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Aviation Recession? Blame Wonder Bread

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In this blog and others, we have offered various theories to explain why general aviation can't attract more participants. These vary in detail, but there's general agreement that the largest factor is economic: Flying is just too expensive and expressed as a ratio of expense to disposable income, it's getting worse. Why is this? Stand by for the Wonder Bread Theory.

If you grew up in the 1950s, you ate this stuff and we all loved it. Not only could you make bologna sandwiches with it, but you could roll the bread between your fingers and turn it right back into dough, a round bolus of which made a classroom projectile with exceptionally good ballistics.

Little did we know that the idea behind Wonder Bread would, to a degree, prove our undoing. And the idea behind it is productivity. Wonder Bread was conceived to be the industrial version of bread, pumped through pipes and automated ovens at 1000 loaves a minute, it did to the local bakery shop what China is doing to the consumer electronics industry today: Building a far cheaper product and gutting the competition. (Notice I didn't say better, just cheaper.)

Run the playhead forward 50 years and the Wonder Bread effect is writ large throughout the economy. We are in the midst of a jobless recovery and the reason for that is that although GDP is rising, that wealth is being produced by fewer workers whose wages are stagnant if not declining. Productivity again.

I saw a report by Howard University Professor and former census official Roderick Harrison who says his research reveals that the reason for the rising income inequality in the U.S. is that businesses have continued to grow through productivity gains and have funneled the proceeds more to profit, less to higher wages and hardly any at all to new hires. Workers work about the same, they're paid the same or less, but they produce a lot more.

The effect of this is noticeable across the board. In aviation, there was a time when a small contractor, a garage owner or a school teacher could actually own and fly an airplane because the middle class had disposable income and, at least through the 1980s, was closer to par with the upper income brackets. That's not true anymore. This class of owner and buyer is priced out of the market, squeezed from the bottom by stagnant wages and from the top by escalating aircraft costs.

Let's put a number on that. When I got active in flying again in 1975, the local Cessna Pilot Center rented a 172 for $16 an hour, wet. Run that through an inflation calculator and it's the equivalent of $63 today. Now it may be possible to find a 172 somewhere near that rate, but it's more likely to be $135 to $150. Paradoxically, the flightschool or FBO may barely make money even at that rate.

One reason for this is the high cost of new aircraft. In 1975, a Cessna 172M cost about $25,000 or $98,000 in today's dollars. Yet a new Skyhawk costs two and half times that or about $270,000. The LSA market has chopped the high peak price off certified aircraft, but at $130,000 typically, they're hardly cheap. Rental rates are in the $100 range, wet.

It's convenient to blame the aircraft industry for this, but I don't. I've been to plenty of airplane factories and for the life of me, I can't see how they could achieve efficiencies sufficient to lower prices substantially while remaining in business. If anyone does see that, I'd be delighted to hear about it.

So that gets back to the megatrend the country finds itself getting hammered by. As long as diverging income inequality continues, as long as the better paid wage earners find their pay to be stagnant or declining, flying is going to be out of reach except for the most resourceful and determined. That's not the stuff of healthy bottom lines at the local FBO, at Cessna or at Cirrus.

For individuals, I continue to believe the best direct solution is multi-member partnerships. There are four of us in the Cub, for instance, and the costs are trivial. For the industry as a whole, the solution is above my pay grade. The economy is in a major structural realignment and aviation is just along for the ride.

Comments (116)

Paul, well said except for a couple of minor points:

(1) New airplanes didn't necessarily increase 2.5x simply because of poor economies of scale. Tort lawyers and greedy plaintiffs still exist, GA Revitalization Act of 1994 or no.

(2) "Workers work about the same". Not if they're EEO-exempt they don't. Ask some of these folks what the "global economy" (and the lack of viable career options) does to their home life, not to mention leaving them sufficient time and energy needed to be a current and safe pilot. This is a real challenge for a lot of folks, more than you might know. (I contend that it's a bigger cause for students quitting than many people realize).

Multi-member partnerships can work, if you run them like a business, and the partners expectations are similar. That's not as easy as it looks, but it can be done.

Posted by: Steve Cornelius | September 29, 2010 5:49 PM    Report this comment

Paul, what about all the great used equipment on the market at bargain prices? I have about $75K in my G35 Bonanza, with performance roughly equivalent to a $400K Cirrus or $250K Diamond. Airplanes like mine are now going for $30-40K. I learned to fly in well worn 152's, 172's and Citabrias. They are still out there and still fly fine. Add a little owner maintenance and maybe an auto fuel STC to the formula and flying is still affordable...

Posted by: Steve Zeller | September 29, 2010 7:02 PM    Report this comment

I'd be willing to bet that the lions share of that $172k difference in price from the inflation adjusted 1975 price to today would be explained by Cessna's liability insurance premiums.

We, as a society need to understand the concept of assumed risk. If I get into a 172 and turn myself into a greasy spot in some field becuase I was drunk my widow should sue Cessna for making the plane too easy to fly such that a drunk person can get it started and off the ground.

If I'm a crappy pilot and screw up and pile drive into a mountain side my widow shouldn't be able to sue Cessna for making the plane to hard to fly without pile driving it.

Given that, IIRC, Cessna has been sued, and lost, under similar circumstances it's no wonder that the product liability insurance is astronomical.

Our society today does not allow us simply assume that risk. Cessna is forced to assume that risk instead. And as light aircraft fans we pay for that every time we rent a plane, buy a plane, put fuel in a plane, or anything else related to spending money on flying.

I'm 33 and have been meaning to get my PPL since I was 14. I've either had the money, but not the time, the time but not the money, or neither. Were the costs for a PPL still around $3000 I'd be working on it right now, if I didn't already have it. But that $3000 will only cover the fuel and maybe a few indicentals anymore.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | September 29, 2010 7:31 PM    Report this comment

cont.

The wet rental prices suffer from both the liability costs (I don't even want to know what flight school, or FBO liability insurnace costs), plus the rising costs of fuel. For a 172 each extra dollar per gallon adds, what, $8 to the hourly costs. Compared to what fuel cost in 1975, I'm guessing that after adjusting for inflation that rental rate is still probably a good $20/hr higher just due to gas prices.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | September 29, 2010 7:32 PM    Report this comment

Dang lack of proof reading. First post, paragraph 2, "should sue Cessna" was meant to be "shouldn't sue Cessna"

Posted by: Andrew Upson | September 29, 2010 7:34 PM    Report this comment

Compared to what fuel cost in 1975, I'm guessing that after adjusting for inflation that rental rate is still probably a good $20/hr higher just due to gas prices.<<

Actually, not quite that high. Since 1980, avgas prices have increased 26 percent over inflation, while mogas prices have actually declined 3 percent.

So if you burned 10 gallons an hour in 1980, say, and paid a buck a gallon, it was $10 for fuel. Adjust it for inflation then add the fuel multiplier and it's a small portion of the total increase. Not sure where the rest is. It might be liability. But I don't have that data.

I'll develop the number set on this tomorrow.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 29, 2010 8:18 PM    Report this comment

Hard data on historical fuel prices is a little iffy, but for another research project, API provided some information that I think is the best available.

In 1980, avgas was about $1.08 a gallon, so the hourly fuel budget for our 172 burning 8 GPH would be $8.64. Today, at an average fuel price of $4.75, the hourly would be $38 for gas.

Allowing for just inflation, the 1980 figure of $8.64 should be $22.20, but it actually is $38, so the Delta is $15.80. Still a large hit. In the example I cited above, fuel would account for 22 percent of the hourly price increase.

Why avgas prices have outstripped inflation is harder to pin down. Mogas is actually cheaper now than it was in 1980 dollars by about 3 percent. My guess it has to do with lack of competition in a declining avgas market. Also, leaded car gas still existed in 1980, but was gone by 1990.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 30, 2010 4:37 AM    Report this comment

I've got an old 172 that was basically a toy I used to keep myself current. When I looked in the logbook and saw that I'd only flown it 25 hours in the prior 6 months - and my wife lost her job - I started looking for a way to use it to make a little money. After a little shopping, I found an insurance policy for $1500/yr that allows me to give lessons to, and solo, two named pilots in my airplane. I'm not going to get rich on this, but I should cover all my expenses owning the aircraft in 100 hours. There are also policies out there that allow you to name a couple of others as renters on your policy - at a price delta of perhaps $800 over a current policy. I'd propose that a person with a little money go buy a $20k Cessna 150, fly it him/herself, and then rent it to a couple other students. In my area, the local farm cooperative still has ethanol-free mogas so that's another cost-saving idea. Then you've got a couple of people who can rent a nice airplane for say, $60 - $65/hr wet, and the aircraft owner can fly for fuel costs alone. We've got a few pilots doing this on the local airport - and sure helps the bottom line.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 30, 2010 6:35 AM    Report this comment

If Cessna changed and used the Rutan process for hot-wire cutting entire wing cores and the Grumman process of slab-sided fuselages then they can crank out light planes like Wonder bread. It's CERTIFICATION that's making Cessna produce dinosaurs.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 30, 2010 7:18 AM    Report this comment

Local productivity, insurance, torts, fuel prices all play their minor parts, but (Part I) the low-end of the country's industrial backbone has been hijacked to the Asian Tigers. You can fake it for a while with debt, but ultimately you either use the tariff or cut living standards (read: disposable income) to match China's. If industry is measured by the ratio of "Made in China" items in Walmart to domestic production, even a $40K Cessna 172 will be out of reach. Part II is the "nano effect" on consumers where microminiaturizing electronics but retaining the romance retains the perception. The aircraft companies are trying to sell airplanes when would-be pilots want thrill and glamor. Harley-Davidson woke up to that fact, why can't Piper, Beech or Cessna?

Posted by: Richard Herbst | September 30, 2010 7:27 AM    Report this comment

You can paint the numbers any way you want. Aviation costs have outstripped the average workers ability to afford the sport. And these very people were the lifes blood of General Aviation. And those that think an economic recovery is going to help are looking at the world through rose covered blinders. Light Sport Aircraft that cost twice what my house cost are not the answer. And by the way, a lot of the increase in the price of GA aircraft can be attributed to the insane salaries being paid to aircraft company executives. Lay off one Pelton and save 700 jobs!! Flycatcher be damned!

