At one time, Americans used the term “public servant” to refer to those they elected to office. But for many years, the vast majority of elected officials are more inclined to be self-serving than focused on the common good. That’s the case with a new proposal by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., who wants to relax medical requirements for pilots of small planes.
It might be tempting to view Inhofe’s actions in keeping with the classic Republican mantra of “less regulation, more freedom” – a noble notion that’s almost been shoved aside these days by candidates who try to form their own state-run news agencies and clamp down on the media’s pursuit of their First Amendment guarantees. But those who keep up with current events will recall that Inhofe, now 81, is a pilot – and one who has had a couple of “near misses” in his own private plane.
Inhofe, who has had a quadruple heart bypass, is trying to do away with the requirement that a pilot have a statement from a doctor declaring there’s no medical condition that might impede that pilot from flying a plane safely. Can anyone doubt it’s his own precarious health that’s got him worried? Furthermore, the octogenarian senator has apparently attached his proposition to a key defense bill, literally holding hostage national security for his own purposes.
Inhofe is essentially going back on his word, which is all to common in politics these days. He had earlier inserted into the defense bill a “pilots’ bill of rights” to make the health approval process easier and to help pilots challenge FAA enforcement they deemed unfair. After a compromise was struck, the clause was added to a bill Congress signed into law over the summer. It will allow about 200,000 pilots flying craft weighing less than 6,000 pounds and with up to six seats to avoid the semi-annual medical certification by an FAA-approved examiner. Pilots can also get physicals from doctors of their choosing, and the physicians only have to swear no serious medical conditions exist.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and other groups said the former system was too expensive and the product of a bloated bureaucracy, and they were probably right. Recreational flying has fallen off, partly because of restrictions and partly because of the expense. But the pilots’ association probably won’t go back to the trough a second time with Inhofe, because its members realize asking a pilot to make an assessment of his own health is creating a paper tiger. Many avid aviators might be reluctant to take themselves out of the loop – and that’s the case with Inhofe, who refuses to acknowledge the dangerous incidents he’s already perpetrated.
Several other senators oppose Inhofe’s move, pointing out civil aviation policy alterations don’t belong in a military policy bill. They’re right, but riders are par for the course in the dog-eat-dog world of the beltway.
More concerning is the fact that, just as people eventually become too old to drive cars through slower reaction times, impaired senses and possible loss of mental acuity, they also become to old to fly. And in the case of flying, it’s easy to see how a considerably higher number of lives could be at stake if a crash occurred.
Inhofe needs to quit thinking about himself and focus on his constituents – before voters decide he’s too old to effectively serve them. In some quarters, that’s already the case.