One sky, one voice

It is all one sky.

No matter how you use it, or what your involvement with it, all of aviation’s many segments fly through or in some way make use of the same sky.

The implication, then, is that all of us – private pilots, airlines, business aircraft owners, agricultural services, fuel companies, weather services – have the same basic stake in freedom of the skies and so should speak with one voice.

I’ve been criticized for that opinion. According to the critics, we are not one community but many distinct communities, no one of them willing to support another, each with its own agenda. That is, indeed, pretty much how it is. My point is that it’s not how it should be.

The aviation community must evolve, becoming one, and it must do it now.

Picture for a moment that famous image of Earth, its shining clouds, bright blue seas and mostly-green land, taken from an Apollo spacecraft. It is surrounded by the vast black of cold, dark space. Its atmosphere – our sky – is a very thin line between comfortable Earth and inhospitable space. It is an exciting picture, suggesting countless ideas with incredible potential for our understanding of, and proper use of, the world and all that dwells therein.

To those of us who fly, regardless of why, the aviation components of that vision are tantalizing.

Do they excite the general public? Somewhat, at best; not really, at worst.

Well then, we must educate the public. Without the enthusiastic support of the general public, we will continue to lose airports to developers, who currently have eminent domain laws on their side. The perceived dangers of aviation, incited by the mainstream media, will work against us. Noise, air pollution, any number of anti-aviation notions, will continue to plague us unless the public is with us.

No single segment of aviation can do all that educating alone. That is why we must speak with one voice.

Bringing together all those disparate voices is no simple task.

First, of course, strong persuasion is necessary just to make all, or even most, aviation interests aware that working together is vital to all of our interests. They don’t see it that way, right now.

If that can be accomplished, a unified strategy must be developed, from which the tactics to fight the battles must emerge. Then we can fight effectively for our rights and privileges.

I spent 31 years as a Naval Reserve aviator, the last few running an aggressor squadron. The lesson, there, was that intimidation and unpredictability are the keys to survival. Two Vietnam combat tours taught me that if you place second, you’re probably dead. The idea is to nail your adversaries quickly, not just sit there while things happen around you. It’s very simple: you fight to win.

That is the strategy I advocate for saving our airports and keeping the sky open to all who fly or to whom the sky provides a living.

“If we suffer tamely an attack upon our liberty, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom,” wrote Samuel Adams as the American Revolution was getting under way. “It is a very serious consideration…that millions yet unborn may be the miserable sharers of the event.”

If Sam Adams were advising us today, he might tell us to consider those who brought aviation to where it is today, and to think of our posterity, whose freedom to fly is coming under increasing – and poorly defended – attack. He might suggest that we resolve – a powerful word – to “maintain the rights bequeathed to us by the former, for the sake of the latter.”

To do that successfully, we must learn how to work together as a community, understand the challenges as well as the opportunities, define the requirements, and determine how to measure success and results realistically.

The key, there, is to achieve results, not just to make sure everyone gets the most desirable share. Most of us have individual interests. Speaking with one voice means foregoing allegiance to all special interests. The future of aviation must be crafted to serve all of us.

I urge all to get informed and motivated. Make a difference now, for one sky.

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

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