Posted by: Kraig Krumm | September 30, 2010 7:30 AM    Report this comment

If, on the other hand, the bar for entry is a $300K single, kiss GA goodbye because choosing a Skylane over a home is not a choice you can expect dividends from.

Sport Aviation was a good start but the industry forgot to sell it, and ultimately made pilots their target market. Who wants to see the tired old face of Harrison Ford when Angelina Jolie flies (or flew) a Cirrus? Even the US Navy has had better marketing; remember the Pensacola billboard that read "Fly your own jet!"?

Posted by: Richard Herbst | September 30, 2010 7:38 AM    Report this comment

Spot on. Thank you, Paul.

Posted by: Bob Davison | September 30, 2010 9:20 AM    Report this comment

Van's is trouncing the expensive and ancient dinosaur Skylane. GA is only dead at Cessna! With 7,000 RV's it's clear that you can have better and cheaper all at the same time. With fast-build and all the video support, it's not that hard these days...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 30, 2010 9:24 AM    Report this comment

Hello, My husband and I were laid off from our medical reseach jobs in La Jolla, Calif in 94. Johnson and Johnson brought in chinese workers to take our jobs for less money. Everyone over 40 was laid off. So much for the "Company that cares".

Now we grow and sell organic produce at the local Farmers' market in Oregon. We want to get back into flying, but had a Grumman Tiger we couldn't support. We sold it a month ago. Would like to sell our farm and retire, using some of the equity from our farm when it sells to buy a plane. But it's not happening. Feels like we are suddenly in a third -world country, and can't sell our home to avail oursleves of all the hard-earned equity out of our home. Oh well...Jobs should be brought back from overseas, then people in this country would have disposable income to buy planes with; houses would sell..time for Tea party candidates

Posted by: Ruth Preston | September 30, 2010 9:46 AM    Report this comment

Lots of variables here. People lived differently in 1975. Smaller homes, 1-2 car families, we didn't eat out every night or take exotic vacations. When I started flying in 1973 a weekend minimum-wage job earned me enough to afford 1.5 hours wet in a C150 with an instructor. Do the math and you'll see it's the same today, but you'll fly in a nice new LSA. Back then we had no GPS - heck we had no headsets! Go out to your local marina and look at all the $40,000 boats being pulled behind giant shiny pickup trucks owned by a local farmer, contractor, teacher, postal worker. There is plenty of money still out there for aviation but we're becoming a nation of whiners instead of doers. Flying has always been expensive. Those who are demanding industry provide them a new $30,000 airplane with all the frills should show us how to do this or shut up. Van said this much at the forum on the RV-12 at Oshkosh this summer.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | September 30, 2010 9:58 AM    Report this comment

You wouldn't want a $30K airplane with all the frills even if China built them--65% polyester, 35% cotton. Flying isn't a recreational right so if you can't afford a plane, tie-down, insurance, annual, rent from someone who can. What's sad is the decline in Student Pilot starts and that predates the Great Recession. Skycatcher and Ralph Waldo Emerson be damned.

Posted by: Richard Herbst | September 30, 2010 10:32 AM    Report this comment

Paul, you are righ on with this and I agree. The middle class in this country is disappearing along with their disposable income - which usually requires to incomes to reach. If you are an older 'baby-boomer' disposal income for flying (or boating, rving, etc.) is a dying dream when you need to pay the mortgage, bills, and try and save enough for some kind of retirement before you are 70. And we wonder why so few young people are getting their pilots licences!? Think about it: for all the reasons noted above it would be difficult to get their parents to foot the (large) bill. If a teenager gets a job at the Golden Arches, they MIGHT earn enough in 10-15 hours for ONE hour of flight time with an instructor. In my area an old, beat-up 172 rents (wet) for $106 an hour! The FBO tells me a large part of this is gas and insurance. A smaller part is set aside for maintenance and profit for the owner.

Posted by: Richard Norris | September 30, 2010 10:33 AM    Report this comment

Let's not forget that an estimated 129.6 million Americans, or 64 percent, are overweight or obese. (Source: US Govt.) Put me and a 6 year old supermodel in a LSA with minimum reserve fuel and we are over the maximum gross weight. So, even if I could afford a LSA, itís not likely I would get one, because I couldnít even use it for my BFR.

With all my issues (both weight related and not related) getting a medical (if I even could) could easily cost me as much as a used Cessna 172, and be valid for only one year. Now add $1200 for insurance and $2400 for hangar (three to five year waiting period on hangar, to boot)Ö

Never mind that Iíve been unemployed now for 67 weeks.

Yes, flying clubs can be great, but even in the 90ís my total per-hour cost for a club PA-12 (nothing fancy) ended up at about $150 per hour. Paulís Cub club is lucky.

My point is that because so few can fly, even if they could afford it, the economies of scale just donít exist for GA, at least not anymore. Itís a vicious circle.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | September 30, 2010 10:48 AM    Report this comment

I still think there are too many variables here to conclude one way or the other. Sure, taxes are way too high at all levels. But what was considered a luxury in the 70s is now the norm, even for kids just out of college. If we all lived as frugally in 2010 as we did in 1973, I'd bet that more could afford to fly. Remember also that many of those new pilot starts in the 1970s were veterans from WWII and Korea whose GI Bill benefits were running out but could be spent on pilot licenses. We sure sold a lot of fuel to them at Bowman Field, Louisville, KY where I worked as a kid. I'd bet that many who complain about the cost of airplanes have garages and houses full of expensive stuff that did not exist in 1973. Just think of the money that kids spend each month on their cell phones - probably enough for an hour of flying instruction. I'm happy with my two old cars and modest house if that's what it takes to stay in the air. But I sure don't begrudge anyone for living differently. It is really a matter of priorities in life.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | September 30, 2010 11:02 AM    Report this comment

While aviation is obviously an expensive hobby, Kent Misegades is correct with his observation about there still being plenty of discretionairy money being spent out there on boats, RVs, etc. When people are motivated to do something, they find the cash. Unfortunately, the effort required to enter and stay active in the aviation game pushes it 'way down the things-to-do list.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 30, 2010 11:03 AM    Report this comment

In further support of the Wonder Bread theory, a $25K 1975 Cessna 172M represented about twice the median household income ($11,800) that year. A new $270K Skyhawk represents 5.4 times the 2009 median household income ($49,777).

Posted by: Bob Davison | September 30, 2010 11:03 AM    Report this comment

Bob, I am sure this is true but a 1975 C172M is not the same as a new Skyhawk today. Far better engine and avionics, paint, rubber compounds, interior, etc. Better would be to compare to a comparable low-time C172M for sale on Barnstormers. My guess is you can find a nice one for under $60,000.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | September 30, 2010 11:09 AM    Report this comment

Paul - one other aspect on this interesting topic: if G.A. is in decline, why is it so hard to find an empty hangar? They are mostly full, but with airplanes that are never flown?

Posted by: Kent Misegades | September 30, 2010 11:29 AM    Report this comment

True, Kent, but a new 172M in 1975 isn't comparable to a 35-year old one today. A better comparison would be a new Skyhawk minus the G1000 and GFC 700. So, maybe a new Skyhawk minus the fancy avionics is only somewhat north of 4 times the annual median household income today.

Posted by: Bob Davison | September 30, 2010 11:35 AM    Report this comment

Kent, in my area there are a few hangers available, but as you have noted, a lot of the others have airplanes that aren't flying 'right now' but will be either flown soon or fixed someday. In some of the larger metro areas I've heard the problem isn't hangers with airplanes that aren't flying, but hangers full of other things: cars, boats, storage, and even some businesses because the cost was lower than at the local storage area or for office space. A couple years ago I read a story about one airport that told non-aviation occupants they had to move out or else TSA, etc. would be notified of an activity at the airport not related to aviation. Don't recall hearing anything further.

Posted by: Richard Norris | September 30, 2010 11:38 AM    Report this comment

Thanks Bob and Richard, both good points. I'll live on bread and water if that's what it takes to stay airborne, but you can build an industry on plane nuts like me alone.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | September 30, 2010 11:41 AM    Report this comment

Hangers are full because there are less of them. As airports close the plane have to go somewhere and there is less "somewhere" every week. Airports are in decline too...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 30, 2010 12:00 PM    Report this comment

You want an empty hangar? Come to Florida...

The reason hangars aren't more widely available nationwide is that the market is in stasis. Long term ownership is eroding only a little, but not enough to eat into the waiting lists many airports have had for years.

I don't have data on it, but I suspect nationwide, there are more hangars available now than five years ago.

Venice also has the hangars full of junk problem, although I believe the city has cracked down on that.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 30, 2010 12:05 PM    Report this comment

I think a number of the above comments miss the point. The issue is not for those who are already pilots, are there ways of making it a bit less expensive? The issue is how is GA going to survive this current generation of pilots? The objective facts are indisputable, the pilot population is both shrinking and aging and new aircraft sales have dwindled to virtually nothing. Frankly, I cannot understand how the manufacturers (including those of LSAs) currently stay in busines producing the tiny number of units they do. I fear that unless sales increase substantially in the next few years, most will pull out of the segment. Once that happens, GA is running on borrowed time.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | September 30, 2010 12:24 PM    Report this comment

So how come new pilots are not flocking to GA? 1. Obtaining a private is a $10K undertaking all in once you realize that most people do not do it in the minimums. 2. Once you get that license, just flying around the pattern for a few hours month to maintain minimum VFR proficiency requires a budget of $300 - 500 per month. How many school teachers have that sitting around each month after all other expenses of real life? 3. The safety record of GA is poor. Even if that does not turn a prospect off, it may very well turn their spouse/friends off and once they get their license, if they are forced to do it as a solo hobby, many lose interest. I know of many who have given up after getting their license because a spouse would not fly with them and just doing solo $100 hamburger runs became boring after awhile.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | September 30, 2010 12:26 PM    Report this comment

Part 2 - 4. Actually using a plane regularly for trips requires a much larger budget. At $150 per hour for a 4 place plane that has the utility for real trips beyond teh local area, flying just 75 hours a year is a $11,250 commitment on top of the cost of the training. 4. LSAs are not that much less expensive and their utility is very limited. No week long trips for a family or IFR operations. Purely fly around the patch operations on sunny low wind days for $100 per hour. Great for those who are simply happy to get in the air for an hour now and then but hard to see explosive growth in that segment supporting an entire industry. 4. If you want realistic IFR capability, you must commit to another rating and a higher level of regular practice and use so the monthly budget now increases further unless folks want to argue that a new instrument pilot can maintain real IFR proficiency on 20 or 30 hours of flying total a year. IMHO, the fact that people currently do that is already one of the reasons the GA accident rate in IFR operations is so shameful. 5. Too many 40 year old airplanes. No offense to those that own and fly them but many look quite tired and it is very difficult to sell prospective students on the idea that the plane with the very "well loved" interior is well maintained and safe. We may know better but prospective students judge a book by its cover.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | September 30, 2010 12:29 PM    Report this comment

Don't forget that you're painting history a bit more rosy than it probably is. In 1975 Cessna was selling too many airplanes because they weren't pricing them high enough. Once the demand was saturated a few years later, the entire industry collapsed, nearly for good. So... when you compare the price of today's Skyhawk with one of that era, which problem are you really observing - that today's are too expensive, or that yesterday's were too cheap?

