Friday, May 20, 2005

Mustn't get political...

A few weeks ago, via the Booker column, we reported on the how the last remaining British-owned airworthy B-17 Flying Fortress had been stopped from flying by EU rules.

Wrote Booker, at the time: "It seems curiously symbolic…"

…that this summer's celebrations of "Victory in Europe" will not include fly-pasts by Britain's last surviving Flying Fortress. For those of us old enough to remember B-17s darkening the skies of southern England in 1943 and 1944, as they flew out for daylight raids on the continent (rather fewer of them returning), there is peculiar irony in the fact that the last of them, the Sally B, owned and run at Duxford by a charity, should have been grounded by a regulation from "Europe".

The Sally B's
website tells the sorry tale of how, under EC regulation 785/2004, the B-17 must now be classified for insurance purposes alongside commercial airliners, prohibitively raising its premiums to the equivalent of £1,000 for each hour of flying time. It is painful to read the letters from a British minister and the head of our Civil Aviation Authority, explaining how, since this is a Brussels regulation, they have no power to grant an exemption for the B-17, although it may seem absurd that the law has been drafted on such a one-size-fits-all basis.

So the last of the "Forts" that helped save Europe 60 years ago, and which serves as an official memorial to the 79,000 US aircrew who lost their lives, can no longer fly again. Bless you, "Europe".
One of the many people who took up the cause of Sally B was the indefatigable ex-airline captain Bryn Wayt but, it seems, his efforts have not been appreciated. He has just received and e-mail from Elly Sallingboe, who describes herself as "Operator, B-17 Preservation", telling him:

…I want to make it very clear that our sole concern is to get an unsatisfactory Regulation amended so that we can save our B-17. There are no political motives in our campaign, and we do not wish to be associated with any political campaigning. So, please, please STOP using our campaign for your own battle against the EU.
"There are no political motives…", she writes. Of course there are. The decision to implement EC regulation 785/2004 was a political decision, and the fight against it is a political fight. But, like so many, who inhabit their own corner of misery, Elly Sallingboe believes she (and presumably her immediate colleagues) can fight the good fight without "getting political". She is wrong.

In this, I am reminded of the haunting comments made by Pastor Martin Niemöller about the Nazis:

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Albeit without the same evil intent, this is the way the EU works, picking off each sector of economic enterprise, one by one. Each, whether it is the fishermen, the farmers, the slaughtermen, the electricians and, as we will see on Sunday in the new Booker column, the vets, deal with the threat as if it applies to them alone. Divided they stand, divided they fall.

But Sally B is something different. It is a symbol, a reminder of the young men of the US 8th Army Air Force to took to the skies in Europe to defend our freedom. They did not stand alone and fight their own battles. They fought – and died - for us all. Now, Sally B, the last remaining airworthy Flying Fortress in Britain is grounded. But she is not just the property of her custodians. In a way, she belongs to us all and we all have a right to fight the battle to keep her flying – against the enemy that has kept her earth-bound.

Mz Sallingboe, your battle is our battle, whether you like it or not.

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