Basking in the warm breezes of Wisconsin’s first coat-free day of spring, I suffered a pang of aviation desire. It would be a nice day for any general aviation pilot to go flying. But in the hemisphere that surrounds my deck the only sights and sounds of flight were the robins feasting on sunbathing worms. This brought to mind all of the empty airports I visited last year on my Route 66 adventure, and for the first time I made a connection between them and the empty, boarded-up building on the Main Streets of their respective home towns. Like many, I have nostalgic memories for both, but one cannot exist without the other, and the revitalization of either seems slim these days.
Looking forward, I wonder for how much longer these forlorn airports will survive? If the small town doesn’t have the population and jobs to support Main Street businesses, there will not be any aviation-minded individuals around to support the hometown airport. Time will come when the town’s revenues will fall short of funding the services that the entire population expects, and the airport will cease to be a line item.
Other airports survive only because they are supported by Essential Airport Services funding, but the budget proposals floating about reallocate these funds to more politically advantageous recipients. Add the uncertain future of the contract tower program, and working with rough round numbers, it is not implausible that 20 percent or more of the nation’s public use airports will go the way of Meigs Field. Some may suggest that they will survive as destinations for business aviation, but if there are no businesses on and around Main Street, why would business need to fly in there in the first place?
These is no doubt that some small-town airports will survive and thrive, and they will certainly be related to the small towns that remain viable and vibrant as time has reallocated the population and employment options that sustain it. Most of them will be outside of metropolitan areas and cater to the individuals with the disposable income to enjoy the services and amenities they offer.
Accompanying nostalgic longings for what was is the desire for its return. But these thoughts and desires rarely touch on the reality of our actions that led to their demise. Everyone wishes for the return of Main Street, but yet they shop online or at whatever big box gives them the best deal. And you can’t fault anyone for this, because pay hasn’t kept pace with prices, and the buck only goes so far.
Aircraft owners are no different. I have no doubt that right now lots of them are shopping the Internet for the best price they can find on an ADS-B upgrade that is a day’s flight from their home. Each of us has acted on our decisions that have led to the world in which we live today, and what it will be tomorrow will be no different. –Scott Spangler, Editor