Persistence pays off

Like so many GA airports, mine faced a problem that was brought into sharp focus by the recent capture in Santa Barbara of those two wily desperados, John and Martha King. If nothing else the incident made it clear that emergency response workers (including police, fire and EMT crews) do not necessarily have a clear view of how aviation works on a day-to-day basis. Certainly the differences between VFR and IFR operations were not well understood on the law enforcement side of the equation.

Ignorance is potentially embarrassing, but not nearly as embarrassing as the news coverage that would result from accidentally shooting the occupant of an airplane bearing an N number that had once been involved in a criminal act. Especially if it turns out that the information that led to the over-reaction, which in turn led to the unintentional shooting, was faulty and could have been verified as faulty within a few short minutes by using tools no more sophisticated than a phone and a laptop computer.

Now let me be honest. I do not expect anything similar to the King’s experience to happen here in cozy, comfortable Winter Haven, Florida. But I can’t guarantee it won’t, either. And I can’t guarantee that some other, unforeseen event won’t transpire that will affect us every bit as badly as the capture of the Kings has affected Santa Barbara, California. So the logical solution is to open a line of communication between the pilot community, the city management, and the emergency responders.

I wrote about this in a blog post last week. But here’s the good part. There is progress afoot.

I took my concern to the triad of power that has oversight on the field — the city manager, the airport manager, and the police chief. My first contacts were in the form of e-mails, which allowed me to share my concern, and include a link to the news coverage of the manhunt that ended with the handcuffed Kings safely tucked into the back seat of police cars. The message was sent. The ground work was laid.

I waited a day or two.

When I next came into contact with the three big dogs, I raised my concern verbally. In each case, management suggested that they didn’t foresee this sort of thing happening here – but they were willing to talk about it. They were willing to entertain suggestions. And maybe most important of all, they were willing to address the issue officially and consider making changes to the way we do business to be sure this sort of thing never happens here.

Ahh, now we’re getting somewhere.

Now you might be thinking, “Oh sure, he can get that sort of action, because he’s a city commissioner.”

“Ha,” I say. You have far more power than I do. Because I’m just one guy. Granted, I may be a stunningly articulate orator who can turn cow’s milk to butter at 20 paces. But you have the benefit of a large and motivated group of voters who can put the fear of the ballot box into politicians and bureaucrats alike. Of course you may not think of your power base as a collective of voters – you may think of them as your fellow pilot association members, AOPA members, EAA members, or hangar talk airport rats. No matter how you view it, you’ve got the numbers, the issues, and the intellect that will get you noticed at city hall if you choose to pick up the gauntlet and make yourself known.

Sure, it’s work. But it’s not as much work as bowing to the pressure of rules, policies, and ordinances passed by people who have not the first idea of how an airport works, or what the customer base of your airport is seeking.

So stand up. It’s working here in Winter Haven. It will work in your town, too.

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. You can reach him at


  1. Rich Hensch says

    I totally agree with Jamie! We do have strength in numbers! Unfortunately most of us have just stayed on the sidelines and done nothing to change things, and regs have gotten worse! Besides events like what happened to John and Martha King there have been plenty of unintentional penetrations of TFRs and we do have some most ridiculous TFRs. (Disney World for one, space shuttle for another) Additionally if one goes over the border say into Canada, DHS (Department of Homeland Security) requires that you file your plan to depart and reenter the USA by computer, aepis its called. The program seems to be a good idea but doesn’t allow for seaplanes that don’t land at airports and doesn’t have a good way to enter changes when crew, times, dates, weather delays, unforeseen headwinds and the like are encountered. If one doesn’t have access to a computer, such as when one is returning from a remote cabin in Canada, there is NO way to easily change aepis inputs. I have spoken with several CBP (Customs & Border Protection) officers about this and the good news is that they are aware of the shortcomings of the aepis system and are not issuing any fines unless someone makes NO attempt to notify them of ones departures and arrivals. When I have trouble I just call the CBP office of where I wish to enter. When these problems occur, besides not increasing our nation’s security, the problem becomes an added STRESS to pilots and that is UNSAFE. We need all of the world to know that we pilots are a special breed with special qualifications and certificates, non of which are required by boaters, car or truck drivers and the like, and that our GA community instead of being a threat to the community is a valued asset. I have flown military jets and civilian aircraft all over the world, and can say, at least we have relatively free reign of what we wish to do when we fly here in the USA. In many countries there is limited if any GA flying.

  2. Matt says

    Charles, lets leave the political talking points out of this great General Aviation blog. It isn’t productive. Keep up the good fight, Jamie!

  3. says

    If I can get one point across as this issue is debated, it’s this – there is no big government. There are only lots of small governments, populated by the very same type of people who are in Washington DC, and in your state capital. If we all become more involved personally, the changes we can bring will be stunning.

    Government is absolutely responsive to public pressure. Unfortunately, after years of apathy from the public, government has run away and started their own game with their own rules. We can repair the damage, but not from the couch. Your phone and your e-mail account await. Engage your government, starting from the bottom and working up.

    It will work, I assure you.

  4. Charles Perry says

    Let’s get off the local law enforcement officers back. They reacted appropriately, as trained. How are the talking head pilot’s and the responding officers not to know there might have been a bomb carrying muslim lurking in the back seat of the Cessna? Bravo to the officers! GA is apparently not willing to openly discuss the freedoms we will loose when the spotlight of big government shines on our AC being used by islamic terrorist to again murder innocent Americans. So, our response to big government encroaching on our liberty and freedom and ease of flight is another issue. That big government that wants to manage our health care can’t even manage stolen aircraft data. As Ronald Reagan stated: “Government is not the solution to the problem. Government is the problem!” Fix the problem with big and getting better government and then maybe John and Martha will not get cuffed and stuffed in the future.

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