Rabbit Rules and the FAA

July 18, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

mini-rex rabbitAn area we’ve discussed before is the creeping, some would say crushing, regulatory environment that GA faces today.  Most regulations started off as a common sense approach to address areas that were known to cause accidents. But as too many cooks have learned, if a little spice is good there are rapidly diminishing returns when the oregano overpowers the oatmeal!

I came across an article the other day in the Washington Post by David Fahrenthold that clearly illustrates the point. Marty Hahne, a professional magician, was busted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for not having a license for his one-bunny show. Casey, his trusty three-pound assistant, is the highlight of the gig when extricated from a hat, picnic basket, or other enclosure. Hahne could saw the rabbit in half in front of the USDA inspector—hard on Casey—but apparently not illegal if the beasty is for human consumption (don’t try this at home, kids.)

But it doesn’t stop there. The original reg was just four pages, but now there are 14 pages of just rabbit rules. Sound familiar? When Casey goes on a road trip there must be an itinerary. Not only that, but a disaster plan is needed in case of a fire, flood, heat wave, chemical leak, or tornado. This grew out of some terrible animal abandonment abuses during hurricane Katrina. One magician has a plan: Take the rabbit with you. But Hahne has a 28-pager to illustrate the absurdity of creeping regulation. He notes that “Our country is broke and yet they have the time and money to harass somebody about a rabbit.”

This whole deal was in response to the outrage of a family Dalmatian that was kidnapped and used for experimental purposes by an unscrupulous medical laboratory. If interested, you can read how these 1965 animal protection rules were originally designed to regulate laboratories, zoos, circuses, carnivals and pet dealers at wapo.st/magic-marty. But somewhere along the way over-zealousness overshadowed a reasonable idea. It would be amusing if there wasn’t such a total lack of common sense on the part of the regulators! Don’t get me wrong—I love animals and currently have five rescued furry friends, but…

The operative word here is “proportionality.” Regulate appropriately for the activity and no more. GA suffers badly from being constantly compared to the airlines, and much of our activity is stifled by it. The medical exemption petition is one area, Part 23 rewrite to rein in aircraft certification costs is another, and some archaic flight training rules—all are being pursued by AOPA and the industry. But rule-making takes a long time, and in the interim the application of existing rules could stand some standardization. Some regs are ambiguously written and subject to “creative interpretation.”

The letter of the law, but not the intent, can lead to some very unproductive places. Conversely, we have a few pilots who through an abject lack of common sense (there’s that concept again) bring GA into a bad light, and the regulators respond with a heavy hand as opposed to using just enough oregano.  FAA management and staff need to exercise as much common sense as they ask of pilots—because the oatmeal is in really bad shape.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Jim Van Sky

    Welcome to reality. Until it happens to you there is little awareness of this type of excessive regulation. However it is more the norm than the exception. Take any agency you choose and you will find exactly the same situation. There is no common sense and there is little to no oversight. To say the system is broken is an understatement.

  • http://nar-associates.com David F Rogers


    And then there is the Kennedy brothers and the loggerhead turtle “story” – same thing.

  • Mike Mahoney

    If you put oregano in your oatmeal, we have a problem, Houston.
    No wonder the FAA looks askew when you come around.
    “Look, Bannister, here comes that kook, Landsberg who puts oregano in his oatmeal. Next thing you know he’ll want to put Viagra in his gas tank to extend his range. Watch that guy.”
    GA submitted to bureaucracy and drank the “safety first” koolaid. GA still does, actually. Read your own magazine. Someone completely ignorant and neutral on GA, after reading a years’ worth of AOPA magazines would come away thinking we must be nuts to fly when we ourselves harp endlessly on safety in one form or another. It is like we’re scared to death and that thrill is the real motivation to fly. I know we’re trying to be responsible but look where it has gotten you. Then there’s this. The world navigates with a Wal-Mart GPS right into Uncle Si’s favorite fishing hole 12 miles out into a featureless Lake Erie in 60′ of water within 30′ and GA can’t use them to find a 5,000′ runway situated on a square mile of land. And didn’t we know the game when incandescent light bulbs were supposed to go away. Try to buy a light bulb without the FAA seal of approval. Light bulbs? Bunny rabbits? Makes perfect sense.

  • Eric Leuty

    Same thing when it comes to increasing the ATP minimums for co-pilots. Doesn’t fix anything. Just causes more difficulty. Both Asiana pilots up front exceeded the minimums by a large amount. Common sense isn’t taught anymore.

  • bruce Landsberg

    Perhaps the ingredients are a bit unusual but the sentiment seems about right. Beer and chocolate chip cookies anyone?

  • John Worsley

    All bureaucracies are subject to the same pressure to “do something”, including the FAA when something happens (read plane crash). Back in the 70’s, the 55mph speed limit didn’t do anything to help with the gas shortage or highway safety (their fallback position), but it looked like they were doing something. The FAA is no exception. Reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon. Dilbert and the pointy haired boss were attending a safety seminar. Dilbert explains to the boss that somebody stood on a chair and fell off so now they have to have a 2 hour chair safety session. The last panel shows someone spinning around on a swivel desk chair as the boss asks “Is that a ‘do’ or ‘don’t do’?

  • john

    Yes GA is over regulated. The FAA needs to get out of the small plane certification business ( for example 6 seats or less and less than 6,000lbs). Establish a set of performance specifications and required systems and let the manufacturers build the planes. Yes there will be some missteps but overall I think Cessna, Piper etc. will still build the same planes but with better improvements and technology than they can build now. The new startups will also come around and some will do well others not so well.
    Two other things:
    The FAA needs to do away with the 3rd class physical all together. The only thing the 3rd class physical does is discourage pilots from going to the doctor to get something taken care of early when it would be simple for fear of losing their medical.
    The FAA needs to allow older small aircraft to go experimental if the owner chooses so.

  • WtfWtf

    John, you are 100% right about the medical certification.. Even for 1st or 2nd class. It’s the same thing. I avoid getting things checked out so I can keep my career prospects alive. Meanwhile I might be dying inside and not even know it. This is a lot less safe than if it were open, accepted, and they weren’t holding a gun to your head. They need to stop putting pilots under the microscope. Start drug testing (and mental illness testing) the politicians and CEOs first.