A Sporting NPRM

March 8, 2002

A Sporting NPRM

by Ralph Hood

Ralph Hood is a Certified Speaking Professional who has addressed aviation groups throughout North America. A pilot since 1969, he's insured and sold airplanes at retail and distributor levels and taught aviation management for Southern Illinois University. Reach him at [email protected]

The FAA has announced a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on one of the more interesting changes in aviation since I've been watching these things. Among other things, the proposed rule would create a Light-Sports aircraft category with a max gross weight of 1,232 pounds, a max speed of 115 knots, and a stall speed of 39 to 44 knots, depending on configuration.

These aircraft could be flown by pilots with specified minimum training and - here's the shocker - a drivers license in lieu of a medical certificate! (Yes, Virginia, there are a lot more details. Go to www.aopa.org or www.eaa.org for more info.)

I rather expect that the main furor will be over the idea of flying without an FAA medical. I've thought about this, and I must say that never, in all of my 61 years (by the time you read this), have I ever been physically incapacitated to the point where I could not operate an airplane except - and this is a biggie - on two occasions when I was so sick so far in advance of the event that I never would have left the ground in the first place.

In junior high school I fainted once, but I'd been sick for days. A little over 20 years ago I got food poisoning so bad I probably couldn't have flown, but I was sick for hours in advance. Other than those two times, I have never been so ill that I couldn't have flown to a safe landing.

Seems to me that we should ask one big question: Have there been incidents where sailplane or ultra-light pilots without medicals have become incapacitated and crashed? If the answer to that question is no (or damned few), I favor the ruling, and hope it passes.

* * *

Change of subject…I have ridden the airlines many times since 9/11, and have found it to be mostly miserable. Not being into pain and indignities, I am, therefore, flying less and driving more, as is every other business traveler I know.

One oft-touted solution - or at least an improvement - is a so-called Trusted Traveler Card. Anyone who wants one could voluntarily submit to an investigation only slightly less invasive than an application for employment by the old KGB. Once gained, the card would entitle one to circumnavigate much of the security imposed on the hoi polloi.

The ACLU and others scream that this would be an abuse of privacy. I can't follow that line of thought. If the whole thing is voluntary, how can it be abusive? I want a card, I would volunteer for the investigation. You don't want a card, don't.

Besides, my privacy is already being abused. In the months since 9/11, I have been wanded, groped, asked to remove my shoes, and asked to reveal the backside of my belt buckle and inside the top of my pants. One young lady asked, straight-faced, if she could, "Touch you there?" "Sure," I answered, "as long as I can touch you there after you finish." She declined to participate, but she and the other bored-to-death staff certainly got a big kick out of it. They were still teasing her about it when I left.

By the way, I would pay up to $50 for that card. That might be the best way to finance it. At least it would keep infrequent travelers from getting it just for the conversation value at a cocktail party.

I say let's allow each individual to decide if it is worth the money. No doubt there would be much screaming about that, too. The rich, it might be said, are buying their way around security. Still, letting those who want it pay for it seems only fair.