The death of Common Sense

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense in general aviation.

It will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as knowing when to not fly into a storm, life isn’t always fair, and maybe it was pilot error. Common Sense lived by simple, sound principals, including “follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance practices” and “the pilot is in charge.”

Its health began to deteriorate rapidly when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Those who filed lawsuits because engines quit when they ran out of fuel and airplanes actually require maintenance only worsened its condition.

Common Sense lost ground when people moved next to busy airports and then sued because airplanes kept flying near their properties.

It declined even further when airplane companies were sued for mechanical problems with airplanes built over 50 years ago. And it lost all will to live when lawyers successfully argued that, because airplane manufacturers developed new systems, that must mean that the old ones were defective.

Common Sense took a real beating when legislators worked to outlaw 100LL, not because it was harmful, but because it sounds unhealthy.

Common Sense was in despair when the EPA declared that ethanol fuel will work in all internal combustion engines, even if it kills you. (Well actually, it would just barely kill you, but they felt that at least the air for your last breath would be of better quality.)

When asked to comment, the FAA said that the myth of Common Sense had been dispelled in a FAR many years ago.

A representative from the American Bar Association could not be reached as all of the lawyers were out celebrating. The response from the Democratic and Republican parties was identical: They both said, “Common What?” I guess it’s nice that they finally agreed on something.

Common Sense was preceded in death by its parents, Truth and Trust; a spouse, Discretion; and two children, Responsibility and Reason. It is survived by four stepbrothers: “I Know My Rights,” “I Want It Now,” “Someone Else Is To Blame,” and “I Am A Victim.”

Not many attended its funeral because so few knew it or realized it was gone.

RIP. You will be missed.

Ben Visser is an aviation fuels and lubricants expert who spent 33 years with Shell Oil. He has been a private pilot since 1985. You can contact him at


  1. EK says

    I just found this excellent piece. I would just add that big government feds get paid above-average salaries whether we fly or not. They could care less about the decline of GA. And it’s not just GA. The whole country is gone. Hard work, honesty, integrity, intelligent risk-taking are not virtues anymore. The new virtues are mindless allegiance to the nanny state and shame for having once been a great nation.

  2. George Ridler says

    I sit alone quite a bit and lament the death of common sense, rail against the avaricious lawyers and scream inside when I hear the lies of the politicians. I watch as people conveniently decide that they are always right (like the airport neighbors in your example), and everything must change to accommodate them. Reading your article was like breathing the fresh air of the ocean or meeting an old friend who knows the truth. Thanks

  3. says

    The Death of Common Sense is one thing, but aren’t we all to blame for allowing it to die? As a lawyer, and an aviation advocate, I resent being tarred with killing Common Sense. For example, it was Philip Howard, a lawyer, who wrote the book “The Death of Common Sense.” And Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a couple of books about cutting through the bureaucratic red tape created by poorly drafted laws.

    If our government, politicians and lawyers are plagues with no common sense it is because we have allowed to operate with no common sense. That being said, one has to remember that there are two sides to every story. What do you say to the homeowner who purchased a house near a sleepy GA airport, and sees the runways extended several times and now there are an increasing number of corporate jets whizzing in and out of the airport? What do you say to the environmental advocates who point out that 100LL is the only widely produced fuel that stills contains lead and is causing lead contamination in areas around GA airports? That the objections raised against getting the lead out of 100LL are the same ones the auto manufacturers raised 40 years ago – and they seemed to manage the changeover just fine?

    To dismiss these concerns as being “lack of common sense” does not help aviation’s cause at all. There are legitimate concerns (as well as illegitimate) within each of those areas that need to addressed. If aviation does not address those legitimate concerns and come up with solutions to them, then aviation – especially small GA – will be increasingly marginalized.

  4. Jonathan says

    Man, you couldn’t nailed it any better. My generation (1950s) grew up with common sense; one was taught to be careful, look where you’re going, and don’t depend on others, if you had it in you to accomplish it yourself–but then again, what I learned in third grade is now being taught as “AP” courses in 12th grade these days.

  5. micke says

    The day the mailbox were turned from facing the street to facing the sidewalk (where no one walks).that IS the day Common Sense died !

  6. says

    You Da Man Ben! Right on, but what can we do about it? I’m all for leaving no stone unturned. Being here every day I can see a lot of pressure to stymie what we’re doing, I mean don’t even get me started on 8g… We’re constantly searching for ways to share the gift of flight with who ever wants it. We do everything we can to make the experience as memorable as possible and document every flight with pictures of their home, family, and friends gathered around the plane. While most planes at the airshow have signs saying “look but don’t touch”, we throw the kids up onto the seats and show them how to work the stick to let them see what moves the control surfaces. We like to support and encourage Young Eagles, and any excuse for a ride. “Oh it’s not your birthday? It will be some day so let’s get that ride out of the way”. All we have to sell to begin with is fun and hopefully we can bring some of them into the flock. Take care and good luck to us all.mb

  7. says

    Sad and true. I’ve been in this since 1982 wrenching, flying now sales and I see it too. It was a business we were proud of and protected. Now it is a shell of what it was. Sadly most of the people that care have been beaten down and gave up. It’s hard to find a
    MOAG (Mean Old Airport guy) anywhere. That means they gave up and left!

  8. says

    Congratulations to Ben on a well written and thought provoking article. In the United States where being politically correct comes before reality and facts, we need someone to call it like it is. Eliminating 100 LL is more of a political stunt than a requirement. To the uninformed, doing so makes the government look good (if that is possible), as well as insuring the enviro-zealots which brought the law suit against the EPA look like they are doing something. That’s important to them so they can keep those donations coming in. Killing 100LL which has an annual production of .04 of 1% of the fuel manufactured in the U.S. will make 0 difference other than to make certain people think it is good and possibly accomplish what I have stated above.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *