Two ways to healthier aviation

I have two axes to grind this time around, the first refers to the health of our brotherhood—and sisterhood—of pilots, the second to some observations for individuals.

Two recent airport visits revealed very different environments worthy of comment. One was an unscheduled diversionary stop at Indiana's Columbus Municipal Airport because of a truly Spielberg-esque thunderstorm; the kind, efficient line guys had my trusty steed hangared and me ensconced in the FBO with a good cup of coffee before Thor’s bolts hit tarmac. (Really impressive display!) Just prior to that, I had visited the St. Catharines/Niagara District Airport (CYSN) for some Canadian flying.

At the former, the Hangar 5 Restaurant (darn good chicken salad and unsweetened iced tea) was populated by geezers. And I count myself in that crowd. No disrespect, just fact. Mostly older guys, nursing their Java and scowling at nature’s majesty. North of the border, I saw young flight instructors and young people learning to fly—and most of them were female!

Our community is aging and while as an individual it sure as heck beats the alternative, for a group of people it is not healthy, for age often comes with reduced drive, less energy, and a blithe acceptance of the status quo. And most older pilots are men. So we need to actively encourage younger folks to learn to fly. Seeing these two different communities had me ruminating not just on my chicken salad but on the steps I have taken to do my bit.  

First, volunteering to give talks to schoolkids about the wonder of flight has been one of the most rewarding and fun things I get to do connected with aviation; each time I do so, an offer to take a field trip to the airport is met with enthusiasm and joy. When you take such youngsters—and their teachers and parent chaperones—and let them sit in an airplane, visit the tower, and see flight line operations, some of them at least will be delighted at the chance for a flight. And of those, some will sign up for lessons and of those, some will tell their friends about this new-found freedom. You will find that the young girls are especially open to the topic (at least that is my observation) because conventional thinking has many of them blind to the possibility that they might be pilots.  

Another thing I love to do is talk the ear off anyone who will listen about airplanes, flying, and all the joy it brings. I can think of at least two colleagues who have learned to fly, bought airplanes, and use them actively because of my nagging. And recently at dinner, some musician friends woke up to how GA could change their hectic lives traveling from their northern California home to business meetings in Los Angeles and on tour. I have a feeling that after their first flight in a small airplane they will be hooked and we shall have gained two more enthusiasts.

So, for the health of our community, why not take on the challenge of recruiting one pilot a year? Think about it, we could double the size—and influence—of AOPA in one year! 

The second health issue ties into the first. I have droned on and on about developing healthy eating habits. To dispel the impression that I am being too sanctimonious, I enjoy that $100 hamburger as much as the next guy. However, after perusing what is on offer at most FBO’s I do fret. Yes, the airport in Indiana had some nice options on the menu, but most vending machines and airport food offerings are miserable.  

I am moved to recall the work done by my fellow Englishman, Jamie Oliver, to improve the catering standards at British schools (and trying but largely failing to do the same thing on this side of the duck pond). If he could only turn his attention to airport food!

Please think about what you eat all the time, but use your pre- or in-flight victuals as a reminder to build good eating habits. Avoid carbonated and heavily sugared beverages; snack on carrots, celery, fruit, and nuts; and avoid any food like the plague that has no right to be “fresh” for four or five weeks in a vending machine.

Fly well and fly often!

Jonathan Sackier

Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.

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