Snowballs and dominos

It has been said, what goes up must come down. The statement is so obvious that it strikes us as a truism, something so apparent that it’s legitimacy is self-evident. Then again, not everything is as it seems.

As an example, you may have noted earlier this month a small spacecraft named Voyager 1 departed our solar system for parts unimaginable. The promise of Star Trek is coming true, at least on a limited, unmanned basis. Be that as it may, Voyager has actually transitioned from the east coast of Florida where it last stood upon the earth, into a realm where basic concepts like up and down have no meaning at all.

With that in mind, it is reasonable and accurate to say that what goes up does not necessarily come down. Please see Dr. Sheldon Cooper for additional insights on that topic. I have no doubt he will fascinate you with his take on the subject.

I mention this because how we think is often driven by what we say, rather than the opposite being true. It would be preferable if our words were possessed of knowledge rather than simply by emotion or, worse, frequent repetition, but as the opening paragraph of this post illustrates, that’s not the way we communicate with each other. Too often we rely on reliable touchstones of familiarity to guide us, rather than taking the time to reflect on what we know, what we think, and what others can teach us.

Consider this oddity of the way we function and interact. Accept them as a thought experiment, if you will. More importantly, give a moment’s reflection to how these terms affect whether you see a scenario as a positive or negative chain of events.

Example number one: The domino effect describes a series of occurrences that, once begun, cannot be stopped. If the first domino falls, the rest follow in order. That’s all there is to it. Like water flowing through a broken dike, once the breach happens, nothing can stop it until the last drop of water drains out. Or, in the case of the domino effect, the last domino falls.

How often do we hear someone write or speak about the end of general aviation as we know it? The number of nay-sayers in the world amazes me. Yet that number seems to get larger with each passing year. These doomsday cheerleaders are wedded to the idea of the domino effect, it seems. They see the light at the end of the tunnel, and have decided it is a large train with a full head of steam moving in the opposite direction — right at us. The end is near, they say. Prepare for the worst.

On the other hand, there is the snowball effect to contemplate. This postulates that a small ball of snow, placed in the proper spot and nudged in just the right way, will roll downward as gravity tugs at it, causing the snowball to pick up speed, grow in size, and become ever more significant with each new revolution of the growing sphere of snow. At the heart of the snowball is a tiny crystal of snow, unique and insignificant on its own. But as it gains fellow crystals and they contribute to the size and the might of the object they make up, the snowball becomes massive and unstoppable.

The snowball effect is similar to the falling domino description inasmuch as the process becomes self-fulfilling once it has started. But the snowball effect is a positive view of events, while the domino effect takes the negative perspective. Either way, the scenario being described may be the exact same scenario. Only the perspective is altered which, in turn, results in a different method of describing the outcome of that chain of events.

In reality, the outcome of general aviation’s chain of events isn’t known yet. Just as Voyager’s ultimate fate wasn’t known in 1977 when it lifted off the launch pad for a tour of the solar system. It’s still not known where this piece of now antiquated, but still functional, technology will end up, or what effect that that might have on us here on earth.

The truth is this: General aviation is not dead, it’s just got some sickly participants.

The future is as bright as it ever was and the opportunity of aviation enthusiasts to change the world for the better by improving the lives of our neighbors and enhancing the opportunities of everyone on the planet (and beyond) has not diminished one bit. This leaves an important choice for each of us who enjoys general aviation for whatever it offers us individually. Do we want to be in the domino group or the snowball group? Do we see the end as inevitable? Or do we see untapped opportunities on the horizon?

You know your neighborhood better than I ever will. As you look to the airports and seaplane bases in your neck of the woods, do you see doom and gloom, or tremendous potential? Let’s start a real conversation on that question and see if we can’t find a way for all of us to see the silver lining that exists for those who wish to accept it.

Share your best thoughts, your worst fears, and your ideas for the future. Like Voyager 1, you never know where an idea will go if you point it in the right direction and put just the right amount of boost behind it.


  1. says

    It seems it’s ALWAYS “GA” has the troubles! The REAL problem is the “recreational segment” of GA!! When is someone at AOPA, NBAA, etc going to promote FOUR segments of GA: 1. Recreational ( liberal/social) segment 2. Business (ag, air ambulance, owner flown A/C) 3. Educational – non-profit* ERAU, UND, Parks, etc) 4.Corporate (professional crew) flown.
    *Questionable? How about AviCare for the disadvantaged “social aviator”?

  2. John Wesley says

    how could you possibly see snow through those rose colored glasses, where there is no snow, there can be no snowball effect, except for certain geographical areas, one of them being the swamp and reptile state, there are for all practical purposes no suitable facilities available for people yearning to fly to scratch their itch. The airports in this country are rapidly becoming either shopping malls, housing developments or barren windblown areas with boarded up FBOs, hangar doors falling off of empty hangars and self serve pumps.

    Sure we have big schools devoted to teaching neophytes to navigate the world in kerosene burning tubes of aluminum or of late, built up composites, but the graduates of these schools have little or no use for GA except to built time in the right seat so they can go burn kerosene.

    The poor frustrated student who wants nothing more than to scratch his own itch is left outside in the cold, with no place within reasonable distance to scratch that itch.

    The interest in aviation is still out there, I see it all of the time. We have enough starts every year to sustain GA, but alas the only ones that stick with it are the ones in the big schools or the true diehards that refuse to stand out in the cold rolling snowballs. Aopa has totally lost touch with GA and in fact would suffer some temporary financial setback were it to truly attempt corrective actions, the manufacturers although they profess great interest in promoting and expanding GA will not commit the needed resources, NBAA and most of the letter groups could care less because it is not their OXE being gored, EAA, is probably the only group truly serving GA, but they have through their own structure and HX, limited their scope of influence to the experimental market, a market that is simply not going to appeal to the masses.

    I for one see great potential in the country for GA, but I do not know where the people, equipment or capitol to bring these areas to fruition is going to come from.

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