Let me try this on you: I’d guess that most people – obviously not including you, since you’re reading this magazine – have a generally negative view of aircraft and flying.
Think about it: the closest most people get to airplanes is riding the airlines to go visit someone . . . and we know what kind of experience that is. Apart from those who are scared to death that the flight is the last bit of transportation they’ll ever take in this life and that what’s left of their body after the crash will never be found, I’ve never heard any of the people in the back of the bus carrying on about how cool it was to get irradiated and frisked by the TSA and then crammed into knee-knocking seats that are so tight that you can’t get into your pocket to get the money out to pay for the “food” that they want to sell you.
It gets worse, of course if they have ever been stuck on the ramp for multiple hours with the lavatories overflowing for reasons the company chose not to tell them about. The whole experience is pretty de-humanizing.
The other times when most people get near an aircraft is when one flies overhead. Although you and I probably look up and admire the machine, there are a whole lot of folks who just hear the noise and don’t think that they should have to. Some see the plane (or the contrails) and think of the pollution that is coming out of the exhaust of the engines and how aviation is contributing toward the destruction of the planet and the opportunities for their kids. (They’re generally wrong, by the way, about the relative contribution that aviation – particularly GA – contributes to the total air pollution, but for this discussion, that is moot.)
Then there’s the general attitude that just about everyone has about business aviation. I was impressed when talking to a senior executive of a Wichita-area airframe company recently about the kids coming out of college who were looking for jobs with his company. They desperately wanted to get a job with this jet manufacturer but when asked what they thought about the product that they might be working on, the almost universal reaction was that private jets were for “fat cats” and that they polluted and made too much noise.
There’s a reason why Barack Obama picks on business aviation when he’s trying to make a point about the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. I used to be in politics. I can tell you with great certainty that the political guys in the White House have very good polling data that says that private jets are the go-to, symbolic hot button to use if you want to get an immediate, predictable response from the public about the inequity of it all.
If you like airplanes and flying like I do, then all of this hurts a bit. You feel sad that these folks don’t appreciate the beauty, the productivity, the freedom and even the spiritual nature of driving a plane through the sun striped, strato-cu clouds or marveling at the light art painted across the surface of the planet during a CAVU, twilight approach to someplace like LAX.
This perception disparity is serious business. I’ll talk about that next month.