At the beginning of the Coronavirus epidemic in March, my financial adviser and friend, Bob Strommen, sent a letter to his friends and customers. The title was “Hold Fast to What is Good.” Rather than just a note on financial planning and what might be expected in the coming months, it featured tips on how to get through the immediate danger, and what may come later. He offered tips on finance, but more important, how to deal with the immediate problems, and how to deal with the disruption in the country and the world AFTER the immediate problems. Bob’s observations can be best summed up in the following points:
1. What’s happening now is REAL—admitting it, internalizing it, and accepting it is as healthy as denial is dangerous.
2. Anxiety is normal—don’t panic.
3. When we start to see certainty, anxiety will diminish.
4. Take care of family and those you care most for.
5. Be careful listening to negative news. Find the positives and embrace them.
6. He finished with the admonition “Hold Fast to What is Good.”
Bob used the example of visiting his favorite take-out pizza place. It was closed to dine-in. The waitress recognized him as a long-time customer. It was obvious that business was down, and though the ability of the company to survive might even be in question, the waitress was pleasant and thankful for the business. Bob left her a generous tip—about the value of the original pizza. He did this because it was apparent that the pizza place needed support—but they were gamely continuing on—hoping for better times ahead. The waitress started to cry, and thanked him twice more. He realized that the experience had put things into perspective—that a place he liked to patronize was having a hard time—as were the employees. He was in a position to do something about it—a small item, but something that not only would help his favorite pizza place survive, but let the employees know just how important they are to him. As he put it, “I was emotionally shaken” by the reaction of the person receiving the random act of kindness.
Bob is a great financial adviser—a good writer—but I wondered about the origin of the phrase “Hold Fast to What is Good.” I Googled it—it is Biblical in nature—it comes from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians 5:21. The modern version of the saying can be be described as
HOLD FIRMLY OR HOLD DOWN LEST THE DESIRED OBJECT SLIP AWAY FROM YOU, OR TO TAKE POSSESSION OF A THING—TO WRAP ONE’S ARMS AROUND AN OBJECT AND REFUSING TO LET IT GO—TO EMBRACE IT.
I don’t want to sound like a televangelist, but there is a lesson here for all of us in the aviation industry—WE NEED TO HOLD FAST TO WHAT IS GOOD—OUR INDUSTRY. Thus begins the "sermon", column of the day.
It’s no secret that the world—the country—our local area—and the thing we love—the aviation industry—has been pummeled. Only 100 days ago, the stock market was at an all-time high, unemployment was low, good jobs were available, airline aircraft orders stretched to the horizon, and the future was bright.
All of that changed in only a month. We can argue whose “fault” it was (some things just HAPPEN—even to GOOD PEOPLE)—but “wishing it would go away” is NOT a strategy. See points 1 & 2 above.
Don’t panic (point #3)—we’ll get through this. As of this writing, the infection rate has peaked, death rates are lowered, the government has instituted programs, and the restrictions are being lifted gradually.
It’s point numbers 4, 5, and 6 that are the basis for this column—WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT OUR INDUSTRY?
We can’t all “run out and buy airplanes” to save our industry. GOVERNMENT by itself can’t save it. The reality is that the airlines are a shadow of their former selves. The local aviation services operations (FBOs) are all but shuttered. All of the major aviation events have been cancelled due to well-grounded fears of contagion. The “alphabet organizations” (the trade and advocacy groups) can’t by themselves make the industry reawaken. The magazines and online programs, for the most part, can only REPORT THE NEWS—and bad news begets more bad news. WHO can save the industry? WE CAN! Go back to the title of this piece:
HOLD FAST TO WHAT IS GOOD
Our industry is what is good. We’ve all invested money and time in the industry. Time for us to “hold fast” for the industry we love. What can we do about it? Some examples:
A. GO FLY! I can’t think of a reason NOT to. Airplanes are perhaps the single best way to “maintain social distancing.” YOU control who is aboard—how many—and even where they sit. You already OWN your airplane—you are paying the hangar, insurance, and upkeep on it—why don’t we fly? (Even the FUEL is cheaper now!)
B. Yes, you can go flying just for the fun of it. YOU will enjoy it, and YOUR AIRPLANE will enjoy it (airplanes tend to break when not used often!) Like the waitress in the example above, YOUR FBO WILL ENJOY IT as well—and will remember your generosity.
C. FIND A REASON TO FLY. It’s fun just to go flying, but even better when there is a reason to go fly. Go up and get night current. Do your biennial flight review early and get it out of the way. Check out in a different airplane. Get a seaplane rating or tailwheel endorsement. Practice crosswinds, short, and soft field landings. Get an instrument rating (or get instrument current after a layoff).
D. Find a destination you would like to fly to. Something special—a place on a lake—a county fair or festival—a special restaurant—an out-of-state destination—a sporting event—an aviation museum (they could use your support as well!) Anything of interest to you—you can use the excuse to have some fun—and some fun with your airplane.
DON’T FORGET THE SOCIAL SIDE OF FLYING
After months of being told to “maintain social distancing”—what are the things we miss? Most pilots miss being around OTHER pilots. The big conventions will likely be postponed until late this year or until next year. We will have to entertain ourselves. Here are some tips for getting together with friends:
• Meet your friends at the airport. You miss being around your aviation friends, don’t you?
• Well, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Take a friend for a ride.
• Swap rides in other aircraft with friends—you’ll have fun, meet other people, and learn a lot about other airplanes.
• Go to “flight breakfasts” - the sponsoring organizations may have cancelled for this year, but don’t let this be permanent - if YOU don’t keep it going, who WILL?
