Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Stupid Mistake of the Week...Maybe Month..Heck, YEAR

As a erstwhile pilot myself, I know full well the sheer, visceral attraction of flying. Even though my budget, my spare time, and other considerations confine me to letting someone else do the driving, I still get that intense thrill when the wings bend and Bernoulli's magic pushes a plane aloft. Precisely because of those reasons, though, I also understand the disappointment of having your pilot-in-command status taken away.

Part of the requirement of piloting virtually any form of powered aircraft in the United States is to regularly pass a medical examination as cleared by the FAA -- something which is never pleasant and quite often prone to screwups or outright manipulation, as happened to world-famous aerobatic pilot Bob Hoover. However, the necessity of doing this is obvious -- pilots absolutely must be in good physical condition, and most importantly, not subject to anything, especially recurring conditions, that will endanger them or their passengers. Driver incapacitation in a car moving at 60 miles per hour on the ground presents far less of an issue than it does in an aircraft moving at 160 miles per hour in the air.

However, as it seems, several pilots in California decided it was more important to fly than it was to be safe, and faked medical records to hide conditions like schizophrenia, drug and alcohol abuse, severe heart conditions, and incapacitating back pain that would have automatically disqualified them from flying. Worse, several of these individuals held commercial and airline transport pilots' licenses -- meaning they could fly commercial airliners. It's bad enough to put your family and friends, who at least have a snowball's chance of knowing about your condition, in danger -- but it's beyond reprehensible to put passengers who would have no way of knowing about your condition at risk. That's reckless endangerment at best.

Fortunately, karma, as it often does, stepped in to catch these pilots -- when they started collecting disability payments for the conditions they faked their records to hide.

My guess would be that the FAA is looking into crosslinking their database with insurers and state workers' compensation groups. There will be serious howls about data privacy when this happens.

All I can say is -- tough cookies.

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