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Ignorance is . . . well, ignorance

 

CBS Story Screen Grab

CBS Story Screen Grab

CBS Evening News ran a report by Sharyl Attkisson on Monday titled Tiny Airports Get Big Cut of Stimulus Cash.  You can check it out at http://tinyurl.com/ltk3dr.

A half-researched and poorly-understood effort by an editorial team that doesn’t understand the subject matter that it’s covering.  And doesn't seem to care.  And, most disturbingly, it appears not to matter to these folks that the public is likely to take the reporting at face value despite the inaccuracies and innuendo.  This is, after all, CBS News.  I heard once that Walter Cronkite spent some time there.  I could be wrong.

Ah, where to start?  Seriously.  I had a huge problem writing this piece because there’s such an assemblage of wrongness from which to start.  So let’s dive in and cover a couple of the most glaring problems.

First, the most prominently-featured airport.  CBS makes the place out to be a private country club for social gatherings where stowage of golf clubs and martini kits are the chief weight and balance considerations for departing aircraft.  CBS refers to the Williamson Flying Club, the owner of the airport, as “a private social club for local pilots.”  Does that conjure images of ascot-wearing local robber barons standing around their private airliners wondering what the poor are doing today?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Williamson Sodus Airport is a rural airport located in New York about four nautical miles south of the Lake Ontario shore.  It has a paved 3,800-foot runway (10 and 28) that’s 60 feet wide.  It has two instrument approaches (RNAV 10 and RNAV 28) that permit IFR aircraft to approach down to 600 feet off the ground in instruments.  And there’s a dimple in the Class E airspace just above it to permit aircraft to remain in controlled airspace for most of the approach.

It’s more than 20 miles from any other airport and it provides a valuable back door to transient aircraft that experience weather, fuel, mechanical, or other issues.

You can train there and earn your FAA airman certificates and ratings.  You can land there for fuel (which is reasonably priced, according to 100LL.com) and probably get something to eat. You can shoot instrument approaches there.  The senior members and the cadets (youth age 12-21) of the Williamson Composite Squadron of the US Civil Air Patrol are based in Williamson and occasionally meet at, and conducts operations from, the airport.

Maybe it’s the word “club.”  The airport is privately owned by Williamson Flying Club, Inc.  Maybe CBS is reading too much into the name with the word “club” in it.  I might wonder about that, too, if I weren’t smart enough to do even the most basic additional research.  Fortunately, I’m sufficiently smart.  Or at least smarter than CBS News.

Williamson Flying Club, Inc. is a duly-chartered nonprofit corporation under the laws of the State of New York since May 22, 1956.  It is limited by Section 201 of the state’s nonprofit corporation law to non-business, non-profit activities.  The airport was a farm in 1957 when the club seeded the first 1,800-foot grass runway at the present site.  And the club has, through its efforts, managed to preserve and build this great example of the American rural airport during the more than 50 years since then.

It’s not odd that the airport is privately owned.  In fact, more than 1,000 public-use airports in the US are privately owned.  That’s nearly one in five such airports.

Williamson-Sodus Airport is open to the public. I can go land there any time I like and so can any of the other hundreds of thousands of certificated pilots in the US, together with their friends, relatives, employees, patients, rescue subjects, clients, and others.  According to AOPA, some 74 aircraft are based at the airport.  (The club’s website identifies only four aircraft belonging to the club itself.)  Aircraft conduct about 73 operations per day there.  About 9% of the traffic is transient traffic from (and to) other places.

The fact of the matter is that there’s almost no way to know by looking at, landing at, or taking off from, the airport that it’s privately-owned.  In fact, although I don’t have the actual agreements, Williamson Flying Club probably had to agree to legion FAA requirements in order to obtain the federal funds for the runway work.  Requirements that keep the airport open to pilots like me and others if we want, or need, to land there.  Requirements that keep the facility dedicated to serving the national air transportation system.

