Inside the Fence

Aug. 8, 1999


By John Infanger, Editorial Director

August 1999

It's 1984. You're a budding aviation communicator just hired by a trade association in Washington. Your first week, you get a call. It's Drew Steketee of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. He welcomes you to D.C. and arranges to have lunch. There, he shares insights of the industry and the association biz from the D.C. perspective. For an industry newcomer, it's helpful.

One tends to remember such a gesture. I do.

So it was with a sense of appreciation that I watched Drew responsibly represent the industry while talking live with Dan Rather of CBS during the onset of the JFK Jr. tragedy. Now a vice president with the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, Steketee was brought in — on an hour's notice — to talk about piloting and general aviation aircraft, specifically Piper. He then spent some six hours representing an industry suddenly thrust under a national microscope. A tough assignment handled well by a professional.

* * *

The JFK Jr. tragedy has many wondering what the fallout will be once the NTSB investigation is completed. It's fairly certain that student pilots will take more seriously an instructor's cautions about nighttime VFR flying in hazy conditions.

In Hollywood it's said that any publicity is better than no publicity. It's hard to recall a time when GA got the exposure it did during the endless JFK Jr. coverage. While there was the usual share of misinformation, much of it was credible and did indeed expose the general public to what this industry is and how people use it.

One question, though: When did a Piper Saratoga become the equivalent of a sport utility vehicle of the sky?

* * *

Worldwatch: The U.K. has unveiled plans to privatize its ATC system. It's looking to the private sector to inject some $1.58 billion toward modernization over the next ten years. Britain's Civil Aviation Authority will continue as regulator, with a mandate to get a better handle on accountability and performance standards. An economic regulator will keep an eye on pricing and service.

Meanwhile, back in the land of vacuum tubes ...

* * *

On August 3, the good people of Kansas City, MO, were to go to the polls to consider a referendum that could approve a lease with the Kansas City Southern Railway for a freight center where Richards-Gebaur Airport now stands. Meanwhile, the mayor and city council have directed the aviation department to look at ways to keep R-G open to aviation. According to a source at the department, if the referendum passes the next step will be to develop a new master plan. If it doesn't, well ...

This is one worth watching.

* * *

While one death consumed the nation for a week, another sadly was almost overlooked as a result. Don Engen, 75, director of the National Air & Space Museum, former FAA Administrator, NTSB investigator, and retired vice admiral was killed in a glider accident in Nevada. The above were just a few of the gentleman's accomplishments.

Mr. Engen leaves us a living example of what a person can do with a life, particularly when quiet leadership is a primary personality trait.

Thanks for reading.