Are Rules Meant To Be Broken?


I hate it when someone peers into my eyes and, within a nanosecond to two, sees all the character flaws within. “You’re a rule breaker, aren’t you?” The query was from our team coach, Sally, and on the strength of one minor little transgression, she had nailed me with unnerving accuracy. When we go to the local wind tunnel for practice; they require one of those little paper wristbands to prove that you’ve paid and signed the waiver. But nobody ever checks it and being a corrupting influence on what would otherwise be the good scouts of the world, I’ll slide by without it if I can get away with it. Where’s the harm?

It’s not so much that I break or ignore rules so much as I chafe at the silly ones and occasionally rage at the profoundly stupid, the illogical and the inane. And in aviation, we keep getting more of those. I’ve previously commented on what all of us agree is security theater at small airports, yet all of us dutifully stop and wait for the gate to close, just like the faceless bureaucrats demand that we do. The understandable urge is to just drive off for other than offending someone’s sense of an orderly world, there’s no moral issue here. No wrong is being done.

Without reverting to metaphors related to steep terrain and lack of traction, there’s an obvious risk here. Would someone who sneaks in without a paper bracelet similarly, say, fly an airplane beyond its official gross weight or carry a passenger with only two of the required three landings? I offer neither advice nor counsel.

I sometimes think that regulations aren’t really intended to encourage safety so much as they are to test our ability to tolerate the absurd. Maybe there’s a diabolical genius at work here that I’m too dense to appreciate. If you’re patient enough to allow regulatory indignities to slough off without blowing a gasket—and I may fall short of that qualification—perhaps you’re the prime flight specimen we all know ourselves to be because you have aptly demonstrated the ability to focus on what’s important while tuning out what isn’t. Think of silly regulation as the equivalent of Ross’ matches.

So now the newly announced BasicMed gives us two new rules to ponder, both equally absurd and both just as likely to be ignored. The first is the fine-point provision that if you want your friend to serve as a safety pilot and he’s a lowly BasicMed holder, it’s not legal to do so. He has to be Third-Class qualified to be PIC of the airplane you’re flying. How, or more to the point, why, this twist of logic made it into the final rule defies rational explanation. If you break it down even a little, how could you possibly take it seriously?

Remember that medical certification never had anything to do with enhancing safety, but was rather a means to thin the herd of would-be pilots so regulatory bureaucrats could keep up with … well, whatever the hell they thought they had to keep up with. This is a constant truth against which any critical thinking about medical certification must be measured.

In the real world, if a safety pilot has a pulse and can fog a mirror, he or she is fit to the task if not regulatorily qualified. Good eyesight is a plus, of course, but if the FAA says BasicMed or light sport allows you to fly on the strength of a driver’s license, what possible reason could there be to not be qualified to serve as a lookout? That’s a rhetorical question, but if you have an answer, the comment field awaits. I’m always willing to be educated.

The second logical cutout in BasicMed is the altitude restriction. The lowly self-certified BasicMed pilot, lacking the gold-standard imprimatur of a genuine Third-Class medical, may hear “climb and maintain flight level two zero zero,” but is officially constrained from going there. Never mind that he or she has been flying there for years and that there is absolutely no medical or accident data to support such an exclusion.

How did this get into the rule? Probably tossed as a bone to ALPA, who bristled at the thought of mere Cirrus pilots defiling the purity of airspace above 18,000 feet. If safety systems are based on sound statistical bedrock—and they should be—I’d love to see the data on that one. Let’s see, what’s 0.00 divided by 0? I should write my own Senator Bill Nelson, who insisted he couldn’t support a driver’s license medical, and ask. Somehow, I think the answer would be optics divided by political expediency, the quotient multiplied by gutlessness.

We will be watching how this provision is handled by the great enforcer of regulations: the insurance companies. Will they force pilots of flight level capable airplanes to have medicals? My guess is no. The current insurance market is so competitive that pilots will be able to insure just about anything, turbocharged or not.

So never mind whatever trials await on your next flight review or IPC, the looming test is accepting, with a straight face, the supposed elimination of some regulation besmirched by rules that are even sillier. If you can do that without bursting into gales of laughter, you are highly qualified to confront the challenges of the contemporary aeronautical environment. Meanwhile, I’m writing on the whiteboard 100 times: I will obtain and display my paper wristband.