If you are a pilot, you have likely heard the unofficial slogan of the FAA, "We're not happy until you're not happy." Like most idioms, there is often a bit of truth to this. Any pilot who has crossed a FAA inspector knows how miserable they can make your life. Pilots have very few rights as an airman certificate is considered a 'privilege', rather than a right. However, these injustices hardly touch on the significance behind the FAA's motto. It is much more complex than a few bad apples with badges. Skyrocketing fuel prices over the past decade are often cited as one reason people are flying less and the pilot pool is shrinking, but this isn’t the entire story.
It hasn’t always been like this. In 1938, the CAA was founded by FDR, with the goal of developing airways, air traffic control, and safety programs. After a few deadly mid-air collisions in the 1950s, the CAA was absorbed by a new entity, the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA, however, became less and less interested in promoting safety. They have simply become another overblown government agency, an immovable bureaucracy. In essence, the FAA exists mostly as a means to provide Federal jobs to people. Any new 'rule' proposed by the FAA only adds 'cost' for the people. These 'rules' are rarely formed through scientific procedure, but rather on the rhetorical case, the opinion of the administration. One excellent example is the Airworthiness Directive program. Many AD's have been issued without absolutely zero evidence that an unsafe operating condition exists. Specifically, about 20 years ago the FAA put into final rule an AD regarding certain Continental crankshafts. Many older pilots and aircraft owners will remember this one! Not only did independent studies debunk the accusation that there was a problem, but so did the FAA's own data! This one cost light-aircraft owners nearly $100 million. Who benefited from this? Other than the FAA employes who justified their jobs? The FAA no longer exists as an organization of the people. It exists only for itself.
As I have seen firsthand, the FAA certification process for new aircraft is ludicrous. Beechcraft hasn't come up with a new design in 50 years. Why not? They can't afford to. It is much cheaper for them to keep modifying old type certificates than to certify a new aircraft. We haven't made many significant advances in general aviation in the past 40 years, and much of that is because the FAA has blocked it with an unnecessarily expensive and nearly impossible certification process. So, we are flying around with antiquated aircraft designs, and thanks to the FAA, even your grandfather's plane is so expensive that many people simply cannot afford to fly.
In the 1970s, there were 50,000 pilots per year being certificated. In 2010, there were just 15,000. There were 15,000 aircraft per year being manufactured in the 1970s. In 2010, there were barely 600 new aircraft built! In the mid 1970s, a fully loaded Beechcraft Bonanza could be purchased for $40,000. Today that same aircraft is $750,000. Even after adjusting for inflation, the acquisition cost to average salary is not even close to being linear. A new aircraft, instead of costing 2-3x a middle class salary, now costs 6x! Thanks to the FAA and product liability lawsuits, a small bolt will cost $300 and a lightbulb $8,800! Flying is becoming rich man's game. While the attorneys and product liability lawsuits have certainly contributed some to this, I believe the FAA bears most of the responsibility. I propose as an alternative, we eliminate all certification and maintenance requirements for aircraft, which operate below FL180, have 6 or fewer seats, and are to be used for non-commercial purposes. Eliminate the third class medical and allow a state issued driver license in its place. If you are healthy enough to drive a car, you are healthy enough to fly your Bonanza to Cincinnati for the weekend.
I’m not quite proposing we abolish the FAA, however, my message is this: We want to innovate. We want to break new ground. We want GA to prosper. We want flying to be affordable for the average guy ... and we can't do it with the FAA blocking the path. We need to take a step back and revaluate things. Perhaps it's time to do away with all the red tape and unnecessary regulations.