formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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November 12, 2013 The Priest who kept on Knocking

The Liberty Gazette
November 12, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: This week’s story starts with a small town in Ireland experiencing massive unemployment, its citizens departing to find jobs elsewhere. The town was drying up in 1980, except for the visitors that still came to see the shrine after 15 townspeople reported witnessing an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Their testimony approved by the Catholic Church, Irish Catholics had been making pilgrimages to tiny, remote Knock, and over 600 cures were reported within a year of the sighting. But that was over a century ago, and the town had not much else to keep its economy going. That is, until Monsignor Horan moved to Knock.

Seeing the human pain of economic distress, Horan looked around to find where money was being spent, and finding it at romantic dance halls populated by teens and young adults, he set up business to collect money in sort of a chartable dance hall.

The idea worked well, spurring more ideas the priest would put into action to feed the flock put in his charge.

The dirty carnival-like atmosphere that invaded of the area where the Virgin Mary was sighted, the muddy streets and dilapidated shacks where cheap and gaudy memorabilia was sold received special attention from the Monsignor. After succeeding in cleaning up the area he campaigned tenaciously to raise funds for a basilica. (I had to look up what a basilica means to the Catholic Church – it involves a commitment and carries a special honor.) It’s a great story – short version is: sighting site cleaned up, basilica built and designated, priest gained ground with politicians and real people (that’s two separate groups), putting his faith into action.

With more than 1.5 million traveling to the shrine the priest helped build up, what could he do next to help his people? How could he turn this sleepy, backwards town into a place people would come and spend money? Build an airport!

Mike: Someone’s funeral offered perfect timing for Horan to obtain approval from the head of Irish government (called the Taoiseach), Charles Haughey, to construct a runway. Political blinders cause those types to act only for anticipated votes; hence, the big important guy gave it his blessing at the post-funeral lunch.

Horan got to work before the next breeze would change Haughey’s answer – even before money or planning permission was granted. When they tried to ‘reign in his passion’ he went on a campaign of his own, holding fund raisers, drawings, and singing in halls around Ireland. One of his campaign songs:

I'm dreaming of a great airport
With all the politicians that I know
May the Taoiseach be happy and bright
And may all the politicians do right!

Most all the locals came to cheer the landing of the first airplane on the 8,000’ runway at the new international airport – not the grass strip Haughey assumed it would be.

The former Knock Airport, now Ireland West Airport, hosts flights to more than 25 scheduled and charter destinations. The town hopes this year’s success will eclipse last year’s, their best year yet.

Monsignor Horan has since passed on, but his breviary, rosary beads, reading glasses, and fur hat are displayed inside the terminal building, while outside a statue of him stands firm, an encouragement to never give up.

And Ireland’s tourist agencies report that the airport is vital for that part of the country – thanks to the priest who kept on knocking.

November 5, 2013 Mayor Captains

The Liberty Gazette
November 5, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Low ceilings and visibility delayed the first flights at the super Challenge Air event but every pilot and volunteer on the ramp was having too much fun with the festivities to notice. Even with the later start, we worked in three very special flights for children with disabilities before having bug out to Jasper in time to squeeze in the annual Ghost Run Air Race and Punkin’ Chunkin’ contest.

Our competitors might have been disappointed when we landed and refueled just in time for the green flag. The neck-and-neck points race will be over when the season ends this Saturday in Taylor, Texas.

As hurried as our arrival and race start were, the post-race lunch and awards began with a nice surprise. The citizens of Jasper voted in a new mayor this past May. They chose Max Griffin over the two-term incumbent so he must have really impressed them. As visitors to Jasper who have some knowledge of the merit of airports we were pleasantly surprised when the first person to the microphone to thank everyone for coming to Jasper to race was American Airlines pilot and mayor, Captain Mayor Griffin.

Mike: Looking back at the campaign last Spring, Max Griffin, who grew up in Jasper and had returned in 2011, ran for office because he believed he could have a positive impact on his hometown, which has suffered a great deal of negative publicity. The Captain Mayor understands, and rightly so, that ambassadorship is the responsibility of the mayor and council, so his successful campaign focused on moving Jasper forward – for everyone, not just the ‘good-ol’ boys’ or the country club friends with money. For us, it was a refreshing surprise, quite respectable for this mayor to be at the airport to say, "Thank you for coming to Jasper – we’re glad you’re here," and "We want you to know, this is an aviation friendly city – we are pro-aviation and we know this airport is important to our community!"

Besides his conviction that it is vital to serve all the citizens of Jasper, Griffin aims to encourage business owners to build or relocate there. That he finds the airport so important to the city’s future will be a key factor in attracting businesses that will bring jobs and build the local economy.

The message from Jasper renewing hope for a small town and its airport was strengthened by news that came the following week from the Alliance for Aviation Across America, a coalition of individuals, businesses, agricultural groups, FBO’s, small airports, elected officials, charitable organizations, and leading business and aviation groups that are promoting the value of general aviation and local airports, particularly for rural communities. As you know, general aviation and local airports support business activity, medical care, disaster relief, fire-fighting, agriculture, law enforcement, pipeline patrol and a host of important resources and services vital to small communities.

The important announcement was that Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, Arizona, President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, has joined the Board of Directors of the Alliance. The Conference represents more than 1,000 communities and as a pilot and the head of that organization, Mayor Smith knows first-hand the role that general aviation plays as an economic driver and in providing critical services to communities across the nation.

