Fences surround airports; maybe you’ve noticed this trend over the past 10, 15, maybe even 20 years. As we as a population become more aware of security and potential threats, physical barriers are added to life in the name of protecting us. Some people view these security measures as unnecessary barriers and headaches, while other accept the measures and deal with them.
You can put me in the category of wanting to go through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening at the big airport. Yeah, you read that right… I know the process is flawed and there are issues, but if you have the ability to add a layer of safety, why wouldn’t you? Exactly…
Anyways, back to general aviation and airport fences… I remember as a young kid my father would take me to different airports to watch planes (usually Norwood, MA or Taunton, MA) taking off and landing. I’ll bet if you asked him after paying for my private pilot license if he would have skipped the airport a couple times when I was very young he might say so, but I’m glad we made all those trips on our explorations.
While all those years ago we would sit and watch planes and often there was either no fence or there would be a fence but it would be a short 4-foot fence, just to prevent children (like me) from running out onto the ramp and into a place where we could be in danger. Fast-forward more than 20 years and now almost every airport is surrounded by 8-10 foot fences with three strands of barbed wire strung at the top. Are we at an airport or a prison you might ask… If your airport doesn’t have a fence, it wouldn’t shock me if one was in the plans or on the way during the next few years.
Growing up working at a general aviation airport (Mansfield Municipal, 1B9) I took the fences for granted, they were there and there wasn’t anything you could do about it… But that doesn’t stop a lot of pilots from complaining about the “unnecessary”, “pointless” & “useless” waste of money that an airfield fence is. Keep in mind I say this as a fellow pilot, not someone working in airport management, GET OVER IT!
Seriously, the fences are here to stay, deal with it. If all you have to complain about is the fence protecting your airport and your airplane then I think you have it good enough to not need to complain. If you don’t fall into that group then I’m sure there is something more important that you could spend your time concerned with besides a fence protecting your airplane! Here are three reasons why general aviation pilots should find something else to complain about:
- Fences serve as a barrier to protect the airfield assets.
Fences keep honest people honest… If a person has real nefarious intentions then it is highly likely a chain-link fence will only serve to slow them down. But, that means that it will take longer to complete whatever nefarious activity they set out to commit. As a result, there is a greater chance they will get caught or possibly even ‘spooked’ away.
Moreover, fences provide enough of a barrier to stop individuals who are aimless and don’t have nefarious intentions but have a lack of motivation to go elsewhere to cause trouble. Essentially dealing with the fence and barbed wire is too much of a hassle for these individuals looking for the “low hanging fruit” type of trouble to cause. It’s much easier to go tip over some trash containers into a yard than to get through a security fence and trash an airplane at the local airport.
On another note, as I highlighted earlier, the fence will keep those who don’t know any better out of the Airport Operations Area (AOA). This means everyone from nosey tourists to children who could inadvertently walk into/break a pitot tube, rudder, etc… At an extreme level, the fence will prevent children from running into a spinning propeller, which would be the worst possible scenario.
- Fences make aviation prestigious.*
Many pilots complain that the fence keep people away are correct. If someone sees a fence then they are likely to turn away as they will likely not want to be seen as doing something wrong by trying to get inside the fence incorrectly… This is something that we are getting wrong in aviation. Look at neighborhoods and communities. Gated communities are viewed as desirable and prestigious. Airports can do the same thing, it’s literally the positioning that we have wrong as an industry. The airport is a really “neat” place where exciting things are happening and that deserves to be exclusive!
If aviation wants to be successful we need to embrace this feeling. Naysayers will say this is similar to trying to be a country club and being “snooty”… Well yes, and no. Why do you think the country club has nice plush green fairways while the public course has fairways that could be mistaken for sand traps at the private course? If we educate the public that the uniqueness of an airport requires a fence and that is the same reason why they should come and be a part of the airport then we can use the security fence to our advantage. Imagine that, by thinking slightly differently we can take something we now consider a disadvantage and a barrier keeping people away from aviation and turn the fence into our advantage!
- Fences keep wildlife away.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly these fences do have a role in protecting our level of safety while flying. A good fence will keep wildlife, specifically deer and coyotes away from the runways and taxiways. Have you ever seen a car after it hits a deer on a highway? The deer usually loses that battle, but I’d have a hard time saying the car is the winner very often… Keep in mind cars are designed to be able to run into things, or at least provide a level of safety when they do (or when things hit them). Airplanes on the other hand are designed to fly as effectively and efficiently as possible, not (specifically) to withstand a major wildlife strike.
The same physical barrier that keeps the individual with malicious intentions in the parking lot and not on the ramp keeps deer in the forest and out of the AOA. Again, pilots will say deer have always existed. Again, these naysayers about the airport fence are correct, kind of… The deer population has been skyrocketing throughout the 1900’s and since. The population of deer has continued a distinct increase over the past 20 years. Thus, there may not have been a lot of deer issues years ago before airports were completely fenced in, but there are a lot more deer now, which means the chances are a lot higher of wildlife strikes than they would have been before.
To wrap this up I’ll just say that I understand fences cause people to avoid the airport, but that isn’t because fences have a bad wrap… Ever notice how many people willingly install fences in their own yards? The reason airfield fences keep people away from aviation is the reputation WE give them. The FAA has invested a lot of money in them and I don’t expect them to spend a lot more to rip them down and remove them. So let’s embrace the fences and go out and try to actually use them to our advantage. It’s a challenge, sure; can you handle it? Lastly, change is a reality, and the only thing that doesn’t change is the fact that change is a constant. So, just because fences didn’t use to exist, doesn’t mean we should not have them now…
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9