Mission Aviation Fellowship

Notes from a small airfield, by Tad Higher

Sinking-in-the-Marsh Flying Club will be closed until further notice. But we are still here.

So, how are you?

Walter stood in his boxer shorts and greying T-shirt cleaning his teeth. He had four days of grey stumble on his chin. It was half-past twelve, and he and Quentin were both contemplating their first meal of the day. Having moved to the club, they had adapted well to Lockdown in Sinking-in- the-Marsh.

Though smelling a little of ‘man’ they regularly cleaned their surroundings and themselves. DIY had taken place, and frankly, the club was in better shape than before they moved in. Quentin, dressed formally, in other words, like Walter, but with open-toed sandals, opened the airside door. Stepping out, he stretched his arms above his head and let out a loud yawn.

Approaching him in paint-splattered shorts, worn-out sandals and chin stubble, was Randolph, the Marsh’s other resident. He wore a bronzed complexion and no T-shirt.

I’m hungry, so I’ve ordered three pizzas for breakfast to be delivered at one O’clock. Take delivery, pay the man and put the kettle on.”

Randolph turned and left. Walter had prepared some Cornish pasties made to his special recipe. Before dressing, he had placed then in the small oven they had brought with them when they moved in. The pasties now spread a comforting homely smell throughout the club.

They did not bother to dress up for the pizza delivery boy. Walter was just passing the automatic doors with a baking tray of freshly baked pasties when he heard the distant sound of Police sirens. Curious, he waited by the door expecting to hear the sirens pass and fade. They grew louder until two Police cars appeared travelling at high speed on the airfield drive. They bounced over the pot-holed car park and the first car screeched to a halt some three yards from the club. The second drifted sideways and came to a stop in a cloud of dust and gravel.

Joined by Quentin, they both stared at the spectacle. Two Police Officers from the second car burst out of their vehicle and ran to the boot of the first car. As they lifted out something unseen by the boys, the occupiers of the first car leapt out and hurried to the back. The second crew gave the contents of the boot to one of the others who then turned towards the automatic door. Walter and Quentin recognised the Officer from his last visit. He carried three square-shaped flat boxes in his hands. From his previous encounter with the doors, he knew not to expect them to open so hesitated at the threshold. Quentin lent forward and slid open the automatic doors for the four stab-jacketed Officers. The time was precisely twelve fifty-nine and fifty-nine seconds.

Randolph’s pizza delivery,” said the Officer in a respectful tone.

It should be still hot. We picked it up only nine minutes ago.” They spoke with a tone of respect and just a hint of fear.

From behind the inner doors came the voice of Randolph: “Ah, pizzas. Great.”

At the sound of Randolph, the Officers seemed to take a step back.

The reaction to Randolph’s voice emboldened Walter. “Pasty?” he asked.

The Officer who had carried the precious pizzas, respectfully stepped forward and took one of the still warm pasties. Thanking them profusely, they all retreated to their cars and left quietly. Walter and Quentin carried the pizzas into the lounge, and while Walter opened the boxes, Quentin went to make the tea.

Darth received a phone call from the local Police Inspector a few days later. They had tasted the pasty. According to UN regulations, the local cottage hospital and the Armed Response Unit, Walter had managed to weaponise the Cornish pasty. He thought Darth should know. Darth thanked him for his call.

It is only an opinion, but I think the writers of 2020 have crammed in too much. Real-life has a big imagination and a long time to think about plots. So, we do not know what the future will bring. If forecasters had to pay back double their fee each time their ideas proved wildly inaccurate, there would be fewer forecasts, and they would stop making astrologers look good. Speculating, ruminating and guessing have a far better track record than any professional forecaster so we feel we can indulge in these.

At the time of writing the news is full of images of the protests sparked by the tragedy in Minneapolis. The protests have spread, and we have just had Trump threaten to bring in the army. Wise generals have spoken against this.

Breaking Bad premiered in January 2008. So, twelve years ago, there were enough people annoyed with the Elite that such a drama would resonate with a lot of people. Since then, things have got worse, and the Elites have got more secure in their Ivory Towers. In these times, the only thing that is unprecedented is the number of times people have used the word ‘unprecedented’. The French aristocracy felt entirely secure in 1788 and why should they not. Food riots had erupted before and had been put down by shooting unimportant people. And their complacency proved them to be right. 1788 went well for those in charge and their supporters.

