There’s a story that I’ve been following but haven’t written about because it doesn’t seem to concern the segment of aviation we mostly write about, which is personal flying. But, I’ve been thinking a lot about it. It has to do with the FAA’s attempt to broaden its ability to keep electronic records on pilots. It’s chilling and could lead to all of us being under the microscope through a new regulation that’s going through the approval process. They’re, in essence, trying to build a better regulatory microscope to keep an eye on pilots.
One of the things I love about flying and that you love about flying, too, is that we’re not under the microscope. That if I want to, I can fly from Oshkosh back to the East Coast in a small plane and talk to exactly two tower controllers along the way—the one who bid me adieu from OSH and the one who cleared me to land back home in Bridgeport. I’m terrible at logging flights. I’m terrible at recordkeeping in general, so I’d give it even odds that anything made it into my logbook for that trek, and let me be clear that I had as my goal not talking to anyone. It was an arbitrary and perfectly legal exercise of my freedom to fly and of my freedom from oversight. I filed IFR the very next flight, I’m sure, and I strongly encourage you all to at the least make use of flight following…or not. It’s totally your call. Again, that’s what I love about flying. It’s all about freedom.
Well, not for airline pilots. For them, it’s all about record keeping. And in short, here’s what that story is about. The FAA wants to keep track electronically of all records of corporate pilots because they often become airline pilots. So the FAA is attempting to give itself the authority to dig into those records. And the National Business Aviation Association is saying ,in its comments on the proposal, hold on just one minute, G-men, because not only do you not have the legal authority to do that, but you could then expand it in other bad ways, too, like giving the FAA the ability to include notes from prior checkrides and who knows what all else. AVweb has a good piece on it if you’re interested in all the little details.
While how much access the FAA has to our medical records is a moving target, we do know that the FAA, and millions of private citizens, as well, has complete, unfettered access to ADS-B data, so a long cross country that someone logs 4.8 hours of PIC time is easily reviewable by N-Number and date. So if it was actually any closer to 3.5 hours, that could be an issue. We also know that the FAA is using ADS-B data to enforce violations of airspace, and there have been rumors that it is using ADS-B data not just to document suspected violations but to discover them in the first place.
So the pragmatically scofflaw advice to fly what you can and log what you need is worse than it has ever been. Not only do experience and proficiency matter—currency really is important—but pilots’ creative attempts to pad those logbook pages might some day land them in legal hot water with the feds, potentially even years after the creative writing session in which the imaginary flights or hours flow were dreamt up.