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August 17, 2009

Piloticians

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By: Phil Derner Jr.
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Captain Schumer to the rescue!
Captain Schumer to the rescue!
Only a few months ago, the Hudson River in New York City was the scene of one of the most amazing stories of crash survival in aviation history. Sadly, on August 8th, the aviation world expressed their condolences for those who lost their lives in a mid-air collision above the same waters. As we watched the still images of the crash fill our screen and video of floating debris, we were all sitting back and waiting for what would be very predictable commentary from politicians, namely the Honorable Charles E. Schumer, to insist on adjustments to be made to the uncontrolled VFR corridors around Manhattan.

The Senator has a very extensive aviation resume. Not as a pilot or crew scheduler, but as a politician closely monitoring the FAA and the industry, speaking out to the public at arising opportunities. His heavy participation in the aviation business is only rivaled by the Priceline Negotiator, minus the fancypants karate chop and 1970s sci-fi popularity.

It seems as though he is pushing for the Hudson River airspace to be controlled by ATC from here on out, although I along with others, feel that this would add to the workload of already busy and stressed ATCers. There is also a tremendous amount of irony here, as pointed out by AvWeb’s Don Brown, who notes that Chuck wants to alleviate clogged airways in the busy New York skies, even though he helped create them by pushing for slot exceptions before jetBlue’s birth at JFK. Yes, the very slots that were built in order to ease congestion.

In 2007, Schumer called for an air traffic “czar” to help clean up the air congestion mess. “Czar” seems to be the big buzz word in politics as of late. Problem with the auto industry? Get a car czar! Easy as that. Although when I hear the word “czar”, I think of tyrannical Russian rulers a century ago. But hey, we’re pleasing the masses by insisting that one person going over the head of an entire federal agency is the way to get things done. Sounds about right.

More on jetBlue, during their inception in 2000, Schumer wanted a taste of the action so bad that you would have thought he either had a stake in the company or just wanted his name on a plane (possible name “JetSchu” or “Thanks Chuck Bluemer”? Maybe not). He played a vital role in getting the airline situated in under-served cities such as Syracuse and Rochester. I genuinely put my hands together for this; Air service to those smaller cities truly are vital to local business, and Schumer was earning his votes in those places.

After the crash of Colgan 3407 in february of this year, Schumer declared these regional airlines unsafe, even though this is the kind of service he pevious had urged airlines like continental to maintain. (Photo by Gordon Gebert)

After the crash of Colgan 3407 in February of this year, Schumer declared these regional airlines unsafe, even though this is the kind of service he had previously urged airlines like Continental to maintain. (Photo by Gordon Gebert Jr.)

But again I become frustrated when I read about how Schumer dogs regional airlines by saying that they are less-safe and not reliable, even though these regional airlines follow the same guidelines as their larger counterparts. This unfairly makes it more difficult for these regional airlines to operate. The contradiction is that these operators are the ones largely serving the smaller Upstate NY cities that he wants served.

Not to mention that Schumer constantly pushes for low airfares (as if anyone is going to protest that), but then plays the other side of the fence by demanding that airlines pay their pilots better. One affects the other, unfortunately.

I felt it irresponsible when he said the FAA was sweeping bird strike statistics under the rug. Should there be more accessible and streamlined reporting? Perhaps. But that’s a policy change, and he can either work with the FAA to modify that, or accuse them of being sneaky like he did. Politicians seem to feel that it doesn’t matter if what they say sounds ridiculous to the people who know their stuff,  but as long as the unknowing public hears them say something, then their day’s work is done.

Chuck and I celebrating Memorial Day together back in '05.

Chuck and I celebrating Memorial Day together back in '05.

Charles Schumer’s deep involvement in aviation is honestly not always a bad thing. As much as I might criticize him, one should applaud a politician’s attempts to keep an eye on an industry that is so very complicated and full of variables which affect the public on all levels. Many of the above examples I’ve given show contradictions and perhaps negative impact, but I do believe that they all hold very sincere intentions for the well-being of air service to his constituents. Schumer’s problem is that these issues are addressed with missed approaches (aviation pun of the year).

We’ve seen him push for funding for smaller, out-of-the-way airports and environmental airport equipment. Your town of 29,000 about to lose airline service? He’ll jump in to keep those ERJ’s running. You say you don’t have airline service to your Class-D airspace yet? Boom.

I will offer him the most credit in response to his involvement with LANSA Flight 502, a Lockheed Electra that crashed in Peru in August of 1970, killing 49 New York high school students in an exchange program. When officials in Peru wanted to remove a memorial for the crash to make way for a housing development, Schumer stepped in and made sure that it was kept, and it was ultimately moved only 150 feet away. For a nearly forgotten crash 36 years prior, he didn’t have to do that.

While I don’t see “Charles E. Schumer Municipal Airport” in my crystal ball, I wouldn’t mind sharing a beer with the guy at La Guardia’s “Figs” to talk shop.