Bad For Aviation One More Time


One of my favorite lines (of many) in the Vietnam-era film Full Metal Jacket is uttered when the colonel is jacking up Private Joker: “… inside every VC there is an American trying to get out. It’s a hardball world, son. We’ve gotta keep our heads until this peace craze blows over!” I’ve cleansed the racial slur used in the original, but you get the point.

It’s a deliciously cynical send up of the idea that Americans think everyone wants to be like us, yearning for Jeffersonian democracy and a three-bedroom rancher in the burbs. The utter ludicrousness of it is what makes the humor work. In general aviation—and I know you were wondering how I was gonna connect this—we suffer from a similar chauvinism.  

Why, we’re sure if we can just get people into airplanes for even a brief ride, they’ll lose themselves in the sheer wonder of flight and flock to the local flight schools in droves because inside every ordinary Harold Stooldrear is a pilot trying to get out. The assumption is just as absurd as the colonel’s pep speech because the reality is that piston GA exists in Joker’s duality: a slowly diminishing fleet of legacy airplanes opposite a small number of new aircraft few but the wealthy can afford. Year after year, to sustain themselves, manufacturers are mining an exceedingly thin vein of wealth whose sustainability is unknown. Oh, the wealth is growing, all right, but the industry’s efforts to divert it into new airplane sales have yielded survival, but not meaningful growth.

To be fair, the pilot population has grown and mostly since it hit rock bottom at around 584,000 in 2016. According to FAA data, the total pilot population was at 691,691 in 2020. But that’s largely on the strength of student pilots. Good, you might say, but the graduation rate hasn’t kept the private pilot total from reaching an all-time low of under 161,000 in 2020.  At least all those students have kept the decline from being steeper. Both commercial and ATP ratings are up slightly. Many of these are foreign students.

For new airplane sales, the gains come in the two digits and any sane person in the industry has long understood this isn’t a mass market. Whether it can be is debatable because builders of cars, boats, motorcycles, golf clubs, beer and breakfast cereals are facing similar headwinds puffed up by a generation that’s just not into this kind of stuff. On the other hand, an extra 500 airplanes a year would be robust growth.

Is there anything that might change this? From the pipe dream file, some imagine that an explosion in 3D additive manufacturing will drive airplane prices to a fraction of their current level. I don’t expect to see this, sorry to say. Your grandkids might, if Elon Musk hasn’t flown them all off to Mars.

There is one other thing: SVO. Huh? Simplified Vehicle Operation. I recently spent an afternoon with a friend who’s in management for a major airframer and almost at the same instant, we got around to asking each other about this idea. It hasn’t gotten a lot of coverage but deserves to because it represents the inevitable advance of cockpit automation that will require less traditional knowledge of flying—call that stick and rudder if you like—and more systems management and simplified operation and decision making.

This shouldn’t sound new. Pilots of technically advanced aircraft have been doing exactly this increasingly with each new generation of avionics. To the extent that this tilt toward automation has evolved training, it really hasn’t. The ACS adds the requirement to demonstrate knowledge of and competence with these systems, but fundamental training remains largely unchanged.

If SVO gains traction—and it inevitably will even if it’s not called that—what evolves into the ACS of the future won’t look like what we have now, unless we somehow manage to sabotage it. At a news program with NBAA last year, Garmin’s Dustin Kilgore said this: “SVO is really about applying technologies that can perform better and more reliably than pilots. We view SVO as a framework that allows automation and technology to either replace or reduce the pilot training required to safely and efficiently operate an aircraft.”

Drawing your attention to “replace or reduce … training,” that’s the fuzzy outlines of a road toward making flying far less complicated for the pilot than it is now. Yeah, it’s robotic flying. Traditionalists will howl, but traditionalists have run out of ideas to grow pilots and build more airplanes for them to fly. Eventually, there could be a specific rating for SVO, says GAMA’s Lowell Foster. “If you get an SVO license, there’s no expectation that you have to be proficient to fly a regular airplane,” he said at the NBAA event. Given the reactionary hidebounded nature of GA, it’s impossible to say how long such an evolution might require. It will take younger executives to drive it, I suspect.  If you graduated before 1990, you may not be relevant.

Speaking of relevancy, what got me thinking about this, in addition to the conversation with my friend, is a comment someone made on the video I did about hand propping. He mentioned that he had flown Cubs where I did, too, at College Park, Maryland. He said he never could make friends with the J-3; just couldn’t figure it out. And he thought that was bad for aviation. I concede the point. Old airplanes, and especially the J-3, force you to conform to their oddities and inadequacies and around this we sometimes erect the artifice that this makes them good training airplanes. They have character and personality.

