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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August 18, 2015 Beyond the Zenith

The Liberty Gazette
August 18, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: If you read this space last week you’ll recall my pondering the irony of the question of the future of aviation considered by our young teenage aviation students, in juxtapose to two high ranking Naval officers publicly debating the same question in 1928. How could either have imagined such a world where that was even a question? One group looking back, one group looking forward, and in the middle came the Golden Age of Aviation.

It was the magazine, The Forum, which gave print to the debate. After British Royal Navy Chief, Captain Alfred Dewar finally saved his pen from further scribbles forecasting that airplanes could never contend with ships and trains, offering an important role in transport; next up was United States Navy Admiral Richard Byrd.

The admirable Admiral Byrd was ready for the dog fight and met Dewar head on, quill to quill, saying, "flying has a future as yet undreamed of".

Byrd knew this: We’re Americans, by golly, and we innovate! But he also acknowledged that flying had to become safer before it could be a serious contender in the transportation ring. By 1910, he observed, "automobile races were a public scandal in the deaths they caused," but by 1928, "the motor car is accepted as a safe conveyance for women and children as well as racing drivers." This "safety" argument against an industry in its infancy was the same faulty logic, he disputed, which condemned the railway and horseless carriage, only to see a nation become dependent on them.

Imagine Tweeting these words in 1839, "The railway cannot succeed because of two San Diego definite shortcomings: first it cannot go uphill, and second, not enough people want to go somewhere in a hurry to make it pay." Byrd would have found them amusing, as he did also find early naysayers of the car in 1897: "The automobile cannot possibly succeed because of two inherent defects: first, its engine will always be so unreliable that the average citizen will not tolerate the delay and inconvenience sure to arise; and second, there will never be sufficient funds to build level roads permitting travel at high speed."

The crux of Byrd’s argument wasn’t with those who focused on physical limitations. The jet engine hadn’t yet been invented, so their ideas were still small. Instead, they would be financial. He patriotically pointed out the difference between our European counterparts where government subsidies are a way of life, and American ingenuity and capitalism. "This very point is a fine feather in the cap of the American businessman. He is of fighting stock that does not tolerate paternalism."

Airplane manufacturers, he proclaimed, wouldn’t keep building products, and airlines wouldn’t keep providing services that weren’t profitable. Nope, no government money would be accepted by proud, hardworking Americans. "The greatest progress – and the development that will mean most to aviation – must come from banking support." Noting progress in this area, Byrd said confidently, "When American business joins hands with American aviation, the future of flying is assured."

Mike: That the American airline companies have indeed taken subsidies in the past is the fault of over-regulation and greedy litigation. Strip away those unnecessary evils and examine the real costs of operating an airplane and we see that Admirable Byrd’s assertions still hold true.

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