The Great Debate: the worst FAA regulation is…

FAR/AIM book

There are plenty to choose from–which is the worst?

The FAA certainly gets its share of grief, and much of it is probably deserved. One of the most common complaints from pilots is the lack of common sense that is applied to the Federal Aviation Regulations (see the recent proposal for all airline pilots to hold an ATP certificate and the strong reaction). Often, the FAA’s view of flying and the job of a pilot seems completely divorced from reality. This can lead to rules that are impractical, ineffective or even unsafe.

But regulation is certainly a necessary evil. US airlines are currently enjoying the safest stretch of flying in history, with no fatal accident on a major airline in a decade. There are many reasons for this, but the FAA undoubtedly deserves some credit for creating an aircraft and pilot certification process that demands safety.

So how do we tell the good FARs from the bad FARs? Specifically, what is the right balance between safety and the utility we all want from our airplanes? Should the FAA focus more on how their regulations can hinder general aviation, or is it all about safety? And what do you think is the worst FAR of all?

Share your opinion below.

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61 Comments

  1. David Vandenbroeck says:

    44709, which grants FAA inspectors carte blanche to reexamine any airman at any time as they see fit without any due process.

  2. John says:

    3rd class medical requirement to fly myself, friends and family…

  3. Eliacim Cortes says:

    1. The prohibition to sport pilots to perform preventive maintenance on certified aircraft they own. How is a sport pilot different to a private pilot in terms of aircraft maintenance training????

    2. The third class medical for private pilots.

  4. Rusty says:

    Agreed…several years of Sport Pilot data with no medical-related problems (last I read) argues against the need for the 3rd Class medical.

  5. Mike B says:

    Maybe it is because I am only 24 and don’t particually have to worry about many common things keeping people from passing their medical…but I didn’t find it to be too big of a deal…

    • John says:

      yes, 24 probably has a lot to do with your view. as people age the medical history builds making the mandatory FAA reporting more burdensome. ah to be young again

    • Scott James says:

      Speaking for myself, but probably lots of others, the problem is “meds”, not the seeing and hearing stuff. I’ve always been in great shape, lots of exercise, etc. Still, after about 55 you end up on various medications that are not “approved”. Remember, generally speaking you can’t legally act as a crew member if you have been taking even over-the-counter medicines for colds, coughs, or sinus problems. So you are going to visit your local AME someday and when you list that medicine your doctor put you on he is going to say “So sorry, no more flying for you”.

      • william s. lyons MD says:

        does everyone understand that a failed medical means you cannot ever act legally as an LSA pilot? Your drivers license wont do, altho as long as you have one you can drive anywhere it’s legal, including night
        time and low visibility. So, what are the requirements for regaining LSA capability, once lost? Get a new drivers license? Something needs to be done; the absolute restriction is arbitrary, unfair and senseless.

  6. Capt Kate says:

    There are probably some “bad” regs, but in general they have gotten better over the years, mostly because the voice of reason has prevailed. I currently fly in Indonesia and the regs can be inexplicably confusing. I think because they can’t get rid of a reg once it’s in place, so it lingers years after it makes any sense.

    • Stephen says:

      That may be true for pilots, although I can certainly name some foolish regs that apply to us (new ATP requirements, 3 D-cell battery flashlight requirement for night flight and perhaps the medical requirements for private pilots) but the real BS starts when you look at the rules for repair stations and airlines. A good example is the installation of shoulder belts in single engine aircraft: certain airplanes are not approved to have one installed, so legally you are expected to go without a shoulder belt instead of having one that may well save your life–and this is in the interest of safety?

      • BillJ says:

        You 3 D cell rule is a little mixed up. The rule is in part 135 (charter) and says it must be at least 2 D cells or equivalent.

  7. I Hate AOPA says:

    If you can’t pass a 3rd class medical, you don’t deserve to fly. End of story.

    • Mr_Jefferson says:

      Ah, the almighty adjuticator has spoken… just do as he says… must be a left-seater for a major.

    • Eddie says:

      The problem is even if you pass the medical the FAA can come along and demand more tests that have nothing to do with flying ability and cost a lot of money. Now if you have deep pockets that’s fine but what if you are retired and not so affluent.

