Friday, March 30, 2012

Yep, That Pretty Much Covers It.

My Position and Hold Has Lined Up to Wait

Several years ago, after a particularly discouraging four day trip, I sat down at home, fired up the computer, and was immediately confronted with headlines about commercial airline passengers. During an otherwise normal flight, one had flipped out and it was the story of the day. The question; why is this happening? My response; who cares?
My indifference may sound harsh but my reasoning was simple. With the pilot population on the precipice of breakdown, why were we worrying about passengers?
Don’t act like this is a surprise. Flight crew bar escapades have been a subject of conversation for decades. Publicly, pilots are derided one month for drinking on overnights and the next pitied for the world’s most stressful job. Yet the two are always left standing alone. They make much better stories that way. Fortunately, nature always creates balance and my observations tell me that for many pilots, despite what doctors may say, beer and stress actually do form a workable balance. There’s just one problem. A new factor has entered the picture.
After 9/11, America lost what was left of its proverbial mind. Citizen psyches were running scared and they wanted someone else to make it all better. Having been coddled for far too long, the American mind wasn’t up to the task, and so it turned to government. At this point, let’s just all agree to make a very long and pathetic story short; Homeland Security and TSA were created to make you feel like you were being protected. Like it or not, you wanted it and you got it. The creation of these agencies shipped the last vestiges of common sense into permanent exile.
Don’t act like this is a surprise either. We’ve all known it from day one. Those who are most likely to attack an airliner were given a pass while grannies and kids were subjected to cavity searches. As for the people who fly the planes, they were treated to psychological warfare.
Pilots, by nature, have an inherent ability to assess risk. Additionally, due to the nature of the job, they must also be somewhat intelligent, logical, skilled, and self-confident. Do you see the ticking time-bomb here? Wait, I see someone in the back of the room raising their hand, yes, you sir, can you tell me what it is? “Yeah, these are all things that fly in the face of Homeland Security and TSA”. Ding ding ding, we have a winner. Did you hear that folks? That guy in the back corner; the one refusing to give us his name for fear of a TSA reprisal, is correct. After 9/11 Americans chose to allow our government to subject employees, of one of the world’s most stressful jobs, to psychological warfare. What? You think I’m exaggerating?
With the occurrence of 9/11, pilots flying for airlines of the United States were deemed, by our government, a significant threat to the safety of America. With that, a good job turned horrible. Subjected to searches beyond belief, profiled and interrogated like enemy combatants, and forced to defer to people whose jobs were advertised on pizza boxes, pilots struggled to remain calm. Most of them, being proud Americans, sucked it up as an over-reaction and assumed it would all soon end. Then it got worse.
"Remove your shoes, you have too much shampoo, unbuckle your belt", and "we’ll have to confiscate those nail clippers" were among the endless ever-changing top secret list of things best described as a dog and pony show. "Show me your ID, I have to hold your ID, your ID can’t be in a lanyard, your ID must be on a lanyard, yes I know you are on the paperwork but pilots who don’t have our local ID must be escorted to the plane, I know you just flew this plane in but I have to see your ID to make sure you aren’t trying to hijack this plane, What? My ID? I don’t have to show you my ID, everyone must display an ID, I’m the TSA I don’t have to show you my ID, I need another form of ID, I need to make sure your ID isn’t forged, your ID must be on an outer garment, your ID must be protected from theft", and my personal favorite “Yeah your ID passed but it could just be a really good forgery” were merely a small sample of the things heard on any given four day trip.
“Please step aside for additional screening” was a particularly sore spot. Pilots have far better background checks than TSA agents but were constantly flagged for additional screening. Before long, aviators realized that they were being pulled aside because TSA agents knew it would be an easy screen for them. When they began to voice this issue, they were threatened loudly, treated with suspicion, and made to feel as though Gitmo was in their future. Then, at some point, the random additional screening of pilots was quietly dropped. Gate agents everywhere celebrated.
Although some issues were addressed, there was still a problem. Pilots are logical independent thinkers and also privy to all parts of the transportation system. In fact, I believe they are the only people who almost daily see every part of airline operations. Therefore they also spot the weaknesses. After years of knowing and watching the folks who work the ramp and load bags bypass security, many pilots began to express concern. After all, a lot of these people fit the profile of the terrorist who took over the planes on 9/11 and the fact they could potentially come to work with a bomb in their lunch bag, bypass security, and then load it in their plane after the pilots spent half an hour trying to explain to a guy, whose last job was a toll booth operator, that they need access to the aircraft in order to actually fly people to their destinations, was beyond anything any logical independent mind could handle. The length of that sentence is relative. When one pilot video taped it as proof, he was threatened with some of the highest crimes on the books. Today, rampers still bypass security.
Airlines filed bankruptcy, executives took bonuses for decreasing losses, and pilots took pay cuts and lost their retirement. Hours increased, income decreased, love of country vanished, flying lost its sparkle, and in the end the only thing left, a respectable job, disappeared. In its place was left that of a glorified bus driver. When pilots complained, they were made fun of for having easy jobs and crying about lost wages. Even their own kind mocked them despite no real understanding of the job. While GA pilots complained the world thought every pilot was rich, they bashed on airline pilots for being so. It was a no win situation and many of those who had useful degrees quit flying to take up jobs with better hours, income, and stability. Meanwhile, people whose dream it was to be an airline pilot jumped at the chance to pursue it only to find it was a myth. Unfortunately, this always happened after borrowing well over $100,000 to get the $24,000 per year job.
Today American pilots must have the words “English Proficient” on their licenses to be legal while airlines and ATC hire people who can’t speak it. “Position and hold” has changed to “line up and wait” because we need to be more like other countries despite their safety records that rarely stand up to ours. The FAA is passing rules to promote puppy mill flight schools while simultaneously holding conferences to discuss the alarming loss of basic flying skills in the airlines. FOQA, a silly flight monitoring program that demands a flying technique so sterile FO’s can never learn and all the Captains can do is forget is all the rage. And last but not least, TSA just keeps getting bigger.
Clearly, all these things fly in the face of logic. Independent, confident, intelligent people have no problem seeing this. For that reason, they have paid the price. The pilots of yesterday are not acceptable in the post 9/11 world; hence the psychological warfare. Am I saying this was something planned and executed with the intent of tearing down pilots to the point of accepting that which is not acceptable? I just don’t know. Yet planned or not, that is what they have done. Unfortunately, there's still a problem. Prisoners of war routinely lose their minds. One pilot has already done so and I suspect he'll not be the last.
"Psychological warfare employs any weapon to influence the mind of the enemy. The weapons are psychological only in the effect they produce and not because of the weapons themselves."

