Arguments, discussions and peace: These are not incompatible terms, even if they may appear to be at first glance. Keep that thought in mind.
Several weeks ago a reader sent me a book. The title is, I assume, intentionally incendiary, “How Safe is Your Pilot?” If that doesn’t grab your attention, the subtitle certainly will. It reads, “The greatest threat to aviation safety today is not terrorism. Instead, it is noise abatement.”
That kind of talk will certainly get attention. It will also polarize the community it’s aimed at. Which makes this book and the message it carries, as well as the method it uses, an exceptional object lesson in the ways of politics.
Is our goal to win a fight or achieve a goal? That distinction is important, I think. Consider this, if you will: Noise abatement procedures have staunch supporters, and equally staunch detractors. There are those who feel noise restrictions on airports have great value to the community. In fact, many people feel that airport noise is a cancer eating away at their neighborhood, discouraging investment and driving desirable residents out of the area. They’re right, too. These folks have an absolutely valid point.
Of course there are those of us on the other side of the fence. Both in the literal sense that we are on the opposite side of the airport fence, and in the figurative sense that we take an opposing position on this argument. You may very well harbor strong negative feelings for noise abatement procedures. You may find them to be unnecessarily burdensome. You may even feel these rules raise your workload in the air to an unreasonable level. It is even possible that you feel as Jon Rodgers does. The author of, “How Safe is Your Pilot?” raises this issue to the level of life and death. In fact the first sentence of the introduction makes his position crystal clear. It reads simply, “I wrote this book to save lives.”
There are some who will say this level of discourse is nothing more than histrionics. They will call this hyperbole, designed to elevate the perceived importance of the discussion through language because the facts themselves don’t bear out the position.
Let me shock you. As this debate rages I can tell you with total confidence that everyone is right. Regardless of whether you are on the side that says noise abatement is essential to the economic and civic well being of the area, or if you are of the opinion that noise abatement procedures are literally killers lurking in the departure procedures of airports across the world — you’re right. Your position is valid in either case. In fact, if your perception of the issue lies somewhere in the middle between the two polar opposites, you are equally correct.
We don’t live in a binary world. The choices available to us are not simply limited to the right one and the wrong one. There are myriad shades of gray, or blue, or any color you choose in between the extremes of any issue.
Life is complex. So are we.
The argument about noise is one that will never end. Not entirely. It will never be solved, either. However, it will be litigated for the remainder of our lifetimes. The battle will sap us of resources, opportunities, and peace, no matter which side of the issue we stand on. And that’s too bad. Because much of this argument is unnecessary. It is borne of ignorance and intractability on both sides. In that sense it is a very human debate that has nothing to do with technology, regulations, or noise. It has to do with the sense that one side is losing its freedoms to the other’s desire to control their environment. We find that unacceptable, as we should. Neither side will win in the end. But the battle will rage anyway, and casualties will occur.
The great irony in this maelstrom of debate is that while technology created this problem, technology will bring new remedies to the dispute, too. Litigation does not make airplanes quieter, better engines do. Improved aerodynamics quiet airplanes, as well. New materials and construction techniques also lower the sound generated by an airplane in flight. A transport category airplane built today is considerably quieter than one that was built when I was a child.
Time is our friend on this one — and our enemy. It all depends on how you choose to deal with the predicament.
In typical devil’s advocate fashion, I will depart from both extremes on this argument and make a truly radical suggestion. We, the aviation community, need to make a greater effort to understand and befriend the non-aviation community. Their concerns are no more trivial than ours, yet they are often in direct conflict with ours. That is the crux of the issue, not the noise. At least to this point in my life I have not found yelling louder, waving my arms more wildly, or getting redder in the face to be effective tools of arbitration. Individual results may vary, of course. But on this point, I doubt they’ll vary by much.
Last week my wife and I celebrated 21 years of marriage — to each other. As you might imagine, my wife is female while I am of the opposite gender. Consequently, we see almost everything from an entirely different perspective. Often, our unique views of life are incompatible. And I don’t mean just a little incompatible, I mean seriously, undeniably, absolutely without a doubt, incompatible. Yet, as I reflect on our life together, it occurs to me that the big blow-outs almost never solved anything. The quiet discussions that went on for an extended period of time, however, now those almost always ended well. That’s curious, don’t you think?
Both of us feel good about the solutions we find during those longer, more nuanced, more reasoned discussions. And so we remain married, happily so, and go about our merry way living separate lives, viewed in entirely unique ways. She has almost no interest in airplanes, motorcycles, guitars, politics, or writing. Similarly, I have little interest in the things she fills her day with. Yet we have found a way to live together in harmony. We give nothing up, and we gain a great deal in the process of negotiating a truce that is attractive to both of us.
Maybe the aviation industry can learn a thing or two about how to get along with the folks on the other side of the fence by taking a closer look at how we get along with our significant others at home. It’s a radical idea, I know. But it’s been working for me for a couple decades with great success. I’ll bet it’s been working for you, too.
All we have to do now is apply that lesson to a different audience. Now, how hard can that be?
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. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com