The Aviation Community Has Cancer

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it – Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is not a post that I compose lightly. Those in aviation have been among the most friendly, open and sharing people that I’ve ever had the pleasure to get to know. In the four years I’ve been flying I’ve had a number of people go out of their way to teach me things, show me things and leave the airports, campgrounds and airplanes we use better than they found them.

I’m a very thick skinned person. I ran a popular political blog for five years during the end of the Clinton era and the beginning of the Bush one. I have been interested in politics and culture for as long as I can remember and my interest in psychology has lead me to an understanding of the Dalai Lama’s call for us all to be compassionate that resonates deeply with me.

Let me be clear that in every example that I’ll be writing about, the people or companies involved have every first amendment right to be doing what they did. I will not name any names because I’m perfectly willing to assume that I might occasionally run into people that don’t represent the attitudes of their management. I don’t want to cast a shadow on an otherwise fine operation because I had the misfortune to meet someone bad.

All that said, when something bad is happening it is the obligation of moral people to make efforts, small and large, to stop it. This post is one of those small efforts. It will offend some people. For that I apologize. It may also be a painful outing of a poorly kept secret in aviation. For that I don’t apologize. Instead of cursing the darkness I’m going to light a candle.

My first exposure to the dark side of aviation was in Utah. We were flying around the Rocky Mountains hiking and camping and stopped in Utah Valley for fuel and a flight briefing. We used the self fuel and walked into the office in search of a briefing box or wifi. Upon opening the door we were greeted by Rush Limbaugh blasting throughout the entire building.

This FBO was a privately operated business and the person working that day was not only pleasant, but on seeing my expression turned down the radio and actually cleared his desk as there was no other place for us to lay-out our sectionals to prepare for the next leg. For that, I was happily able to overlook the surprising fact of an extremely polarizing figure being played in a place of business.

On that same trip we stopped near Little Rock, AR. The FBO in question was a beautiful new building with coolers of drinks and a bunch of brand new flatscreen TVs. Unfortunately, when we arrived the flat screens were playing Glenn Beck. As above, it was really, really loud. I have no idea if proponents of the far right are more prone to hearing problems or if it was just a coincidence.

In either case, I walked to the counter, paid for my fuel and said, “man, the country is really going down hill”.

FBO Guy: Yes, it sure is.

rw2: People need to learn their history in a bit more detail.

FBO Guy: How about it!

rw2: I mean, listen to what this guy is saying (waving at the TV). He seems to be forgetting about why social security was created in the first place. (chuckling) Look, he’s just really not my cup of tea and I’m surprised to see him in a place like this.

At that, the FBO guy smirked a “well, I guess I walked into that one” smirk and bought me a Gatorade.

Again, person to person, the encounter was pleasant enough. But there was a surprising lack of awareness that not everyone walking through the door might be interested in ‘rants from the right’.

Heck, the gun range that I go shooting at in Texas doesn’t even play those kinds of guys on the radio.

It was also sad to go to Airventure last week and meet the guy with the NOBAMA shirt where the O was a hammer and sickle. I had a handful of food that I was walking back to our table and frowned and shook my head when I saw the shirt. That was all it took to send this guy off. He jumped off his scooter and just about bumped chests with me. His overreaction was itself comical, but made doubly so because I’m a tallish guy and he barely came up to my chest. He proceeded to call me a “union hack”, “teacher” and “ignorant”. The first two certainly aren’t true. As for ignorance, who knows. But I do know that opening a line of discussion with insults rarely leads anywhere good. At the urging of this man’s friend, I just walked back to my table and the friend got the man back in his scooter and on his way.

Later, I went to a presentation by Rod Machado. While I enjoyed his jokes about flying, it was a shame that during his comments about flying a plane via brain waves someone in the audience thought it would be funny to yell, “It won’t work for Democrats”. Rod gracefully deflected it, but the audience laughed heartily and those of us who aren’t on the far-right felt that familiar sting of being in a roomful of people that don’t particularly like or respect us. It’s apparently not that we disagree, it’s that anyone not on the far-right is stupid.

Finally, I was aghast walking out of one of the pavilions to overhear a couple guys talking about how they had to go back in to talk with a vendor and “jew him down”.

Make no mistake about it, these kinds of things are sand in the gears and keep people away from general aviation. In a time of continued long-term decline in pilot population, is that something we as a community want? Is it something those on the far-right want? Would the folks on the far-right prefer to have a larger pilot population, or would they rather have a smaller one that is homogenous and thinks Glenn and Rush are great? Actions speaking louder than words, I guess we know the answer.

Unfortunately, those stories are only the tip of the iceberg.

On the 4th of July AOPA posted a screen shot of presidential TFRs for the coming week. President Obama was going to do a bus tour, just like every other President I can remember (which at this point is seven). Let me share a few of the comments from our brothers in aviation (notice, all these comments are from males):

Chris: Kinda looks like the destructive path of a hurricane or tornado…
Ken: No he has done much more damage than either of those…..
Mike: Same difference chris. The only difference is we not only knew this was coming, we put it in power.