  8. Nonsense. Glider and balloon pilots have been flying for decades without medicals and their incapacitation rate is lower than that of pilots with medicals. The numbers for Sport Pilot back up the claim that the 3rd class in particular server no useful purpose whatsoever. The backlog for special issuances at the FAA is approaching six months. It’s time to dump the 3rd class.

  9. Peter van Schoonhoven says:

    How about some of those AD’s? A regulation in a different form. The Taylorcraft wing strut inspection one is a good example. One badly maintained floatplane crashes, suddenly all other Taylorcrafts must have biennial strut x-rays for corrosion. A misguided attempt to drum up business by the certificate holder so they can sell replacement struts. Or the Cessna Flap jack screw lubrication one? Nothing but regular maintenance would take care of it but now it has its own paperwork requirement.

    Oh, then there is the Light Sport 1320 pound gross weight limit. Let’s make the airplane really really light so it probably won’t be very strong or useful. Great plan, light sport has totally reinvigorated aviation…..yeah right!

    • Eddie says:

      It could reinvigorate Aviation, BUT not when the new aircraft cost over $100,000.
      Besides with the cost of fuel around $6 4-41/2 GPH sounds pretty good.

    • Eddie says:

      Oh yea I know a couple ex airline pilots who fly Ultra Lites and talk about how much they enjoy flying now.

  10. Hunter Heath says:

    When I worked in another regulated industry, and heard colleagues complain bitterly about the federal agency regulating us, I responded that if the agency didn’t exist, we would beg for one to be created. We would do so because of the need for an orderly marketplace, benchmarks for quality, and so on. Likewise, if there were no FAA, airmen would beg for it to be created, to bring order to the design, manufacture, and maintenance of aircraft, and to ground those truly unfit to be airmen. A wise FAA person once said that every air regulation is written in blood, and there’s some truth to that. With regard to the 3rd class medical, I have considerable knowledge that it does indeed keep some highly motivated but desperately unqualified people from flying. That said, accumulating evidence from the soaring and Light Sport communities might someday allow the FAA to loosen up further on the 3rd class medical. I was the founding chairman of the EAA Aeromedical Advisory Council in the 1980s, and the improvements in flight medical certification since then are amazing in retrospect. Be assured that, no matter what changes occur in the regulations, there will still be attention to the health and fitness of those wishing to fly certificated aircraft. The public expects and will demand it.

  11. Larry says:

    Saw a great t-shirt on the “Sporty’s” website recently called ‘The FAA Motto’, which states;

    “We’re not happy until you’re not happy”.

    ‘Nuf said…

  12. Brian Knoblauch says:

    I can’t pick out one in particular. The whole certification of the aircraft process is a major issue. While I like the idea in spirit, it has failed us in practice. We’re stuck flying around in the same old 1950′s technology due to the high cost of certification. There’s newer, more reliable parts out there, but we can’t use them as they’re not approved. They’re not approved due to the high cost of getting certification done. So, in the supposed interest of safety we fly around with much older less reliable equipment!

    • Aaron says:

      Agree with this. The certification process today is the major barrier to making flying more affordable. Affordable flying (airplanes with capability that cost less than $500,000), with technical advances, would open the door to more GA pilots and that’s good for all of us.

  13. Kayakj Jack says:

    This is aimed more at Congress than at FAA, but I think that before a new law or regulation is passed, two old ones have to be deleted. After a few years, that would clean out the hopper, and we could revert to just adding restrictions again.

  14. Richard Warner says:

    My beef is the requirement for an annual inspection on aircraft flown for recreation. We are wearing the airplanes out “taking them apart” once a year. As an A&P with I.A., I think this inspection could be done every two years or 100 hours whichever came first. Also, the 3rd class medical is a joke. You take the physical exam, 6 months later you develop a problem, but yet, you still have that piece of paper in your wallet that says you are healthy. I think the idea of taking the medical self evaluation course proposed by EAA/AOPA is a good idea, and for those who want to, nothing would prevent you from taking a 3rd class physical if that mede you feel healtthier. I know of people who have taken a physical exam and then dropped dead a few days later. Heck, I remember one of my fellow airline pilots took and passed his cardiogram while taking his first class physical and died of a heart attack before he left the doctor’s office.