• Can’t find a flight breakfast - MAKE YOUR OWN—get a group of pilots together and fly to a neighboring town for a meal (find an airport with a courtesy vehicle). YOU will have fun—the restaurant certainly can use some help about now—and you may inspire pilots in other towns to do the same.
• How about organizing your OWN fly-in breakfast - or other meal? It need not be anything big—it can be limited to your own social network—and limited only by your own capabilities. No cooking facilities? Make it a “fly-in and we’ll take you to a local restaurant” event. How about “fly in for pizza” (or any other take-out?) Here at Albert Lea, we have 6 restaurants within 6 blocks—the restaurant owners and employees would be GLAD to have your business!
• Consider an evening meal. One of the things I like about glider operations is that when the gliders are put away in the evening, the grilles come out—and pilots and families get together for socializing. It’s one of the reasons that glider pilots rarely give up the sport (compared to airplane pilots)—they value the social side of flying. It could be something like an impromptu cookout—get a grille available, and everybody bring a dish to pass. At nearby Mason City airport, they’ve been doing this for nearly 8 years on the Third Thursday of every month - it’s always well attended, and always fun!
• A variation on a theme - here at Albert Lea, we have two commercial stoves I purchased at an auction. We regularly have “sit-down evening meals” a few times a year. We’ve had live lobster, dungeness crab, burgers, “steak sold by the ounce”, Wisconsin-style fish boils, shrimp boils, Bavarian pork chops - AND all the cooked sides - everyone brings a dish to pass. It is so popular that we have to limit attendance to 100. Though non-pilots are allowed, we periodically have to cull the list to only include pilots and family, former pilots, and “prospective pilots.” We do the dinners at cost. It is a good way for pilots to stay connected and to enjoy each other’s company - and for prospective pilots to sample the friendship to be found at the airport.
• “Trading rides.” Most pilots are anxious to show off their aircraft - and most pilots want to see what other aircraft have to offer. Set a day when pilots can get together to change rides. The “rules” vary - usually it is “I’ll give you a ride if I can ride in your airplane” - sometimes, it’s “I’ll split the gas with you” - sometimes we go someplace with several airplanes, with the provision that other than the pilots, nobody can come home in the same airplane they went out with. It leads to lots of animated “hangar talk” and good-natured camaraderie - “I had to fly home with “old shaky!”
• Just getting together to go to a common destination. Though many of the big aviation gatherings are postponed for the season, there is no reason a group can’t get together to eat, camp at airports (try it, it’s fun!), go to an aviation museum, or visit an attraction located near an airport. THINK about it - most people don’t go to the big shows to watch an airshow - they go to see the airplanes AND to meet up with old pilot friends. MOST airports have something local to show off - why not create your OWN destination by putting together something unique to your airport? The Minnesota Airport Directory (free from MN. Dept. of Aeronautics) lists local attractions, hotels, eateries, and the availability of airport camping.
• Organize your own Safety Seminar. Do it through the FAA Wings program, or AOPA will help you out.
• Consider an aviation speaker. Every airport pilot group knows someone who can speak for half an hour. Select a date, and schedule an airport social event (don’t forget to have local news coverage if applicable -- it’s good publicity for the airport.
• Young Eagles -- a great program, as far as it usually goes -- but we can do better. All too often, kids come out to get a ride - they get registered -- get escorted out to the aircraft, and leave -- not contacted until the next year. Take the time to tell kids what to expect. Ask them to bring their cameras. Make them the center of attention. Have them tell the pilot where they live from the airport. I ALWAYS advocate sending things home with them -- don’t just give them a ride -- give them something to show their friends, and to think about. Keep old copies of aviation magazines, and give them away to the kids. Give them their “logbook” -- filled out with the kind of airplane they flew in -- how long, high, and fast they flew -- the requisites for starting flying and for solo, and who they can contact for more information. Don’t forget the Sporty’s FREE GROUND SCHOOL -- it’s important that they get reinforcement of their desire to learn to fly.
• Teachers and Counselors. We put in all of the effort for kids -- how about for adults? Consider having your organization contact high school counselors, and offer to speak to them about careers in aviation -- educational opportunities, and the process of learning to fly. We’ve done that with high school counselors, and even added lesson plans for elementary, Junior High, and Senior High students. (Think about it -- all navigation is math and geometry -- weight and balance is math and calculus -- aircraft load and propulsion is Engineering -- what better way to introduce kids to STEM?)
• We have “Young Eagles” -- why not have introductory rides for “Grey Eagles” -- people that have always been curious about flying? For these “older” pilots, learning to fly may be a lifelong unfulfilled dream. You can provide it for free—or you can charge them for a portion of the gas (but not the airplane or pilot)—or you can ask them to make a donation to tax-deductible charities of your choice, like the Humane Society. (You’ll be a hero to those charities as well!)
• Don’t forget non-traditional aviation activities. You can build an event around aviation activities rarely seen. We’ve done skydiving, glider get-togethers, balloons, light sport, ultralights, antiques, ski planes, sea planes—ANYTHING DIFFERENT is always fun at the airport, and if promoted right, you may turn up potential pilots for your airport.
THE TAKEAWAY: Aviation will not return to “normal” unless WE DO SOMETHING TO SAVE IT! There are lots of aviation promotional ideas out there. PICK ONE AND RUN WITH IT! (and if you have other ideas, please share with me!)
Jim Hanson is in his 59th year of flying—and never tires of flying or promoting aviation. He is the long-term Airport Manager at Albert Lea, MN. If YOU have an idea for aviation promotion, Jim would like to hear from you. He can be contacted at his airport office—507 373 0608, or firstname.lastname@example.org