Last month, I was sitting with a group of aviation-centric friends talking about the state of affairs in our slice of the world above FL00. The conversation evolved (or devolved?) into a hilariously cynical version of the word association game, the one where a person says a word and the rest quickly say the word that comes to mind that is connected to the original word. You can imagine the responses that resulted from the root word “re-accommodate” (the United Airlines’ CEO unfortunate word choice) or “Trump Tower” (think ATC privatization).
It’s been a rough year for aviation, with a number of misbegotten incidents, unfortunate accidents and near-accidents, an airline traveling public quick-drawing smartphones, and yet another exhausting fight over the future of the FAA’s NextGen and control over our national airspace. The military is faced with its own problems: issues with oxygen systems, grounded aircraft due to the weight of sequestration and a looming dearth of qualified and ready pilots. For the most part, we’re an industry that likes to keep its head down and name out of the press where uninformed reporters don’t always get the story right.
Right now, it feels like there’s not a lot of great news out there. My misery even went local. After spring straight-line winds destroyed hangars and aircraft (including mine) at my home airport, the airport director is floating the idea of not rebuilding the hangars, citing an unfavorable ROI due to ongoing management and maintenance costs. You don’t have to be an economist to recognize that a thriving GA ecosystem will quickly shrivel up and fade away if there are dramatically fewer base aircraft to support local FBO’s, flight training, flying clubs, charitable flights such as Angel Flight and other services. The kid hanging on the proverbial airport fence won’t have much to watch or by which to be inspired. Those who care the most are outmatched and the community at large is blithely unaware of the treasure they are in danger of losing.
As one sage put it, GA doesn’t have a perception problem, it has an awareness problem. The non-pilot public simply isn’t aware of what general aviation means at the local level, how it’s used, who is using it, who it benefits (again, think Angel Flight) and how insanely cool it is to fly a plane. How we fix that is the topic of a whole other article.
While some will debate politics and everything that’s wrong with our aviation culture, I haven’t heard a lot of hand-wringing among pilots I talk to. Yes, there are problems, but we’re still the luckiest bunch. In the United States, we still have the unique freedom to fly when and where we want to, for the most part. Fuel is readily available, there are planes to buy and sell, new technology continues to make us safer, and the aviation industry economy, for all its weaknesses, is still percolating along. If you were at Oshkosh, you witnessed all of this on a grand scale. Yes, it’s important that we preserve all of this, and there are a lot of smart people working on it on our behalf who deserve our full support.
This is what I find special and important to preserve: We as pilots have this beautiful relationship with our flying machines that allow us to escape the Earth’s hold and see the world from far above FL00. Further, I love how flying connects me more closely with people. On Mother’s Day, I took my mom, my aviation mentor and inspiration, for a gorgeous local flight in the plane that she bought new in 1975 and that I now own. A few weeks later, I got a repeat with my daughter, who was home for a few weeks from the Naval Academy. This time, she did the flying and I did the sightseeing. Both flights are the kind you tenderly replay in your mind and carefully store away among your most special flying memories. No records were broken, no important meetings kept, and no surprises sprung up. Just a few hours with two people I love who share this crazy passion for flying.
Quick, what words spring to mind when I say “flying?” Here’s two for you: “Lucky us.”