    • Robert Baker says:

      As an owner who works with an IA to do an “owner assisted annual” every year I whole heartedly agree that every two years or 100 hours whichever comes first is more than sufficient. Due to the economic downturn I only flew 32 hours last year and I think that just taking all the screws out and and putting them back took a larger tool on the machine that any discovery that was made [which was none as expected]. I Know that I would have been totally safe flying another six to nine months before expending the time and money I just spent. -rb-

  15. Ray says:

    91.17(b) prohibits carrying of a passenger that appears intoxicated.

    Early in my Air Traffic Control career I would have put FAR 91.17(b) on this list until during my first solo mid-shift as a newly minted Air Force controller a Mooney nearly landed five miles short of the muni airport when the intoxicated passenger removed the mag key and dropped it on the floor. The pilot finally found the key and restarted. The dispatched police officer confirmed the passenger but not the pilot was highly intoxicated.

    I questioned this rule myself until this incident in 1961.

  16. Totila says:

    Part 23 has contributed significantly to the increasing cost of GA flying and might well be modified to allow something closer to the ASTM “certification” enjoyed by Sport Pilot aircraft. Maybe this would slow what appears to be an inexorable death march for light GA.

  17. Russ says:

    I am a Montanan who has concerns about government intrusion in our lives generally…that said, I don’t think the FAA does a bad job regulating flying. Think of this, if you don’t have an accident, you will probably never have to deal with the FAA.

  18. Scott James says:

    3rd Class Medical, hands down. Current rule proposed by AOPA would be much fairer. And as for the guy whow said “If you can’t pass a 3rd Class physical you don’t deserve to fly” – well, I have news for you buddy – your day is coming. Several of the comments were about certification cost and parts. I own several FAA component repair stations and if you knew what the costs were YOU WOULD GAG, and the regs get worse every year.

  19. John Johnson says:

    I always wondered how the FED got air travel while surface vehicle regulations continue to be the bailiwick of the individual states. I suspect if the states could regulate the air as well, they would be held more accountable and we’d have less industry killing regulation. Before anyone brings up the “can you imagine 50 different standards?”, we don’t have a problem with cars, and we, Canada, Mexico, and the rest of the world have managed to standardize air travel without all falling under a central government.

    • Lon Sobel says:

      The federal government got air travel, because the aviation industry asked for federal, rather than state, regulation. For the details, take a look at excellent book, Who Owns the Sky?: The Struggle to Control Airspace from the Wright Brothers On, by UCLA Law School professor Stuart Banner (Harvard University Press 2008).

    • SBarnett says:

      Interesting thought, John. Personally, though I am about as conservative as it’s possible to be :-) I think that the NAS is the proper sphere of the national government given that it covers the entire country and therefore could legitimately be put under the sphere of “interstate commerce.”

      Now whether that’s the best way to go or not….I don’t know. I like your comment on the “50 different standards” reply. Good point that many people miss.

      Thanks Lon for the book recommendation. Sounds fascinating.

    • Vic says:

      The ICAO and IATA standardize air travel internationally; technical cooperation is usually more successful between governments than political cooperation.

  20. LeRoy Froom says:

    FAR Part 61.113
    Incidental Business Flying Rules
    The language of the rule is plain. The FAA interpretation of the rule is bizarre.

  21. Gennaro Avolio says:

    For bad regs., how about the recent interpretation that an F-86 which can weigh more than 12,500 pounds is therefore a “Large Airplane” and must have a co-pilot. It’s really hard to fit him in the single cockpit. None of these airplanes are currently flying because of this.

  22. Rod Pollard says:

    Third Class Medical

  23. SBarnett says:

    Where do you start? It’s like asking which part of a despotic government is worse.

    My list, in no particular order of unbearableness:
    1. The compensation regs for holders of anything under a CPL. I can get paid to drive someone somewhere; why are planes any different. Answer? The airline lobby.

    2. The regulation of what work can be done by a pilot on their own airplane. It’s your own butt in the airplane, isn’t that motivation enough to do a good job?

    3. Ramp checks. They violate Amendment IV of the US Constitution. ‘Nuff said.

    4. Part 23 certification. Beyond the question of “Why on earth does the government get to tell us how to build airplanes?,” it has done nothing but stifle and suffocate GA.

    5. Mandating the addition of equipment to our planes. So….we argue over the “individual mandate” in ObamaCare, but this is ok? What am I missing?

