GUEST EDITORIAL By Matthew Kiener
“Any new ideas regarding the trees?” someone asked. A group had gathered to discuss, among other things, the trees at the end of several New Jersey runways, forcing the implementation of displaced thresholds. These trees are on adjacent properties and oftentimes the land owners are less than receptive to our plight. That question launched a discussion that should have been as unnecessary as it was frustrating.
New Jersey has laws on the books that grant municipalities the means to trim or remove the trees in question. So what’s the problem? A lack of motivation on behalf of the municipalities, combined with a lack of repercussions for not enforcing the law. Much discussion led to the realization of a few simple facts. The government officials failing to act on trimming the trees are elected politicians who will likely be seeking reelection. The general public (i.e., voters) are not big aviation fans. Suffice to say it’s a better decision for a politician to save a tree rather than, in the eyes of the public, make room for more and larger airplanes to fill the skies above their homes.
While we are working hard on the short-term process of lowering those trees, it’s important we consider the future and the long-term solution. And I have an idea. It certainly isn’t foolproof, but it’s relatively easy, and has some terrific side effects: We need to change the perception of general aviation. Currently we’re considered elitists with oodles of money ripping through the sky burning holes in the ozone as we fill the air with soot and noise for no other reason than to amuse ourselves. This is of course as inaccurate as it is popular.
We need to — all of us — make a greater effort to expose non-fliers to the reality of aviation and alter their misconceptions. There are so many ways for us to do this, and the best part is that most of them involve taking someone flying. It’s simple: Take your neighbor who’s never been in a small plane up for a ride. Fly over his house, and land somewhere for lunch. Not only will you win his heart, but rest assured he’ll go to the office and tell all of his friends.
Become involved with Angel Flight, Pilots N Paws, or any of the countless aviation-oriented charity organizations that are in place just waiting for volunteers. Bring a Boy Scout troop to the airport, take some of the kids flying and answer questions, enabling them to earn the aviation merit badge. Engage the local fire and rescue squad to visit the airport for an up-close look at various planes. Explain how the seatbelts work, where the fuel tanks are located, and other pertinent information that could save lives in the event of an emergency.
In short, the answer lies in getting involved. The more people that see GA for what it is and not what they believe it to be, the better off we will be as an industry. For each individual that we educate, we can count on several others learning the truth.
Who knows? If all goes well we may make a few new friends, gain more students, and perhaps have an easier time securing the cooperation necessary to trim the trees.
Matthew Kiener is an ATP, CFII, AGI, and owner of a Cessna Aerobat based at Sky Manor (N40) Airport in Pittstown, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org