Saturday, September 19, 2009

Who's killing general aviation? General aviators

This is an old conversation but one I'm bringing back anyway. Another lousy article about general aviation appeared this week; this time in USA Today.

The reaction from the pilot community, which I realize is almost universally and slavishly devoted to right-wing talk radio, was swift, predictable, and completely counterproductive.

"The media" got blamed and that -- as someone once said -- is another example of the lazy convenience of the generalization. It's easy to stamp our feet and whine, rather than actually do anything. Maybe we learned this from our political discourse; maybe not.

AOPA simply doesn't know how to react these sorts of stories other than playing the part of the aggrieved victim and then throwing out some statistics which just about everyone at a small -- and usually quiet -- airport knows is complete bullshit. The EAA wasm't that much better. The subject line in their Hotline:

Biased Reporting Sparks Outrage Within Aviation Community

That might be true. Well, in this case, it was true. But nobody outside of aviation cares. Take any crook who ever got caught, and they'll insist they didn't do it. The general population sees it as a typical response from a guilty party.

In the piece itself, Tom Poberezny of EAA did a little better job, casting the blame on airlines:

“This is very upsetting but not unexpected – It’s obvious the airlines are still trying to fix their broken business model by inflaming the public with one-sided media stories,” said Tom Poberezny, EAA chairman/president. “For several years, the airlines have tried to shift the burden of supporting our nation’s airport infrastructure by tossing it on the back of general aviation. It was wrong before and it still is.”

But where are the other stories about aviation? Where is the public benefit of general aviation not tied to an economic payback? EAA, in particular, is in a unique position to tell these stories to the general public; they've got Timeless Voices of Aviation, and the greatest video team ever assembled for aviation. But they're telling the story mostly to us -- the choir. We've got to figure out how to tell that story to the public and begin to understand that the public will accept that which it values and it can -- and often does -- value things without requiring an economic equation in the black. It values that which can enhance a quality of life.

We build sports stadiums for rich owners of sports teams, even though the economic payback was long ago disproved. Why? Because people want a sports team. Why don't we think about justifying the value of general aviation on those terms? Or can't we?

The other day I got a press release from a PR firm trying to promote a benefit for a local Wings of Mercy chapter. They're bringing in two crew members from the US Air flight that ditched in the Hudson River. Good idea. But if I'm a news person -- and I am -- what story am I going to tell? I'm going to tell the story -- yet again -- of the ditching of the flight. If the PR firm is lucky, I'll mention -- for a couple of seconds -- why the crew was here.

My idea? Let me tell the story of one family who benefited from Wings of Mercy. It'll be new, fresh, and compelling.

That's the way we need to think as general aviation pilots. We need to stop trying to hide behind statistics or star power and recognize the stories we've got in our hangar and the one next to us.

To do that requires us to stop whining and start doing something.

Here's the thread on VAF (now closed, thankfully). Look, I know you can't teach idiots; that much we all know. But there's always hope that the effort yields a light bulb in others.


...and hardly a whimper about the 2 million + folks that showed up in DC for the Tea Party.

Its why I hate the mainstream media.
Bob Japundza A&P, EAA TC
RV-6 flying ~1000 hrs, F1 under const. Indy
"Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe,
and preserve order in the world as well as property...
Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them."

Cost is considerably less than an Acorn headcount.
Always a bummer to hear about GA airport issues in a negative light. Tax dollars well spent to improve our infrastructure and security. I can't tell you how vital our little old "expensive" GA airport is after a coastal hurricane......

Humble opinion...
Chris Schmitt
Shallotte, NC
RV9A 90970 N614RV
flying, phase 2
RV9 in progress


Man I read the article at 0330 this morning on my way out of Dulles. I was not happy. It was all very negative. Very little pluses were mentioned. At least the airport manager said if he charged landing fees he knew that no one would land there and the business would go somewhere else.
Ridgecrest, CA
RV-8 fastback: Tail kit (166 hrs) / Wing kit (540 hrs) / Fuse (95hrs) My RV-8 builder’s log
RV-4 fastback: Working on everything

Mike S
While I happen to agree with the comments above, please remember that this forum/site is not a place for political commentary.
Mike Starkey
Rv-10, VAF 909
EAA 512

Working on window installation.

"Flying the airplane is more important than radioing your plight to a person on the ground incapable of understanding or doing anything about it."

Ron Lee
The comments are not about politics
It is about how accurate the media is in reporting "news." You could investigate any other transportation infrastructure, especially roads, and come up with similar "conclusions."

Example: while some may want fuel tax money to be returned to localities in the same proportion as its users, that would leave rural/desolate areas unable to maintain their highways.

This is especially true when it comes to the interstate system. Should the country blow off paying a disproportionate share to maintain highways in the west compared to urban areas?