Williamson Flying Club is certainly more than “a private social club for local pilots.”  It’s not, as CBS would have the soft-of-skull believe, a Great-Gatsby-esque country club where taxiing aircraft have to give way to polo ponies.  And I’m pretty sure that croquet is rarely played there. Williamson Flying Club is a nonprofit organization that runs a vital airport.

CBS then leers at you while saying that the $400,000 project took five days to complete and leers even more when it asks how many unemployed workers were employed by the project.  I’m not a paving contractor, but $400,000 doesn’t seem like a lot to surface most of a mile of 60-foot wide runway.  You have to buy aggregate and tar and stuff, too.  There are material costs.  And does CBS need to be reminded that people who are already employed (say, by runway paving contractors) need ongoing work to, uh, stay employed?  To keep them from becoming unemployed?  Or that having a viable runway for the next 10 years will support the growth of the surrounding communities, to say nothing of those who spend and earn their money at the airport flying, training, receiving maintenance and other services?

CBS goes on to complain about grants to airports in Indiana and Alaska.  I don’t know whether $800,000 is too much for an animal abatement program.  I suppose we’d need a light twin to take a Canadian Goose in the windshield to find out.  We seem pretty interested in abatement programs around New York these days, but only because it made national news.

With respect to Ouzinkie Airport  in Alaska, the words “cheap shot” come to mind.  Alaska is a remote place.  The airport is on Kodiak Island, 20 miles off the shore of what is already a remote place.  Ouzinkie, one of a relative few airports on Kodiak Island (yes, island - very important point here) is open to the public and hosts private and government activities, about 40% transient general aviation and 40% air taxi operations, according to the 2006 numbers (the most recent I could get my hands on).  I suppose $15 million to build roads wouldn’t have been a problem (it happens all the time elsewhere and benefits even smaller communities).  But I wouldn’t expect CBS to understand that airports are the roads of Alaska.  If you can’t get on board with putting money into airports in Alaska, you might as well give up that 49th star on the flag and abandon Alaska altogether.  I’m not ready to do that.  I’m pretty sure that the Alaskans aren’t either.

Folks, Sharyl Attkisson, or whatever junior production assistant wrote the leering, innuendo-ridden story has probably long forgotten about it.  She and they are no doubt off on the next quest to become Nancy Grace.  Neither she nor they seem to care about the real underlying facts.  Pilots and others who understand the facts are left to mop up and hope that a few of the folks who depend on CBS to tell the whole story see this piece and get the rest of the story here.

I know that the public thinks that pilots like Sully Sullenberger spring from the womb with exquisite pilot skills that don’t have to be learned at small airports like Williamson Sodus Airport.  And that Alaska is all flat with four-lane divided highways that make flight unnecessary.

But we know better.  And CBS should know better.  I cry foul.  And you should, too.

13 Responses to “Ignorance is . . . well, ignorance”

  1. Nicely put!!

  2. Mike Sparks Says:
    July 15th, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Very well expressed! But just one correction. There is no such thing as a Canadian Goose or Canadian Geese. They are Canada Geese and one is a Canada Goose. The word Canada here is an adjective as is.

  3. Actually, they were Canadian nationals. TSA checked their passports.

  4. Regarding the Ouzinkie airport, it is not actually on Kodiak Island, but rather Spruce Island, just to the north of the City of Kodiak. While Ouzinkie may seem remote to outsiders, it is only a 10-minute flight from Kodiak's jet-served state airport. I have flown in and out of Ouzinkie's airport many times in all kinds of weather, and can attest to how crucial it is to residents of that small village. I agree with Mr. Tupper that because most of Alaska's villages are off the road system, Alaska's rural airports are absolutely essential as transportation links, just as the Alaska Marine Highway System is for many of the coastal communties.

  5. I truly believe the media is currently void of intelligent thought and unbiased reporting.

  6. Interesting article and interesting commentary. The article was definitely one-sided and misleading. CBS News gets an F for objectivity and thorough reporting.

