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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Sexy Sells
We need better, safer, more comfortable aircraft. Luckily, some GA manufacturers have picked up on this. Aircraft designs from Diamond, Cirrus, Columbia and others reflect modern tastes and aesthetics. Their interiors are automobile-like with climate control, plush materials and modern safety features such as air bags and advanced restraints. Their technology and glass cockpits appeal to a new generation. The airplanes most of us fly are tired, boxy designs derived from the 1940s and, sadly to me, must evolve to attract new pilots.

While we’re at it, we need to encourage aircraft manufacturers to break the price barriers that stop many people from taking up flying. The good news is that some companies are developing LSAs and other less-expensive GA airplanes, which will enable more people to join the aircraft-ownership fray and encourage aviation’s expansion.

Community Chest
A logical place to start influencing the public’s view of flying is at the community level. From newspapers to libraries and schools, our communities offer open opportunities for promoting aviation.

general aviation
After the pilot boom caused by World War II, the number of certified pilots reached a peak in 1980, but it has declined since.
Media outlets are perfect places to begin. Instead of complaining about the media’s perception of general aviation, you can do your part to change it. Start by introducing yourself to the “community” or “features” editor at your local newspaper. Offer a firsthand, front-seat look at the true nature of general aviation. If you ask just right and you’re knowledgeable and professional (and with a little luck), the editor will take you up on it.

Give the reporter the safest, calmest, most beautiful flight you’ve ever flown. Talk about the utility and diversity of general aviation, be accurate with safety statistics and point out positive facts about flying. Offer to assist with and provide commentary on future aviation stories and be a safe and informative pilot. Your gift of flight will trickle down like rain to every reader of that newspaper.

Libraries have display cases where they feature local exhibits and are in perpetual need of something other than pottery made from dung-beetle larva to fill up those cases. Volunteer to create a display about general aviation. Spice it up with good-quality graphics, models (airplanes, not people, though that would attract a crowd) and facts. List FBO phone numbers and add yourself as a resource.

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