There is an airport near me that needs to have a taxiway repaved. I have no problem with them getting more than their "fair share" to maintain it since it does benefit me as a pilot.

I have been to numerous airports that get lower traffic than commercial airports but they served me well.

It seems that the thrust of the article is that if it does not serve passenger traffic, it is not worth spending money on. Of course there is the airline vs GA hype.

Overall it is an obviously biased piece of reporting and not one that I would pen my name to.

Bob CollinsYou know, hate is an awfully strong word. Hatred for an entire group of people who go to work every day, most of whom do the best they can, and sometimes go work on their airplanes on the way home from being mainstream media? I still am idealistic enough to think that we as aviators are better than that and I try to cling to that against virtually all evidence to the contrary.

The guy who wrote this piece? He's mainstream media, too. And I'll bet he's a nice guy. I'll bet most everyone on this forum would like him if you didn't hate him so much. The nerve. Writing a positive GA piece.

Someone here could have spread the link to that around. It would've, perhaps, shown others how positive GA news is possible and is being done. It might've given an aviator the idea that maybe all mainstream media people aren't jerks like the USA Today reporter.

But nobody on VAF today, I notice, could be bothered with spreading a positive, productive, and cooperative story about general aviation. Shame on you all. You want everyone to be excited and well informed about GA and you're not even excited about GA.

Look, we've been over this hundreds of times here. The USA Today article? Yeah, it sucks. So deal with IT. Do something productive. Make your feelings known to USA Today and rather than enhance the bunker mentality by inflating its importance while deflating the work of mainstream media who are trying to do something productive for GA, try a tactic other than spreading hate and see if maybe that works.

I approach a LOT of aviators during the course of a year and good share of the time I'm met with hostility. Is part of the reason that there are a few bad reporters writing articles? Sure. But part of it because a few of you are wasting your time spreading your hate of "mainstream media" -- which, by the way, is plural -- and poisoning your fellow aviators, thus completely neutering the good work that a lot of reporters are doing in support of GA. What's the matter with you?

We have this whole Young Eagles strategy of one person at a time and yet we can't be bothered recognizing that it works the same way for mainstream media too. Each is different. So convert -- or support -- one at a time.

Your Tea Party comment doesn't belong in a VAF post, by the way. I get enough talk show politics elsewhere.
Bob Collins
Coordinator of Nothing
Piece of Grass 2009
St. Paul, MN.
N614EF RV-7A
Letters From Flyover Country

Bob, my point with my Tea Party comment has nothing to do with whatever side of the political fence your on, it has to do with the fact that one of the largest demonstrations EVER in DC was largely ignored by the media. Clearly a bias on the media's part. Yet, by coincidence, a very biased, sensationalistic, one-sided anti-GA story with very little national importance appears on the front page. Aren't journalists supposed to be professional, impartial and unbiased? Certainly not so in either case. AOPA had a lot of input for this reporter before the article was written, but none of their input made its way into the article. It just shows that they're not interested in telling the real story.

Yes hate is a strong word, and I sorry you take it personally, but I'm not going to candy coat the way I feel in general towards your profession. Yes you are correct, bad apples make the good ones like yourself look bad, but lets face it, there are far more bad apples in journalism today then there are good ones.
Bob Japundza A&P, EAA TC
RV-6 flying ~1000 hrs, F1 under const. Indy
"Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe,
and preserve order in the world as well as property...
Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them."
Thomas Paine

Bob Collins

I've always had a problem with the AOPA way of dealing with these stories. I read their news release this evening and it's predictably lame. They keep wanting to make an economic argument and maybe that works at Frederick, Maryland but in many communities it doesn't. There aren't businesses on the field.

Now, one thing they COULD point out is much of the spending is for infrastructure so that planes are landing and taking off safely, especially around people's houses. What people want a plane guessing where a runway is?

They could also point out that cities are getting rent money from hangars, communities are getting property tax money and sales tax money but even then it's a questionable argument. It's also one that's Washingtonian in nature. These people don't know how to argue an issue any other way.

This is when EAA chapters get to withdraw the deposit of goodwill they make when they do pancake breakfasts, airshows and Young Eagle flights and they should stress that and the romance of flying.

They should take note of the first line in the NPR interview with the reporter this evening. "Even though most of us don't use them...." and note the relationship to the ticket tax.

It was a perfect opportunity to point out that small airports near big airports relieve congestion, and that the few dollars that a passenger spends is a good price to pay to avoid having another plane hit you. It was a chance to point Angel Flights and Wings of Mercy and a host of other valuable program. MANY of which mainstream media has profiled.

There are many, many, many ways to legitimize the value of an airport other than on economics.

