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Fundamental Things by Rick Drury FTL/FDX

Still does a great job writing, did the same flying or playing the piano.

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"Fundamental Things"
by Rick Drury

Even he had them, thoughts of what could have been, if only things had been different, but now it was beyond all that. This part of his story was about to end. Yes, even Bogart had mixed emotions as Ingrid shed a tear and then walked through the mist to the tune of old round engines as a studio orchestra played to our hearts. Of course, the ‘usual suspects’ would be rounded up, blamed for everything. They always are. Tomorrow would be another day, a new beginning. What is past is history and we move onward and forward, ideally with positive lessons learned. Wallowing in the mud of what could and should have been is not nutritious fare.

Sooner or later all stories end. And now it is my turn. It has come to this, an old movie fading to "THE END’. I am age sixty and am on my way off stage. So I am now frequently asked, would I like to change that age limit? Absolutely! I wish it were age fifty-five, or less. But that is a personal thing. To explain is to examine the current state of the industry – or ‘demise’ is perhaps a more apt epithet. It is to briefly express what I miss and why.

When I first joined the ‘real’ airlines in 1973, we all knew the fellow with the job title of "Chief Pilot’. He was not twenty or thirty years old, but more like fifty, maybe near retirement age. His office was full of aviation memorabilia, photos of the airplanes he had flown with the company – and that meant all of them – in every venue, in every bit of lousy weather from typhoons to the ice and snow of many winters, from props to jets. He had walked the walk over and again, so when he said something about what we did or how we ought to do it, his word carried the weight of not only authority but true line experience. He knew all the fundamentals, because his flight bag carried the scars of 20 years or more of flightdeck life. The stripes on his sleeve were even worn and fading, as the wearing away from thousands of hours doing the real job took the sheen off new gear. In a way, this was a badge of honor.

His office was a fun place to visit. That is if you loved airplanes, because they had been his life. There were models of the company airplanes, and he was an expert in all of them, wall and tables with all those great aviation photos, even some books and magazines on aviation, from history to current times. This place was something like a visit to your grandfather who had done it all, who now resided in some wonderful room of magic, and you were allowed to wander and enjoy. Unless it was your turn to receive his fury because you had done something stupid. Even then, you took it because you knew that he was right and this was not political or windows-dressing nonsense. In fact, he rejected being used in that way. He was real.

In this image, he also had merit above and beyond our respect. He could also let the CEO and his minions – plus the FAA – know when they were wrong, or that something they proposed was dumb, or that their demands were preposterous. He was in a position of honor, gained by years of line service covering every aspect of the flight operations of the company. He stood up for the troops and we knew it. When his type retired, another from the same mold would be there, an anchor in our aviation careers. But those guys are long gone. And I miss them.

The corporate replacement philosophy was simple. A seasoned veteran who speaks up was unacceptable. They wanted someone who would sell his soul for particular financial arrangements, a special retirement package, the opportunity to not fly except on little jaunts of their choosing on pleasant days to enjoyable places, for the illusion of power and prestige, and who would sing the political slant no matter how ludicrous or harmful or even dangerous. Their personal mantra was the invidious, "Up yours, I got mine’.
So the old offices were cleaned out and the new breed moved in. A breed that also perpetuated themselves. At one time, you could never be an instructor of any sort unless you had flown the line for many years as a captain and knew every nuance of life on the line. All that went by the wayside with the New Age. Knowing someone ‘in the office’, whilst having no line experience and never being a seasoned captain, was inexperience and ignorance to be rewarded. As the Samurai sword-maker says: "All the blades are hidden within the metal." Yes, and the character of the blade certainly depends upon the quality of that metal."

I miss a time when the words ‘in-flight service’ was not an oxymoron. We once had – and this is true – such people as ‘Stewards’ and ‘Stewardesses’. Food was served on plates with real silverware. Stewards poured champagne or mixed drinks. Stewardesses were charming, bright, and helpful, catering to the passengers’ every need and whim. And the food was superb. Passengers even wore decent clothes, actually dressed for the occasion, and were well-mannered and civil.

This is all fiction now. Top executives sold the idea that an airline seat could be had for $24.99 or some other asinine figure. Then seats should be miniaturized so that maximum income could be gained. All that would have to be done is take away the salary and benefits of the company employees, among other ominous schemes. The airport became the new bus station. Everyman should be able to fly. Now we all pay for it with shoddy service, little concern, and certainly no enthusiasm. Why have master craftsmen do something for five hundred dollars when you can get a cheap imitation for $2.95?

And, naturally I miss the time when the professional airline pilot was respected, when he was not the target of the jealous and petty, or of some agency which needs to show a list of how many people have been inspected – and pilots are easy targets. Those of us who love flight and fought to fly have seen the profession deliberately disparaged to the point where we are to be collectively humiliated before the passengers with near strip searches, unable to speak up for fear of job loss, questioned, belittled, probed, drug-tested, and finally blamed for every company problem including top corporate ill-conceived tactics. We have become the popular scapegoat. And now it is not only the wages to be ravaged but retirement that was bargained for and promised. It may soon be common to have worked in the profession for 30 years and come away with absolutely nothing. That is, for the employees. It will be determined to be ‘legal’, which has nothing to do with the reality of honor. At least I am departing at a time when only one-half of my retirement has been confiscated. So far.

Even as I go, with unimaginable negativity, discord, and turmoil in abundance within the airline industry, the usual suspects are being rounded up. We are all being asked to do far more for far less while the lords and masters reap the personal fortunes of kings, taking absolutely no personal responsibility or accountability for their business decisions. Stealing the 30-year pensions of dedicated professional employees is considered the coup de jour. After all, how can that $30 million personal ski mansion be built, or the executive jet be flown, or the personal box at Monte Carlo for the Formula One Grand Prix be maintained, if that money is not confiscated?
We have clearly seen how these members of ‘royalty’ have placed themselves above and beyond the rules of sane, civilized behavior with exceptional arrangements to exclude themselves from any possible corporate downfall. Now, putting 20,000 people out of work brings forth a personal $20 million bonus. Fundamentals of dealing with human beings, basics known as ethics and honor and integrity, no longer have any meaning in this corporate world. The concepts are to be ignored at all costs. As I walk out of the door, making my exit from this morass, a huge burden is lifted from my shoulders. In general, morale and spirit are dead issues. The robber barons are fully exonerated for their crimes, while the public has been conditioned to feel that all people should be equal in misery – so the honorable profession of aviator is continually denigrated. Its stature and glory are now long gone, and as a Japanese friend remarked on the Japan of now versus what he knew as a young man, "It is as though the country has lost its soul." Indeed, this industry has suffered that very fate.

I have experienced great years of flying the big jets around the world. Sunrises and sunsets over the Pacific will play in my mind’s theater forever. As best as could be done in the fleet of wide-body jetliners, I have played out my story of joy in the sky. Co-pilots have said, "Best trip I’ve had," and students not only learned the consequential things but enjoyed themselves in the process. Friends made in cities all around the globe will always be with me. I was there when it was not merely a profession but a celebration of flight, performed with quality and excellence, and with a good measure of fun. Now it is time to go and I am delighted that I can. Sure, there is a measure of sadness, but it is akin to grief over someone who has passed away. They are gone and we will miss them. But they are not coming back. We will keep the memories of the best, as they were, whilst realizing that we must carry on with our lives.


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