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Thread: The real problem with Reno...the FAA?

  1. #1
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    Default The real problem with Reno...the FAA?

    I apologize for the length of this post, but I think it will be worth the couple minutes to read. Please do.

    After seeing THIS POST by AirJudge in another thread, some thoughts crystallized in my mind. Allow me to explain…randomly.


    I submit to you that the real driver behind the decline of the races and the problems that we’re seeing is the Federal Aviation Administration. Let me explain:

    First: The post-2011 race rules, particularly the 250' altitude restriction, are dumb. Most of us agree on that. Unfortunately the FAA followed the lead of the rest of our politics and decided that they needed another rule, even when the existing rules on airframe modifications etc had been broken, to make sure this didn’t happen again. Now the "fix" is worse than the original problem and makes a repeat of the 2011 crash more likely with fast airplanes with high speed differentials stuffed into a donut of air too small to allow safe margins and maneuvering. You'd swear it's like the FAA has decided to kill pylon air racing and is thinking "Let's set up the conditions for another horrific crash, then the media will take care of the rest."

    Second: RARA is in the stranglehold of the FAA. The rest of aviation, from warbirds to vintage airplanes to aerobatics and homebuilts and then your average Cessna drivers, have representation and lobbying muscle in Washington with the EAA and AOPA. Between Warbirds of America, the International Aerobatic Club, Vintage Aviation Association, EAA, and the AOPA, issues related to these “special interests” are spread around to the members, acted upon by lobbyists, and then passed along to members of the caucuses for legislative action (or inaction).

    Air racing has none of that. So those of us (like me) who find themselves thinking “Why won’t RARA just stand up to the FAA a little and just say ‘no’” don’t realize that that’s very much akin to telling someone who was pulled over for speeding to “stand up to the cop” and say no to the ticket. Definitely not recommended.

    To get a bureaucrat to move, you have to go to their bosses and start threatening their cash. That’s when things happen. (If you’ve been involved in general aviation recently you know what I mean with the Pilots’ Bill of Rights, the Part 23 rules rewrite, and 3rd class medical exemption. When the lobbying organizations finally got tired of years of dealing with stonewalling FAA officials and went right to Congress to get what they wanted, the FAA moved faster than you ever thought a government bureaucracy could move. It was amazing.)

    Most of the gripes that folks have with the races can be traced to FAA actions. Tiger’s altitude DQ, PM’s “deadline cut”…even the nasty security people on the crowd line can all be laid at the feet of the FAA. To provide background on the last one: FAA is cracking down on non-show personnel behind airshow lines. My local airport runs a small grass-strip airshow every year. Recently the feds have gotten pretty anal about the show line for what is essential a big pilot’s and family get together. It’s frustrating. It’s impossible to exercise any kind of leeway at all (obviously with safety…no people around when planes are operating etc) because the feds expect everything to be locked down and every single possible, thinkable, obtuse, and unlikely eventuality or imagined scenario accounted for to the point that people have to be herded through designated areas and moved around like cattle just to have the event.

    *****

    So I submit to you, the fans of the world’s fastest motorsport…let's focus some of this negative energy on the FAA and see what changes. This is not coming from some anti-government nut. Hardly. But let's see some accountability from FAA and more of a two-sided discussion on rules here. It's not cool being dictated to like children. I’m pretty sure RARA has racing’s best interests at heart, and though they may not move as fast as we’d like or do what we want, they are in a tough spot. Low attendance means little money. Little money means little advertising. Little advertising means less awareness, which means less attendance…and around it goes. Let’s pull together on this and put some positive muscle behind helping the positive elements of what RARA has done to move to the forefront instead of just griping about what we didn’t like.

    Unlimited Air Racing may die, but let’s not be the ones to stick the knife in it.



    N.B. (Perhaps I could back this up even further and say that even the FAA isn’t to blame, our society is. The FAA is scared of getting sued. That’s it. So they regulate us to death to make sure nothing happens so that they don’t lose their jobs and get a beating on TV in the process next time there is an accident. But that’s another topic…)
    Last edited by CanIFlyIt; 09-16-2014 at 08:47 PM.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: The real problem with Reno...the FAA?

    The long and short of what you are saying is that the FAA's overall mission has changed from regulatory to enforcement. Those are 2 markedly different items. It has become blazingly apparent in a great many things.....

  3. #3
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    Default Re: The real problem with Reno...the FAA?

    The FAA is slowly killing general aviation along with air racing. They only care about commercial aviation, that’s were the money is. Remember, Jimmy’s crash was not about deadline cuts or altitudes it was mechanical. This Sh*t makes me sick. I’m not sure I can sit through this again.
    Brad
    Windy Hill GA83

  4. #4
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    Default Re: The real problem with Reno...the FAA?

