Copyright 2004 by Richard Harris
aviation industry reporter


The FAA is moving to end the public’s casual access to general aviation — ending most sightseeing and charity “joyrides.” The ultimate result may put an end to general aviation as we know it.

Under Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) FAA-1998-4521, the FAA plans to forbid all sightseeing operations conducted under Part 91, limiting such flights to Part 135 operators only — admittedly forcing 700 such operations out of the business, including FBO’s and flight schools — who provide these rides for additional income and to stimulate public interest in aviation.

The FAA’s new secret-committee system for reviewing FAR’s has replaced the traditional system of open public hearings, and the new committee has been empowered to re-write virtually all the operating rules for aircraft (Parts 91, 135, 121, 125 and 141), and is even apparently looking at certification standards (Part 61), in the most sweeping review of FAR’s in the last three decades.

The first major move of this committee seems to be essentially outlawing the non-pilot public’s casual participation in general aviation — thereby stripping general aviation of its public support — leaving us far more vulnerable to new regulatory attacks.

If we can’t make cheap rides available, nationwide (as we can under current rules), then — regardless of abstract arguments about GA’s ‘benefits to society’ — most of public will see GA as out-of-reach, and of no value to them.

Without that support, it is a very short step for FAA to implement the privatization of the Air Traffic Control system (as recently authorized in the FAA Reauthorization Act, passed late last year), and force GA operators to pay for it. With ATC privatized, user fees are sure to follow (this is customary whenever a government function is privatized).

With an election year approaching, it will be easy to sell the public on the idea of “tax cuts” by forcing GA to pay for the ATC services it uses (sometimes amounting to hundreds of dollars a flight). If most of the public has lost its access to GA, through the impending National Air Tour Safety Standards, then the user fees may become law with no significant public opposition — even if they wipe out general aviation.

This is more than the camel’s nose under the tent. National Air Tour Safety Standards are the first step in forcing GA into the expensive, tightly regulated, fortunate-few model of European general aviation — or forcing it out of the skies altogether. This is exactly in keeping with the Administration’s various moves to increase ‘Homeland Security’ — largely by eliminating uncontrolled and unsecured aircraft. This has been hit home all the more with a recent a proposed amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (HR 3798), in Congress, targeted at general aviation airports, and the “security threats” they pose.

The administration’s easiest first targets are the fringes of GA — and among those are the operations that connect the public to GA. If you ignore their plight, you are cutting yourself off from the indulgent support of over 95% of the public — and GA (from ultralights to bizjets) can’t survive without it.

In short, protest now, or kiss traditional American general aviation goodbye. Start by putting in your comments at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Document Management System website (dms.dot.gov), but remember that the FAA is already committed to this regulation. Go over their heads. Call or write your Congressman and your U.S. Senators, and perhaps e-mail the President (president@whitehouse.gov) and say “STOP.”

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