Saturday at the Lehighton American Legion Post, 80 years of aviation was celebrated in Lehighton. It was highlighted with the presentation by the FAA of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award to Byron Arner, who was an aviator for 60 years.

Arner also was former manager of the Carbon County Airport which is also called the Jacob Arner Memorial Airport after his father. He conducts a flying school at the airport and is an historian on local aviation.

Bill VanArtsdalen, pilot and program manager of the FAA Safety Team, heaped praise on Ahner for his safety record. He told about the FAA respect for the safety performance at the airport in general.

Arner's son, Jake, told how his father flew many years for the former Eastern Airlines, safely transporting over one million passengers while logging over two million miles.

At the Legion event, it was noted that many pilots soloed at the local airport and went on to work for major airlines. At least 15 of them were in attendance Saturday.

Jake remarked, "At one time Lehighton had more aviators per capita than any other community in the world."

Anyone who knows Byron Arner knows safety has always been a priority whether it was while he was flying, training, or running the airport.

Back in 1992, one of his pilots, Glenn Millen, now a pilot for a major airline and head of the national pilots' union, had an incident in which his plane's landing gear didn't function properly.

There was initially talk at the time to send him to an airport in the Lehigh Valley to land because of safety concerns. Then it was agreed to let him land at the Carbon Airport, but not until fire apparatus equipped with foam and an ambulance were on the scene just in case.

Millen made a perfect landing with no damage to the plane, despite the mechanical problem.

In contrast, last week a pilot had a problem with a plane. Reportedly the front nose gear didn't deploy.

The pilot landed the plane without the local fire department or any ambulance squad being dispatched. Even the FAA wasn't informed.

Although the pilot wasn't hurt, the plane had damages to a wing and propeller.

It could have been worse. It could have been a tragedy.

Safety shortcuts should not occur. It's ironic that the celebration of 80 years of aviation is highlighted with such praise of safety just a few days after such a problem at the airport occurred.

Those who attended the anniversary program were mostly experienced pilots who were instructed on the importance of safety.

When Millen's incident happened, Arner was open with the media. He explained how he had faith in Millen to land the plane safely because pilots are trained for such emergencies.

Even with such confidence and such practice, Arner didn't let Millen land the plane before trained emergency personnel were present with the proper equipment.

That's the way it should be.

Safety must always be given top priority.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com