Air Force One gets the bird

Polity: A particular form of political system or government.

The following is a fictional (barely) account of how federal officials might handle the undesirable effects of birds flying, willy-nilly, around our nation’s airports, thus putting birds, aircraft and passengers in harm’s way. The narrative could apply to any given time in the modern era; I encourage you to fill in the names of the participants as you see fit. This essay was inspired by an editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Cook These Geese.”

Some time ago we heard reports on the nightly news that one of the jet engines on Air Force One had ingested a wayward goose. It was in all the news. And, since it was in all the news, the honorable Senator from (pick your state and name, here), decided, as he is inclined to do whenever he hears the sound of a TV studio klieg light clicking on, that “There oughta be a law!” President (your turn, again) was on the flat-screen fifteen minutes later appearing in the White House press room agreeing with him, “It’s time to end this,” he said, “…and what are those in the other party doing about this? (You can select your own party, too.) Nothing. That’s right. Nothing.” Thus, at the President’s urging, and as shepherded by Senator so-and-so, the Senate leadership, whose collective knowledge of the aviation industry, and birds in general, could be summarized in a word (zilch), quickly assigned a young crew of twenty-something Congressional staffers to draft a new law prohibiting birds from flying in the proximity of airports in the U.S. The legislation was soon passed on a partisan vote in the Senate, by a squeaker in the House (it could have gone either way—you decide) and signed into law with great fanfare by the President.

The bill, which was entitled the Bird Protection of Ordinary Planes Act (quickly picked up by the media as “B-POOP”), was 2,476 pages in length, and required funding for a new federal regulatory agency that would be created for the purpose of upholding this new law of the land. Therefore, in short order, 17,264 new federal workers were recruited, trained, uniformed, credentialed and dispatched throughout the country at an annual cost to the taxpayers of $4.2 billion dollars in perpetuity, plus inflation, along with $8.6 billion for various earmarks that had nothing whatsoever to do with birds or airports. The employees of the newly minted agency were immediately unionized under the American Federation of Government Employees.

In order to expedite the drafting of the bill, congressional staffers enlisted the assistance of their counterparts at the IRS and the Securities and Exchange Commission, with whom they routinely shared their lunch hour. Any U.S. citizen who has completed his or her own federal tax return will not find the results unusual. Excerpts are as follows:

“Section 492(a)(c), Non-Permissible Flight Area (NPFA): No bird flight shall be allowed at any time within 500 yards of a U.S. airport.

“Section 492(a)(d), Restricted Permissible flight Area (RPFA): Bird flight shall be allowed in the RPFA, which is defined as that area between 500 yards and 1,000 yards of a U.S. airport. However, from the period of first sunrise to sunset, no bird shall fly in the RPFA at an elevation to exceed six feet from the ground. After sunset, birds in the RPFA shall not fly higher than 275 feet above average ground level, or 375 feet above average ground level if at least 80% of the airfield lies at 1,250 feet above sea level during periods of high humidity, which is defined herein as humidity equal to or higher than 90%, on average, over any consecutive eight-hour period. Those birds with special needs shall be allowed to fly above this level following the completion and submission of Regulatory Form 8765(a)(k), which must include a veterinarian’s certification of need (Form 6766) and filed with the agency within thirty days of need. The certifying veterinarian must be a “Qualified Provider,” as defined under the Act, Section 2456(a)(f). [A veterinarian may be designated as a “Qualified Provider” following completion of the service, experience and testing requirements required under the Federal Qualified Providers Certification Program, which is expected to become available no later than June 2015]. Flying speed at any time may not exceed nine miles per hour.

“Birds shall not aviate in the RPFA in flocks at any time consisting of more than three participants, each of which must be no closer to one another than 8.5 feet. Any bird witnessing the imminent landing or takeoff of an aircraft of any description while aviating in the RPFA must immediately seek a landing site no higher than Standard Tree Level [see Section 1116(a) regarding maximum allowable tree levels in the RPFA]. Wing flapping is acceptable, but only below 60 feet, unless the bird can provide evidence of reasonable cause to avoid injury under the Act (Special Dispensation Form 243A).

