Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Light-Sport Chronicles: Matchmaking...For Pilots

The truth shall set you free: How to afford an LSA

Webster should put a picture of a human under its definition of “adaptability.” We evolved apes are genetically wired to fudge, quibble, compromise, connive and cajole en route to achieving our impossible goals. Take personal flight. We’ve skied down the general aviation plummeting chart line so long, we’ll have an identity crisis when sales numbers head back up!

Being human, we’ve continued to fly even as costs have increasingly climbed out of reach. Call us homo aviens adaptavus. We’ve found creative, sometimes loopy ways to get cloud time. Along the way, we’ve created exciting new vehicles: LSA, hang gliders and paragliders, ultralights, powered parachutes and, now, electrics.

We’ve also cobbed together loopy ways to afford flight: loans, flying clubs, partnerships, Ponzi schemes, bank robbery, mortgaging first-born children, etc.

So when David Kruger said to me, point blank, “There’s no turning GA around without solving this cost-of-flying problem,” I had a sobering moment. See, I had adapted. I was expecting to carve tight turns down that slippery GA slope forever. I was hooked on self-reliant flight small-ball by pilfering piggy banks and pondering bizarre financing schemes.

But, says Kruger, the bottom of the slope is nearer than we realize: “If we don’t figure out a way to make this work, the view 15 to 18 years ahead looks pretty grim.”

Kruger is a web consultant and market analyst who studied the data and found that the inflation-adjusted cost of buying a plane has quadrupled in the last 30 years. He estimates the percentage of the population that can purchase a personal aircraft outright has shrunk to 1⁄20th of its 1978 peak.

Over the years, we’ve lost much of our wonderful aviation culture. Once, school-age kids earned flight time at local airstrips across America. Dads flew the family around the patch, and children went on to earn their wings. Workaday folks took weekend flying lessons at clubs and schools, then rented or bought aircraft.

Nowadays, closing flight schools, ancient trainers, higher flight costs, chain-link fences and razor wire greet kids who dream of flight. And buying an airplane? Fugeddaboudid!

But in this era of $400,000-plus aircraft and $100,000-plus LSA, David Kruger and other bright folks believe in a better way: “The problem only seems to be the cost of owning an airplane. The solution is realizing that isn’t the problem at all. It’s hourly cost, not purchase price, we should be looking at.”


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