    I could go on and on. The FAA (and by extension, the national government) is largely responsible, in my opinion, for most of the ills afflicting aviation, from high airline ticket prices to the reduction in active pilots in the country. We could get along with a lot less FAA.

    • g e king says:

      A freind of mine once had an incident when the gear failed to lock on one side and callapsed. just after an annual. I made a comment to the FAA inspecter that it just came out of annual, and he said you would be surprised at the number of accidents that happen JUST after an annual.
      Nuf said

  24. SBarnett says:

    BTW, to clarify my comment above, I DO believe that the FAA is a legit function of the national (Federal) government. But beyond airspace and traffic regulations, and some other minor things, I find much of the Administration hard to justify.

  25. Tom L says:

    As someone alluded to earlier the whole certification process is one of the single greatest factors leading to the decline of general aviation. The cost of introducing a new airplane is steep. It involves a small mountain of paperwork, takes years, and is a significant barrier to innovation. We are largely flying around airplanes with motors based on 70 year old technology. And if you want to get around all of the regulation, you can stamp “experimental” on your airplane and you’re good to go (Well it’s more than that but you get the point). As a result of all this regulation our choices are limited. A nicely equipped new 172 SP costs north of $307,500. Don’t get me wrong it’s a lovely airplane – but to put things into perspective one can buy a top of the line 2012 Rolls-Royce Ghost for $262,526 and that comes with a 6.6 liter 563 HP V12 and all the top technology and luxury money can buy. Now a Rolls doesn’t have wings and doesn’t fly (although many of the owners would debate this point) but the technology that goes into this hand built beauty is light years ahead of our venerable 172 which is essentially a vehicle from the 1950’s. So why can they make a rolls (one of the most expensive “production” cars) for 50K less than the 172 which is essentially the Toyota Camry of the skies. Why can’t someone build a 172 type of airplane without the g1000 that costs $50K? I mean the design has been around forever – shouldn’t the costs have gone down by now? Comparing further with the automotive industry, in the last 50 years it has exploded with innovation: computer controlled motors and steering, v8’s getting almost 30 miles to the gallon, whisper quiet interiors, silky smooth rides, and 100,000 mile worry free warranty’s to name a few. Even the least expensive new cars on the road today are vastly mechanically superior to any new piston driven GA aircraft – and they are much more affordable. Why? Because in the case of the automotive industry, the market and not the government was allowed to pick the winners and losers. The duds simply didn’t sell and eventually disappeared (albeit some hung around for far too long). In General Aviation all this certification stuff is done “In the name of safety”. We’ll for the most part new cars rarely have catastrophic failures – pistons shooting out of the hood and stuff like that. That wasn’t always the case of course – the early cars had all kinds of problems but the manufacturers, because of the intense global competition, had to make their cars safe & reliable – Their customers have demanded it. Why couldn’t this be the same for general aviation – specifically small airplanes flown by private pilots? I would even go so far as to say that the regulations have actually hurt safety. Zero progress has been made to help make airplane crashes more survivable – at least not when compared to cars who’s manufacturers have made great strides in that area. Could anyone imagine how difficult it would be under the current regulatory regime to certify an aircraft built with crumple zones or roll cages to protect its occupants? The regs make that all but impossible. There are now airbags in some aircraft but those have been in cars for quite a while. Another area where the regs have hurt safety is that the cost of buying new planes is so high that many people buy and fly actual 50 year old planes. An older plane can be safe though the cost of keeping it that way can be kind of a financial rubix cube. Anyone on this thread ever replace a gyro? I would propose to eliminate the certification process entirely for small private aircraft replacing it with a “5 Star Safety Rating System”. Instead of certifying the aircraft, the FAA could give a starred rating instead: One Star being the least safe and five stars being the safest. There must be enough data on hand at the FAA to be able to create such a rating system – and the manufacturers could be an integral part of the process. This would cut out a huge amount of the costs and red tape associated with certification while placing the burden of building safe airplanes on the manufacturers and the decision as to whether or not to buy the airplane in the hands of the customer/pilot where it belongs and not with the FAA as in the current system. It may sound crazy but I don’t know about you but I’d think twice about hopping into a plane with a 2 star safety rating! And I guarantee you that not a single manufacturer would build a substandard plane under this type of rating system. One low score and they would be toast.

