Yeah, Fear Of Crashes Keeps More People Out Of Aviation Than We Admit


When I interviewed Randy Schlitter of RANS aircraft last month, I knew going in that his factory is sort of a poster child for serial production automation. As he explained in the interview, computer numerical control equipment is getting more affordable with each new generation and now additive manufacturing—3D printing—is also making inroads.

But I had to call him back with another question. What I forgot to ask is this: As this machinery multiplies and with the addition of the changes we’ve reported on from the MOSAIC revisions, are we on the cusp of that thing we’ve all been waiting for, a plunge in prices that might ignite more sales volume?

Not really. What’s more likely is aircraft of modestly more sophistication and capabilities, but whose prices will increase more slowly than what we’ve become accustomed to. So no burst in volume?

“I don’t think so,” Randy told me. “What kills the price of airplanes is the standards. QC and conformity are the real cost drivers,” he adds. Every shop has a quality assurance manual, procedures and inspections evolved into a system that produces remarkably high quality. Yes, there are oversights, such as the problem Van’s ran into recently with cracked laser-cut parts. But on the whole, airplane quality out the door is probably higher than it has ever been. Randy thinks AI will inevitably creep into quality control and conformity, but it will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. “As soon as we develop AI, we can ultimately have more safe aircraft than we do now,” he adds.

“My hope, and it might be past my lifespan, is that we might see 3D products that will blow your mind. Additive manufacturing is going to take over. It’ll increase manufacturing speed, with everything printed, even the wires,” he says.

And Randy told me something I’ve heard before but remain obstinately insensitive to: perceived safety and the fear of accidents. As a pilot and flight instructor, I imagine I have dialed in an understanding of accident risk and to the extent I think about it all, it’s only in the context of reporting on accidents. I imagine non-aviation people are sophisticated enough to shrug off fatal accidents at airshows, like two at AirVenture last month on the same day. But they aren’t necessarily, as a family friend of ours wrote in this guest blog a few years ago. At AirVenture, we put our stuff right out there for the Biggest Airshow on Earth and accept that cramming that many airplanes into a small space will inevitably result in accidents. We accept the risk for the reward, ignoring that the general public whom we might wish to interest in this flying thing might not.

Randy thinks safety—or the worry about lack of it—depresses the attraction of aviation and causes potential new entrants to push pause. He ought to know. He’s selling more than 100 airplanes a year and he hears it every day. Market expansion won’t come with lower-cost airplanes built by robots. “It’s much more the perception of safety and risk than it is cost of the airplanes,” he says.

If this is true, the industry is entering a crossroads, or perhaps has been in it for years. Flying light aircraft probably can’t be made perceivably much safer than it is now in the short term. I question whether we can drive the actual accident rate much lower than it is now, even though the trend is flat to declining slightly. Yes, ballistic parachutes as used in the Cirrus help some and systems like Garmin’s incredible Autoland also move the ball forward, but by inches instead of yards. Training breakthroughs? Not much.  

Aircraft sticker prices half what they are now—a delusional dream, at best—probably wouldn’t change this. As long as we keep putting light aircraft crashes on the evening news—which seems to happen once a month—the aviation illiterate masses will have, as Randy Schlitter has observed, an understandable fear of flying in little airplanes.

Does that mean the kind of light rag and tube airplanes that RANS builds will be doomed by autonomous aircraft that fly at the push of a button? Maybe, maybe not. “They still make sailboats,” Randy says a friend of his likes to observe. “If they crack the nut on reliable vertical thrust, you’ll see taildraggers change to more of an intellectual sport, like sailing,” he says.

Vertical thrust is clearly evolving toward certified aircraft, although it’s a crap shoot if they’ll find a viable market. But that technology is unlikely to just fizzle and go away. It’s also sure to have a period of teething pains and inevitable crashes that the old guard will point to as evidence that the way we’re doing it now is the way we should do it forever.

If this sounds like the aviation version of get off my lawn, it’s probably because the shoe fits.

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  1. Actually, the fear of procecution rather than simply having an accident. Even simple accidents like a tire failure/ground loop accident will get you investigated and having to prove your innocence. Heck, with TFRs and ADS-B even a safe flight from A to B can land you in jail.

    The “risks” and exposures associated with you personally flying an airplane are just too high for most people wanting a recreational vehicle on some random Saturday afternoon.

    • I have never once considered the “fear of prosecution” as an impediment to my flying, nor have any of my pilot friends or family.

      While it’s true you’re not paranoid if folks really are out to get you, the converse is also true.