Posted by: Jon Carlson | September 30, 2010 12:37 PM    Report this comment

Kent's comments about priorities and our higher standards of living today are bang on. Complaining about costs misses the point. People will find the time and money to do something they love. (And people always had to scrimp and save for flying lessons.) But people now love their big homes, multiple flat-screen TVs (with accompanying expensive digital HD channel packages), multiple vacations, multiple (new) cars, and smartphones (with expensive wireless data plans) more. Maybe the experience of flying just isn't as competitive anymore now that all of these other luxurious and exciting things exist. (And because these other things are easy to acquire and mostly require no licence to learn or use, they're much more popular, and then the high volumes drive the costs down.) Whenever I take people on a sight-seeing flight in the Rocky Mountains near where I live they are awe-struck by the amazing experience (a much more real experience than anything on HD TV). But none of them has subsequently started taking flying lessons that I know of. They choose all of those other things in life.

Posted by: Chad Conrad | September 30, 2010 1:10 PM    Report this comment

On choices: About five years ago I considered airplane ownership, but of my wife and I, only I loved flying (she tolerates it). So we traded in the 9-year-old Civic (which was in very nice shape and which I was happy to keep driving for 10 more years if it would have meant owning an airplane) on a new sports sedan worth three times as much. This made both of us happy while the airplane would have made only one of us happy. People (and families) make choices. And I continue to rent airplanes.

Posted by: Chad Conrad | September 30, 2010 1:11 PM    Report this comment

While I agree with the Paul's "Wonder Bread" theory for some of the more systemic problems we have, I'm not sure that it applies to the situation in GA. On the other hand, I'm only 36 so I don't have any first-hand knowledge of the good ole days.

I've often wondered about how good the "good ole days" in the 60s, 70s, and 80s really were for the manufacturers: Cessna, Piper, Beech, Luscombe, Grumman, Aeronca, Pitts, Mooney, and who else did I miss? My somewhat shallow read of the situation back then was that there was an assumption that lots of GIs would buy airplanes. So lots of airplanes got built... and they could be sold (relatively) cheaply because of the economies of scale. And they did get sold... mostly. But supply eventually outstripped demand, fewer got built, lawyers got greedy, and they got more expensive because of both the frivolous lawsuits problem and basic supply/demand. It seems to me that the "good ole days" were actually a bubble period when aviation was cheap because the manufacturers eventually took it on the chin... and the cheap rental bubble stuck around as long as it did because keeping an airplane airworthy is a reasonable thing to do. Could the good ole days have lasted longer if the lawyers had stayed out? Probably, but I don't think we'd still be in them now.

Posted by: Roy Etter | September 30, 2010 1:20 PM    Report this comment

Last thought: Think about the history of the homebuilt movement - which goes back further than the founding of EAA in 1953. Why? Because, as I read the history, some real aviation nuts wanted to own their own airplanes and the only "affordable" way for them to do it was to build your own. Perhaps we'll see more homebuilts?

Posted by: Roy Etter | September 30, 2010 1:21 PM    Report this comment

Hi Paul -

Thank you for all your brilliance and knowledge from The Aviation Consumer. My 32 year old Archer II does 140 hours per year with my Mattituck rebuilt engine 500 hours and my Garmin GNS 530 WAAS.

I am a flying salesman - the best job in the world!

In 1988 I paid $ 38,000 for this plane with 1200 hours on it.

The problem is NET dollars or disposable income.

I could affort it then, by my son has no chance to do the same with his net income, and he is making a lot more salary than I was at the same age.

The good jobs went far, far away, all of the governments (Fed, state, local) have increased their "cut" of our income, and there "ain't no more."

I cannot see how or when it will ever go the other way!

Paul, we had a great run! It is what it is, and unless there is a dramatic change in the management of our government, it will continue in a "death spiral" until the inevitible crash. Sorry!!

Posted by: Chris Anderson | September 30, 2010 1:54 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Chad. Roy, I am 52 and started flying during one of the bubbles of the early 70s. These also came at times of strong economic growth, which ought to explain some of the malaise right now. There was explosive growth after WWII that busted in less than 5 years, but swamped the markets with lots of cheap aircraft. I owned one until last year, a '52 C170B which can be found today for around $40k. Nice plane, cost-effective even today. Did you know that when the EAA started, homebuilding was generally forbidden? The EAA fought for its legitimacy and it is now a major part of G.A. The newest generation of kits such as the Sonex, RV-10 and RV-12 provide an amazing value for the cost, as long as you do not count labor costs...... Someone mentioned above but it needs to be repeated - getting Mogas back on our airports would make a huge impact on costs. 91 ethanol-free Mogas is ideal for 70%-80% of all piston-engine planes and nearly 100% of the new LSAs. Plus it would reduce lead pollution, a huge public issue. You can find suppliers through www.PURE-GAS.org and see details on our efforts at www.FLYUNLEADED.com

Posted by: Kent Misegades | September 30, 2010 1:57 PM    Report this comment

I haven't looked into all of these, but here's some ideas worth exploring to see if they could reduce costs to make GA more attractive to the general public.

Diesel. With a diesel cycle engine you'll burn 25-35% less in terms of gph for the same horsepower. That would save, on a plane currently burning 12gph, around $13-14/hr. Not huge, but it would help. 'Course this only applies to new planes as the cost of retrofitting existing planes, even without the STC costs, would be hard to justify.

Maintenance. I'd like know what the safety implications would be of going to bi-annual inspection for lightly used planes. This would allow for a further reduction in costs IF (and only if) it would not measuably impact safety. Also, perhaps allowing mechanics with something less onerous to obtain than the current A&P certs, etc would allow for reduced labor costs. Certainly for LSA's this should be explored. Maybe keep A&P's for major overhauls, accident repairs, etc but have and avaiation equivalent of ASE for simpler repairs and maintenance. I mean, do you REALLY need an AI or A&P to change the oil, replace a generator, etc?

cont.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | September 30, 2010 2:08 PM    Report this comment

cont.

Certification. It supposedly costs around $10mil to certify a single engine plane. And that doesn't count the cost to certify the engines, or the avionics. Significantly reducing this cost, as we all know that it does some but relatively little to advance actual safety, would help bring down the price of new planes considerably. That would also have a knock-on effect to reduce the price of used planes. It would also open up the possibility of new manufacturers bringing additional choice to the market. Insurance. Tort reform would massively reduce the costs of product liability insurance. The effect on personal liability would be smaller due to the current typical limitations on most policies, but it would probably help some there too.

If you could combine all of those, plus probably some other categories I'm not currently thinking of, you could probably reduce flying costs significantly for a typical single engine 4-seat plane (SWAG +-$50/hr?). That would bring the cost down to current LSA prices, and LSA's would go down too. It might just be enough to get the price to the level that middle class folks could reasonably expect to afford.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | September 30, 2010 2:08 PM    Report this comment

We already are seeing more homebuilts. The number has been increasing rapidly for the past decade or so. Partly, I think, because they're generally cost-effective and partly because they've become much easier to build. At the top, Vans has a production rate to make commercial airplane manufacturers envious.

I agree with Jon's comment. The mid-70s is probably not a good match point for comparing prices with today. The planes probably were underpriced. The manufacturers like to blame liability, but I think part of the 1980 implosion was simply that they built too many airplanes. 14,000 piston singles in 1978 to significantly less than 1000 a year or two later. That's the behavior of a glut. So maybe looking at price of plane vs income in the 50's or 60's would be revealing. A graph of the two from, say, 1930 to present day would be really cool.

All that said, Paul, I don't disagree with your Wonder Bread theory as a general commentary on our whole economy. The change started then, but has accelerated in the past couple decades because of the Walmart effect. The companies that found they could make more money with fewer workers found they could make even more money when those workers lived somewhere far away.

Posted by: Richard Beebe | September 30, 2010 2:08 PM    Report this comment

I think everyone is spot on with different analysis of the subject. We have a looming fuel issue ahead too, does anyone think we'll see lower prices from that? It would be very helpful if we could.

For any interest my story is, I'm around a sixty-year-old, chopped to part time work recently, half the 401k lost last year, but slowly regaining, and really the only one in the 3 member family who enjoys flight. If not for building a homebuilt for about 27k total, a real challenge for me at the time, I wouldn't have outright ownership of an aircraft I'm sure. Every time (and we're going next week) we take the Toyota mini-motorhome up to the piney woods I wring my hands a bit thinking how we can spend $200 for a week of camping, hiking, eating, stargazing, and sitting around the campfire and it is so great to be doing that, when I could spend that by myself in a few hours flying over Meteor Crater and back in the LSA I built. I'm in it with passion for now, but man it is hard sometimes to stay enthusiastic with so much volatility in society. Just my .02.

Posted by: Dave Miller | September 30, 2010 2:11 PM    Report this comment

I just got back from Germany where I had a chance to take a glider ride. At 13 Euros, it's the best deal in aviation in the world!!!! The costs are low, because the clubs use winch launching, own their airfields and hangers outright, have no debt, and minimal costs for insurance and taxes.