    RARA should sue the FAA. It's the only way this will be fixed.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: The real problem with Reno...the FAA?

    Matt Jackson, Tiger, and Thom Richard. All DQ'ed in 2013/14 while trying to "race" and do it safely. If this trend continues it won't be racing anymore but just an unlimited exhibition event....

  6. #6
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    Default Re: The real problem with Reno...the FAA?

    Before I start, I just want to say that all of the thoughts shared so far are well thought out and I share most, if not all, of the opinions expressed. I am just bring a different perspective to the equation.

    Disclaimer for transparency reasons: I am eleven months retired from a 27 year career with the FAA. I worked on the ATC operational side and had a stint in several offices in HQ. I do not claim to know with 100% certainty how every employee in every office of the FAA works but I do have a level of knowledge and expertise on the agency that is likely in the top 5% of those who post here.

    The FAA is no different than any other organization. It has great people, good people, mediocre people, and idiots. The same can be said for any Fortune 500 company or any profession. It is my opinion that the percentages of each type in the FAA are also not widely variant from other organizations. Another belief I have is that the FAA accomplishes an incredibly tough mission every single day. Everything from ATC to the regulatory actions to the administrative overhead to support both is done at a level that services the needs of the most complex air transportation system on the planet. I also see how much more could be accomplished if it were not for the idiots. One of the main reasons I retired is to take my skills and do all I can to move the agency forward and become as effective and efficient as it possibly can be. I will let you guys know in twenty years if I have a very large knot on my head from banging it against an extremely hard substance.

    Politics do play a part...particularly if an individual or office or agency are not solely focused on performing at a high level and doing what is right at all times. The FAA is better at this than most federal agencies and that is due to the seriousness of the mission. That is not to say that politics do not come into play. I feel like the current challenges for general aviation (which RARA is a part of) are two-fold. The first is most certainly politics. The simple fact is some administrations are more GA-friendly than others. What makes it tough for GA when the administration is not a close ally is that money is the second component that dictates who gets listened to. The comments around lobbying are spot-on. User fees are a great example. I have long held a anti-user fees position. Before I was a FAA employee, I was a young boy who grew up on the airport at Muscle Shoals, AL. I have a deep passion for all things “flight” and the idea that someone should have to pay to have access to the skies appalls that young boy. As I have aged, I have started to wonder if GA would be better off if it was more of a revenue stream for the agency. Do not get me wrong, I have not changed to favor fees...just have to wonder if it might help to have a bigger lever in terms of influence.

    For the matter at hand, every single entity related to the races had a catastrophic event occur three years ago. The FAA has a long and well-deserved reputation of significant change only when a body count occurs. The reason for that is again two-fold. First, even if it is a fairly high functioning one, it is a government bureaucracy and they all move slow unless a large, influencing event occurs. Second, the FAA is at its core a safety organization and by design should be cautious when it comes to change. Notice I said it should be cautious and not glacial. Unfortunately, the agency rarely changes at the rate it actually can out of too much caution. The end result is an agency that is not very experienced meeting an event that demands great change at a great rate. Enter 2011.

    The FAA and RARA are trying to hit a very difficult moving target: a sustainable defense in court. The reality of any future event is this...a lawyer for the plaintiff (civil) or prosecution (criminal) will do all he or she can to install a jury of twelve risk-adverse, non-aviation people to judge the merits of any case. No one who even lurks on this board would ever make it to the box. This drives rule-making that we see flaws in but would be easily identified as doing something to the less-informed...

    “Oh, look, they made sure the planes were further away from the crowd and that they were flying lower to the ground to keep them from going as far.”

    I am not saying that altitude or distance restrictions are inherently useless or should not be considered. Physics says that they should. I am saying that every one of us knows to look further but the personality profile of a potential juror would eat it up. More importantly, they would feast on it if those two thing had NOT been done. Does this mean we should not work in whatever way we have at our disposal to meet the needs of the real world situation while protecting the parties from any future action? Absolutely not. None of my note should be misconstrued to give the FAA or RARA a free pass to sit still. Remember, I retired for just that reason. I feel at this point in my professional life, I can get the agency to change more from the outside than the inside.

    Finding ways to help FAA and RARA make better rules is one of the two issues that came into being Sunday. The second is enforcement and a need for accuracy to the absolute greatest extent possible. Rules are rules whether we agree with them or not. (Please note that nothing I have seen ANYWHERE indicates that Thom or Team PM are saying otherwise.) As someone who has also run youth sports leagues for over ten years, I know that sometimes you have to have a rule that says “The ump's call is final....state your case and move on.” Clearly, this is how the issue at hand has been handled to this point. The trick is, it is imperative that you limit the number of non-appealable (is that even a word?) calls to as few as possible and then you have your absolute best people making those decisions.

