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Freedom of the Skies for Private Airplanes

October 18, 1986

H.L. Mencken once said, "There's always an easy solution to every human problem--neat, plausible and wrong."

The day after Lane's piece appeared, The Times reported that two jetliners came within 500 to 1,000 feet of each other over Orange County. Both had been cleared to 21,000 feet on the same route at the same time. How long does it take to go 500 feet at 300 knots? A heartbeat. No little airplane, no corporate jets, just two jetliners and a mistake.

We can argue endlessly, and probably will, about which sector should pay how much of the cost of operating the air traffic control system. Will altering the economics stop events like the one above? Probably not.

The problem isn't too many little planes or too many corporate jets or even too many jetliners. The problem is there isn't just one big well-defined problem that can be solved with editorial arm-waving. There are a lot of problems; too many aircraft trying to use a system that can't handle them, too few controllers, a system undergoing change, the complexity of controlled airspace, and so on.

The solution is not found in pricing general aviation out of the skies. General aviation is already in the tank and solutions like Lane's will surely nail the lid shut forever. Besides, destroying an industry isn't a solution, it's simple capitulation, an admission that we can't solve the basic problems, and I don't believe that's true.

What, then, is the solution? First, we have to understand that the neat, easy, plausible solutions are all wrong. Next, we have to look carefully at all the problems we know exist and which have a serious impact on aviation safety. Then we have to find solutions to each and every one of them as fast as we can, but not so fast that we latch on to the undisciplined ideas of hip-shooters like Lane.


Sierra Madre

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