Monday, December 13, 2010

Merry Christmas--Now Duck And Cover !

It appears that our federal Keystone Kops have done it again. At a time when a nuclear device can be put into a container about the size of your average chest of drawers and lethal aerobic toxins can be released like the chemicals over a cornfield, the Federal Aviation Administration has informed us that 119,000 airplanes in America are faultily registered.

These gaps include missing forms, invalid addresses, unreported sales, and (shall I say it?) just plain missing planes. That's approximately one-third of all the private and commercial planes in the United States. Details, details. We are coming up on the tenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center. There was a failure of security and common sense that could be partially forgiven by virtue of the fact that nothing like that had ever come close to being successfully attempted. We've been told that Al Qaeda and its fellow terrorist organizations are adaptive. But with that many AWOL planes at their disposal, they won't have to adapt much. Did that never occur to our brilliant federal authorities?

The FAA has failed badly in its duty to know where every airworthy aircraft in America is at any given time, who owns it, and what use it is being put to. Given that it's a human institution, the goal of absolute knowledge is unrealistic. But one-third of the fleet? Rank amateurs could do better than that. The confusion would be funny if it weren't so dangerous. Drug-trafficers have gotten away with importing huge quantities of cocaine and marijuana into the country with phony registration, while on the other side of the coin, raids and arrests have been made on perfectly innocent people because of misconstrued registration. And you thought your local Department of Motor Vehicles was bad.

There are multiple reasons to get the records up-to-date. Airports use the registration for landing fees. Regulators use it for informing plane-owners of safety defects and technology updates. And yes, states use it for charging sales tax. Those are important matters, but they pale in comparison to the security threat all those missing and/or improperly-registered planes comprise.

The FAA long ago started computerizing the records, but so far all it has accomplished is confirming the number of aircraft that it can't account for. And, sorry to say, that number is growing, not shrinking. All airplanes registered in the United States have a "tail number" which always begins with the letter "N." From what we can see thus far, the N stands for "nullity." First of all, the number is easily altered for the convenience of the new owner, the terrorist, the drug-dealer, or anybody else who wants to fly that day. Many of the unaccounted-for planes are long gone to that aircraft graveyard in the sky, or are rusting in somebody's field, or are waiting for the estate of the deceased owner to sell and re-register the craft. But if only 10% of those aircraft are in the wrong hands, that's 11,900 disasters waiting to happen.

Potential terrorists could easily slip through the registration hole, while information about suspicious aircraft could lead to the seizure of the plane and arrest of the owner even though he thought he owned a legally registered plane and was using it solely for perfectly legal flying. So the FAA has gone into panic draconian mode.

Within the next three years, all plane registrations will be canceled and those who own or possess the craft will have to go through a new registration process. It's a start, though it will wreak havoc with banks, owners, federal offices. Ten years after 9-11, the FAA is doing the job it should have been doing all along. And if it had, these measures would not have been necessary, and we would have a much more realistic assessment of just how many potentially-dangerous aircraft there are out there--if any.

14 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk: you know what bothers me about this? I can understand this being the case pre 9/11, but now ten years later? I am probably letting my anti-federal-union bias show through, but gee whiz.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: That is probably the most important hole in federal thinking. OK, you blew it on 9-11, but who knew (or should have known)? Now, there is no excuse after nearly a decade for leaving potential terrorist delivery vehicles mis-identified, missing or simply unaccounted for. We don't know if N170301 is Fred Smith on his way to a shoe salesman's convention or Mohammed bin Killyall on his way to blow up city hall.

Tehachapi Tom said...

Hawk
Interesting topic and one of importance. Government meeting it's obligations shown wanting again.
Does border security come to mind?

Automobile registration is passively checked by police officers all the time. Some times just to pass the time on a slow day. This kind of checkups does once in a while produce unregistered or stolen or any number of violations.

When a violation is identified a routine traffic stop occurs. If proper documentation is produced that driver is on their way. If not, vehicles can and are impounded, court proceedings will be implemented fines and some times imprisonment results.

Airplanes do spend a significant amount of their time on the ground. Is it impossible for personnel on an airport to check validity of registration in passing? The owners purchase fuel, maintenance and must get clearance to take off and land. There are so many places where registration can and should be confirmed. Checks of this nature could be accomplished at little or no additional cost.

Most airports have mandated police officers who patrol the whole of the airport they should be doing this job as well.

The real question beyond where are the unidentified aircraft is cost.
Does any one know what the FAA has cost taxpayers to not do it's job?

LawHawkRFD said...

Tehachapi Tom: That's all true. The FAA is responsible for the overall condition of plane registration just as the DMV is responsible for auto registration. But actual day-to-day responsibility for enforcement lies with federal, state and local authorities. We are all cautioned to be wary and alert, and it's time to wake the FAA up. It needs to get its registration and intelligence houses in order and start activating cooperation with the "street cops" at the earliest possible time.

ArmChairGeneral said...

You know they are going to say the way we fix it is to create a special branch of the government that's sole existence and purpose is to count planes. Mr President do you have anything to say about this? "Furthermore, henceforth, so-on, ergo and in conclusion it is our absolute honor to bestow you good people with the new branch of the Breathe Peace to Planes division of the FAA."

LL said...

The warhead portion of a nuclear artillery shell (without the artillery casing) weighs about 80 lbs.

LawHawkRFD said...

ACG: And the worst part of hiring more FAA employees to count planes is they'll be counting them as they smash into buildings or release biochemical sprays. The Democrats simply don't comprehend the difference between quantity and quality.

LawHawkRFD said...

LL: I've heard multiple versions of just how large an actual nuclear weapon needs to be to reach destructive proportions. I claim no expertise, but I know it's much smaller than most people believe (though not as small as a suitcase--yet). 80 pounds makes sense.

LawHawkRFD said...

Apropos of absolutely nothing in this article (except Christmas, maybe), I've been watching the news reports about the midwest being buried in snow and even Florida suffering from below freezing temperatures. I'm watching that news between opening all my windows to the warm breezes of Caliente and hanging out washerloads of clothes because they smell and feel so much better than clothes dried in a dryer. The bright sun and warm breezes are drying them very quickly.

StanH said...

Close enough for government work. Just wait until these same idiots are in charge of our healthcare, no worries - - right!

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: Now all we'll have to worry about is what they mean exactly when they say "we've lost a patient."

AndrewPrice said...

Leave it to the government to lose something as heavily regulated and controlled as an airplane. . . actually, to borrow from Oscar Wilde, to lose one airplane is a mistake, to lose 119,000 airplanes redefines incompetence.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: LOL Of course the feds would simply call it "business as usual."

Individualist said...

Lawhawk

So I guess the Bermuda Triangle starts at the endpoint of the Democratic Caucus and yes there is a black hole in the vicinity...

its called Washington DC

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