Think of what the world would be like without skilled pilots - or plumbers!

I've never flown an airplane, but I'm sure I could manage it 90 percent of the time. All I'd need is an experienced pilot to take off, then set the controls while I sat in the pilot's seat, then take over the controls again when it came time to land. But 90 percent of the time it would be me flying that plane.

C'mon, how'd you like to let me take you for a spin!

This flight of fancy came to mind after a conversation with a plumbing contractor who told me about one of his memorable jobs.

It happened back in the early-1990s when his company got a call to fix a bungled job performed by an unlicensed plumber in a major shopping center. Turns out the bungler crossed a water main with an a/c line, which had about twice as much pressure as the water line, resulting in ethylene glycol flowing through the facility's water supply. A dishwasher in one of the mall's restaurants blew the whistle when he noticed his hands filming up.

Fortunately, this happened early on, and the mall maintenance people were smart enough to shut off the right valves before anyone got sick or dead. The legitimate plumbing contractor was called in to troubleshoot. It took him a while to identify the problem, and then his crews ended up working for days to flush all the lines and do all the repairs needed to make things right. The service call ran into six figures. So much for the money saved by hiring a low bidder.

Of Pilots & Plumbers

Word out there across this great land of ours is that plumbers are overpaid, that 90 percent of the work they do is routine, that anyone could do it. And there is a kernel of truth to that, we must admit. Many nonprofessionals are quite capable of installing a faucet, unstopping a drain, or doing myriad other plumbing tasks which don't require exceptional skill.

This is when my mind drifted into the pilot's seat. Isn't it also true that 90 percent of the work done by pilots is pretty darned simple, and that anyone could do it? It's all about flipping a few switches, checking some displays, saying "whassup" to the control tower.

The difference is that most citizens would sooner get dunce caps tattooed on their foreheads than go up in an airplane with someone whose knowledge of aviation is limited to a quick peek at the cockpit when boarding a flight. But they think nothing of saving a few bucks by hiring an idiot to fool around with fuel lines and sewage disposal.

Well, it so happens that it takes even longer to train a plumber than it does a pilot. And there is a litany of things that can go wrong when a plumber doesn't know what he's doing - cross-connections, backflow, explosions, asphyxiation, scalding, and so on. That is why I always call a licensed, experienced plumber when something goes wrong in my house. That's why I think public officials in those jurisdictions that don't require licensing have their heads in a very dark place.

And that's why I'm using this column to pay tribute to the unsung heroes of our society. Thank you, plumbers, for keeping me and my loved ones safe and healthy. I wish all of you good health of your own, and prosperity beyond your wildest dreams.