    I think this is part of a larger issue, though. The general public doesn't understand the value of general aviation and therefore doesn't value small airports. If you can't fly there in an RJ or a 757, what good is it to the average person? As a pilot, I have an obvious reason to value these airports. The numerous benefits of rural airports are not obvious to non-pilots, and we should not expect people to understand unless we explain it to them.

    On the cost issue, I agree that $400,000 does not seem like too much to repave a runway. Aspen, CO spent approximately $11.9 million ($11 million from the FAA) for its 2007 Runway Rehabilitation Project. They did a lot more than just repave it, but they also spent a lot more than $400,000. The bulk of that project took a whopping 60 days. Not exactly a source of long-term employment there either.

    I wonder if AOPA would go after CBS News for us...

  7. joe delgado Says:
    July 16th, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I live in Ouzinkie and i must say many of us here laughed at the misinformation that we saw being reported about our airport.Some also were offended by the uninformed reporting.Watching the story made to sound as if we rarely use our airport when in reality we have between 4 to 8 flights per day here. We get much of what we need for everyday life on those planes.not only do we use the airstrip but many pilots from Kodiak use it to practice touch and go's, the Coast Guard does the same, in fact just over a week ago a helicopter was here for a half an hour practicing.Now, to many people down there this is a waste of money but ask the people that the Coast Guard pulls out of the water how they feel about it.Another reason we need the new runway is a safty reason, as it is now with the one runway some of the winds are cross ways and up here we have winds that we fly in that would keep you in your house. this new runway will give us the ability to recieve goods on many more days. The money we got for this runway is but a drop in the bucket and no matter what we say i know that many of you will continue to believe that it is a waste, I urge you to come here to see for yourself. Not only will you learn our situation but you will use the runway! have a good day

  8. Jenn Price Says:
    July 17th, 2009 at 11:22 am

    To view AOPA's article regarding the CBS story, visit: http://www.aopa.org/advocacy/articles/2009/090714stimulus.html

  9. The media don't report anything objectively. They basically listen to what politics want them to say to serve their agenda and then publish it. Steve Tupper, you got it right on!

  10. Well put and well its the Media. They will cover illegal items like the Kimberly Anyadike flight and make it a big deal even though the pilots who allowed it were in violation of USC Title 49 Section 44274! They won't bother to research that either!

  11. CBS is only interested in being part and parcel of, and a mouthpiece for, the liberal Democrat party that is only interested in the destruction of this nation as we have known it, and "rich flyboys" are not part of that vision.

    CBS has no use for facts, but only for "information" that continues the class warfare (and race-baiting in some cases) playbook of the Demos.

    Unfortunately, we cannot ignore it and hope our side of the story is told. Too many morons among us get their only source of "news" from the likes of CBS and other Democrat mouthpieces, and don't attempt to gain a balanced view by obtaining other sources of news. So we, as pilots, must spread actual facts around our own circle of influence.

  12. Art J., Tax Payer. Says:
    August 3rd, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Check wikipedia. That airport has 42... that's FORTY TWO aircraft operations per month.

    If you want to live in the middle of nowhere, then you know full well what you're getting in to.

    If you want to use MY tax dollars for civil development, THEN MOVE TO CIVILIZATION.

  13. Art J., the issue is whether you want that 49th star on the flag or not. Alaska has something approaching 20% of the land mass of the United States. If we want to be in Alaska, that's the price of admission. Alaska's airports are its roads.

    If you'll simply come out and say that you'd be willing to abandon Alaska (which, make no mistake, is what you're actually saying), then we're fine and can disagree with the basis of the disagreement well understood.

    But I find that guys like you think that we can have Alaska and keep it inhabited by sled dogs and the occasional sitcom cast. I'll bet that you have no problem with roads at $300K to $12 million per mile, regardless of whether the roads support an economically or strategically important town or settlement. But, if one substitutes an alternative transportation system that involves airplanes over much greater distances with much higher stakes, you can't make the intellectual jump.

    If you're in Alaska, you're into airports. I'm not ready to give up that 49th star. And neither are you if you really sit down and do the math.

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