Maybe. But probably not. If I were doing a Young Eagle flight to introduce a kid to the wonder of lift and had the choice of a modern LSA with a little glass in the panel or a Cub, I’d take the former. It has more to do with the future said kid is likely to encounter than a crotchety ragwing designed when Franklin Roosevelt was president.  Say what you will about a Cub teaching the use of rudder, in the aircraft of the future, this skill will be a creaky anachronism and well it should be. We’re at the point of asking will the kid on a first flight be more smitten by the smell of stale dope, hot oil and a 95 dB noise level or the glimpse into the future that a modern panel represents? It’s not necessarily either or because there will always be a place for the charm of old airplanes. They will always coexist peacefully with what’s coming. But they won’t be the thing that propels the growth we all seem to want.

As the Pogue Colonel said, we’ve got to get with the program and take it in for the big win. (Eventually.)

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  1. Interesting article, Paul. It pretty well sums up the current status of aviation and where it is going in the future. Modern kids are as used to flashy electronics as my generation was to spinning wrenches and fiddling with carburetors. Their eyes glaze over looking at twitchy round gauge needles that seem to have a mind of their own. They neither grasp what those dials are trying to say, nor do they really care. Now show them a big-screen flat panel with synthetic vision and it at least gets their attention. They still may not grasp what all the numbers are telling them, but it at least speaks their language. In the past year, Garmin has shown us that the future is very near with their new auto land system and their glide distance indicator on the GTN series navigators. The step from auto land to total auto flight is a fairly small one that involves more interfacing with ATC than building the hardware needed to accomplish the mission. At that point, pilots become true button pushers. While that may rankle the old guard it is coming and it is the future. If Tesla can make a functional car autopilot, building autoflight is a piece of cake by comparison. From there, the major hurdle is, as always, building an aircraft people can actually afford. As you say, general aviation has never been a high-volume, mass production kind of business.

  2. The “growth” of the student pilot population in the last 10 years is driven only by a change of FAA recording as stated in Note 1.

    Note 1: In July 2010, the FAA issued a rule that increased the duration of validity for student pilot certificates for pilots under the age of 40 from 36 to 60 months. This resulted in the increase in active student pilots to 119,119 from 72,280 at the end of 2009. Starting with April 2016, there is no expiration date on the new student pilot certificates, which generates a cumulative increase in the numbers.

    The student “growth” you mentioned is in fact the student dropout rate. It is increasing (especially among female student pilots). Meanwhile, the level of annual student starts (table 22) is decreasing – from 66,953 in 2006 to 55,298 in 2011 to 49,933 in 2020.

    Pilot candidates who go through the trouble of getting a medical certificate (the only students recorded by the FAA) know about the cost of learning to fly. That is not the deterrent. As an flight instructor, I have found that the deterrent is two folds: unexpected complexity (flight environment + new avionics) and uncontrollable training timeline. This does need to be addressed if we are to grow the Private aviation sector.

    I do not know if Eagle Flights are an effective recruitment too but, as the founder of the current movement to introduce women and girls to aviation opportunities, hands-on, I do know that Fly It Forward flights for women and girls are. Many young – and not so young – women who received one are Commercial pilots today. Others were inspired to become aircraft mechanics, traffic controllers, etc… Those who did not join the industry still became friends of the industry. That’s a win in my world and worth the investment.

    • Let me cut this bread another way: People change. Just as some churches who never have members who drop out – having 750 people on the membership rolls and only 65 in worship using an empty building that represents the highest unrealized dreams of people long past. The FAA method of not culling the student numbers will lead to poor data and one wonders what lead to that sort of justifying your existence logic.

      The future isn’t hopeless, but it is not the past. We were lucky to be in the golden age of Skyking, astronauts and Cessna pushing 150s out the door like crazy for the same price as a Corvette. But the old is passing and aviation is back to the 1930s as a wealthy pursuit and a most of the people looking through the chain link fences and security cams. Just compare FLYING magazine from the 1960s to now.

  3. I am a relatively low hour private pilot that flies as a hobby, so I am not nearly as qualified as many others that comment here. However, I always found the cerebral aspects of flying (communicating on the radio, weather decisions, the initial hours of memorizing rules and regulations) far more of a challenge than the actual stick and rudder aspects.

    Granted, uttering “Say again” on the radio won’t result in the same kind of physical damage as forgetting to maintain airspeed on final. But I question if there are really that many people that don’t have the brain power to learn the basics of flight control, yet do have the brain power to exercise the judgement and other skills of a pilot in command.

    • Gregory, You’ve hit the nail on the head. The youth on this planet are bombarded by the “world is coming to an apocalyptic end”….. ‘soon’. Politicians, News Broadcast, Movies, Social Media, Video Games, Advertising, Books, The Education Industry and everywhere else you turn your head. Our youth feel the future is hopeless.

      If the apocalypse is coming why should anybody study hard and better themselves?