  2. Taildragger flying an “intellectual sport”? Randy Schlitter struck a chord with me on that one. I’ll claim the demographic even though I’m not an intellectual and the nut on reliable vertical thrust has yet to be cracked.

  3. Flying it too difficult, too time-consuming, to have mass appeal. I saw a video of Guy Ritchie, recently: he’s bought an airfield in the UK and is making improvements to it because he loves the atmosphere of small rural airports. He took flying lessons but said he realized that “keeping it up” would be too hard (he lives a mile from the field, so access isn’t an issue for him). He also commented that he’d spoken with Brad Pitt, who had got his license but had fallen out of currency and said that keeping it up was too hard. I have previously advised moderately wealthy colleagues, who wanted to learn to fly so they could “rent a plane and take the family skiing” that there was no earthly way they would have the time to develop and maintain the skills required to fly a turboprop in the kind of weather they’d encounter during ski season; the training costs alone would cover the cost of occasionally renting the plane with a professional pilot.

    It’s not just taildragger flying that’s an “intellectual sport”; it’s all of it. If we want more people involved in flying we need to make it:
    – easier to do
    – easier to stay current
    – quicker to get from a city center to a place you can take off from
    and yes, that means many of the skills we are so proud of, need to become obsolete, like using a sextant. Not all of them need to: sailors are still proud of their sailing, even as they use modern boats with GPS; and we can still hand-fly taildraggers and sailplanes and aerobats. But when we want to go places, it needs to be easy like driving a car. We’re far from that.

    It also needs to be safer.

    • Meanwhile, Thomas, in Portage, WI, they’re trying to close their airport (C47) and are voting on it tomorrow, Aug 24. They didn’t take AIP funds so they’re not obligated SO … it doesn’t look good for trying to convince the Mayor and Town Council to not do it. But I’ll try. They only announced this vote last week so … it appears the outcome is preordained. C47 is right next to I-39 (S of the Endeavor bridge OSH entry point) and is perfect for emergency services aviation but … it appears a shopping mall is more important (sic) to them.

      In my own flying … I’ve resigned myself to the fact that when the 80 year old IA gives it up, I’m done. Either that or I have to go get an IA which I have resisted because I’m retired and don’t want the hassle of keeping it up OR turning away friends who need an annual. I don’t want to start a business or want to buy liability insurance. That’s on top of all the other hurdles a pilot / airplane owner faces annually or biannually. When I climb into my airplane to enjoy an hour of looking down at Mother Earth, I know why I do it but … as soon as I land … reality sets in, sadly.

      I addressed Jack Pelton, et al, at Airventure on the problem of a shortage of A&P’s and IA’s and volunteered my help. I have some ideas. The FAR Part 23 Rewrite Appendix suggesting establishment of a new “Primary” category of airworthiness woulda helped immensely but — alas — didn’t go anywhere. All “we” got was NORSEE 🙁 It’s time that someone at FAA realizes that light GA airplanes flown recreationally should not be treated as a Part 121 B-747. Until that happens, we’re screwed! But — as you say — there are LOTS of impediments to drawing in more people to GA aviation.

      I wish that they’d make certificated airplanes flown as an LSA under (the new) MOSAIC eligible to use a condition inspection as an annual as long as the airplane is being flown under Part 91. I URGE everyone here to make that comment when they respond to the MOSAIC NPRM !!

      I have three family members who know I’ve never had an issue in 50+ years of aviating but still won’t fly. Paul / Randy are probably right?

      I claim my position as a member of “the OLD guard!” 🙂

      • You and I are on the same page, Larry. Maintaining your own airplane should not be the complicated morass it currently is. While a lot of pilots do not have the desire or ability to maintain their planes, many of us would love to legally do more of the maintenance and inspection work. Most mechanics schools are geared toward repair and maintenance of passenger jets, so enrolling to become an A&P takes far too much time learning things you will never need or want to know to care for your 172. To me, having a provisional A&P license to work on your own plane would be the solution, but with the FAA, that ain’t never going to happen. 🙁

        • I can do a condition inspection on a Swearingen SX300 filled with avionics that’d allow one to fly to the moon but I can’t do an annual on the 1939 E-2 Taylor Cub without electrical system that I saw at Airventure. Someting wong with THAT situation !!

          I took an EAA webinar last week on the VARMA situation given by an FAA type. Listening to the well-meaning FAA guy describe the situation within FAA was beyond ridiculous. Having to get a “note from mommy” to obtain, build or install a part for an out of production certificated airplane is nuts! As I see it, being an A&P means you have enough common sense to make a reasoned decision on such things UNLESS it’d be considered a major repair or alteration. Why do I need some FAA guy who — likely — doesn’t have as much experience as I do to make a decision like that?