Back on the morning of 01 December1955 you could be confident of getting a seat at the front of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, if you belonged to the privileged group. Things would not change for the complacent they never had. The past was always a good indicator of the future. The Referendum, the 2019 election – the complacent are never prepared for change. They are always confident. But complacency leads to sloth. Sloth leads to irrelevance and eventually unemployment, of some kind. Trump wants to send in the hard guys. Shut down the problem at its source. It has worked in the past. A wave of protests has happened before. A bigger wave? Just send in more hard guys.

However, a good leader can tell the difference between just another wave and the tide of change. They are two different phenomena, requiring different responses. A protest may be legitimate. A movement can be costly either to suppress or to the ones trying to suppress it. The tragedy in the States did not occur in isolation. So, for the government to treat the protesters as if they are all bad guys shows wilful ignorance or a criminal lack of imagination. Americans are loyal. But very many are in poverty with an estimated 30% unemployed. That is more than in the Great Depression. Those in work feel insecure. The Elite response? They have tightened access to food stamps and allocated $135bn to the wealthy. Are the protests just a wave, or a movement of the tide?

For us, how will society change? I do not know. None of us does. I could waste your time guessing. Mind you, if you have read this far, it could be argued that you have time to waste. The consequences of these times will play out over decades. But an indication of how well our authorities will handle things could be discerned from how they are doing now.

Let us look at a simple task, an easy problem to solve – theory examinations for the recreational Private Pilot’s Licence. Remember the waste of resources spent on the 2013 version of the exam questions? Do not bring a map to the Navigation exam you won’t need it. What is the time on the beach in Bangladesh? Article 99 of the Chicago Convention – what colour crayon was used to write it? Thank goodness for the 2014 version that chopped out the most embarrassing gaffs. The people who organised that farce did not change anything for the better. The truth is that instructors and examiners covered the backs of the CAA last time. If I wanted to write a fictional novel about an examiner who taught pilots what was needed and ignored the Chicago Convention, I would be able to find some material. Are they any better today? We will find out. The PPL examinations are due to go online. An opportunity for a new start. No EASA to hold them back. So, the questions might be fair, relevant to the licence and cover the essential areas. Or they might not. Any irrelevant commercial exam questions will have to be answered, and the marks added up. If we have a change in results, but no change in the accident rate, then someone has proved their irrelevance. Though delayed by COVID-19, the question bank and algorithms are in place. So, we are just waiting to see the quality of examinations and thus of our leaders. Or we could blame those CAA workers at the bottom.

So much for the easy stuff. Will the students come back? I forecast that a substantial number won’t. A guess but look at what we do know. Past students – after an enforced stop, many do not return. It does not matter what the cause was.

New students? To learn to fly, you must have an excess of funds. You must also have confidence that the excess is secure, a healthy cash flow. Many have lost their jobs, many in jobs are not feeling secure, many with secure jobs (delivery drivers, workers at fast-food outlets, etc.) have had their funds diminished.

Those looking for commercial work need to believe they will have a reasonable return for their money, hard work and considerable sacrifices. In the past, they have had a terrible return. Who would borrow £100,000 to join a low-cost airline and be treated as so many are? Glossy brochures? Have you ever heard of social media? The word is out. This is a poor industry to work in. Job security? The airlines are bust, and many do not like pilots. The economy was already shaky, now enforced lockdown, money printing, possible inflation, even depression. The banks are not going to be lending at the same rate as before. No one knows what is going to happen. But the optimists among you should start looking for answers to the above.

And if the students want to return? Who will instruct them? We already had an instructor shortage. What is the average age for an instructor? One of my colleagues is sixty-eight. He was going to retire at seventy. At his age, he is already at risk. His wife, aged sixty-seven, takes medication whose side effect is to lower her immune system. For £15 an hour you want him to sit next to a student who could unknowingly be carrying the virus. He gets it and then goes back to give it to his wife. Why would you do that? A few young singles will; working their way to an airline job. Some are excellent, but many are distracted. Trial flights. The essential backbone of flying school income. Err… no.

PPL instructor and examiner renewals – in their present format and with the CAA charges they represent a tax on low paid workers. Does the CAA still have to make a 6% profit; another tax on low paid workers?

We do not know what will happen. We do know the quality of past leadership. The people in our industry deserve to be led well. The question is – do the leaders have eyes to see and ears to hear?

Author: FTN Editor

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