will win the argument.

However, airlines are about to make themselves very unpopular (price hikes), they will get a lot of wind and exposure to sell their side. An increase in fuel tax is unlikely, it would kill airlines. The budget is in shambles, that leaves... right user-fees. For a service that will not be there (ADS-B and open skies).

My suggestion : go along with user-fees, but only for ATC guided traffic, while increasing the size of uncontrolled airspace. GA will do just nicely without ATC. Whatever benefit ATC provides to GA today can be assumed by technology in a couple of years.

The FAA and the airlines that control it can then cry in their corner.

Posted by: Peter De Ceulaer | July 3, 2008 6:40 AM    Report this comment

No doubt that over-regulation by the FAA has a chilling effect on GA. When I review my flying costs I find that many of them are due to FAA regs. An example are the certification rules that force my to by exceedingly expense, and increasingly rare, repair parts that also trap me in 3-decade old technology. Or blocks me financially from affording great modern technology in my panel (my Garmin portable can do about everything a Garmin panel-mount will do, and costs one fourth the price, but is not TSO'd). An article on exactly what individual pilots can do to start a movement to roll back onerous and unnecessary FAA regs would be useful.

Posted by: RICHARD VERDIER | July 3, 2008 6:58 AM    Report this comment

Regarding the Aztec incident/accident.
1. Was the PIC sent a letter with references to 14 CFR 91.3(A),91.13(A) and given 10 days to respond?

2. Has there been any "Certificate Action" against the PIC?

3. Has the PIC been given remedial training and and a post accident flight review?

4. Was the PIC subject to post accident drug screening?

I could add other items that anyone of us would have been subject too following this type of accident/incedent. Wonder if the person had to sit down with a FAA attorney and plead his/her case and worry about having an entry made on their Airman record or give a good reason why their certificate should not be suspended for 30-90 days.
Any one of us in the world outside the FAA could have been faced with some or all of the above and maybe even the loss of our job.

Posted by: Walt Troyer | July 3, 2008 7:05 AM    Report this comment

Hooray for Hal !

Posted by: JACK WILLIAMS | July 3, 2008 7:16 AM    Report this comment

Sadly, arbitrary and capricious are the two words that come to mind first with regard to the FAA these days. Others might include incompetent, legalistic, over-officious (in honor of Johnny Mac and Wimbledon), and self-important. It seems that with regard to the FAA's oversight of day-to-day GA operations, however, that common sense and common courtesy are a thing of the distant past. As someone else already mentioned, it appears that many FAA employees are mostly concerned with their own job security and hiding their lack of experience and/or competence. Several years ago we were having some new equipment approved in our company plane and the FAA inspector, when copying a six or seven digit number from one form to another literally had to do it one digit at a time! How's that for scary when you think of how much power these people have and how under-qualified so many of them appear to be, even when it comes to a basic education? Couple that with the fact that the various regions are permitted to interpret many of the regulations as they see fit, and how much those interpretations can vary from region to region. Sadly, the FAA now seems to be just another part of the Federal bureaucracy that is loaded with way too many people who are incompetent and have way too much time on their hands - at taxpayer's expense.

Posted by: John Piper | July 3, 2008 7:16 AM    Report this comment

I guess this all comes back to the same 'ol story, does our government exist for the purpose of helping America run and develop by serving its people or is it there to create more and more rules to keep its people in check/trading our freedom for more security and more laws? This story is just a microcosm of that: the FAA is more concerned about the nit nat desk dividers than the fact that desk dividers won't matter squat when the whole business shuts down due to the heavy yoke of cost after cost after cost. Keeping the big picture the big picture is the most important thing we can do, that's why we have history lessons and trend monitoring, so we can look back over the long run of the past to help the long run of the future. If they can't see the forest for the trees -and most government employees can't because everyone is too concerned about themselves to look anywhere else- then one day everyone is going to wake up and realize their ain't no more forest left as we have all mowed each other down... These guys need a lesson in what it takes to run a business and what it would be like to not have that all-supreme gov't issued paycheck waiting for them every week. If they knew what the business side of the business was like, they'd be a lot more focused on growing aviation and a lot less focused on shutting it down.

