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.
Earlier this month the city council of Santa Monica, California, decided to strike a blow for economic parity by instituting landing fees at the airport. As a former city commissioner of a small city that owns an airport, I can say this about their decision: It’s short-sighted.
Bear with me now, things are going to get a little rocky right up front. This column is going to be rough, but then life is rough. We need to be aware, be prepared, and when necessary be capable of protecting ourselves.
That’s true on every level. Personally, professionally, and even in our hobbies. Somebody has to have their head on a swivel looking out for threats and finding methods of mitigating risk. There is light at the end of the tunnel though. So hang in there.
There are some among us who feel aviation is in decline. I disagree, of course. You might even say I famously disagree, since I am prone to regular outbursts of unrestrained optimism in a public forum. It would be fair to go so far as to say I possess an almost evangelical zeal for aviation and its power to transform and enrich the lives of those who participate in it.
Do I overstate the point? I don’t think so.
If you hang around the airport long enough you’ll hear all sorts of interesting news. For example, just last week a local stopped into my office to ask about the new seaplane base being built on Lake Hartridge. The lake sits across 21st Street NW, which borders the airport on the eastern side. This individual explained in great detail how the seaplane base was going to be expansive, with ramps and an electric gate that would allow seaplanes to taxi up out of the lake, across the street, and onto the airport grounds.
It was a fascinating story.
It occurs to me that aviation has been a player in the entertainment industry for some time. And I’m not just talking about stunt pilots plowing Jenny’s into barns for the spectacular visual it creates when a moving vehicle slams into a structure that’s not meant to move. I’m talking about television, baby.
As general aviation comes to grips with the various opportunities to grow our community, we become aware that we face a few issues as well. First and foremost among those vexing problems may be the fact, and yes it is a fact, that we and our potential customer base speak different languages.
The spark that causes otherwise ordinary people to pursue a pilot certificate is as unique as the individuals who feel it. Once that impulse is felt, the path we pursue to get the training and experience needed to pass the FAA’s tests is varied, too.
That is certainly the case for Jill Manka, a central Florida woman who put her flight instruction on hold, bought a project airplane, and has spent the past two years restoring it. She’s intent on flying, but she’s decided to fly in an airplane she knows inside and out — and it’s hard to blame her.
While at SUN ’n FUN this year I stumbled one morning into the SAFE breakfast for a bite to eat and a bit of social engagement. SAFE is the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, a group dedicated to improving safety in aviation through improved educational options for pilots. Their goals are as noble as their efforts are noticeable in the industry.
While it’s common knowledge in the aviation community that SUN ’n FUN’s International Fly-In and Expo is massive, you may not know the whole story. Sure, you’ve read about the economic impact of this weeklong event creeping up on $70 million. You may have heard rumors of the staggering air traffic, too. The fly-in will see somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 aircraft operations during this one week period, making it the busiest airport on the planet – bar none.