  4. I’m not buying into this hypothesis.

    Light Sport was gonna revolutionize aviation, simplify training and bring the acquisition cost down to reality (sub $100K) … where did that take us? The move to instrument panels filled with flat screen avionics was going to simplify manufacturing ergo reduce costs and lure millenials to them … where did that go? The move to limited ASTM standards was going to simplify things; what meaningful success did that have and where is MOSAIC? Cirrus was going to be the answer yet all they did was become the airplane du jour for the very well heeled. Mooney’s were gonna wow prospects with efficiency of speed and where did that get them? So now someone wants me to believe that SVO airplanes flown with an iPhone are going to do it. It’s just another bump in the road for GA unless and until mere every day mortals can afford to buy a decent entry level airplane that isn’t 50+ years old. The success of E-AB airplanes — built in numbers greater than certificated airplanes proves it. In the end, it’s all about acquisition costs. Sure, there are a bevy of other irritants and obstacles in the equation but the MAJOR factor is cost.

    A SVO airplane isn’t going to make them any cheaper. The trial lawyers and the intransigent FAA will see to that. Your own statement, “Oh, the wealth is growing, all right, but the industry’s efforts to divert it into new airplane sales have yielded survival, but not meaningful growth” hits the problem on the head but evades the root problem … acquisition cost. When is the last time anyone here knew any individual who went out and bought a new airplane? Flight school puppy mills are buying some but not individuals. Bring the cost of a new Cessna 172 down near the cost of an E-AB RV-7 and ‘they’ will come. Until then, all everyone is doing is throwing golf balls against a wall hoping that one of them will stick. The VFR Piper 100 comes close but they are still a bit high and — as I understand it — aren’t available to individuals in meaningful numbers.

    Let’s just see what happens when Van’s reveals his RV-15. I’m betting they’ll have to hire still more employees to fill the clamor for them.

    I have a friend who is buying and selling used clean Cessna 182’s like hotcakes for between $100K – $150K, sometimes less. THERE is your problem. Pilots and pilot wannabe’s ARE there, they want airplanes but just can’t afford it so they take their discretionary dollars elsewhere or buy nice used airplanes. Every time I tell someone I own a M model Skyhawk, they ask if I want to sell it. THERE’s your problem.

  5. I love your pieces Paul and you are correct in everything written here but you somehow lost sight of the elephant in the room…

    In N years time (choose your own value for N but the outcome will be the same) gasoline cars will cease to exist. The gas station will cease to exist. Gasoline will no longer be a mass market fuel, but rather a speciality chemical with a price to match. The current debate about 100LL vs unleaded will be rendered completely academic. The entire fleet of current gas powered GA aircraft will become totally uneconomical. And for the few who can afford it, how ill it look to be the running the last gas burning machines in existence. Even heritage flying will look increasingly difficult.

    Maybe there will be SVOs, electric air-taxis, hybrid commuter aircraft etc. Perhaps the hydrogen fuel cell will hold sway. But all this machinery will be new and expensive. GA as we know it now relies to a huge extent on the capital cost of the equipment having been depreciated years if not decades ago. The cost of all those Cubs, Luscombes, Bonanzas, Cessna 17-somethings, PA-28-xyz and all the others built between 1946 and the turn of the decade have long been written down. The cost of replacement with new metal or composites is simply beyond the majority of recreational flyers.

    The elephant tells me that recreational flying is past its zenith and the only way now is down. As my doctor so kindly told me, after forty, it’s just managed decline. So too, it inevitably is for General Aviation.

    • I don’t believe that petrol-fueled cars will cease to exist anytime soon. I know plenty of people who own an electric car, but I don’t know anybody who ONLY owns electric cars. They either have one as a daily commuter, or they have one as a weekend toy. But they all seem to also have a gas-powered car or truck for the “fringe” uses that don’t suit the usage profile of an electric car (such as a family vacation road trip, or the odd home/garden construction project). Also, electric power is not well suited to commercial trucking and other heavy equipment.

  6. Paul,

    I’ve viewing SVO in the context of the FAA’s recent adjustment to the definition of the word ‘astronaut’. They made the word apply only to individuals who participate in the operation of the vehicle in some way. In other words, passengers aren’t astronauts. By the same token, passengers in busses and cars aren’t “drivers”. Passengers in planes aren’t pilots.

    How does one “drive” an autonomous car? You don’t. You’re a passenger. Which means that one does not pilot an automated flying machine either. You’re a passenger.

    Which makes my next question, “Does the world need pilots?” I’m not discounting that there is entertainment value in flying, whether it’s a little yellow taildragger or an F-15. Certainly I like it quite a bit in my 172. But that doesn’t mean that we will always need folks like you and me to keep the world moving forward.

  7. I still see young people who are bitten by the flying bug. They are sure not in the majority, but they never were.

    The last time I took a young man for a flight in my Nanchang I warned his father that he might love it. He did and his father told me he now eats, breaths, and sleeps flying. Excellent I replied, another life ruined !

  8. I was one of those kids whose life was ruined. Now I’m old. That, money, and complexity, oh and inconvenience, make personal aviation a shrinking niche. For most people it’s just not “special enough” anymore.

    • Everyone is an aviation fan, so there will continue to be demand for the products and experiences- whatever the venue, whatever the requirements, whatever the aircraft. Avoiding the political, we are clearly a diminishing income class that can afford aviation, but electronics have a steeply downward price curve, so as GA aircraft- in whatever format- transition to electric, the long-term prognosis of general aviation may be less tenuous.

