Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

Why I Don't Live Near The Santa Monica Airport
Now, I'm not one of those "fear of flying" nitwits who'd drive 10 hours instead of taking an airplane at the sight of a raindrop. Barry Glassner, I think it is, tells a story about that: A woman's in San Francisco, and it starts pouring rain. Instead of flying back to Los Angeles as planned, she cancels her plane ticket, rents a car, and drives back to L.A....statistically multiplying to some enormous extent her chances of biting it in a crash.

Think for a minute about who's on the road: Somebody's 90-year-old granny, a drunk guy who just got fired, some kid who got his license 20 minutes ago. Commercial pilots, on the other hand, are highly trained and tested. Sure, you sometimes hear about one being hauled off from the airport for stinking of gin. But, for the most part, I feel much safer in a commercial airplane than I do in a car, and statistics back me up.

If only we could say the same vis a vis the weekend wingnuts who go puttering around in small planes; a good many of them from the Santa Monica Municipal Airport. Sure, some of the pilots of small private planes are very experienced; maybe even many of them. And then...there are those who take a dive down somebody's chimney...or into somebody's Manhattan living room. For example, from the Santa Monica Airport link:

In 2001, an inexperienced pilot rented a Cessna 172 from Justice Aviation at the airport and subsequently lost control of the aircraft over the Pacific Ocean upon encountering dark, instrument meteorological conditions. Three were killed. [3]

Later that year, the pilot of a twin-engine Cessna failed to remove the device that locks the control system for parking (to prevent wind damage) and two were killed when the aircraft overran the runway after an unsuccessful aborted takeoff. [4].

Cory Lidle apparently did have a flight instructor with him, and the facts of the crash will become clearer as the days go by, I'm sure. But, this crash reminds me, I just love the people who have to do these really asshat things -- sky-dive, bungee-jump, mosey around in small planes. If you're sky-diving, chances are it's only your own ass you're endangering. But, in a small plane...what makes you think you have the right to endanger the rest of us...just because what, you're bored because there's no state fair or NASCAR on TV over the weekend?

P.S. From the CNN report linked above:

(Watch witness accounts of cascading fireballs and a plane split in half -- 1:58 Video)

Cascading fireballs? As somebody who used to rollerskate and cycle around Manhattan, thanks, but it was hard enough avoiding drivers opening their car doors in the bike lane.

Posted by aalkon at October 12, 2006 12:25 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


I just said this same exact thing to a co-worker yesterday. Back when we were house-hunting 10 years ago, our realtor kept trying to show us houses right in the SM flightpath. All it took was one low flyover by what the pilots call a "fork'd-tail-doctor-killer" while we were eyeing the backyard, and I knew I didn't want to wake up with a propeller in the bed.

Posted by: deja pseu at October 12, 2006 5:53 AM

A nose cone...well, that's a different story!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 12, 2006 6:30 AM

Heh. And don't get me started about the black box.

Posted by: deja pseu at October 12, 2006 6:37 AM

Or, in my case, the burning bush. Sorry, it's early, but I'm just not that mature.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 12, 2006 7:10 AM

Huh, sugertits and a firefbush. You got it all, girlfriend.

Any airport that boasts a restaurant named The Hump is OK by me.

Posted by: Hasan at October 12, 2006 7:42 AM

Huh, sugartits and a firebush. You got it all, girlfriend.

Any airport that boasts a restaurant named The Hump is OK by me.

Posted by: Hasan at October 12, 2006 7:43 AM

Sorry about the mess, cleanup in aisle three.

The NYT has this bitchin' breakdown of the crash...

Posted by: Hasan at October 12, 2006 7:48 AM

Hey, greetings from Lisbon, y´all. The world´s a beautiful place. Be sure to see more of it before it´s entirely destroyed.

See you in Paris, muy soon Amy!

besos y abrazos,
Santa Lena

Posted by: Lena at October 12, 2006 8:05 AM

Was just thinking about you! I'm awaiting word on an apartment. Nervewracking! But, I can't wait to see you! Les Escargots, Le Kili, et more!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 12, 2006 8:49 AM

Trivia: the "forktail doctor-killer" is the Beechcraft Bonanza, which empennage consists of two surfaces arranged in a "V" - as opposed to the inverted or upright "T" of more-conventional planes. It earned its reputation because doctors have a tendency to try to transfer their authority as a doctor to the cockpit, and because they work long hours and do not get enough practice. The "V" tail imparts a roll moment with hard "rudder" application opposite the direction of roll imparted by the ailerons; at "low" speeds this can cause confusion as to what the plane is doing - never a good thing. Beechcraft offers "conventional" aircraft also, for those who don't like the handling of the Bonanza.

