Going Direct: July 4th Edition: Is Flying Free Enough?

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We pilots pride ourselves in taking part in the most private and unfettered leisure activity that humans ever came up with. In the United States, that’s pretty much what it is. Free. If I want to go flying, I drive to the airport, I park my car, I walk out to my plane and I go flying. The county lines aren’t written anywhere in the sky. There are no speed traps in Sunset Valley to boost their tax revenue. You can pass from Texas to Oklahoma or Maryland to Virginia, theoretically, without seeing any “Now Entering” signs. And if you stay out of certain large swaths of airspace the government has cordoned off for military use or for security purposes, you can pretty much fly anywhere you feel like without getting permission from ATC or talking to a soul, so long as you stay clear of clouds within certain tolerances, don’t go over 17,999 feet, have a valid pilot certificate and medial authorization, have completed your currency in terms of a flight review or equivalent, have a recognized medical certificate for the type of plane you’re flying, don’t go too fast, fly at the right altitude and avoid flying over football stadiums and nuclear power plants. And when you come in to land, make sure you use the proper pattern altitudes, communicate as required with ATC—if they acknowledge your existence at all, because standard practice in Class B airspace is for the controller to not even respond to you if they’re too busy.

Pilots need to know all of this stuff and comply with it with, in most cases, no margins allowed. If all or most of that sounds free, well, I agree with you.

Freedom has always given us the freedom to do what we want when we want, so long as we abide by the rules. And in aviation, it seems sometimes as though there are nothing but rules. In fact, learning “to fly” is largely learning what the rules are that put demands on you and limit what and how and where and when you can fly. Some of them make perfect sense, like talking with ATC before you do a quick touch and go at Dallas Forth Worth International (I’m joking, don’t even do that WHEN talking with ATC, as if they’d let you) or flying the proper arrivals at Oshkosh when the flying circus is in town. Some rules are less easy to understand, like staying certain distances away from clouds when VFR…I’ve been flying for a few decades and have yet to figure out how far 500 feet from a ragged puffy cloud is. And others, like many of the FAA’s seemingly arbitrary medical standards, are impossible to understand. You just do it.

And when you have to do something that you can’t even figure out why you have to do it, let alone how to do it, it calls into question the idea of freedom. AOPA, for all the good they do, and its’ a lot, are largely politically reactive and not proactive. That is, they don’t do much to cut out the bad stuff in the regs that make us less free to fly; they just keep the feds from piling more bad stuff on top of it. Thanks, AOPA, for that.

But how about undoing a lot of the rules that keep us from exercising our 1776th Amendment to the Constitution that says that pilots ought to be able to fly in relative peace with only as much regulation as there needs to be in order to keep us and our passengers and ground bound citizens of earth relatively safe.

I’m not talking about any kind of wholesale repealing of the laws of the air, just a common sense paring down and common-sensing (a word now if it wasn’t before) of the existing regulations.

There may not be a Second-and-a-Half Amendment to the Constitution, but maybe there should be, one that states in no uncertain terms that pilots have a right to own and fly planes without even the need to mention a militia at all. What I’m all for is common sense plane laws. Because living in a nation that prides itself on the freedom of its citizens needs to be reminded on a regular basis why it exists, to serve the people of the land, and not vice versa. When it comes to planes, that balance definitely needs to flipped, at least in my humble, one-citizen’s opinion.

 

 

 

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