On a bright and beautiful central Florida morning, my phone rings. Steve McCaughey of the Seaplane Pilots Association is on the other end, upbeat and chipper as ever. Since we both live in the same town and have a common fascination with waterborne flying machines, he’s offering me a ride and a room at AirVenture, which is creeping up on the calendar. Only days remain until the gates open to throngs of visitors to Wisconsin’s most famous airport.
On Sunday, July 7, an Asiana Airlines flight from Seoul crashed on the runway at San Francisco International Airport. The airplane impacted just short of the threshold, causing substantial damage to the airframe. The tail departed the fuselage before the airplane came to rest. A fire ensued.
These are facts. I point this out because since the crash occurred the news has been filled with hours of programming and a staggering number of column inches of print that focus on the accident. Much of what has been reported is supposition, theory, guesswork, and personal opinion. That’s unacceptable.
There are two kinds of GA pilots in the world. The first group is the experienced pilot who wants to continue flying as often and for as many years as possible. A major deterrent to meeting that goal is cost. Renting an airplane at $100 an hour or more is difficult for many of us. And let’s face it, $100 per hour has become a pretty attractive rate in many parts of the country.
The conundrum of the GA industry is daunting. Solutions abound, but many of the players are not paying attention to their peers. In fact, many of the players are openly — and counter-productively — competing with their peers under the theory: If I can harm your business, my business will benefit.
Not so. Not nearly so.
There is a important difference between critical thinking and being critical. Knowing that difference can be the deciding factor in whether you are successful at affecting change or become an ineffectual aggravating irritant.
Now that I have your attention…it will come as no surprise to learn I have a tendency to critique almost every aspect of the world around me. Don’t get too excited about the admission, however. You probably do the same thing. We all do. It’s human nature.
Periodically my eye is drawn to a bumper sticker while I’m out driving. Many are aviation oriented — or at least many of the stickers I see are. The slogans are familiar to you as well, I’m sure: “I’d rather be flying.” “My other car is an airplane.” “I love jet noise.”
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.