Last night I spent the evening walking and talking with a young man from my neighborhood. He’s out of high school but hasn’t begun taking classes that would lead to a higher level of certification. He’s got a job, but it’s menial, low-paying, and often frustrates him. To his credit he wants to go to college, but he has no idea how to go about it.
In essence, he’s not much different than a lot of other young men and women who live near me. He’s probably not much different than those who live near you, either.
During our discussion, I suggested he might consider finding a new job. Something that required a little more skill, carried a bit of responsibility with it, and would pay better. At the very least that would make paying for college easier.
As it happens, there is an opening for a line-boy at a nearby airport. I mentioned this to him and was truly surprised to see how negatively he reacted to the idea.
Now consider this in context. This young man has sought me out to ask about how he might improve his lot in life – but the idea of being involved in aviation in any way just freaks him out. He’s not simply disinterested in the prospect of working at the airport, he’s out and out scared of working at the airport. He fears the place.
My walking partner wasn’t worried that an airplane might crash one day, or that disaster might affect him in some way. He was sure of it. And he was sure it would happen sooner rather than later. Being an ardent consumer of the news, he explained to me how airplanes crash and burn and explode on a frighteningly frequent basis.
I was absolutely fascinated.
Like a lot of aviation professionals, I’d like to think I’m fairly in tune with the world around me. I’ve travelled a bit, read several books since I got out of school, and can almost speak a second language. In short, I’m doing okay. The Nobel Prize committee isn’t throwing my name around as a serious contender, but I’m not staring down the barrel of impending destitution either. Still, I was surprised by the vigor with which this young man rebuffed the idea of even applying for a job at the airport. His reaction got me thinking.
I would like to think that my young friend is not representative of the wider general population. But I don’t know that to be true.
Like all aviation professionals, I’ve encountered varying degrees of hostility toward aviation over the course of my career. I’ve met people who get sweaty palms at the idea of flying, but have no animus against the industry as a whole. I’ve also met people who wanted to close down airports and limit where aircraft can fly because they are so unimaginably dangerous to the general public.
One of those reactions is reasonable and understandable. The other is an overly dramatic and entirely unrealistic interpretation of how a calculated risk taken by a small group of pilots and passengers becomes a serious danger to a large number of innocent bystanders. I fear that second group may be gaining ground, even if the first group remains relatively constant.
As much as I’d hate to believe this to be true, I can’t help but recognize the argument for the closing of a historic, perfectly viable airport like that in Santa Monica, California, bears a striking resemblance to the nearly hysterical hyperbole my young friend shared with me.
We must, as general aviation enthusiasts, counter this fear with a more tempered, more accurate message. The price of remaining silent may be quite high — higher, in fact, than many of us ever imagined.
Because fear leads to action, and fear-based action often proves to be erratic, erroneous, and irreversible. Fear has one other unpleasant quality we should remain cognizant of. It’s highly contagious.
Charles Lindbergh wrote and spoke extensivey about his experiences in aviation, even though he was a quiet, shy man who would have preferred to be left out of the spotlight. The Wright brothers actively sought approval for their inventions and their beneficial use, as did fellow pioneers Glenn Curtiss, Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes, and Juan Trippe.
If we are to succeed in the long run, we must each emulate the actions of these noteable men and women of early aviation. They were able to expand aviation’s popularity and acceptance in the days when it truly was risky.
Today, aviation’s safety record is enviable. The durability and reliability of the aircraft we fly has been enhanced almost unimaginably, and pilots are better trained and equipped than ever before. Aviation has a positive effect on virtually every living person on the planet, whether they fly or not.
We need to tell that story. We need to share a dose of reality with our friends and neighbors. We must counter inaccurate reporting and baseless negative editorializing with facts and figures and real insights into how aviation works and benefits us all. And we must recognize that “we” includes you.
It is time to turn this ship around. To do that successfully it will take a crew of hard-working, dedicated men and women who are willing to step outside their comfort zone and speak up, as Lindbergh did. As Earhart did. It is our turn, now.