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Pleasure Flying in Urban Areas

March 14, 1987

In response to Richard J. Vogl's suggestion (Letters, Feb. 21) that all non-commercial aircraft be banned from overflying urban areas, I wish to point out that complex environment issues are seldom resolved by simplistic solutions based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts. A professor with 25 years of experience, like those he undertakes to teach, should know the value of doing one's homework. To wit:

Vogl states that the basic problem is too many aircraft. This may be so, but if so, they are not private aircraft. The private fleet has been undergoing a steady, if lamentable, attrition since the late 1950s. As an example, Santa Monica Airport reports a drop in takeoffs and landings of about 50% for the 20-year period from 1966 to 1986. Commercial air travel has been steadily increasing over the same interval.

Whether "urban ecologists" believe that "all unnecessary aircraft should be prohibited from flying over populated areas" remains to be established. Does Vogl speak for a coalition? How are we to define "unnecessary" aircraft?

General aviation private aircraft perform a myriad of services essential to the well-being of our nation. Corporate America depends upon small aircraft to do business upon which we all depend for our prosperity. Medical patients, who are often denied transportation on commercial carriers, owe their lives to small aircraft and helicopters. As far as the community service aspects, the "common good" of which Vogl so highly speaks, commercial aviation is no more "essential" than any other kind, perhaps less.

The point is not that "individual freedom must often be forfeited for the common good," but that the freedoms inherent in our system of government be reconciled with each other so that all may benefit from their preservation.

Vogl's analogy, false though it is, should make one wary. It is he, after all, who recommends a "shotgun approach" to solving our problems.

The concrete steps envisioned by Vogl are either already in place as in the case of preflight safety inspections, ill-advised, as in the case of training pilots away from urban areas, thus denying them the experience, under supervision, necessary for them to fly safely in the more congested areas; or not to the point, as in the suggestion to require "full-sized" numbers under the wings. The implication in this last being, I surmise, that the problems we have are the result of scofflaws who depend upon anonymity. This also remains to be established.

The point is that the existing systems need to be upgraded to preserve our freedom to fly for all our various needs. Curtailing non-commercial flying to relieve an outmoded air traffic control system is not a just, nor, in the long run, an economical solution, and most certainly runs counter to the tradition of American aviation since the Wright brothers led us aloft.



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