Is Flying a Right or a Privilege?

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Brainteaser 188's Question 11 was a bonus survey poll that asked if flying was a right or a privilege. Reader responses played out this way: More than half said that flying was a privilege, while less than half felt it was a right. A third-party minority rambled on about unrelated topics, including one reader who tried to sell us an Ercoupe, and one who refused to participate in online surveys, because the NSA was monitoring the results. That reader is right: It's all a plot.

Shades of Gray

Opinions ran strong in both camps, and the line between right or privilege blurred into 50 or so shades of gray by the time the results were analyzed. This reader's statement typifies that sentiment: "The freedom to move about by the populace (whether by air, land or sea) is a right." Seemed like one for the right-to-fly column, until the reader added, "Since we share the airspace with one another, our individual exercise of that right is a privilege. In other words: GA [general aviation flying] is a right, obtaining your ticket (pilot certificate) is a privilege." Man, I wish I'd sat next to this dude in debate class. In fact, I wish I'd taken debate class ... or paid attention to any classes in high school.

One reader went all classical with this response: "Voltaire said (in French) that, 'With great power comes great responsibility' in 1882." (Because the philosopher Voltaire, a.k.a., François-Marie Arouet, died in 1778, the reader's quote takes on special enlightenment.) "In the August 1962 issue of Amazing Comics, creator of Spider-Man, Stan Lee, said the same thing in English, thus popularizing the phrase."

Intrigued by the reader's obfuscation, and pleased I could use the word obfuscation, I read on: "Having a 'right' to fly implies great power and thus great responsibility. The 'privilege' to fly implies that you have taken upon oneself and earned the responsibility to do so in accordance to the rules and regulations governing aviation." Wow, this guy -- no doubt writing from his fortress of solitude -- was good, so I continued reading, even though I wasn't sure where it was leading: "Thus, flying is both a right and a privilege." Both! And he used the word "thus," again, fortified by a dollop of responsibility to make some of us feel guilty. I loved it and was ready to declare my allegiance to the right-and-privilege grand bargain, when the reader squandered credibility with a string of puns: "But, I'm putting Descartes before the horse. One has to first Kafka up a lot of money before earning a pilot's license. It's enough to send you into a real tailSpinoza."

Drop your Kierkegaard for one second, and you get sucker-punched by someone who -- like me -- made it thorough college on Cliffs Notes.

"Operating in the U.S. airspace is definitely a privilege that must be earned!" another reader exclaimed, using one of the many exclamations points found in the survey results. "Demonstration of competence through knowledge and practical tests is how that's done. Re-demonstration through flight reviews or other checkrides is also required. Despite all this, we still get a certain percentage of blithering idiots who go out and bend lots of aluminum ... We should absolutely have the right to go earn the privilege to go fly. That statue that sits on a little island in New York harbor?" (Ooo, wait! Being from New Jersey I should know this ...) "It's the statue of Liberty ..." (Yes, that's the one.) "... not the statue of Equality. We have the liberty to earn the privilege!" (The Statue of Equality is located in Santa Cruz harbor, Calif.)

The Right-to-Flyers

Here, now, in no particular order, is a sampling of comments by those who view flying as an inherent right:

"It's a right! Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- it qualifies under all three!" To the barricades! Liberté, égalité, avionité!

"I understand how the Interstate Commerce clause gives the federal government the power to regulate commercial aviation ... " (Good, because I don't. Please elaborate.) "But I don't see how it covers recreational aviation. Still, the Bill of Rights says that anything not covered specifically in the Constitution remains with the 'people and the states,' so if there wasn't federal preemption, we would have to deal with the nightmare of each state having its own laws. Just thinking about questions like this makes me glad I'm an engineer and not a lawyer." Ahhh ... what say we tally that as a right-to-fly vote?

"A well-regulated FAA, being necessary to the security of your pilot certificate, the right of the aviators to keep and fly aircraft, shall not be infringed, except in case of federal panic?" You mean, its business-as-normal mode?

"I keep getting told by the CAP that it's a privilege, but I believe, overall, that it is as much a right as it is to breath!"

And Now, The Privileged Ones

"Piloting, like driving a car, barbering, practicing medicine and other activities, requires a degree of demonstrated proficiency and knowledge, if for no other reason than to protect the public from 'cowboys' and idiots. Piloting should be a privilege." And beware of cowboys and, worse, cowboy barbers.

"Flying is a privilege, but the regulation of it should not be left in the hands of a bureaucratic government agency, which has demonstrated its inability to function rationally and in a timely manner." No mention of what that agency might be. So many qualify, but I'm guessing FAA?

"If it was a right, we would spend less time improving ourselves as pilots. In not wanting to lose our privilege to fly, we keep self-improving."

And, in closing, one reader summed up the right v. privilege debate by stating, "Brainteaser 188 question #3 sucks!"