In’s and Out’s? Shouldn’t that read, “Up’s and Down’s”? After all, flying is all about up and down, and there’s a lot of press that remind us of the Down’s in our industry. So Marc, what’s UP?
When I drive in the area of my home airport (PWK), I notice occupied cars parked by the fence or in the observation area. Sometimes the car is running, sometimes not. In all cases the driver is an active observer of any and all activity on the other side of the fence. The observation area has a picnic table, so it’s not unusual to see a single person or a family enjoying a sandwich while taking in the sights and sounds of the airport. It is clear these observers share our passion. Without speaking a word, we know what they are thinking and feeling. You can see the dream of flight in their eyes. It is clear as a CAVU day.
What isn’t as clear is the stark distinction between those that watch from outside the fence, compared to those lucky enough to gain “insider” access to this special place. To state it another way, the emotional separation between the “insiders” and “outsiders” is almost non-existent, but the physical separation is a deep and wide chasm.
This “Aha” moment hit me the other day when I drove by the observation area, and noticed a mini-van parked there. I made the turn and parked my car. I saw a man with three young children enjoying their fast food lunch. I had just picked up lunch and was pleased they invited me to join them at the table. The children couldn’t wait to tell me about the airplanes they had seen. Whether on the ground or in the air, they made sure I saw each one of them. The father didn’t know much about general aviation, but you could tell he was there for the kids…. and for himself. It was obvious we all shared the love and interest in aviation.
I finally told them I was part of the “inside the fence people” (not actually said, but you get the point), and asked if they were interested to join me for a quick tour of a community hangar and even sit inside an airplane. The answer was no surprise. We drove to the security fence, and as I pulled up to enter the access code, a sense of the anticipation and excitement in the van behind me welled up inside me.
The gate was opening and they were going to see what they thought was unavailable to them. As we walked into the large hangar, the gasp from the four of them was an indication of how unprepared they were of the realities inside the fence.
Moving out to the ramp and into the cabin of a four seat Piper, resulted in more oohs and ahhs than heard at the Fourth of July fireworks show. After a short conversation and an invitation to join us at our next club function, they thanked me and drove back through the fence and on with their day.
I could tell I had a big smile on my face. Just as flying makes my day, I had just used flying to make someone else’s day.
General Aviation needs to see growth in the “active” pilot community. I know it can be done and know the solution will come from within the community. What must be remembered is the community extends beyond the fence. There are insiders and outsiders. It’s up to the insiders to seek out those on the other side of the fence. And with a simple turn of a key, or a push of a couple buttons on an access panel, we can bring dreams to life and eliminate the fences that only serve to keep us from our potential.
Marc Epner is an instrument rated private pilot who earned his rating in 1976. After a 25-year hiatus, Marc rekindled his love of aviation in 2004 and has become a part owner of a SR-22. Marc looks for opportunities to be an advocate for general aviation through presentations, writing and flying. He is also president of Leading Edge Flying Club at Chicago Executive Airport (KPWK).