          I once got into it with an FAA type who was trying to tell the audience in a very well known and large EAA Chapter that the first thing he looked for when inspecting was that the A&P had the current up to date data. I told him that was NOT true but he wouldn’t listen. I said I’d send him an email proving me right. THEN … you shoulda heard him tap dancing after I provided FAA lega info to him. FYI for everyone … by FAA LEGAL finding, ONLY the data that was in effect when an airplane was built is required unless amended by AD. Period. That is one of the very few advantages of owning a certificated airplane. Cessna, for example, can’t try to shove a C210 spar issue on owners UNLESS the FAA issues an AD. My point being the same. Putting up with all this crappus maximus is starting to get old.

          Those of us who put up with all of this should get a special place in heaven (or hell, as appropriate).

          • Actually the Taylor E-2 Cub was produced from June 15, 1931 through February 1936. Then C G. Taylor worker his way into the Taylor J-2 Cub and W.T. Piper was reaching for his wallet to buy the whole shebang.
            350 Taylor E-2 Cubs were produced in Bradford PA for $1325 originally and ending at $1575 a copy. Even on the heels of the depression, the ones eager and determined to fly, got their hands on one; through a flight school at $3 an hour wet with Instructor or from a financed purchase as their personal ship. It wasn’t the fear of smashing and crashing that deterred anyone from learning to fly but rather the cost, the money…
            And this was at a time when GA aircrash ratios were a helluva lot higher than today.
            Where there is a will, there will be a way.
            Fear of ” ADSB in/ out or upside down— or Class B airspace today” is not even a known consideration for any prospective newbie student pilot today. But money is —
            Hell, some youngin” eager to fly has no clue what ADSB is…
            But he or she sure knows the limits on their Visa or Master Card or Discover Card.
            Cost and money are the driving forces.
            Money is the reason my former barber bought himself a Piper Colt rag and tube in ‘ 67, as opposed to s Piper PA -28 -140…
            Money is why, my other friend , a fabric store owner, bought himself a used Piper Cherokee 160 in ‘ 69 as opposed to a Piper Cherokee 235…
            Money is why I bought myself s $2700 Ercoupe rag wing in ‘ 70 as opposed to an all metal Cessna 140 used. The later in acquired Aeronca Chief was then supplanted by a ‘ 59 Cessna 150 straight tail for $ 4200 in 1978.
            So instead of croaking in that bed, I think that I will flip the ole prop and plug in the Yaseu handheld and try to Aviate, Navigate and maybe successfully communicate…
            All it takes is …money…

  4. It is an interesting conundrum that people get all upset when one of those “dangerous” little airplanes crashes, but simply shrug when there were two or three fatal car accidents on the same day. Safety is a perceptual thing. Flying has always been presented at being for those daredevil types while driving evolved into an everyman’s activity. Even while driving exploded into the traffic jams of today’s crowded highways, cars have evolved into comfortable, quiet and luxurious machines that are approaching self-driving capability. So, while the roads are crowded, the activity of driving remains fairly simple and affordable. Lane-keeping, automatic braking, stability assistance and speed-matching cruise control combine with air bags, seat belts and reinforced passenger compartments to make cars and SUVs as safe as they have ever been. The rules of driving remain fairly simple. Meanwhile, flying has evolved into a complex web of airspace, all of which has different rules and restrictions. ATC, especially around major cities is disdainful, if not openly hostile toward small plane drivers. Most of us are still flying the same outmoded, noisy spam cans built before 1980, that have little or no safety equipment. Those fortunate few that can afford a new plane still have to have constant recurrent training and medical exams to stay proficient according to the FAA, arguably one of the world’s most inscrutable entities. When was the last time you had to take a driver’s test or get a medical exam to keep your driver’s license? Perception becomes reality. Flying is perceived as dangerous and way too complicated and expensive – nothing that your average twenty-something would consider as an attractive activity.

    • Replying to say I agree with much of your thought, but wanted to comment on this thought:

      “Meanwhile, flying has evolved into a complex web of airspace, all of which has different rules and restrictions. ATC, especially around major cities is disdainful, if not openly hostile toward small plane drivers.”

      I flew out of Chester PA and Wilmington DE and many times I had to deal with either Philly ATC, Atlantic City and on rare moments Baltimore and overall my experience was at the least positive. One time I got shoved around Baltimore, extending a trip, but that was because I cold not maintain my altitude on a 95 degree day and want lower and that would put me into big boy airspace.

