Going Direct: How To Open Up Flying For Everyone

There are probably some pilots who want aviation to be a small world, who’d like nothing better than to make being a pilot and owning an airplane an exclusive club. Let me be clear: We are not those people. We want flying to be open to everyone who wants to fly. It won’t be easy to get there, but it can happen. Here’s how.

Few people connect safety with participation, but everyone should. While it’s not practically achievable, our goal for all of aviation needs to be zero accidents. The safety record of GA, and, in particular, light GA, is bad. While it’s getting better, it’s still not close to being what we need to accomplish to make flying an activity that will grow and prosper as it should.

Many would-be pilots stop short of the cockpit not because they fear they can’t learn to fly; they’re concerned that flying isn’t safe enough. The solution for us isn’t to cook the statistics on risk, but to lower the risk. Can we achieve zero accidents? Of course not. But to act as though the hundreds of accidents per year we suffer are somehow tolerable is wrong. We’ve done a pretty good job of identifying the ways that people come to harm in airplanes. We need to do a better job of figuring out how to prevent that from happening and then to actually prevent it from happening. We applaud the efforts of those who are hard at work at this most important mission, and we put our money where our mouth is. Plane & Pilot is proud to be a supporter of the EAA Pilot Proficiency Center at AirVenture this year, an effort that, as you may know, I’ve been personally involved in for the past several years, even though it cost money and returned zero in revenue for the investment. The real return is hard to measure: accidents that didn’t happen. We can live with that kind of uncertainty. The kind where everyone throws their hands up because they can’t figure out why there aren’t any accidents.

The other key is, as I alluded to at the start, is that we need to begin to focus on inclusiveness. Our catch phrase needs to be, “Flying is for everyone.” There’s a common notion among some that flying is for a special breed of rugged individuals who have the right stuff. Anyone else need not apply. We agree wholeheartedly that pilots are special, and some kinds of flying take a special level of commitment and focus, but we don’t believe that pilots are born. They’re made. There are all kinds of reasons why some folks should stick to letting others handle the flying chores, we agree. But the number of people who can become pilots is vast. We say “boo” to the idea of aviation being an exclusive club. Everyone is welcome.

We believe that the future of aviation is bright. There are all too many self-proclaimed experts out there who let their curmudgeonly ways creep into their forecasts for flying’s future. The best years for aviation are behind us, they say, and we’re here riding the last wave of aviation joy as the sun sets behind us. It’s nonsense. Those of us who study the history of aviation know that the popularity of flying waxes and wanes. The biggest factor that creates new planes and new pilots, however, is always the same: new technology. These folks apparently think that all the ideas have already been dreamt up and that all of the potential technologies that could drive aviation growth have already been invented. They need to open their eyes. I’m certain that over the next two decades we’ll see new structures, new forms of propulsion and new safety technologies that will lower costs, cut risk and open flying to millions of potential pilots. How can I be so sure? These technologies are already in the works. In our Future Flight space, Senior Technical Editor Grant Opperman explores just such technologies, those that are mostly not quite ready for prime time, but that all have the potential to change the game we love. The question behind all of his reporting is the same that drives aviation researchers, engineers and dreamers: “What if we __________?” (insert cool idea here_). Then it’s time to get to work answering the question, because great technologies that answer critical needs, like traffic alerting and terrain avoidance gear, make flying safer and, therefore, more accessible.

 

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