Monday, January 19, 2009

Remember When . . .

Remember when it was ok to be interested in aviation? When people didn't give you a sideways glance and file your headshot away in their memory in case you were a terrorist because you had questions about airplanes? Remember when it was normal to ask to see the cockpit of an airliner?

Remember when it was normal for kids to bike to the airport and wash airplanes in exchange for flying lessons? Remember when airport security was the characters that hung out at the airport, who wouldn't let you get past them without chatting? Remember when there were no gates or gate codes and everyone got along just fine?

Remember when "pilot" didn't immediately mean doctor or lawyer with a penchant for expensive toys?


I don't. Not really.

Concerned yet? You should be.

At 19 years old, I barely caught the end of the era of being able to sit in airliner cockpits without being turned away for "security." For a lot of kids, the first spark of curiosity comes when they wonder what's going on up front in that big airliner that's taking them on vacation. Deny them that chance, and even at a young age, they are impressed with the notion that aviation is a highly exclusive club and common people have no place in it.

I was never allowed to bike to the airport. My mom cited a highway and concerns of me pestering the people at the airport. Many parents are extraordinarily concerned about their children's safety and what may happen to them as they ride a bike to an airport. Regardless of whether you agree with that concern, it exists and it is a factor in the dearth of youth becoming involved. Let's also not forget the drastic loss of small airports throughout the country. Remember, though, that we cannot have airports without pilots or airplanes, and if we don't get youth involved, we won't have any of the above. If the kid can't come to the airport . . . bring the airport to the kid. More on that outreach later.

My family always considered flying to be a hobby for the rich. It had all the marking of that sort of thing--gated communities and all. Until I visited a small airport, I remained under that assumption. The problem lies in this perception of aviation as exclusive, because if flying is only something the rich do, it's off-limits for the majority of the population. That clearly is not the message that should be sent. Having traveled to multiple grassroots airports, I can safely state that the majority of aircraft owners and pilots sacrifice a lot to fly and are quite average people.

Did you notice that all of the challenges and barriers facing youth are all related to perception?

Open the doors.


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