The other problem that we have in the US is that for 20 years people have lived beyond their means, which is now catching up with everyone. Back in the old days, you might have had a reasonable mortgage on your house, but you owned your car outright and had no credit card debt. Today, the average American probably pays 30% of his net income to banks just for interest. That 30% used to be available for flying, etc....

Posted by: Mike Schumann | September 30, 2010 2:12 PM    Report this comment

Look here pg 18.

http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/avs/offices/air/directorates_field/small_airplanes/media/CPS_Part_23.pdf

If link breaks google this "faa part 23 small airplane certification process study" first hit

Posted by: B Noel | September 30, 2010 2:18 PM    Report this comment

Hello everyone. Sorry for the protracted post. It kind of got away from me. Because of the 1500-character limit, I am dividing my post into several. -----

Kareem's post Part One:

There are two costs to getting a pilot's license: time and money. The growth of cable and the internet are draining people's "time" account. Still, if people want to spend time on Facebook, they will, and if people make flying a priority, then their Facebook time will taper off.

The fact of the matter is that the money costs of airplanes and flight training have been outpacing personal incoming growth for decades. I've been wanting to get a "hobby" pilot's license for half my life (I'm now 37). I didn't have the disposable income until I got a very well-paying job nearly twice the national median income. It's completely unsurprising to me that GA has substantially dwindling involvement. Beginning and end of story: it's too expensive. I thought LSAs were going to reverse that trend, only to learn to my great dismay that they cost about twice what I was expecting. If a new 172 should only cost $98K, it makes sense that a stripped-down two-seater would cost $60K-70K. Instead, they clock in at about $120K. This keeps the cost of acquisition high, which keeps the cost of training high.

Posted by: Kareem Kazkaz | September 30, 2010 2:22 PM    Report this comment

Kareem's post Part Two:

I would also love to know why airplanes cost so much more now than they did a few decades ago, as a multiple of medial annual income. Some people on this forum blame economies of scale. Some people blame the increased insurance premiums. One person blamed executive pay. One person claimed that airplanes used to be too cheap. One suggested it's the increased gadgets in the planes that account for the price increase.

Yet other people have been making comparisons to other luxury goods such as boats and SUVs. For these comparisons to be proper, we have to answer two questions: 1) Are the sales of boats and SUVs declining the same way the sales of airplanes have been declining? 2) Have boats and SUVs increased in price relative to personal income the way airplanes have?

My father-in-law is a hobby sailor, and the sailing community is going through the same sort of introspection that GA is going through: a declining, and aging, population. So there's anecdotal evidence to answer my first question.

Posted by: Kareem Kazkaz | September 30, 2010 2:22 PM    Report this comment

Labor-intensive manufacturing has two choices when dealing with the inevitability of rising labor costs: find cheap labor, or automate. The U.S. apparel industry is a great example of the former. The Swedish robot industry is a great example of the latter. Vans is doing well because of conservative engineering and recent investments in modern sheet metal tooling. Same for the German LSA company Breezer that is doing well building fewer than 50 airplanes a year, and 100% Made in Germany, not in a low-labor country. Despite press reports and general public ignorance, manufacturing in the U.S. is doing fairly well, but only when it reinvents itself regularly and employs the best tooling/engineering/methods it can afford. This includes the food industry, where you'll find some pretty amazing machinery in facilities nearly devoid of humans. Our problem is getting past the high startup costs in aviation in order to afford automation needed to lower costs. ASTM-based certification is a huge improvement over Part 23 and needs to be expanded to all G.A. classes. Converting one' kit business into a certificated airplane might be the best route, especially when ASTM rules are used.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | September 30, 2010 2:23 PM    Report this comment

Kareem's post Part Three:

As for my second, Wikipedia can shed some light on the answers. I tried making an apples-to-apples comparison, taking the ratio of the cost of cars back in 1975 and today. In 1977, a Cadillac Sedan de Ville cost $9864, or about $39K in today's dollars. Today, a Cadillac CTS is $35K-$38K. Even with all the advances in the automotive industry, the electronics, the computers, the GPS nav systems, the materials, this luxury car costs the same now as it did three decades ago.

I did the same exercise with Corvettes, another luxury item. In 1975 a Corvette cost $6810, or about $27K today. Today, the Corvette costs about $49K. So in this case, the cost of a Corvette exceeded inflation by a factor of a bit under two, but it's still a far cry from the factor of 5 over inflation that a 172 demands.

This begins to answer my second question: luxury cars haven't skyrocketed in price the way airplanes have, even when taking into account the increased cost of certification, safety testing, gadgetry, and all the material advances over the past few decades. This is why people are still buying them.

...And why the new GA market seems to be in a protracted, but inevitable, decline.

Posted by: Kareem Kazkaz | September 30, 2010 2:23 PM    Report this comment

Complete nonsense.

It's efficiency in production that allows us to have a standard of living in the first place. Paul's problem is that aviation is quite different from other products that our economy produces. For example, most people reading my words right now are using computers that are more powerful than all of the computers that NASA had online when they put men on the moon a mere 40 years ago. Heck, most of you have cell phones that are more powerful that cost far less than the price of your last annual.

Aviation has some unique problems that our computers do not. One is that it operates in a very regulated environment that exacts a high cost. Second is that most of use an expensive fuel that must be refined and delivered using an infrastructure separate that that for other modes of transport. And 3rd, the embedded cost of litigation. Years ago, my father was interviewing for a position at a major manufacturer of general aviation aircraft, and the president let it be know that 1/2 the delivery cost of most of their product went directly to litigation related costs. What other industry has to deal with that?

Posted by: John McGrew | September 30, 2010 2:24 PM    Report this comment

(I should have run a spell checked. Back in my post number two, sorry for the typo: "medial annual income" should be "median annual income".)

Posted by: Kareem Kazkaz | September 30, 2010 2:27 PM    Report this comment

Great column, great thoughts. (1) Manufacturing, or the making of things, is the only true source of wealth. Everything else is just a re-distribution of wealth. (2) Direct Labor, the hands-on making of things, is less than 10% of an item's cost. Everything else is Indirect: Company administration, profit, taxes, etc. To move a company to Mexico for lower labor costs is deceitful; most is done for lower taxes and lower environmental standards. (3) The lowering of wages will generally bankrupt the US. We can't afford to save any more, let alone fly. We are becoming poorer. Samuel Gomper's adage "more" created the middle class and its relative wealth. Trickle-down economics simply doesn't work. This is a scattered post, but it is still coherent.

Posted by: Bob Hartman-Berrier | September 30, 2010 2:33 PM    Report this comment

Question to all - the most expensive component to any new design will be its engine. If a FF package for the RV-12 costs $26,165 (100HP Rotax 912ULS), how can any small airplane kit cost under $60,000 and still make its manufacturer even a tiny profit? Seems to me we need to be focusing on the biggest expense, the engine. An 80-year old design (VW) is not the solution. Jan Eggenfellner's new Honda Fit-based Viking engine has promise and was offered for $10,000 at Oshkosh. Better specs that the Rotax, too. Ideal would be for Honda to get involved, after all they also build boats, lawn mowers, jets, why not airplane engines? Paul can you use your clout and charm to get Honda to talk to Jan?

Posted by: Kent Misegades | September 30, 2010 2:33 PM    Report this comment

All the talk about aircraft prices, glider flying, etc. etc. etc. misses Paul's essential point. The US economy is in a major restructuring phase. The hand writing has been on the wall for many years for those who cared to look. The US standard of living has been declining for over a decade. Income in-eguality continues to grow as profits go to management (400 times the avg. worker salary today vs. 40 10 years ago) and Wall Street. To make up for it consumers were encouraged to borrow more and more at ever more enticing rates, and they took the bate. Americans grew frightened that their jobs would be outsourced so they accepted more work for no more pay. That's where "productivity" is coming from not innovation. Henry Ford knew that if people were going to buy his cars they had to make enough money to do it. Where did all these bright sparks in management, economics, and government expect a minimum wage employee to get the money to keep buying and buying at the same rate as a "highly" paid skilled worker. The economy is in for a major re-structuring. We all better get used to it.

Posted by: Andrew Cairns | September 30, 2010 2:46 PM    Report this comment

Complaints about executive compensation and dividends to investors are, at best, a canard.

Why is our manufacturing base disappearing? While more complicated than any blog response post can explain the bottom line is the excessive regulatory burden plus one of the highest corporate tax burdens in the industrialized world.

Companies don't offshore production becuase of lower wages and benefits, though that does help in their calculation. They do it to escape punitive taxes and regulatory costs that would make your eyes water and your head spin.

If we want to bring those jobs back here we need to ease that burden on companies. American workers really are among the very best in the world, and the higher costs of our labor is worthwhile to those companies, all else being equal. So lets try to make the business environment more attractive and bring those jobs back home. Then, not only will prices of aircraft decline, people will also have the wealth to afford hobbies like GA.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | September 30, 2010 3:10 PM    Report this comment

It's efficiency in production that allows us to have a standard of living in the first place.<<

That used to be true. It's less so now because, as I pointed out, GDP growth and the wages tied directly to it, are coming primarily from workers whose pay is essentially declining.

That's the megatrend and it's anything but nonsense. The escalating cost of all things aviation just squeezes the would-be aviator in the middle.

Yet, I remain an optimist. U.S. businesses will not be able to sustain this cycle forever because they won't have any customers who can afford their products.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 30, 2010 3:46 PM    Report this comment

Paul left out the largest *systemic* factor in personal finance: Taxes.

Income tax rates, sales tax rates, property tax rates, et. al have all outpaced inflation for some time now.

AOPA is all a-twitter about "accelerated depreciation" tax changes for Corporations, but the average LLC formed to split aircraft ownership costs is typically a non-profit venture, and the individuals who make up the LLC can't take anything useful away from that tax break intended to help U.S. Aviation manufacturers.

Posted by: Nathan Duehr | September 30, 2010 3:55 PM    Report this comment

The Corvette analogy is a poor one, by the way. General Motors went bankrupt and had to be taken into what was essentially Government receivership and handed piles of taxpayer-backed loan cash to survive.

