To honor those Americans lost in the Islamic terrorist attacks ten years ago, I turned off the TV set (where airtime was filled with non-stop 9/11 tributes) and went flying. Why? Mainly because I still can. After 9/11, all aircraft were grounded for “security” reasons, including Cessnas, agriculture aircraft, helicopters, ultra-lights, gliders and even hot air balloons. While commercial aircraft were airborne within a few days, general aviation took longer to return to the skies.
To this day, small general aviation airports within 30 miles of DC are highly restricted, open only to those pilots who are fully vetted by the US Government as not being a security threat.
I departed Leesburg on a VFR flight, and once clear of Delta airspace, I turned the radio off and flew about aimlessly. No flight plan, no “flight following”, no contact with ATC whatsoever. I imagined the panic that would likely ensue amongst the populace below had they any idea that the small aircraft flying above them was not under positive control from some government authority on the ground.
We as a nation are living in fear and paranoia, afraid of our own shadows. Ten years after 9/11, general aviation is still portrayed as a terror threat to America. The Atlantic Magazine published an article critical of the relative lack of security versus the grope-downs received when traveling commercial. The writer displayed an annoying lack of understanding of how general aviation works, and how important it is to the economy.
Routinely, the Feds warn of small airplane terror threats, especially around 9/11 anniversary dates. Homeland Security, headed by Janet Napolitano, admits that there is not any particular, credible threat, but that we should remain “vigilant”. There are those who will not fail to use this opportunity to increase the size and scope of government in our lives.
Regardless, the terror level is raised within the general populace as a result of these nebulous threats. The media seem all too complicit in helping keep Americans in constant fear of small planes. When the public reads about these hyperbolic threats, they call for even more regulation of general aviation aircraft and the 5,000 airports that serve them. In the absurd world we live in, apparently small aircraft with limited payloads are to be feared more than large rental trucks potentially filled with thousands of pounds of fertilizer and fuel oil.
Onboard United Airlines, if you are caught just reading about airplanes, a paranoid cabin crew might consider you a security threat to the flight, and you may be asked to leave the plane.
Even enthusiasts of radio-controlled aircraft are not safe from more FAA regulation. These include recreational air hobby products made of balsa and foam, flown at club sites or on private property. In the later part of 2011, the FAA will be publishing a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” that will include additional rules which could impact hobbyists by restricting operations.
So, as a result of all this nonsense, I went flying to honor those individuals who died fighting for the freedoms we enjoy in this country. I choose not to trade any freedoms for an illusion of personal security. One of those freedoms includes piloting a small airplane without getting prior permission from the Department of Homeland Security, being groped by the TSA, or having your every movement tracked by the federal government. I believe the best way to honor those Americans that perished on 9/11 is to fix America, stop living in fear, and to retake those freedoms we have so easily given up.