Around the Airport

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Every Pilot's a Conservative Until Their Contract Expires


Have you read all the hubbub about the re-classification of public use airports?  How about the stories of airshows being cancelled due to the sequester?  If you’re a pilot and you’re moderately aware of the world around you, then surely you’re familiar with both.  But what do these things have to do with conservative pilots and contract negotiations?  That’s a great question.
Pilots: It’s true; the clear majority of pilots, commercial pilots in this case, are conservatives.  Well, they are until their contract expires.  Because of this, if you’re a conservative, and you work for the airlines, you’ll usually find yourself in good company in the cockpit.  Yet, if you’re a true conservative conversing with others gets tough around contract time.
When negotiations start between “the company” and the union, pilots who were once card carrying conservatives become possessed.  Sounding like MSNBC commentators, their voices change, they begin to act strange, and their logic disappears.  Ironically this is also when pilots believe they are at their smartest.  For anyone with a basic knowledge of economics, this period can by trying.  Not a day goes by that somebody doesn’t suggest the horribly flawed notion of re-regulation as the solution to all ills.  Yes, it is in the season of contract negotiations that bad ideas flow as easily from the mouths of pilots as bad business decisions rain down from management.
Meanwhile, hilariously bogus confrontations between the union and “the company” are repeated like folk songs.  My favorite, which I’ve heard repeated by someone from every airline at some time in my life (I’m not kidding) is the one that goes like this, “Well, the union told them if they (the company) want to use scabs or contract workers to break a strike, then they should remember that the union represents the truck drivers, the loaders, maintenance workers, and the rampers and nothing will move if they do”.  It’s the strangest thing to experience.  Everyone who repeats it believes it.
At any other time of the year, your cockpit cohort would offer needless lessons on the free market.  But the day contract negotiations open, the same person speaks with the accent of a New Jersey dock worker, talks of Jimmy Hoffa Jr. like he’s family, and extols the virtue of the government mediator who is rumored to have sided with the union.
Fortunately at some point in time, usually the last hour before pilots go on strike, the union decides it has successfully put on the appearance of supporting its cash cows and it folds. Simultaneously the company, deciding it has paid enough cash under the table to insure union concessions, puts forth a last minute offer that includes a seven percent pay raise in exchange for two more days of work from each pilot.  Carefully worded to make crews feel they have won even though they have not, the brave new agreement is eagerly accepted by pilots.  The next day, they go back to being conservatives fighting the good free market fight.
Airport Reclassification:  Have you been reading about the FAA public use airport reclassification program?  Although it has been going on for a while now, I can’t say that I’ve seen a single article that accurately described its purpose.  When I first heard about it, the article was so vague it seemed it could only be on purpose.  Therefore I called around asking questions until I ended up with Bill Dunn at AOPA.  So began my next lesson.
Bill was nice to talk to.  Taking time out of his busy day, he humored me right up to the point my questions required answers.  Then it turned into a “catch the greased pig” contest.  By the time I was able to get him to understand I was concerned about the program because we owned a public use airport, he was talking to me the way TSA talks to passengers in airports; doing his best to make me feel small.  Apparently, I was supposed to know exactly what NPIAS was about even though that was the reason I had called.  My goal was to get answers.  When he couldn’t, or didn’t want to provide any, I began to get that feeling you get when someone is about to sell you out.
What was my primary question?  How do airports like ours get representation in this reclassification effort?  His answer, “You don’t need to be involved because your airport doesn’t receive government funding.  AOPA’s only concerns are with airports that receive government funding and that they continue to get funding because that is what the NPIAS is about, spending; who gets the federal dollars?”.  He then gave me examples, one of which was largely a commercial airport that had decided to go ahead with a multi-hundred million dollar project; a project for which I knew the demand was no longer projected.
When I said I felt the smaller airports still needed some representation in this program because I was sure that at some point down the road, somehow these new rules would be used in a manner that would affect us all, he laughed me off as someone who had no idea how government worked.  Oh well, at least he was honest.  AOPA is only concerned about spending (money) and making sure spending doesn’t stop.
As I hung up the phone, I thought about all the government funded airports I knew of that had wasted millions of dollars in upgrades or expansions that were not needed; expansions often supported by the left hand of AOPA as the group’s right hand pulled in millions by playing the “help us help you fight user fees” game.
Now ask yourself, why does the government want user fees?  I’ll tell you why; so there’s more money to spend; spending which, by Bill Dunn’s words, AOPA supports.  It kind of reminds me of “the union vs. the company” song and dance.  Something just isn’t right here.
Airshows:  Oh the poor airshows, victims of the sequester, right?  No.  If you’ve been keeping an eye on aviation news over the past week, you’ve surely heard all the stories of airshow cancellations due to the military pulling their support because of the sequester.  But, let me ask you this; when someone says airshow, do you think of KC-135 fly-bys or do you think of a Pitts trailing smoke or the growl of a P-47 as it seems to lumber by even though it is going faster than the P-51 behind it?  My guess is that most of you, and rightly so, thought of the later.  So how then did we end up in the position of having to cancel airshows when the military pulled out?
Sadly, it’s the same reason as the previous two examples.  We have lost our way and we have decided to ignore the cost of everything.  We have not been minding our own store.  Somewhere along that path our event coordinators and attendees (us) forgot, or better yet chose to ignore, that when you suck from the government tit, you die by the government tit.
For as long as I can remember, when an event touted profits after a day of military fly-bys, I could only quietly chuckle in disbelief.  Once upon a time I even expressed these concerns to the people who ran a very large and “successful” event held nearby.  When I said that an airshow is not a display of modern military aircraft, I was told the show couldn’t survive without them.  That’s when I said we were all paying for those planes (taxes) and I asked what happens when we can’t pay for them anymore; when the government backs out?.  Less than fifteen years ago I was laughed at for that statement as if I were from another planet.  Today the answer to that question is the canceling of airshows that were high on government spending.
So what do these three things have in common; pilot contracts, airport reclassification, and airshows?  "Every pilot is a conservative until their contract expires" pretty much says it all.  When people are not true to their convictions, if members of society willingly remain economically ignorant so they can claim plausible deniability in their quests for short term gain, and when groups raise money on the fear of new taxes while promoting uncontrolled government spending, something is horribly wrong with a society.  In short, they are pieces of evidence in a crime of self destruction.
Despite what many claim, all of these issues could easily be resolved were people willing to face reality.  Instead, our citizens are actually electing to live in a fantasy world, willingly ignoring the most basic laws of nature, society, and economics while picking and choosing to participate in only the thoughts and actions that make them feel good.  Then when things go predictably wrong, everybody acts surprised and wounded.  Is that you?  No?  Are you sure?
Do you believe you are for the free market yet find yourself able to make dozens of excuses for being a proud union member?  Have you ever felt overcharged at an aviation event but because it was helping your cause you never bothered to consider how much tax dollars, your money and the money of others, it takes for our military to operate “for free” at airshows?  And are you sick and tired of the out of control spending by our government but when it comes to your airport, you’re both willing to accept and looking for every dime of government funding you can get?
I know very few people who can deny all three.  Yet, I’m inclined to believe most will try.  Politicians, lobby groups that abuse our trust, and other persons or groups in positions of leadership are not the roots of our problems; they are mere symptoms, reflections of the citizen base.  The next time any of us feel the urge to point the finger of complaint, we would do well to ask ourselves how it is we could demand anyone, in DC for example, to act in an honorable and principled fashion when we ourselves cannot?






