Friday, March 13, 2009

Fee'd to Death

Yesterday was a long day . . . after waking up around 7, I headed out to the airport to chase around the state of Wisconsin and make a new entry in my logbook. We were finally wheels-up at 11:40 after two hours of debating where explore. We elected to fly from Capitol to Platteville to Prairie du Chien to Baraboo to Sheboygan and back, stopping at each airport to meet the people that made it tick.

Platteville was up first. I anticipated it would be the least active but, as it turned out, I had to squeak myself in between a few others shooting touch-and-goes. A Cessna 170 waited outside the FBO for its pilot to return from town. The office and hangar were lit only by the sunlight streaming through the windows, the radio calls being made by students the only indication of life.

Within a few minutes, as I massaged the headset imprints out of my scalp, the owner, Jim Hughes, came in. What a friendly guy! He was definitely a good face for the airport, being very outgoing.

The "M" we came to see (it's not often in Wisconsin you see "Letter M" on the sectional)

The Hughes Aviation office and hangar (the "M" is in the picture on the sign)

Next up was Prairie du Chien, an airport on the very western edge of the state. Being right next door to the Mississippi, the airport is surrounded by bluffs which can lead to some funky winds. It was another pleasant experience, with some conversation shared around the airport table. I even found that the manager's grandson was looking at attending MSU.

En route! (I fly the Luscombe from the right, as Todd, its owner, is more comfortable in the left. Besides, flying from the right means the throttle is on the left . . . like it should be!)

It also turns out that someone in Prairie du Chien must have been jealous of the Platteville "M" . . . we found this as we flew north along the river before turning east.

Following Prairie du Chien was a stop at Baraboo-Wisconsin Dells. We had the misfortune to follow a Citation in and were subsequently forgotten in the shuffle, waiting nearly 30 minutes for our measly 5 gallons of gas.

I still think we had the coolest one!

Sheboygan was the next stop. My complaining stomach demanded appeasement, so we stopped at arguably one of the tastiest airport restaurants around. As the sun began to set, we waddled back to the airplane, stuffed to the brim, for the last leg home. The air had finally smoothed out, but oddly enough, there seemed to be more wind. I think I saw the GPS indicate 70 knots only once.

All told, the trip added 5.1 hours of PIC cross-country time to my logbook, along with a new pen and a free umbrella (which I proceeded to open indoors for show and tell, much to my mother's chagrin). It also brought about a new appreciation for the airport system we have here in the United States.

Having recently read an account of all the hoops one must jump through in Spain to go flying (including notifying them 24 hours in advance of your desire to fly--no impromptu hops allowed!), I had a new amount of gratefulness for the open system I'm lucky enough to have access to. We hadn't even decided where to go until the morning we left. I never had to worry about completing pages of paperwork just to tool around for the day. I never had to count up the many user fees for landing, parking, fueling, using the restrooms, or breathing. No one questioned our intent to puddlejump cross-country or to fly for the sake of flying.

I realize that pilots and enthusiasts in other countries face far more challenges that we here in the US do. For instance, a woman I met at the Women in Aviation conference, Jinko, commutes from Japan to the US for her flight training because of the prohibitive obstacles established by the Japanese government.


I do not think that recognizing the hindrances in other nations means that we can sit back and accept stifling legislation designed to box aviation into a "sensible" territory here in the US. I am not saying that general aviation pilots like myself should leave all the expenses of the airport and airway system to the commercial operators; I myself am in favor of the higher fuel tax option. I know that perhaps I'll end up paying for someone else's instrument approaches, but they'll probably end up paying to mow my grass runway anyhow. Semantics. The fact of the matter is, if I were faced with numerous surcharges, I'd be far less apt to go flying. Trying to itemize flying expenses into categories such as weather briefings (VFR or IFR? IFR means $), flight plans, and flight service tends to make us all stop, think, and try to make sense of what we're spending our money on.

We all know we're stuffing dollar bills into fuel tanks and that it doesn't make much sense.

If I had to think about the dollars I paid for a weather briefing (could've bought some fresh fruit with that) or the change I shook out of my purse for flight following (could've been a pricy drink at the coffee shop I like), I might just shake my head in disbelief and label this flying thing pure nonsense. It probably is, of course, but one must embrace nonsense in their daily life or else, I'm convinced, they'll simply explode. Making sense out of every little happening in life is not only impossible, it'll suck the fun right out of life!

Sure, I'm selfish and don't want to have to curtail my flying activities (ie, multiengine rating) any more than I already have (on indefinite hold). I can admit that. But, I also feel an obligation to protect the freedom flight affords by working to keep prohibitive obstacles locked up in some long-lost government file.

The fences are bad enough.

I can't say that I would've had as much fun scooting around the state had I needed to sit down and tally my user fees for my seven landings and two go-arounds. Having to think so much about something that is supposed to be just plain fun defeats the purpose of sport aviation.

Keeping this in mind, consider the aspiring pilot. Should he or she really need to keep track of how many touch-and-goes they've performed to make sure they don't overdraw their bank account? Are we to sacrifice safety and enjoyment because we can no longer justify our own passions to ourselves?

Like I said, I'm not saying the commercial operators should be made to foot part of the bill that is not theirs. I'm simply stating that we should do all we can to make sure aviation is not so imposing, with a plethora of surcharges and bill add-ons.

Let's face it. Aviation will never be cheap.

But it can be justifiable . . . assuming we don't scare others or ourselves off with all those little bills that suddenly add up to a mortgage payment. Let's not fee ourselves into obsolescence.

Just think about it.


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