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Tuesday
Dec192017

Editorial: From Reminiscing to Rant

By Ed Downs

Let’s start with a disclaimer. The following thoughts are those of this writer, based upon more than 60 years of flying, both professionally and privately. The team at In Flight USA has been tolerant of my opinions in the past, and have extend that tolerance for this month’s rant. Why the disclaimer? Mainly because even I am somewhat surprised by the path of thought that followed receipt of a promotional announcement sent to In Flight USA by an advertising firm representing the Santa Ynez Valley, an idyllic stretch of California located just to the north of Santa Barbara.

The press release invited readers to visit this scenic valley for the Christmas season, enjoying the various holiday celebrations of small towns like Solvang, Los Olives, Buellton and Los Alamos. The entire area is rich in Hispanic history and traditions, but it is the town of Solvang that brings back fond memories. Founded in the early 20th century by Danish immigrants, and having all the architecture and charm of a Danish village (real deal, not a theme park), Solvang is the perfect place to kick off the Christmas season. But it’s not just the charm, endless bakeries and restaurants, coupled with old European shopping that enters this writers mind when thinking of Solvang. The entire Santa Ynez Valley is served by a wonderful airport, aptly named “Santa Ynez Airport.”

While founded privately in the 1940’s, Santa Ynez Airport soon became the property of Santa Barbara County, and it has flourished. Starting will only a 2,000-foot runway, but later lengthened to 2,800 feet, this pilot first flew into Santa Ynez Airport in the early 1960’s, rented a 1958 Chevy for $5 and drove to Vandenburg AFB for an open house, showing off the new space launch facility under construction.

It was this trip that led to my personal discovery of Solvang. Under the tutelage of Santa Barbara County, the fleet of “58” Chevy’s survived up through the late 1980’s and Solvang became a regular point of fun for this writer and my family. My little Grumman and, later, Tri-Pacer made many visits to Santa Ynez Airport, a short flight from my home base in the San Fernando Valley. A short “Chey” drive into Solvang allowed me to reconnect with my heritage, originating from 17th century Holland, through Nova Scotia, Canada and later hooking up with Brits in Salem, Mass. Yep, my gang was part of the “witch trials” and later, main players in James A. Michener’s book, Hawaii. To be sure, that little airport and the towns around it are worth reminiscing about. Santa Ynez Airport is a fine example of what a county government and elected board of Airport Supervisors can do when aviation knowledgeable people truly understand how an airport can connect a region to the world.

But this is where my mind began to drift. How many other airports are remembered for fine management, willing to actively improve an airport’s resources and promote what it has to offer? Some community airports do come to mind, but in general, this writer has seen a decline in small airport services over the last 25 years. To be sure, the economic downturn in general aviation that began in the mid to late 80’s has had a lot to do with that, as FBO’s and flight schools struggle to remain profitable. Promotional dollars are hard to find, advertising budgets are cut, and small aviation businesses tend to “shelter in place,” waiting for the storm to pass. Many aviation businesses seem unaware of what the big retailers and marketers have known for years; when times are tough, you need to get out and make noise, brag about what you have to offer and aggressively compete. But Santa Ynez Airport has flourished, with good FBO services, new hangars, excellent fuel sales and increased services, plus an active tourist trade. One must not look at just the business on the airport, but also at airport management. Often part of a city or county bureaucracy, a community airport can become a victim of disinterested civil service employees who know little to nothing about private and business flying.

Smaller communities, especially in middle America, tend to understand the value of their airports. These townships recognize that a community airport is a link to a much larger world, and marketplace. But small communities are often under financed and staffed by volunteers that are not aviators. Frequently falling under the jurisdiction of a “City Manager,” not the Mayor’s office or County Commission, airport management becomes simply a bean counting enterprise. In other words, leasing tiedown and hangar space and taking a percentage of fuel sales. It seems almost genetic, that accountants are terrible at extroverted promotional activities. Perhaps Charles Dickens had it right, portraying the accounting world as a “bah, humbug” environment. I immediately apologize to all those dedicated business professionals who wear lampshades at the Christmas party and do “butt shots” on the office photocopier. But as a publisher that talks with a lot of civic airport managers every year with thoughts about airport promotions (did you know In Flight USA offers free column space for airport news), it is sometimes discouraging to see the lack interest many bureaucrats have in truly supporting their community airport.

I am sure this hits a familiar note with many readers, but are you doing anything about it? Do you have a local pilot’s association? Have you formed an airport “booster club” of any kind? Have you given your airport management a copy of In Flight USA and suggested they call us for free promotional space? Or, do you, the reader, just sit around and “admire the problem.” How about you contacting us, and together we can “hand prop” a few solutions together.

Okay, we have talked about small community airports, but what about GA airports in large cities, the ones that are almost always under siege by militant anti-aviation groups. This is where the real politics steps in, coupled with big money, land developers, and outright corruption. Santa Ynez is perhaps one of the best examples of excellent county airport management. But there is another “Santa” airport, Santa Monica, California, that is an example of what can happen when apparent political corruption, power politics, land development, increased tax opportunities and self-interest enter the picture. Whereas small communities often lack the resources to properly support their airports, large cities see long standing airports as land that can be turned into condos or commercial developments, resulting in an increased tax base for more city spending, plus a few bucks into the political hopers.  Elected officials that should be thinking of the community as a whole, become focused on securing more public money to spend and/or lining their own pockets. Yes, this is why this editorial comes with an opinion disclaimer. While the anti-airport forces in Santa Monica claimed safety and noise as the primary reason for closing their historic airport, the real reasons have to do with billions of dollars worth of high-density condo development and business structures.

Many acres of ecofriendly open land (rear in LA) will be lost. Hypocritically, the very class of people the extreme left leaning community of Santa Monica claims to abhor, the elite rich, are likely to be the only winners in this land grab.  Santa Monica Airport simply became cannon fodder in a war to make millionaires in to billionaires. Regrettably, many airports residing in large city areas face similar situations, as municipal airport management has little or no interest in aviation or what their local airport brings to the community.

Once again, it is up to the local users of an airport to form up and take aggressive action, meaning both pilots and FBO’s. It is up to the aviation community to ask politicians running for office questions about their views regarding local airport issues, and proactively campaign against those opposed to aviation. In Flight USA stands ready to help pro-airport forces with free PR and discounted ad rates. We invite pilots, FBO’s, flight schools and other aviation interest to contacts us for help. We also invite community airport managers, some of whom may not like the opinions expressed in this editorial, to contact us. A lot of communities are doing an excellent job running their airports, and the In Flight USA team wants to hear and publish your story.

So there, from reminiscing to rant, but let’s take it down a note. Back to Santa Ynez and Solvang. Let’s see, form LA it was an easy flight of just about an hour in the typical C-172 type bird. Now, from Oklahoma … in a Zenith 601A … southern route …. visit my son in the Van Nuys area … two days should do it. Then it is on to Solvang for a breakfast of aebleskivers (Goggle it!). Believe me, add a few aebleskivers to your Christmas morning and the “Merry” part will take care of itself!

 

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