Blogs and Public Menace

Note from your host, James Fallows: The Atlantic is a big-tent operation, with writers and editors here disagreeing over the years on issues large and small. To illustrate the large questions: before the invasion of Iraq, some members of our staff strongly advocated the need for war; others of us argued that it would be a mistake. These days opinions obviously vary about the Administration's health-care plan, the right way to think about the budget problem, many aspects of policy in the Middle East, and so on.

I appreciate Jim giving me a chance to participate in his multiple author blogging sessions.  I've enjoyed reading many of the other blogs and hope that people will enjoy reading these as well.

 
Of course we should all recognize that a blog is simply a collection of opinions, some more informed than others.  As I talk about general aviation you can assume that after working in this industry and being a pilot for over 35 years, I have some basis for what I think.   As I stray away from General Aviation it becomes "just" my opinion.  Having said that I think that well thought out opinions have tremendous value in this discussion of the world around us. (More about opinions vs facts later.)

On a less cosmic level, while my colleague Jeff Goldberg and I see eye-to-eye on most matters involving airport security and the TSA -- as shown here in our joint interview with John Pistole of the TSA -- we disagree affably but fundamentally about the "menace" posed by small airplanes. He made his "they're a big threat!" case in the magazine here. I explained why I thought he was wrong here, and Lane Wallace, in a guest-blogger stint, did so here.

Alan Klapmeier, who has flown airplanes since he was a teenager and was a guiding force in creating what is now the world's most popular small propeller plane, begins his guest stint with a similar argument below. Jeff Goldberg is a tough guy and can take disagreement, but I'm sorry for the unintended appearance of piling on. Jeff would no doubt say that the three of us are biased, since we enjoy the freedom of the small-plane aviation system that he considers threatening. Biased we no doubt are. But this "bias" could also be called "familiarity," and in different ways we have been saying that if you know how the small-plane system actually works, you realize it has many safeguards not apparent at first glance. That is, its defenses are "security stealth," rather than "security theater."

With that prelude, I give you Alan Klapmeier. Happy to hear responses from Jeff Goldberg at any point.

Since I work in the aviation field, it's seems natural that I would begin these blogs by discussing Mr. Jeffery Goldberg's article "Private Plane, Public Menace" in last month's Atlantic.  It also won't surprise anyone that I take great exception the piece.
 
 I don't have my copy of the magazine with me (yes, I am a subscriber) to refer to, but I don't remember it being labeled as satirical entertainment.  Instead, I recall an unfortunate hatchet job on an entire industry with hints of jealousy and class warfare thrown in to add flavor. 
 
"Public Menace"  -- Really?  Does Mr. Goldberg actually mean that General Aviation is a "Public Menace" as in recklessly endangering the public.  I hope not.
 
The definition of General Aviation is everything that is not military, scheduled airline service or regular air cargo flights.  Thus the word "General".  It includes the Goodyear Blimp, medical flights, law enforcement, sailplanes, forest fire control, flying to see your grandparents, banner towing,  parachuting and power parachutes, bush flights, sightseeing flights, traffic watch for your local media, flight training, personal transportation and, of course, business aircraft.  It does not include private cars, private seats on the train (you know, the one you paid for), private bicycles, private skateboards, private shoes, etc.
 
Personal transportation aircraft and business jets are two of the more common types of general aviation aircraft.  They both provide a level of flexible, time efficient transportation that many more people should experience.  They provide value.  Yes, business jets are more expensive than most airline travel.  Yes, personal transportation aircraft (think propeller) are more expensive than most automobiles.  Yes, automobiles are more expensive than bicycles...  you get the idea.  
 

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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