The news is bad. When two of the nicest, friendliest, most competent people on the planet (and yes, I speak of John and Martha King) find themselves victimized by law enforcement based on sloppy investigative practices, you have no choice but to ask, “Who is safe from this sort of short-sighted, narrow-minded, over-zealous security that has so obviously run amok?” Sadly, the obvious answer is, nobody. But that’s not the burning question at this point. The real issue is, what are you gonna do about it?
“Who, me?” you ask. “Yes, you,” I respond.
If the pilot community cannot stand up and speak in support of our own, we have failed. That’s the long and the short of it. The high profile capture of the notorious John and Martha should spur every one of us to action. It’s time that we gave up on being compliant door mats for the rest of society, which alternately fears or holds us in disdain – even as they depend on us for so many of their high-speed needs, and our proven history of altruism.
Always one to take my own advice, I spent time in my city manager’s office this morning making my case. Because the solution to this travesty of justice lies with me, every bit as much as it lies with you. The Kings have done their part by leaping into the fray and announcing that they will develop course materials to prevent a similar fate from befalling other, less high profile pilots, who might have just a tad more difficulty slipping off their handcuffs and obtaining a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card. I am at risk every bit as much as you are at risk, every bit as much as the Kings were at risk and then lost their roll of the dice when they filed and flew in U. S. airspace – following every rule in the book in the process.
Here was my recommendation to our city manager. I would urge you to find the appropriate person in your city (or county) government and make similar recommendations. At the very least, we may start chipping away at the wall of ignorance that currently exists between airport people and non-airport people.
Suggestion 1: Encourage the Chief of Police to establish a line of communication with the local pilot’s association, EAA Chapter, and AOPA representative. If nothing else, this provides the chief with the opportunity to develop relationships that may turn into valuable resources for specialized information in the future.
Suggestion 2: Urge law enforcement professionals to become familiar with security issues as seen from the pilot perspective. One option is Gleim’s Flight School Security Awareness Online Course. It’s free, it’s available right now, and it has the ability to help fill the void that currently exists.
In the interest of full disclosure I should make it clear that I have a professional relationship with Gleim Publications. I continue to answer e-mail questions and develop course content for them. Having said that, I think it’s fair to point out that flight instructors are mandated to review security procedures on an annual basis. It stands to reason that if the FAA expects flight instructors to be involved in security at the airport, local law enforcement should at least make an effort to be sure they are on the same page.
That’s it, a two step simple suggestion that just might create a better understanding between law enforcement and airport users, for the mutual benefit of all concerned.
Now understand, I have no expectation that stolen aircraft will be flocking to my local airport in the near future. In fact, I suggested to the city manager that the situation the Kings were subjected to would more than likely never happen here. But that low probability does not relieve those of us in a position of responsibility from correcting deficiencies as we find them. And there can be little doubt that a police department that can’t use the information contained in an instrument flight plan to verify aircraft ownership and whether or not that aircraft is truly stolen without drawing a gun and scaring the bejeezus out of some poor grandpa and his passenger – well, that’s a problem.
We can certainly do better – and by we, I mean you and me. Because we are two of the people referenced in, We the People…If it is not up to us to speak out, offer our support, and work toward solutions – then who do you suppose that role would fall to?
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.