Spring Impressions

May 8, 2001

Spring Impressions

During one week in April I spent three days at Sun ’N Fun, then spoke at the Illinois Aviation Conference and also the North Carolina Airports Association. It was a helluva week.

By Ralph Hood

May 2001

What does Sun ’N Fun have in common with the computer revolution and the last half of the 19th century in America? Well, explosive growth, for sure, but have you ever wondered why? It is a fact that all three grew like weeds during a period of very low regulation, and there is a good argument that says that is why they grew.
One current economics magazine, Ideas On Liberty, points out that the surge in commerce and inventiveness in the last half of the 19th century occurred before we developed regulations governing the business world. We might say the same about the homebuilt/experimental segment of the aviation industry.
Every year I park near the landing strip set aside for ultralight operations at Sun ’N Fun. My walk from car to show is devoted to watching the continuous landings and takeoffs of these fascinating aircraft. It is perhaps my favorite part of the show.
Each year there seem to be more models of more aircraft, happily buzzing around in circles and having a great time doing it. One can’t help but note that this flourishing industry has mushroomed with (relatively) little regulation. It is primarily a grassroots industry, without the support — as near as I can tell — of any giants of the industry. It grew because individuals wanted the freedom of inexpensive flight. I say more power to them.

The Illinois Aviation Conference…
The most stunning thing that happened on this trip was a hailstorm that beat the plu-perfect hell out of my rental car and scared me half to death. The most stunning thing I heard was a speech by Jim Coyne, head honcho at the National Air Transportation Association. I swear to goodness, he gave a version of the old ’airplane in every garage’ speech. Well, okay, he didn’t exactly say garage, but he absolutely did imply that all God’s chillun gonna have airplanes. Lord, I hope he’s right. I just can’t bring myself to believe it, but I really do hope he’s right and I’m wrong. Considering how many times I have been wrong in the past, that’s not a bad bet.

The North Carolina Airports Conference…
Is it just my imagination, or are airport people getting smarter, better educated, and more businesslike every year? I think I’m right on this one, and I think that trend is going to become more so rather than less so in the foreseeable future. The public is (finally) becoming aware of the crucial role played by airports, if only because of the problems thereon, and the folks who build, manage, and operate airports are going to be in the spotlight big time. The people attending and presenting at the North Carolina meeting lend hope that this part of our industry is in the hands of professionals.
At all three aviation functions, there is evidence that aviation is becoming, on purpose, more involved in politics. That is necessary if not desirable, and I am glad to see it. Like it or not, we are greatly influenced by the guvmint, and I am glad there are some in our industry with the tenacity and ability to fight our battles. Lord knows I could never do it.