  9. Having gotten my tailwheel endorsement about a year ago in a Cub, and now trying to become friends with a Cessna 140 (almost there, initial rotation to takeoff is still sending me into the weeds), I must say that the tricycle landing gear is a wonderful invention. Can you imagine how many fewer pilots we would have if this game-changing technology hadn’t been developed? Maybe in addition to SVO, manufacturers should concentrate on what I would call, “full envelope protection”. Allow the pilot to operate the plane but provide hard protection against stalls, over speed, spins, and the like. These protections could be disabled as a pilot becomes more proficient. Motorcycles have this now, where the rider can choose different profiles based on conditions and their level of expertise (BMW has a gizmo that prevents a rider from exceeding certain parameters until the bike is broken in and the rider is used to its handling). If this is an acceptable solution to what I consider a more dangerous activity (been riding motorcycles for decades), it should be acceptable flyers.

  10. I don’t care to encourage “occupants” to be in command of air vehicles, there’s more than enough of them on the road.

    If you have the passion to work hard and earn your place as a thinking, responsible, PIC, I will help you as much as I can and applaud your success no matter what airplane you fly. But if your only goal is to dabble, get some “Xtreme” video (of extremely stupid activities), or show how much money you have…please stay in your mother’s basement with your video games.

  11. I would like to know the average age of the pilot population today as compared to the average age 20 years ago. Any bets the avg age grew from 50 to 60 years old? Of the total pilot population, how many (what percent) are active today as compared to active pilots 20 years ago?

    Here is a scary stat. In the late 60’s there was roughly 1,000,000 pilots for 202,000,000 population. 1 out of 202 people were pilots. Today 700,000 pilots for 335,000,000 population. 1 out of 478 people are pilots today. 60% more people and 30% less pilots. The pilot population today should be at least double, or 1,658,000 based on percent of population. In the 60’s the vast majority of the pilots were active (and young). Many of the 700,000 today are not active and are older than 65. I am in that over 65 group that was part of the 1,000,000 pilots in the 60’s. A lot of us from the 60’s make up the 700,000 pilot population today.

    So what caused the pilot population decline. In a nutshell, and starting about 25 years ago, the airlines began eating their young. The airlines destroyed the farm teams. They hired every warm body with 250 hours and put them in the right seats of regional jets. As a results these young warm bodies didn’t become CFI’s and teach the next generation. Flight schools at almost all rural airports vanished. Flight training virtually came to a halt. After the Colgan Air accident February 2009 the new-hire flight-time rules changed forcing the warm bodies to get 1,500 hours before joining the airline ranks. Hence more flight schools and CFI’s today. Hence the increase in pilots today.

    Did you happen to notice that the airline accident rate went down when the mandatory retirement age was lifted from 60 to 65 years of age? I would suggest to the FAA that they raise the mandatory retirement age to 70 years before they lower the minimum amount of flight hours to warm a right seat (See Colgan Air accident 02/09/2009).

    God bless.

    • Jeff, I seem to fit in the same bracket as you, I too am from the ’60s. At the time that I hung up my headset for the last time in a 747, I was flying with a much younger crowd as that is the way of things. The sad part of that was the amount of aviation lore that was going out the door with folks like me and not being passed along. Sure, aviation lore is a broad menu item with a lot of hidden spam in it but most of it stems back to lessons learned the hard way. As I grew older I was more easily able to pick out the “spam” from the “sausage” in that omelet. The point is that even the spam was often worth a nibble because there was usually a kernel of fact mixed in there somewhere.
      Today’s pilots aren’t as exposed to issues that “we” faced for a variety of reasons. Mostly, improvements in technology, engineering and quality control, and communications has eliminated the need for a lot of the knowledge you and I learned the hard way. That is good. That said, technology (computers) and communications can fail regardless of what the engineers say. If they didn’t, then why is there a need for maintenance? So, what happens when parts of the gee whiz stuff fails… the pilot is left with his/her own knowledge base. If that “base” is skimpy then that pilot is left with whatever pot of “luck” he/she has. Consider the Atlas 767 crash in Texas a couple of years back… a “fully qualified” crew and a fully operational aircraft ended up in a figurative blacking smoking hole. Not saying that anyone couldn’t have ended up there but a more experienced crewmember at the yoke might have saved the day, possibly, maybe…

      • There is a pilot shortage evidenced by the “poaching” article in this version of Avweb.

        No two people are the same. One law doesn’t fit all and this is true of the age 65 law. To have this law is age discrimination. It is age discriminates against the pilot who is fit, willing, and able and wishes to put in more years. For those that want out at 60 or 65, God bless them. But for those that want to continue to work, let them.

        Airlines are money driven and rife with attorneys in top management. All they see is ten new “numbers” for the price of one old “number”. To an attorney (or accountant) they think all pilots are equally capable. It has been 12 years since the Colgan accident. How soon they forget.

