Recently the Seattle-Tacoma region in Washington state where I live was hit by a pair of sonic booms. They were caused by the flight of two Oregon Air National Guard F-15s sent to intercept a floatplane that had violated a TFR established when President Obama visited Seattle.
The floatplane’s pilot claimed he was returning from a weekend away from home, hadn’t heard the president was going to be in town, and hadn’t checked for NOTAMS before taking off for the short flight to home base at Lake Washington’s Kenmore Air Harbor.
The pilot briefly entered the TFR and — before the fighters could intercept his plane — had flown out of the TFR and landed. After visiting with the Secret Service, he readily acknowledged he was in the wrong by not checking for NOTAMS. The Secret Service said they were satisfied with the explanation and notified the pilot that any further action would come from the FAA.
A few days after the incident — which resulted in the jets creating sonic booms that resulted in the 911 emergency system crashing because of an avalanche of calls — my wife received an e-mail from a fellow Toastmasters Club member. Knowing we are involved in general aviation, this fellow sent the following message: “We’ve all heard about the Sonic Boom. OK. BUT, doesn’t the pilot have to file a flight plan? Or is this a rule that is often overlooked? Or does general aviation just fly off wherever and whenever? IN which case, if bad guys want to create mischief, I guess the Piper Cub would be the plane.”
How would you respond to such a message?
I explained that flight plans aren’t mandatory except in controlled airspace and those areas are noted on appropriate charts. I then compared the flight of a private plane from point A to point B as being about the same as a car, motorcycle or truck going between the same communities. No permission is needed for such a road trip and no one needs to be notified. The same goes for boats, I pointed out.
As for the “guys wanting to create mischief,” I explained that an 18-wheeler or a motor home and many SUVs could cause more damage than a light plane.
Finally, I pointed out that most GA pilots are responsible individuals who had to undergo considerable training to earn their pilot certificates. That pilot ticket cost a lot more in money and time than getting a driver’s license. In fact, the amount of training and the intense study of rules and regulations made getting a driver’s license more like a joke in comparison.
The perception of the individual contacting my wife is, unfortunately, the same as that of many individuals: Pilots are loose cannons who go off without a “flight plan” and can go wherever they want whenever they want in a manner that is irresponsible and dangerous to the rest of the population.
How do we change such a perception? What must be done to make the general public more accepting of those of us who have decided to take advantage of the conveniences of flight? I don’t see these same perceptions about boaters or those with huge motor homes. Is it envy? Can it be that people fear that which they don’t understand or are unable to personally accomplish? Can we ever change the public’s feelings relative to general aviation?
It seems to me that, in one sense or another, I’ve been trying to find the solution to the same problem for the 40 years that I have been involved in the general aviation industry and it doesn’t seem that the solution is any closer now than it was when I first started writing about it. That doesn’t make me feel any better!
What are your thoughts? Can we do more in public schools? Are EAA and AOPA doing enough to educate the public? Are pilots a reckless group of individuals who don’t pay enough attention to the rules and ultimately endanger the public?
Let me hear your thoughts!
Dave Sclair was co-publisher of General Aviation News from 1970-2000. He can be reached at Dave@GeneralAviationNews.com.