Oh, come on. Something the size of a Honda Civic is a threat to our "population centers and national monuments"? It took a moving truck packed with explosives in Oklahoma City. It took an airliner loaded with thousands of gallons of fuel in New York City.
And yet The Boston Globe advocates shutting a $102-billion industry employing well over one million people out of the nation's major business centers ("Terror from small planes," April 18, 2003). The Globe says the federal government should follow Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's example.
Follow Mayor Daley's example? He plowed an airport under because he would rather have a park there.
The Windy City's boss exploited an irrational fear that small planes pose a dangerous threat to Chicago's downtown. But even Mayor Daley now admits security concerns were a ruse. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, "the mayor changed his tune. Daley dropped all pretenses about fears of a private plane flying into a Chicago skyscraper and acknowledged his real motive was to create more open space as envisioned by [Chicago city] planner Daniel Burnham and others some 100 years ago" ("Daley's Meigs alibi crumbles," April 9, 2003).
The Globe cites the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over New York City as proof of the danger posed by general aviation (GA). But on April 17, the Homeland Security Department, which has the resources and expertise to accurately assess the terrorist threat, removed the ADIZ—and the restricted airspace over Chicago.
The typical general aviation pilot flies a single-engine, propeller-driven, four-seat aircraft for business or personal transportation. Fully loaded, the aircraft weighs about the same as a Honda Civic weighs empty. It carries 50 gallons of aviation gasoline, which is essentially the same octane level as premium automobile gasoline.
Among the general public, there are those who, through lack of understanding, continue to clamor for the same type of security measures at all airports as they have at the big air carrier airports. They refuse to see the obvious, that only small aircraft operate from small fields.
As for passenger screening, it's not necessary. Like the driver who gives a neighbor a lift to work, general aviation pilots know their passengers personally.
And there is the question of who would pay for all the extra security. The small town government with the 3,000-foot municipal airfield and a whole host of budget shortfall problems? The family that decides to open their grass strip to the public? It's an expense not needed.
To make sure America's GA airports remain safe, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, in close consultation with the federal Transportation and Security Administration, has developed AOPA's Airport Watch, a program modeled after the successful neighborhood watch programs in use across the country. Airport Watch enlists the aid of every pilot in the nation to watch for any unusual activity at the local airport. That airport is the GA pilot's community. Who better to alert authorities about potentially dangerous activity?
GA serves all Americans, whether they are pilots or not, in ways many may not realize. Besides law enforcement and medevac operations, there is the Civil Air Patrol, whose volunteer pilots conduct 85 percent of all aerial search-and-rescue missions in the United States.
Without aerial applicators ("cropdusters"), American crop yields would drop by 50 percent. Agricultural aircraft also play a vital role in replanting and reseeding fields and forests. In fact, 95 percent of the U.S. rice crop is planted by air.
Even the weather forecast you get from your favorite local weathercaster comes from a system first designed to serve America's pilots.
To get a better idea of what general aviation is and does, you can visit the Web site General Aviation Serving America.
Even though general aviation has borne the brunt of aviation security measures since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the plain fact is that GA aircraft have never been used for a terrorist attack and could never do the kind of damage inflicted by three airliners on that dreadful day.
Phil Boyer is the president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation organization. Its nearly 400,000 members represent two thirds of all U.S. pilots. AOPA is dedicated to representing the interests of all general aviation pilots.