      Thus my thought, the skies in this country have become more crowded with large, fast moving commercial airliners and the airlines want to try and shove more into the sky (if they had their way). just listening to NY ATC or any major city and think of the strain a controller already has trying to keep big, fast moving hunks of metal separated barely enough before some 1980’s spam can wanders in. it is like trying to cross a major highway on a tricycle with the road crowded with 18 wheelers.

      Going above or around is a small price and with flight following there is a extra comfort that someone else is helping you watch. Some complain of ADSB (govmt snooping?), but were I still flying I would love it. it is like AIS in sailing/boating where now you can at least see the big ass freighter before it clears the fog and runs you down and/or gives you a chance to avoid.

      Airspace is complicated, because flying has become complicated with vast differences between plane types and many more planes in the air. Still, one can still fly all over this country without needing to interact with ATC, it just takes good planning.

      • If you live in a city where the class B comes down to 3,000 over every airport within a 45 minute drive, there are several ways that might turn into the straw that gets you to quit:
        1. The discomfort caused by heat and turbulence.
        2. Fear of violation.
        3. The realization the FAA doesn’t really care about YOUR safety.
        4. The extra cost for car and plane use.
        5. The time waste and possibly the inability to take lessons except on weekends.
        6. Realizing driving saves time on many of your likely out of town trips.

        • With the drive to the airport and the preflight time required – especially on rental airplanes where you don’t know how it has been treated or left – and the planning time, usually by the time it’s quicker by small plane, it’s so far that it’s a trip you wouldn’t make often.

          Most passengers don’t want to be in a small plane longer than 2 hours or so. At 120 kt (typical for our ancient spam cans), that’s 240 nm on a good day (no winds), or 275 ground miles. But, add half an hour to get to the departure airport, half an hour in the rental car or taxi to get from the destination airport, half an hour to preflight (use a stopwatch, that’s actually pretty quick) and half an hour to secure the airplane at the destination and line up the rental car or taxi, and your total travel time is four hours. On the highway, averaging 60 mph (including short stops) 275 miles would take you 4 hours 35 minutes. So the plane would save you half an hour in good weather; the car will do the trip regardless of weather or time of day, in more comfort, with less noise, and with much less-stressed passengers (but, admittedly, much more-stressed driver), and much less training and expense.

          Small airplanes are an avocation, not a practical means of transportation. But so are sailboats – and there are plenty of those on the world’s marinas.

          • Yes, small planes are an avocation not transportation, today. That’s exactly my point.

            Maybe Paul can explain when that changed.

    • I have flown around and through the Class B airspaces of New York, Los Angeles and San Diego. I have found the controllers both curt and courteous, i.e., you need to be prepared and you need to know how you’re going to navigate the airspace, because they’re not going to have a long conversation, but almost all have been helpful and polite. I realize that when I call with a VFR request, I’m an unexpected arrival and there may not be capacity to handle my request – usually there is, occasionally there isn’t. I’ve been cleared direct through Class B in places where that was a very pleasant surprise. I’ve encountered only one controller I’d call “hostile” and honestly I assumed he would be equally hostile if I were under IFR and flying a Boeing Superjet 750007.

      • I too found them courteous and polite so long as I had no idea what was going on in much of their airspace. It’s not really polite to send someone into turbulence and out of glide range basically because you are being lazy.
        Being forced into IMC while still a VFR pilot got me to start paying attention to how some particular space is used. Moving my plane to the big reliever airport educated me on their procedures. Meeting a Tower controller socially in a non aviation setting led to some interesting revelations.
        Often those guys are following procedures and habits that simply treat piston planes like dirt. Only if you get a really illuminated guy or gal who is really on the ball do they even think of saving you the routine which they don’t realize was designed for the most busy circumstances.

    • Okay, I should amend my comments on controllers. Most of them are civil and professional, but definitely accustomed to dealing with ATP types and not weekend flyers. Most will work with you if you plead inexperience, but they make it plain that showing up during busy times is not appreciated. Some have been downright rude, but overall they are a good bunch. I definitely agree that it is a good idea to attend any “Meet The Controller” gatherings you can, especially if you live near Class B airspace. However, my comments on the complexity of the airspace system is more about military operations airspace than Class B. Flying in the south and southwest, you encounter huge chunks of airspace that are irregularly shaped, have all manner of altitude specifications and varying times of operation. Trying to determine when or if they are active is pretty much a crapshoot. I have been buzzed by jets in MOAs that were supposed to be inactive. I support our military as much as the next guy, but is it really necessary to have all that airspace sequestered? My wish list for a new and improved NOTAM system would be something that could flag when MOAs and restricted airspace are active that might even interface with programs like ForeFlight, et al. Yeah, I know, dream on!

