AVmail: May 16, 2011
Letter of the Week: Apathy Is the Real Threat to GA
Regarding the "Question of the Week": I am a 56-year-old pilot but with only 14 years and 1,500 hours behind me. It may be my relatively recent introduction to aviation, or just my naiveté, [but] I truly believe the biggest threat to aviation can be summed up in one word, and that's apathy.
Think about what are the most powerful forces keeping general aviation alive: innovation, the passion of flight, camaraderie and the intellectual and physical challenge of piloting an airplane. It seems within minutes of landing my mind is considering how my next flight will be even better. I think about planning it [and] who I can have join me. I think about how I can plan my next dual session to improve my skills.
All of the options you listed as "threats" to GA are legitimate, but why aren't these simply annoyances? What makes them so ominous as to be a challenge to the very existence of GA?
To me, apathy is the most threatening, life-sucking enemy to the continued health of GA. It is what turns what should be approachable challenges like the 100LL transition [into] a potentially game-ending problem. The veritable silence caused by the lack of growth (and youth) in GA is truly the threat which I fear the most.
... And Cost
The big threat is lack of participation driven by the cost. The cost is such that very few can really participate unless they are backed by [a] company or have deep pockets. Even LSAs are expensive by most people's standards, especially when compared to a personal watercraft, an ATV, etc. when you do the cost/benefit comparison. For two hours of flight in your own LSA, you can have a full weekend of fun with a boat or ATV.
One way to begin to fix this is to make airports "destinations." But I still think cost will be the driving factor, regardless of the fuel.
... And Fear
Fear based on ignorance permeates the mindset of the general public when it comes to aviation — and general aviation (GA) in particular. To make things worse, it's viewed as elitist!
Unfortunately, the elitist view is correct. Only a very small percentage of the public has the desire, mental ability, physical qualities, perseverence and money to meet the rigorous demands of achieving a pilot's license. If we look at forms of recreation, flying and scuba diving are the only two pastimes that require more than just money. It's no coincidence that they're the only two that are completely unforgiving of mistakes (stupid or otherwise).
We wonder why we're always under attack on security, environmental and financial fronts. None of these attacks is based on fact but on public misperception. The mainstream media fuels this misperception because demographics sell advertising. The ultralight and light sport segments in Canada and the U.S. respectively will introduce a few more people to our pastime. However, this will not reduce the pressure on GA. Our only chance is to educate not only the public but [also] the lawmakers. The airlines should be our ally, as the next generation of jet pilots has to come from somewhere. The European model of strangling GA and training pilots from zero hours to right seat for the airlines has left hundreds of planes without pilots and has reduced the ranks of EU private pilots to the very wealthy. This has cost the EU billions in lost productivity.
Of the qualities I listed as needed to become a pilot, only two can be be affected: The flame of desire can be fanned, and the financial burden can be reduced. Mental and physical ability are inherent, and perseverence can only be inculcated as a trait by early teaching.
The desire to become a pilot was in the heart of every child from 1903 until the 1970s. It represented adventure, respect, a little danger, and travel. Deregulation of the airlines gave the public cheap holiday travel and led to the idea of the pilot as bus driver. Today's children don't want to become pilots; they want to become CEOs or stock brokers. At least they'll have enough money to fly.
If slick mainstream ads can sell cheap junk to the tune of billions of dollars annually to the public, why are we still advertising only in media directed at us? We are already pilots. Quit preaching to the choir. We need an ad blitz in the mainstream media that works.
Once we've increased the desire, we need to welcome these new acolytes with flight training that meets their needs. Why are 40-year-old $10,000 trainers with tattered interiors, ugly paint, and antique avionics renting for $100 an hour when $50,000 new cars can be rented for $50 a day? The whole training paradigm needs an overhaul. At most flight schools, the neophyte is treated as a cash cow, rather than the flight school's raison d'être. Flight schools must stop milking each student for hours. There's no reason a license can't be achieved in 45 hours.
Some will say there's so much more to learn today, with glass cockpit, and convoluted airspace. Horsepuckey! Glass is supposed to make it easier. If it hasn't, we've all been led down the garden path by the avionics manufacturers. Speaking of which, planned obsolescence seems to be prevalent in all aspects of our lives, and never more so than in outrageously overpriced avionics we're forced to buy. There's another barrier to building a thriving aviation community.
I'm very glad to be a pilot and aircraft owner. I couldn't run my business without my plane, and my plane defines my lifestyle. Nothing makes me happier than sharing my outlook with non-pilots, and nothing makes me angrier than the current state of affairs in GA.
... And Age
The biggest threat to GA is the aging pilot population. Without the younger generation filling out the ranks, GA will dry up and blow away. Go to any fly-in and look at the audience. I am almost 60, and I am one of the young ones!
... And Government
The biggest threat to GA and all of us in general is the unbridled growth of the federal, state, county and city government. People engaged in the rule and regulation industry are completely counter-productive to the sustainability of any country.
... And GA Itself
A lot of the blame for these problems can be laid at the feet of the industry itself. It's not like the issue of lead in fuel is something that just popped up yesterday. Lead has been gone from mogas for years. Environmental regulations have been becoming stricter for years, too.
The writing has been on the wall forever, and the industry has been sitting with its head in the sand while the world has been changing.
Similarly, you can't throw a rock without hitting a student that hasn't run into an FBO where they've been treated rudely or completely ignored when trying to get information about learning to fly.
So, yeah — 100LL is a threat to GA, but I'd say the biggest threat to GA is the industry itself.
California 100LL Suit
The California Center for Environmental Health (CEH) takes yet another shot at general aviation with the threat of lawsuit against aviation fuel suppliers and FBOs. I'm getting very tired of the anti-aviation sentiment in California. Not being a great letter writer, I went ahead and sent the following letter to the CEH through their web site "contact us" page and encourage others with better skills than I to follow suit:
Your organization has pledged to sue aviation fuel suppliers and FBOs at 25 airports for selling 100LL fuel. This action is highly irresponsible and will unnecessarily [tax] our legal system. It is incomprehensible that you take this attitude that will risk pilots' lives. Yes, that's right — by eliminating the availability of 100LL (if you should somehow be successful), there will be aircraft crashes due to fuel exhaustion that could have been avoided. It will make flight planning and dealing with unexpected weather and other issues much more difficult, subjecting far more citizens (both pilots and innocent bystanders on the ground) to death! Certainly this risk is far greater than the supposed health concerns you believe 100LL poses. Those pilots who plan their fuel correctly will carry more fuel from outside the state, thereby reducing tax revenue, increasing the fuel burn over California due to higher gross weights, [and] actually increasing the pollution which you claim is your reasoning for bringing suit. I highly encourage you to take these thoughts into consideration and to not unnecessarily risk others' lives or expend legal costs required to argue and defend such an absurd claim.
Still Going Strong
Regarding Dick Taylor's memoir: I've been flying for 52 years, and there are firefighting pilots senior to me. I congratulate Dick on sticking around but want him (and you) to know there are old bastards like me who are still flying commercially. I'm pretty darned blessed to continue, and I'll fly as long as I safely can.
Okay, Jetman is cool, but even jetpack pilots are supposed to be able to navigate. The Grand Canyon is in Arizona, not Nevada. The Hualapai Nation is in Arizona, not Nevada. The Jetman video is clearly shot in the Pearce Ferry Sector of the Grand Canyon SFAR — I've been flying there for 30 years — which is in Arizona, not Nevada. As a refresher, consider asking Jetman to read my article in SW Aviator magazine (old, but still valid).