    • SBarnett says:

      Tremendous points there, Tom. That final suggestion of yours is one of the best I’ve ever heard. As you demonstrated, it’s always best to let the free market determine these things.

      • Tom L. says:

        Thx my point is we need to change our approach if we are going to revitalize the ga market otherwise our kids will be flying planes based largely on 100 year old technology.

        • SBarnett says:

          Right. I agree. The rest of the technological world is advancing, why isn’t aviation. I think you had some great points there.

    • Tom Yarsley says:

      Tom L:

      Your points are well-taken, but any comparison with the automobile industry must include consideration of the manufacturing volumes, if the comparison is to be valid.

      High-volume manufacturing justifies tooling and processes that are impractical at low volumes. Arguably, there are more models of GA vehicles available than there are models of passenger cars. Yet the pax car marketplace is on track to swallow about 13 million vehicles this year. GA airplanes? We’ll be lucky if the entire industry builds 2,000 vehicles this year.

      For those of you in Rio Linda, that’s a factor of more than 6,000-to-1. I humbly suggest that if ANY GA manufacturer could count on selling 2 million planes per year (1/6 of the total, which is a nice share of the domestic auto market), we’d see remarkable changes in technology and cost (not to mention profitability).

      In terms of numbers, Cirrus is the “big dog” these days, with Cessna a close second. Yet each will sell fewer than 300 light aircraft this year. Little wonder that a new SR2x will set you back almost three-quarters of a million dollars.

      Certification costs are out of sight, but still, this industry suffers from too many offerings from too many manufacturers. In my worthless opining, by a factor of 10 – seriously.

    • Eddie says:

      The aircraft industry needs another Henry ford who lowered the cost of cars so people with out deep pockets could buy one. he also raised the workers pay so they could buy one.

  26. Mike F says:

    Many good comments above. To pick one regulation that I think should be dropped it would be the 3rd Class Medical. Yes, I have an SI which I can understand however only to a point… but the cost of the hoops I have to jump through every year to retain it is ridiculous.
    I like the AOPA proposal EXCEPT I fly an Arrow which wouldn’t qualify, sometimes carry more than 1 passenger, and fly at night on occasion.
    The overall cost of flying is driving people out of aviation, the FAA is not solely responsible for this but they have contributed.

  27. Cheryl B says:

    I really don’t have anything to add to the previous comments, since I agree with most of them. I write this only to add to the list of comments in hopes that someone in the FAA, who has the power to change things, reads this. I always want the freedom to fly.

  28. Paul says:

    Allow rental of experimental aircraft. This alone may take care of our expensive spamcan problem.
    Simplify language of regulations. Move unnecessary text from FARs to AIM.
    Remove 3rd class medical.

  29. John says:

    over regulation has ruined a lot of things..aviation, oil, financial services, housing, tax collection, healthcare. eventually wars & nation collapses re-set the reg books. politicians have to look like they are doing something/justify their existence/make things “fair” so they continaully add regulation. well guess what, life isn’t fair and never will be. eventually the system blows up.

  30. David Albright says:

    A long time ago flying part 135 you could fly IFR into any airport that had an instrument approch.
    The faa changed that so that there had to be weather reporting.
    I talked to the FAA about the new Reg. And the FAA said well just tell the passengers that the next 15 mins. is free.( cheat, brake the Reg.)
    I said yes and if I land and have a flat tire you will be the first one there to write me up.
    I got out of 135 flying and became a Corp.Pilot.
    Dave

  31. Bart M. says:

    One of the terrible things about FAA controls is the fact that thousands of older airplanes are flying with worn out, patched,sub-standard parts because the certified ones are priced out of the reach of many. Since a gas tank for one small plane costs $1800 almost no one buys one- they just keep flying with junk. Basically, the system is set up for one or two companies to monopolize the market. There are thousands of people in this country who could make this tank for one fourth the price with top quality. It is a sad story and it will continue.

  32. Robert Baker says:

    Shared costs should include the effective hourly amortized cost of owning an airplane not just fuel. Also the FAA should allow EAA Young Eagle pilots to receive fair shared fuel costs from their chapter if a chapter offers such reimbursement. -rb-

  33. Safety is like security, left entirely to those whose mission is to keep improving, like Zeno’s paradox, they will never achieve their goal and remain compelled to keep trying harder, until all risk is eliminated.

