I have always said about myself that I am a jeans and T-shirt girl. I can get dressed up and go to some pretty fancy events, but in the end, I just want to put my jeans on and go fly something. I have found that no matter the venue aviation lovers have more in common than not. It is through shared passion that we can inspire flight, protect airports and airspace.
On Friday night, I had the honor of attending the Living Legends of Aviation awards, which is a fundraiser for the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy. The gala, attended by 700 plus, was held at the Beverly Hilton hotel. To say that the evening was star studded would be an understatement. Both John Travolta and Harrison Ford played a part in recognizing this year’s inductees, among them pilots, astronauts, entrepreneurs, and visionaries.
Harrison Ford addressed the crowd about H.R. 2997, the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act, which, in a six-year process, would in part privatize ATC. He described the bill as a “solution in search of a problem.” If passed the control of our air traffic system would be turned over to a 13 member private board, with the majority representing the airlines. The fear in privatization is resources being diverted away from smaller general aviation airports, and smaller commercial air carriers. Harrison stated, “less than 20 percent of airlines fleet has been upgraded to take advantage of ADS-B efficiencies. 1 percent of airlines are capable of using it, versus 80 percent of the general aviation fleet.” Our national air traffic system is the safest and most capable in the world. No matter what we are flying, we need to be on guard for dangerous legislation or power grabs.It might be easy to make an assumption that folks dressed in ball gowns and tuxedos are far removed from jeans and T-shirt grass-roots general aviation. But that assumption would be quickly debunked. A video package was created for each inductee; soon it became apparent that we all started in the same place, general aviation.
Time after time, each “Legend” stated that as a young child, while gazing skyward, they were mesmerized by aviation. How many of us can say the same? Almost all of us started in a piston single. Some of us made that type airplane our life-long love affair. Others moved to aviation in the military, commercial, law enforcement, performance, or space travel. The most important thing to remember is that we all started in the same GA place. One of the reasons I love attending the AOPA Regional Fly-Ins, Sun ‘n Fun or EAA AirVenture is the camaraderie. Whether talking to Mark Baker or someone who flew in a Cub, it doesn’t take long for a conversation to turn to “where is your home airport?” or “what do you fly?”
Some of you may know that in mid-November I earned my instrument rating [https://blog.aopa.org/aopa/2017/11/20/gotta-get-that-rating/]. Part of my commitment to my safety was the purchase of an IFR certified GPS and ADS-B compliant transponder. Then I had the daunting task of finding an avionics shop I could depend on for the install. A dear friend recommended Chris Tharp who owns Barber Aviation in Madera, CA. He said, “They are going to do everything in their power to do a great install and fix any ailments the airplane has.” On tap for my Mooney M20E was the installation of the GTX335 and 530W. I had never arranged an avionics install and was nervous. Chris was thorough and understanding in explaining the process to me.
While owned by Lawson Barber, the shop was well-known in California as Beechcraft West. In 2008, Chris purchased Barber Aviation and in 2014 purchased the avionics arm of the business. The shop has 5 employees and is bustling with maintenance and repair as well as avionics. The atmosphere is quintessentially GA: hearty welcome, friendly and accommodating. I was given a detailed quote and an estimate of 5-7 business days for the installation. The avionics installer was Brandon Petersen. I am a communicator, especially when it comes to my airplane. I was thrilled that Brandon was able to send me photos and answered my questions during the process.
The work was done on time, and my next hurdle was getting from the event in Beverly Hills to the Central Valley of California. Again, GA to the rescue, I was able to hop a ride in a cool solid black Pilatus [PC12] from Fullerton. I jumped at the chance to fly that bad boy back to Fresno. The day was beautiful and it was fun to be flying over all the traffic in LA as well as the backup on I-5 from the 101 being closed in Santa Barbara due to the mudslides.Arriving in Madera I was met by Brandon and Chris. We went over the ins and outs of the install [pun intended]. While waiting for a finishing touch, Chris and I were able to talk about the state of general aviation. In his opinion GA in the United States is on an upswing. His business is seeing a 200% increase with the ADS-B work. He talked about business life on a GA airport, the challenges and the benefits. As a business owner myself I could relate to funding improvements to the business versus pulling a larger salary. Chris brought up ATC privatization and his opposition to it. He is concerned that GA will be left out by a committee stacked with commercial interests as well as the potential for small airports like Madera being overlooked. Even with those concerns, I was struck by his unwavering optimism for aviation, his employees and his shop.
Departing Madera IFR I had a thought; no matter whether dressed in sequins or 501’s we are all alike sharing a common passion for flying. The most important thing is that each of us contributes to making aviation safer, more efficient, and increasing our big, diverse, and passionate family.