Two encouraging messages in one week!

October 29, 2013 Floating Airports

The Liberty Gazette
October 29, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: One day my ship will come in. And when it does, it will probably be at an airport. Or, maybe it will be an airport - a floating airport. Why not? 71% of the world is covered by water.

If you’re looking around for fresh ideas for where to put your money, if you’ve been thinking long and hard about what to do with that island you bought that’s just sitting out there in the middle of deep water, doing nothing, an airport may be just what you need. And even better, it can be yours for free! But here’s the catch: you have to be first. It’s only free the first time.

A novel plan being floated by some gifted engineering visionaries includes renewable energy technology and potential for discovery or invention of anti-corrosion protection and other building materials. A prime test bed for many new products and processes, it will have to be funded by private industry, which can then benefit from development and advancement of their work by selling their newly patented products commercially. And all the islander has to do is let the party come to the island, pretty much.

This research and development project would be part infrastructure, part engineering laboratory, part business incubator, floating in a remote, deep water place, using wind, wave, and deep water thermal technologies.

Linda: Bud Slabbaert and Terry Drinkard are two of the brilliant minds advocating this concept, and they’re curious about the business incubator possibilities. They see potential uses of a floating airport to develop businesses that service research vessels, support world-traveling sailors and deep sea fishing vacations, scuba diving and eco-tourism, long-term aquatic research, an undersea colony, and a base for sea rescue and anti-piracy squadrons. Regardless of its specialty offerings, any airport, floating or not, will always serve as an emergency landing strip just in case it’s needed. That’s the safety aspect that will be appreciated by anyone faced with needing it.

How would it be built? In the oil industry, structures rest on piles driven into the sea floor, the same technology proposed for a new San Diego airport. But it would not be purely floating or movable, and it’s expensive to build. I worked for over a decade for a company that builds platforms for the offshore oil industry. That company uses tension leg and semi-submersible designs. But one area not yet navigated is pneumatic stabilization, "which is essentially a group of cylinders closed on top, but open below, allowing the water to rise up into the cylinder, compressing the air inside until it supports the weight of the structure," wrote Drinkard in his article, "Floating airport: a pilot project" in (Oct. 25, 2012).

As has been thoroughly documented, well developed airports are an enticement to industry and commercial development. All things considered, a free airport sounds like a real deal for the right island partner, so check your island inventory. If you have some stashed away in the areas of Maldives, French Polynesia, Salomon Islands or the like, that may just be prime real estate for cutting edge research. The opportunities, proponents say, are as yet unknown but when the infrastructure is built, they will come, just as certain as baseball players in an Iowa cornfield.

October 22, 2013 Cookies on a Plane

The Liberty Gazette
October 22, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The boll weevils were tearing up crops in the south, and a couple of guys in Louisiana working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture were fed up with their destruction. What if, they wondered, they attacked the pests by dropping insecticide from the air? In a perfect example of American ingenuity, a proud history of working men and women finding answers to problems, the inventive crop-saving solution gave birth to the first aerial crop dusting company: Huff Daland Dusters Incorporated, which formed in Macon, Georgia that year very, 1924.

So while the twenties were roaring, with flappers a-flappin’, farmers caught wind of the new idea and within a year Huff Daland became the largest privately owned fleet in the world, with 18 airplanes.

One of those two guys from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Collett E. Woolman, helped the company grow, winning contracts for crop dusting and passenger service. The company had relocated its headquarters to his home town of Monroe, Louisiana, and with all his hard work and dedication soon Woolman was able to buy Huff Daland.

But as Woolman knew, fields have boll weevils and roses have thorns. Thanks to that pesky air mail scandal involving the government (a shock, I know), the airline C. E. Woolman built from the ground up didn’t win the mail route contract they had hoped for in 1930, causing them to suspend the passenger service they had started.

Four years later (after some government house cleaning) the little airline that could was awarded the contract for Route 33, Dallas to Charleston, by way of Atlanta.

But half-way through that four-year battle for survival, which nearly put the company out of business, half-way around the world, in Belgium, the Boone brothers opened a bakery – and this is where the story gets tasty.

Mike: The popularity of their cookie, er, their European biscuit, delivered to customers from a red truck, exploded faster than a bucket full of yeast in a warm pan.

Wildly successful in their homeland, the Boone brothers’ caramelized biscuit was easily paired with coffee, eventually becoming the number one choice of Europeans, each decade seeing greater notoriety for the treat than the last.

52 years after delivering the baked delights from their little red truck, the Boone brothers’ cookies flew into the U.S., landing aboard the company that had once made its home in Monroe, Louisiana, in the Mississippi Delta – that pioneer crop duster that became Delta Air Lines.

If you ride on Delta today you will be offered the Boone brothers’ specialty, "Biscoff" (biscuit+coffee) cookies, but you don’t have to take a flight to enjoy this delectable snack. Biscoff cookies and their newer product, a spread made of the same ingredients, are sold in many major retail stores throughout the country, and online.

The recipe hasn’t changed since the beginning of the cookie and the company, still in the same family, now employs more than 1,200 people in several European countries.

But if you do decide to fly, the cookies offered on Delta are about 50% larger and have the word DELTA impressed on one side. They say that more than 1.5 billion Biscoff cookies "have been sampled by happy, tired, excited, adventurous, grateful, and, of course, hungry airline passengers." I’ll put the coffee on.