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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Groups of pilots can organize “airport days” for the community. The twist is to get away from the simplistic, “stunt flying” aspect and focus on aviation careers and the diverse mission of general aviation. Provide job information, hands-on experiences and show visitors how airports give back to their communities. Offer rides and simple “ground schools.” The idea here is community involvement and awareness. Show them why you love to fly.

general aviation
Look for opportunities to introduce young people, like these Boy Scouts, to flying.
Bring Back The Romance
Not long ago, my eight-year-old daughter and I were flying together for the first time. The late afternoon was a translucent orange and the setting sun against the cumulus to the east set the sky ablaze in a cotton-candy explosion of light. Ol’ Seven Sierra Papa was happy to be winging through the cool firmament, taking generous bites of the thick air ahead of her. My daughter was looking with great intent out the window, seemingly lost in thought. She caught my eye and cocked her head to the side in a contemplative expression. “Dad,” she said, “do people know they can see the whole world from up here?” I smiled and answered that, no, people probably didn’t. “Well it’s the most beautiful thing ever,” she continued. “Daddy, I’m gonna need to fly again really soon!”

We forget that flight will, in its own way and time, touch certain people’s souls. It seems, though, that many of us have lost the passion we felt when flying first touched us. We’re bogged down by the mundane intricacies of aviation instead of connecting with the spirituality of flight.

There was a time, from the 1930s through, perhaps, the 1960s when kids looked in wide-eyed wonder to the sky and saw pilots and flying as romantic icons of ultimate freedom. As the sixties wore on, economy and practicality took over and, by the eighties, general aviation lumbered to a near halt as the romance began to fade.

We need to restore passion to flying. We do that by passing down the reasons why we aviate. We also need to expose our kids to the rich, inspired writings of Ernest Gann, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Richard Bach and others. In bringing back the romance of flying, we pass on the freedom of flight and the fulfilling life that accompanies it. Aviating and aviators are special.

Flying, after all, isn’t about FADEC or WAAS or GPS or regulations. The real transformation one feels in aviation happens only in the sky. It’s there that our spirit meets the clouds and turns us forever into winged beings. Like the mythical baseball diamond in the corn, offer them flight, and they will come.

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