Let It Rain
For all of the grief pilots like to heap upon the FAA, some of its programs and activities are really quite good for an agency of the federal government. Certainly, across-the-board improvements can be made throughout the agency, but some of the things it does to reach out and provide continuing education and training to pilots are admirable. The Internal Revenue Service-another federal agency that regularly comes in for its share of criticism-could learn a few things from the FAA.
An excellent example of the FAAs outreach to pilots is the ongoing Operation Raincheck program, which the agency describes as one designed to familiarize pilots with the ATC system, its functions, responsibilities and benefits. I recently had the opportunity to attend Operation Raincheck at the Potomac Tracon serving the Washington/Baltimore/Richmond airspace and came away better informed about this specific facility and the job it does.
Operation Raincheck allows pilots the opportunity to visit an ATC facility, talk with controllers and supervisors, ask questions and generally learn more about the ways in which controllers do their jobs. While its implementation will differ among the various FAA regions and at each individual facility, this is the idea behind the basic concept. While I like to think I am familiar with how things related to ATC work-at least from my perspective as a pilot and aircraft owner-I will confess to have learned a few things.
Operation Raincheck was discontinued in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That was a mistake, since the related proliferation of airspace changes, TFRs and operational uncertainty cried out for an ongoing, local-oriented outreach program on the FAAs part. Thankfully, it has been reinstated and, at least as implemented at the Potomac Tracon, is a very valuable way for a pilot to spend a morning or afternoon. Additionally, since Operation Raincheck counts toward the ground portion of the FAAs Wings Program-also known as the Aviation Safety Program-its a win-win for pilots.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled FAA-bashing.
I recently had the opportunity to use my airplane to travel most of the way across the U.S. over a handful of days. While fuel costs are climbing faster than a lightly loaded F-16, I encountered few other problems along the way.
Even though I flew four long (five-plus hour) legs, was forced to deal with thunderstorms, stiff, turbulence-producing winds over unfamiliar mountains and vending-machine food, I managed to meet my schedule and conduct my personal business as I had planned. Given my destinations and plans, theres no way I could have done what I did, met with the people I wanted and accomplished what I needed in the same amount of time using the airlines.
As the article beginning on page 4 explores, using a single-engine airplane for serious business transportation demands answering a wide range of questions. Putting aside all the equipment, training and financial issues, a personal airplane can be a very valuable business or personal transportation tool. But, while trying to maintain a travel schedule, one of the keys to safety is flexibility and the understanding that, sometimes, a plan doesnt come together. For me, on this trip, it did.