“Any bird violating these restrictions will be subject to immediate capture, tagging and release at some other location, as deemed appropriate by the Agency. Repeat offenders will be subject to possible incarceration at the zoo nearest in proximity to the airport at which they were captured following review by agency representatives. Any birds not versed in soaring at higher altitudes (rather than flapping their wings) shall attend a minimum of six weeks or maximum of twelve weeks, as deemed appropriate by local Agency officials, of remedial instruction in soaring, at the full expense of state governments. States shall also be responsible for providing veterinarian services from a Qualified Provider to any bird who has suffered an injury from aircraft when abiding by these regulations. Those state governments not willing to accept this cost shall forfeit all federal airport subsidies until in compliance.“

Coincidentally, faculty from the Senator’s alma mater, (go for it) University, where the Senator is a member of the Board of Trustees, were recruited by the agency to develop the sensing equipment required to keep track of the birds’ activities. Perimeter sensors and video cameras were arrayed at every airport throughout the land.

Next, it was necessary to devise a means by which all avian nesting, or otherwise conducting bird-like activities, within an RPFA could be informed of the new rules promulgated under B-POOP. However, a scientific study initiated by the Agency at a cost of $5 million revealed that birds probably could not read (there was little consensus on this issue among the scientists involved in the study). The scientists, however, had established positive proof that birds could hear. Therefore, loudspeakers were installed at all U.S. airports, with the rules blaring out all day and night.

Unfortunately, the birds seemed to be slow learners. Thus, the newly minted federal employees immediately began trapping the recalcitrants and then tagging and trucking them to the outskirts of town for release. In short order, however, the “green” lobby announced that four of the 827,232 birds caught, tagged, documented and released in the first month of the program had been seriously injured in the process. These four birds, through self-appointed legal counsel, sued the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act in a class action on their own behalf and any others who may have been injured, but had not yet noticed. Attorneys throughout the U.S. immediately began a comprehensive search for other plaintiffs who deserved to get what they deserved.

In response, the Agency lobbied Congress to approve a $50 million dollar, one-time grant to Joe’s Nets, Inc., a startup company in Senator so-and-so’s state, to build gentler and kinder nets. In short order, though, the company, which was owned by the Senator’s brother-in-law, Joe, found itself in receivership, since the states had found equally competent providers in their own jurisdictions at lower cost. Congress then approved an additional annual subsidy of $100 million to any company that manufactures nets in compliance with B-POOP. Shortly after receiving its share of the additional subsidy, Joe’s Nets, Inc. was able to re-hire its employees and provide its products to its customers at half the price. The President immediately skipped up to the podium in the Rose Garden. “Look at all these new jobs! And the states are getting their nets for half the price! This is how America works!” he said.

Less than one year after the act became the law of the land, a Chinese jetliner ingested a covey of quail in one of its four engines on approach to LA International Airport. Although the plane landed safely, Secretary of State (your turn again) was quickly dispatched to Beijing to assure Chinese leadership that the incident was unintentional. He/she also, once again, thanked the Chinese government for buying U.S. Treasuries, money from the sale of which was needed to fund the Agency until such time as Congress could figure out a way to raise the money via a tax without anyone knowing it was a tax.

Shortly thereafter, Congress abruptly postponed its scheduled nationally televised emergency hearings by which they planned to finally get to the bottom of how certain NBA teams unfairly had basketball players on their rosters who were taller than those found on other teams. This postponement cleared the calendar for Congress to conduct three months of extra-emergency, nationally televised hearings on the L. A. airport incident. Hence, a probe was conducted, countless sound bites were aired, and, at the conclusion, Agency heads rolled. President (so-and-so) hopped up to the podium in a heartbeat and said, “We have made progress, but we need to do more…”

Following the conclusion of the hearings, and six months of gridlock in the Senate over who would replace the terminated Agency director, the president named a new appointee while Congress was out of session. The new director immediately assured all Americans, as well as foreign officials, that never again will any aircraft operating in the U.S. have a run-in with a bird.

Two days later, an American Airlines jet ate a Canadian goose while on approach in Tampa. The plane landed safely. Nevertheless, lawyers sued on behalf of the deceased birds’ families. The Senator was back in the spotlight. Twelve minutes later, the President was trotting up to the podium in the East Room. “We have made progress, we always make progress, but we always need to do more…”

All Americans residing outside of Washington, D.C. missed the President’s speech. They were watching “Idol.”

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