Now for the non-trivial part.

Amy, I'm going to be rude to you on your own blog; delete me if you must - but damn all of you who squeak one day about not being able to get all the drugs or other personal liberties you want, then turn around and demand that anything else that speaks of personal liberty, risk and accomplishment be banned!

How on Earth can you mix up risks like this and possess a thinking brain cell? Why do I ask? Because you're doing the same damned thing your neighbors do to get what you want to do banned: squeal about risk.

What is life worth? A lot, right? Well, what does life consist of? Walking to Starbucks, chatting on-line, and calling the police on loud neighbors and barking dogs... every real and imagined slight one can experience packed into the Earthquake State? (Or anywhere else, for that matter...) Or is life about picking your path and taking it?

I'm amazed that so little thought has gone into this. Just where do you think professional pilots spend their spare time? Do you know anything about private pilot training? These people are responsible to a degree unmatched by any nitwit in a Humvee you might notice - and have you noticed that pilots know they are the first to the scene of a crash? Do you know that pilots must take in-flight emergency training, while you only had to fog a mirror to buy a car?

I suspect that the only time you have noticed an airplane is when it intrudes on your concentration. Please. Go by a bookstore and look at a copy of Flying, or one of the dozen-odd other publications about general aviation.

By the way: Mom was a member of The 99's. You know, like Sally Ride, Jacqueline Cochran, Amelia Earhart. Go tell them they're a menace, engaged in frivolity.

The answer is not to ban the activity, but to insist on good schools - and not the kind the public-school system has, either.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 12, 2006 6:55 PM

Rad, don't get your panties in a wad, and I would never delete you (unless, of course, you post libelous statements about somebody that will get my ass sued).

I don't want to BAN anything. I just wish people would think (and train properly) before they risk not only their lives but ours, too.

Did it escape you that I feel quite safe with commercial pilots, but would not want to move into the flight path of the flying weekend warriors?

I like professional pilots (and, in fact, all sorts of men in uniform). I sat next to a pilot on the way back from Ft. Worth, and asked him about planes and flying much of the way home.

Oh yeah, and I LOVE flying and I marvel at planes all the time, along with other forms of technology that remove constraints from our lives -- like the Internet, the affordable, portable personal computer, and the cell phone. Just don't shout into yours next to me, or I might start singing. Badly. Or break in and suggest you get a muzzle. Unless you look armed, in which case, I'll pretend I'm too engaged in staring at the ceiling tiles to be bothered.

A word of advice: Read before you rage!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 12, 2006 7:42 PM

Ms Alkon,

Well, Radwaste may have been a bit 'rude' to you, but he did give warning. And he is largely correct and you are seriously off-base. But then you are in the business of giving personal life advice to people you've never met, which seems to me to be a sort of widely accepted journalistic scam, like astrology (not that you are alone).
My advice to the Advice Goddess is to stick to those schtiks which you actually know something about. Which certainly isn't aviation, professional or private, or anything like that, or anything even near that.
Sometimes you make sense, but not this time.

Posted by: Gerry at October 12, 2006 9:00 PM

I didn't find Rad the least bit rude, but I find you presumptuous.

Astrology is bullshit.

For my column this week alone, I read a chapter from a book being edited by Robin Dunbar (the part by a prof in Germany on his research on attraction by smell -- to somebody whose Major Histocompatibility Index differs from your own), plus an NYU study on how interracial dating may be a solution to human tribalistic tendencies, plus bits on xenophobia from E.O. Wilson and a number of other studies. All for one piece, about 550 words long, from a guy who was accused of having an "Asian fetish."

I don't pull my work out of my ass, and I suggest you read it before you make an ass out of yourself suggesting I do. You might read the piece, Groping For More, where I broke news about women and low sexual desire.

I guarantee you won't find that information in the typical agony aunt column -- let alone anywhere in the popular press, I'd imagine.

