Archive for August, 2013

The automation challenge: A young person’s problem?

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Otto Pilot

Image Credit: Screenshot from Airplane!

In the aftermath of Asiana 214 in San Francisco and UPS 1354 in Birmingham (even reaching back to Air France 447 and Colgan 3407), much of the collective conversation, soul searching, and heated argument has revolved around the issue of cockpit automation and pilot interaction with onboard technology. There has been a collective cry from much of the “old guard” in the aviation field saying that these accidents prove that the modern pilot spends too much time monitoring systems and not enough time honing their old-fashioned “stick-and-rudder” skills. A recent blog post from the Economist even went so far as to say:

“Many of today’s younger pilots (especially in the rapidly expanding markets of Asia and the Middle East) have had little opportunity to hone their airmanship in air forces, general aviation or local flying clubs, allowing them to amass long hours of hand-flying various aircraft in all sorts of weather conditions and emergencies.”

Are the recent airline accidents a direct result of a lack of stick-and-rudder skills amongst younger pilots? A look at the demographics of the flight crews tells a different story. The two captains in the left and right seat onboard Asiana 214 were 48 and 45 years old, respectively, and the relief crew was 41 and 52 years old. The captain of the UPS aircraft that went down in Birmingham was 58; the first officer was 37. Air France 447’s crew had the youngest first officer (32 years old) amongst these major “automation interaction” accidents; the captain was 58 and the relief first officer onboard the ill-fated flight was 37. Without getting into the training priorities of each airline and nitty-gritty of procedures relating to hand-flying, it would seem that more of our accident-prone problems today stem not from a lack of stick-and-rudder skills of the millennial first officer, but (to borrow a colloquialism) teaching our old dogs new tricks and displays in the cockpit.

In general aviation, we see this new challenge with the implementation and increased use of technologically advanced aircraft (TAAs) by our pilots. The standard story goes something like this: VFR-rated pilot gets in TAA, encounters marginal weather, potentially thinking he’s safer behind a glass cockpit, becomes disoriented, and crashes. Is this a stick-and-rudder skill problem, or is it indicative of a broader problem that we still have failures in how we train our pilots to make good decisions?

If you want to buy a new airplane today, be it a 172 or SR22, it will be equipped with glass cockpit technology and the automation that comes with it as standard. Our training and testing methodologies have not adapted to meet these new, fantastic technologies, giving pilots the opportunity to learn both stick-and-rudder skills and the systems management/awareness skills to use the automation to its best and safest abilities. It’s been far too long since the FAA in consultation with the industry has taken a look at its requirements and testing methodologies for pilot certificates in this country. The new ATP certification process presents some revamping of testing and subject areas, but we still fail to begin our training by reinforcing both stick-and-rudder and technical skills.

My fellow “younger” pilots (those lacking in stick-and-rudder skills as the Economist blog post suggests) are incredibly comfortable with technology. For many fellow graduates from large universities, we have extensive experience training and learning in TAA. Where do the airlines see challenges in their training of new hire pilots from these big schools? Not in systems management or basic stick-and-rudder skills. The biggest issue with near consistency across airlines whose new hires trained in all-glass fleets is basic instrument competency. Small things like holding, VOR tracking, and setting fixes in the “old-fashioned way” with two VORs make up a large portion of the feedback universities receive.

In the United States, GA will continue to serve as the primary pipeline for tomorrow’s professional pilots. It behooves us all as GA pilots and instructors to emphasize both of these elements in our training and day-to-day flying. We need to continue to explore better methods of training, especially for the “new dogs” that are already used to GPS on their phones and in their cars and those “old dogs” who grew up in a time when LORAN was a common tool for navigating.

The next and biggest threat to GA (part 2)

Monday, August 26th, 2013

We may already be seeing the beginning of the government’s plan to eliminate VFR flying. 

Following the initial reporting by Ken Mead of AOPA, FLYING’s Robert Goyer, (among others) have been relaying the growing numbers of random, unfounded stops by heavily armed, threatening teams from CBP, Homeland Security, and local authorities of aircraft that were flying under VFR rules.   

Pilots should consider the following:

1.       The government has identified VFR flying as an area that they do not control in the way that they do most other areas of transportation.  They will work to eliminate that ambiguity.

