An Editorial on the suicide crash in Austin and how it relates to Stinson
This past week’s events in Austin have been quite alarming to most of my friends in the aviation industry, perhaps more so than even members of general public, who have seen the news headlines and had many questions since the tragic suicidal dive into the building in Austin on Thursday. While we may not have a large impact here at Stinson on the national scene, and have no relation to the actual events, I still think it is appropriate to make a formal statement on behalf of the bulletin.
This was an inexcusable act
I’ve overheard a number of people in various circles comment on the alleged precipitation for the pilot’s actions, but the bottom line is that he totally and absolutely overstepped all moral boundaries in his response. There is no excuse for acting out of one’s proper jurisdiction and taking matters into their own hand in an offensive manner. There may be times when a society needs to act in the common defense, as our Founding Fathers did, but this kind of action is just plain wrong.
Mr. Stack’s actions were foolish, selfish, and destructive
Mr. Stack’s actions were also selfish and destructive of other people’s livelihood. If he had any concern for his fellow pilots, he should have never touched that airplane on Thursday. Now, there is the real possibility that because of one fool, a number of people’s jobs, investments, and recreational activities will be jeopardized or even denied them because of the knee-jerk reaction that government officials will likely feel responsible to commit.
Now of course, much of the media, and people I know are asking how this could happen, how it could be prevented, and if there need to be more regulations and security requirements on light aircraft. Predictably, some have even called for the grounding of all light aircraft, further flight restrictions over urban areas, and further psychological analysis of all pilots in addition to other even dumber ideas.
Here are some point-by-point responses to specific things I’ve seen mentioned (among others):
Idea: Require flight plans
This does not stop anything. It merely adds additional paperwork and burden on the system. Nothing prevents a pilot with hidden suicidal tendencies from committing a similar act. All he has to do is plan a route that will put him where he wants to be and deviate from the flight plan. Also, a flight plan is only useful for some types of operations. Some aircraft operations need to have the flexibility to be off of a flight plan. Significant examples of this include commercial aerial photography operations that typically need to operate over cities and flight instruction, where instructors need to be able to be flexible with student training.
Idea: Require light aircraft to stay X number of miles away from urban areas
Not a good idea. Many light aircraft are operated by business owners who work in urban areas and need access to them. Pilots are already required to stay clear of urban areas by 1000 feet and maintain an altitude at which a safe landing can be made in the event of an engine failure. Further restrictions are of limited value. Even a military fighter jet will likely not be enough to stop a determined suicidal fool from a serious attack attempt, and a shoot-down might also create collateral damage. Prevention needs to be aimed at other areas, otherwise you would literally need to ground all aircraft, including the military. Even the military is not capable of prevent a pilot who hides his feelings well enough from causing damage – and a military jet can cause significantly more damage than a light civilian aircraft. If you don’t believe this, read about the military pilot who stole an armed A-10 and apparently committed suicide with it: Wikipedia article and New York Times article list
Idea: Require more security at airports and/or aircraft locks
Again, while this might prevent some of the lesser, dumber criminals, it would not have stopped Mr. Stack’s attack, since there seems to have been little information at this time to believe that he displayed behavior that would, or should have prevented him from owning an aircraft. If you really want to go with that kind of argument, you have to start looking at anything that could be a potential weapon, from a steak knife to a car and really answer questions of freedom vs. perfect security.
Here’s some food for thought
If Mr. Stack had really thought through his plans, he shouldn’t have used a light airplane for his mission. There are plenty of better things that could be used for weapons. Mr. Stack apparently had extra loaded extra fuel in his aircraft, and did his best to get it moving as quickly as possible, but still, even attacking a relatively unprotected building, only managed to kill himself and one other person known at the time of this article’s writing. The building was certainly heavily damaged, but he probably would have killed more people if he’d used a bow and arrow, or a loaded car or truck, or a handgun.
So, in the light of all of this, how should we react?
I would propose that all of us who work or enjoy aviation at Stinson should make a significant effort to include other people in our little world, or at least educate them about it. We also need to be very judicious in how we talk about the events, not make foolish comments that can be misconstrued by others, and seek to help others understand the benefits that general aviation brings to the area. We also need to attempt to clear up significant misconceptions and flat out lies in the media, such as the oft-repeated statements about how this guy didn’t have to be on a flight plan. If you have aircraft, take pro-active measures to protect them. Don’t forget the 1-800-GA-Secure hotline if there’s a possible threat, and be willing to be friendly and ask questions of those you don’t know or recognize who show up at our airfield. Let’s continue to make Stinson one of the best little airports in Texas.
Thanks to the guys at Sky Safety for good clips in the video here: http://www.foxsanantonio.com/newsroom/top_stories/videos/vid_1305.shtml.
A plea to lawmakers
If you are a local or national lawmaker reading this, please don’t over-react to this incident. Remember the words of Benjamin Franklin: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
There is little that a lawmaker could do, short of grounding all aircraft that could have prevented this from happening. Many lawmakers themselves use light aircraft for business and should be familiar with the freedom it gives them to move quickly and help out their constituents. Please do not treat us unfairly. Please do not come up with new rules that give the impression of security while providing none.