By Steve Bill Hanshew
A new year is a clean slate, a new day, and as Scarlett O’Hara tearfully said to Rhett as he walked out the door, “After all…tomorrow is another day”. With each New Year comes uncertainty and with each passing year comes certainty. Looking back on 2014, I can now say with certainty that the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, and the Cincinnati Bengals are still losers. I can also say with certainty that I mowed the runway at Donner Field almost eighteen times, which equates to two hundred ten acres of grass, fifty-six gallons of diesel, and enough time to concoct twelve columns for FLY-LOW.
As for 2015, well, let’s just say I hung up my Nostradamus cap a long time ago after predicting that a phone the size of a credit card would never catch on, an Airbus jet the size of hotel would never sell, and a show based on a family of over-tanned, vacuous airheads with butts bigger than New Jersey would ever be a hit for more than a season. Prognostications are a hard thing and as far as that Malaysian jetliner goes, it’s either on land or in the water. None of them ever take off and not come back (intact or in pieces), and you can take that to the bank.
Like many government agencies the FAA is rife with prognosticators. They predict a fourfold increase in air traffic over the next twenty years with most of it traveling the highly lucrative and desirable North Atlantic routes between New York and London/Paris. They also want VOR’s gone and domestic airspace under their watchful eye. In this case, it’s less of a prognostication and more of a forecast based upon reasonable assumptions leading to a proactive attitude of preparation. No one is certain that it will be that much of an increase and no one is even sure that all of the technology pieces are in place. Most of them are but there are still lots of gaps – Big gaps.
One guy explained the Next Gen Air Traffic system in my kind of terms: “We want airspace to be 1932 all over again. Takeoff, go direct, land, and never talk to a soul”. Whether it’s ADS-B-In, ADS-B Out, Controller-Pilot Data Links, FIS-A, FIS-B, or Long John Silver’s Fish and Chips; the bottom line is radar goes bye-bye; GPS rules, and everyone become a texter – OMG. The downside of it all is the controller becomes a cockpit voyeur via an ELS/EHS Transponder as he or she can now look over your shoulder and see what’s really going on. They see the altitude you’re flying and what you supposedly set. They see heading, bank angle, heck they can probably even be like that ‘80s rock diva Roxette and listen to your heartbeat. At least pilot’s can finally become what mom always wanted – Honest.
Like a jealous little sister, if you’re off 1,000 feet there’s no fudging, as the rat in the box will readily rat you out to ATC. The only difference: The controller won’t verbally upbraid you on frequency but send a nasty text and there’s no way to “unfriend” them. The FAA has 2020 as the launch year for ADS-B-Out, but as we all know, the kind of box that does what they want costs as much as a used Lexus. They’re hoping against hope that forced need will reduce actual cost and thus entice light plane pilots like us to buy.
Can you imagine what a tell-all box like that would tell a controller about a Piper Cub like mine? Hey Bub, number three cylinder compression is weak and I just checked the guy’s checking account online and he can’t afford to top it; oh yeah, his sectional is four years out of date, and the altimeter hasn’t been checked since before Kollsman died, and he’s been flying the last 10 miles singing “Come fly with me”. As if 2020 was not enough, by 2018 the FAA wants us all burning some 100LL replacement in efforts to expunge lead from all things except batteries and that which resides in politically correct lunkheads. Once again, GA will bear the burden as a forecasted 167,000 airplanes will suddenly be forced to burn magic fuel. The assumption is we will gladly belly up to the bar and pay not only for more expensive avionics but more expensive fuel. Hey why not, it doesn’t cost enough to fly already. Assumptions are forecasts often masked as post-verifiable lies.
BTW, The FAA assumes a lot. The uncertainty is whether any of the above can be or will even be provided by the forecast date. We already know that ADS-B Out is OUT of money, using up the allotted funds and aren’t even close to implementation outside of certain high profile regions of the country, and getting more under current budget constraints may be problematic. ADS-B-In, where you receive live weather feed, traffic awareness, and even Netflix and Sirius XM, is even farther out with NO forecast date for implementation. Don’t get me wrong, the system is old and can’t keep going on like it is. NexGen is coming and will eventually evolve our antiquated National Airspace System into something useful for everyone flying commercially but as far as GA is concerned, this stuff is a long, long ways off and in reality doesn’t do a whole lot for me. I’m not out flying in the North Atlantic Tracks, or in and out of Atlanta-Hartsfeld during a Delta push, or cruising around much above 5,000 feet. I’m not all about increased traffic counts and having Hal the controller riding shotgun in my cockpit. “Steve, why are you doing that? I don’t think you should. Don’t touch that button. I’m sorry Steve; I can’t allow you to do that.”
I fly light planes because of the freedom inherent in flying – Period. I don’t fly with the intent of having an overbearing mother-in-law riding jump seat ready to grill me for every spontaneous turn. I do over the local nudist colony or have TCAS sound alerts for wayward buzzards in holding over a festering deer carcass in a nearby field. Like the man said: The goal was to fly like it was 1932. Well guess what, I can say with absolute certainty I already do and it didn’t cost me one thin dime extra.