Spring is in the air

by Mark Baker
AOPA President and CE
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine June/July 2021
Online Issue

Spring, what a wonderful season and metaphor for where we all are in the pandemic. There are thousands of clichés about things blooming, opening up, springing eternal, and more. But what they all have in common is that we have real reason to hope and celebrate. 

I’ve pointed out in previous columns the many ways general aviation has weathered the COVID storm relatively well, and even helped the country fight the pandemic by moving people and supplies to where they were needed most.

We should be proud of how our GA community has navigated the past year and, in some cases, has quite literally been a lifesaver. As we’ve seen through the pandemic, and with such natural disasters as wildfires, airports are key staging sites for relief. Many have been used to transfer vaccines and medical equipment, ferry needed personnel, and host medical clinics.

As we turn to longer days and warmer temperatures, I’m sensing a spirit of renewal everywhere I look. Call it “spring fever,” but I am seeing more pilots in the skies across the country. Not that there was a big slowdown in general aviation (there wasn’t!), but we are on our way to what will be considered “normal.” I know flight schools are busy, and good luck finding a used Cessna 172 on the market! All great signs.

I am also happy to see that our counterparts on the airline side are seeing traffic and revenue rebounding. On March 12, TSA screened 1.3 million passengers on a single day—the most since March of last year, giving hope for a return to business as usual. 

Not only are we flying more, but we are flying more safely. We’re off to the best start we’ve had in more than 20 years and I am optimistic that this trend will continue. While many of us have remained in the air over the past few months, I know some pilots (and aircraft) are taking to the skies for the first time in a while. I encourage returning pilots to explore the valuable free material and guidance our AOPA Air Safety Institute offers to aviators, as well as the Rusty Pilots program from our AOPA You Can Fly initiative. Safety is, and always should be, our number-one priority.

One of the things I have missed most over the past year is seeing you—our members. Aviators are a social sort, and I know we’re all looking forward to getting back together as conditions continue to permit. Our Outreach team is hard at work creating an exciting, albeit different, events strategy for the rest of the year, so that we can share this passion for flying—together. Come join us August 27 in Manassas, Virginia, and October 1 in Fort Worth, Texas, for Aviator Showcases. Look for details on other events coming soon. I can’t wait to see you all again.

As we return to normalcy, I want to encourage everyone to continue doing your part in ensuring GA stays healthy. While we’re coming out of this pandemic strong, there is still much work to be done for our industry to continue to grow. 

As we’re allowed to gather more, invite some nonpilots to fly with you. We know there’s nothing like experiencing flight first-hand, and that’s how many of us were bitten by the bug. Show your friends the fun and freedom, and perhaps, we will have a new aviator. 

On that note of opening the skies, let’s also open up our airports. When I travel around the country, I love to visit the local airport to see what exciting things are happening on the ground. Too often, I’m greeted by barbed-wire fences. Yes, we need a measure of safety and security, but we all need to make sure there are as few barriers to aviation as possible. Making airports more welcoming—perhaps, hosting aviation days—would be a great way to build interest in learning to fly. 

Just like any industry, we can’t predict the future, but we are learning to adapt. And, I think we’ve done better than most could have expected. We are a resilient bunch as pilots, but more so as AOPA members—more than 300,000 strong. 

As the season is upon us, I’m reminded of the old proverb: “No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.”

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