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

Thursday, February 14, 2013

BREAKING NEWS: NASA Considers Options

It is being reported that this new "close call" asteroid has caused NASA to consider options for last minute emergency action plans.  Pictured is what has been determined to be the best and most logical option.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sold, Crated, and Shipped

In recent months, with nearly every pilot I know, I have discussed and lamented the mass exodus of our vintage aircraft treasures to Europe.  If you’ve been paying attention, the wave of exports is obvious.  Amazingly though, whenever I bring it up the most common reaction among antiquers is an acute lack of concern.  To me this speaks volumes about the vintage community and our country as a whole.
When I brought up this subject to some friends at Flabob a few weeks back, they started walking and I followed.  When they stopped, we were in a different hangar looking at yet another Stearman and Travel Air that were each being readied for a voyage overseas.   That’s when the subject of an additional recent expat arose.  This one was heartbreaking.
Many of you may recognize this beautiful Laird LC-RW300 from last summer.  Belonging to Walter Bowe, it received, and rightfully so, a great deal of attention as it made the rounds of the airshow/fly-in circuit.  The history of this thoroughbred contains an amazing tale of a factory built aircraft that was crated, lost, and, decades later, found.  Now though it has been lost again, only this time to an overseas stable. 
Like I said, very few antiquers seem concerned about the flow of aircraft overseas.  From what I can tell, most of them seem to have written it off as a market driven anomaly that in their words “could easily reverse in the coming years”.  And, quite honestly, that is a good argument.  Unfortunately, there is more to the purchase of an antique aircraft from overseas than exchange rates and economies.
A Stearman and  a Travel Air, destined for overseas, mounted to their shipping dollies
Through the years there have been several international waves of warbird exchanges due to changes in the markets.  When it comes to high dollar flying machines such as P-51’s, the costs of crating, shipping, and red tape hassles are a relatively small part of the purchase.  Heck, some of them even skip the crating are flown back and forth.  Yet even with a massive positive swing in all factors of an economy, these related expenses are relatively large and burdensome when it comes to repatriating a vintage aircraft.  Combine this issue with a few other concerns and it is highly doubtful most of these aircraft will ever see US soil again.
Having perused for many years the aviation magazines of Europe, one thing that has always stood out as interesting is the number of vintage aircraft that are wrecked, written off, and that’s it; they’re gone.  Vintage aircraft just aren’t “rebuilt” in other countries the way they are here.  Historically, in the USA, if a vintage aircraft is splattered on a hillside someone will go in, drag out the scraps and, at the very least, attempt a rebuild.  Yet in England, that’s rare even for a Tiger Moth.  Other countries are worse.
Perhaps it is because their aviation rules make it more difficult or outright forbid it?  Maybe, having less space available, Europeans just can’t save everything because, where would they put it?  And don’t forget the European penchant for randomly parking museum aircraft outside, despite their composition.  Then if the organization goes under, times get tight, or the plane’s fabric falls off due to UV exposure, everything is scrapped.  What happens if one of our treasures ends up in one of these scenarios?  That said, there is another other side to the story.
When I asked Mr. Bowe if it could possibly be true he had sold the Laird to someone in France, he told me he had offered it for sale to others but nobody wanted it.  Then some person from France, who by the way wanted his name withheld (what’s that about?), made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.  Now ask yourself this question; why would there be such a buyer in France but not the US?  The potential answers are endless.  Remember though, we live in a country where guys will spend a million bucks to build a P-51 from scratch while truly historical and rare aircraft with price tags under $100,000 languish in the back of a hangars unwanted.  If aviation were the automotive world, the members of our community would be building Corvette replicas while vintage Aston Martins crumbled away. 
Whatever theory you prefer to explain this trend, one thing is for sure.  Right now there are relatively more people in Europe with a desire to own our aviation treasures than there are here in America and that is sad.  We can only blame ourselves; groups and members.  Although all of us may want to believe otherwise, if you remove all the symbolic gestures, there's not much left celebrate.  The excuses are plenty though.
Not a day goes by that I don’t hear them; nobody is interested anymore, the regulations are killing us, gas is expensive, the economy is poor, and the list goes on.  Yet those same items exist, and to a greater extent, in most of Europe.  Gas certainly isn’t cheaper, regulations certainly aren’t fewer, their economies aren’t great, and the list goes on.  And don’t forget, they have a fraction of our airspace.  So where does that leave us?
Years ago, rumors began to spread around England that the Miles Speed Six was set to be shipped to a buyer in the USA.  When the word got out, one British gentleman stepped up and bought it because, although he’d love to have the plane, it was important the British aviation treasure remain on British soil.  That’s the way some cultures are.
There’s hope though.  An acquaintance of mine recently purchased a Spartan Executive.  He’d always wanted one and I had helped him search for a worthy example.  At one time, the search even went overseas to where a gentleman there had easily purchased and shipped two examples from the USA.  Repatriating one of them was seen as a tasty bonus and an attempt was made with no luck.  Later when one was located in Cleveland, the deal that was struck came down to both sides wanting the airplane to stay in the US.
If you had no idea that our vintage planes were being snatched up and shipped overseas, don’t feel bad.  Our groups and publications certainly haven't said anything about it.  They either haven’t noticed or they don’t care.  But now that you know, I would like to ask a very small favor.  The next time you have a vintage American aviation treasure to sell, place an ad in Trade-a-Plane for one month so that everyone knows it is for sale "with deference to American buyers".  If not a single citizen is interested by the end of that time, you should let the plane go wherever it is truly appreciated.