Wednesday, December 30, 2009

...and so we end another's to the New One!

So many days -- 365, by my count -- so many great little time to relate the good, the bad and the ugly of 2009.

Let's dispose of the ugly stuff first: Lost a few of wonderful friends this year; closing in on my 60th, it occurs to me that this will happen more not less.

The airline industry -- well, they had their good times and bad times and for my friends flying the line or working anywhere else in the common-carrier community, here's hoping that the coming year treats you better than your employers.

The business-aircraft and personal-aircraft segments had a distinctly ugly, ugly year with sales and deliveries and backlogs all off at levels of breathtaking depth. Those uglies in turn made the year ugly for tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors and fellow pilots working in aircraft manufacturing, component and systems supplies, aircraft sales, FBO operations -- you name it, if it was part of general aviation, it suffered this year.

Thankfully, the shortcomings of our aviation security apparatus didn't result in any airborne terrorist acts succeeding. For that we should all be happy.

Now, for the bad stuff.

We saw too many good GA pilots do bad in 2009; the figures aren't in, but it would surprise me if we had a safer year in '09 than in '08 -- which, given the drop in flying, would seem logical. But even in the realm of the survivable, we had too many pilots seem to suspend logic and common sense -- not anybody in our little circle, of course -- and, thankfully, walk away.

Other bad stuff: a baseless vendetta against non air-carrier airports by Thomas Frank and the editorial board of U(seless)S(suckup)A(ssholes)Today...guys, in 30 years of journalism you've set a new standard for bad, biased reporting; show a little bit of honesty and put the Air Transportation Association logo on your masthead...and watch your step -- your lack of balance always means the you're stumbling is getting noticed by others...sadly drunks don't notice their stumbling until they fall...

Now for the good stuff.

We saw a steady stream of people interested in learning to fly and acting on the, we didn't set any records and doubt the numbers, when finally crunched, will show that we even stayed even in new pilots compared to 2008...but we're still viable.

Other good things?

Well, the continuing growth in acceptance of, and expansion by, the Light Sport Aircraft segment and the Sport Pilot license option. Even my most hardened Old Fart friends are slowly coming around to the idea that it's not a risk to society for them to fly something small and simple -- without a medical. Can others be far behind?

Another good thing: we didn't get TSA saving us from ourselves -- which would have been a minor miracle considering the bad rap the agency unfairly received for a thwarted terrorist attempt wholly beyond the agency's control...but not happy that the supposedly supportive anti-terrorism apparatchiks' failure to perform.

Other good things? The FAA made excellent progress on the process of building the infrastructure to advance NextGen. In the Gulf of Mexico, the ADS-B system is live, as it already was in Southern Florida and in the Ohio River Valley around Louisville International (SDF). The agency seems to making progress in plans to implement the changeover and progress in drafting new rules to facilitate the move to NexGen...and we saw, finally, standards in the form of TSOs that avionics makers need to certify, sell and install the hardware underpinning NextGen...

And still more good? How about surprisingly strong attendance at airshows and fly-in events this year -- excepting some of the more narrowly focused trade-type events, like NBAA, AOPA's Summit, Dubai and a couple of smaller ones.

Also good, the resurgent interest many communities have shown their small airports as a good thing; nice to read about airport saves in numbers that makes me wonder whether the pace of closures is finally slowing...we can all do's only the places we need to travel by air, after all -- and all worthy of public support, just like highways, in spite of the ignoramuses at that aforementioned McNewspaper.

Finally, a personal favorite good: the continuing loyalty, support, encouragement and participation of our Uncontrolled Airspace listeners stands tallest in my look back.

Fifty-two weeks, 52 episodes? Can that be right? Seems like just last week that we finished Episode 115 on Jan. 6; and a couple of days ago we canned #166 recorded Dec. 29; from our appearances at Sun 'n Fun and AirVenture and Ponca City (yeah...I know...), through meet-ups in Lakeland and Oshkosh and Wichita, New Hampshire and Florida...well, you get the picture of the year.

To all of you, thanks for the support, the letters, shout-outs, visits, messages, beers and brats and best of times. And we're still around to try for another year.

So let's do it even better, safer and happier in 2010, eh.

Happy New Year to us all.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Season's Greetings to everyone -- no exceptions...

Wichita -- Nothing like the sharp edge of powder snow powered by 40-knots plus to put a pilot in a holiday mood on Christmas Eve...the winds wiped clean paved surfaces exposed to its power, driving the white crystalline precipitation downwind to pile up on upright, upwind surfaces -- or to scream over an obstruction only to pile waist deep in the wind shadow behind the object.

The driven powder provided its own wind indication downwind of objects out in open fields, evidence of the power and direction visible for days in the future. These elongated triangles of bare ground pointed downwind thanks to rotor turbulence beyond the wind shadows that sucked up snow and carried it onward.

It was Christmas Eve. And the weather was making news as it was remaking travel plans.

And knowing well the storm's likely impact on the waves of weather-challenged drivers -- not to mention the Human Mailing Tube fleets as well as on generally more-human aviation conveyances -- the decision came easily to make an early grocery run for holiday indulgences. The Weather Channel folks kept up a steady patter about the week's second major maelstrom of winter weather, one which let folks in the middle states experience much of what the Eastern Seaboard endured the weekend before.

Other than moving up my visit to the store, the weather little influenced plans for me.

No way anything under my command would fly anywhere on the Christmas Eve, and knowing that early made it easy to turn my thoughts and communiques to loved ones and friends, both nearby and distant, sharing snippets of plans, small talk about our success in evading Mall Madness throughout the season -- and the usual banter of pilots who think common thoughts of the pilots and passengers unwillingly plagued by Mother Nature's insistence that a White Christmas come to as much as the country as possible.

So it came to be, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day across the middle and much of the eastern U.S., enjoying either fresh snow's clean sparkle or enduring the gray morass of old snow seasoned with salt and petroleum exhaust. Mother Nature will out.

That means some of us missed out on planned visits, some got part-way there, and others sat stuck on the flip side. But no matter where we landed, if in fact we lifted off at all, it's always warming and inspiring to know of so many people of so many different faiths recognizing that a shared spirit can make a holiday among all their own holly days.

Our friends who don't fly never get to experience the wonder of soaring over a winter landscape, seeing the sunrise cruising above golden plains, or watching a sunset into a vast ocean while approaching from the east. For me and many others similarly afflicted, getting airborne feels like a gift every time, even on those days when the "gift" is one we'd otherwise return to the store.

Makes me feel like every gift is a flight which can be balanced only by passing on the gift to others, to pass on the gift, if you will, as often and as well as possible.

So Merry, Happy, Ho-Ho, to friends and fellow flyers, for strangers and friends not yet met: the best of wishes for you and yours, for health, happiness and harmony.

To smoother skies and perpetual tailwinds in the New Year.

And a heartfelt "Thank you!" for making us a part of your aviation life.

-- Dave