Posted by: ANTHONY LONGOBARDO | July 3, 2008 7:16 AM    Report this comment

A rollback of regulation that lets personal GA be treated more like personal ground vehicle operations - that's rather a refreshing thought.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | July 3, 2008 7:48 AM    Report this comment

While comments like "GA is toast" aggravate the heck out of me (I see no reason for that sort of dismissive cynicism), I am glad to read about someone saying "enough is enough". I understand their need to do their job, as they see it, but their actions are akin to police officers running the tags of every car in the parking lot of the restaurant where they eat lunch.

There's a reason that folks in their position are given "discretion". They might want to look that word up! It might come in handy the next time they want to rent a plane!

Posted by: Tom Sisk | July 3, 2008 7:59 AM    Report this comment

Discretion. That's an interesting concept. I had a situation a few years back when a pair of marauding inspectors questioned me on the ramp about an airplane I was returning to service for the owner (I'm not an A&P). This plane had fuel gauges on the wings, and the lenses were yellowed to the point of not being very readable. The plane had just been signed off by an A&P for its annual, and the feds were giving me a hard time for test flying the plane in the pattern after the annual with the unreadable gauges. The panel fuel gauges worked perfectly, and during the preflight I removed the fuel caps and visually checked the fuel level (the tanks were full). The feds pulled out the plane's POH and lectured me on the gauges having to be checked during the preflight. I said they had been checked, (the POH didn't specify wing or panel gauges) and that the best indication of fuel level was a visual inspection, which I'd done. I felt I'd done a thorough preflight for what was only a 15 minute ride. The mech who signed off on the annual got a letter of correction and the plane was grounded until new lenses were installed. I wasn't sure if I would be in hot water until two days later when I called the inspector who told me no further action would be taken. Back then I was trying to get on with the airlines and was worried that any mark on my record would keep me from being hired. All this was very unnecessary, and came down to their interpretation of the POH.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | July 3, 2008 8:25 AM    Report this comment

I've meet Hal Shivers. Last year my partner and I put 70-80 hours on his 'old' Aztec. It had an A/P and pretty good GPS/moving map. Hal thought it had old equipment but it was a lot nicer and better maintained than the other 5 twins I had flown. He is in business to 'make money' not subsidize the government! We got a break in price to fly cross country during the break in period for a new engine. We helped him and he helped us. I've dealt with and spoken to many FAA inspectors at the airline I work for. They have their jobs to do. I don't know how much 'discretion' they're authorized to use. How do you teach common sense or that some things go better left unsaid? We live in an imperfect world.

Posted by: Steven Brower | July 3, 2008 9:44 AM    Report this comment

Well, they are certainly authorized to use some discretion! For instance, at fly-ins they are directed to NOT be doing ramp checks on folks that flew into the event. They'll check performance pilots and aircraft, but they leave the public alone. Is that not discretionary by definition?

Posted by: Tom Sisk | July 3, 2008 9:51 AM    Report this comment

I love my country, but I am scared as hell of my government and the "Friendly Aviation Agency" Let's go back to the basics that formed our great nation.Kick the politicians out and replace them with "the common man/woman" then we will have a chance, otherwise we are on the way to being another 'third world country'...bankrupt.

Posted by: Arthur Miller | July 3, 2008 10:23 AM    Report this comment

Discretion is what got the FAA in trouble with congress over airline inspections. This caused more senior FAA types to hold firm on wire wrap techniques and grounding dozens of airliners. Discretion for one inspector may not fit the view of another.

I can see the biggest problem being the disruption around the flight school when an inspector shows up for a rental. The insurance issue with the Apache would likely have occured with any government agency that rented the plane.

Posted by: Roy Forsstrom | July 3, 2008 10:47 AM    Report this comment

I am in the middle of getting a panel mount GPS unit replaced with a newer model that includes a moving map. Any avionics shop that was not associated with a Part 145 Repair Station could do this simple upgrade with a logbook entry. The shop that I am using must get a Form 337 (Major??? alteration) signed by the local FSDO inspector. We have been waiting over a month for this paperwork.

I am thinking of scrapping the whole idea and buying a handheld unit that will do more and cost less and require absolutely no paperwork.

