Plane & Pilot
Saturday, December 1, 2007

Endangered Species?

Aviation is facing increasing pressure—is it time for an altitude change?

One of the most fulfilling changes of altitude in my life has been my work with nonprofit organizations. Instead of feeling frustrated and powerless, it’s very inspiring and empowering to feel like you’re part of a team that’s enabling positive change in someone’s life, or indeed, the world.

This work began for me in 1996 with the X PRIZE Foundation and led to a shift in the world’s perspective on spaceflight with the successful flight of SpaceShipOne. As a result of these efforts, there’s now a robust (albeit young) private space industry that promises to make cheaper and safer access to space. This illustrates a concerted effort to create a future in space for smaller companies and perhaps, eventually, the ordinary person.

In 1998, I was elected to the board of the Lindbergh Foundation, which is a public 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation based upon my grandparents’ vision of balance between advancing technology and preservation of the environment. Although we give grants to people working in a wide range of disciplines, they aren’t all typical environmental research projects. Many of our grants end up focusing on technological efficiencies. The current board has reached back to its aviation roots and is actively working on partnerships to sponsor grants in the aviation world. This year’s grants represent creative solutions that will enable greater efficiencies in high-density air traffic, decreases in airframe drag and alternative fuel engine retrofits.

Is an industry altitude change a good idea right now when the aviation business is generally strong? Yes! If we wait until the industry weakens, we won’t have the voice or the resources to be as effective.

Does it have to be drastic? Well, one thing is for sure: If we don’t drive the solution dialog and vigorously support the individuals and organizations that represent the best of aviation, we could face a future where someone else is sitting in the left seat dictating what aviation looks like. I find this prospect unacceptable. I want to have the freedom to fly in the future. I don’t mind if it looks a little different, but like the rock cod in Puget Sound, I don’t want to be wistfully describing “the way aviation was” to kids in the future, I want to show them how cool it is!

How do we change altitude? We must become early adopters and supporters of efficient technologies. We need to fly Angel Flight missions, support aviation research projects and education initiatives. We need to make our support of the greater community indispensable. We need to be relevant to the average person. We need to make aviation more affordable and accessible. Aviation needs to drive the creative solution dialog and address the grand challenges facing us today in order to have blue skies to fly in tomorrow.

Erik Lindbergh is a pilot, artist and public speaker ( He’s the Director of the Lindbergh Foundation (, a trustee of the X PRIZE Foundation (, a board member of the Aviation High School ( and National Spokesperson for AOPA’s Project Pilot (

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