General what?

Listening on the radio to a call-in talk show isn’t one of my favorite activities. Of course, like most folks, I end up listening to parts of one show or another as I drive down the road. It doesn’t take me long to start switching stations hoping to catch some meaningful dialogue before I get frustrated and switch to the music CDs in my car.

About five years ago I had a call from a PBS radio station in San Francisco asking if I would be willing to take part in a live on-air panel discussion about residential airparks. I agreed and spent about an hour hanging onto the handset of my phone listening and talking about the benefits of such a lifestyle. Hopefully, I was able to explain to some folks who were listening that not all airports are the size of San Francisco International, Chicago O’Hare or Atlanta Hartsfield. The callers that day, as best I can recall, were generally polite and interested in the subject.

So, when I received a call a few weeks ago from the same station, KQED radio in San Francisco, to be on another show, I felt OK about the idea. The subject this time was to be aviation security and I was going to be the lone general aviation spokesman.

Before agreeing to be on the show I asked who else would be on the panel: Mike McCarron, spokesman for San Francisco International Airport; Andrew Thomas, a professor at the University of Akron and author of “Aviation Insecurity and Air Rage;” and Steven Brown, senior vice president of NBAA.

“Why don’t you get in touch with AOPA?” I asked, explaining that this was the leading representative for all things related to general aviation. The response didn’t seem to make much sense to me — they hadn’t heard of the organization. Even after I provided a contact name and phone number, they still ended up without an AOPA spokesman.

Thinking about those who I was told would be on the panel and the topic, I decided I would go ahead, even though I felt AOPA would be a better representative for general aviation.

The program went better than I expected and, as I expected it would, most of the discussion centered on airline and commercial airport security. There was really very little about general aviation airports that came up from the few people whom actually called in and there was none of the hysterical ranting that I feared could become a major part of the program.

The program reinforced one thought: for the most part, when the general public thinks about flying (at the rare times that aviation comes into someone’s mind), there is only a 747 out of a major commercial airport and a “puddle jumper.” And I’m convinced the vast majority of the public thinks of a “puddle jumper” as anything smaller than a 737. When people are forced to think about general aviation airplanes, they really have no concept of what the contraption is, how it gets off the ground, how many people it can hold and what it can do.

That understanding of general aviation has its good and bad sides.

It is good because people don’t even consider light planes when they think of aviation security. It is bad for the same reason. If they don’t consider light planes, they have no need to support with tax dollars the thousands of airports around the country that we in general aviation use every day.

The public’s perception of security hinges around TSA inspectors checking through carry-on luggage at O’Hare and telling you to take off your shoes. The public says airports – all airports — should have fences, but I think they feel as strongly that the fences are to keep the airplanes and pilots in as they are to keep the uninitiated out.

Brown explained to callers that most corporate flying is done much like commercial airline operations. I was able to point out that, for small airports and light planes, people at the airport generally know who is coming and going and security is provided from that aspect.

Trying to explain that a light plane generally can’t carry enough load to create a flying bomb of great consequence didn’t seem to get very far because no one followed up on that issue at all.

I felt the public, at least insofar as the folks calling into this broadcast, had little concern of general aviation as it relates to their own security. The only discussion came from one caller who suggested that a light plane crashing into an oil refinery or similar structure could do a lot of damage. Of course it could, but not at the level of the World Trade Center disasters.

When all was said and done (and the program ended with the host, Michael Krasny, going to a station break and leaving me waiting for him to say thanks for my time and have a nice day), I felt general aviation came off just fine as far as this audience was concerned when it thought about aviation security.

Dave Sclair served as co-publisher from 1970-2000

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