Hangar Talk: Editorial
by Craig Peyton
Man has been dreaming of controlled flight since the cave days. This century we achieved this vision. While never getting anywhere near the popularity of cars or boats, general aviation was growing from a post war slump until the early 80's. From producing close to 20,000 aircraft per year in 1979 to less than 2,000 per year by 1992, we have crashed big time.
Things are showing signs of improvement but the real numbers, new aircraft, new pilots, are still not even holding the line. The last editorial pointed out many of my frustrations, and where it seems we got off the path of vital growth in GA. Putting aside the fact that user fees and expensive new aircraft threaten to kill us off.....I've been looking around for some good news.
For GA to survive into the next century it must broaden its appeal. I know it's enough for most of us motorheads to debate compression ratios and wing loading over coffee and pie at our favorite airport. Unfortunately that's not enough to interest anyone else. The value of flying has to reach out to the whole family. How can the new pilot expect to the family to absorb the 5 to 10,000 yearly expense of flying if they can't benefit at some level. Other items in the budget will have to get cut, like the new car, family vacations, new edition on the house etc. The new flying interest better pay everyone off.
Amid the ever-growing problem of finding available fuel and services when traveling, some airports stand out. Minute Man Air Field just west of Boston is a good example. Pulling up to the fuel pumps after landing there a few weeks ago owner Donald McPherson came out to greet me. While immediately seeing to my fuel needs he started to run down the food menu for that day. The different gourmet meals included turkey with cranberry sauce, rhubarb pie a la mode, stuffed pita BLT's, fresh Colombian coffee and....well you get the idea. This restaurant would succeed on or off an airfield. As I looked over the packed outdoor seating area at Tuesday lunch hour it was clear this was no ordinary airport. Non pilots were having business lunches! My wife, who puts up with our average vending machine pit stop, would have been grooving here. How did food this good find it's way out on the ramp. While enjoying the rhubarb pie and upbeat atmosphere, I listened to Donald speak about his passion for GA and Minute Man Field.
The airport has been a family business, handed down from his father Paul. His love for flying and the lifestyle it represents dominates his life. As Donald watched the downturn of the 80's snowball, in true Boston fashion, he started to dig in and resist. As training slowed down Don started to focus on other money-making areas, like the restaurant, maintenance shop, and services. "To survive you must work every front. Every customer must see something valuable here." When pumping your own fuel, Don uses the honor system. The airfield is spotless, it's a pleasure just walking around. Don is excited about getting "Reliever" status, a government program that improves the runway and helps keep GA out of Boston Logan. Logan makes it very clear GA is not welcome, so having other options is important to pilots visiting Boston. Don has a drop off car rental deal, so with some notice, very little time is wasted after landing. He is exploding with ideas and promotions to keep flying alive and exciting. Minute Man takes part in the EAA's "Young Eagles" program to get kids up in the air the first time.
Don is striving to balance state and federal grant improvements while soothing his neighbor's fears that Minute Man will grow too much, and bring in jet and turboprop noise. With developers building houses closer and closer, he is trying to purchase abutting land to act as a noise buffer. Fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead, Don is holding the line, keeping his operation attractive, safe, and profitable. "Good management is critical, I don't want anyone here who is not pulling 100 %". With airport businesses folding left and right, we need more Don McPhersonÍs bucking the trend.
James Curtis, owner of Abilene Flying Service in Kansas, has a great solution for a common airport problem, transportation. I always try to flight plan to any airport that offers a courtesy car. It sucks to have to rent a car just to drive a few miles for food or beds. Taxies leave you with a stranded feeling, and your wait is often longer than the flight. Always looking to boost the airport image, James approached the town to donate some old police cars worth a few hundred bucks to the airport. On the sides in large letters he printed "AIRPORT AT WORK". The result is 1) The town knows you flew in and are spending your money there, 2) The cars are theft proof, and 3) When the local police see the cars in use, it cues them to keep an extra eye on the airport ramp.
Instead of throwing hundreds of thousands of GAMA 2000 and membership dollars at hopeless ad campaigns and giveaway 172's and Warriors, we could make the whole infrastructure more useful and valuable to all users. Outfitting and listing in the AOPA guide all airports with courtesy cars would increase our fleet's usefulness. Get that "YOUR AIRPORT AT WORK" sign going for grassroots local aviation promotion. If the word was out that flying GA into most small airports got you a free car to use for a minimum fuel purchase, the spouses might perk up. Most Mom and Pop airports need our business now or we'll be stuck buying overpriced fuel at uptight jetports when we travel. People need to see that flying is not only fun, but useful and practical.
Thanks for your responses to the first editorial. Your ideas and suggestions were fun to read and very helpful. It's nice to know there's life out there and that flying holds such a deep place for some people. The aviation picture isn't so good right now, but not hopeless. To turn things around, it's time for hand to hand combat, with the commitment line very clear. We have to convince our friends and associates flying is something worth checking out.
I don't have any plans to ever give up my right to fly, as much as it costs, time and money wise. Learning to do my own maintenance, flying at fuel efficient power settings, and going to airports that want to help out with food and cars have helped keep flying more than an insane hobby. If I canÍt afford to fly certified planes IÍll get into ultralights. It seems the only choice if you really want to fly is to dive all the way in. All the information on how to own and maintain an aircraft is available. For some it might mean flying clubs, sharing, or restoring an old plane, BUT... it can be done.
Those of you that want to fly but don't, better realize, without more new pilots soon none of us will have this freedom.
Thanks again for taking the time to respond, your letters will appear on the Landings web site.
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