No Fly Zone

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May 11, 2005 at 4:02 pm

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It’s a tiresome rant I’ve never really committed to this journal, merely because to elevate it from “rant” status to “thoughtful discourse” would mean spending significant time properly communicating and documenting it with relevant links and background information. So, this entry should be read knowing full-well it’s a rant, and lacks a level of detail that I’d ordinary put forth when addressing such an important issue. For more detail, please visit the Aircraft Owner’s and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) website, specifically their . My husband, , is a member of AOPA, and we both fully support their efforts to educate the public and the U.S. government on the importance and safety of General Aviation.

As the wife of a licensed General Aviation pilot, I routinely fly in the skies around Texas.

Ever since 9/11, pilots have known there are (in layman’s terms) “no fly zones” throughout the U.S.

One such zone protects President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, and it expands to almost laughable proportions (temporarily shutting down several municipal airports in the process) whenever the President or other dignitaries are present.

Another such area protects the “high value” government buildings in Washington, D.C. — the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, etc.

While FAA flight controllers and others assist pilots in ensuring they are aware of various published restrictions and controlled airspace, it’s always the pilot’s ultimate responsibility.

Student pilots have a lot going on and are prone to errors, which is why their first solos are often in relatively “light” airspace into and out of small airports. Oddly enough, however, the airspace incursions that make the news seem to involve pilots who should’ve known better — , or commercial pilots ferrying Senators to official functions (Ronald Reagan’s funeral, for example.)

Now, what “makes the news” is a poor judge of reality, as we all know, but that’s a topic for another day.

Still, it’s especially annoying to me that, unlike the restricted/controlled airspace around Bush’s Crawford ranch, the Washington, D.C. “Air Defense Identification Zone” and “Flight Restricted Zone” do not change their dimensions or shape at all, so pilots flying in or around that area of the country have little reason to claim ignorance or an accidental incursion. Further, in regards to the latest incursion which forced the White House, Senate and Supreme Court to be evacuated today (for the second time in a month, if I remember correctly!), they must not have been monitoring the standard emergency frequency if the two F-16’s had to drop four flares in their path to “get the pilot’s attention”.

And the student pilot isn’t the blame-worthy individual, here — when a student pilot is in an aircraft with a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), on an agreed-upon training flight, it’s the CFI who is the “Pilot in Command” (PIC) and thus responsible for the safety and satisfactory completion of the flight. {Addendum: Initial reports stated one of the pilots is a CFI. Subsequent reports merely state one of the pilots is a student pilot, and the other is a pilot.}

I don’t want to see General Aviation harmed or hindered any further than 9/11 has already done. However, with that desire comes responsibility — the responsibility of all pilots to be ever-mindful of the rules and roles affecting all licensed General Aviation pilots.

With that said …

A single-engine aircraft is lighter than the typical compact car. Even if loaded with explosives or the deadly-toxin-du-jour (if you watch too much “CSI” or “24″), it’s far less deadly in any circumstance than a truck bomb, car bomb, or even truthfully, a suicide bomber. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be controlled airspaces; however, I’m fairly certain it’s not in our nations’ best interests to evacuate Washington, D.C. every time a sloppy or wise-ass single-engine VFR pilot strays into the controlled airspace and, being a sloppy or wise-ass pilot, doesn’t make an immediate course correction or monitor the emergency channel for instructions (like, “Two F-16s have missile-lock on you. Please fly out over the river, so the debris field from your aircraft does not endanger any citizens on the ground.”)

Which begs the question — What will our military and government leaders actually do if a truly hostile aircraft does make an incursion and fails to respond to all attempts to land it safely.

Firing a missle at a Cessna is one thing (”Poof! It’s gone.”); firing a missle at the only type of aircraft that truly is an airborne bomb — a fully-fueled airliner — would result in catastrophe.

I guess in that eventuality, it’s our government leaders’ lives over our citizens’ lives… an eventuality none of us should ever have to contemplate, much less plan contingencies for.

Of this latest single-engine aircraft incident, the President of AOPA, Phil Boyer, had this to say:

“A Cessna 150 is an extremely small two-seat airplane. Even fully loaded it weighs significantly less than a Honda Civic. It’s simply incapable of doing much damage,” said Boyer. “From what we can tell, these pilots simply made the mistake of getting lost in some of the most complex and highly regulated airspace in the country.”

While I appreciate the AOPA’s characteristically informative and even-tempered approach, I don’t think pilots’ claims of “getting lost” or (posted on AOPA’s website) a “malfunctioning radio” are — in this day and age, at least — appropriate for pilots who find themselves near such heavily protected airspace.

It will be a horrific day if one of our U.S. military pilots ever has to intentionally shoot down an aircraft that fails to heed warnings and scares enough of the right people to grant a “disable or destroy” order.

Our government is notorious for trying to protect us from ourselves. Pilots need to stop giving our government reasons to fear General Aviation — the life-blood of aviation in this country.

If you’re a pilot, or know a pilot, this is for you —

Do yourself, General Aviation and the military pilots who keep having to babysit errant pilots, a favor and read the AOPA’s . Do proper flight planning, and always obtain the latest Notices To Airmen (NOTAMs), Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and — duh! — be familiar with the

(Link requires Flash), if you’ll be flying anywhere near that part of the country!

AOPA’s

(available to AOPA members) has been instrumental in making graphical representations of the otherwise complex boundaries formed by these various airspaces readily apparent. Ignorance is not an option, and no longer an excuse!

Exercise proper planning before every flight, especially if you’re heading someplace new to you. Fly smart, fly safe.

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