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Wed, Jun 15, 2011

It's Time To Choose: If You Stand For Nothing, You'll Fall For Anything…

Analysis and Opinion By ANN Editor-In-Chief, Jim Campbell

We've been doing a lot of hinting… even offering a few clues (some of them about as subtle as a Sherman Tank) here and there, about an effort that has taken the better part of two years to come to fruition. It's far from complete, but it's about ready to see the light of day, and after consultation with hundreds of industry experts and advocates (literally), I'm modestly confident that now is time to start speaking about it all -- and in just a few days… God help me, I will.

These efforts are geared to one thing -- and one thing only - truly aggressive, persuasive, occasionally radical, and supremely effective transformational change of an industry that has been broken for many years and is, with all honesty, swirling the drain.

I don't mean to sound overtly alarmist (though I know that this is the effect such pronouncements have) but we live in a day and age where many of the things that we grew up with simply no longer fit into the world that we live in. It is a new day… warts and all. In many cases, that is something to rejoice about, and in some other cases we can, and should, feel a sense of loss for a time and an age that is passing us by (so damned FAST!). But the aviation world that we knew, the aviation world that we all grew up with, and (YES) the aviation world that we loved, is just about gone…

And we can either sit here and bemoan that fact and attempt to vainly regurgitate what will not survive the 21st century, or we can get smart, get busy, and re-craft the next generation of aviation as an altogether new, living, breathing, valuable, durable, and viable entity. But…mark my words… it will not be like that world we once knew… not at all. We need to get over that here and now. But that's OK… because if we do our jobs, it could even (dare I say it?) be BETTER.

All God's children have their dreams... I am no exception.

Before we get to all that, though, I want to address one particular aspect of the "old aviation" that has troubled me deeply over the course of my 40 years of personal flight. When I first climbed into a little Schweizer glider (which looked to the younger 'me' as if it was a massive and foreboding behemoth the size and complexity of a 747) at the tender age of 14, ready to solo, despite dreary weather and a case of nerves that just wouldn't quit; I would never have dreamed that the people I looked up to so greatly, and that I would wish to surround my life with would occasionally be some pretty bad apples. At 14, all pilots were heroes, everyone in aviation seemed so much more smart and honest and alive than the non-flyers -- and my trust in the innate goodness of all of aviation and everyone in it remained uncontested for a number of years…

And then, regretfully and reluctantly, I grew up.

As my life took shape as an aviation journalist, consumer advocate, troublemaker, and overall aero-pain in the ass; I have since come to find that the world of aviation, with all its excitement and wonders and marvels, is occasionally blackened and tarnished by those who have no respect and concern for the well-being of their fellow aviators. And God help me, I have experienced some of the worst times in my life trying to help an industry that has occasionally been victimized by crooks and cons, in an attempt to find a proper resolution of the wrongs done to innocent flyers. I have watched so-called 'member associations' turn their backs on troublesome issues that occasionally led to the harm (even deaths) of their members. I have watched other aviation journalists ignore clear-cut facts in order to avoid controversy and negative feedback. I have watched the FAA and the NTSB refuse to deal with easily provable wrongs. And I've watched our overall system of government become increasingly uncaring about the welfare of people who populate the aviation world. And if the associations don't give a damn… if the FAA and NTSB won't step up and if the government doesn't actually do one of the few things it should actually be doing… well, then, it is up to us to protect and care for each other.

Each time, I have encountered such evils, I have watched aviation be hurt and minimized and made less wondrous than it was… as victims of such ills were either cheated, defrauded, fooled, injured… or even killed. I have personally witnessed crimes and cons that have driven hundreds of aircraft owners, pilots and personnel from our midst… and I am confident that those sad shameful numbers are but the tip of the iceberg. And worse, the tales of those who were conned and harmed have kept thousands more from joining our ranks.

As we put forth our upcoming, massive, Aviation Transformation concept (in concert with some of the most respected people I know--really, I think you'll be pretty damned impressed), to remake the world of aviation into something that can endure the many challenges that are sure to come, I'm going to put it to you simply -- what kind of 'new' aviation do you want?

Are you willing to see the next generation of aviation continue to have to deal (now and then) with the liars, the cheats, the crooks, the cons, and all those other mean-spirited little bastards who would hurt our fellow flyers?

I think it's time, here and now, for ALL of us, to take a truly aggressive, even incontrovertible, stand…

I'm not talking about the old battles many of you watched us fight… I'm talking about issues that plague us RIGHT NOW…

I do see hope here and there. We saw how just a little organized resistance from concerned people was able to (somewhat) ameliorate the heavy-handed games played by FlightPrep (though I strongly believe that we have yet to hear the end of THAT story), but such efforts are few and far between and certainly the exception to a regrettable rule in which most of the industry turns it back and chooses not to see what's wrong with others in our midst.

For instance, I'm putting the finishing touches on one of the toughest and most worrisome stories we've ever done, about an aircraft manufacturer, Cirrus Aircraft, that has been run by some folks with little respect for the truth or the overtly negative effect they have had on others… Most especially in regards to the damage that they have been alleged to have done to their vendors, customers, and associated parties (and our research strongly suggests DID occur).

I am amazed that I am (pretty much) the only one tackling this story right here and now. Cirrus Aircraft, once a bright and shining example of the potential renaissance of GA, and a fine and upstanding company led and staffed by visionaries, was taken over by a "Bean-Counter" after its founding/visionary CEO was ousted under questionable circumstances -- and whose conduct in the 2+ years since then is (to my observation and analysis) absolutely reprehensible, often dishonest, incredibly destructive (for the company as well as the industry), and strikes a new low in the recent history of the general aviation world.