  12. The population demographic most likely to have the time and money available to learn to fly are seniors, but most don’t reach that stage of life without some health issues. Seniors can use their assets to buy a $200K Class A Recreational Vehicle (Bus) and safely drive it at 70 mph 3’ from you on a highway, with their existing drivers license, but can’t even get a learners permit (Student License) without obtaining a Class 3 Medical, which has been conclusively proven to be of no safety of flight value and should be eliminated as a requirement to be a private pilot.

    Talk about impediments to sales, The RV industry sells millions of vehicles per year compared to less than 2K for piston GA. In 1970 I could buy a new plane for the cost of a Cadillac; today that same plane costs 10 x more than a Cadillac, thanks to FAA regulators and tort lawyers. Boeing, Airbus and the airlines hate GA; they want airspace to be theirs exclusively, eliminate the freedom to fly and force us into their clutches.

  13. From where I sit, the dwindling number of private pilots is due to General Aviation’s lack of utility per dollar. Anyone that’s looked at the cost to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’ knows that it’s cheaper (and usually faster) to go commercial, and arguably safer and more reliable. Exceptions exist, but they are rare. Including fixed costs of aircraft ownership and training skew the comparison further, and far beyond making any practical sense.

    Fewer private pilots exist today because fewer are willing to ignore this reality.

    • Absolutely true. You nailed it. Point A-B. Under 250 miles auto faster and more convenient. Over 400 mile (except for destinations without nearby commercial airport) take the airlines which are cheaper, safer and usually less delays than GA. Small niche for those of us concerned with cost.

      SFO-SEA R/t commercial maybe $169. Bay area – Seattle GA airport in a C182 $600+ just for avgas.

      Most of my flying now is local ($200 hamburger) or instrument practice.

      • It depends on where you live and where you’re going. In my area, almost any trip longer than 100 miles will be quicker to fly GA than to drive. Sometimes even trips as short as 30 miles straight-line distance will be quicker to fly (cars don’t float very well).

    • Cheaper, yes, but not always faster. With trips of around 100-400 miles, GA will almost always beat taking the airlines, even with a plane as modest as a 160hp Skyhawk. I used to regularly fly between CT and MD, and door-to-door (including preflight and postflight) was around 4 hours. Door-to-door by train was about 6 hours (and nearly the same cost as GA); about the same time with driving, but that could sometimes take even longer depending on traffic. Door-to-door via the airlines would have been around the same 4 hours as by GA, but with much more headache involved (not to mention being stuck to the airline’s schedule rather than my own).

      The problem isn’t time from A-to-B, nor even cost. The real problem is aircraft availability. I was able to make it work because I was in a flying club (and for a period of time also owned a 1/4 share of a plane). If you don’t have a nearby club with quality aircraft, and you can’t afford a plane (new or used), that pretty much eliminates the GA option.

  14. When this topic comes around I always have to think about what’s the motivation for people to fly. Usually, there are two responses 1) travel 2) the thrill of being in the air. There are a fair number of people who don’t have a pilot’s licenses who legally fly ultralights out of grass strips although the United States. These people fly for the thrill of flying, as I do. We don’t show up in any of these statistics. There are companies who have a one year backlog refurbishing Quicksilver aircraft that were manufactured in the ’80s and ’90s. The point is that there are ways to safely satisfy the thrill of flying for less than 10k.

    • Pilot, who needs a pilot? 😮

      Braggard Branson needed a dog in the cockpit of his extra-high-altitude jaunt, to bite the ‘pilots’ when they were slow to recognize an alert that they were headed into a flight path from which they would not land on a nice runway.

  15. Pilot, who needs a pilot? 😮

    Braggard Branson needed a dog in the cockpit of his extra-high-altitude jaunt, to bite the ‘pilots’ when they were slow to recognize an alert that they were headed into a flight path from which they would not land on a nice runway.

  16. You are right on the mark, Paul. The REME (romantic, elitist, macho, enthusiast) culture in GA keeps us in an inbred world that can never grow much. Less than one in 1000 in the US have a private pilot license. Of the other 999, quite a few of them want to avoid the airlines and would travel on short haul aircraft if they didn’t have to learn to fly. I agree that SVO could be revolutionary and very disruptive. Also, ordinary citizens surely don’t want the hassle of airplane ownership. If we have SVO, fleets of automated (carbon-neutral) vehicles operated by third parties (i.e. under a modified Part 135), and some other changes, we might preserve GA airports, keep the GA manufacturing and service infrastructure alive and provide cover for the continuation of flying by the legacy “REME” pilots. Far fetched? Don’t bet on it. ALL the legacy manufacturers are involved in the SVO effort. One last grenade: we need to advance the technology such that we don’t need conventional airmanship at all. Modified SVO-only pilot licenses are only an interim step. Carbon units beware!