Because reason is the basis of my work (along with my bratty sense of humor) I don't need to sit down and psychoanalyze somebody for eons (which, by the way, is bullshit). I present the rational, ethical approach to a problem. Read my work and tell me where I'm wrong. And read Albert Ellis on why psychoanalysis is not only stupid but counterproductive and probably damaging. I don't have time (nor the interest) to educate you. I suspect you fly a small plane and you felt a need to insult me to feel better. Rad, likewise, took this post personally.

Furthermore, what's wrong with suggesting people shouldn't take so lightly hopping around in private planes, thus endangering the lives of the rest of us? Bet those people in the building the pitcher hit agree with me. Whaddya think?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 12, 2006 9:22 PM

Note to those who assumed "what makes you think you have the right..." means I want to ban people from flying private you see those words in there? No. I'm asking people to think. Starting with you, Gerry.

Read my work before you assume it's shit. If you actually find something disputable -- bearing out your claim that I'm just a purveyor of some journalistic scam...well, bring it on.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 12, 2006 9:33 PM

The goddess writes:

I like professional pilots (and, in fact, all sorts of men in uniform).

I prefer getting them out of uniform.

Gerry writes:

But then you are in the business of giving personal life advice to people you've never met, which seems to me to be a sort of widely accepted journalistic scam, like astrology (not that you are alone).

If you find dispensing advice based on tried and proven research on human behavior to be on a par with the completely unproven field of astrology, you're obviously irrational. Based on what I read in "Free Will Astrology," I've come to the conclusion that if you make your predictions vague enough, you can be spot on 100% of the time. "You will urinate some time today." Oooh, I'm psychic...

Posted by: Patrick at October 12, 2006 11:12 PM

Amy, my point is simply that pilots don't take "hopping about in private planes" lightly. There is no element of flying which is trivial.

I appreciate the research you do to back up the points you make in your advice column; I am also certain you haven't done any in this case. Here's something which should be obvious to you: the next time you are on a commercial flight, look at the ground, and notice just how sparsely populated the ground is. That's one of the two reasons why fatalities and injuries on the ground are so rare in general aviation crashes. The other is that pilots do everything they can to avoid dying and/or killing other people.

And you can't just walk up and get a pilot's license.

It occurs to me that some of the self-enforcing rules of flight are a mystery; People know you can't just stop and get out if you do something stupid - maybe - but the defenses against doing stupid things are many. Here are some of the things pilots have to do which are enforced by physics, and not just aviation laws.

1) It takes between 1 and 2 minutes per thousand feet of altitude to land the plane in the case of an emergency, because the potential energy of altitude has to be dissipated in the descent. That's if you're already over the airport.

2) Hazards to the airplane come from all directions. Unlike you in your Insight, a pilot has to look about 45 degrees up and down as well as all around while flying near any other concentration point for air travel - which is not just near airports. Another private plane at just a half-mile away is the apparent size of a mosquito on the Lexan™, and it can be approaching at over 400 feet per second relative to you.

3) An unexpected power loss in some situations requires extreme measures and some cold calculation to avoid damaging the airplane and the people in it, so a) fuel is specially blended, sampled in the truck, in the tank and at the airplane periodically to make sure it's the right stuff and isn't contaminated, b) engine mechanics maintain a "chain of custody" in extensive quality controls, which requires that no parts be substituted with cheaper, uncertified units, and which leads to them in case of a culpable engine failure, c) the flight time between overhauls of the airframe and engine is logged; a missing log means big expenses to inspect its subject...

So the mechanic pretending to tune your Insight can drop a spark plug, pick it up and put it in anyway. The one who worked on Pop's Bellanca, or Mom's Navion, had to throw it in the trash.

None of this eliminates error. My point is simply that you aren't talking about teens in lowered Hondas cruising the bars. The point of flying is flying. The point of car travel is everything else but the car.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 13, 2006 8:09 AM

I'm not talking about commercial pilots. As I pointed out, I feel much safer with them at the helm of a plane than I do on the road myself braving others behind the wheels of cars.

I'd trust a commercial pilot in a private plane same as I would a commercial pilot flying a 747. It's the hobbyists who scare me.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 13, 2006 8:31 AM

>The point of car travel is everything
> else but the car.

I agree with both of you about everything in this thread, but the sentence above refutes all that's worthwhile about American teenage masculinity.

