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 Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.