OSHKOSH — While riding the tram back to show center from the seaplane parking area, I met Graham. He was interested in taking a seat in my row, yet I was unwilling to give up the outside seat, because I was taking photos of the people and airplanes on Wittman Regional Airport as the tram rolled along. So I stepped off and allowed him to settle into the middle of the car. We spoke just a simple exchange of “Thank yous” which caused my ear to pick up on the subtle queue of his accent, which was decidedly non-Wisconsin-ish. It wasn’t American at all.
Graham is an air traffic controller at Glasgow in Scotland. He’s also a pilot. So it was natural that we would strike up and extended conversation that left us standing at the tram stop at the end of the line, jabbering away like housewives over the back yard fence.
Here’s what struck me — Graham has been coming to Oshkosh specifically to attend AirVenture for 12 years. Imagine it. This guy works in aviation at home. He also recreates in aviation as a general aviation pilot. Yet, he travels thousands of miles and spends two or more weeks a year on another continent where he can find communal joy with his fellow aviation nuts. Admittedly, his accent might leave some of his fellow AirVenture attendees in the dust, scratching their heads. But your intrepid reporter persevered and got to the big points, even if slang and cultural differences makes direct quotes impossible.
Shockingly, Graham tells me the main reason he makes the trek to North America each year is that General Aviation barely exists in his home country. Oh, there are general aviators. But they’re few and far between…and spend significantly more than we do. Consider this, at Graham’s home airport, Glasgow, the landing fee is 25 pounds. Add to that a mandatory handling fee of 60 pounds, and you’re looking at something in the neighborhood of $140 for a single landing and taxiing up to the FBO at Glasgow. Add the cost of aircraft rental and a flight instructor, and the full cost of learning to fly rapidly approaches the level of being truly crippling.
It doesn’t escape my notice that we are standing in the middle of AirVenture as we have this conversation. My new friend from the UK tells me that his home country has fly-in events, too. But not like this. A really big fly-in at home might draw 1,000 people, while AirVenture, or Sun ‘n Fun, draw people by the tens of thousands, even on a down year.
The upshot of a simple tram ride was that I met a professional from another country who was able to share valuable insights. As we parted ways, I felt particularly pleased to have met him, and tremendously glad to know that I was fortunate enough to be born and raised in a country where general aviation thrives. It has been my good fortune to be a part of this marvelous industry, which can launch people from all over the world to our doorstep so that they can enjoy what we live with on a daily basis.
It may be ironic, but it is the people who attend AirVenture who really make the most lasting impact on me. Because they are people like Graham, each of whom has a story to share — they willingly share it, if we are only bold enough to introduce ourselves — or stubbornly hang onto the outside seat of the tram.
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. He also is an owner and contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach Jamie at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com