"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates


4 comments:

Rich Wegener said...

Agree 100%, Rich...

It was not until fairly recently that I realized that I am a rarity in aviation: I am a liberal. There, I said it... whew... it sure feels good to finally get that off of my back.

This realization came to a focus last year, at my very first trip to Oshkosh. As I boarded a tram from the camping area to wherever I was going, the guy with the PA in the back said (sic) "All liberals, please raise your hand" I did so."You can get off now..." I I just sort of looked at him, and he said "Oh, I'm just kidding..."

Dan said...

Rich,
As a retired airline pilot your blog about Conservative pilots only being conservative until their contract expires certainly hit a nerve in me. First of all my conservative instincts were always in effect no matter what the status of my contract. But that certainly doesn't mean I till this day don't have conflicting feelings about being an union member and staying true to my conservative thinking. I was raised in a blue collar, union family in the Detroit area so I certainly have union roots. My goals, probably similar to yours, where to be a professional aviator in some fashion since a very early age. I was fortunate enough to get to fly in the military and then move on to a great airline career. During that evolution I don't think I ever thought much about my political leanings but somewhere in there I without a doubt developed my conservative ideology. I do know I have often thought a lot about what makes a person be liberal or conservative in their thinking. I have pilot friends who are as far left as I am right with absolutely no answer for this because their back grounds are so similar to mine.
I have never been a proud union member, just a union member because I happen to be fulfilling my life long dream of being an airline pilot. Union antics have always left a bad taste in my mouth as far back as being in the trades during my college years. It wasn't much different as a pilot union member.
I guess I feel that life can put us into a position that will cause conflicts within us that really we don't have total control over. We just deal with it and do our best.

Dan Unger
Saint Clair, MI.

John l st louis said...

COuld not agree more - we are missing principles more than anything in our contemporary world. As a child of a union steward but a student of all things Austrian economics and libertarian, I grew up with some conflicts They are resolvable. Unions formed to provide representation of individuals. Then they grew to become their own non-principled bloated bureaucracies that exist on the sweat of their members, no different than the companies the unions chastise for the same supposed reason. Dont feel guilty being in a union, just work to make sure it serves its original purpose.
Anyway - its still good to know that pilots appreciate free skies, at least for now the USA allows us to fly from one end to the other w/o telling anyone, and somewhere halfway I can stop at Lee Bottom and find an intellectual oasis.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Bill Dunn. Bill Dunn of NOPA. He was a bit of a useless arrogant sod when I dealt with him 5 years ago and the Michigan Aeronautics folks had no love for him or for NOAP.

He's not the finest face that NOPA presents