  17. As pilots, there is a logical sense that if we’re on the decline, so to is the industry…what’s not really being talked about is all of the others involved in GA. The future designers/builders, owners/investors, maintainers, insurers, operations and other systems operators will have some huge opportunities – just not for pilots as we know it today. Having said that, it will be a lot easier for a large new segment of users (read paying customers) to realize the benefits of the amazing GA network we already have…existing airports are a no brainer for this new world. So to those that have airports close to scenic sights, holiday/vacation getaways or other destinations that are currently difficult to get to or offer large commute time savings, I’d be excited for the potential of new opportunities. It will come, just have to prove the reliability of the airborne vehicles, business models and convenience offered. I’m sure the old world sailors had similar discussions about the arrival of steam ships…!

  18. Paul,

    Brilliant article – and you’re 100% spot-on as far as I’m concerned. I’m “on the border” – someone who learned to fly in the “old model” but who (and partly because I’m in tech) fully agree with your premise and your prediction for how things will evolve.

    The best part of this is that you point out the opportunity for co-existence of the old & new aviation worlds, and I think that’s also spot-on.

    Thanks for taking the time to publish this now, as advancements in new forms of aviation seem to be taking off (literally) every day.

  19. Several comments: 1. The word in the video piece you wanted to delete, “gook,” generally meant to mean “asian,” comes from Korean “migook,” which means “foreigner.” About like “gaijin” in Japanese or “guelin/guailin” in Chinese. Foreigners are generally disrespected everywhere in Asia. 2. Pessimistic comments about the demise of petroleum fueled aviation are simplistic and unrealistic. Liquid fuels will always have a power to weight advantage over electric battery powered flight. It may well be that the liquid fuel substrate morphs into a hydrogen/oxygen powered system. When practical means of storing and using these as a source of power is developed, that may be the ultimate compromise between dirty fuels and impractical power-to-weight electric systems. 3. The FAA justifies its existence on making “regulations” that sometimes make sense, but often do not, only serving to justify FAA existence. There is some justification for First and Second Class medical certificates, specifically for carrying passengers for hire; not for anything else, including just receiving “compensation” for operating an aircraft. Worse, Third Class medicals have already become a joke, considering Basic Med AND the fact that you an fly a motor glider (an airplane with longer wings), 2 place, up to 1870 lbs MTOGW without ANY medical certificate, and under FAR Part 103, even a helicopter, with one hour fuel and empty wt under 254 lbs (with exclusions). That means the helicopter, MTOGW can reach 625 lbs… But don’t look for the FAA to change ANYTHING unless Congress (brainless as it may be) forces them to do something… like the recent change proposed to flight training and how the age-65-rule for airline pilots came to be…

  20. I’m not optimistic about SVO. Atlas Air 3591, Air France 447; two recent examples of airplanes crashed by inexperienced, ill-trained button-pushers! Automation is helpful but as soon as one sensor gives bad data, the automation gives up and then it’s on the pilot to save the day or ruin it.

  21. Great article Paul and, all, interesting comments. We all have our different stories & experiences, but I do agree with Paul that “… the reality is that piston GA exists in Joker’s duality”. Thinking about the cost/benefit (not just utility, but fun too), I sold my individually owned airplane and my shares in two other larger ones because I just didn’t think there was enough value. Sure, it was convenient to dash from SE PA to coastal NC, but doing that even four times a year wasn’t really worth the capital poured into the fixed overhead (hangars are terribly expensive around here; not to mention insurance etc.) for even just my airplane. Scheduling affected the utility of the other two. Instead, I am building an experimental (a lowly OneX) to putter around in for fun. I can even haul it on a trailer bookending flying season. The cost squeeze is real and affects aviation engagement.

  22. We have moved from a society that used to depend on a certain amount of problem solving to accomplish our goals. But we “progressed” from that…or so we think. We now have entered the age of the end user. Problems are only for those who are tasked with designing and integrating various technology as the all-encompassing and therefore inevitable solution. There is no need to immerse ourselves in anything. All we need to do is the heads down thumb’s search for the solution technology has already provided. It will be clearly displayed on our devices in seconds.

    Disclaimer: I make no pretense in knowing what came first, the technology, or the end user. And certainly, don’t condemn end users as someone beneath anyone else. At times, we are all end users.

    As end users, we want a fast solution to satisfy an immediate desire including solving problems. There is no need to immerse oneself into much of anything because technology instantly provides the solution. Vocational skills once needed as a part of the process of becoming expert in a chosen endeavor or in demand skill has been replaced with on demand answers through advanced technology and communications. Can’t get people immersed in process of becoming a pilot? Have technology bridge that “immersional” requirement with automation. Avionics are certainly leading that charge. One can clearly see that in current cars and trucks, too.