More bad ones than good ones? I don't how many people in the business you know but I suspect not many, and I don't know how much media you consume other than the usual talk shows and cable shows that depend on feeding the outrage of their viewers in order to turn a buck, but I can assure you that's absolutely not true and I'll put the entire cost of my instrument panel against yours that I can find more positive stories about GA this month than you can find negative ones. But I suspect it would be a wasted effort against an entrenched attitude.

I can only say this: Save some of your outrage because you're going to need more of it than you've got.

The attitude that you embody is going to do its part to kill GA much more than an occasional story in a newspaper not very many people actually read and there aren't enough of us == reasonable people willing to invest something other than T-shirt slogans and bumper sticker rhetoric == to save us from the attitude and face that these negative approaches bring to general aviation.

You can try to win the fight GA is in with your us-against-them approach to it. But as the old saying goes, "Never pick a fight with someone who buys their ink by the barrel.

GA has wayyyyy more friends than enemies in the mainstream media. Do something to take advantage of that rather than reverse it while you still can.

But reading your comments make me want to just throw up my hands and give up and if GA pilots don't want to lift a finger to work with my profession to save it, well, why should I invest any capital in the effort?

And if you're driving me away from telling GA's story, believe me, GA is in bigger trouble than even you think.

That's the last I have to say on the subject.


Bob your response proves my point exactly. As a journalist, you should not be pontificating or advocating, whether its GA, politics, or anything... and exemplifies the fact that none of you guys report anything without injecting your own views on the subject. As a consumer of news, I want fair and unbiased, not a journalists view on how to save the world. That's my 'attitude'. Why should you, as a journalist, feel that it is your duty to defend GA? We have organizations we all support to act as our mouthpieces. Starting tomorrow evening, we'll have at least 1500 people come and hang out in my hangar over the course of the weekend. Most aren't pilots. Last year we raised over 12K for a charity. That's the sort of thing that gives the public a favorable view of GA.
Bob Japundza A&P, EAA TC
RV-6 flying ~1000 hrs, F1 under const. Indy
"Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe,
and preserve order in the world as well as property...
Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them."
Thomas Paine


  1. I appreciate your nuanced perspective on these issues, Bob. Don't get too beat down by the vocal few. A journalist has as much right to an opinion as anyone, of course!

  2. Bob

    I appreciate your point of view, but I have seen a lot of one sided reporting. I don't know if there is an agenda, or if reporters are simply taking the easy way and regurgitating what they are receiving from a single source.

    This is a generalization, but it appears to me that journalists do not do enough diligence in researching and understanding their subjects before they publish or air a story. This is not limited to aviation.

    On top of researching, and understanding the basics of the topic, they also need to do the extra work to present both sides of the argument, and let the reader decide the merits of both. In many, many cases this simply does not occur.

  3. Yes, of course there is a lot of one sided reporting. That's not the issue I'm addressing.

    My point is the sweeping generalizations are creating an us-against-them attitude between pilots nad journalists -- all journalists.

    Look, for every USA Today reporter you show me, I'll show you a Miles O'Brien. For every MSNBC goofball you show me, I'll show you a James Fallows.

    We can go on and on and on. But the reality is when they come to close your airport, it'll be the people in your town that'll do it. That's why those articles about your fly-ins are important.

    You've GOT to contact your local reporters and get them in the air.

    I was sitting next to a guy who lives near my airport the other day at a pancake breakfast. He's a vet. He was turret gunner in a B-17. Flew 28 missions over Berlin, came home and never flew a plane.

    But what he wanted to talk about was a program some of the guys up here have to take veterans flying. It's a great program and nobody knows about it.

    I gauran-fickin'-tee you that your local media would LOVE to know about a story like that. They'd LOVE to know about Wings of Mercy and other fantastic endeavors we do.

    The local airport a sa rule is NEVER going to make it in a bake-off with an industrial park or new homes. It'll make it for one reason: Good things happen there.

    THAT'S the story we need to tell but if we're too busy ASSUMING all reporter get it wrong, then we might as well start pulling the PAPIs and start regrading the runways and get something else in there.

    As far as how to be a reporter, anybody who wants to spend a day watching how news is put together, say the word and I'll let you sit in one of the finest newsrooms in the country and see how it's done.

  4. Flight training, is at it's lowest point in 44 years of such record keeping. Marketing efforts are practically non-existent at small aviation businesses that serve and would be the promoters of the value of general aviation to local communities. AOPA's extraordinary efforts and industry partnerships, like GA Team 2000 (Be A in the late '90s fizzled out as the economy turned south. Unless flight training becomes more attractive a business and more affordable for students, and soon, we can predict the end of public access to light general aviation in our lifetime. Pilots and planes are already old. An affordable Cessna's 162 Skycatcher with new enticing learn-to-fly promotions cannot come soon enough.