Aviation Summer Camp

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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.

Comments (18)

It still takes PERSONAL passion in today's world. Aviation is only for a tiny fraction of people; people willing to make big sacrifices for unsure outcomes.

Whether buying a $15,000 Belanca in 1927 or a $297,000 Cessna in 2011, you still have to be some kind of insanely driven individual to want to get into(and stay in) flying.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 29, 2011 1:49 PM    Report this comment

With regard to Mr. Fraser's comment, I prefer NOT to think of myself as "insane" for being passionate about flying. Aviation is undeniably going through some tough times right now - suggestions such as Paul's are, at the very least, hopeful signs in the industry.

Google "Aviation Summer Camp" - there is (of course) alot of crap out there, but it seems as if there are programs which are genuine, serious, appropriate introductions for people young enough to dream...

Posted by: ANTHONY NASR | June 30, 2011 2:58 PM    Report this comment

I think Mark is using the term "insane" to mean very devoted. And as Mark and Paul both point out, the cost and commitment of not only learning to fly but also deriving some utility out of flying once the goal of getting a licese is completed is beyond teh means of all but a small demographic segment. As a starting point, flying will only be viable for those with substantial financial resources and those who have a burning passion and are willing to make large personal (and family) sacrifices in order to keep flying. The burning passion folks need no introduction to avaiation. They are already self-selected and motivated. As for the group of those who are in a position to easily afford to fly if they wanted, it is not clear that these types of "intros" and other events to try to ignite a latent interest will really work. Don't get me wrong, I thnk this Cirrus intro is a good idea but I doubt it will attract anyone that is not already motivated to take the first steps.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | July 1, 2011 11:40 AM    Report this comment

Being an owner/pilots is a lot like choosing to be a concert pianist; only a few people are willing to invest so much personal effort in such a complicated effort that must to be close to perfect on every "performance".

Posted by: Mark Fraser | July 1, 2011 9:39 PM    Report this comment

I don't think being active in aviation requires someone to have a deep passion flying. It all depends on what your expectations are and where you look. Renting, although somewhat pricey, is still cheaper than owning. For example, here in the Chicago area you can rent a Skyhawk at a typical flight school for $140/hr, a SportCruiser (Sport Pilot acft) for $95, or fly a sailplane for many hours at $20/tow (club glider is free). The had part is finding the motivation and drive to explore different facets of aviation. Many schools and programs don't have the budget or resources to promote their activities so they remain hidden treasures.

But I do agree that there needs to be more programs that bridge the gap between an intro flight or Young Eagles ride and full-blown flight training.

Posted by: Mariano Rosales | July 2, 2011 5:28 PM    Report this comment

How about old school parenting and mentoring? I have two daughters (age 6 and 9) and I am determined that both are going to be private pilots.

I regularly take them to local airports, air museums and airshows to give them a sense of belonging. I have charts on the wall of my home office and a flight simulator with yoke & pedals. I let them use kneeboards on long car trips because they're great for doodling & coloring.

They are both members of Girls With Wings & proudly wear their GWW T-shirts. I just bought a complete DVD boxed set of the old Sky King TV series. This old TV series highlights both the fun & utility of a pilot certificate. For now, I mostly emphasize the fun things they can do as pilots. (Plane camping seems to be highest on the list.)

But, I have a more distant motivation. Aviation is a great hands-on introduction into the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math). I want my daughters to be technically adept. I see GA as a unique way of repeatedly exposing them to STEM topics. With a consistently dropping number of US-born STEM graduates in the US, I also see this as giving my daughters a long term competitive advantage.

I see this as an investment in their future. Most parents I know see aviation as too dangerous or too expensive. Among my counterarguments, I emphasize the opportunities it will give my daughters over their lifetimes. Maybe that's what the GA community needs to emphasize as well.

Posted by: Tom Manger | July 4, 2011 9:23 AM    Report this comment

Hmmm. In a dozen years or so, I want my grandsons to meet Tom Manger's daughters. What a great way to obtain more pilots.

Posted by: Robert Pizzola | July 4, 2011 7:08 PM    Report this comment

Tom, what do you mean by "old school" parenting? It sounds like failure to convince your kids to become pilots will be some type of parenting failure. Good luck with that. While I certainly hope your daughters ultimately become pilots, I am not sure how "old school parenting" will help reverse the current trend away from GA. Best intentions aside, kids grow up and develop their own interests no matter what we as parents are "determined" that they should like. I have two boys who are now very sucessful students at top tier colleges. I am an active pilot and brought both of them up around aviation and while both certainly have a favorable impression of aviation and enjoy flying with me, neither has shown any interest in obtaining their licenses notwithstanding my hopeful prodding. While this surprised me, I realize that they are their own persons and have their own legitimate hobbies and interests and flying is simply not on the top of their list. My point is that even if you are a good parent, your ability to dictate whether your kids will be interested in aviation is limited. Don't get me wrong, I am all in favor of exposing kids to aviation but I cannot see the long-term benefit in forcing it beyond that. If it is just exposure to STEM, there are plenty of other ways of exposing kids that are a lot less expensive and safer than flying.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | July 5, 2011 8:41 AM    Report this comment

I'm tired of these "schemes" to get new people into Aviation. The reality is that middle-aged (and older) pilots cannot afford Aviation any more. Where is the logic of introducing kids into an activity that even their parents can no longer afford?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | July 5, 2011 10:24 AM    Report this comment