  5. “The “risks” and exposures associated with you personally flying an airplane are just too high for most people wanting a recreational vehicle on some random Saturday afternoon.”

    I have to disagree with this premise. people who do not know how to fly but wish to learn have no clue what you mentioned as risks. TFRs, ADSB…those don’t stop someone from learning, but it does seem to piss off old farts that dream of flying like its the 1930s/40s in an ever crowded sky and landscape.

    When I chose to learn to fly I was a clean slate of knowledge so knowing what to do with a TFR, NOTAMS, airspace requirements et al was just part of the learning package. Given the number of flights per day in GA and the miniscule number of violations written/enforced makes me think the FAA has better things to do then harass GA pilots unless they do stupid things like take off without clearance, enter an uncontrolled airport with no radio calls or assume that faster means more important.

    I’ll somewhat disagree with Paul that it is not the “crash of the month” that may keep people away, keep in mind these same people get into a vehicle with a vastly higher death rate. Let’s also accept that flying is not for “the masses” in large part because the Cost of Entry is fairly high.

    When I was learning it cost me $55 an hour wet with FI and it took 63 hours and many many hours learning everything that goes into getting the plane in the air safely. After getting my PPL it was 60$-75$ to rent and for a middle income guy I had only so much disposable income per month and when I started into my IFR training I came to the realization that other then doing laps around the field in a rented plane, I could never afford to maintain safe currency IFR and doing one hour hops only goes so far.

    I’d bet there are many people who would love to learn to fly and be a pilot. however, people do not get into flying first and foremost because of cost. Training now is in the mid thousands just to get PPL, rentals for more than a go-kart with wings is upwards of $150 an hour and even buying a plane is pretty much a second mortgage. Flying is not for the middle/lower class and maybe even getting upper middle class to question.

    A sad prediction may be that within a decade or more, GA will barely exist and becoming a pilot will be mainly or only for commercial purposes. Those that could afford recreational flying will be the those with large disposable income. The average age for GA pilots is increasing which tells me less younger people are trying to become pilots or like me, having to make hard life decisions and letting a license lapse.

    If aviation manufacturers could make a plane priced at a value of a standard car and make it such that it is easy to fly…yeah, and pigs can fly.

    • “people who do not know how to fly but wish to learn have no clue what you mentioned as risks, TFRs, ADSB”

      Sure people know.
      They see it on local news stations every time there is a small plane incident and the last words on the news story are always “the FAA/NTSB are investigating”. Even local communities look up N Numbers when small planes fly too low (or too late at night for their liking) over their subdivisions. There are always news stories of people losing their expensive certificates because they were deemed to be too low or too close to, or near prohibited areas, or did some “security” breach.

      Easier on a Saturday to have a beer, ride 4-wheelers, even take a tumble now and again and not have to answer the the U.S.Federal Government for any of it. Sorry, but if you’re looking simply for Saturday recreation with friends, get a boat.

      • No way, Arthur. And your above comment about the fear of prosecution being a major factor? Absolutely not. Folks outside of aviation have no conception of this whatsoever when it comes to GA. The biggest factor is cost, 100%.

        • Aviation has ALWAYS been expensive!
          These days it’s security fences around most airports that do a good of a job at keeping people away as well as the fiery hoops that the FAA/DHS have created.

          The irony is that in the name of “public safety” we are keeping people away from aviation.

          • Nah. The irony is that you post this comment here while complaining in the comments on the WAI article about their efforts to get girls inside those same airport security fences.

          • Used to be fun to hang around KEMT and KCRQ. Today, it is fenced and they sho you away if you try to “airport bum around.”

        • To be fair, isn’t the amount of people who quit as students also a problem here? And, can’t people stay away having been dissuaded by the pilots they know not really promoting it?
          Do we need to quibble over how major any problem is? Signing up for any activity that will bring more federal oversight into someone’s life will discourage some people, and the worse it is the more people will stay away.
          The only people we should want to discourage are those that are actually a real danger to themselves and others. Instead, we often discourage many and make excuses for it.

          And here we are.

    • This old fart at 82 just returned with his Lake after 3 months of flying in Alaska. Five hours non stop Ketchikan to Bellingham. The skies are not ever more crowded. GA activity is a fraction of what it was in the 90’s when 15,000 aircraft were being built a year. Mankind prefers virtual reality because it is safer but everyone will still die, mostly in bed.

