Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sydney skies

On the front page of The Australian this morning, we find this photo of an RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] jet fighter, illustrating an article with a shock title: RAAF may use 'lethal force' for APEC.

Australians in authority often take themselves a little too seriously, to the point of getting carried away with their self-importance. We saw a striking case of this behavior recently in the conflict between a self-righteous government member and the Indian doctor suspected of abetting terrorists. Today we find a member of the air force, in charge of protecting the airspace over Sydney next week, telling reporters that "any pilots entering the area without a permit ran the risk of being shot down". This excessive kind of cowboy talk, coming from a senior military representative, would be hilarious were it not alarming. The RAAF would do better to go about its assigned business quietly and expertly, with no spectacular but unnecessary buzzing of central Sydney, and no front-page stories in the media.

There is indeed a nonnegligible risk that an unfortunate private pilot might be unaware that special airspace regulations are in vigor over the Sydney region during the APEC conference. One can even imagine such-and-such a member of a visiting delegation with a civilian pilot's licence, who decides to rent a small aircraft and spend an afternoon with his wife, taking aerial shots of the Blue Mountains, while naively ignorant of the fact that a so-called "lethal force" is operating in the nearby skies. Imagine the huge diplomatic incident that would ensue if rescuers were to find that the wreckage of a small aircraft, blasted out of the skies by an RAAF fighter, contained the charred remains of a junior cabinet member, say, of Brunei, Peru or New Zealand.

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