2.       The government is being influenced by a concept described in a book, read and promoted by President Obama, named Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, by American academics Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein.  One interviewer, reported, “When I talked to Thaler earlier this year about Nudge and asked him what was the core theme of the book, he said: “The central question is really whether by understanding human nature you can use what we call “choice architecture” to devise policies and institutions that make it more likely that individuals will make decisions that are good for them.””  Thaler has just come off of a stint working in the Executive Office of the President at the White House where his job was to devise situations where people were put in situations where the choices they were given were biased toward decisions that the government had determined beforehand were beneficial.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that the probing, increasing visible stops of pilots by authorities could be the initial attempts to “nudge” the aviation system in a direction that they desire (or to test to see what kind of response they get). 

3.       Federal and local agencies now use massive, overwhelming, intimidating force in unthreatening situations.  For example, John and Martha King were confronted as though they were known drug runners when they were stopped by four cars worth of gun drawn officers because of an N-number confusion.  The point is that there is a clear, new, nation-wide attempt by law enforcement agencies to default to force and intimidation as the de facto approach in increasing numbers of situations.  There is a clear trend toward intimidation.

4.       The most likely scenario – one used in many other situations – is to capitalize on an upcoming event, either contrived or not, to try to make the point that this lack of control presents the country with a vulnerability that must be eliminated. 

5.       There are a number of defensive strategies that could mounted to fend off this trend.  One is to begin to raise the awareness of the importance of VFR flying by reminding the pilot community of the unique, beneficial value of coming and going as we wish.  A clear community-wide commitment to the values of VFR flight would be useful if there were a future run at visual flying.  

Another would be to become increasing vocal, as AOPA and FLYING, and other publications have been, about the efforts of the government to stop pilots without probable cause. 

There could also be defensive legislative remedies as well.

It would be very sad to lose the last real example of freedom that aviators in the U. S. (and not many other countries) have — to take to the sky without a reason or necessary destination, only because of the joy and wonder of it all.

A powerful tool for GA: Jump online and join the aviation social revolution!

Monday, August 26th, 2013

It is hard to ignore the current explosion of social networking that is occurring in the general aviation family. Every time you go online, a new aviator has joined the conversation – a great thing because as we all know, GA faces challenges today that are best met with a unified front.

Even though the 2013 edition of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is now a happy memory, many aviators who attended this air show/family reunion are still talking about the big increase in social networking that took place. Because so many #avgeeks are now connected via social networks – especially Twitter – hundreds of these aviation socialites hung out together all day, met up to watch the afternoon air show as small groups before partying into the night at gatherings of 100 or more. Everyone knew everyone else, and it just felt right to see such a dedicated mass of passionate aviators celebrating GA…together.

Twitter is the network of choice for many of us online aviators because of the real-time nature of the platform. When news breaks, Twitter users see it first. When we need to join together to build solidarity, putting that request out to the Twitter #Avgeek community is by far the fastest way to make our collective voice heard.

But there is a growing population of pilots who are not satisfied with the status quo in aviation social networking and are using everything in their digital arsenal to push important information out to friends, fans, family and followers. Two active members of the aviation family who are stretching their imaginations are Brent Owens and David Allen. They exemplify what it means to dig deep and develop new ways to use existing social networking tools to gather together like minds and help rally the rest of us.

Owens, who writes the IFlyBlog came up with the brilliant and successful concept of “Blogging in Formation,” where six veteran bloggers team up to all write about the same topic one week per month. When each of these “formation bloggers” posts their material, the other five cross-promote like crazy, and the result is a significant bump in traffic. The other five “Formation Bloggers” are Andrew Hartley, Karlene Petitt, Eric Auxier, Ron Rapp and Dan Pimentel.

Allen, of Other People’s Airplanes, has published his well-produced “video blogs” for years. But at Airventure 2013, Team OPA had a sizable crew wearing identical team shirts, using the latest video/audio gear to produce broadcast quality content to be streamed live online or made available on iTunes. This new energy from Allen and his team demonstrates how some in our community are bringing their “A” game to aviation social networking, determined to tell the world just how cool GA can be.

Even AOPA is adding new content that pushes GA forward through more pinpoint use of social networking. The Opinion Leaders Blog you are currently reading is just one more example of how some aviators are taking existing platforms – in this case, AOPA.org – and developing new ways to tell GA’s story.

Facebook, Twitter, blogging, videos, podcasting, or the next big thing to debut tomorrow…take your pick. The platform does not matter. What matters is that you jump on these social networks and join the conversation. General aviation needs you to be all in right now, we need to stay focused and band together.

Hiding in our silos, afraid to take on the challenges GA faces is how we lose. And social networking is how we win.