Mark, while I certainly agree with you that aviation has become difficult for all but an increasingly small demographic to afford, I actually think the only time in a person's life where they might be able to afford it is when they are young with none of the middle-aged responsibilities (saving for college, paying the mortgage, etc.). And this does not get at the issue of the time commitment. If I had to do it all over now, I am not sure I would have the time to invest in the learning process even if I am able to afford it. When I was a kid living at home, I could spend all my money on flying and I had the time to hit the books and fly every week. Not so easy now. I do think there is some value in getting started young. Having said that, it is a very relative statement since flying has become a very expensive activity out of the reach of most I am afraid - young and old - and no new scheme can change that. On that we agree.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | July 5, 2011 2:25 PM    Report this comment

Many worthwhile activities require a big influx of time and/or money. So you have to look at life's junctures to see when somebody might be able to take on aviation.
I agree with Ken -- one of the best junctures is "young adult with good job." You have to get to the prospect before s/he gets buried in house/car payments.
From overpriced wristwatches to fast cars, every other way of sucking up people's money is intensely marketed. Aviation... the prospective pilot has to be very internally motivated. There are no TV ads to affirm his/her motivation.
There are other life junctures worth targeting. Here's an example:
A friend of mine used to be very successful selling high-end bicycles to women. Being a good rider is a time commitment, and the money can be substantial. And I asked her: why do these womnen take on riding? Life changes: marriages, divorces, empty-nest time, new job, retirement, and so on. What's this mean for aviation? There might be a lot of prospective new pilots among the ranks of baby boomers who are undergoing these life changes.

Posted by: John Schubert | July 5, 2011 6:20 PM    Report this comment

"10 hours of ground instruction, three hours in a sim, books and materials and an hour of flight time"

I'll tell you this much, unless someone is already motivated to become a pilot, those ratios are all wrong. Now, a summer camp which included 5 hours of flight time, 5 hours of sim time, and 3 hours of ground instruction, and a lot of people could be hooked on flying. I presently have 25 hours of flight time, no sim time, and enough hours of ground to have passed my written, and I can assure you, it's not the book study that I get excited about and tell my friends about. I very much wanted to be a pilot before I started and I did enjoy the book work and learning what I need to know to be a good pilot, but at times it made my head hurt. I can't say I ever had a bad flight lesson, even when I was struggling to get landings down solid.

Posted by: Mark Consigny | July 6, 2011 7:06 PM    Report this comment

I see a parallel between the current decline in pilot numbers and the declining public school populations in the 70's when I got out of college looking for a teaching job. Like a pig through a python, I was part of the post war baby boom moving through the school system that never had enough teachers of classrooms. By the time I was looking for a job, the pig had passed through. After a decline, the school age population stabilized. While I agree that cost has a lot to do with it, I think we are ignoring the deaths and retirements from flying of those who flew during WWII and those who learned to fly on the GI bill after the war. There is nothing we can do about that demographic. Unfortunately, the current cost of flying will prevent the pilot population from stabilizing any time soon. The question is, what can we do to stabilize it at a high enough level for it to continue to be a viable activity? The camps can't hurt. There are now baseball, football, etc. camps for adults. The people who attend them don't expect to be able to play these sports at a professional level, but an aviation camp can lead to flying, even if not professionally.
I don't have access to a Young Eagles program, but I try to take kids flying whenever possible. One 8 year old girl really showed an interest. I passed the Girls With Wings website to her mother who told me it was a huge hit. She may not end up being a pilot, but I think that's a good way to get new ones.

Posted by: John Worsley | July 6, 2011 9:04 PM    Report this comment

There is so much regulation (FAA and EPA), costs (fuel, taxes, insurance, parts, etc) and lack of adventurous and pioneering spirit that are obstacles to general aviation these days. Desire has to overcome these obstacles. I just don't see it. Kids are so protected. They don't climb trees, jump off off walls with paper bags as parachutes, blow off fireworks, or anything considered dangerous. All activities my friends and I did as kids. Many people consider flying dangerous. Why would they encourage their children to take up flying? How about all the people who got into hang gliding and then ultralights just because they had a desire to fly and it was affordable? After the media showed a video of a inflight breakup of ultralight in the 80's the sport started to decline and has been declining ever since. After-all, ultralights are dangerous. We have become a society of risk adverse, government coddled people. Desire has to be greater than the obstacles. Fixing FAR part 103 would be a good start at removing obstacles. Make it practical and realistic.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | July 6, 2011 9:24 PM    Report this comment

Dana nailed it. Flying is just slightly less regulated than the nuclear power industry. Everything you do requires oversight (i.e. spending money) to remain current on pilot, aircraft, maps, databases, currency, etc.

"Desire has to be greater than the obstacles" is a beautifully succinct way to express why we have to PUSH people to generate enough desire to even consider the huge hassles of flying.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | July 7, 2011 7:57 AM    Report this comment

You'll get more pilots when fewer families, brother-in-laws, best friends, fathers, mothers and children aren't wiped out on a daily basis. This is of course the fault of regulators, right?

Posted by: ROBERT M SHERIDAN | August 25, 2011 6:50 AM    Report this comment

The summer camp should concentrate more on flying, less on class work. Classwork = boring, and you won't make more pilots by concentrating initially on the boring stuff.

And make the airplane a Cub or similar "low and slow" type to allow them to experience the joy of simple flight and great visibility. Focus more on the joy of flight than the idea of transportation. That can come later if the will and finances allow.

Posted by: Scott Thomason | August 25, 2011 7:41 AM    Report this comment

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: American Aviation in Brooksville, FL recently held an Aviation Summer Flight Camp for kids 10 - 17. If I may, it was a big success with parents asking for the next camp, MOREOVER, asking for an Adult Camp. I believe they plan to have an Adult camp soon.

The kids camp was STEM based and many students (campers), were from a STEM school in the area.

Well done American Aviation

Posted by: Chip Laskey | August 19, 2014 5:17 PM    Report this comment

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