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Fly-In – How’s it Going

As you may remember, a while back we put out the call for help with the fly-in. From our perspective, the time had finally come for everyone to vote up or down on the event. But, there was a problem with that idea.  Getting a good even sampling of the fly-in population in order to get a quantifiable outcome would be difficult. Therefore, we resorted to an old standby method used by many groups facing the same problem. Put out a call for help and see how many people show up. The number of people that actually show are compared to accepted percentages that relate to the larger group. Then if the total crowd falls above the line, your results fall in the “highly support” area. And, of course, if it is below the line it is in the “not much support” area.

Then the day came for the meeting.

As people began to arrive, Ginger and I began to feel much better about all the effort we had put into this thing. Lining the walls were giant post-in sheets.  On these pages were the areas in which we needed someone to take responsibility.  Out to the side, people were given a place to post their ideas. It is hard for someone to understand how many different things need to be considered for such an event and just writing them all down was a chore. Yet, with more people coming in by the minute, we were sure the critical areas would be covered and our efforts would yield some results.

During the meeting we discussed everything. Should we have the event? Should we continue to have Sinful Sundays? Should we have more or less of each? Should we do something else all together? Were there any other ideas? Whatever the answers were, they needed to make sense for the future of the airport and the bottom line. Ultimately, everyone agreed we should have the events and we moved forward.

Next, attendees were told that sponsorship was critical to the bottom line of the fly-in. And once again people stepped up and agreed to find sponsorships. Things were moving right along.

Finally, to round out this abbreviated synopsis, it was explained that we would meet once a month and that since Ginger and myself have to be here for all important events, anyone who was agreeing to be part of this was also agreeing to do the same. It was ok to say no but if you said yes you agreed to it. This meant that for someone to miss a meeting on a date not already on their schedules would be a no-no.  Further explained, this means that family members don't get ill, daughters don’t get married on these dates, and a deep gash to the leg or a broken bone is certainly not an excuse. We have been and would have to be here despite all the above and so if they were going to get us to keep holding the fly-in by agreeing to volunteer, then they were in it for the long haul themselves. Oh yeah, I forgot that one; helping for one year is not the help we need. Every year someone drops out is a year we have to train people and therefore short term sympathy volunteerism is of no help to us.   Yeah, we appreciate everyone who wants to help but we're trying to make some long term plans and we need people willing to do the same.

Ok, so there you have it.  That is what the meeting was about.  Some of it may have seemed rather blunt be we wanted to be clear about what we needed while also making it clear there would be no foul if someone wasn't up for it. Then we ended with everyone signing up for items and offering ideas.

Within ten days were we a third of the way to our sponsorship goals, people were working on improvements, and ideas were flowing freely. Then we were hit by the tornado. Two full weeks is what we spent on clean up and it still is not complete.

Naturally, this put our fly-in efforts on hold. Thus having worked non-stop on clean up, we decided that at the next meeting we would discuss where everyone was with their goals and how to move forward with much of our critical infrastructure destroyed. There was just one problem; would anyone be there? We wanted to believe but our education told us otherwise.

Our education won out.  Only a quarter of those at the first meeting were at the second.  It was a tough blow considering all we've been through recently.  But, that's how things go I suppose. 

On the up side, a new friend of ours came early to get briefed because she has a thousand other groups she helps on the same day (something we knew in advance) and if she couldn’t stay for the meeting, she wanted to come early to uphold her commitment. Seven other great friends and volunteers also made the meeting. These people can always be counted on, they always give their all, and we simply cannot thank them enough for being who they are.

With that out of the way, our next fly-in meeting is April 17th.  How many people do you think will be there?  Enough?  Tune in next time for the answer.

Vintage Flying in Australia

Some of you may remember our story from a few years back about running into Roy and Primrose Fox at Oshkosh. Hailing from Australia, and possessing wonderful personalities, we quickly took a liking to them. Roy and Primrose were there because Roy had brought his Comper Swift and Klemm to the show and I couldn’t believe our luck of running into them.
You know those kinds of people you meet and immediately consider them friends? Roy and Primrose are those people. It’s a shame we live so far away from each other. It would be great to spend more time with them. If you ever get a chance to meet them I advise you to do so.
Anyway, the reason I brought up the subject was that I had wanted to go see Roy and fly with him to the Antique Aeroplane Association Fly-In at Cowra. Unfortunately, several things blew that out of our calendar. Therefore, I am forced to get my jollies from the fly-in by knowing Roy was there wearing the official Lee Bottom uniform. He bought the sweatshirt last year when he visited our fly-in and he sent us the photo seen here to let us know he’s getting the full mileage out of it.
Note: Roy and Primrose have an airport in Australia that is amazingly similar to Lee Bottom. In fact they could almost be considered, like the old Sister Cities, Sister Flying Fields. Look for us to have more information about their place in the future.