chapter 23

The Rules

    There is a great deal to be told about this occupation, about this

strange interface between agriculture and aviation. There is the

never-ending encounter with red tape of all sorts. There are countless

rules, and laws, and regulations, and requirements. There is the constant

interaction with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of

Agriculture, the state and local law enforcement agencies, the EPA, the

OSHA, suit-hungry lawyers, angry farmers, bootleg chemical salesmen,

and hard-eyed bill-collectors.

    Early in the game, the beginner crop-duster comes to recognize that it

is impossible to follow this trade and remain within the constraints of the

law. There are just too many laws out there. Too many laws, too many

rules, too many regulations, too many restrictions, too many requirements

levied by countless people, agencies, bureaus, governments. To start with,

it is impossible to figure out what all the rules are. There are just too

many. If a man made an honest effort to live by all the rules, he would

first have to hire a full-time secretary, a full-time research assistant, and

a full-time attorney just to find out all the rules.

    Consequently, the men who fly crop-dusters tend to be a little bit

out-laws at heart. The best way to live in this out-law profession is simply

not to go around asking people, agencies, bureaus, and governments if

they have rules that apply to you. Don't worry, they'll find you soon

enough.

    And believe me, they will have plenty of rules that apply to you. They

will have rules, and forms, and requirements, and regulations. They will

have directives, and guidelines, and procedures, and authorizations. They

will have questions for you to answer, and recurring reports for you to

make, and requirements that neither you nor they understand. And they

will have fees, and fines, and an exceedingly large amount of paperwork

that will be mailed to you by the ton, and applicable to you, and essential

to you, and will be stacked in cardboard boxes and collect cobwebs for

years to come.

    But bureaucrats are people too, and something must be said in their

defense. After all, they are only "trying to do their job". And if ever an

army of men was given an impossible job to do, it is that group of

bureaucrats given the task of taking care of crop-duster pilots.

    The most important goal to all bureaucrats, next to keeping their job, is

to take care of other people. Especially those people who don't want to be

taken care of. And the crop-duster pilot, engaged in an absurdly

dangerous job and highly resentful of anybody telling him how to do it, is

probably the most difficult of all professionals to take care of. Woe be unto

the poor bureaucrat who is assigned the job.

    But there is a solution. The Bureaucrats soon learn that they can not

only take care of this poor fellow, but also protect their own jobs, by

compiling vast data on the dangers of this occupation. Simply by

conducting exhaustive research on the multiple ways crop-duster pilots

have devised to kill themselves over the years, the bureaucrats can soon

generate exhaustive requirements that will assure that no crop-duster

pilot will ever again engages in these dangerous actions. But of course, to

assure that the reluctant pilot recognizes these dangerous actions and is

instructed in avoiding them, the pilot must first be compelled to

thoroughly familiarize himself with the vast body of literature compiled in

order to take care of him.

    Best of all, the bureaucrat can now require the pilot to prove that he is

knowledgeable of the content of this literature before being "allowed" to

fly. The pilot can be lectured, and instructed, and tested, and compelled to

attend training classes.

    And after the mind numbing indoctrination finally ends, and the pilot

stumbles out the door and goes right back out and kills himself, the

remorseful bureaucrat not only knows in his heart that he did his best, but

he can also produce a thick file to prove it. All concerned can now sigh

sorrowfully, shake their heads wisely, and sadly note that in spite of all

their best efforts the man simply wasn't abiding by the rules.

    And life goes on. The pilot is dead because he violated the basic rule of

all life, "take care of yourself". His fellow pilot scores that rule a little

deeper into his own heart, and the bureaucrat solemnly closes his file and

is advanced a pay-grade.

    But the files endure forever. Like bedrock, they become the corner

stones on which we build our lives. The files are there, to be reviewed by

the succeeding waves of bureaucrats. To be examined by the attorneys, by

the judges, by the legislatures. To be gleaned through and extracted from

by the investigators, by the insurance examiners, by all the people who

have a bone to pick, a case to make, a point to prove.

    Yes, the files remain. The files that prove conclusively that the compiler

was doing his job. The files that show clearly that the studies were made,

the reports were written, the test was administered, the square was

checked, the requirement was levied. The training was completed, the

record was recorded, the rule was published, the authorization was signed,

the inspection was made, the form was filled out, the briefing was

conducted, the individual was counseled, the rule was enforced.

    The files remain to give eternal evidence that everyone did his job

correctly.  Except, of course, for the pilot, who, unfortunately, is dead.

    But it wasn't the bureaucrat's fault. He did his job and did it well. The

files are there to prove it. But what the bureaucrat eternally fails to

understand is that he didn't have anything to do with it one way or the

other. Of course it wasn't his fault. It was the pilot's fault.

    It was the pilot's fault and he knew it even as it was happening. He

knew it then, and surely he knows it now. No pilot who ever lived,

confronted with the final moments of that life, cried out, "I'm fixin' to bust

my ass, and it's all the fault of that damn bureaucrat!"

    Nope, that ain't what pilots think when they are staring at the bitter

end. I have no way of knowing the final thoughts of all those who went

before. No doubt they were varied, and as unique as the men who choose

aviation as a way of life. But I think I am on firm ground when I state that

no pilot ever went to meet his maker muttering about the shortcomings

of some bureaucrat.

    And life goes on.

    The experienced pilot has long ago learned that the only way to get the

job done is to endure those who are dedicated to the thankless job of

taking care of him, and to take care of himself. He learns to use common

sense. He learns to go about his business and avoid doing those things

that are foolhardy, dishonest, or immoral.

    And most of all, he never forgets the basic rule of all life, "take care of

yourself".

 

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