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.
We’ve seen it in Santa Monica, Calif., where the city has gone to war with the airport over noise emanating from turbine-powered aircraft. We’ve seen it at Buffalo-Lancaster Regional, where neighbors raised a ruckus to stop the extension of the runway from 3,200 feet to 5,500 feet. And we’ve seen the darkest, more destructive end-game occur in Chicago when Meigs Field was literally bulldozed overnight.
Let’s face it — we aviation enthusiasts are not loved universally.
Ironically, the services we provide, the potential our airports bring the community, and the emergency access we deliver are all welcome across the board. Everyone wants the quick, relatively inexpensive, benefits of aviation. They just want the facilities that bring those benefits to them to be located somewhere else. Somewhere farther away. Somewhere they don’t have to hear it, or see it, or pay for it.
That’s interesting. I would go so far as to suggest that it’s the key to our long-term success, too. Because when offered the potential of a quieter neighborhood, fewer airplanes overhead, and a significantly decreased chance of large hunks of aluminum crashing through their roofs, most Americans are more than happy to advocate shuttering, or at least significantly curtailing airport operations.
Of course you could put that same scenario another way, too. How many of those same voters would be happy to live in a town where fresh fruits and vegetables were scarce during the winter months, overnight package delivery went the way of the dinosaurs, and the ability to get quick relief during serious emergencies was no longer available.
Ah, ha! Now that the shoe is on the other foot the idea of shutting down the airport doesn’t look so rosy, does it? Nope. Not one bit. And that’s our edge. That’s the message we need to be discussing out in the open, intelligently, seriously, and often.
Aviation had no place in the America my grandparents were born into. But they were born at the end of the 19th century, so there was no battle over the noise, cost, or safety issues that were relevant to the discussion. I, on the other hand, was born smack-dab in the middle of the 20th century, when aviation was in full swing, had played a major role in winning a world war, and was introducing the benefits of quick shipping, airmail, and the tourism economy to places that had never dreamed of the potential aviation gave them.
Somewhere along the way we dropped the ball, though. The public took all those benefits in stride, but never really understood that aviation was a critical component to the high standard of living they were beginning to enjoy. The Beatles didn’t come to New York on a boat, you know. Fresh pineapples, nectarines, and star fruit aren’t showing up in February at supermarkets in the snow belt because Farmer Fred is really good at raising crops in a greenhouse down the street. And when a helicopter lifts off a highway carrying a critically injured patient to a trauma center during that all-important golden hour, speedy transport by air is a big part of what will determine whether that patient has another birthday or not.
So I’m going to suggest the counter-intuitive approach. Let’s at least consider that the winning argument is not to suggest that aviation is important because we love it so much. Let’s give a few minutes thought to an alternate point of view. I challenge you to craft an argument that you can carry around in your back pocket — you might even think of it as your elevator speech. This should be a rock-solid, hard-hitting, no-nonsense 30 second position statement that counters the anti-aviation argument with facts, not emotions. Just tell the truth. We’re aviation people. We know the value of what we do, commercially, recreationally, and in terms of educational opportunities. I suspect that if we list a few of the services that would go away with the shuttering of the airport, the opposition might give their dream of an airport free zone another thought.
The counter argument makes me smile. They’ll say, “We’re only talking about closing this one airport near my house. We’re not talking about closing any other airports, or cutting their hours of operation. You’re exaggerating the situation.”
“Of course,” you’ll respond. “You’re only talking about closing this one airport. The one near your house.”
This is where the movie in my head puts in a pause, for effect. “I don’t suppose anyone else would try to close the next airport down the road, too. The airport near their house. Nope, that could never happen.”
Can’t you just see the wheels starting to turn?
You can reach Jamie at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com