"What you got under there, Dude? Turbocharged? No shit..."

Posted by: Crid at October 13, 2006 8:06 PM

So, Amy -- what's the difference between a commercial pilot in his Cessna and me? (Yes, that's a heavily loaded question!)

Posted by: Radwaste at October 14, 2006 5:39 AM

Well, some are qualified, and some only think they're qualified. For example, from this Salon link:

So far, the National Transportation Safety Board has said it doesn't know whether the plane had a mechanical problem. The propeller was still turning when the plane hit the building. That suggests the engine was still running. There was no indication that the pilot had issued a distress call.

Some aviation experts said that it could come down to a lack of experience by the pilots.

Lidle was new to both flying and to his plane, a Cirrus SR20. His instructor, Tyler Stanger, was a veteran pilot and teacher, but the 26-year-old Californian had limited experience flying near Manhattan.

That might have made for a less-than-perfect mix in the narrow aviation corridor just east of the city's skyscrapers, on a less-than-perfect day of low clouds and limited visibility.

Paul Czysz, professor emeritus of aeronautical engineering at St. Louis University, said the accident was probably the result of inexperience.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 14, 2006 8:02 AM

Hmm. So, again: what's the difference between a commercial pilot in his Cessna and me?

Posted by: Radwaste at October 14, 2006 1:45 PM

Amy, since you love flying, let me encourage you to visit one of the truly awesome airshows put on in California from time to time.

Imagine: a P-51 Mustang doesn't roar, it rips through the sky - if its Rolls-Royce doesn't make you want to jump Gregg's bones, you're just deaf. Then, an F4U Corsair or an F8F Bearcat (the favorite plane of Neil Armstrong) will growl by as if a giant invisible cog mechanism was drawing it along, nearly three thousand cubic inches of supercharged radial engine bulling it through the air. Antique after antique lines the taxiway, tended by those obsessed with flying artwork. In a big way, it's a shame that so many beautiful machines were built for wartime.

After the propellor-driven boys are done, an F-16 will thunder off the runway on blue flame, immediately bank in front of you as if it were a cue ball on the bumper, roll again and boost straight up - for eight miles. The entire show, I can hear the '16 saying, "To hell with propellors. Here's how it's done." The pilot will turn 360 degrees, in front of you, so hard you'll wonder where the tether is attached.

The last show I attended, my wife wondered why I was jumping up and down like a small boy - I had just seen a Starfighter on its takeoff roll through a gap in the crowd. As its roar reached us, I explained that there is only one in private hands, that being all engine it holds speed records... they got special clearance to cross Florida - it took them 17 minutes, Tampa to Titusville, about 130 miles, and if he'd been allowed to use full throttle it would have taken him five... one version was even fitted with thrusters to control it at the altitude it could reach - over 100,000 feet. Are you impressed by a plane that can show you stars in the sky when the sun is still up?

There are a lot of people, including the aeronautical equivalent of Nobel Prize winners, in general aviation. Take a look at . I think you'll like it. Such people think of horizons not as distant things, or as obstacles, but as signs that there is more to do and see.

There is the sad probability that all this will leave you unimpressed, but the airshow remains a fine example of the real capability of people, as they imagine a thing no one else can and then build it. That's a good thing to remember as we rant about the latest political or personal gaffe.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 14, 2006 3:57 PM

Hmmm. It occurs to me that one kind of flying is merely "passengering". That's kind of like reading Playboy - interesting, but you can't touch anything. Can you imagine a life as a spectator, in that regard?

"I'd trust a commercial pilot in a private plane same as I would a commercial pilot flying a 747. It's the hobbyists who scare me."

Take a look at - the Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Center. It's not all that pretty, either. There are an awful lot of assumptions people make about flying that have the same percentage of superstition and lies as any other assessment based on hearsay.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 18, 2006 2:51 AM

scott crossfield: test pilot, astronaut. killed in his cessna 210 trying to push the weather.

happens to the best, especially when they get complacent or overconfident.

Posted by: g*mart at October 18, 2006 3:43 AM

scott crossfield: test pilot, astronaut. killed in his cessna 210 trying to push the weather.

happens to the best, especially when they get complacent or overconfident.

Posted by: g*mart at October 18, 2006 3:45 AM

Leave a comment