Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sequestration's Effect on Aviation

Obama and his cohorts have certainly made this whole sequestration business as painful as possible for the aviation community.

-Air shows on military bases have been canceled
-The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds have been grounded
-149 air traffic control towers are closing around the US

As an aviation geek, I'm especially upset by this news - it was going to be my first year to see the Thunderbirds preform. My own personal feelings aside, what does this mean for the rest of the people and the economy?

Air shows on military bases opened them up to the public for one or two days, presenting the rare experience to civilians to be present on a military base. Apart from the coolness-factor, it was a huge recruitment tool to get little kids and young adults interested in the military and aviation. The Blue Angels' and Thunderbirds' performances also served the same purpose - coolness factor and recruitment tool.

Whether on military bases or not, air shows bring in people from out of the area. They travel in from long distances, sometimes even out of state to attend air shows. In state, I have traveled 2.5 hours to attend an air show. They spend their money and boost that particular area's economy. Usually the biggest headliners are the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds. Their name draws in people from hundreds of miles. Smaller air shows will still continue, but without their biggest headliners, the number of attendees will go down.

Not only will this affect local economies, but will also harm local small airports (who are already struggling to stay alive in most cases) and small business owners who rely on those airports being open. The aviation community is like an eco-system. When one animal (Blue Angels/Thunderbirds) goes extinct, then the whole system feels the domino effect. The perfect balance is disrupted and the whole system suffers.

What about future pilots? All I ever hear around airports is talk about a pilot shortage. I fell in love with airplanes at an airshow, watching the Blue Angels no less. What about other who have yet to discover their love of aviation in the same way? What about the kids who did discover they loved aviation from an air show, grew up, trained really, really hard to become a Blue Angel and now have their dreams dashed because the Sociopath-in-Chief wants to teach us all a lesson like we were bad children??

This doesn't even begin to cover the Air Traffic Control tower closures. Sure, if you have an airport that has one plane landing/taking off per year, by all means, close that monetary black hole. The government says that the towers being targeted by a random process and it's "non-political". BRAVO SIERRA. The government claims the towers that are closing have "low to moderate traffic". Again, leave it to the government to have no concrete definitions of "low to moderate". One airport close to me, RYY McCollum Field, is scheduled to close. According to AirNav data, RYY had 169 air operations (planes landing or taking off) per day. I know that number has increased since then, as McCollum has been getting busier the last couple of years. Plus, they have jets and military traffic landing and taking off from there. Closing the towers from an airport that has operations like McCollum will cause significant delays and is a safety hazard at the very least.

At most, other people recognize it as a safety hazard as well and steer clear of it. The flight schools close due to lack of business, or move... as one at McCollum is doing. After all, who wants to train a new pilot at an uncontrolled airport with high-moderate traffic with jets and military planes coming and going? Less traffic also means less business to the Fixed Base Operators, who provide gas and other services for pilots, and to the restaurants which are located there. Just like the air shows, there's a delicate balance that will be disrupted if this is allowed to happen at busy airports. Airports could potentially close. Wonder if Mr. "jobs created or saved" Obama will take responsibility for those lost jobs?

I'm not usually one to buy into conspiracy theories, but I believe without the shadow of a doubt that all of this mess was created to deliver a message and this was confirmed yesterday with the re-release of the newest tower closure list - two towers of the most quintessentially aviation centered airports are closing: Lakeland, FL and Oshkosh, WI. The biggest airshows of the year are held in those two locations. Take a look at the AirNav stats - Oshkosh has 249 air operations per day and Lakeland has 208. Both also indicate jets and military traffic. Safety issues aside, it's to drive the point home. Lakeland's tower is set to close on the first day of their air show. Coincidence? I think not.

At the EAA (Experiemental Aircraft Association)'s meeting the other night, one older pilot spoke up and said he's not worried, as he doesn't think the closures will happen, due to safety issues. The rest of us weren't so convinced. But that is Obama's way, isn't it - create a crisis, get people all in a frenzy, and 'solve' it at the 11th hour. I'm hoping he'll do that this time as well and keep the busier airports on the list open, like McCollum, Oshkosh and Lakeland. Besides, if he really wants to stop wasteful spending in aviation, I have a suggestion for him - quit burning holes in the sky with Air Force One and stay home!