GUEST EDITORIAL. Many bemoan the ongoing lack of young people becoming involved in aviation. They point to the bygone times when hanging around an airport, learning about airplanes and sweeping floors to earn rides served as the first rung in the aviation-industry career ladder. As AVweb reader Clayton Wendt points out, one of the problems may not be the people, but the airport environment itself.
October 18, 2000
If we need more participants in aviation to help share the
costs and to improve our power at the ballot box, then why do we fence them
out? A critical but fragile group at the ballot box are the peripheral
participants who may never rise to the level of spending thousands of dollars
in aviation. We need these "aviation sympathizers" desperately when we try to
fight an airport closure or other disaster in the public arena. Further, being
a sympathizer may just be the first step toward actively joining the flying
While many of us relish aviation's cachet of exclusivity, we've got to make
sure exclusivity is not just the beginning of extinction. We've got
progressive and powerful programs, such as EAA's Young Eagles and AOPA's
Project Pilot program, designed to attack this very problem. As a participant
in both of those programs, I was first saddened then annoyed when I discovered
my tax dollars being used to undo my efforts. In order to connect with any of
the friendly faces that may be in aviation, a newcomer must first contend with
the unfriendly face in the photo below.
The gates and fences in the photos are not just ugly and inconvenient; they
carry the very strong message that "You are not welcome here."
This is the Main Entrance and the only visitor entrance to Anoka County
Airport (ANE). ANE is the most "happening" of the five reliever airports in
the Minneapolis metro area. We've just built a beautiful new non-federal
control tower. There are 439 aircraft based here and 536 operations per day.
Behind that fence are two museums, an EAA chapter, and a flight school that
could welcome visitors brave enough to cross.
Assuming you are interested or brave enough to pull into the driveway and
read the signs, the message does not improve. Here is a closer look at that
actual text on the signs. Here are the highlights:
Authorized Personnel and Vehicles Only
NO PEDESTRIANS ALLOWED
Trespassing will be Prosecuted
Also, none of the museums or other obviously public facilities are visible
from outside the fence. You will never know they are there unless you cross
this barrier. To put this in perspective, consider trying to get tenants to
rent space in a shopping mall that was hidden behind this gate. They'd
probably tell you it looks too much like a prison!
So just to test that theory, let's look at a real prison. This one is less
than five miles from ANE. This is a real double-fenced, razor-wired medium
security lockup. This is actually a pedestrian entrance, so it doesn't compare
directly, but we can get the idea.
First, you can park your car without crossing
any barriers. As I drove in, I had no real concern that security was about to
challenge me. I could tell by my surroundings that it was OK to be there.
The curved sidewalk and flowers made me feel more welcome. There is none of
the "Halt! Who goes there?" type of signage that dominates the airport
One green sign above the entrance lets you know that visitors can come in
here without fear of arrest or embarrassment. That's what is desperately
needed on the airport gate. A sign that lets visitors know that they can enter
is a must. The green color of this sign reminds me of the "Learn to Fly Here"
signs that are available from the catalogs. One of those on the gate would be
a big improvement!
But remember that it's not just the people who
want to learn to fly that I am interested in! For every ONE of those there are
THREE who are only peripherally interested. This is the group that may only
want to "watch airplanes" once or twice a year. Because of their sheer
numbers, these aviation sympathizers are the most valuable voting block we can
court. And because they are only marginally interested, they are easiest to
lose. In fact, one negative experience can convince such a person that they
were never really interested at all, and they won't be back!
This is where the "You are not welcome here" message can do immediate and
That's why I was even more bothered when I
discovered that it was not only my tax dollars, but also my fellow aviators
who are responsible. This last sign was placed by some tenants at ANE. They
appear to like airplanes, just not people. Sadly they happen to be located
near the brand-new control tower in a place that, except for the sign, looks
very inviting as a viewing post. I found this sign while looking for a place
where my granddaughter and I could enjoy a few minutes watching airplanes. I
hope that when she's old enough to vote she'll somehow love aviation, even
though aviation showed no interest in her.
The next time you drive to your home airport, try to imagine it through the
eyes of a first-time visitor. If the face of your airport looks like the face
of ANE, I urge you to try to change it. The future of affordable aviation may
depend on it.