You Are Not Welcome Here

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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.

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 fraternity!

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

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 gate. 

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 irreparable harm.

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.