|I was searching through a desk drawer the other night when I discovered some items from my former life. (I know its difficult for many of you to believe that FAA Inspectors were once human beings prior to our present job/position/whatever, but we were.). Anyhow, I found some old NBAA (National Biddness Aircraft 'Sociation as they used to say in south Tejas) campaign buttons. These harked back to the heyday of kerosene-converterswhen we were flying our "awl biddness" bosses everywhere in North America at all hours of the day (and night). The buttons were used to remind us pilots that we should "FLY NEIGHBORLY" and that "QUIET FLYING IS GOOD BUSINESS."
The reason for these buttons was obvious. Not everyone who lived near an airport owned an aircraft, and most residents did not want the likes of us disturbing their sleep! Some of us were smart enough to predict the future, while others acted like Dean Martin in the original Airport: roaring out low over the surrounding neighborhoods at one or two in the morning. Needless to say, actions like this resulted in some airports initiating a curfew, which limited the hours for takeoffs and landings.
Those of us who fly here in the Land of Enchantmentand the other Southwestern statesare extremely fortunate. We have great weather, fantastic landscapes, and an unbelievable diversity of national and state parks and monuments. Living in some of the largest states in the nation makes it funand sensibleto fly everywhere we can. Since many of the areas we choose to visit are large, outdoor attractions, it seems only logical to make a few turns around the park or monument to get the big picture before landing and walking through with family and friends.
That's where the problems start. Remember, people on the ground are usually on guided walking tours or lost in their private thoughts. Chances are, they won't be pleased by the intrusive grumble of an aircraft engine.
If you will review a Sectional Aeronautical Chart, most of these parks and monuments are surrounded by a blue line with little dots (
). These lines signify the boundaries of National Park Service Areas, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Areas, and U.S. Forest Service Wilderness and Primitive Areas.
On the bottom of each sectional chart is a little box reminding us to be good neighbors and, if possible, maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet above the surface of these areas. The FAA issues an Advisory Circular (91-36C), which further defines the surface as follows: The highest terrain within 2,000 laterally of the route of flight or the upper-most rim of a canyon or valley.
"So What?" you say. "I fly a small airplane, not a noisy jet!"
Let me put on my black (Inspector's) hat and explain it to you. Personally, I believe all of us are considerate of others and try our best to remain at or above 2,000 feet AGL over these areas. Unfortunately, that number is a minimum, and to some non-aviation people on the ground (or the WWII RAF, I'm told) 2,000 feet looks like a buzz-job.
Currently, there are not any FARs concerning flights over or near these areas. However, if the public complaints continue to rise, I predict some sort of regulatory reform. Most of the people touring these areas are carrying a video camera and provide the Park Service and the FAA with some tangible evidence for low-flying complaints.
I'd like to ask each of you to give these park areas just a little more space when you are flying by. Not everyone is enamored of aviation and the beauty of flight. I know it's difficult to believe people like that exist, but they do. They call me. They call you too, although I won't repeat the names they call you here.