Posted by: Joe Newkirk | July 3, 2008 11:45 AM    Report this comment

I am reminded that a very competent and effective FAA manager complained to me that half his staff didn't know one end of the airplane from another.

But then we have another FAA manager around here that lives 200 miles away and justifies spending most of his time there.

Since its formation in 1958, when is was a going concern, it like me has become old and creaky. Let's not modernise, let's replace it.

Posted by: Jack Wybenga | July 3, 2008 11:59 AM    Report this comment

Our society has become "rules-based" as opposed to "results-based". Just as safety must be educated and cannot be legislated, functional societies must be “results-based”. This requires education and personal and societal responsibility.

This society has reached the stage where the highest and best function of our huge bureaucracy is its function of providing jobs. This form of welfare may be acceptable if the bureaucracy does no harm to the productive portion of a society, and performs its function at least marginally well. In this society we have crossed the line, becoming not only dysfunctional, but also harmful and crippling to ourselves.

Posted by: Phil Hertel | July 3, 2008 1:05 PM    Report this comment

FAA is the focus here, but my rant is more Fed in general. My experience is with a separate agency (USDA) which is mired in CYA middle managers who advance only if the next level like their adherence to absolute dogma. Initiative? Discretion? Faded to a shadow in most all of the employees. Admirable qualities not rewarded do not survive.

Posted by: Jim Grady | July 3, 2008 5:42 PM    Report this comment

A look at accident reports shows that violations of FARs often precede accidents, and occasionally show incredible egocentric nincompoopery among the pilot population. If a pilot cheated on his exam with the lack of test barriers, and went out and killed 5 passengers the next day, then the inspector would have gotten the blame for not shutting down the flight school. For all we know he is a hero who is being nailed to the cross for saving 5 lives. The enforcement of FARs is all they can do to help us, Due to the recent Southwest Scandal, they are being blamed for failing to strictly enforce FARs. We have seen the enemy and it is us, our hardware and procedures have not progressed much since the 1960's, if we were serious about safety maybe we sould be wearing helmets and fireproof suits, Like the military and the car racers do. But that would be admitting that GA is dangererous or subjecting our selves to mockery from the smug and self superiour macho pilot population. If only the dead could speak. I have made an effort to improve safety without the need for STC, TSOs or certifications at www.festoon.com . Haven't found a single person who would join me in any aspect of this effort.

Posted by: Francis Gentile | July 3, 2008 9:11 PM    Report this comment

As to the rental insurance not covering the all the costs of an accident, be it FAA renting or not, we must ask, Shouldn't the insurance cover all the costs? Why should we stand for the extra hassle of each student getting his own extra insurance, lawyers and all that, insurance is supposed to prevent that... we should demand better insurance, the enemy is us.

Posted by: Francis Gentile | July 3, 2008 9:13 PM    Report this comment

A government big enough to do everything for you is a government big enough to take everything from you. This is the pattern of behavior with every agency of government. The FDA insouciantly bankrupts companies trying to bring products to market with unreasonable regulatory demands administered by officials whose knowledge and competence is often (usually) extremely limited. It takes a certain type of person to go work for the government, and sadly it is often the type of person for whom private industry has no use. I would exclude those parts of government, like maybe the armed forces and State Department, excercising the functions constitutionally designated to them.

When government runs everything in a society we call the mess either facism or totalitarianism. We have abundant sad experience with these train wrecks in the 20th century, whether with Mussolini, Woodrow Wilson, Hitler, Stalin, FDR, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin or Saddam Hussein. We mpw have 90% more government than we need and we will continue to be oppressed by these clowns until we shut them down.

Posted by: JONATHAN FULLER | July 4, 2008 7:01 AM    Report this comment

... the only safe skies ... are empty skies. I believe we have only just begun to see the worst of it.

Let me remind most of you that (most) FSDO Inspectors are former Chief Instructors or seasoned veterans for established FBOs. Yes, some do come with an axe to grind. But let me shift gears for a moment ...

When Obama becomes President, you all had better head for the hills. GA had better ready to be taxed and regulated into oblivion. Your fuel taxes and operational surcharges will be paying for 'universal' health care, and other tidbits for the unwashed masses.