There is a recipe for disruption

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

“A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”

– Eric Riese, [@ericries] author of The Lean Startup

I continue to be very much inspired by how Tyson Weihs [@tysonweihs] and the team at Foreflight [@ForeFlight] completely disrupted the experience in the cockpit by helping so many of us do away with paper charts. You can see Marc Andreessen’s concept of how “…software is eating the world,” at work right there in our flight bags.

If there ever was an industry ripe for disruption, aviation should be at the top of the list.

Have a look at how SurfAir [@isurftheskies] has broken the mold for how commercial air travel works, swept the pieces off the floor and glued together a completely new concept of how people can use airplanes to get around. Note that they didn’t just come to market with a new business plan for how to run an airline or charter company. By making flying an all-you-can-fly membership service, the Eyerly brothers [@wadeeyerly & @DCMEII] came to market with a completely new business model. Netflix was successful because it attacked the friction points in renting DVDs. Maybe SurfAir will end up doing the same thing for short haul air travel.

Stop writing business plans. (Really, quit it.) Jason Fried [@jasonfried] founder at 37 Signals here in Chicago, famously offered, “Unless you are a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy,” in his book REWORK. The ugly truth is that business planning is really just business guessing.

Aviation doesn’t need new business plans, we’re well beyond that. We need new business models.

Luckily for us, we’re able to skip the arduous exercise of writing the classic thirty page business plan. Creative writing is better left to artists rather than the MBAs anyways. Instead, let’s chart ideas using the Business Model Canvas.

Business Model Canvas

Business Model Canvas

 

The Business Model Canvas is one of the foundational tools in a doctrine for creating new products and services which has taken both corporate America and those who seek to escape it by storm – known as Lean Startup.

While many aviation enterprises definitely could be described as lean, that’s usually not by design, nor is it what we’re talking about. Lean Startup is a movement which first took hold in the tech startup community, but has spread across just about every industry. The methodology has become popular in both the creation of new companies and been applied within large corporations. We need more lean startups solving the wicked problems faced across the aviation ecosystem. Safety, utility, costs, access, and experience all need dramatic improvement.

The great thing about Lean Startup is that it’s a great inoculation against building stuff that people don’t want. Aviation as an industry has always been really good at building both products and services which nobody wants.

Grab a whiteboard, sketchpad or sticky notes and get to work. You don’t need an MBA or a budget to be inspired. We now have the methodologies to tackle the tough problems. It’s time for new business models. Together we can reverse the declines and create new ways to grow the aviation economy, ecosystem, and community.

 

An accidental aviator makes good business

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Some people come into aviation quite deliberately, following the signs to the airport and laying down some good cash for an introductory ride. But many more of us than you think are what I like to call “accidental” aviators. In my case I was lucky enough to have a dad that decided for me that learning to fly would be a good thing (it was).

LaurieHarden

LaurieHarden

For Laurie Harden she was looking for something altogether different to do with her life when she found herself working the flightline for a glider operation at the airport in Minden, Nevada. She’d moved from an urban to rural environment, found her personal life challenging. Even physically there were some challenges. The soaring took her away from all of that, and brought her into another world, quite literally.

“It took me a lot longer to solo a glider than most people, or so I’m told,” she scofs, smiling. She did solo, eventually, and so much more. When the glider operation she worked for pulled out of the airport, she took some settlement money she’d come into and a big gamble–she opened her own business on the airport, SoaringNV. It was a big step up from being a line girl, but Harden had a customer service ethic honed by years in the service business. She saw the potential for an FBO that catered to the pilots and want-to-be pilots who descended on Minden to take advantage of its world-class year-round soaring conditions.

Today, a couple years later, Laurie Harden’s soaring school and FBO is thriving. A half-dozen flight instructors and tow pilots keep busy seven days a week flying tourists on sightseeing glider rides over nearby Lake Tahoe, or on aerobatic rides in a Blanik that can carry three souls (two plus pilot) at a time. The sleek high-performance ASK-21 and Discus gliders are pulled aloft by four Piper Pawnees. There are single-seat gliders available for rental to qualified pilots, as well.

Harden tells us that winter can be a slow time, but when those pilots who are watching the weather see wave conditions setting up over the Sierras, they turn up. And summer? Flights above 18,000 ft. are common, and cross-countries hundreds of miles long are within the realm of possibilities for pilots with the proper training and skill. That’s when groups of glider pilots show up en masse for competitions and meets at the airfield and business gets cooking.

Does Harden fly her own gliders? Not as often as she’d like—but that’s okay, she says. Nothing makes her happier than seeing the equipment and employees airborne and doing what they are meant to do: fly.