I doubt enough politicians care enough about the aviation manufacturers (with the possible exception of Boeing & other Defense contractors) to offer them similar sweetheart deals.

Posted by: Nathan Duehr | September 30, 2010 3:57 PM    Report this comment

Sorry, one more comment.

A regularly misunderstood/misused statistic is used in a couple of the comments. "Household Income".

Whenever you see "Household Income" your immediate response should be: "How many people in a Household in 1973 and today?", and "How many are wage-earners?"

Since 1973, most "Households" went from one wage-earner to two, or more. Especially with Generation Y still mostly living off of dear old Mom & Dad.

This, of course, makes the income numbers look even more bleak. Not better.

Think about that one for a minute, if you want to know how much of our future America has been mortgaging away, both public monies and private...

Posted by: Nathan Duehr | September 30, 2010 4:18 PM    Report this comment

Personal Income Tax rates are of course a factor. Tax policy that favors the rich is a significant cause of income inequality which, in turn, is a significant reason for general aviation becoming unaffordable for the shrinking middle class. In 1915, a statistician at the University of Wisconsin named Willford I. King published "The Wealth and Income of the People of the United States", the most comprehensive study of its kind to date. King was somewhat troubled to find that the richest 1 percent possessed about 15 percent of the nation's income. (A more authoritative subsequent calculation puts the figure slightly higher, at about 18 percent.) Today, the richest 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation's income. It's not hard to see the implications for the middle class. The mega-toys purchased by the ever-increasing discretionary income of 1% of the population could fund many thousand wanna-be pilots. If you want to look under the hood, see http://www.slate.com/id/2266025/entry/2266026/

Posted by: Michael Meador | September 30, 2010 4:19 PM    Report this comment

Paul, my point is that it's not the "wonder bread" phenomenon that is the problem. The real problem is that we make far less of what we consume in America anymore. (Ironically enough, it's aircraft production that is one of the last to go) Relatively few people realize that real wealth is created when the things we use and consume are created, and we're doing less and less of it in our new "service" economy.

The reasons for this are numerous and far too complex for a mere blog post. Suffice it to say that much of it has to do with taxes, regulatory environment, citizen expectations of what employers and government is supposed to provide them, and fiscal and monetary issues.

Posted by: John McGrew | September 30, 2010 4:29 PM    Report this comment

Is this thread devolving into a class warfare or a diatribe against successful Americans? Mega-toys create great jobs for their producers. Highly-paid CEOs use US-made bizjets - about the only thing in our economy that helps our balance of trade and keeps our FBOs afloat. Conversely, remember the belly flop when yachts were heavily taxed and many yacht builders lost their jobs? I'll take the FairTax, minimalist governments and free markets, please. Back on topic - Anyone have an idea how we can lower the cost of engines - still remains the biggest impediment to lowering the price of new airplanes, in my mind. Sonex, Vans and Zenith have shown that modern tooling can lower the cost of the airframe, and avionics will continue to drop in price/performance. But what about the powerplant?

Posted by: Kent Misegades | September 30, 2010 4:34 PM    Report this comment

I do not know where you live, but out here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the wait list for hangar space has vaporized. Two years ago, I got on the list at KESN and was told that the wait is about 5 years. They called me the other day to say they had a hangar available for me. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Obviously, the economy is hacking away at those on the waiting list. I am afraid that Paul is right, too many jobs have gone overseas. Even if the Tea Party politicians win in November, can they really pull those jobs back. Some jobs have been gone so long that the older generation did not get to teach the younger how to do their job. So, there is also a knowledge gap.

Posted by: David Heberling | September 30, 2010 4:43 PM    Report this comment

It is indeed interesting to read all "the PHD Thesises in general Economics" on why flying today is to a large extent unafordable for so many. However, not one of you seem to understand--or may be willing to admit-- that We--yes we in General Aviation--are to a large extent to blame for this unfavorable economic development. Although,various fixes might be possible that over time could reduce costs, those "in power" are best served with the present system. Hence, I do not see a change.By the way, this observation is based on "flying the system" for more than fourty years.

Posted by: Helge Skreppen | September 30, 2010 4:46 PM    Report this comment

David, I live near Raleigh, NC and hangars are still rare and remain expensive. Jobs have surely gone overseas. No doubt our taxes are too high, especially corporate and income taxes. I was shocked to find corporate taxes lower in Germany when I ran an engineering business there in the 1990s - individual taxes made up for this though. Jobs are not an end sum game though. Many foreign companies for decades have come to the U.S., and this continues. Most new jobs are created by small businesses, which are hurt most by higher income taxes. That's why so many S-corp companies prefer low-tax states like FL, TX, TN, SD, etc. Create the right conditions and thousands of new companies will emerge and from these the next Rotax, Vans, GE, Apple, etc. One area where we DO excel is in homebuilding - few other countries allow the freedom we have to build and fly new airplanes, many of which could become kits or even LSA/Part 23 products one day. Cirrus is the best recent example. This is probably the result of a concerted effort by our community to convince our government representatives to get out of our lives. Maybe a good example for others to follow? If we love aviation, failure is not an option.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | September 30, 2010 4:57 PM    Report this comment

Another factor that has not been discussed is the glamour component. Why is it that the pilot population is so old and new pilot starts are so low among the younger set? No question the cost is probably the biggest factor. But a secondary factor is that aviation does not hold the allure it once did. When the current generation of pilots was growing up, an airline pilot as seen as a glamourous figure and the stories of pilot derring-do in WW II, Korea and even Vietnam to a lesser extent were fresh. Now we have more and more "pilots" flying drones in the military from a bunker and airline pilots are painted by the media as something less than glamourous. Just look at the attention to the Colgan crash that painted regional pilots as incompetent, overworked and underpaid. Not very enticing. Frankly, I just think that in this day and age where heroes are found elsewhere, most kids growing up do not have that same excitement about airplanes that many of us did. And for those that do, the cost puts a real damper on it unless you are talking about someone with lots of disposable cash or wealthy parents. Sorry to be so negative as I have been flying for 40 years and love every minute of it but all you need to do is look around at all the airplanes on the ground at your local airport on a sunny summer afternoon and you know where this is all headed.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | September 30, 2010 5:23 PM    Report this comment

For those who think that leftist policy and class warfare will solve all our problems think about this.

What can you do with money?

You can spend it, invest it, give it away, or bury it.

I don't know anyone that buries their money, especially the rich.

The rest of those all have to varying degrees some impact on the economy. When the rich spend their money on stuff (planes included) that money pays for someone's job.

When the rich invest their money, whether in bank accounts, stocks, or bonds that money provides capital for companies to make products and, yes, hire people.

When you give money away it is often to the direct benefit of those in need, or it provides some service that we think is important. And all that money that is given away winds up eventually paying for someone's job.

When the .gov taxes anyone, including the rich they have less money to spend, invest and give. While there are legitmate .gov functions (at the fed level that would the military, courts, foreign relations, resolving interstate disputes, and not much else - read the Constitution sometime), when the .gov starts trying to direct the economy and pick winners and loosers they do so FAR less efficinetly than free markets, and so much of that money that could have been used to create wealth winds up creating far less wealth, and in most cases actually leads to an overall reduction in wealth.

Yeah, under my ideas the rich get richer. So what? The poor get richer too.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | September 30, 2010 5:45 PM    Report this comment

Yup, I agree Ken, and I was thinking along those lines too when I wrote my comments about how flying is perhaps no longer competitive with all the other exciting things available to modern man.

Flying was once a heroic and cutting-edge thing in the eyes of youth. It isn't anymore and I suppose it never will be again. We'll be left with a smaller core of flyers who are committed to the activity despite it not being glamourous anymore.

Posted by: Chad Conrad | September 30, 2010 5:48 PM    Report this comment

I have to second Andrew Upson on the disposition of money by the "rich". Too many people view the over $250K crowd as being like Scrooge McDuck, stashing the money they make uselessly away in some huge money bin in which they entertain themselves by diving into it. In reality, all that money is invested in our economy, primarily in businesses of all types.
Yes, there are structural problems with our economy. We have utterly failed to adapt to the realities of a global economy in which nations whose citizens are willing to work for less have sucked up the semi-skilled blue collar jobs that paid so well.
Our response to this problem seems to be that we will absorb all those out-of-work Americans into a world of perpetual welfare where fewer and fewer workers support an ever-increasing horde of non-workers. This can only be carried so far before the whole mess collapses around us.
I can's say I have a definitive answer to this problem, but I do know we need to try something else.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 30, 2010 6:14 PM    Report this comment

I also disagree with the "income gap" and "class warfare" stuff. The best counter-argument to this has always been, "Someone else having more money than me, doesn't change my situation or harm me."

I don't know any "rich people" who are actively stealing from me or limiting what I can make... so that whole argument is pretty lost on me.

My comments were on what erodes my ability to pay for things only, not meant to start a discussion with numbers from some economist who doesn't live at my house. Taxes do that to me. As I earn more to go flying, my marginal tax rate goes up... and at some point, I'd have to double my salary to make it up. The graphs are pretty easy to make in Excel.

Meanwhile, I stopped flying for 8 years. When I came back, it was more expensive.

I had worked hard and got a few promotions and better jobs, in the interim, and even had a year without work thrown in there for good measure.

At the end of the day: You either sacrifice to go flying, or you don't.

That hasn't changed since I started flying and won't change until the day I hang it up hopefully a long time from now.

People aren't interested in sacrifice anymore when they can create "virtual worlds" of their own liking anytime they want. Flight simulator software sells to the "right now" crowd, versus the real thing for a reason.

"If you want to fly, fly your ass off, the cheapest way you can figure out how.", was my original CFI's admonition almost 20 years ago...

Posted by: Nathan Duehr | September 30, 2010 6:49 PM    Report this comment

Think about what brought you to aviation in the first place and look around to see if there is a modern analog. My generation was treated to countless movies, heroic figures, news stories about record breaking, etc. Aviation was widely credited with winning World War II and a national romance with aeronautics caused wide-eyed youngsters like me to lust for aviation. We watched as the Dash-80 conquered the skies, as Sabre jets cut down the Commies, and we couldn't wait to be part of it.

