January 1, 1996
By Bruce Landsberg
The laws of physics and gravity transcend anything that the FAA can concoct. The most stringent regulation will not prevent all accidents; proficiency and common sense can prevent most mishaps. The main objective is to not crash or cause a crash.
Most pilots and even some FAA inspectors will admit that our current body of Federal Aviation Regulations is daunting. Some say it is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid breaking at least some small rule on every flight. But if you truly fly safely, chances are that no one will notice or care — because flight safety is the purpose of the regs. They are not the tools of torture that some believe that they have become.
The country's preoccupation with legalities and loopholes really has little place in our world of the third dimension. Most pilots know when they are pushing the envelope of common sense. If someone is guilty of poor judgment, does it really help to add more regulatory paragraphs? The pilots who consistently err in judgment don't pay much attention to the FARs to begin with. The law-abiding ones are usually not guilty of doing the things that the regulations are designed to prevent. Show them the boundaries and most pilots will stay within them.
FAR Part 61 is in the process of being overhauled; and while there are some clarifications, it is anything but simple. I understand why the regulations have become so cumbersome. The government has lost mightily at the hands of the lawyers and administrators. This problem is not unique to aviation. There are some really fuzzy-headed interpretations by both prosecution and defense that have created this difficulty. It's time, in the interest of safety, that we focus on what's important.
Operational rules are for pilots and are not intended to be picked apart by sharp attorneys. They could be administered fairly by a group of aeronautically qualified individuals who have not been infected with the disease of putting law above common sense. This applies to juries, pilots who try to slip through on technicalities, judges, and the occasional inspector. Sometimes you just have to put principle aside and do what is right.
Maybe we should have two sets of rules — one for pilots and flight instructors to use as a guide in the real world, and a more detailed, mind-boggling set for the lawyers on both sides to haggle over. Stay on the safe side of the simple rules and enjoy life; or enter the miserable nether world of legalities, never to be seen again. It's a choice worth considering.
What follows is an outline including suggestions for a few simplified regs for both Part 61 and Part 91. They are not listed in order of importance and may bear only slight resemblance to the existing FARs. In the interest of safety, they may be more restrictive than current regulations. If you fly within the boundary of the simple rules, you won't need to bother with the official ones. They recommend what pilots should do and studiously avoid listing every single possible transgression. If there is an accident and the pilot is around afterward, a convincing explanation will be heard with sympathy, and a poor one — well, we certainly can make the punishment fit the crime.
Concern for justice and common sense should take precedence over the law. Naive? Perhaps, but the current legal arteriosclerosis clogs the thought process and complicates what should be relatively uncomplicated. Pilots must focus on what is safe and practical. Legality will follow; and if it does not, then the rulemakers and legal administrators have missed the boat.
See also the index of "Safety Pilot" articles, organized by subject. Bruce Landsberg is executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
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