I don’t like to pen anything negative, but I believe that there is room for improvement in the way that our General Aviation community conducts business. As most avid readers/aviators know, there are great things about GA that are first worth mentioning. We are blessed with a plethora of good airports with good runways, weather advisories, good lighting, and friendly operators. We have an awesome air traffic control system with professional controllers that help to make our journeys safe and enjoyable. We have great on-board electronics that show us the way, provide real-time weather updates, find the best winds aloft, lowest fuel costs, and identify the position of other aircraft. We have a friendly and helpful aviation community of very experienced and trustworthy operators. It is what keeps us in the air and coming back for more!
However, there is room for improvement. Let me start with the “simple” process of getting avgas. The larger airports have the hard-to-read, difficult-to-use credit card machines installed. We have all struggled with these during a bright, sunny day, right? They work but not well. Even these hard-to-read, difficult-to-use credit card machines are out of the reach of most small airports. I have been told it costs more than $40,000 to install!
Let me share my two most recent experiences; the first was at a municipal airport in Indiana that had one of the hard-to-read, difficult-to-use systems installed. Due to issues with the machine, it was necessary to pay inside with my credit card and then use the airport credit card to work the system! Not too bad if you can find someone at the airport to gain access to the “master” credit card on a weekend. My last experience was at a small airport where an old ammo box had been installed next to the fuel tanks with a note that said “Honor System—No Cash/Checks only.”
Certainly in the age of Square and other simple credit reading devices, there must be a low cost way for even the smallest operators to set up a fuel pump that anyone could use without having to use the airport credit card or leaving your check in an ammo box!
Let’s move to another gas, AIR! Why is there not an air compressor near the fuel tanks? Is there concern that there may be a spark generated? Maybe, but it doesn’t need to be that close, just close enough to make it convenient. It seems like it should be fairly simple to pump up your tires when you need it. This air station might also include the right nozzle to allow you to fill an airplane (relatively) easily even with wheel pants installed. Self-serve is fine with me. I do it all the time with my car. I’ll even pay for it and maybe this could help offset some of my other GA grumbles below. I don’t have a lot of money, but I have even less time! Why should a tire with low air pressure ever take more than five minutes to remedy?
Why don’t airport businesses like flight training and maintenance shops work better together? Several airports have more than one business that conduct operations next to each other but never, ever work together. Why is this? Most are very busy but not willing to work together with other businesses at the same airport for a win-win. I understand competition but wouldn’t it make sense to the customer (you and me) to share the limited parts inventory that each has, share instructors, share expertise, hangar space, special tools and other (sometimes) underutilized resources from time to time? By working together more, we would see shorter turn-around for maintenance work, more access to instructors, aircraft and flight training, overall better performance by sharing knowledge and expertise and maybe lower cost. Why can’t GA businesses all work together to better serve their customers?
My last gripe and then I will get off my soap box. Have you ever thought about what a 17-25 year old thinks when he/she goes to take an introductory flight at a facility that was built during World War II? The airplane outside may be newer, but they are going to be turned off the minute they enter the building (trust me on this as my 22-year old son told me so). Future aviators grew up with phones, tablets, computers, and yes, video games. Most kids have got to be let down with they see the condition of a large majority of our GA facilities. It is time for a facelift! We need new facilities with the latest audio-visual technologies for these students, not a cold trailer with an overhead projector. Local, state and federal governments could and should be part of these improvements and they should invest in the future fleet of pilots, mechanics and other aviation related professions.
What can we do to help? We need to be the catalyst for change. While we individually may have learned how to get by with what we need to operate our own aircraft, there is much to be gained if we work as an aviation community. We all have similar needs and while we do all work together to help each other, there is more that we can do. We need to talk to our government officials and airport business owners to request their help.
There is a great and growing story right now driven by the global need for more pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and other aviation occupations. We need to help tell this story. We should not wait for AOPA or others to lead the way; we must lead. Our regional and smaller airports are seeing increased growth. Let’s help meet that growth head-on with the right facilities and first class service!
We are all seeing a resurgence of GA activity. We are in a growth mode and we have all seen it improve over the past several years. GA is growing once again and I don’t see it slowing down. Get involved and push others to help us now and more importantly, the next round of aviation enthusiasts. There is room for improvement. Time to strike while the iron is hot!