Answering the big questions

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

It is a persistent misconception in the non-aviation world that a pilot, is a pilot, is a pilot. We who are involved in the industry, either as hobbyists or professionals, are well aware that an F-15 pilot, an A-320 pilot, and a C-172 pilot all share certain basic skills and insights, even though their day to day flying experiences differ significantly. We haven’t done a particularly good job of sharing that news with our friends and neighbors, however.

Perhaps it is this peculiarity of flight that makes answering the big questions so hard. Understand, when I refer to the big questions, I’m not talking about life and death questions that existential philosophers struggle with throughout their lives. I mean the common questions that become such debilitating stumbling blocks for so many who might potentially want to get in the game. The answers to these first curious queries can be so varied, or so unnecessarily dogmatic that a potential new convert may become overwhelmed or confused or frustrated and simply decide to go sailing, or buy an RV instead. From their perspective the other options are easier to get involved with. Heck, other forms of recreation have managed to sketch out how to get started on a simple three-fold brochure.

Why can’t aviation do that?

“How much does it cost to become a pilot?” That’s  probably the most common question I hear from non-pilots who might be day-dreaming about the possibility of learning to fly. The true answer is of course, “It depends.” Although for someone who has no understanding of why the cost of flight training can vary so widely, that simple, honest answer is insufficient to say the least.

Rather than overwhelm the newbie with long dissertations about the options of Sport Pilot, Recreational Pilot, Private Pilot, and then piling on with a spreadsheet explaining the costs and benefits of personal ownership, using the club model, fractional ownership, or renting…what if we all agreed this was a reasonable answer, “The cost really depends on how you decide to pursue your training. As a student you have a lot of control over the cost of learning to fly, and over the amount of time it takes.”

There’s nothing specific in that answer, but it covers the bases. It lets the newbie know they aren’t getting involved in a one-size-fits-all program they have to adapt to. Right out of the gate they know there are options. And those options can be tweaked to fit their work or vacation schedule. They can control costs by learning more about the various ways of accessing aircraft and picking the method that works best for them. In short, they find out right from the beginning that becoming a pilot is not something that they have to conform to, it’s simply a series of choices and challenges that vary with each individual person – depending on what they want to do with their pilot certificate in the long run.

The way we answer those big questions can have a profound effect on how large or small this pilot club gets. It’s a conversation we need to have. So be part of it, and bring your A game to the table. We could all make use of your best ideas.

Oshkosh 2033: Who will carry the torch?

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Early August, 2033

The 81st EAA AirVenture fly-in and airshow  ended this past week with continued declines in General Aviation participation from peaks in the 1990s and early 2000s. Attendance this year was not expected to break 200,000 and this year’s flight activity of little more than 2000 aircraft during the week was once again to not high enough to qualify the tower as “The World’s Busiest.” Reflecting the continued reality of declining interest in aviation and airshows, EAA once again kept the once-popular North 40 parking area at the airport closed, consolidating all aircraft parking near show center. In spite of separate efforts by EAA, AOPA, and several other aviation organizations, there seemed to be no coherent solution on the part of any of organizations’ leadership as to how to stop the declining interest in airshows and aviation.

Columbus, Ohio

Mid-August 2013

Mention Oshkosh to your non-aviation inclined friends, and you’ll likely get a “B’GOSH!” out of them. Mention Oshkosh to your aviation friends, and you’ll get a starry-eyed look of airplanes, airshows, and the celebration of all things avgeek.

For the first time in 11 years, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to return to the premier general aviation celebration a few weeks ago. A mix of work and pleasure, I spent ten days amongst friends, former classmates, coworkers, students, and random strangers brought together by a common love of flying. My AirVenture experience included airshows, meetings, networking, a fantastic College Mixer organized by EAA, and time spent “working the lines,” reaching out to prospective students, alumni, and the general public in the booth organized for my employer. It was a wonderful and tiring experience and very different to see from a professional lens.

One of the areas of focus in my academic research is in analyzing demographic data for pilots. I spend many hours pouring over FAA spreadsheets, industry analyses, and forecasts. As my time at AirVenture reminded me, there’s a lot of basic demographic analysis that can be done by traveling to Oshkosh and seeing who is in attendance. Who are the typical attendees? In nonscientific terms, it boils down to three words: Old White Guys.