Where is that type of romance today? The Apple Nano? The Droid? FaceBook? Silicon is our newborn king, and if aviation doesn't face the fact that new excitement outspends fond memories it will flatline.

I've had my financial ups and downs yet always managed to get airborne for a few hours per month. Today's kids would do the same, if the desire was there, and as politics proves, you can manufacture that desire.

Posted by: Richard Herbst | October 1, 2010 6:17 AM    Report this comment

The essential problem is acquisition cost, not operational costs. APA studied the actual hourly cost of boat ownership here in the Dallas area. We studied usage patterns as wellóhow often and how long the motor is turning in any given year. Operational costs per hour are nearly identical, as are usage patterns. You can view the numbers at http://theapa.com/st/fpage/can_i_afford.htm. As you can see, 3 or 4 partners in a new high-end LSA, a premium pre-owned 172 or A36 all pay less per hour in total ownership and operational costs than the typical boat owner.

While disposable income is most certainly down, it is not the core issue. 2009 was a horrible year economically, yet here in the US we managed to produce and sell about 350,000 (not a typo Ė three hundred and fifty thousand) new boats and RVís at a composite average price of about $35,000. The preponderance of production was for units selling for $25,000-$50,000.

Paul Bís original point was: ďFor individuals, I continue to believe the best direct solution is multi-member partnerships.Ē He is absolutely correct. To survive, much less prosper, GA, as an industry, must become very good at show-and-telling the multi-membership cost story; first to current aviators and then to a general public that mistakenly believes that they can afford a boat or an RV, but not an airplane.

David A. Kruger, CEO, The Aircraft Partnership Association, www.TheAPA.com

Posted by: David Kruger | October 1, 2010 6:26 AM    Report this comment

Don't forget the massive amount of consumer debt that most of us have racked up. Usually in order to pursue flight training.

Posted by: Patrick Pohler | October 1, 2010 6:29 AM    Report this comment

David and Paul: I agree with both of you about the multi-member aircraft partnerships. The problem I see in my area is getting the people and aircraft together. Don't misunderstand, there are plenty of aircraft sitting around in hangers with a current annual that could be flown right now, but they sit because the owner doesn't want anyone flying their airplane. At the airport I usually fly out of there is a 177RG, 180, 182, 172s, etc. that may get 10-20 hours a year because it is to expensive to fly! I've asked these owners about a partnership to 'buy in' and share operational costs. The answer is always NO because (you fill in the excuse). At the same airport I also see the end result of this logic: hanger queens, aircraft falling apart, and aircraft so bad they will never fly again. When asked, the owners usually say I'm going to start fixing her up next week! All that said, I have to admit I've also seen people use the same logic when it comes to other 'big ticket' items like boats and RVs.

I guess my only point in all of this is government and 'big brother' aren't always the only ones out to get us. Sometimes we do it to ourselves.

Posted by: Richard Norris | October 1, 2010 6:59 AM    Report this comment

Richard, the purpose of the Aircraft Partnership Association is to get people together. Think of us as the eHarmony or Match.com of GA. Our members post a detailed profile (type of aircraft they have or would like to have, budget, how often and when they want to fly, etc.) and get matched up with like-minded aviators in their area. Membership is free. www.TheAPA.com

Posted by: David Kruger | October 1, 2010 7:15 AM    Report this comment

I think those arguing that people are just wasting their money is not valid. I waited 10 years between partnerships, because I just didn't have the cash, and I don't classify myself as poor; I make about 2X the national median salary. I am the breadwinner for my family of 4, and it wasn't until recently that I got back into a 5-person partnership on a Cessna 152. We are NOT extravagant - no fancy vacations, no eating out to sit-down restaraunts (home-cooked is healthier anyway), basic cars that we keep for years, no cable or satellite TV, no fancy cell phone, no fancy clothes (I still have 20 yr old T-shirts), and a mortgage that is less than what most people pay for a 2-bedroom apartment around here. But still, when my wife and I try to budget to find some more savings - we look at what we spend money on and for the life of us we can't find anything to cut. We laugh at all those news articles about "how to stretch your budget", because we've been doing all of the recommended ideas since we were married! But here's where the money goes: savings for retirement (if I get to), saving for the kid's college, saving for healthcare costs, paying for healthcare, paying for real food (not processsed food-like substances), etc. At the end of the month, there usually isn't anything left. I don't know who buys boats, RV's, and large vehicles, but it ain't us or the other families on our street. So don't lecture me about budgeting properly and the "right" priorities for my cash.

Posted by: Scott Thomason | October 1, 2010 7:17 AM    Report this comment

Post #2...

Let's be honest - having a family and flying do not mix if you are of only above-average means (or less). There are too many heavy obligations that are working against us. Of all the people in my local flying area (Greenville, SC) I can think of exactly 3 that have school-age kids at home.

Paul is on to something I think. The economic slide and wage stagnation is a far too complex subject for one posting, but there are primary components: 1. Loss of manufacturing base 2. Unwillingness of Americans to either pay for their government, or to reduce government to what they want to pay for. 3. Personal debt, driven by base materialism. 4. A financial sector driven by short-term, screw-you profits, that consideres itself more supreme than those other sectors of the economy that merely create things. 5. Corporations that grovel and make poor decisions based on the desires of that financial sector (see #1). 6. The fact that the US continues to play by international trade and environmental rules while others don't, and the others suffer no ill consequences because of #1,2,3,4, and 5.

Posted by: Scott Thomason | October 1, 2010 7:18 AM    Report this comment

Post #3...

Paul is also correct about partnerships. I was in one first in San Diego, and it worked perfectly. We had a 1947 Cessna 140, and we all paid $35 a month and $10/hr, and we filled the tanks ourselves when we were done flying. I paid less for flying than some people paid for their cable bill.

Flash-forward to 2010. I've spent about 4 years trying to find a partnership in a Cessna 150/152. The local FBO rents one for $98/hr, and that is just too much for making holes in the sky. I see aircraft sitting on the ramp, unflown, but nobody wants a partner. I ask around for partners, I use the APA.com, I get involved with the local EAA. Its always the same problems with prospective partners:

1. Rich retired guys with cash want something fast (Mooney, Bonanza, etc.) and think that $80k is "cheap". 2. Fat guys that need a C-182 to fit themselves into and don't mind burning the additional expensive fuel. 3. Rich guys with no families that have the same ideas as in #1.

If you don't have money and can fit into a Cessna 150, its a great plane for building time, introducing the kids to flying, and just enjoy a nice day in the air doing some sightseeing. Unfortunately the number of people sized like me, with the same goals and the same mission are very few. I recently finally found a group of 4 guys in a C-152 with a share up for sale, so now I'm flying again, at $50/hr (twice as much as in 1999 with the C-140). But its taken nearly a decade and the cost has doubled.

Posted by: Scott Thomason | October 1, 2010 7:34 AM    Report this comment

My memory is still pretty good and I recall these as the same reasons why people didn't fly back in the 1960s. And we complained about high taxes and repressive governments, which have indeed gotten worse and we'll start back on the right path on Nov.2nd. Kids not interested in aviation? Not in my world. My EAA1114 chapter makes on average 1000 Young Eagle flights a year and the kids go nuts, many have joined our chapter with their parents and some are now pilots and airplane owners. I would have given my right arm to had such a flight back in the 1960s. College expenses? Try this, worked for me: when your kids turn 14 let them know your obligations are done when they graduate from high school. They will be shown the door. My kids got the message and worked their way through college in the last 10 years, all happily employed, have no debt, yes it can be done but you have to throw them out of the nest. Two are A&Ps and one nearing pilots license on a shoestring budget. It's all a matter of priorities in life.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | October 1, 2010 7:38 AM    Report this comment

David Kruger's comment on boat costs to me is not a legit comparison, no question there are people that spend as much, or more but you also have the "long tail" of people that can get out on the water on an extremely modest budget. You can buy a used small sailing dinghy or jon boat or canoe for only a few hundred dollars and keep it in you back yard. The upkeep and operating cost is almost zero. There is just no equivalent to that in aviation.

Posted by: B Noel | October 1, 2010 9:58 AM    Report this comment

The comment that people just like to sit inside today to me is not legit either. Some do. After talking to a lot of people I know though, 20-30 range, you find out they don't even own cable.

The unfortunate reality is for people that like doing stuff, there's lots of stuff to do. Besides aviation I have a motorcycle and a sailboat. And I like snowboarding. And I play recreational sports. That's a whole lot of stuff competing for your time. And I could buy my the dream m/c, I'm lusting after, brand new, plus my dream boat, brand new, plus the best snowboard gear, brand new, and have plenty of change left over relative to the cost of buying the 40 y/o airplane I have. I love flying and don't see giving it up but it's hard to avoid there's a lot activities where the $/fun is a lot more favorable. And pile on top of that the brutal reg bs/fun ratio in aviation

Posted by: B Noel | October 1, 2010 10:07 AM    Report this comment

To: B Noel

You need to try Soaring! The $s is much less, and the fun much greater than power flying. That creates a double plus to increase the $ / fun ratio.

Posted by: Mike Schumann | October 1, 2010 10:15 AM    Report this comment

Kent, you asked about cheaper engines. You didn't get a reply because there probably isn't one.

However...Pratt and Whitney did this with the 615 series for the Mustang and Eclipse. When I toured P&W in 2005, the assembly line for the 615--a mockup then--was about 150 feet long, compared to lines five or six times as long snaking through the plant for the previous generation models. The parts count in that engine is a significant fraction lower as are the assembly steps required to build it.

Why did they do this? Because Pratt's customers told them they wanted a less expensive, simpler engine. The customers didn't care as much about fuel economy. So that's what Pratt did.

And you know how they did it because you're an engineer. They did it by incorporating ever improving and ever more efficient CAD/CAM/CNC technology, which gets cheaper on a parts-built basis with every generation. And as it usually does, Pratt hit its numbers pretty close, in terms of cost, fuel efficiency and schedule.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to building airplanes.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 1, 2010 10:36 AM    Report this comment

In Eclipse's case, their build-cost and ramp-up numbers were low by some larger factor, they bit off far more than they could chew in terms of system integration and avionics but, so the speculation goes, the largest factor was overall mismanagement.

