Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Light-Sport Chronicles: Mike Z And The Harbingers Of Doom!

For those eager pessimists proclaiming LSA on life support, a rebuttal

"I liken light sport to what civilian flying was like in the 1950s and '60s: stick-and-rudder flying," he explains. "That's what was taught in those days. Nobody takes a Champ or a J3 Cub up in bad weather. Back then, they flew for the simple pleasure of flying."

Zidziunas' point is that the airline pilot "factories" served a useful, even essential, purpose. They still do. But somewhere along the way, the heart of civilian flying was lost. Schools became impersonal ratings-acquisition outlets and lost the sense of how to bring the joy of simple flight to the public.

"Flight schools, by and large, are caught in the trap of cranking out ratings for those foreign students who come over, get their licenses in three weeks, then return to their native countries—China or Indonesia or wherever—and have flying careers there," he explains. "That's not helping U.S. aviation over the long haul."

Zidziunas notes that none of the young students going through his school want to be airline captains. "I'm not knocking commercial piloting at all," he's quick to add. "It's just not a glamour job anymore. Discount carriers have killed the glamorous professional-lifestyle appeal it once had." Instead, he says, military and private airspace flying is what drives this generation of student pilots.

"Look at the private space ventures like Virgin Galactic, SpaceShipOne, SpaceX and others," he says. "We've got the Central Florida Aerospace Academy right here at Lakeland, with curriculums for all kinds of stuff that wasn't even thought of as a career a few years back. Electric flight, for example, is a huge undiscovered country for aviation.

"Since we moved to Lakeland Airport, I'm working harder than ever: 12 hours a day with half a day on Sunday," Zidziunas continues. "I've never had so much fun in my life because we're making flying enjoyable again."

One of the challenges to young people is today's post-9/11 environment. He adds, "Airport security is frankly inhibiting. Smaller airports are struggling. So, we say, let's go the extra mile and make flying fun again. I believe the current model of GA training is wrong. We do it like the early days. We take kids for rides. We show people it's not hard to fly. We show them how much fun it can be.


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