Archive for January, 2008

TSA makes an arrest for… outstanding warrants?

I know why Bruce prefers behavioural profiling over reliance on carry-on screening, but with or without profiling, why is nobody outraged about how the TSA’s writ has expanded?

Even if we assume for the moment that TSA checkpoints are constitutional for the purpose of keeping dangerous materials off of aircraft — a point that I do not concede — how have they been allowed to become catch-all checkpoints for any criminal activity? Why are drugs discovered during a carryon search admissible evidence? We lost that battle in the 1970s. But now the TSA are allowed to search for outstanding warrants?

We already have to show our papers. People are already being arrested at checkpoints for crimes unrelated to airplane security. Will it be long before passenger lists are routinely screened for outstanding criminal warrants, and people arrested when they arrive at the airport? It is hardly fantasy, given the trends of the last 15 years.

How are these checkpoints, no longer limited to the precise business of keeping aircraft safe, not a violation of the fourth amendment?

State or federal government would never be allowed to set up similar checkpoints in any other situation. Imagine such a checkpoint on a highway: stop cars at random, ask various questions of the occupants, and run a warrant check on anyone who seems suspicious.

Or stop every car on a road and perform a search for anything illegal: sawed-off shotguns, drugs, mattresses with their tags removed, &c.

Does anyone think that survives a Supreme Court challenge?

Sometimes I think about a United States in which the Supreme Court consults the constitution from time to time as the supreme law of the land, and then I have to have a little lie down and breathe into a paper bag.

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so far, this is the least boring of the eleven books

I’m reading this Human Performance and Limitations book, in preparation for the written half of converting my FAA licence to an Australian one. It is fascinating, in sometimes-unexpected ways.

For starters, you can tell it was written by an Australian: “The maximum recommended alcohol intake over a period of one week is 21 to 28 standard drinks.” Four drinks per day, every day, is apparently within recommended tolerances.

It gives ancient advice regarding flying and scuba diving. Modern advice is to allow at least 12 hours after a single dive before going above 2,000 feet; 18 hours after multiple dives. This book recommends 4 hours, and suggests that even that may be unnecessary until above 8,000 feet. Some people would consider this advice to be criminal for a book printed in June 2007.

It also contains some interesting things I didn’t know — if it can be trusted, after that dodgy scuba advice. Like the fact that noises of 150 dB or more will cause sweating to occur between the fingers and under the collar. (!)


Pilots and pilot-sympathizers: please comment!

On January 3, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive that goes into effect on January 18 — zero notice, without the customary public comment period.

It attempts to address a safety issue concerning Robinson helicopter blades — one that is already amply covered by Robinson service bulletins, service letters, and safety alerts — but does so in a terribly ham-fisted way. There are two serious problems.

First, it requires the pilot to make an entry in the maintenance logbook before each flight, stating that a visual inspection was conducted. This is bad policy not only because these entries will flood the logbooks with useless entries, but also because everyone in the aviation universe recommends that maintenance logbooks not be kept in the aircraft.

In the event of an accident, they may be the only insight into how the aircraft was maintained, which exact parts were present, when they were installed, and so on. To require their presence for this meaningless preflight signature runs contrary to all prior wisdom, especially since any competent pilot is already doing a pre-flight blade inspection.

Second, it screws student pilots by explicitly prohibiting them from making these inspections, effectively preventing them from legally flying solo.

Yes, they could arrange for another pilot to inspect the blades prior to departure (a pilot who, frankly, may have even less experience with helicopters than the student). But that doesn’t help if the student needs to stop for fuel on a long cross-country. Or wants to make the prudent decision to shut down and take a break at his destination. Both actions are now prohibited.

Whether or not you fly helicopters or fly at all, if you understand why this is important I urge you to submit a comment to the FAA. Even if you’re a foreign pilot this may end up affecting you, as other countries typically look to FAA Airworthiness Directives for guidance.

Reversing nonsense like this is all about the volume of outcry.

My comment is below, although it’s not showing on yet.

If this AD merely mandated a one-time maintenance inspection plus the visual inspections that pilots should already do, that would be one thing. Then it would be merely redundant, instead of an active hindrance.

To require documentation for each flight is both unreasonable and counterproductive. It requires that maintenance logs remain in the aircraft and therefore subject to loss or damage in an accident, contrary to all standard practice. This additional paperwork does nothing to increase safety, and may well reduce it, as it clutters logbooks with useless signatures and obscures truly relevant updates.

Furthermore, the impact on renters and student pilots is unacceptable. The status of renters as opposed to owner/operators in the AD is undefined, and the inability for students to fly solo is explicit.

There is useful precedent in SFAR 73: once a student pilot has received ground training and meets experience requirements, he is permitted to operate solo. Avoiding the dangerous flight conditions outlined in SFAR 73 requires far more care and responsibility than a simple pre-flight blade inspection — yet under this AD, a student is prohibited from doing so.

This AD places a significant burden on helicopter owners and operators without any additional safety benefit. It was issued on extremely short notice without a public comment period, even though these issues have been known to Robinson and the FAA for more than a year.

This AD should be withdrawn immediately, before it begins to disrupt operations on January 18. If the FAA feels so strongly that the existing procedures or a mandatory update to the POH are insufficient, then it would be proper to introduce a rethought AD with the customary notice and public comment process.

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it’s cool, we’ll just keep inflating the currency

We are thus in the position of having to borrow from Europe to defend Europe, of having to borrow from China and Japan to defend Chinese and Japanese access to Gulf oil, and of having to borrow from Arab emirs, sultans and monarchs to make Iraq safe for democracy.

We borrow from the nations we defend so that we may continue to defend them. To question this is an unpardonable heresy called “isolationism.”

Unlike the author I don’t particularly care who owns one random asset or another, but he’s entirely correct about the general bankruptcy of the United States. Except when it’s raised by Congressman Paul, this most important issue is completely absent from the election discourse.

The federal government’s own Office of Management and Budget estimates the federal debt at $53 trillion when you consider the commitments of Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs.

The total amount set aside in anticipation of these obligations, if you combine all of the Social Security and other trust funds, rainy-day funds, general treasury accounts, and all of Al Gore’s lockboxes, is exactly zero dollars.

It should be the number #1 issue, or arguably #2 after our foreign policy disasters, but you’ll only hear it from Paul or the Comptroller General. Unless you happen to be a Democratic presidential candidate, does anyone think we can now afford to add socialized medicine to the bill?


in lieu of my own opinions

Fabulously busy lately, so here’s a party-time link roundup FOR PEOPLE TO READ OR WHATEVER:


victory breakfast

The system (kind of) works!

In response to the complaints of AOPA and pilots, the FAA has relented and effectively removed the objectionable parts of the Airworthiness Directive that I complained so bitterly about.

The FAA issued an approval for an Alternative Method of Compliance that boils down to (a) check the blade during major inspections, and (b) do a visual inspection before each flight (like Robinson told you to do back in April).

In particular, there are no onerous logging requirements and student pilots can do the inspection. This is a tremendous victory for common sense.

Those of you who bothered to send a comment to the FAA — I read them all, I know who you are! — thank you!

Those of you who didn’t, even though you’re a pilot who understands the issues — for shame…

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i like this graph

it speaks for itself, really

Although I think -$150 billion is much too conservative an estimate. They only have the Congressman down for -$2 billion for “Defence / International Relations”. More like -$500 billion, I’d think, once he ends the Iraq war, closes most of the overseas bases, and stops foreign aid programmes. Nor did they include any of the present $92 billion of corporate welfare, some of which is guaranteed to get the axe.

But they did count the $1 billion we’d save by shutting down the IRS.

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