But that didn't happen at Cessna. The Mustang costs more or less what Cessna said it would, performs as they promised and met its timelines. One reason for that is that the Mustang wasn't Cessna's first rodeo. It knew that a cheap(er) engine would decrease the cost incremental, but that it wasn't going to result in a phase shift, the oft-quoted disruptive technology.

And they were right. Eclipse was going to show the world, but Cessna inherited it and still owns it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 1, 2010 10:41 AM    Report this comment

If you apply this paradigm to piston engines, it doesn't work as well. Both Lycoming and Continental have invested to the extent they're able in CAD/CAM or at least CNC. At Continental, for instance, they're using some single-unit machining stations to build a range of parts from crankcases to smaller items.

But it's unclear to me that given their volumes and margins and that they're in sunset markets that larger investment in automation will pay out. It might. But I have a hard time seeing it.

For the emerging diesel market, it's even worse. They are a long way from volume that will reduce unit prices and the engines are quite a bit more expensive to build. They may get there, but it won't be in this decade, I'll wager.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 1, 2010 10:45 AM    Report this comment

Kent, I think it is great that you are so involved with the Young eagles program. Hopefully that will have an impact in the future but right now, student starts are way down from where they were 30 years ago. As GA, we are failing to convert that enthusiasm into actual student starts where the person actually follows through and gets their license. There is a disconnect and I am not sure how to fix it. Money and competition from other less expensive and family friendly activities is a big part. I appreciate the persons in this discussion who have been willing to make the sacrifices needed to keep flying but by definition, we are all preaching to the choir. Most people are not willing to do that either because avaiation is not that big a priority for them, they feel that they want to pay for their kids college education and those types of expenditures are the priority for them, or maybe their other family members do not see why they should make financial sacrifices so one person can blow the family's entire "fun budget" on their flying hobby. The numbers do not lie. GA is rapidly dwindling and with fewer folks flying, the deterioration of the industry as a whole will hit the tipping point and that will be it. Is there any way to stop it from happening? It is all the people who are not (and will never be) part of this discussion that I am concerned about. We need them to see aviation as the wonderful hobby we all see it as and to make it work for them financially.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | October 1, 2010 10:53 AM    Report this comment

Thanks Paul, great comments. I am excited to see what the production version of the new Honda/GE turbine is going to look like. It could be a market-changer as were the small P&WC and Williams jets a decade or two ago. May still be a pipe dream, but it seems to me there is merit in trying again to modify a cheap, massively-produced auto engine into a reliable aircraft engine. Lots of folks have tried, and continue today. Just as Intel and Garmin spread the cost for new electronics over a huge consumer market, it would be great to see this happen for engines, too. I need to go down the street to HondaJet and see if I can find an advocate. Maybe my buddy there who is building a Harmon Rocket, who knows...

Posted by: Kent Misegades | October 1, 2010 10:59 AM    Report this comment

A seasoned mechanic in our maintenance hangar rather accurately gauges ones financial qualification for owning an aircraft: If you aren't liquid enough to replace the engine(s) on your aircraft at ANY given time, you can't afford the cost of ownership.

Posted by: Larry Anglisano | October 1, 2010 11:06 AM    Report this comment

Mike I actually did get my glider license and yes it's a blast no question. Cost was higher per hr then power though, plus for me was a 1+ drive to the local airport. I wound up moving shortly after I got my license and haven't soared since, would like to though!

I'm also lucky enough to get to fly a chippy and stearman semi-regularly and that's so much fun you sort of wonder how it's legal.

So not all doom and gloom, just saying unfortunately the glider club is a full day commitment, only on weekends, the stearman/chippy is a half day at least, only on weekends, to get to the good stuff sailing or riding is a full weekend day etc etc.

It's not necessarily lazyiness that it's hard to get people out, there really is a ton of stuff to do today.

A lot of the regulatory pain you hear about more than witness but still when I go flying I'm more worried about not having paper in order, busting some obscure far or tfr or whatever then the actual real risks.

Posted by: B Noel | October 1, 2010 11:14 AM    Report this comment

Here's four more (split across several postings) foundational factors that are putting the squeeze on GA, and they have major impacts on our future:

1) Several writers have correctly noted that pilot demographics are sliding precipitously. The average age of pilots and the total number of pilots is dropping like a rock. So even if planes were priced at 1975 multiples, would we have any pilots out there to fly them?

The answer is probably NOT because the difficulty of learning to fly compared to video games is overwhelming. Also, planes are mechanical beasts, especially the engines in certificated aircraft. (A lot of the engine designs are 50 years old now, at least)

But the mechanical demands of an airplane are part of the challenge of being a pilot and much to our detriment, young people don't get the exposure to mechanical experience that previous generations had. There just isn't the wrench-turning there used to be and that makes it difficult for the newer generations to adapt to aircraft. Or even cars, for that matter.

2) There is another aspect of demographics to consider: Most pilots give up flying by the time they've done five years of it. Those who stay with it are the home-builders, the racers, the aerobats, and the public-service types who volunteer for civic duty missions. To counter this level of turnover, flying has to draw significant numbers of students, which isn't happening.

Posted by: Rich Cunningham | October 1, 2010 11:53 AM    Report this comment

3) Commercial flights on discount carriers have erased the incentive of distance-related recreational flying.

$69 to fly from Northern California to Portland, Idaho, Utah, San Diego, or Phoenix just can't be beaten by anyone in GA including the LSA's. So, when I sit down at the dinner table to talk about flying to one of those places for the weekend in a 182, she not only brings up the $69 economics but I get the "I feel completely safe on a 737" discussion. How can you win that one?!!

4) The management of perceived risk is a widespread problem much to the detriment of GA.

Media and the Internet have developed the ability to make everyone else's tragedies YOUR tragedy by bringing you "up close and personal". This has led to a merging - and confusion - of the concept of what's POSSIBLE with what's PROBABLE, thus eliminating the enormous value of the fundamental risk management principles of judgment, training, experience, etc.

This manipulation and hype makes people afraid en masse, and wanting to avoid all risk at all times. This is why we have such a blizzard of warning labels on everything and the associated paranoia feeds on large swaths of people, especially ones that are traditionally risk-averse such a mothers and wives.

Thus, when "flying in one of those little planes that crash" is perceived in such a way that "little plane" and "crash" are synonymous, it makes GA a hard sell in a family's priorities.

Posted by: Rich Cunningham | October 1, 2010 11:54 AM    Report this comment

Also, as a nod to how everything is so much safer than it used to be, consider something I read in an article from the New York Times published 90 years ago today (October 1, 1920).

It cited a speech given by the editor of "Railway Age Magazine" who reflected on the accomplishment of the railroad industry that there had been a significant decline in railroad employee deaths from (get this!) 3,383 in 1910 to 2,781 in 1918, the last year of available statistics. And the number of passenger deaths declined also, from 421 in 1910 to 342 in 1918. The decline was attributed to the installation of "safety devices and training".

Could you even IMAGINE what that world was like in terms of risk?

Posted by: Rich Cunningham | October 1, 2010 11:55 AM    Report this comment

I like the "glider" proposal. That's what you're left with if your a defeated nation and there is no money.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 1, 2010 1:07 PM    Report this comment

posted by Kent Misegades on September 30, 2010 "the next Rotax, Vans, GE, Apple, etc." Other than Vans, where exactly do those other companies build their products? The truth is we do not build anything (much) in this country. As soon as somebody gets a bright idea, guess where it gets built. Anyway, this is getting off topic. The question is, what to do to get more people flying. It is almost like the idea to get more people into owning their own home.

Posted by: David Heberling | October 1, 2010 1:20 PM    Report this comment

David - us aerospace manufacturing is one of the most vibrant exporting businesses in the US, and has been for many years. It is a myth that manufacturing is in decline in the U.S. But it is a dynamic sector - old trees die and fall and many new ones fill in the gaps they leave. Here are just two articles: http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/CompanyFocus/the-myth-of-us-industrys-demise.aspx http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams050306.asp

Posted by: Kent Misegades | October 1, 2010 1:32 PM    Report this comment

B Noel: Long tail notwithstanding, in 2009, the number of new boats sold (for example) retailing between $25-$50K in the US was a tad over 150,000. 2007, a more normal year financially speaking, the number in the same price range as well over 200,000 new units. Aircraft are not a mass market item; I don't expect they'll ever sell in the same volume as say Bass Trackers. However, if GA does not sell into the mass market (with competitive pricing enabled by co-ownership) GA cannot stop its decline. Why? The size of available market, that is the number of people who can afford to be the sole owner of an aircraft, will continue to shrink.

We are in one heck of a vicious cycle. Cost go up, sales go down and pilot age increases dramatically. Lower production rates assure that costs will continue going up, which means sales go down and pilot age increases. Given that this cycle has continued pretty much unabated for three decades, we are now at the point where much of aviation sales and marketing is a race to sell one more plane to a pilot before he/she gets too old to fly.

That cycle can only be reversed by 1.) offering the market an affordable option via aircraft co-ownership and 2.) vigorously marketing that concept to the general public, particularly to younger folks with $25-$50K worth of discretionary purchasing power.

Posted by: David Kruger | October 1, 2010 2:53 PM    Report this comment

I need to buy apple juice concentrate. I pay $4.39 for the 'Made in USA' product. I won't buy any food made in China, can't trust it.

Private Equity Group loaded with tax savings buys into apple juice producers and ships off production to China. There some poor schlep gets paid a dollar/day, sleeps on a cot in a concrete bunker, washes up in a communal trough, and gets to see his/her family once or twice a year. Private Equity Group makes millions on their investment, plants in the USA are closed and Americans out of work; there goes your support for a local GA airport. The juice from China, however, is under two dollars. Now I get to choose which oil company I'll give that two dollars to, this being a free country and all. That's about what it costs me to bring home the groceries.

Darn right US aerospace, on the left it's called the Military-Industrial Complex, is doing well. We spend more on 'defense' than the next ten countries combined, a trillion dollars if we have it, and if we don't then we just borrow it from the cheap apple juice concentrate producers. They're flush. Nice to see tax cuts going into making the #2 Power in the world #1.

