Light and shadow

Our world and our lives are composed of light and shadow.

That can be taken both literally and euphemistically, of course. Day and night, happiness and sorrow, good times and bad, the bright moments and the dark times as the years go by.

These days, somehow, the light seems brighter and the shadow darker than in the past. I suspect that is due largely to the tsunami of news and opinion that washes over us each day. We get it from newspapers and magazines, from hundreds of television channels and limitless Internet sites throwing conflicting stories at us unceasingly. Many of us also see it in our own households, particularly if we share space with teen-agers.

We certainly see it in aviation.

The current gloom has to do more with federal budget cuts than with national security; a shift that I, for one, find refreshing. Judging by the news releases and email that I get, the Fiscal Year 2006 budget gores more oxen than any in living memory.

While almost everyone agrees that the budget needs cutting – a lot of cutting, many say – hardly any two organizations, let alone individuals, can agree on where the cuts should be made. Not the FAA! At least, not the airport improvement funds! Or the Flight Service money! Cut the fat somewhere, but don’t hack it off any of my sacred cows. Butcher someone else’s!

I know a number of people at NASA, which will get less money next year and is moving what it has toward much different priorities. There is increasing emphasis on deep space and significantly less on aeronautics – the first “A” in NASA, after all. A friend who studies the Sun is delighted. No clouds darken his budget. Another, who works with the wind tunnels at Langley, fears that NASA’s ground test facilities are under a very dark budgetary cloud, indeed. While the 2005 budget specifically forbade the agency from closing wind tunnels in the near term, the release of the 2006 budget put a long list of wind tunnels and other aeronautics facilities on the chopping block.

Should NASA be moving away from the aeronautics part of its mandate? Not in my opinion but, as another NASA friend suggested, those facilities might end up under some sort of corporate lease arrangement and thus become more available, and more useful, to aeronautical research than they are now. A ray of light, as I see it.

General aviation is on the receiving end of other good news, as well.

Topping my list of encouraging signs is the larger number of new GA airplanes delivered last year compared to any time since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Right next to that is the number of companies still willing to invest in the design, testing and building of new airplanes. The dollars involved are substantial and growing. The improving health of general aviation casts a golden glitter on the remaining clouds.

With GA’s access to airports near Washington, D.C., clouded by security regulations and a large ADIZ surrounding that city, Congress finally is taking an enlightened “enough-is-enough” approach. During a recent budget hearing, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) pressured TSA Chief David Stone to produce long-delayed reports on the reopening of Reagan National Airport (DCA), and three small airfields in the neighborhood, to GA traffic. Another report, providing an update on the actual need for that ADIZ, also is late in coming. Stone blamed the delays on recent changes in security leadership. Rogers told Stone he wants those reports by April 1. Again, light and shadow weaving a shifting but brighter texture.

The shadow of terrorism falls on a large part of the world today. In many ways it is a far darker cloud than the political gloom cast for so long by Soviet Communism but, as with the old Soviet Union, there are signs that mankind’s desire for freedom and democracy – not necessarily American democracy, but some version of it – will inevitably let the sunshine in. Being an optimist, I believe quite firmly that repressive ways of life go so against the grain of human desires that they cannot last. The light always will prevail, although it may take time, effort and, often, sacrifice to dispel the clouds.

Does that make me a Pollyanna? Perhaps, but history is on my side and, with a perspective that now exceeds 70 years, a fair amount of history has come my way. From the Great Depression to the current strife in the Middle East, the ultimate outcome always has been positive, so far. I suspect that history will continue along that path.

If the 2006 budget seems to be goring your favorite ox, consider that the ox may benefit from a stricter diet and a leaner ox may turn out to be more productive.

If you are starting to think that the world is going to blazes, look around you. A lot of the doom-and-gloom being preached doesn’t take into account the lessons of history. Sure there’s still a lot of darkness, but a lot more light is shining on this old Earth, and a goodly amount of it is lending a healthy luster to general aviation.

Light and shadow, happiness and sorrow, bright spots and dark contribute, as in photographs, to the images of our lives. Like photographs, too, it is the light that exposes the picture and the dark that gives it texture. Both are necessary, but treat the joy and zest and fun of life as its more serious side. Let the sun shine in.

Thomas F. Norton is one of four people who regularly contribute to this column.

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