    Today, even the most basic car has sophisticated technology that will cover vehicle blind spots , backing into things, bumping into curbs, keeping the driver within the lanes, applying the brakes when the technology detects a myriad of potential conflicts including emergency stops. This common technology even warns the driver of fatigue to the point of displaying a cup of coffee on the dash and heads up display when the car senses erratic driving actions. Headlights come on automatically. High beam low beam use is also handled by the vehicle. Wipers turn on and off with no action required by the driver. Volume is speed controlled. Screens automatically brighten and dim according to ambient light. Navigation is provided including recommendations based on customer reviews of desired locations with amenities offered by other end user reviews. No need to push anything, simply speak it into existence upon command should button pushing be too tedious or distracting

    This constantly expanding host of technology takes hours to explain upon delivery. However, it only takes about 10 minutes for the average end user to get that glazed-over look while the salesperson is attempting the impossible to explain all these “features and benefits” in that 10 minute allowance. Glaze over takes place in all end users. Most are not interested in how it works, why it works, and the intentions of the technology that provides for all this insulation. All they want to know, is it there, what buttons do I push to see what they want personally to see for the moment, and do they have to do anything to engage it.

    This commonly used technology combines sonar, radar, laser, algorithms, and virtual reality to completely insulate the driver from any practical need to be…well, a driver. The vehicle is a far more capable driver than the average driver.

    If the vehicle malfunctions, OBD-2 will pinpoint the problem, identify the failure point including the part in many cases. Complete vehicle history including all fault codes is contained within the loosely called electronic control module(s). Yes, it still requires someone to get their hands dirty to replace the offending component with sophisticated tools and knowledge in the use of those tools to access the virtual inaccessible. However, auto makers are making more and more use of sealed components to eliminate as much as possible maintenance for the end user with the goal of maintenance techs to be simple parts changers. Try finding a transmission fluid dipstick on a late model car. Most transmissions are now sealed units.

    The average selling price for new cars with these end users required standard features is about $38,000 for the year 2020. 14 to 17 million new vehicles are sold every year. So, expectations of technological performance is high with little expectations of end user driver performance or participation.

    Commercial flying has become all weather with a 24/7 availability expectation of the end user. End user wants no additional participation in the process other than show up, climb aboard, sit down, be entertained during the journey, with a certain amount of minimal comfort…cheaply. Commercial flying is no longer for the well-heeled. Virtually anyone with a credit card and a smartphone has flown. Anything smaller than a 737 is a “little” airplane, the proverbial “puddle jumper”. Commercial aviation defines flying for the average citizen today. Anything smaller than an airliner is viewed with some suspicion, trepidation, relegated for those who are looking for an adrenaline rush. Aviation, especially general aviation, has never been embraced by the average citizen as something anyone can pursue. It has had a long stereotypical identification that has changed little since the Wrights switched from bicycles to designing and manufacturing airplanes

    For a while after WWII with all the benefits of the GI Bill, many military vets did sample aviation. But that interest in flying on average from anyone outside of the GI Bill of WWII has never really changed from the Wright brothers through today. We want to blame someone, something such as cost, or the FAA for why general aviation seems to gather a small percentage of the population’s interest.

    I believe it’s simply a matter of flying being a skill set that demands a comparatively enormous sacrifice of time, requiring thoughtful study, intentional preparation, overcoming unusual sensations, with the result that once the license to fly is granted the sport of flying will continually demand a similar investment to be reasonably safe. Airplanes have always been cramped, noisy, uncomfortable, hard to enter or exit, and involve a blend of science and mysticism to start the engine. Airplanes can never be manufactured to be as comfortable as the $38,000 average end user automobile. The physics of flight do not permit anything close to the comfort of ground bound transportation. Even the most expensive personal airplane has no where near the comfort of an average modern grocery getter. Just have the average person try to climb into the left seat of a new King Air let alone a 1000lb LSA. How about explaining the average SR-22 at close to a cool 1 mil doesn’t have air conditioning to an end user.

    The road to becoming a pilot and continually be a pilot seems to be unique yet predictable. There are a few people who live life beyond being an end user. Most of us pilots have for one reason, or another been infected with the flying bug. That bug was available and still is to the masses. The infection came from an interest in flying machines and flight itself. Many of us, if not most aviators got the same exposure as say, other family members. Yet, I am the only one of six siblings who is a pilot. I have never met a person who does not know what an airplane is. Why does an almost universal exposure result in such limited interest?

    For myself, the sensation of flying was terrifying at first, but the view of planet was breathtaking. Mentorship of others previously infected helped me learn to handle those sensations encouraging me to move forward. Never, did one of them say, anyone can do this. They did say, with a personal investment over time, anyone with that persevering, inquisitive attitude could become a pilot. I think this explains why so many student pilots only get so far and then realize the personal and continuous investment it takes to become and remain an active pilot. The reward is not worth the investment for most.

    We all have personal testimonies on what we did and are doing daily to maintain our active status as aviators. Aviators are a unique bunch of folks. We are not end users at heart. And flying is not an endeavor for end users, never has been, and never will be. Personal flying will never be for the masses. Never has been, never will be. But I am confident, as long as there is freedom, there will always be a steadfast number of general aviation aviators simply because we have been infected by a bug that if it needs to be explained, it will never be fully understood by others outside of the flying infection. But a comparatively few will keep GA alive and well for a long time. We fly because we like it. No need to explain, I love it also.

