Aviation Summer Camp
Billy Wilder's incomparable Spirit of St. Louis hit the theatres in 1957, and seeing it was one of my earliest memories. There are a dozen memorable portraits in that film, but one that's stuck with me was the famous knothole scene in which Lindbergh, played by Jimmy Stewart, explains his course to Paris on a map tacked to the wall of the airport lunch counter. Lacking a depiction of Europe, Lindbergh uses a knot on the wall to show about where Paris would be. When his backers express doubts about the airplane making it, Lindbergh launches into an impassioned speech on why the flight has to be tried and re-tried until it's successful, in order to promote and prove the value of aviation.
And we've been doing that in the eight decades since, never more so than now, as we try to revitalize an industry that's bottomed out in a trough deeper than any of us have seen. To be practical and perhaps a little cynical about it, I have grown weary of the perennial argument that if we somehow sell the joys of aviation to the common man, we would attract participants in droves. Or that the industry itself makes one blunder after another, thus stunting growth at every turn. I just don't believe that anymore. The bottom line: The demographics, the lack of wealth, the politics and a blasé attitude toward airplanes are aligned against us. No amount of clever salesmanship is going to change that; there's no grand-slam promotional scheme that someone just has to figure out and implement to promote light aircraft GA. It's just not going to happen.
But there are little victories—onesies and twosies that keep things perking along. One of our local flight schools here is doing a modest promotion that I think is a good idea. A company called Cirrus Aviation is sponsoring what it calls Aviation Summer Camp. For $389, it includes 10 hours of ground instruction, three hours in a sim, books and materials and an hour of flight time. It's kind of a Young Eagles approach, but with a lot more substance and seriousness. Although Young Eagles is a good idea and I participate in it myself, its major flaw is that it isn't always addressed at likely prospects. Many of the kids are just too young to immediately follow up on any passion that might be ignited by an intro flight. It's an investment in the future that may very well wither because the fire dies before it can be stoked, if indeed it can be stoked at all.
Ed Barros at Cirrus Aviation told me the summer camp idea is similarly aimed at kids and although its focus is narrow and limited—Cirrus isn't promoting this idea widely—I wonder why it couldn't be pitched as a summer camp for adults. There are two things I like about this approach. First, it includes a much deeper intro to flying than just a single flight does and the price is not insubstantial. Pricing a high-value thing too low doesn't always make it sell more and can in fact make it sell less because the buyer equates value with price. At nearly $400, the summer camp idea is just enough money to represent a serious expenditure, thus it is more likely to attract self-qualified real prospects, not just tire kickers.
I don't know if this idea can be expanded and promoted in a way to attract people who are not only interested in flying but are in a position to pursue it. But as promotional schemes go, it strikes me as having more potential than most.