As you probably know, one of the biggest trends in automobile insurance is driver monitoring. The deal goes like this. For a discount on your premiums, you let the insurance company put a monitor in your vehicle. Methods vary from provider to provider, but they keep an eye on whether you’re obeying posted speed limits, and they watch out for other driving behaviors, like accelerating hard or stopping hard, that are perfectly legal and, in many cases, the only way to be safe. (No, I wouldn’t do this either.)
Now imagine that your local PD had the ability to tap into this feed, and they started giving tickets based on that data. They arrive in the mail. Oops, two mph over the limit on the interstate. That’s $150. Rolled that stop on Main? That’ll be another $150.
If that sounds Orwellian and unlikely, you’re half right. Because that is apparently just what’s happening with ADS-B, except it’s worse. In our case, it’s more like the traffic patrol requires you to have the monitoring in your car and then uses it to bust you.
And that’s the reality of ADS-B.
As pilots, we should be expected to live up to a higher standard than mere mortals. That’s only fair. Flying is a one-of-a-kind activity. There are other kinds of vehicular fun to be had but dancing up there among the clouds is our deal. And if we feel a little special because of it, well, that’s only fair. We’ve earned it. Being a pilot requires hard work and more than a bit of hard-won skill.
At the same time expecting pilots to live up to a high standard and creating enforcement policies that unfairly target pilots are two different things. And the FAA has an enforcement problem, a problem that stems from its culture of power over right. That imbalance is most apparent at the Flight Standards and Medical divisions, where regulations, some of them unfair to begin with, are enforced with an iron fist.
To complete that heavy-handed approach to regulation, these institutions within the FAA effectively limit the rights of pilots to appeal decisions. In the case of Martha Lunken, whom I’ve written about numerous times over the past week, when the FAA revoked her ATP certificate, she decided not to appeal the ruling.
This does not in any way mean that she didn’t have a case. But when you’re faced with a system that, one, makes it obscenely expensive to appeal a ruling and two, makes your chances of winning even with good representation slim at best, the right of appeal is effectively quashed. And when any institution can make the rules as rigid and rough as they want and then enforce them with little chance of being overturned, well, that’s the recipe for a corrupt system. And that is true for any system, not just the FAA.
When a structure like this exists, there’s little recourse but to live with it or rein it in. In this case, we need to do the latter, because anyone who thinks that the FAA will voluntarily abandon its use of ADS-B for issuing enforcement isn’t paying attention.
I won’t get started on the FAA Medical Division, where similar issues exist and are similarly abused, but we need reform there, too, even more desperately, in fact.
And because our voices are stronger when we’re united, this is precisely the time we need our member organizations, AOPA, NBAA, EAA and others, to stand up for us and say, hey, we need to place limits on how this data can be used. Because the problem won’t go away on its own, and if left untreated, it will get worse, that much I can guarantee you.