I could write about this at length -- and, hey, I think I will! Of course, the necessary disclosures: One, obviously I'm biased. I am an active small-plane pilot and value precisely the fact that the U.S. general aviation network allows people to travel without extensive advance planning and without matching a commercial carrier's schedule or routes. This flexibility is analogous to the reason cars (as opposed to public buses) become popular anywhere on Earth where people have enough money for them.
And two: Jeff's right that there is a huge class privilege that goes with the private jet world. It lies in the ability to cut through all the hassle that is today's commercial airline system. People rich enough to own or charter jets travel when and where they want; don't have to stand in lines; don't have to give up their water or take off their shoes; don't have to build two extra hours into travel time to allow for everything that can go wrong at the airport. That is "unfair," and it is chapter 12,748 in the ongoing "polarization of America" saga. But a major new security threat it ain't.
After the jump, a sample note -- one of many dozens -- that both Jeff and I received from the pilot diaspora. As the writer says, small-plane pilots as a group feel embattled.
They're We're an older, dwindling population -- the surge was the huge group of pilots trained in WW II and two decades afterwards -- and 90% of them fly relatively cheap small propeller planes that give them nothing in common with the private-jet set. Indeed there are obvious class resentments within the small-plane world, for instance when bare-bones hangars at an airport are scrapped to make room for new corporate jet facilities. Their one point of common purpose is valuing the flexibility of the nation's network of 4,000+ small airports, including the absence of security theater TSA-style.
Which brings me to my disagreements. What's wrong with Jeff's article, in my view (as he knows), is that it manifests two forms of thinking that he and I both criticize when we see them in the TSA. They are the "security theater" mentality (if it looks official and intrusive, you're safer), and the "risk elimination" fallacy (since there is some chance that what looks like an elderly nun could be a disguised terrorist, every single person must be inspected in exactly the same way) . Instead, both Jeff and I have frequently advocated a more flexible, less cookie-cutter, more selective and intelligence-based approach to security. That's pretty much how the small plane world already works.
For instance: flight operations anywhere in the vicinity of Washington are very different in the years since 9/11. Passengers wouldn't know it, but
anyone operating an airplane is aware of the whole suite
of special training, permissions, advance-filing procedures, radio
protocols, etc required for operations within the "Special Flights Rules
Area" reaching 35+ miles in all directions from Washington (including
Dulles), with other restrictions extending about 70 miles out. Since 2000, except when living in China, I've had a small plane based at Gaithersburg, 30+ miles from downtown DC. Every takeoff from that airport, or approach to it from outside the DC area, requires advance security notice. For airports closer in, there are tighter rules -- for instance, fingerprinting and Secret Service pre-clearance for pilots who intend to fly there.