EAA’s 2014 Exhibitor application noted the following specific demographic attendance data as a sales pitch for exhibitors:

84% male

2/3 of attendees over the age of 35

50% of attendees have a household income over $100,000/yr (US average: 20% of households meet this number)

What, in this portrait of current AirVenture attendees, strikes today’s millennial (of which I’m included) as an event they’d want to spend their time attending? As members of aviation organizations such as EAA and AOPA, what are we doing to ensure the future of our orgs? Why aren’t we directing the leaders of these organizations to make meaningful actions at bringing more people into the fray? Why are we allowing the huge disconnect between potential aviation fans of all varieties and organizations that aren’t doing anything meaningful or coherent to bring them into the field?

The narration of a demonstration flight during an afternoon airshow  at this year’s AirVenture really brought home this disconnect. The person explaining the airplane being demonstrated said that the goal behind their product was to “open up the world of aviation” to more individuals. The cost of this opening product? $250,000+. How many millenials have a fraction of that to spend on flying? How many middle-aged people in the US have that kind of money? Does this product really do anything to open the market up to new blood? Probably not.

This is a theme and question I will return back to many times over the course of my blog posts for AOPA: What is the future of aviation?

What will AirVenture be in 20 years after the majority of today’s attendees are unable to travel to Oshkosh? Are the days of 500,000+ attendees and 10,000+ airplanes numbered? Will the above fictionalization of 2033 become true?

Most importantly, who is going to drive all those awesome VW Beetles around?

Pilots helping pilots, because that’s what families do

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Camaraderie is a beautiful thing. You see it in cops on the street, in firefighters, in Bands of Brothers on the battlefield. It is the glue that holds these groups together, watching each other’s backs while they all pull in one unified direction. But for the few of us who are lucky enough to have lived in the last 110 years and possess the skills, training and machines to fly like birds, we share a bond that runs deeper than pure camaraderie.

We are more than just the “GA community,” we are an aviation family. As tight as blood relatives, we are dedicated to serving other family members not out of a sense of responsibility, but because of far deeper, hard-wired programming within our souls that as pilots, we should always reach out and help other pilots whenever and wherever the need arises. It’s what we do.

Like any family, we have our squabbles at times. Our ideologies might be all over the map, but for some reason, the airport fence filters out those differences. When around airplanes, we members of the aviation family are of one mind, one spirit. We think alike, and share an invisible bond that only members of this very exclusive club get to enjoy. Within the confines of an airport, amongst the very machines that allow us to loft skyward, aviators know no limits when it comes to service.

The concept of “pilots helping pilots” within the aviation family was illustrated for me in 2009 as I attempted to fly commercial to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. I was waiting at O’Hare Airport to board the last flight of the night to Appleton, Wisconsin when myself and about 60 other people bound for the World’s Largest Aviation Celebration learned that the flight was cancelled. Not delayed…cancelled. As I waited in the Customer Service line, I met Dave Voetmann of Quest Aircraft, who like me, had an early appointment at the show in the morning. He arranged a van from his church to drive from Oshkosh to get him, and without being asked, offered me a seat in the van. It was simply a pilot helping another pilot in a time of need, and on that night, rolling through the dark Wisconsin night, I realized how lucky I was to be among these wonderful, giving people.

Being a pilot means this much to me: I joined AOPA when I began flight training in early 1996, but refused to place the AOPA wings on the back window of my truck until I had my ticket. On the day I was issued my private pilot license, I walked out the door of the FBO and proudly placed that important decal on my vehicle. Sure, it was just a thin plastic set of AOPA wings, but they signified something very important to me…a goal achieved.

On that day, I not only became a pilot, I became part of the aviation family, and my life was changed forever.

No more ‘dive and drive’ instrument approaches

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

“Diving and Driving” on instrument approaches is dead. So are some of the pilots who used to use this frequently taught method for flying non-precision instrument approaches. If you didn’t get the memo, you’re not alone; some CFIs are still teaching this outdated practice even though the FAA announced—in 2001—that our industry should discontinue “dive and drive.”

Quoting from my Max Trescott’s GPS and WAAS Instrument Flying Handbook, non-precision approaches

“resemble a series of steps, like those found in a staircase, and nothing prevents you—other than your good judgment—from descending as rapidly as possible at each step. “Diving” at each step was originally thought to be advantageous on the final approach segment, since it allowed more time to “drive” level at the MDA while looking for the airport.”

Hurrying to get to the MDA to “look for the airport” had some merit before GPS-based instrument approaches became prevalent. One corporate pilot told me he felt lucky to come within half a mile of an airport when flying NDB approaches with an ADF receiver. But the airport could be on either side and pilots had to look left and right to search for it while flying at minimums. VOR approaches are more accurate, but still leave much to be desired.