Because flying is looked upon as an 'elitist' activity, you will be looked upon as 'priveleged', so the process of invasive government will begin with you. So start disassembling your aircraft now and fill the crankcase with storage oil while you can still get a qualified A&P willing to do it.

Aviation has historically been the leading indicator and technological bedrock for our society for over 125 years.

... Go where the aviators go ...

So with that in mind, come ... watch with me ... shed a tear if you will ... as we aviators hold leading-edge, front row seats -- to the decline not just of an industry and avocation, but to an Empire.

Nothing lasts forever ...

Posted by: Phil Derosier | July 6, 2008 10:00 AM    Report this comment

Leaving the polits aside, since this isn't a political forum.

The Shevers incident is unfortunate, although we do have to ask ourselves if it's representative of the FAA or just an isolated incident (perhaps other FBO-ers who have rented to the FAA can chime in). Regardless, it is completely appropriate to wonder if the accident pilot was subjected to the same rigors a non-Fed would have in the same situation.

Meanwhile, it is worth pointing out that we...pilots, mechanics, owners, operators...are not the "customers" of the FAA. The FAA answers to the entire population of the United States, who are at best ignorant of aviation and at worst openly hostile towards it.

Imagine attending a city meeting with locals demanding "little" planes be prevented from doing "stunt flying" over their beach. Be the FAA-er explaining why eights-on-pylons are legal and necessary, why he won't pursue enforcement action against the pilots or flight school; or why he won't act even if they send video or photographs of these "nutjob pilots?" Obviously, the FAA is complicit in allowing these stunts and even so malicious as to require them to earn a pilot's license!

The point is not to dismiss Shevers' problems, which I cannot argue with. The FAA was shamefully wrong in that case.

But it's easy to blame the FAA. I challenge the readers here that the solution does not rest with bad-mouthing the FAA in an aviation web forum.

Posted by: Donald Harper | July 7, 2008 5:31 PM    Report this comment

Count your blessings...
In almost any other country, this business would have been out of business in less than 24 hours.
It is true that the system could be perfected, but it is still the best in the world.

Posted by: David Silchman | July 8, 2008 1:37 PM    Report this comment

My my! We all have our views about the FAA. Hal Shivers found out something that I have known for 40 years....it just depends on the who/where/what happened questions. The who is both the pilot/mechanic/owner/FAA inspector. Without going into all my contacts (I have run a part 135 operation on a major airport), I actually ran into the most obstructive and the most helpful FAA employees in THE SAME MEETING of engineers during a certification issue. My two cents is this: these are people doing a job that is very loosely defined in every aspect. What we as a pilot community need to focus on is their administrators that give them direction....because they already have tremendous discretion in the performance of their duties. Don't believe me about discretion? One engine on twin quits on take-off (just after lift-off), pilot able to land on runway but runs off end and hits drain vent that folds one main-gear leg. Witness (two instructors) tell FAA guy exactly what happened. FAA guy says to pilot"You did everything right, unfortunate about the gear leg...some harm, no foul....incident. He didn't want to cause any more problems for the pilot....and I was!

Posted by: Charles Reaves | July 9, 2008 4:45 PM    Report this comment

Having just celibrated my 50th year in the aviation business, 29 of which was as a full time aviator/manager, the remaining in the aircraft sales business. All in all I was able to get along well with the feds. Now retired, Life time dream fulfilled. I was always glad to hear USA voices on the freq when returning home from elsewhere in the world. With all our faults, it's still the best place in the world. May God bless, defend and sustain the USA. ATP, CFI, A&P

Posted by: Jerry Arthur | July 13, 2008 8:45 PM    Report this comment

good for him (hal) just make sure ALL of your "i's" are dotted and the "t's" crossed. you'll be under the microscope for quite a while.

Posted by: MICHAEL SULLIVAN | July 14, 2008 12:30 PM    Report this comment

theres a term i like to use, C.Y.A i think most people know what that means (cover your a$$)

Posted by: MICHAEL SULLIVAN | July 14, 2008 12:32 PM    Report this comment

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