  6. Not sure I agree with Paul on this. The only people who have expressed concern about the risks of flying to me have no interest in aviation at all. One of the biggest “obstacles” to flying is that most people who get into flying are aviation enthusiasts, persons who love aviation. After all who in their right mind would get into flying knowing all of the things that are required to get into flying. And if someone is getting into flying to make a living at it, you better love the job, because there are many more things involved to stay employed. The airport owner/operator where I learned to fly told me the same thing. There is no comparison from flying to just about any other hobby that a person could spend their hard earned money on the weekend, as far as what it takes to stay current and/or legal.

  7. My personal experience is that new pilots usually got interested in GA because someone they knew was a pilot and had taken them flying, or there was some other connection to flying.

    In my case my father was a private pilot and took me flying as a kid. The result another life ruined by aviation 😊

    As recreational aviation declines and podunk airports have to have a supermax level of security I think there is a vicious circle as less exposure to GA means fewer people consider learning to fly which generates even fewer opportunities for connections. The decline of GA seems inexorable.

  8. In this industry we have such a narrow tunnel vision thinking the rest of the world shares our passion. We have such a bias that it’s outright ridiculous. I live the Icon A5 but they’re attempt at ‘normalizing’ flying as ‘anyone can do it’ is sad. Of course anyone with the means, time and dedication can do it. But the want is not there and it’s not universal. I know plenty of friends that love to fly with me but have no interest in pursuing it further. This is not for the masses, it’s for the 1% of crazies who absolutely became captivated by defying gravity. I for one have quit due to the fear of crashing which is exacerbated by the constant looking into GA accidents.

    • Did you first modify your limits by eliminating some activities such as instrument or night flying? Perhaps other changes might have occurred? Or was it less specific, and you just flew less until you quit?

      • Yes. Precisely. Then I got busy and my kids got bigger so now a 172 wasn’t enough and the 182 was too expensive. The upkeep to make sure I didn’t auger it in etc. just too many points of friction

  9. If fear of flying is the dampener, then everyone has gone timid because in 1985 the aviation manufacturers were selling 15,000 aircraft a year and now it is 1,000. Guess my generation was brave.

    • It was also possible during that time for a modest middle-income family to own an individual airplane and afford the tie-downs and regular maintenance.

      Yes, flying has always been expensive, but it’s undoubtedly getting more expensive relative to everything else.

      • I was in school and not in aviation at the time, so I get a lot of this stuff from reading, but it seems to me there’s a LOT that went on about that time.
        Ambulance chasing lawyers added to the cost causing an insurance “tax” at every level of the industry.
        Flight schools were losing income from aircraft sales as more of the sales were going to distributors who didn’t have schools.
        Deregulation reduced ticket prices for commercial flying.
        Aviation clubs were going away.
        GI Bill stopped paying for private.
        Car safety started improving drastically.
        Other things I’m likely forgetting along with things we may not think about that could have had an effect like more women in the workforce or disillusionment with space flight.

        I wonder if other activities saw changes.

  10. Not sure vertical thrust aircraft will change things much. I fly, occasionally, a small 300 gramme drone, able to take 4K video better than most smartphones. I have also crashed, occasionally said drone. Trees and posts do not get out the way.
    My drone can also be programmed to fly GPS programmed routes, and circle objects of interest and then fly back, but again it has got lost once or twice.
    I know the makers of the “air taxis” say they are better at software and control than €1,000 “boy toys” as my wife calls it, but it will only take a few horror stories for the small aircraft safety worries to stick to them.

  11. IMO, the best way to reinvigorate GA is by getting young people flying, when they are in their “invincible” phase. You know – when they think they can do anything – even things they might perceive as risky – because that’s just how young people think. But when they hear that it’s going to cost north of $5K to become a pilot – well, all the “want to” in the world isn’t going to cover that expense for any but a very small group who are passionate enough about it to pursue scholarships, etc.
    Then, once someone has reached a point in life where they can afford to fly, all those other factors – busy life, fear of risks, etc. – come into play, and the opportunity has been lost.
    Make flying affordable for young people, and maybe we could grow this “sport” – but I don’t see how that’s ever going to happen.

  12. Anyone that can use a spreadsheet can easily see what’s keeping people out of general aviation. For travelers going farther than their car can conveniently take them, taking an airline is faster, safer, more reliable, and MUCH less expensive. Conversely, going via general aviation allows schedule flexibility and the ability to avoid the hassles of large metro airports. That’s it for the utility of GA.

    Considering the cost, time and effort required to initially become a pilot, and the ongoing cost, time and effort to remain legal and proficient, it’s a no-brainer why GA isn’t more popular. Add to that the cost of the plane and it’s upkeep? The real question is why GA is as popular as it is.

