F E A T U R E
Sure, I fear what this portends for the future of general aviation; fret over America’s lost love for aviators and aviation. But think of them, the knee-jerk. Have compassion. Feel the fear that is their constant companion. Imagine yourself, like them, the human version of a fuzzy scurrying herbivore from some Disney nature film, ever stopping to scan the sky for airborne danger. Consider the angst the members of this bizarre reverse cargo cult live with. The South Pacific natives who initiated those cults believed the airplane-shaped decoys they built in jungle clearings would lure the giant flying creatures they saw overhead down from the sky, where they could seize the precious cargo of manufactured goods. And we thought they were crazy. Even they recognized aviation brings benefits. What to make of educated people who act as if possessed by the belief a small aircraft will fall from the sky and smote them, leaving their feet protruding from under a pancaked Bonanza like the Wicked Witch of the East’s from beneath Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz?
owhere did the knee-jerk put on a greater show of unity and stupidity than in the wake of last August’s tragic mid-air collision that occurred either within or just above the Hudson River Exclusion area, AKA the Hudson Corridor, adjacent to New York City. A Piper PA-32 Archer flying at an altitude of approximately 1,100 feet with three people aboard collided with a Eurocopter AS350 sightseeing helicopter carrying a pilot and five tourists from Italy. All nine died. The mishap called for grieving, a search for answers, for reassuring people that despite this terrible aberration, the sky is not falling. Instead, the leaders who traditionally provide that solace and calm were leading the panic attack. More than half a dozen of New York’s elected Federal, state and local officials gathered less than 48 hours later for a press conference laden with inaccurate statements, inflamed charges and a stunning display of ignorance regarding the regulations and realities of private aviation. “We came to the conclusion that it was the Wild West out there, totally unregulated,” Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who represents the west side of Manhattan said of the Corridor’s airspace in a warm up act before the press conference. How did he come to that conclusion? Probably from consulting the same expert Senator Chuck Schumer did, just not for as long: “The Hudson River corridor is the Wild Wild West (my italics) of New York City airspace,” the Senator told the media. I tried to find the source for the Wild charges but Senator Schumer’s press secretary wouldn’t return my calls. I figure whenever he heard Pilot Magazine he dove under his desk until he got the all clear signal. I finally stopped calling so I wouldn’t interrupt the Senator’s more pressing media relations efforts. Schumer, a Harvard graduate, displayed the least regard for regulatory and technological reality with his call for all planes and helicopters in the Hudson Corridor to file flights plans and be
One of these days, these knee-jerk reactions are going to get somebody hurt.
monitored by air traffic controllers. Apparently whoever told Chuck that the airspace is the Wild, Wild West forgot to explain the difference between IFR and VFR flight plans. The Senator underscored his lack of understanding while helping cement New Yorkers’ reputation for flaunting their jaundiced city-centric world view when he said, “Maybe in the middle of Idaho you don’t need to have a flight plan if you’re flying below 1,000 feet, but in the middle of New York City, you should.” Schumer’s source apparently forgot to tell him a VFR flight plan such as a pilot flying the corridor (which is not “the middle of New York City,” but over water) would file, is for search and rescue, not for collision avoidance. If you’re flying below 1,000 feet in Idaho and you crash, you better have a flight plan, Chuck. In the Corridor, half of New York will see you go down. This is the place it’s superfluous. Absent from the press conference was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself a pilot, who that same day said, “I’m not going to pressure the FAA. They don’t need me weighing in…They’re professionals. I assume they’re going to wait until the National Transportation Safety Board makes its report and then they’ll make their decisions.” But any knee-jerk can understand the politicians’ reaction. Confronted with the fact that airplanes and helicopters have been flying up and down the Hudson River without filing flight plans and sans radar coverage for almost 40 collision-free years (the Corridor was established in 1971), the images of barely averted carnage such a realization conjures are bound to trigger irrational thoughts and statements. Perhaps Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer expressed this best when he said: “The FAA must put an end to the pattern of tragedy that has taken hold of New York’s skies over the last few years. The ‘see and avoid’ strategy of air safety is not working.” Some might argue there’s something cleansing and cathartic about such a public venting of anger, expressions of outrage, of prom ay / J u n e 2 0 1 0