By Jamie Beckett
Hurricane Sandy made a mess of the northeast last week. More than 20 states were lambasted by wind and rain, while snow piled up in West Virginia. From Georgia to Maine, weather that nobody was happy to see came their way anyhow. There will be more to come, too. There always is. It comes year after year. Somebody finds themselves in the crosshairs. It’s just a matter of time before some meteorological mayhem finds you. Rest assured, your turn will come.
In the aftermath of these storms, floods, mudslides, wildfires, earthquakes, or any other natural calamity that might befall some corner of the world, my television screen becomes rich with aerial photography showing us just how bad the damage really is. Seeing it from the ground is bad enough, but seeing it from the air – well now we have scope and context. The emotional argument is much more powerful given aerial photography. So naturally, photographers from all sorts of media outlets launch to the skies as soon as possible after a natural disaster occurs. It’s news, after all.
What few who view those shots ever think of is, “How did they get that video from above the rim of the volcano?” Last week as we saw images of the Jersey shore in disarray, how many people watching stopped to think, “Thank goodness general aviation is healthy enough to give us the opportunity to get up in the air quickly and see the damage from a better vantage point?”
Cynical as it may seem, I’m guessing there weren’t many. And that’s disappointing because there are people who are aware of the value of general aviation yet remain quiet about it. Certainly the television news stations who keep a helicopter on standby just in case a big story breaks, they know the value of general aviation. I can’t recall ever seeing them report on its value, however. Not even when general aviation has been attacked as being not much more than a playground of the very rich.
If I’m not mistaken, those images beam out to anyone with a television set, regardless of their income.
The truth is general aviation is a vital part of our country’s infrastructure. And not just because general aviation can get the picture we all want to see after the bad thing happens, or even in real time as the bad thing happens. No, general aviation offers more than that.
When it’s in the best interest of the public for the governor to get up high and see the situation for himself/herself, it’s general aviation that allows that opportunity. When emergency crews are needed, it’s general aviation that can get them in and put them right on the spot, quickly. When your Uncle Phil’s car is thrown off the highway by a boat washed onto the road by the storm surge, it’s general aviation that will put an emergency medical team right on the centerline of the road, extricate him from the car, and get him to a hospital in time to save his life.
General aviation does so much, for so many of us, yet we seldom hear its praises being sung by anyone outside a website like this one.
What to do, what to do? What to do is obvious — talk about the value of GA. Maybe the more important question is, who can do something about this? Well, you can. If you, a general aviation authority in your community, were to speak up from time to time and point out the benefit of general aviation, the non-flying public might start to get the message over time. General aviation matters, to all of us. You know it, I know it, let’s tell someone besides each other about it.
So the next time you’re sitting around with friends from work, watching the big game, and a shot of the stadium from directly overhead comes on the screen, you might want to shout out, “Those are my people! General aviation gives every one of us the best seat in the house.” Or when that video plays of the shoreline after a disaster, you might point out, “Thank goodness general aviation is there to get the information the governor needs to quickly handle this situation, with real insight.” Maybe you could consider putting a pedestrian-looking photo of a general aviation airplane on your office wall, with a beaming individual standing next to it. When people ask why you have that photo you can proudly exclaim, “That’s my son/daughter/niece/nephew/neighbor/friend on the day they passed their private pilot check ride. I’m so proud of them.”
It won’t happen overnight. But given time, and sufficient participation (and yes, that means you) there could be millions of non-fliers who start to think differently. Perhaps they’ll get the message in a meaningful way. Who knows, the day might come when they’re sitting around with friends or family watching a movie, when a spectacular shot races in across the water, lifts up over the tree line, climbs a mountain, then drops down into a valley on the other side with all the drama the audience can stand. Right then your friend just might pipe up and say, “You know, a general aviation aircraft got that shot. My buddy at work is a pilot, and he/she told me all about it. Yep, this general aviation thing, it’s awesome.”