Scott: I object to this ABUSE OF POWER with the use of TFRs! They are abhorrent, COWARDLY, and UNNECESSARY! We need to do AWAY with the concept of such COWARDLY ACTIONS as “TFRs” and the like. I have had ENOUGH.
Scott: I don’t care WHO or WHAT they are for- THEY ARE COWARDLY and UNNECESSARY,and I want the damn things DONE AWAY WITH! THAT is NOT the AMERICAN way of living! Living in fear is ANATHEMA to me, and MOST Americans- and this is NOT an “ounce of prevention”-it is PURE POISON TO US!

Thomas: I don’t think the average American is aware how much the constant campaigning (not just with Air Force One) of this prima donna impacts air travel. Hey, you have public housing in DC at least until next January….STAY HOME!

Terry: Thou must use caution to not intrude on his majesty’s royal airspace…..if you do, his majesty’s royal fighter jets shall come for you!
Terry: I did call him “His Majesty” and I’m not part of a “fringe group”……TFRs are unconstitutional and that’s all there is to it. So is employing the military against civilians. It’s not just TFRs though, it’s the federal government’s increasing power…..it ought to be enough to scare any freedom loving American….but then perhaps you wouldn’t know freedom if it bit you in the a$$? Just go along with what they tell you to do and what they say is right and necessary and everything will be ok…….

Brian: This bullshit needs to stop.

In fairness there were a handful of people pointing out how absurdly over the top those sorts of comments are, but things got so heated that Craig Fuller (CEO, AOPA) finally had to step in:

Craig Fuller here….people….it’s a TFR. I spotted it when I checked before a Husky flight today. Just wanted to create awareness for the thousands that may be flying in this area….TFRs are not partisian…we’ve had them for a long time.

At this point in the story we’re no longer talking about a couple folks in FBOs listening to the radio. We’re talking about aviators massively overreacting and demonstrating a lack of civility unappealing to many of us in the field and even more people who might be interested but read these kinds of things and decide they’d rather take up a different hobby.

Of course, sadly, we’re still only part of the way drilling into our iceberg.

Ever wonder why women only represent 6% of pilots? Here are some examples.

Eduardo: A hair saloon(sic)

Robert: My worst nightmare!

Allan: i see 4 cockpits

Derek: Why cant girls fly? because there is no such thing as a cuntpit! [1]

Those got multiple “likes” on facebook.

Allan: women are supposed to be on their knees.

When a woman tried to join in with her own joke:

Summer: Wait a second, there’s a woman fixing what a guy f**ked up…
Kristopher: That was a good joke though Summer, a woman fixing somthing(sic)

James: Looks like she’s just scrubbing the bottom of the plane a completely acceptable reason to be out of the kitchen!

Need more? I’ve got a dozen. How about this one:

Because, you know, women are whores. By the way, the woman pictured above was apparently some sort of elite Soviet pilot.

Or this one:

It goes on and on and on. And the worst part introduces us to the next level of our now thoroughly metastasized cancer as we segway from angry politics to mysogenism to, at last, racism. Look, even our girls are better than you Mr. Person-With-Brown-Skin:

Minorities are extremely underrepresented in aviation. I wonder why…

Side note: While researching for this post I did come across a genuinely funny joke that deals with race in aviation “What do you call a black pilot…………. A pilot, you racist.”

It is every persons responsibility to make this community stronger. We are mostly really great people who love to fly. The handful that think that everything has to be partisan even as we, as a community, enjoy bipartisan support in congress (55 Democrats and 63 Republicans recently co-signed a letter to the President requesting that user fees be taken off the table), should not be allowed to go unchallenged. The folks who think it’s funny to say that a woman’s place is in the kitchen must not go unchallenged. The racists who lurk among us must be helped to see the light of day.

Every one of us has an obligation to step up (calmly and politely, but still step up) and help end these things. If not for the good of aviation, then just because it’s the right thing to do.

=========== Footnote ===========

1. This made my day. Nearly a year after this was posted, one of the people quoted saw that he had been and wrote the following. As I mention several times in this article, most people in aviation “face to face” are great people. It’s just a community that sometimes forgets that it’s not homogenous. Good for Derek for owning his comment!

“I completely agree with your article on your blog and am thoroughly embarrassed that I actually posted that. I have since deleted that comment. I too am very proud of aviation and the community that we have for the most part. I also try to promote flying to as many people as I can, and i think it is wonderful that more women are starting to come around and learn to fly. I do want to apologize for posting those words, it was very wrong and like I said quite embarrassing. It was a play on the words of cockpit, and my college geared mind didnt quite think that through before i went ahead and posted it. although it was supposed to be a harmless joke, it was a very poor choice on my part and i’m glad you brought it to my attention because I had actually forgot that I posted that. So thanks again, and I hope you can get more people in the aviation community to change their ways so we can again raise the number of pilots to what it used to be.
-Blue Skies
Derek”

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