The real reason airports matter

Stewart Beckett Sr. was born into a different world than the one you and I live in. He came into being in 1898 not far from St. Petersburg, Florida. The family wasn’t wealthy, but they were reasonably well off. Which is to say they lived in a house, ate on a regular basis, and managed to survive the maladies of the day — at least most of them did. Not all of his siblings survived to become adults.

His world was a harder place than mine is. Not because natural disasters have ceased to be, or because human beings are inherently more kind-hearted today, but because technology has delivered us from the truly brutal hardships of day-to-day existence.

That’s a double-edged sword, of course. Because we are so fortunate in this modern world we tend to forget how difficult life was before the advent of the modern conveniences we take for granted. When my grandfather was a child there was no light switch to snap on if you heard a noise in the night. Water was generally unsafe to drink, and dying of starvation or exposure was a real possibility for much of the population.

Saddest of all may be the reality that for most of the population their hardship was permanent. There was no easy escape. My granddad didn’t see a car until he was 10 years old. He was 16 when the first airline service was established, and that only extended a few short miles across Tampa Bay. Granddad was in his 20s before he lived in a place where electricity was reasonably common and the main roads were paved.

I mention all this because there is a reason good ol’ granddad’s generation would wish to have had an airport, had such a thing existed in his youth. And that reason is as simple as can be: Survival.

No, that’s not hyperbole. In 2004 when three hurricanes passed through the county I live in, the destruction was mind-numbing. Many central Floridians were thrown back into the late 19th century overnight. Suddenly with no electricity to run air-conditioners, keep refrigerators operating, or pump well water to the surface, hundreds of thousands of people found out first-hand that life is hard without technology. Without electricity it’s hard to maintain a safe food supply, or store drugs many of us need to stay alive.

Relief came to us by air, as it does when disaster strikes these days. The airports of central Florida became clearing houses for manpower and supplies that were flown in from all over the country. Without airports, our plight would have lasted considerably longer and the loss of life would have been higher.

That last sentence is the crux of the issue. Aviation can and does deliver salvation in the midst of a catastrophe. The airport is your lifeline. It is the best insurance policy you will ever have. Towns with airports receive aid quicker and more effectively than those without.

The example above aside, survival isn’t a goal that’s unique to Floridians. The San Francisco earthquake of 1989 collapsed bridges, broke water lines, and cut power to vast numbers of people. When wildfires expanded throughout the Cleveland National Forest outside San Diego in 2003, 25 people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands of acres were devastated. When Hurricane Katrina came ashore in 2005, roads were impassable, homes were flooded, and all modern conveniences were swept away with the winds and rain. In each of these cases, aviation allowed aid to be delivered and residents to be evacuated. Airports saved lives. Let me say that again because it matters more than most might think: Airports saved lives.

Think of it this way, if you will: We don’t have air-bags in our cars today because they’re pretty or suggest status. We don’t get mammograms, and colonoscopies, pap smears, and prostate exams because they’re fun. We do it because it can protect us from an ugly fate.

In most towns we fund firefighting services even though we are careful at home and expect to never personally need them. We fund police departments, although we hope to never have to call for help ourselves. And we all want a well staffed and well equipped hospital nearby, even though we watch what we eat and exercise in the hopes we will never be a patient there. That’s the beauty of modern society. We don’t just hunker down and hope for the best, we prepare for the worst because we know the truth. Bad things are coming our way and it’s better to be prepared in advance than to be caught off guard when the bad thing happens.

Will earthquakes, mud slides, tsunamis, wild-fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods still afflict us into the future? Yes. They absolutely will. We can’t prevent those things from happening. But we can prepare ourselves to meet the challenge quickly, efficiently, and humanely.

And airports play a major role in that process. Airports and the aircraft that operate out of them will save millions of us in the coming years. There is no question of that. What is debatable is whether you will be one of those saved should disaster strike your town. The answer to that question may very possibly depend on your proximity to an airport that you can count on in a time of real need.


  1. Dale F. Doelling says

    I’m 100% in agreement with you regarding your statement that airports can save lives. You lost me when you mentioned airbags in cars, which are a product of government bureaucrats, not free market ideas. Many services such as fire stations and police could be provided in a variety of ways far cheaper than the bureaucracies that we find in many towns across America. With regard to healthcare, we haven’t begun to feel the full effects of Obamacare and I’m willing to bet that we’ll not like the outcome when we finally do. My point is, government has gone so far over the line when it comes to interfering with the free market system that it’s amazing to me that we’re able to get anything done. Airports – Good. Government – in so many ways, hinders us from achieving our ultimate potential.

  2. says

    “This article belongs on every front page of every newspaper…”

    “Flood this article to the Henry Waxmans, Santa Monica City Counsel members, the local airport naysayers…”

    “I just wish more Bureaucratic politician’s would think and do the same…”

    OK, Jamie put forward an excellent argument in favor of preserving airports. Is this where it ends, or is this a call to action?

    I just printed the article for my reference, and will be formulating strategies to get the message out. Like Jamie said, many of us are well in tune with what we need to do when it comes to preventing illness; we also readily support the infrastructure to make us well again, when we do get ill. However, when the cancer is stage four, it is much too late for an intervention. If people were reminded more often about the importance of airports for their own survival, Santa Monica airport may have had a better chance.

    Here is a suggestion. Let us put a bug in the ears of disaster planners, to incorporate airports into their “toolkit” of resources when addressing the public on the best practices for survival. There is plenty of evidence in print, images, and footage from news media, to give the pro-airports argument credibility. For many of us, fear is a good motivator. For others, being presented with credible information will make more sense. Hopefully, information like this may help to prevent another Santa Monica.

    • says

      Great suggestion, Edward. While I am pleased so many people have read and will read this article, I’ll be more pleased when we see the results of hundreds of them forwarding it to their emergency management directors, city commissioners, and newspaper editors.

      Is this a call to action? Absolutely. Thank you for leading to charge.

  3. says

    You are spot on Jamie Beckett! This article belongs on every front page of every newspaper, on every internet news outlet, on everyone’s Facebook page, and right now, specifically, in the Santa Monica media and the Santa Monica City government offices, for each and every person to read and fully understand. Those with their own selfish agendas that are promoting the demise of Santa Monica Airport, truly do not have the overall welfare of the citizens in mind.

  4. says

    Flood this article to the Henry Waxmans, Santa Monica City Counsel members, the local airport naysayers, and other Santa Monica area inhabitants that appear to have their own selfish agendas in mind, rather than the overall good of the people.

  5. Frank R. Sandoval says

    The Aviation Industry with it’s airports at every little town, that most take for granted, is a sleeping giant. As you mentioned, they become the lifeline of the local community when distaster or critical needs arise. The sad part of this scenario is that once the community has been resusitated, stabilized, or the emergency resolved, most are not aware of the process. Thank you for bringing the importance of airports and the issue of why they are necessary to the surface.

  6. Steve Mott says

    How very true, and how quickly people forget. As a USAF C-130 pilot at the time, I recall well during the blizzards that hit the northeast in the 80s how dependent the area was on aviation resources to get supplies of all types into the area. We and other USAF units hauled in fuel and additional snow removal equipment that allowed the opening of major arteries and other airports in the region so that needed materials could be further distributed from the major hubs like Boston to those in need in outlying areas, much of that distributed by GA assets.

  7. Jeffrey Aryan says


    Very well said. I just wish more Bureaucratic politician’s would think and do the same as yourself. Our whole country would be allot better off. Keep up the good work.

  8. Linda S. Berl says

    Well said. Airports are lifelines in times of emergency and in the mundane daily needs of the community. We need to protect their existence so they can support ours.

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