I'm glad the posting I made has stirred up some healthy discussion on the issue. As with most things, there are obviously several points of view and everyone is entitled to their opinion and their right to defend it.
When I started the discussion I wanted my initial post to remain neutral so we had a good unbiased start to the flow of discussion - but now I wanted to weigh in with my own opinion.
(TL;DR) Though there are obvious pros and cons, I personally feel the cons far outweigh the pros - in other words, I'm opposed to the new check. My reasons have been echoed by many others here, but in summary:
I have to wear two different hats here. I organize a very active COPA for Kids event, as well as volunteer as a pilot both for this event, as well as other nearby ones hosted by other COPA chapters. As a pilot, even though I personally think the check unnecessary, I'll just get it done - as others have pointed out here, the important thing is giving kids this incredible experience, not standing on principle, and I'm sufficiently involved and invested in the program that it's worth my time. But as an organizer, I know it's going to be much more difficult to get pilots, and that will do nothing except hurt the program.
First of all, the notion that "everyone else does it" for me has never been a reason to just blindly follow suit (the notion of jumping off a bridge comes to mind). Of course, if everyone else does something, there might be a good reason for it, that may or may not apply to a particular situation (if the bridge is on fire, everyone may have a good reason for jumping
Claiming that everyone else does it means that certainly the option should be considered, but that on its own isn't sufficient to make the decision to do so as well. And I inherently rebel against society's continuing trend towards "guilty until proven innocent". Yes, even that is another of those "everyone else does it so it must be okay" excuses. "Society is changing" only when we allow it to.
I've mentioned this new requirement to some pilots I know who fly for us. Though I know that some of you have commented positively on the requirement here (and I respect your opinion), at least of the pilots I know personally, none of them who have gotten back to me have considered it to be a good idea. Some of them are effectively neutral - rolling their eyes and muttering about "red tape", but plan to have the check done to continue to be involved - whether they'll get around to doing so before an event rolls around remains to be seen. Most alarming is the sizeable number who feel insulted that after having offered their substantial time and financial commitment to participating they are now being asked to do yet more (and being treated like a potential criminal in the process) for the "privilege" of being able to continue to do so. And I see their point. None of them have said they can't afford it, but the common thread seems to be that many will refuse "on principle". Whether I can convince them that the common good outweighs their principles remains to be seen; at the same time I also consider that they shouldn't have to abandon their principles to be involved. I've also heard from pilots saying that the only reason they were members of COPA in the first place was to participate in COPA for Kids, and this may likely be the straw that breaks the camel's back. They want to help, but find it discouraging that in addition to donating their time and aircraft, they also have to pay COPA membership dues and now also go through the hassle of a police check.
For those pilots who have grudgingly agreed to have the check done, some of them won't get around to it until it's too late. For most pilots, money is not the issue, but the hassle, time, and making it a priority to get done sufficiently early prior to an event certainly is.
It is also important to note that there is no legal requirement for an organization dealing with kids to have the check done. They are free to make their own decisions on whether or not they think it would be advantageous.
Along with the "everyone else does it" argument, people give examples of volunteer situations where they require it. But different sectors have different opportunities for risk. The opportunities for risk associated with a coach in a locker room for extended periods of time with kids when they're changing is very different than a busy pilot in an aircraft for 15 minutes with kids they haven't met before. I have no idea how the mind of a pedophile works, but I'd have to expect there are far easier avenues to exploit youth than becoming a pilot for COPA for Kids. And pilots are rather a close knit community already; for the most part we know each other. I'd like to hope we are welcoming to newcomers, but it's not that people walk up from out of nowhere all that often.
For decisions like this, the pros and cons need to be weighed. The cons are clear - we will lose some pilots, and with that we will be taking fewer kids. Whether it comes to pilots feeling insulted by asking for more of them than they're already giving and their refusing "on principle", or whether they'll grudgingly agree to it but just not get around to it until it's too late, there is no question that participation will go down; it certainly would have no reason to increase. What's not clear is by how much. From the initial reactions I've received, it's quite conceivable that only half of my pilots will be willing and get around to having the police check done. This means we can only offer the experience to half as many kids. But the notion that a pilot's reluctance to have a check done implies that they have something to hide would be offensive to the extreme.
So, what are the "pros" that we are gaining? The parents of the children don't care; I've never once been asked if our pilots have passed some kind of criminal check. The reputation of the industry is one of trust and respect (which I'd like to think is well-earned). After all, the parents are already trusting us with the lives of their children - what could possibly be more valuable that that? Instead, the only goal of this move is to potentially increase liability insulation against a situation that may or may not ever happen (there has not been a single case of an incident throughout the history of COPA for Kids). But is this even effective? Passing a police check only helps against known pedophiles; it does nothing against people who may have those tendencies but haven't yet been convicted. And is this the most significant risk to our liability anyway? As others have stated, although everyone's aircraft has to have passed its annual, we all know that some aircraft are just better maintained than others.. and some pilots more current and/or competent than others. Plus, even the best maintained aircraft can have issues. What about potential medical issues that may have arisen since a pilot's last medical that they might not even know about themselves? Or what about the potential for suicidal pilots? Should every pilot have to undergo a psychological evaluation before every COPA for Kids event? Where do we draw the line?
We already have a waiver that parents sign and agree to. Amongst other things, it states that they understand and accept the risk that "Serious injury or death can result from many causes, including aircraft crashes, falls, pilot error, ground crew error, engine or mechanical failure, negligent maintenance, defects in runways, interference by birds and other objects, weather conditions, contaminated fuel, or hard or forced landings. Injuries could be minor such as bruises, scratches and sprains; major such as eye injuries, broken bones and concussions; or catastrophic such as one or more of paralysis, severe burns, and death." Maybe psychological trauma should also be added to the list (perhaps it should be regardless of whether the pilots have police checks or not - there have been a couple of kids I've taken up that were quite clearly relieved when we once again landed). Or maybe more specific wording could be used simply stating that the pilots are volunteering their time, aircraft, and many expenses without compensation but have not necessarily undergone a police check and your children fly at their own risk of any actions undertaken by the pilot. I'm sure a lawyer could write up something better, and it doesn't have to sound necessarily so sinister. But the point I'm making is even if such a statement was added to the liability waiver, we would lose far fewer kids than we would with fewer pilots participating. Plus, our liability would be covered even better than by a police check, since it would encompass potential action by anyone, not just known pedophiles.
There are those who say that if even one potential incident is eliminated, it's worth it. Though I don't disagree, I question whether this is the right way to go about this. Piloting is about risk management, not risk elimination. Some pilots choose to fly twins. A case could be made that two engines is always better than one (or even that 4 is better than 2). Yet many (most?) of us fly singles because we've decided that this level of risk is acceptable. I'd argue that the same applies here. And remember, this isn't really about protecting the children, it's about the perception that we are protecting ourselves from liability. If you're the sort of person that considers that *any* risk is too much risk, it's time to turn in your pilot's license and curl up in bed.
I'll get off my soapbox now. Some may consider me naive to be thinking pedophilia isn't a serious risk worth protecting our liability against. I on the other hand consider people naive if they think the "one size fits all" solution of having a police check done is the most appropriate way of handling that risk and that this won't have at least some degree of negative impact to the program. At least this topic seems to have brought up some healthy debate on the issue. And yes, I know this message is long - if you read this far, it's because you chose to do so