A new perspective on an old problem

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.

We’ve seen it in Santa Monica, Calif., where the city has gone to war with the airport over noise emanating from turbine-powered aircraft. We’ve seen it at Buffalo-Lancaster Regional, where neighbors raised a ruckus to stop the extension of the runway from 3,200 feet to 5,500 feet. And we’ve seen the darkest, more destructive end-game occur in Chicago when Meigs Field was literally bulldozed overnight.

Let’s face it — we aviation enthusiasts are not loved universally.

Ironically, the services we provide, the potential our airports bring the community, and the emergency access we deliver are all welcome across the board. Everyone wants the quick, relatively inexpensive, benefits of aviation. They just want the facilities that bring those benefits to them to be located somewhere else. Somewhere farther away. Somewhere they don’t have to hear it, or see it, or pay for it.

That’s interesting. I would go so far as to suggest that it’s the key to our long-term success, too. Because when offered the potential of a quieter neighborhood, fewer airplanes overhead, and a significantly decreased chance of large hunks of aluminum crashing through their roofs, most Americans are more than happy to advocate shuttering, or at least significantly curtailing airport operations.

Of course you could put that same scenario another way, too. How many of those same voters would be happy to live in a town where fresh fruits and vegetables were scarce during the winter months, overnight package delivery went the way of the dinosaurs, and the ability to get quick relief during serious emergencies was no longer available.

Ah, ha! Now that the shoe is on the other foot the idea of shutting down the airport doesn’t look so rosy, does it? Nope. Not one bit. And that’s our edge. That’s the message we need to be discussing out in the open, intelligently, seriously, and often.

Aviation had no place in the America my grandparents were born into. But they were born at the end of the 19th century, so there was no battle over the noise, cost, or safety issues that were relevant to the discussion. I, on the other hand, was born smack-dab in the middle of the 20th century, when aviation was in full swing, had played a major role in winning a world war, and was introducing the benefits of quick shipping, airmail, and the tourism economy to places that had never dreamed of the potential aviation gave them.

Somewhere along the way we dropped the ball, though. The public took all those benefits in stride, but never really understood that aviation was a critical component to the high standard of living they were beginning to enjoy. The Beatles didn’t come to New York on a boat, you know. Fresh pineapples, nectarines, and star fruit aren’t showing up in February at supermarkets in the snow belt because Farmer Fred is really good at raising crops in a greenhouse down the street. And when a helicopter lifts off a highway carrying a critically injured patient to a trauma center during that all-important golden hour, speedy transport by air is a big part of what will determine whether that patient has another birthday or not.

So I’m going to suggest the counter-intuitive approach. Let’s at least consider that the winning argument is not to suggest that aviation is important because we love it so much. Let’s give a few minutes thought to an alternate point of view. I challenge you to craft an argument that you can carry around in your back pocket — you might even think of it as your elevator speech. This should be a rock-solid, hard-hitting, no-nonsense 30 second position statement that counters the anti-aviation argument with facts, not emotions. Just tell the truth. We’re aviation people. We know the value of what we do, commercially, recreationally, and in terms of educational opportunities. I suspect that if we list a few of the services that would go away with the shuttering of the airport, the opposition might give their dream of an airport free zone another thought.

The counter argument makes me smile. They’ll say, “We’re only talking about closing this one airport near my house. We’re not talking about closing any other airports, or cutting their hours of operation. You’re exaggerating the situation.”

“Of course,” you’ll respond. “You’re only talking about closing this one airport. The one near your house.”

This is where the movie in my head puts in a pause, for effect. “I don’t suppose anyone else would try to close the next airport down the road, too. The airport near their house. Nope, that could never happen.”

Can’t you just see the wheels starting to turn?

You can reach Jamie at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com


  1. James Sloat says

    Great article Jamie. Just a little more information as to our problem here at KSMO. The city is not the only group of knuckle heads trying to put KSMO out of business. By the way, the city commissioners are steadfast for closing the airport down. The other group is called CRAAP spearheaded by Martin Rubin. If anybody wants to send him some hate mail his email address is jetairpollution@earthlink.com or his phone number is 310-479-2529.

    James Sloat

  2. says

    I normally respond to people I talk with that we should close the shipyards too, and put in ocean-front homes.

    Most everyone understands that the airports are necessary. It’s really just a question of everyone wanting their cake, and eat it too. I typically retort, “Did you not see the airport when you bought the house?” It’s not like we’ve built any new airports in this county in years.

    Here in the Seattle area we’ve discussed opening up Pane field to commercial traffic. Where it would be a great idea for commerce and travel, there’s no way the local community will allow it to happen. Again, I say, “Did you not see the airport when you moved in? Did you not get that the existence of Pane Field is partially responsible for your town’s existence (Pain Field = Boeing)?”

    They get it. They know. They understand. They don’t care. They’d rather Pane Field close altogether, and that’s what most of the residents are hoping for (including some friends of mine). They simply don’t like the noise. It’s a visceral reaction that has nothing to do with logic, and there’s no arguing with emotions.

    It’s no different than having to hear your neighbor’s dog bark all day. It just gets on your nerves. Then, when you learn that their neighbor is ‘adopting’ another dog – you’re going to be pissed, in the same way that neighbors of airports feel about extending the runway. Though it wasn’t likely, you were hoping your neighbor would move or the dog would get hit by a car.

    Again, it’s not about logic. Logic doesn’t work. The only way to make the neighbors be okay with the dog, is to get the dog to be quiet. They really just don’t want to know it exists, and that’s – that.

  3. says

    Does anyone know the effects of overnight delivery (FedEx, UPS, other), or lack thereof when an airport is NOT conveniently located to the recipient ? Watching the Discovery Channel show “Flying Wild Alaska” provides some insight, but that’s an extreme example (but maybe appropriate). Great post Jamie… as usual.

  4. says

    Great comments, Jamie. How many roses would have been delivered to our ladies last Monday if we did not have aircraft to deliver them fresh across the country? Does the average consumer realize that their is an entire fleet of jumbo jets that do nothing but fly flowers from producers to consumers, every day? Ask the ladies if this is worth it.

    When I travel to Germany annually to visit family that lives near a major GA airport (Mengen), I am struck by the lack of noise, even with old legacy aircraft that make a racket in our skies. Tough noise rules there have forced airplane owners to install mufflers (the best of which actually increase horsepower, imagine that, see Gomolzig, http://gomolzig.de), quieter props, and avoid overflying neighborhoods. The result – if you don’t hear ’em, you probably won’t see ’em, problem gone! Noise rules there forced R/C modelers to switch to electric-powered airplanes 20 years ago, and look how that has advanced the state of the art. Much of what electric R/C modelers learned has found its way into full-scale aircraft, and guess who leads the technology? Germans and Swiss! See FlyTec in Lucerne and Geiger near Stuttgart.

    So, being a better neighbor to the non-flying world can have important side-effects for GA, and lead to new technology, new businesses, better aircraft and less problems with neighbors.

    Having been involved in the aerodynamic development of the new B787, people are going to be amazed at its low noise level. Low noise = greater public acceptance.

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