    • For certain trip distances (around 2-3 hours flight time), flying via GA is faster than taking an airline after you factor in security, boarding, and baggage collection. This is especially the case if the airline-serving airport is some distance from your destination and there is a GA airport closer. And it may or may not be significantly cheaper to fly commercial, depending on if there is a deal on the particular city pair you are interested in.

      I used to make frequent trips between CT and MD, and have made the trip via car, train, and GA multiple times (never commercial airline though – it was never worth the hassle). Driving was definitely the cheapest (though not by a huge margin, after taking gas and tolls into account), but also the longest. Flying GA was definitely the quickest, and more convenient than taking the train. The train was within an hour of either side of driving (depending on traffic conditions, sometimes slower sometimes quicker), and about in between driving and flying in terms of cost (though under some conditions I could actually fly myself cheaper).

  13. If we want to improve safety, we as a flying community need to accept, no matter how painful,
    1. “The most dangerous part of aviation is the drive to the airport” is a lie. That wholly misrepresents the scale between automobile operations and GA operations. For the fatal accident rate in GA to equal that of modern cars, you’d have to have less than one fatality every 10 years or so.
    2. Using small GA aircraft as s means of transportation is handy, but not nearly as reliable as commercial flying ( which itself is subject to weather, mechanical and inviolable crew legalities). Accepting this would go a long way towards weather related accidents.
    3. There needs to be a hard limit on age for flying anything. This is the bitterest pill to swallow, but accident reports bear it out: older pilots are having far more accidents. The FAA is negligent if they don’t pick some number ( which will be termed “arbitrary”, which may to some extent be true) and limit the age a pilot can hold flying privileges.

    • I agree with 1 & 2, but not so sure about 3. I’d want to see some hard statistics about age vs likelihood of crashing.

      No doubt that every individual will eventually reach an age where flying is no longer a viable option for them (at least while acting as PIC), but there are pilots of every age who really shouldn’t be flying. But most of the older pilots I know of who have reached the cross-over age have recognized that and don’t fly as PIC, but do still fly and log PIC with another competent pilot up front. It would be a shame if they could no longer log PIC time (sole-manipulator of the controls) because they have “aged out” of having a valid pilot certificate.

    • I totally disagree with 3. I am 71, I believe a very young 71 when I compare my abilities to others in my age group. My neighbor continued to build planes and fly until he was 95. I flew with him on occasion and he was very sharp and precise in his flying. I think back to the crazy chances I took when I got my pilots license at 19 and well into my twenties and realize that age and experience has made me a much better pilot. People need to be treated as individuals, everyone’s internal clock is different. I hope to continue flying for many more years, but will not hesitate to ground myself when my cognitive or physical abilities deteriorate as noticed by myself, family or other pilots that fly with me.

      • I disagree with #3 as well. That’s why there is a flight review every 2 years. As a pt135 pilot I also have to pass a first class medical and a check ride every 6 months. Of course none of those pt91 requirements do any good if that pilot ignores them and flies anyway.

    • You were doing so well for a while there, until… “older pilots are having far more accidents.”

      This is like saying big towns are more dangerous than small towns because more people die in them. So what. The issue isn’t the number of accidents, it is the rate of accidents. Perhaps older pilots have more accidents simply because there are more older pilots flying and not because they are at greater risk of an accident?

      When you present accident rates stratified by age and controlled for hours of flight time and other potentially relevant factors (IFR, VFR, recreation, commercial, etc), then your opinions about age being a risk factor for accidents will have some validity. Until then, you are making comments that have more to do with your personal biases than the actual flight experience of older pilots.

      Needless to say, taking away the freedoms of others should be evidence-based and not anecdotal.

      • I suspect the rate is worse too. Let’s be honest, too many people drive and fly until mugged by reality. The lucky and wise often get the message sooner. The unfortunate and foolish pay high prices.
        Certainly, insurers think the rates are worse. That being said, a hard date is a terrible idea and I suspect the lack of an edit function here is why it’s still there. We need much less of that sort of collectivist, big brother bull$&*+. It’s destroying this country and our world.
        It’s also illogical. Cars may be safer for those within them, but they are many, many times more dangerous to bystanders. Go pass a hard date for driving first, then I’ll give you even more arguments for why a hard date is a bad idea.
        I suspect there are few doubts that I could fill pages.

        • Using driver’s license renewals comparisons with pilot license for age is not relevant. The requirement to renew driver’s license widely varies from state to state. My home state only has an vision test to renew and it is a joke. I know a friend of mine 90 year old dad who drove anyway with cataracts. I know of another state that makes you take the driver test every 4 years after a certain age. So yes a hard age requirement is worthless in driving, just as a hard age set for flying.