  23. Three decades ago we crossed oceans using Loran, VLF Omega and inertial navigators and communicated by scratchy HF radio. Those were adequate and appropriate technologies for the flight environment of the day. As both oceanic and domestic airspace became more crowded with smaller separation distances, the environment demanded flight management systems sensing triangulated signals from satellites and laser generated attitude referencing inertial navigation systems coupled with digital communications. Those technologies are appropriate for this day and age. Gone are the sometimes hard to acquire VLF Omega and Loran signals. HF radio is making its exit as primary communication. The changing flight environment has driven these changes.

    Gone also is what used to be a more relaxed regulatory atmosphere. Entering intersection holding patterns used to be one of the more difficult flying tasks for me. As intersection holds became easy, staying out of trouble in more crowded and complex airspace increasingly became the new highest pressure point, but that too has been made less difficult with automation and good graphics. Steam gage and stick and rudder at heart, even I found new task simplifying technology to be my friend at work and embraced it.

    At play, I have disconnected the only attitude instrument in my airplane because I don’t want to have to listen to the venturi tube powered gyro spinning down. Saturday morning breakfast flights and weekend fly ins sans high tech are still the most exhilarating flying. As long as this exhilaration remains discoverable, even nerdy 16 year olds will put down their high tech devices and find and embrace what is still the best of flying – eyes outside with feet and hands on the controls!

  24. In the late 1930’s – shipowner Gustav Erikson was buying up the last of the sail powered cargo ships and sending them around the world to carry non-time critical bulk cargos. Mainly coal, wheat and wool. New fangled and much more expensive steam ships were carrying time sensitive cargoes and could usually be relied on to get in port on time. The sailing ships were deprecated out, lying in harbors and could be stripped for spares to keep others going at little cost. He could man them cheaply with freshly minted officers who needed “time under sail” to get the better jobs in steam ships where the seamanship under sail experience was valued. There was a finite pool of these old ships – but Erikson knew they would see his days out before they dried up. WWII terminated the idea earlier than planned and the last of the sailing ships were scrapped.

    In the 2020’s – pleasure pilots are buying up the last of the “golden age” of personal flying aircraft. They generally use them on non-mission critical flights. Newer more expensive exotic material, glass cockpit aircraft are the preserve of the few or the wealthy who require reliable point to point flying without the disruptions of TSA security, airport delays and the aggravation of getting strapped in a bulk carrying tube of metal. The old GA aircraft are rotting in the tie downs, fully deprecated out and can be had for little money. Other aircraft can be stripped for spares. The instructors who teach in them work for a pittance to gain the 1,500 hours stick and rudder required to get better paid jobs in the modern fleet. There is a finite supply of these old aircraft and even if WWIII doesn’t intervene – the pool will dry up fairly soon and they will not be replaced.

  25. A great article and some rather poignant commentary to follow it up. My entry into the passion of aviation occurred when I was a child, but the realization did not happen till my mid 30’s (the mid 1990’s). Back then lessons were @ $60, renting a Tomahawk or C150 @ $50 when I lived in FL. Later moving to DE/PA I could still rent a 172 or Archer for $65 and I did the $100 hamburger runs or weekend trips to the Jersey Shore. I stepped from Flying after starting my IFR when I realized I would not be able to afford the amount of flying to be safely competent. I found my cost limit.

    What blew me away was when years later, now living in SC I looked at dusting off my PPL and flying again until I walked into a Flight Center. Rental was @ $100 for C172 WTF! I walked out, bummed.

    Not commented in either the article or commentary was a big elephant in the room, litigation and the impact on Insurance. Jim Holdman said that a GA plane cannot be made as comfortable as a modern car, and that is a given, but just from a material and complexity comparison, a GA airplane should be almost price comparitive, BUT, but for all the regulations that are mainly there for litigation purposes. There are many car crashes in this country, a number of them as driver error, but rare is it that families sue GM or Ford when Pops piles his Focus into a tree.

    In contrast, I read a story once about a man who had not flown his beechcraft for 10 years. One day he decides to take it for a spin, at some point the wing comes off and he crashes. The cause was a wing root that had been rotted to the point it could not handle too much load. Every single thing in this story screamed pilot error, yet the family sued beechcraft…and won.

    I am all for holding manufacturers accountable if they put profit over safety (looking at you Boeing), but if a pilot augers in because “something happened” that could not have been known or just a damn basic failure, people should have cart blanche to sue everyone that ever touched that plane.

    I don’t think this is fixable and cost will continue to shrink the set of new pilots for GA. Honestly, even the cost of becoming a commercial pilot is taking a toll since once one pay $100,000+ to get in the right seat of a jet, the next year the company folds and they still have to pay the piper. Eventually it will cheaper and easier to train flight managers to oversee the computers control of an aircraft with the limit ability to change flight plans/destinations, but not really fly.