• We're Not happy Until You're Not Happy

Over the years I've been faced with a severe case of what psychologists call "cognitive dissonance."

On one hand my experience has been that the folks that work for the FAA are, by and large, earnest, professional people with a real interest in aviation and safety. They've always treated me fairly (not to be confused with leniently). On the other hand I've met pilots and aircraft owners who profess something between mistrust and visceral hatred for the employees of the same agency. They really believe the FAA motto is, "We're not happy until you're not happy."

If you're among the latter, you can probably stop reading because what I'm going to write won't interest you.

To be entirely up front, I have to admit that my opinion is that the people who hate the FAA the most are the ones that have played loose and free with the regs the most, they're the people who treat "the Feds" as some kind of low lifes, and they're the people who receive, in return, just what they deserve.

Now that's not to say there aren't bad eggs in every basket. The apocryphal story of the Inspector who yellow tagged a bird with "Q-tip" props because its propeller tips were bent comes to mind. But consider that the basket of pilots is much larger (650,000) than the basket of FAA employees (50,000). And the number of those folks that you'll actually meet while committing the unnatural act of flight is smaller yet.

You don't have to be a math genius to figure out there are probably more asshole pilots than there are asshole Feds.

Yeah, I can hear you arguing percentages; asshole density, if you will. I don't buy it.

Sit in a parking lot by an airport fence and listen on your handheld, or sit in your cockpit and listen on your David Clarks. Y'all up there in the rarefied air can listen on your anorexic Plantronics too. How many times do pilots screw up? How many times do controllers? And which group is most likely to go into assholes mode when things don't go right?

Fact is, many of the FAA employees on the front line are pilots with experiences that you'd die to have, maybe even die from, since you may not be as good a pilot as they are. After all, half the pilots out there are worse than the other half. (Why do I hear a chorus from the tower, "More! Much more!")

But you wouldn't know those people from ATC and the FSDO have the depth of experience they do if you harbor a prejudice against them. That's true of everyone else in life too, come think of it.

When was the last time you took the time to go up in the cab and find out who the person is that's behind that voice your hear from the control tower? Have you ever figured out where the nearest TRACON is located and scheduled a visit to see what it's like to shepherd fast moving aircraft across a sector, essentially blindfolded?

All this reminds me of my favorite controller who once announced, when things were really going to hell in a handbasket,"All right, everyone stop right where you are, and we'll get this sorted out." Even the foreign student with minimal command of English flying up the downwind keyed the mike and laughed.

She's the same controller, I recall, who also told a bush pilot I was flying with in a busy Southern California weekend pattern "You have to do more than nod your head when I call you, 674H."

Mind you he's a pilot's pilot, an Alaskan 'Man of the Decade' for his selfless rescues, and a personal hero in an era when, as Styx puts it, "All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay." But he's also someone who hadn't talked on a radio in years, except maybe to check in on the HF while crossing some of the wildest water and terrain in the world so his wife would know he's okay.

Mutual respect is what it's all about, in a phrase.

Doubts? Go out and drive a car blindfolded while someone talks you through an empty shopping center parking lot. A controller who'd done that, to appreciate the problems of a scared VFR pilot in IFR conditions, saved a woman's life because he understood. She's my wife today, and I appreciate his dedication. She found herself solid IFR in a snow squall on her second solo flight...but that's another tale.