A Very Sick Canary

April 8, 2009 by Bruce Landsberg

It was my first visit Friedrichshafen, Germany home of the largest GA exhibition in Europe. My role was to speak on two panels; The first, regarding the use of safety statistics and the second on technologically advanced aircraft. It was also an opportunity to meet with officials of Eurocontrol and other regulating authorities to begin to understand their challenges and motivations regarding the airspace and certification rules that are being put in place in much of Europe.

First, the show exceeded all of my expectations. The exhibition halls were located right on the airport and were actually first class hangars, heated and cooled with natural light and most of the aircraft were located under roof. This was in addition to all the normal booths and displays. It was more like a car show – all very civilized and very well attended. There was nary a porta-potty in view, the loos were spotlessly clean and the food vendors served excellent food. What a concept! The Europeans get a gold star on managing human factors!!

However, I was not so impressed with their approach to managing GA safety. This topic deserves much more than a blog to do it justice but here are a few impressions. The airspace and training requirements are incredibly complicated. They like to charge for services pretty much anytime an aircraft touches ATC, Pay as You Go, Euro-Style.

The Zurich Traffic Management Area (TMA) for example has over 20 sectors (this is not a current chart and a few may have been added so don’t use it for navigation.) The airspace just doesn’t need to be that segregated to keep GA and air carrier aircraft apart.

Seeking to understand the many rules and airspace restrictions, I asked about GA accident data. Didn’t seem to exist or no one was quite sure who was keeping score. I know it’s more complicated when multiple countries are involved but on topics like this it sure makes sense to deal with facts and then make an informed decision. Perhaps there are other objectives besides safety.

I don’t want to be the ugly American and need to learn more on this but in our increasingly global world there are many ideas being studied by our government for applicability in the States. GA in the rest of the world has been greatly weakened by complexity and government “assistance.” If European GA serves as the canary in the coal mine, an early detection of dangerous trends for U.S. pilots, I’d say the canary is in dire straits. The international AOPA’s are doing all they can and ALL pilots ought to be members – just as it should be in the U.S.

Many of us just want to fly our aircraft and remain oblivious to all this, but if there were ever a time to understand the powerful forces at work and to get involved, this is it. Getting back to my area of expertise, it has also never been more critical for pilots to fly safely so as not to give governments any more excuses to “help.”

Flieger interview with Bruce Landsberg

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • john tomsic

    Why or for what reason do you use an article dated August 1998 “Pay as you go Euro Style” still trying to blame Clinton for todays troubles? maybe AOPA needs to focus on today and if it’s members choose to remain aloof and complacent and permit big bz government to tax and charge them ( and use their revenues for other than aviation services/regulation) then they deserve to be charged and taxed into extinction.
    You can do much better. Excellent point but very lame and outdated example.

  • Bruce Landsberg

    OK – fair point — I should have searched a little more widely. Here’s one dated from two years ago that takes the Bush administration to task and I’m sure there are others .


    It’s the same song, different verse and I believe that AOPA has been very outspoken in regard to user fees and over-reaching gov’t. See GA Serves America effort.

    My point was relevant to charging for safety services that are in everyone’s interest. Seems like every administration in recent history has mistakenly looked at this as a cash cow.

  • Mike Woods

    Kudos to AOPA for leading the charge against user fees and intrusive government actions by the TSA.

    When I started flight training in Jan 2007, I was astonished at the amount of regulation and bureaucracy that plagues general aviation. You have to be a true zealot to put up with it and fly – even in America! I can’t imagine trying to do it in Europe…

    The contrast with the auto industry provides a lot of perspective – look at the continuous advances in quality, simplicity, convenience in cars versus light aircraft. Any questions on what over-regulation does to an industry?

    Yes, 3-dimensions and weather bring additional complications, but at the end of the day a Cessna 172 still weighs 1000lbs less than a Honda Accord, has 100 less horsepower, carries fewer passengers and much less cargo. Which one is truly more dangerous? Or more likely to be used by a terrorist?

    Anyone going to put up with the TSA restricting access to or demanding passenger checks on who rides in your Honda?

    People need to wake up, join with AOPA and fight for sensible structure and free access to what we already pay for with our taxes — not blindly allow rampant new, tax-generating bureaucracy. Keep up the fight, Bruce!

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