Email To The Editors

Wing Man

General Aviation: Safe, Legal, and Not That Rare

Steve Chapman’s attack on general aviation (“Flight Stimulator“) paints a distorted picture. To begin with, all transportation in the United States is “subsidized” by taxpayers. Car drivers in Idaho help pay for Chicago’s mass transit system, for example. A safe, well-regulated transportation system benefits everyone.

Some 75 percent of major airline flights operate to just 46 big-city airports, and half of all airline flights merely shuttle passengers among just 21 hub airports. General aviation provides air transportation for the rest of the country by serving some 13,000 airports. General aviation carries 99 million passengers per year.

And it does it safely. In 1998 there were 361 fatal accidents out of 39 million flights. The “risk” of a fatal accident is only 0.000009 percent. On a per-mile basis, you are seven times more likely to be involved in an automobile accident than a general aviation accident.

The air traffic control system was created by and for the airlines. General aviation is only a marginal user of ATC services. The vast majority of general aviation flights are flown under Visual Flight Rules, which don’t require ATC. And general aviation is often forced to use ATC services that it doesn’t want or need. Many small airports have control towers simply because of one or two airline flights a day.

According to the General Accounting Office, the costs of providing air traffic control services to each segment of aviation are unknown because the Federal Aviation Administration does not have an adequate cost accounting system. But the costs imposed by general aviation aren’t anywhere close to the number cited in the GRA study, which reached erroneous conclusions based on mistaken assumptions.

The bulk of federal airport grants go to commercial (airline) service airports. In fiscal year 1997, commercial service airports received more than $1.1 billion. Reliever airports (which give general aviation aircraft an alternative to using commercial service airports) received $100 million, and general aviation airports received $139 million.

General aviation aircraft don’t cause delays for airliners. The airline hub-and-spoke system (which has large numbers of flights all trying to use the airport at the same time) and weather are the major causes of delay for airline passengers.

That Chapman considers search-and-rescue services and accident investigation a “subsidy” for general aviation is absurd on the face of it. It’s an appropriate role for government to rescue its citizens, whether they be boaters, hikers, pilots, or airline passengers. And that rescue, more often than not, will be accomplished using general aviation.

General aviation isn’t a “hobby”; it’s serious transportation that fulfills many vital needs in the United States.

Warren Morningstar

Director, media relations

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

Frederick, Md.

The Ditch Is Back

I would like to suggest that the research for Michael Brus’ ” Explainer” (“In the Event of a Water Landing”) was lacking. I spent 10 years in commercial aviation with two U.S. flag carriers and offer the following comments based on that experience.

1) There have been numerous ditchings of U.S. flag carriers. At least three incidents that immediately come to mind involved Pan Am and United (Pacific Ocean), as well as Western Airlines (San Francisco Bay). I believe that all three incidents involved fatalities; however, the vast majority of passengers and crew survived.

2) Air crews are routinely trained for water landings and must be certified by the Federal Aviation Authority to fly over water. Cabin crews receive specific passenger safety training with emphasis on aircraft evacuation, since this is their primary area of responsibility. Flight deck crews do not focus on passenger survival because they are responsible for the overall aircraft systems operation and are the crew members least likely to survive a traumatic event.

3) While water landings are treacherous, they are survivable, irrespective of Ralph Nader’s comments.

4) Since most major airports are located around large bodies of water, both air crews and aircraft are certified with airworthiness certificates based on evacuation procedures that include water landings.

Pamela Azar

Malibu, Calif.

Michael Brus replies:I got my information on accident history from the FAA. Its database does not go back to the beginning of commercial flight, obviously, so it is possible there were ditchings before it began keeping records. It is also conceivable that some accidental crashes into water upon landing or takeoff were not classified as deliberate ditchings.

How do crews receive “overwater” training? There are no test crashes done, either by Boeing or the FAA, so “evacuation procedures” are about the extent of the preparation–which could help if the fuselage remains intact, but that is a big “if.” Only military helicopter pilots get dropped in water as part of their actual training.

Are water landings survivable? Only in best-case scenarios. There are too many variables involved to make a rule, but ditchings of international carriers have shown that keeping the fuselage intact and the passengers out of cold water is hard indeed.

Boeing does not perform crash tests on the water, nor does the FAA require them. Their planes are subject to stress tests in a hangar.

Tax Talk

In “Greenspin,” William Saletan did his usual admirable job of delineating the competing “Greenspins” of congressional Democrats and Republicans. However, he failed to address a gaping hole in the Republicans’ tax cut plans that neither Democrats nor the media had pointed out: Namely, that a tax cut of the size proposed might stimulate the economy to the point that the Fed would feel compelled to raise interest rates in a pre-emptive strike against inflation.

In his remarks to the Senate, Greenspan spoke of the benefits of “pre-emptive” action, i.e., moving against inflation before it actually develops. I–and, I think, many others–consider this remark an explicit warning to congressional Republicans that, however the debate about the projected budget surplus goes, a large tax cut will endanger low interest rates and thus the prosperity that makes surpluses–and thus the proposed tax cuts themselves–possible.

Andrew B. Goodwin

Clinton, Wash.