Archive for April, 2009

A vision for aviation, too

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

President Obama today announced his vision for high speed rail in America—a vision that includes efficiently moving people and goods between large population centers, and a vision that calls for an investment of $13 billion in federal general fund spending over the next five years.

I’d like to see the President embrace a similar vision for a proven transportation system—aviation. We already know that aircraft large and small move people and products nationwide, making enormous contributions to our economy and the public good. General aviation alone contributes more than 1 million jobs and $150 billion annually to the economy. We also know that investment in airports, aviation infrastructure, and modernization of the air traffic control system are desperately needed to maintain aviation’s exceptional safety record.

With that in mind, I am deeply troubled by the inconsistencies in how these two transportation networks are to be funded. It appears from the administration’s proposal that federal funding for high speed rail will come from the general fund, money derived from all taxpayers whether they use rail or not. At the same time, the administration’s budget proposes that aviation be paid for through billions in new user fees while the general fund contribution to the FAA would decrease substantially.

Aviation works for all Americans, even those who don’t fly. A safe, efficient, modern air transport system is fundamental to ensuring our economic prosperity. It simply doesn’t make sense to impose new financial burdens and reduce public funding for aviation on the one hand, and offer up billions in taxpayer money for high speed rail on the other.  We need a vision for aviation, too—one that maintains the general fund contribution and lets us move forward with the modernization we so urgently need.

Calm in a Crisis

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Pilots are a special group of people—that’s something I’ve always known. And pilot training does much to teach and reinforce such traits as courage, decisiveness, and the ability to remain calm in a crisis. But it was really brought home to me yesterday when I heard the story of a low-time single-engine pilot who safely landed a King Air carrying his wife and two daughters when the pilot of the charter flight died shortly after takeoff.

Doug White and his family had just attended his brother’s funeral in Florida when they boarded the chartered King Air bound for their Louisiana home. But about 15 minutes after takeoff, the King Air pilot lost consciousness and died. White told his wife and children to pray, and contacted air traffic control for help. White isn’t instrument rated and the plane was above a cloud layer and climbing on autopilot when he took the controls.

Air traffic controllers provided guidance and vectors, and enlisted the assistance of another pilot who was familiar with the airplane to give White the information he needed to take the aircraft off autopilot and hand fly it to a safe landing. And, of course, you can hear it all on the air traffic control tapes.

The thing that struck me the most about this incredible exchange between White and controllers is the calm decisiveness of everyone involved. It’s hard to imagine a more stressful situation. Lives were on the line, and everyone knew it. But even so, no one succumbed to the strain. Everyone worked together to get that plane, and the family in it, safely on the ground.

AOPA’s Aviation eBrief was among the first aviation media to report the story yesterday afternoon. You can read the story and listen to the remarkable exchange between White and air traffic control by visiting the eBrief archive. I am sure you will be moved as I was.

Situations like this one are rare, and they test the mettle of everyone involved—yet in these exceptional and difficult circumstances, pilots and controllers call on their inner strength and their rigorous training to work together for a good outcome. I couldn’t be more impressed with White and the controllers who helped him. Thankfully few of us will ever face such a challenge, but if we do we can have confidence in our training and the professionalism of controllers to help get us through.