Doing aviation things differently has real consequences to those who profit from the status quo. Here’s how to recognize smart conservatism versus the other kind.
There are certain questions we need to ask ourselves when we look at how aviation things are done and whether mixing things up might carry some benefits for those of us who fly airplanes for recreation and personal/business travel. In aviation, we have a critical component to change that we can’t forget for a second: changing the way things are done might wind up costing lives. A much less important consideration is that changing things winds up costing livelihoods. To make things better, we have to, as a community, be willing to accept economic disruption as part of the cost of progress.
When looking at disruptive policy changes, one also needs to ask what the purpose of the disruption is. With the Part 23 rewrite, which identifies safety guided-consensus standards as the driving goal behind the certification of light planes, the goal is twofold: to create a smarter, more efficient means of certification for light planes while maintaining an equivalent level of safety. In reality, the changes will do far more than that. They won’t just keep the accident record where it is, which is unacceptably high, but it will improve upon it, in part by giving existing small planes far better avionics options than have ever been possible before. The avionics revolution, mark my words, is only getting started.
The other thing it’ll do is allow manufacturers to offer new type certificated sub-12,000-pound airplanes, maybe as many as a dozen a year, instead of half a dozen a decade. The change will also allow the FAA to address certification applications in a far more efficient manner. By all accounts, they’re doing a great job despite being woefully understaffed. For every complaint I hear from manufacturers about their FAA process, I hear a dozen compliments.
There are a number of other areas in light aviation that need to change, and we’re now seeing the first signs of change in several of them. The FAA’s new policy of education instead of punishment is a great place to start. That is disruptive, because there are inspectors out there who really love the feeling of power they have over pilots. I’ve been the victim of just such an inspector. Getting those people to change their behavior is disruptive in the very best way.
In medical, too, we’re seeing disruption, though it's not enough change fast enough. My big gripe about the new BasicMed wasn’t that it changed things but that it didn’t change things enough. The FAA’s recasting of the driver’s license medical as an FAA physical lite is proof that the aviation medical division of the FAA is hanging on to its outdated mandate to apply last century's best medical thinking despite advances in many fronts that render the FAA's medical standards quaint at best. Want to see worthwhile change in Ok City? Apply the certification division's new safety-driven culture to medical issues. That would change everything.
Regardless, the questions we need to ask before we toss policy in the blender and hit frappe should always be the same: is it broken, and can we fix it? In the case our air traffic control system, the answers to that are, no, it’s not broken, and no, the proposed fixes will likely make it worse for everyone except the airlines, who care about private aviation not a lick.
I say let’s put our money behind changes having to do with cheaper, smarter technology, modern, fuel efficient and economical powerplants, and maintaining our nation’s aviation infrastructure, from the little airports right up through the behemoths. And let's turn our disruptive attention to those places in the system where change is long overdue.
After all, disruption when applied with thought and with the right motives is the way to make any complex system better and more efficient. When it’s done for the wrong reasons, it’s a way to more deeply entrench all the bad things we’d like to get rid of in the first place.