|The Federal Aviation Administration has been a continuous presence throughout my life. My father was a pilot and then an air traffic controller. I remember him bringing home charts to study and memorize. He still amazes me with his ability to recall radio frequencies and exact elevations. I would often accompany him to the enroute traffic control center when he worked a mid-watch (the 11pm-7am shift). I helped tear strips (aircraft identification information on strips of paper organized on a board in front of the controller) and was intrigued by the fact that my dad was talking to all of those airplanes scattered around the Southwest and could tell them exactly what to do. They listened because they knew he was there to help and that he did so for their safety.
After becoming a pilot, I have continually found myself defending the FAA to other pilots. I guess Ive always associated the agency with the responsibility that I know my father took so seriously. I believe that the FAA is good for pilots. I know the plane in which I fly is safer because of regulations passed down by this agency. I truly appreciate the fact that I can get weather information anytime I need it. I know I have someone to ask for help if I ever have an emergency situation. I have continued to believe that the people that represent the FAA want to help pilots.
This belief structure, formed by a lifetime of experiences, was recently severely shaken. For the first time I was truly able to understand the loathing that so many pilots seem to demonstrate when an FAA official is near. I now know that not all representatives of the FAA really take the responsibility of their position to heart. Some are simply self-centered, arrogant, Napoleonic cowards with a plastic name tag and an attitude.
Youre probably thinking I was cited for some minor violation and want to use this publication as a soapbox to vent my frustration. Not at all. The new opinion I have of at least one FAA employee is the result of firsthand observations in which a number of other pilots were needlessly harassed, threatened, and belittled. Here is a brief summary.
I recently attended a fly-in/open house at a small, uncontrolled field. Several dozen pilots had flown in, and members of the community showed upbrought out by the thrill that aviation can ignite. As part of the community involvement, a number of pilots were participating in the Young Eagles program, sharing, at their own expense, the experience of flying with young people who may otherwise never have the opportunity. The airport was scheduled to close at 11am for aerial demonstrations, which were to begin with skydiving. As the final Young Eagle flight of the morning made a final approach to land, another plane which had just landed was slow leaving the runway. The pilot of the Young Eagle flight made the decision to go around. He contacted the jump plane that was climbing to release the skydivers to let the other pilot know he was going around. The pilot of the jump plane confirmed the contact and said that the jumpers would wait until the plane was down.
Just minutes after 11am, the Young Eagles plane touched down and taxied to the ramp. There, waiting like a vulture, was an FAA representative. He attacked the pilot verbally before the plane was even secured. He threatened to cite the pilot. He made a ridiculous scene and apparently made himself feel like an important authority. After the assault, he swaggered around the ramp, intimidating pilots with the FAA symbol on his baseball cap and the ball point pen in his hand, ready to start writing if anyone crossed the line.
His opportunity came about two hours later. As delineated in a NOTAM, the airport was scheduled to re-open at 1pm. A number of the demonstration events had been cancelled and the pilots on the ground were getting restless. Shortly before 1pm, a number of pilots started their airplanes and began taxiing to the edge of the ramp, ready to race for the runway. An AT-6 flew over head and entered downwind. He landed at 3 minutes before, one according to my watch. As expected, the newly self-appointed gestapo was waiting. When the pilot exited his plane, the pen went to work.
The pilot of the AT-6 explained that he had called for an advisory on unicom and received no response. He also said that he overflew the field and saw a number of planes on the ground heading towards the taxiway. He assumed the airport was open. Technically, this pilotdepending on whose watch you rely onmay have been in the wrong, as may have the pilot of the Young Eagle flight. The airport was closed and these pilots infringed upon the time allotted for closure. Their actions, however, were safe and well-intended.
A little while later, in an effort to help with the flow of planes leaving the field, the FAA representative was guiding ground traffic. His apparent inexperience with hand signals nearly led to the collision of two planes; an accident was avoided only because someone who actually knew what he was doing ran over and literally hit one of the planes with his fist to get the pilots attention. The FAA representative was clearly trying to help. His actions were well-intended, but incorrect. No one, however, rushed over to reprimand or even criticize him.
Still, I like the FAA.