Fat Cats aren't going puttering around chasing $100, make that $150, hamburger. They hire pilots to jockey their jets or they Net-Jet. The pilots go to college, get in debt for $100,000, and get paid sometimes less than HALF what a union bus driver can make. Is it any wonder then that:

AVIATION HAS NO **** BLING ****

Posted by: Edward Michalowski | October 1, 2010 3:52 PM    Report this comment

Am I the only one left who remembers the Wonder Bread Blimp? In the early 50's I got to ride around Lima, Ohio in it. Ah those were the days. BTW, I hand carried a check to Cessna in 1973 for $595,000. in full payment for Citation 500 serial #0091. :-)

Posted by: Jim Hackman | October 1, 2010 10:42 PM    Report this comment

Nice one, Paul. Scanning all the posts (and there are soooo many) I get the impression that most posters are self-employed or employees (nothing wrong with that). My wife and I run 2 businesses, work 80 hours a week and have employees. What's the deal?

The guys and gals under 30 want a varied work and life experience -- a resume with 6 jobs in 10 years shows 'versatility' and feeds the desire to keep trying something new. No-one in that age group wants a 'job for life'. That's just the way it is.

Learning to fly requires a long term commitment of time and enthusiasm. Way long. Do you see the obvious? Gen X/Y/Z just don't 'get' flying for recreation.

Posted by: Larry Burrows | October 2, 2010 6:23 AM    Report this comment

There is a lot of macro economics contained in Paul's post but for most of us it's personal economics. Do you fly for fun or necessity? I used to fly a Mooney but now I fly for sport so I need a very low cost solution. I have found that aircraft that used to be called "fat ultralights" registered as experimental aircraft, are good solution. I can do my own maintenance and the aircraft can burn auto fuel. I can go up and fly around for a couple of hours and not feel guilty about blowing $300. A two hour flight costs me $30. Due to macro economic conditions I feel many in GA will be "trading down". These fat ultralights are a good solution. Now we just need to get the FAA on board but I'm not holding out much hope.

Posted by: Dana Nickerson | October 2, 2010 1:27 PM    Report this comment

You are cordially invited to see my StrongMobile Flying Car Project at http://www.strongware.com/dragon. You can view a 2-minute video of my full-size mockup model. Rich Strong (Major,USAF,Retired)

Posted by: Richard Strong | October 2, 2010 7:18 PM    Report this comment

Welp, you're both (all) right, but the fact is less and less of us are flying or interested in it.

I sat out under a palm tree at FXE this Saturday CAVU afternoon and watched a few flight operations, mostly jets. The Skyhawks, Skylanes, Mooneys, Cherokees, et. al. just aren't flying.

Don't tell me it's the cost. You'll spend an hour's worth of flying plus avgas in one evening in Red Lobster. Don't tell me is them plutocratic rich guys: if they weren't buying up the SR-22s and making heads turn, who would?

And give me a break with the cost ratio of today's aircraft vs household income. You can get an instrument rating for what it costs to do a bedroom in Bed Bath and Beyond. Flying just isn't covered in the Bill of Rights. You sacrifice something to fly. You don't want to sacrifice? Don't fly.

The exact same switch was thrown in my head when I spent $11 an hour to fly Luscombes on floats way back when, as when I fork over $119 for an hour in a 172SP.

If you don't cultivate a desire to aviate, there won't be a market.

Posted by: Richard Herbst | October 2, 2010 9:51 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I am done with this blog. Why won't the check box for Email me when new comments are posted in this thread? remain unchecked?

Posted by: David Heberling | October 2, 2010 10:51 PM    Report this comment

I'll see what I can do to fix it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 3, 2010 3:38 AM    Report this comment

What about clicking the "Unsubscribe from these updates" link in the notification email that it sends you?

Posted by: Chad Conrad | October 3, 2010 8:17 AM    Report this comment

Since nobody else mentioned this aspect, I will. One of my sons failed the vision test for USAF and I am over 80 with the usual health problems. Another son has vision problems. I wonder if the US population in general is becoming less medically qualified for pilot certification>

Posted by: Richard Strong | October 3, 2010 10:59 AM    Report this comment

US is generally plastered to its televisions, computer screens, etc. all of which are a rich source of ionizing UV radiation, although current generation LCDs are far cleaner than the last 30 years of CRTs. This absolutely damages retinal surface and irradiates lens bodies. Persistent short depth of field focusing (PCs at home, at work) contribute to lens muscle strain and nearsightedness. So short of DNA patterns in your family, we do, as a population, manhandle our eyes. Pilots get the most exercise switching quickly between 12-14" depth of field (instruments) and relaxed view of the horizon.

Posted by: Richard Herbst | October 3, 2010 11:39 AM    Report this comment

I began my professional aviation career in 1948, washing planes at Detroit City Airport for Michigan Flyers, an outfit geared to instructing G.I. Bill guys. My instructor was ex-B-24s. Since the military has experienced a big drawdown in aircrews, I wonder what effect this aspect has on the large graphic. Also, the interstate Highway System no doubt plays a part in the decline, along with liability litigation.

Posted by: Richard Strong | October 3, 2010 11:46 AM    Report this comment

The last time the media glorified anything aviation, a US Airways crew put an A320 down in the Hudson River. No one died so the networks made a hero out of the captain so they didn't have to waste the footage.

Other than that it's the occasional crash, a foiled hijack, some fruitcake removed from the cabin for causing a disturbance, and the usual mix of disasters plus how dare they charge for bags; why must I take off my shoes; that landing gear failure must mean flying is fundamentally unsafe...

Exactly what in aviation is the public treated to? Not crews flying combat missions over Afghanistan; not Boeing vs EU-subsidized Airbus; not anything that could inspire kids to look to the sky...

The steady decline of student pilot starts indicates that pilots aren't a national priority. An earlier post pointed out kids sign up for $100K in personal debt just to become a $29K first officer. No exaggeration.

Where's the support from behind? Air shows shutting down; airports get little or no support for public image. 600,000 US pilots get next to no recognition from industry because flying doesn't sell WiFi. Some of those 600,000 protect us around the world, some more carry us from city to city, some keep our police airborne and make emergency trips to hospitals. Where is the recognition?

What's missing is recognition, not cheaper planes or lower insurance rates. The media puts more effort into conservation of wildlife than conservation of pilots.

Posted by: Richard Herbst | October 3, 2010 3:23 PM    Report this comment

@David: Chad's right about the notification e-mails. You'll need to click the "Unsubscribe from these updates" link at the bottom of the notification e-mail to turn them off. The tickbox beside the comments is a one-way toggle switch: If you check it, you get the notifications, but if you don't check it, nothing happens. (Meaning that if you've checked in on a previous comment, you keep getting notifications.)

Having that box ticked by default can cause headaches if you're zipping through a comment and don't think to uncheck it, though. How about we try having that box unchecked by default for a while? You'll see the change on new blogs but not on existing ones (unless the authors come back and update them).

If anyone has any feedback or comments on the change, feel free to drop me a note here:
http://www.avweb.com/cgi-bin/udt/fdc.collector?client_id=avweb&form_id=maileditform&link_id=311

--
Scott Simmons
webmaster

Posted by: Scott Simmons | October 3, 2010 3:37 PM    Report this comment

If I accept the author's view and use my foresight, then I see a different group of pilots, one in which the cost of flying is offset by the costs of travel time. Check the logic at www.strongware.com/dragon

Posted by: Richard Strong | October 3, 2010 4:27 PM    Report this comment

In reference to Mr. Herbst's recognition idea, we need our own version of Ice Road Truckers - something accurate, dramatic, timely and consistent that plays each week, not on the audience sliver of PBS as The Aviators is, but on cable, where all the tubers go.

Posted by: Dave Miller | October 3, 2010 4:36 PM    Report this comment

I've never gotten bored with any $100 hamburger run...But maybe it's because I can only afford to do it once a month or so. I only fly in the best weather too.... to get my money's worth. Annuals that used to cost me $400 are now $2000. Could be inflation. I think all of us are missing the big reason for gen av. decline. It's regulations and the amount of training. The students can solo their new boat, or sports car, or classic car, or motorcycle without one lesson! Light sport would be the answer but just up the weight to include the old trainers like C-150/152 and PA-28-140. Who am I kidding.... now with no auto gas... I may as well join you whiners. We are screwed!

Posted by: lloyd moroughan | October 3, 2010 6:34 PM    Report this comment

Boyd: I'm not saying it is right, but also keep in mind none of the other 'high price' toys require a bi-annual physical or checkride and the owner can do their own maintenance without any government regulations dictating what they can and cannot do.

Posted by: Richard Norris | October 4, 2010 5:58 AM    Report this comment

Richard N. -Now, just imagine that you have a StrongMobile Flying Car, OK? Would you have any feelings about government regulation as regards what you can and cannot do and what you must and must not do, depending on whether the operations or parts of the vehicle are regulated?

Posted by: Richard Strong | October 4, 2010 7:53 AM    Report this comment

Larry Burrows said that Gen X/Y/Z jump jobs a lot, and don't understand how to have long-term commitment to anything (which is required in aviation). "No-one in that age group wants a 'job for life'."

That's not true. As a Gen-X'er I can say unequivocably that today's company "leadership" fosters this and most of those so-called leaders are Baby Boomers.

No one's committed to a company, because the companies aren't committed to us. The first opportunity to "out-source" or "downsize" is taken by every Baby Boomer manager I've ever had. Been there, done that, have the one-year without a job after a layoff t-shirt to prove it in 2002.

The 20-year-job with the gold pocketwatch at the end simply doesn't exist anymore. Lament the leadership decisions that lead to that, not the people doing the work. We watch the 10K's and we know how much these "leaders" rape their own companies cash-flow. At least some of us pay that much attention.

Gen X is stuck behind a wave of Baby Boomers who won't retire until we're well into our 60s and who'll be retained at every "downsizing" over us throughout our entire career. We know this.

Posted by: Nathan Duehr | October 4, 2010 6:23 PM    Report this comment

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