by jeff edwards
It’s Veterans Day as I write this, so I’d like to thank all veterans who read this for their service. I’d also like to thank their loved ones, who made their service possible by keeping the home fires burning. Did you know that in 1776 only three percent of the American population served in the rebel forces? Three percent... Only ten percent actively supported the revolution; most sat on the sidelines. Today less than one percent of our population serves in the Armed Forces. I am so proud of the many veterans that we have in this organization—here’s to them, their loved ones, and the freedom they gave us and guarded over for 240 years!
2016 is almost over. With its passing, Americans have elected a new president. The numerous political phone calls and emails are over. The solicitations for financial support for candidates are done and the political rallies and heated debates are finished for now. Phew!!! We survived. No matter whether your candidate or party won or lost I think we can agree that America is the greatest democracy the world has ever known. The freedoms we enjoy are unparalleled.
I am reminded of that every time I fly my Lancair and survey this great country from thousands of feet in the air. After talking to friends like Bill and Sue Harrelson, Adrian Eichorn, Pete Zaccagnino and David Robinson, who’ve all journeyed around the world in the last few years, I am reminded how precious are the freedoms we enjoy here in the United States. Universally, they report that governments of countries with the fewest freedoms pose the biggest barriers to general aviation. Why is that? Because GA is the epitome of travel freedom, and the ability and willingness of a government to restrict an individual’s right to travel is a hallmark of a repressive regime.
Think to the Cold War. Many communist countries placed severe restrictions on or outright prohibited free travel, which made GA a pipe dream for all but the government elite. Despite this, some made good their escape from even the most oppressive eastern European regimes using GA aircraft. Yet one more reason to appreciate the freedom afforded by our beautiful Lancair aircraft.
Today, other barriers to general aviation present themselves outside the United States. Adrian Eichorn’s story of his flight around the world this year in his Bonanza illustrates the challenges to GA, both the obvious challenges posed by autocratic regimes, and the less obvious, but equally dangerous ones posed by well-meaning bureaucracies. In Europe he paid costly user fees, like those that exist in Canada and Australia, and that many politicians and bureaucrats want to impose here in America. As he travelled further east through Egypt and the Middle East the fees and red tape became almost unsurmountable, leaving Adrian with the impression that the governments involved were less interested in public safety than in what seemed just pure extortion. Not surprisingly, GA was almost non-existent in those countries. The group with Epic Aircraft that ended its around-the-world flight at AirVenture this year had similar stories.
Why do I discuss this here? Your freedom to fly depends on YOU! You must jealously guard it from well-intentioned folks who want to tax or restrict it--just a little more, in the interest of safety or for the greater public good, of course. Don’t be a frog in the pot on these GA issues! If there’s a public hearing on these local issues you can support GA by showing up and voicing your opinion; that’s what a democracy is truly about. I did just that some ten years ago in response to a citizen initiative to shut down our local airport over noise issues. I organized local pilots, recruited a candidate for city council to oppose an anti-airport council member and we prevailed. We found it was one very vocal complainant who had organized a few others, a not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) pattern that recent academic research suggests is common. BTW, don’t expect the FAA to get involved and support the airports—they do not.
NIMBYs are busy at work around the country, trying to close GA airports and/or restrict flight paths and flying hours. This isn’t news for our members residing in the Northeast, where flight paths are being restricted by local ordinances. In California bureaucrats are trying to close the Santa Monica airport, as well as enact policies that would all but end the sale of 100LL. The user fee debate is not dead here in the U.S., and is certainly not dead elsewhere. These issues are critically important to all pilots. Stay informed and involved.
On the offensive side you can help GA by advocating for airport improvement projects at your local aerodrome. Or you can advocate for building new airports in your local town or city. Meet your airport manager. Ask to see the airport master plan. It should include a 5 year plan for airport improvements. Take a look at it or get a copy. Does it include provisions for taxiway and runway rehab, airport lighting, etc.? If not ask. With the new administration already promising to infuse a massive amount of your hard earned tax dollars into this country’s infrastructure make sure some of that goes to your local airport. After all, you paid for it. Once you have reviewed the master plan get involved with local airport support groups or start one if one does not exist. Contact AOPA’s Airport Support Network. Then contact your Congressman and Senators; speak or write to them about how important these projects are to you. Also contact the White House and let the President know directly how important GA is to you—after all he owns one of the county’s largest GA aircraft (vanity plates included) and has used it effectively to travel this country in support of his business and campaign.
Democracy is alive and well in the United States, but it only works if you get active on issues important to you!
For questions or comments on the post contact Jeff via email: j.edwards [at] lancairowners.com.