Foundation Focus: Are you in the fight?

The freedom to fly--it isn't free

December 1, 2012

Freedom isn’t free. It’s an idea that you often hear when in talks about defending the nation. The freedom of speech, to vote, of religion, of assembly, to have open and differing views are some of the most precious aspects of living in these United States. They are paid for dearly in time, treasure, and the lives of our service personnel, their families, and those who work to administer the Constitution.

The same can be said of our freedom to fly. The United States is one of the very few places on the planet where we enjoy that freedom. The airspace belongs to the people, not to the government or the airlines. The FAA is there to help us use it safely, but it’s not their airspace, either. It belongs to the people.

As I think about our freedom to fly, a couple of relevant quotes come to mind.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” —Ronald Reagan

Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, the truth is that freedom is never guaranteed. If we want freedom to be a birthright for the next generation, we must defend it today. And the next generation, too, must defend freedom in its turn. Given the long decline in the pilot population and the many external threats to GA, we are perhaps less than a generation away from losing our freedom to fly. As the regulatory and certification burdens have grown, costs have risen, diminishing the value equation. To do nothing is to guarantee that our freedom to fly is extinguished, and soon.

“Responsibility is the price of freedom.” —Elbert Hubbard

Where do our responsibilities lie? Do we have a responsibility to push back, to stand tall, and not bend before the forces that would deny us access? I think so, and hope you do as well. In the last “Foundation Focus” ( “An Aviation Ecosystem,” September 2012 AOPA Pilot) we discussed the ecosystem and how each part of aviation is dependent on others. We must work together, with focus and commitment, to create a sustainable environment for GA. We must assert that this generation of pilots, all of us who are flying today, has a responsibility to preserve general aviation.

As we come to the end of the year, think about how you will help preserve your freedom to fly, and the freedom of those who follow. In speaking to a number of donors—both large and small—in the past month, the challenges seem daunting. But then, a hill always seems tall when you’re starting at the bottom. Let me get a little impractical for a moment on the cost of aircraft. Some have asked, “Why would you buy new when there are plenty of good old ones out there?” There’s an obvious answer. At some point more than a few pilots need to start buying new aircraft at all levels because we can’t fix the old ones indefinitely. As you may have noticed, many new aircraft are just a mite overpriced for most of us, and the marketplace has spoken, resulting in abysmal piston sales over the past several years.

This particular problem will take longer to fix for a variety of reasons, but I don’t think it’s insurmountable. We still need airplanes to fly and there needs to be a way to build them economically with a reasonable degree of safety. So far the insanity of doing the same things over has yielded some rather inconsistent results. This all ties into our freedom to fly and, for the short term, flying clubs may tide us over. But clubs can’t afford super-expensive equipment either. (There’s more to come on this topic later.)

Although he was not the first to express the idea, no less a visionary than Sir Isaac Newton famously said, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We in twenty-first century America have been given the wonderful gift of personal flight by those who came before. We can’t allow it to disappear. It’s a gift we must pass on to future generations.

Learn more about what the AOPA Foundation is doing to preserve your freedom to fly, in this magazine and online (www.aopa.org/foundation). If we’ve made a good case, consider making a donation to help the AOPA Foundation to continue the fight. If you’re still undecided, drop me an email with your thoughts or concerns.

I hope you’ll also consider how you can donate some time to further the cause. Offer an intro ride, mentor a new student pilot, speak to a school or civic club, take part in an airport meeting. Protecting our freedom to fly is no small task. But if we each do our part, the burden becomes lighter.

The freedom to fly is not free and is worth preserving. Are you in the fight?

Email bruce.landsberg@aopa.org.