For some reason, the "good guys" really do seem to finish last in many cases where the GA world is concerned… Visionary Cirrus founder Alan Klapmeier was kicked to the curb and is now in the process of proving that lightning can strike twice with a new company/aircraft and a whole lot of psychic bruises from his Cirrus experience… And you can add that to the regrettable circumstances surrounding one of the most courageous GA CEOs in recent memory, Cessna's Jack Pelton, who was 'retired' under sudden circumstances -- at a time when he had more than proven himself to be one of the few plain, honest, forthright aero-statesmen willing to take on the Washington establishment and the political decision-makers that have victimized aviation again and again over the last few years.

In the meantime, the Cirrus Bean-Counter appears to have victimized countless suppliers, lied to the public, run up millions of dollars in debts, conducted highly questionable business practices, created legal skirmish after legal skirmish, and pocketed some pretty decent paychecks for his effort (while laying off hundreds of his staff… and pleading with them to recognize the "shared sacrifices" needed to help the company survive - sacrifices he did not seem to want to share). And if his bizarre machinations work out later this summer, he stands to pocket an even bigger paycheck when a company he (in my opinion) helped to tarnish to the point where it HAD to be sold, gets scooted overseas and takes with it the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a uniquely American industry that once burned so brightly… and now seems intent on selling its soul, not to the highest bidder (because there are darned few of those anymore), but to the lowest, and occasionally only, bidder.

This did not have to happen… and in my opinion, it took place due to greed, arrogance, dishonesty and a startling contempt for the welfare of the rest of the industry… and its hardly a secret from where I write this.

When the postulated sale of Cirrus (to China) broke in the news, (courtesy, first, of our efforts here at Aero-News); Cirrus said we were wrong, that we lied -- they attacked us, threatened us, quite specifically harmed us, and have engaged in a bizarre (but well-documented) course of conduct that seems specifically directed to damage our ability to tell you all what we know (and they've pretty much said so). I'm not going to get into all that right now (that is another story for another time… and BOY, is it a doozy)… But suffice it to say that we have not backed down, and that we will not back down. And for the moment, we find ourselves absolutely mystified to be the only ones (not counting some rare but none-the-less courageous individual protesters and bloggers) at this point willing to tell the world that the Emperor has no clothes.

Shortly after the official news of the Cirrus sale to China broke, there were a number of articles and opinion pieces that trumpeted this deal as a good thing - without the benefit of any real factual data and little research into what was REALLY happening in Duluth… For the moment, Aero-News really doesn't have an opinion on the China deal right now, but in all the hyperbole and fluff written about the Cirrus sale and its postulated future, there was little or no mention about the fact that this was a company that seemed as if it was driven to its knees by massive failures in honesty, ethics, and proper conduct. One gushing association column lauded the Cirrus Bean-Counter and pseudo-CEO for pulling off the China sale -- without mentioning Cirrus' victimization of L3, BRS, Tornado Alley, airshow pilot Patty Wagstaff, Avidyne (the list goes on and on), or the many misstatements of the aforementioned Bean-Counter -- who promised refunds to Jet Depositors that did not materialize (as promised, if at all), grandiose statements about the company's performance and/or research and development that didn't seem supported by fact, or were later contradicted by other statements they made, or just the simple fact that this was a company that denied up and down any possibility of a deal with China before their contradictory announcement -- often claiming that it "made no sense" and other such drivel -- even in recorded interviews. That gushing columnist looked at one side of a very complex equation and failed to do the requisite homework that should have called so much of the Cirrus/China deal into question.

In another case, the once mighty (now fading) AOPA is doing PR events with Cirrus and holding this company out (still) as one of the bright shining stars of a teetering GA industry without any hint of the many problems this company has, the problems it has foisted upon others, and the stunning damage it has done to an industry that has been stumbling for a number of years, and most certainly since the economy started tanking. I KNOW they know of these problems... and from more than one source... and they've done nothing that we know of to minimize or correct the damage this company has done.

It's not right, it's not honest, and to be perfectly straight with you… it's bewildering.

The Cirrus mess is but one such story (and we are at work on a few others as I write this... some nearly as worrisome)… And over the years I have beat my head (thanking my genetic heritage for an overly thick skull) against the walls of the associations, government agencies, law enforcement agencies, and others when I've seen something going perilously wrong with the industry and tried to warn others of it. I won't say that we've never been successful -- and as a matter fact we've had some hard-fought victories at various times with various critical issues -- but the plain fact of the matter is that our win/loss ratio is depressing -- and that wouldn't be so bad if there was anybody else out there that was even trying, much less succeeding, in any attempt to protect the general welfare of the aviation public.

I could go on and on… but enough is enough. I ask you simply this -- I am prepared (and so are many other fine and upstanding members of our aviation community), to put a great deal of our time, effort, expertise and resources into a truly committed endeavor to rebuild the aviation world… But if we're going to do this, much less succeed, we simply must demand that this industry seek the highest possible standards, behave with the greatest ethical posture, and be more than willing to look critically at any aspect of aviation that is letting any of our fellow flyers down, in any way.

If we don't demand honesty, if we don't demand ethical behavior, if we don't demand transparency, if we don't demand a true examination of suspected wrongs -- and more important than that -- demand a path to resolution when those wrongs are discovered, we are doomed to repeat the cycle we are attempting to subvert right now.

It's heavy stuff… it's not pleasant to talk about, and I can't possibly tell you the personal trauma I have watched and documented over the years while the people we call our brothers and sisters in flight have been victimized, hurt and and even killed by the wrongdoing of others… If we, as an industry and a community, don't demand the very best in conduct and behavior, we are doomed to failure.

So I put it to you…

What are you willing to stand for? …

Or, failing that, what are you willing to fall for?

FMI: It's Time To Choose: If You Don't Stand For Something, You'll Fall For Anything…

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