Flight Diplomacy

from Cindy Pickett, Marin County 99s Chapter

If you left the diplomacy of world politics to fellow pilots the world would be a better place. Tuesday, Jan 19th, members of PAPA rolled out the red carpet for an aviation delegation from Weinan, China. The group of six dignitaries, from the central part of China, was in the U.S. to explore how general aviation succeeds.

At this time there is very little or no GA in China. The most one can do is fly circles over a few airports and land. There is no cross country ability, no charter services, no repair shops, no aircraft distributors, no freedom to fly, no joy in just pushing the throttle forward for your time alone in the wild, blue yonder. In such a huge country, where GA could provide so many services, the skies are empty.

Francis Chao, a speaker and wonderful person we’ve had to a PAPA meeting, has been trying to deliver aviation to the people of China. In a country where the central government owns all land, controls every moment of people’s lives, there has never been the opportunity to make small plane transportation a reality. It has been incredibly frustrating for Francis to promote this dream in such a dense and obstinate bureaucracy. He believes that, like the U.S., the ability to fly non commercially shall come from the ground up, not the government down. What a huge boulder to roll up a steep slope.

With the ever wonderful organization of Joe and Pat Pittelkow a large group of PAPA members, 99s from Marin and Santa Rosa, the mayor of Petaluma, Pam Torliatt, plane builders, came out on a very rainy day to welcome the Chinese. The PAPA club house had taken on water so Annie and Scott Woods offered their hangar to be the venue for our meeting . It wasn’t long before formality was dropped and the spirit of friendship prevailed. What could have been stodgy became a love fest.

Several of the group were from the CAAC, (like our FAA), the mayor of Weinan, the head of aviation education at the local university, and a few businessmen interested in promoting GA in China. They wanted to learn how a small, regional airport thrives and enriches the local area.

Gerry Fogarty and Joe Debnar had three BBQs fired up for hamburgers, while Sarah, Pat and I provided more food reflective of an American lunch. When the delegates first got out of their black suburban, we dismissed the formal greeting lines and just went all out with warm friendship and hugs. It was truly a magical moment of people opening up their hearts and lives to one another. Kitty Houghton, who was instrumental in making this whole thing happen, acted as an interpreter since Mandarin is not common with us. She had asked me to give a small talk about women in aviation.

I thought about this subject a long time before I realized that in the U.S., aviation has been the domain of individuals’ dreams brought to fruition. Early on in the 20s and 30s flying was more entertainment and a frontier of challenges and record breaking. With the promotion of flight in WWI and II men took over controls of flying. Society did not think the cockpit was a place for a woman. We know differently now. If it wasn’t for the tenacity of the aviatrix and young women engineers, our world of flight would never have taken off. What I tried to share with our guests is that it’s the inspiration of a few, the sense of adventure and exploration that has made us what we are today.

The U.S. military has done the heavy lifting improving our safety, technology and license to soar on wings. Yet is has always been the “why not?” attitude of Americans to find our place in the sky. Not until I met and spoke to our new friends did I realize how truly lucky the pilots of America are. This has been a wonderful lesson to gather. We take for granted the freedom to soar aloft whenever we desire. What a privilege we own!

The Mangons opened their facility for the Chinese as an impressive and important cog in our flying family. I have to say that Ron and Walt have saved many a trip for us when something decides to act up right before take off. Dave McConnell and Carl van Doymi wowed them with their RV8 project and all its bells and whistles.

The 99s, from Marin and Santa Rosa, stood proud of our place in the world of flight. Much like the Chinese, women in America have had to fight for their place in the sky. If only we could have taken our friends aloft, but the wx gods nixed the idea and kept us on the ground with umbrellas in hand.

This October, Weinan is sponsoring an aviation exhibition and fair to show the people of China just how important general aviation is. The mayor has invited us to join them and share our experiences and knowledge. If ever there was an opportunity to step into a China never seen before this is it. We have such a gift to offer and promote. Our dreams and inspiration can bridge a divide that has never been crossed. This is not just a leap for aviation, but a soaring opportunity for all who dream. We are all one in our love of flight. Great friends, great fun, great flying.

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