Asphalt and irony
July 19, 2010
Many literati consider Kierkegaard the master of one type of irony that is always very negative and usually destructive. As I read Bill Tomcich’s latest letter to the editor, I nominate him to be Aspen’s new ironic master.
Bill refers to “supposed experts.” I understand his denigration of experts: After all, I live in a town where those in charge routinely throw handsome sums of money at consultants who know nothing about Aspen but are happy to reach conclusions that support their paymasters’ desires.
By linking my name and “supposed experts,” he infers that he is an aviation expert and that I am not. I will not, up front, claim to be an expert; I will, however, indulge myself by listing some of my experience and hope that, against all odds, somewhere along the way, some expertise accidentally rubbed off on me.
As an Air National Guard fighter pilot, I maintained continuous combat-ready status for more than 20 years. I flew 10 fighter models in the U.S., the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. I logged 265 hours of actual combat time.
Concurrently, I flew 30-some years as a scheduled airline captain and was rated in a dozen airliners, ranging from the DC-3 to the B-747. United Airlines hired me as captain and flight instructor when I was 26 years old. At United I was line captain, flight instructor, flight instructor manager, standards check captain, fleet program manager and headed many projects, such as all-simulator training, personally developing procedures that were adopted by other airlines and by NASA in its space shuttle program. I wrote large portions of United’s Flight Operations and Procedures Manuals, most of which remain in those manuals today.
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I established my own aviation consulting company, which brought new airlines to certification, functioned as FAA equivalent in a foreign country, managed both domestic and international airports, ran a foreign flag (the country’s national) airline, created and flight-checked many airport approaches, and did numerous studies of runway take-off and landing limitations. Some, but not most, of these airlines were small. My most prestigious client was Singapore Airlines, which I and most other “supposed experts” consider the world’s finest airline.
Skipping over much, much other experience, I will drop to the bottom of the barrel, to that which is unbelievable, ludicrous, frivolous or illegal, such as: Ejecting from a jet fighter so low that I was in the air for only seven seconds in a damaged parachute, napalming vegetable gardens, rolling a commercial airliner with an FAA inspector on board, using seat pillows and rudder extensions to help teach pygmies (an anthropologically respectful term) to fly as captains in B-737 airliners, for Malagasy Airways, and, giving middle-of-the-night rides to girlfriends in F-102 fighters.
As the 80-year old hooker said to her young client: “My equipment might be old and I’ve lost some of the expertise I once had, but you have to admit … I am experienced.”
To the point: I believe that Aspen has the best air service of any town near our size in the U.S. Aspen Airport is safe, mainly because of our great weather (we get very little freezing rain and atmospheric clear icing, aviation’s most formidable foes.)
Sky West and Frontier Airlines do an amazingly good job servicing Aspen. We sometimes forget how the physical world works and are not amazed when we fly halfway across the world, in a day, usually without a glitch. Thanks, Frontier and Sky West, for serving Aspen so well.
More to the point – the 1,000-foot runway extension. I have spent many hours talking to the Tulsa lawyer who was paid handsomely to write the Airport Study, the Sky West dispatcher who furnished him the runway data, and other dispatchers and chief pilots for regional airlines.
Eight reasons for the extension and one against it:
1. The project will provide employment and profit for workers, and cement and asphalt providers.
2. The airport manager and staff will have a fine addition to their resumes when they carpetbag to their next jobs.
3. Our commissioners may have their names immortalized on a plaque at the airport.
4. City and county staff will have fun getting out of the office and supervising a huge construction project.
5. The project, for years, has been a pot of gold for consultants, and will be long into the future.
6. Flocks of private jet owners will believe, falsely, that they can more easily reach Aspen and may build more monster homes. These people do not buy Hunter Creek condos.
7. Tourists skiing on top of our three mountains will hear more noise, look at more steel and asphalt, and thus feel more connected to their big-city roots.
8. Bill’s employers may believe that he was responsible for getting the project done and raise his salary.
It is true that a unique aircraft – one, in Sky West’s own words, poorly suited to fly into mountain winter conditions – will, under certain wind and temperature conditions, haul around 1,000 pounds more weight with the extension. That would mean four more seats, more cargo, or 30 minutes more time at cruise.
Every aircraft, at every airport in the world, must, under certain conditions, fly with some, sometimes many, empty seats. In the real world, there is no significant value to the airlines, the traveling public or the general populations of Aspen. With no ax to grind, I stake my knowledgeable, experienced reputation on this.
IRONY: Mr. Tomcich, for a long time you have been lecturing our citizenry that we are not smart enough to understand the value of this project, and that you and the airport manager know best. I, a “supposed expert,” am asking you, the expert, to tell us of your aviation knowledge and experience. I know only that you have shilled for special interests in town and pimped them into believing that, by schmoozing the airlines, you could somehow convince them to bring in more capacity than they otherwise would.
Oh … the one reason against:
1. It’s a $20 million – and millions more in future maintenance – project, creating tens of thousands of cubic feet of asphalt and concrete and acres of landscaping, for which there is no public good.
To the commissioners: I will not say, as Hunter did, on this very same subject, “Kill the slimy, sycophantic scum, cut off their heads and impale them on spikes at the entrance of Aspen.” I do say to the commissioners: Shame on you, for being hoodwinked and driven by an ambitious airport manager and a PR hack to spend $20 million without good reason, just because you can.
I respectfully ask each commissioner: Search your heart and your mind. Find a valid demonstrable benefit to the general community, and state that benefit clearly, or kill this project.