    I am not on the inside and so I do not know if either of those things have been done. I do think the writing is on the wall about Thom's finish this year and that is heart-breaking. While I could be with education, I am not qualified enough to look at the video and state unequivocally that an infraction did or did not occur. I have seen enough of how Thom interacts here and in person at his place in Florida to say that if he thinks he is clean and thinks the video shows he is clean, I do too. Unfortunately, my opinion and those of the hundreds of folks who comment on FB, not that they know what to look for anymore than I do, do not matter. Not on this event. They do on future ones. Respectfully let RARA and the FAA know that the sport needs a better system of rules enforcement to prevent this type of event from happening again. Once is more than enough.

    A quick word on Tiger's DQ. I think this is being less contested because Tiger was clearly flirting with the altitude limits and even watching online, I felt he was likely too high at moments (again, I am not informed enough to say definitively yes or no.) As before, I am not saying an altitude limit is the smart or best answer, only that it is in place and I think it is fairly safe to say he may have busted it. It in no way takes away the excitement and energy that it poured into the crowd Saturday nor does it take away my immense respect for Tiger in all areas: pilotage, show person, man. My wife and kids thought I had lost my mind!

    Now that I am done typing, I am not even sure if any of this will make sense or further the conversation. A lot seems to be very similar to the OP. I think I am trying to provide some context to be able to say we should approach the FAA and RARA as partners rather than the enemy. Does not mean they do no wrong...just that we work together to find solutions. I know this...both the FAA and RARA will have a better product if people like Thom and Jeff Lee and others are involved. I would love to be able to influence more but I plan to do what I can by sharing my thoughts with both organizations.

    I am proud of my FAA career but I do not believe that the agency's $h17 does not stink. The FAA deserves a lot of the scrutiny and anger pointed in its direction and, to a degree, the absorption of that is part of its mission. It does not hurt to remember that the regulatory guys are inherently "taking away" in everything they do. Keep them honest but understand their mission. In the end, the agency should never stop listening and should always being willing to find ways to improve. Any individual or office that stands in that way should be brought to light and dealt with.

    For what it is worth, you can find my post on what to expect from the NTSB and the FAA post-GG accident. I think I hit it pretty close. Maybe that means I am not too far off here....who knows.

    Good grief, this is long. Sorry guys...

    Best,

    James

  7. #7
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    Default Re: The real problem with Reno...the FAA?

    The fans are getting older, the unlimited class planes are getting more scarce and valuable as stockers, the owners/pilots are getting older. The younger fans don't exist because they were in school when the races were held. The race course got shorter as development hemmed it in. The gaming industry in Reno is in trouble because of "indian casinos" in California.
    The fans should take a look at themselves-kind of a narrow ethnic, sex, and age, demographic if you know what I mean. Aviation is not the thrill industry that it was at one time and young people today do not have any idea what an unlimited or any other class of air racer is. Most people outside the aircraft interest community had no idea that the Reno Air races even existed until September 2011 and when they did become aware it was not in a positive way. The FAA watched the races over the years with a bemused smile and a hands off "that Reno kind of insanity" until Leeward lost his trim tab. The FAA was forced to react and the result is more a parade than an actual race. I didn't make it to the races this year as I have in the past 3 years and for many years before that. I watched everything that Live Airshow TV had on. Thanks Live Airshow for a great week. You must admit the announcers were no worse than Sandy Sanders. Actually, trying to figure out what ridiculous thing they were going to say next got to be kind of entertaining.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: The real problem with Reno...the FAA?

    I kind of liken this situation with the light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is a train. Point being is the air races have out grown their surroundings and I guess it was unavoidable.

  9. #9

    Default Re: The real problem with Reno...the FAA?

    Be careful what you assume, the reno fsdo is a huge supporter of the races, and for most of you on this board , you have no real dealings with the FAA and it's all what you heard from Leroy's second cousin bob who has been coming to the races for 20 years as a fan, so he is an expert. I have been racing for 7 years now and the easiest part of racing at reno is the FAA

  10. #10
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    Default Re: The real problem with Reno...the FAA?

    James.....VERY good post. Couldn't agree more. It helps to hear from people with direct knowledge and experience in the field.

    I had hoped to provoke more conversation like that with my original post instead of the gloomy predictions that have followed, so it's nice to see some thoughtful response. Your points on liability and rules are spot on.

    Thanks for a great contribution to the discussion.


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