It is well known in most circles that airlines travel on highways in the sky. Admittedly, most folks don’t know those highways are called airways, but the name is logical, whether the general public knows it or not.
However, few have made the obvious connection between the highway in the sky concept, and the airport in their town. Perhaps this is because aircraft, unlike automobiles, can choose to use the highway or go off-road (VFR) at will. And unlike automobile users, there are massive numbers of pilots flying off-road (VFR) every day, from coast to coast.
Imagine a town or a city with a highway running right through its heart, but with no exit ramp to allow traffic to flow from the highway into town. There are exit ramps that lead to neighboring towns, but of course those are miles away.
How many chambers of commerce would endorse and celebrate this municipal design, I wonder. How many mayors and city managers would be comfortable standing up in front of their constituents to say, “Thank goodness there’s no exit ramp here. Not in our town. We don’t want any of that out-of-town traffic coming here, buying our goods and services, investing in our local businesses, or establishing satellite operations that bring jobs, enhanced tax revenues, and new opportunities to our fair city.”
Seriously, who would say that?
This has me wondering. How is it possible that cities and towns all across America are managed by political leaders who have yet to realize that an airport is the exit ramp to your town from those highways in the sky? Whether the traffic flowing by is on an airway or flying VFR, the airport gives them quick, convenient access to town. The airport is also an on ramp for the local population who might want to avail themselves of that highway to quickly get where they’re going, then come right back home again.
Of course an exit ramp is not a guarantee of success. Most towns with highway access will take the time to plan, zone, develop, and operate as if that exit ramp provides them with a great opportunity.
Success is not a given. You have to work for it, change with the times, adapt to the consumer or the business climate, and keep your eyes open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
What never changes is the outcome for those who ignore the exit ramp. It’s there, but they don’t expend any effort to make it work for them. It’s at those ramps where people get off the highway, gas up the car, pee, snap up a few Slim Jims and head back out for another destination.
Sure, the gas station made a couple bucks, and they staff the place with a few low-wage workers. But they’re not realizing the potential the highway offers. Rather than do the work of imagining the economic horsepower that strip of pavement offers, planning for an attractive, desirable destination, and going out of their way to welcome travelers of every stripe — they lay back, pick up the few pennies that come their way, and periodically lament what a disappointment the exit ramp turned out to be.
I’ll part with tradition on this point. While the expression opportunity comes to those who wait is valid, it’s also incomplete. Opportunity in the form of an exit ramp from the highway, or an airport, or a waterfront piece of property may come to those who wait — but it is the individuals who dream, plan, implement that plan, tweak it, refine it, and remake it as the market changes — they are the individuals who are rewarded with the success that opportunity presented.
Those who simply wait are cursed to keep right on waiting. Nothing happens. Because opportunity is nothing more than potential, and as the circle of life illustrates over and over again, unrealized potential eventually results in an increasingly large number of wasted opportunities.
As we go through life, we aviation enthusiasts would do well to tell our story in language the non-aviation public can understand and relate to. With that in mind, the next time you hear someone in a position of authority suggest that your airport is underperforming, costing too much taxpayer money, and not providing a reasonable return on investment, consider countering with this question. How many of the businesses in town attribute their failures to the nearest exit ramp?
If they’re not selling product, providing services, innovating and driving the job market in town, is that really caused by the road that has the potential to deliver customers to their door? Or might it have more to do with what’s happening in the front office?
It’s an idea worth thinking about.