In a GPS world, there’s far less uncertainty when flying non-precision instrument approaches. There’s no ambiguity about when you reach the missed approach point and typically the airport is directly in front of you. True, not everyone that flies IFR has an IFR-certified GPS in his or her aircraft, but the world is moving that way. For example, Garmin sold more than 100,000 of the now discontinued GNS 430 and 530 GPS receivers.

The problem with dive and drive is that “diving” at a high descent rate may cause a pilot to inadvertently lose control, or fail to level off at the proper altitude. In fact, the Flight Safety Foundation’s study Airport Safety: A Study of Accidents and Available Approach-and-Landing Aids found that the accident risk for flying non-precision approaches is five times higher than for flying precision approaches.

Quoting again from my book,

“In 2001, the FAA announced that the industry should discontinue the use of a ‘dive and drive’ process on non-precision approach procedures, since they contribute to controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents, the leading cause of fatal commercial air accidents worldwide. Instead, the FAA advocates the use of procedures and training for a stabilized continuous descent on non-precision approaches. Some airlines have gone so far as to implement procedures that require pilots to immediately initiate a missed approach if they don’t see the airport when they reach the MDA; they are not permitted to continue ‘driving’ to the MAP.”

For pilots using an IFR-certified, WAAS-capable GPS, LNAV+V, which displays an “advisory glide slope” on some non-precision approaches, is a good substitute for the “dive and drive” process.  Another best practice for flying a stabilized descent is to estimate the descent rate required for each segment of an approach, by comparing the altitude loss required to the number of miles available to descend for each segment of the approach. Knowing your ground speed, it’s relatively easy to estimate the rate, in feet per minute, at which you’ll need to descend during each segment.

So spread the word: Dive and drive is dead. And if someone argues the point, tell him he must have missed the memo!

The next and biggest threat to GA (part 1)

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

I’m a pilot.  I flew aircraft carrier-based airplanes in Vietnam and spent many years building my own airplane.  But my day job is that of a professional futurist.  I’ve written three books, worked with governments about how to anticipate surprises, designed national surprise anticipation systems, etc.  I track trends, early indicators and weak signals and develop scenarios about what those inputs might mean

In the mid-2000s I saw the beginning of what is blossoming into a significant threat to flying in the U.S.  During a high-level planning meeting with representatives of DOD the White House, DHS and others who were considering how to set up the airspace around Washington, DC to eliminate the likelihood of another 9/11.  I was the self-appointed representative for general aviation in the room.

It was illuminating.  The arrogance and ignorance about GA of the group that would affect so many private pilots was rather amazing.  Their position essentially was, “We don’t care what the implications are to pilots – or the economy, for that matter – we are the government and we’ll decide.”

Since then I have watched and chronicled how our government, in the name of “fighting terrorism”, has systematically eliminated our ability to do things that common sense tells us are protected by the Constitution. (See this, this, and this, three articles from The Austin Chronicle by Michael Ventura that catalog the effective negation of most of the major amendments to the Constitution.)  What this means, by the way, is that under the present rules of operation, government agencies like DHS and CBP believe that they can stop and search anyone, anytime for any reason that they want, which why they are sending heavily armed and SWATed-up teams into train and bus stations and highways to randomly stop and search individuals with clearly no probable cause.

The systematic intrusion into tracking in real time and collecting every bit of information on all communications and commercial transactions is ubiquitous and comprehensive in terms that the vast majority of citizens do not understand.  For example, the NSA data center that is being built south of Salt Lake City is literally designed to hold 100 years’ worth of all of the transactions, movements and communications of the complete lives of all Americans, organized in such a way that at will, an analyst can chronologically array a complete lifetime of a selected individual – where they went, what they said, what they purchased and what they read and watched.

This trend has grown very rapidly at an unprecedented rate and there has been a clear attempt to widen the information capturing net to encompass every area of each of our lives.

That brings us to GA.

At a time when individuals, automobiles and trucks, ships and every other form of transportation are being tracked, one mode of transportation stands out as not being within the surveillance net: VFR flying, especially without a VFR flight plan.  In ways that are significantly not the same with other modes of transportation, an aircraft squawking 1200 says nothing about where it came from, where it is going and who and what is onboard.  It is hard to believe, in light of the extraordinary, broad based trends that dominate every other area of our lives that the government will not try to remedy that.

(My next posting will address this trend and what we can do about it.)