Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Is General Aviation Losing The Popularity Contest?

With user fees looming on the horizon, student-pilot numbers dwindling and airlines experiencing pilot shortages, what can be done to reinvigorate general aviation?

general aviationYou remember, don’t you, when you first fell in love with aviation? Perhaps it was a warm, sunny day with a jeweled, blue morning sky beckoning you to the airport on your trusty Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycle. Maybe you crouched in the tall, brown grass by the run-up area, the stiff propeller wash blowing your hair. You blocked the sun with your hand and gazed up in wonder.
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general aviation
The "Six In 12 Initiative"
The Plan:
Every pilot takes one person for a ride in a GA aircraft every two months for 12 months.
Candidates: The general public, especially people who have never flown or have misconceptions about general aviation.
The Flight: Use common sense. Select a day with average temperatures and excellent weather. Choose early morning or late afternoon. Photographers refer to this time as the “golden light,” as the low sun paints everything in a warm glow. Keep the flight gentle, short and safe.
Flying Youth: When flying minors, it’s critical to involve the parent up to and maybe including the flight. Written permission is a good idea. Use Scouting guidelines of no unsupervised one-on-one contact, two adults should always be present (except in the cockpit if you only have two seats).
Result: Every year, more than 3.5 million new people will fly in a general aviation aircraft who never would have under normal circumstances. Exposure and education is the goal.
Taking It To The Streets: The “Six In 12 Initiative”
The first thing that must change is the public’s perception. The only way to do that is to expose far more of the public to positive, rewarding GA experiences. One way to accomplish this is through what I call the “Six in 12 Initiative.”

According to 2007 FAA estimates, there are about 600,000 active pilots in the United States. That’s roughly 0.25% of the American population. By contrast, it means that 99.75% of the population doesn’t fly an airplane. Therefore, if each pilot gives a GA airplane ride to one different person every two months for 12 months, it will result in 3.5 million “civilians” experiencing the thrill and awe of flight in a single year! In five years, that leads to 18 million new people exposed to aviation in a way that no ride, movie, game or book could ever match.

The idea isn’t new. The goals, however, are different. Your charge is to alter the perceptions of the normal, average Joe and Jane—to expose people who may not even be interested in aviation to the joys you experience while flying. You’re selling aviation, and it’s a wonderful product: freedom and exhilaration and beauty and joy.

Teach The Children
The future of general aviation rests in the hands of our children. It must appeal to them before it can continue and grow. The easy part is that all you have to do is expose them to it. Nature will do the rest.

Introduce kids to flying through grass-roots organizations like the Boy/Girl Scouts, YMCA and others. Leaders are always looking for new ideas to present at meetings. Offer to do a mini-seminar on flying, perhaps with a visit to a local airport and FBO. Let these kids see, touch and feel what’s behind the barbed wire. Give them insight into your world of the sky.

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