Last month while visiting family in my home state of Wisconsin I stopped at Wausau Municipal Airport to also visit with an old aviation friend; we attended high school together and his father also taught me to fly. Lyman now operates the small one-person maintenance shop there, and on this Sunday was answering the phone, pumping fuel, and basically keeping the doors open.
I compare operating a small airport FBO to farming; a 24/7 jack-of-all-trades type of role. It was a quiet afternoon and other than a couple walk-in customers we were able to spend some uninterrupted time catching up, admiring the model airplanes hanging from the office ceiling, talking about the good old days, mutual friends, current realities of the aviation business, and speculating some on what would be next for people like us and other friends who have faced job change late in their careers.
I couldn’t help but reflect back to life several decades earlier when so many of us began our aviation careers at small town airports answering the phone, pumping fuel, working in the shop, and doing whatever it took to keep the doors open. Coincidently, at one time I worked at this airport doing the same things.
Early on in our careers my friend was hired by a local company and flew a variety of single- and multi-engine reciprocating engine aircraft as a corporate pilot. Eventually the firm he last worked for upgraded to a new King Air. Nice! Unfortunately this didn’t last and like many companies facing a down economy, fears of recession, and possibly the impact of criticism from Washington, D.C., a few years ago, the airplane was sold abruptly ending his flying career; at least for now. I often felt he was fortunate being able to remain in the hometown area and have one of the few corporate aviation jobs these small communities generally have to offer.
Arguably there are areas around the country or the world where business aviation is more active, even thriving, and finding similar work would be easier. But not everyone automatically chooses relocation for work and being close to family, friends, and familiar surroundings becomes more important.
Small communities also need aviation people to maintain and grow the aviation services they have to offer. While reminiscing this day I was reminded of a small local manufacturing firm that purchased a new Cessna 172 in the mid-1970s in order to better conduct business at other rural communities in the upper Midwest. I learned this company eventually became two larger companies with two larger airplanes, a small town business aviation success story. As difficult as it may be, I commend my old friend for maintaining our roots and continuing to support small town aviation.
The week of Oct. 10 the business aviation community will gather together at the National Business Aviation Association’s 64th Annual Meeting and Convention. Celebrate the greatness that business aviation brings to communities large and small. Show your support to this industry by attending. See you there, Ron.