Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bringing The “Sport” Back To Flying (Kirk Hawkins)

Appealing to the emotional rather than the practical may be the key to revitalizing GA

Revitalizing GA
But there’s hope! The GA world as we know it just changed. The FAA has brilliantly revised the regulations that have artificially constrained personal aviation. In 2004, after 12 years of comprehensive analysis, the FAA created the LSA category and the sport pilot license. Together, these new regulations make flying safer and more accessible to mainstream consumers. Safety is improved by giving recreational flying a viable set of rules while eliminating several problem areas that existed within the ultralight market. Accessibility has been greatly improved: The sport pilot license can be achieved in just 20 hours and for approximately $3,500—less than half the time and cost of a private certificate. Additionally, brand-new production LSA don’t require FAR 23 certification and can be brought to market in the $100,000 to $150,000 price range. In all, these are groundbreaking changes to aviation that may have significant long-term effects. If LSA and the sport pilot license are embraced and allowed to reach their full market potential, they have the ability to revitalize GA by releasing enormous amounts of pent-up consumer demand for safe, affordable, fun aircraft.

Why is this good for all of GA? If we want increased airport access, fewer airport closures, increased airport funding, the ability to resist user fees, lower-priced aircraft, additional aircraft offerings and generally better awareness and acceptance by the public—well, we may want to welcome more of those mainstream consumers into our shrinking industry. Otherwise, in a democratic society, the interests of groups as small as private GA become increasingly marginalized and difficult to protect.
Sound familiar?

How do we recapture the imagination, attention and, ultimately, the discretionary time and resources of mainstream consumers? One answer is to inspire them with products that give them the freedom to express themselves and to meet their emotional and functional needs.

Flying For Fun! It’s Okay.
I’ve had the good fortune of flying everything from ultralights to airliners to F-16s. And of all the flying I’ve experienced, the most rewarding has been in sport planes—flying at low altitude with the windows open, a friend sitting next to you, and seeing and interacting with our amazing planet in a visceral way that’s only possible in a light aircraft. That’s the kind of flying the Wright brothers and early aviators knew so well. That’s the kind of flying we dreamed about as kids. And that’s the kind of flying that once inspired hundreds of thousands of mainstream consumers to fly. Orville Wright said it best back in 1903: “The exhilaration of flying is too keen, the pleasure is too great, for it not to be a sport.”

It’s clear that the roots of aviation lie in the pure sport of flying and what it symbolizes to the human experience. It’s ironic that in today’s increasingly advanced world, the very fate of personal aviation may lie in how successful GA is at putting the “sport” back in flying.


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