    Which is the same point at which all freedom has been taken away.

    The impact to freedom, or economy, is not felt by generally well-wishing bureaucracy. The doctor that grounds a pilot for something silly doesn’t feel the pilots loss in value of his $100,000 airplane or freedom. He is just being “extra safe.”

    I would say the only thing that currently “closes the feedback” loop is funding. When you take all the pilots away you don’t need the AMEs anymore. When you shut the airlines you don’t need the Tsa any more.

    But of course, by then, its too late.

    The White House has a “homeland economic counsel” which advises the president, regardless of who it is. Every POTUS listens. What they do as a result of what they hear varies. Usually the economic council only hears the impacts measured by the agency proposing the rule.

    The EPA says no economic impact. The FAA says no impact. Knowing nothing better the council goes “okay, analysis complete.”

    The worst rule is any rule in which the government agency remains if ignorant or self defiant, yet free to ignore the real impact on the economy. Or on freedom. Yeah, that too.

    The other worst regulation is any regulation in which congress has given free reign to a government agency, which eliminates political accountability. If a politician does something foolish he gets voted out of office; the only really final system of checks and balances.

    When congress delegates it authority and responsibility to a government agency, the rules coming from that agency are no longer accountable.

    Now you’ve got lots to pick from. Not the worst, but equally failed.

  34. Marc Fruchter says:

    I notice no one identified 91K as the worst regulation ever. Having been part of the Fractionally Owned Aircraft Regulating Committee (FOARC) that the FAA cobbled together to ram this monstrosity through I can tell you that it was–and is–a disaster!

    The FAA was too cowardly to face the fractional industry’s lawyers and enforce the commercial operating rules already in place so they forced a committee of industry insiders, dominated by the fractional industry and its lawyers, to adopt some very poor regulations to legitimatize the aircraft time-share industry. In order to accomplish even this boondoggle the FAA blatantly lied to the legitimate part 135 industry by promising to police the illegal charter problem.

    Unfortunately there have been a number of accidents directly attributable to the above-noted actions. When you remove the least price-sensitive segment of the legitimate charter market there is simply not enough demand for a quality operation to exist. The corner-cutters will always fill the vacuum and accidents are the very predictable result.

    We will continue to suffer the fallout from this debacle. However as disgusting as the 91K mess remains it is only symptomatic of the was the FAA continues to operate.

  35. John says:

    I whole heartedly agree with David Wartofsky’s point about the lack of political accountability once an “independent” agency is created. IMO, independent=unaccountable. It is a means of governing without the consent of the governed.

    The 3rd class medical is grossly out of proportion to the risks it purportedly addresses. Consider that in all of GA, about 500 deaths a year occur. How many are from medical impairment? Assume 10%, which is probably on the high side. That would be about 50 deaths a year from medical causes. What other cause of death, at this very low number, has a major federal bureaucracy policing it? None. To put it in perspective, comparable number of deaths are caused by falling out of bed, or lightning strikes. ( If you claim the low number is BECAUSE of the 3rd class medical, that would be refuted by the sport pilot data.)

  36. Dave says:

    We are about to lose our entire GA industry. I hope the FAA enjoys what it has accomplished in such a short time to separate the GA fleet into one bunch of old decrepit draggy planes and another bunch of unaffordable modern aircraft. The environmentalists will soon make our fuel illegal. When ObamaCare comes to full fruition, we will all be taking a memory stick to our flight surgeon which will contain EVERY drug we have ever taken, and every diagnosis we have ever gotten, and 80% of the GA pilots will be grounded on the spot. When there is no replacement pipeline for the airlines, then finally there will be long faces in Congress, and blue ribbon panels to find out “what happened”. It’s happening right now, folks, right in front of our very faces. It’s called BIG BROTHER.

  37. John Johnson says:

    “if you don’t have an accident, you will probably never have to deal with the FAA”

    Russ, I wish this was true. Today, I ordered a new pedestal cover for my Cardinal and for $180, I got a very flimsy piece of plastic, maybe $.50 worth of materials. I have no doubt the requisite PMA/STC and lack of competition (because of the high certification costs) drive the outrageous price, so I submit that we have to deal with the FAA every time we buy parts for certificated aircraft.

  38. Stephen says:

    This is probably the root of most of the problems pilots and GA in general face today.