This Memorial Day weekend, I will not be watching the Canadian Snowbirds flying through the air at the Columbia Regional Airport.
Republic Airport’s name will sound familiar to aviation buffs. It was the home of Republic Aviation and Fairchild-Hiller for years. I remember when the factories were still putting out helicopter rotors and components for the Boeing 747.
Along with its museum, Republic today is a major general aviation airport on Long Island — or “Lon Giland” as we natives tend to call it. Or just “The Island,” for, with the exception of Manhattan and Staten islands, there are no others.
I need to get back to New York every once in a while for the sounds and sights and food. What I get asked most often is whether I’ve even been to the diner featured on the television sitcom, “Seinfeld.”
I have to answer no, but I have been to the “Soup Nazi’s” shop. It is just across the street from the New York Public Library’s main branch. Trust me when I tell you the soup is that good and the people serving are a lot nicer than the show depicts.
Mind you, I love living in the middle of Middle America. Columbia is a progressive city, with big city problems in a little city body.
My mother once asked what was between St. Louis and Columbia. I told her corn. There is no “between” in the megalopolis that stretches from just north of Boston to somewhere south of Washington, D.C. The cities and towns blur into each other.
I do miss the hum of New York City. As Neil Diamond sings, “It’s a beautiful noise …”
I also miss the sounds of the general aviation airplanes flying overhead in New York and Denver, where I also once lived. In fact, two of the busiest general aviation airports in the U.S. are found in the Denver metro area. I used to ride my motorcycle to the airports late at night to look at airplanes and watch thunderstorms.
It is a shame how underutilized Columbia Regional Airport is, compared to other general aviation airports in small cities. When I see pictures of the tarmac with three or four private aircraft, I get concerned.
We have no flight school to train new pilots or flying clubs to rent you a Cessna or Piper to fly for the day. Yes, we have our “fixed base operator” who can get you in touch with a flight instructor, but finding an airplane is difficult.
In fact, I usually see more airplanes on the ramp at the Jefferson City airport than COU. But even there, finding a flight instructor takes time and energy. The closest flight school can be found at the Boonville Airport. If you want a bigger training facility, try St. Louis University’s flight school in Cahokia.
I am a big general aviation advocate. I soloed a Piper Cherokee at age 16 at Republic Airport, got my pilot’s license at 17 and was finally allowed to get my driver’s license in New York at 18.
I used to fly for work as an aviation insurance specialist in Colorado. My territory could mean a three-day trip to the western slope or northern Wyoming or a three-hour flight over the mountains. Flying was more fun.
The problem is that our city government sees commercial aviation as the panacea for COU. I could argue that general aviation is the way to increase the use of the airport.
When I sat on the city’s Airport Advisory Board, we knew that commercial aviation was what Columbia needed for business-class passengers. With flights to Chicago’s O’Hare and Dallas airports, it is the business professional who will spend whatever is necessary for business travel anywhere on the planet.
Yet, trips from 200 to 350 miles are better left to the Cessna 182. That includes destinations such as Wichita or Des Moines or Omaha, or the Springfields, in both Missouri and Illinois.
Supporting the airport with commercial flights and the annual Memorial Day Weekend Salute to Veterans air show is fine, but until we start to build up general aviation, we just have a lot of concrete to talk about.
David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of his commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.