      • I’m an older pilot myself, so you’d think that would take care of any bias. But the proof is in the accident records. Check the ages on any random 10 fatal accidents.

        Age related deterioration in skills is just as hard to self-identify as fatigue. Both aren’t apparent until it’s too late to intervene.

        The FAA knows this is a delicate subject that will put them in hot water with many pilots, but it needs to be done. Yes it might cut my flying days a little but aviation’s reputation and the safety of those I fly with and over are more important in my opinion.

        • In my opinion more important is to treat people like individuals. The super high cost of a mistake in an airline situation justifies the hard date. If an individual is willing to get medical and performance checks at their own expense, then they’re not an undue risk to others. Much less risk in a plane than in a car.

  14. No one here will be surprised when I offer a slightly contrarian viewpoint. Yes, there are far cheaper and easier ways to shuffle off this mortal coil than general aviation. Every day I see some testosterone-fueled crotch-rocket flying down public roads on just its rear wheel, its rider’s helmet securely strapped to his knee. Do you really want that guy in your pattern?

    I like the fact that it takes some (often significant) amount of effort to get the ticket, then find, feed, house, and maintain an aircraft, and to keep the license to leave the ground in it. That’s one reason I’m not wild about the ease with which so many morons can acquire and launch remote-controlled airborne mines into the same airspace to which I have spent so much effort to gain access.

    Flying can be affordable, and far more practical than say, sailing or sports car racing, but I can no more afford a Cirrus than a Countach, so I aspire to neither. Thus, for the last thirty-some years, I’ve owned a C172 that’s old enough to draw social security.

    [At one point in my youth I seriously wanted one of Randy’s S-10 Sakota kits so I could do aerobatics, but I aged out of the need to yank-n-bank. So I built a Mosquito helicopter, which is a lot more fun, if significantly less useful than the 172.]

    So I say, be careful what you wish for. Sure, it would be nice to have the price-point of general aviation aircraft reflect a much larger market, but I’m afraid the cure would be worse than the disease. I see the “fear of crashing” as one of the best ways to keep the weak-minded (doing 80 in their SUV on the freeway) out of it.

    • You bring up a VERY salient point that I’ve never considered. The high price of entry probably does keep a lot of morons out of GA??

  15. Another great article by PB and good thread. I take a different view of ATC. Flying around class Bs frequently (ATL, CLT, CVG, etc) controllers have in every case been nothing but helpful to me in the trusty 206, including route suggestions and sugar calls when joining ILSs in the clouds. Expense of GA certainly keeps some people out, but that’s not a bad thing. I don’t want to see the Walmart/Kroger/Cigarette n’ Tat crowd in the local FBO. If you want to do annuals and work toward an IA, go get the LSRM – a 3 week FAA class that makes you an A&P/IA for LSA with the option to sit for the A&P exam. I did, it was awesome. As for safety, aviation is as safe as your safety practice in other parts of your life. Planes don’t place you at risk, you place yourself at risk. GA is a great way to avoid the masses, including commercial flights, and move efficiently between any two points in North America. Thanks to politicians, the light jet crowd and EMS small airports will remain available to all of us willing to do the work. Everyone else can go sit on an interstate.

  16. First, if Paul writes a book about ALL the thousand little cuts bleeding GA and perhaps discussed proposals to reverse or mitigate them, then I’ll quickly buy a copy.

    This is a great discussion, but I have one more nit that ought to be kept in mind. Business owners, in my experience, are terrible authorities on why customers don’t buy their products. The amount of times I’ve heard the most delusional things come out of otherwise intelligent, diligent, and successful businessmen on this subject matter leads me to believe that running an organization generally leads to receiving false information on the desires and needs of the customer, and especially the non-customer.
    My years in the military and in business to business sales and retirement have seen constant reinforcement of this phenomenon. The most recent, well known example is a statement from a maker of a wood finish made overly popular to hobbyists by YouTube influencers about how his finish is sold predominantly to and for professional furniture makers and isn’t for hobbyists and DIY’ers. He of course sells through thousands of distributors including Amazon and likely received zero actual evidence.
    In fairness, salespeople are similarly given bad information and need to be especially careful about what they actually know.

  17. I’ll cop to being one of the potential pilots who is concerned that GA is too dangerous. I took a run at getting my PPL in 2015 and ran out of money. In 2019, I ran out of time. Now I have the money, could find the time, but have also have two kiddos. My perceived risk is part of why I’ve put the dream on pause.

    I need to virtually eliminate the risk of dying in GA, and given the rest of my life constraints, I don’t think it’s the realistic for me to train and fly something that meets my minimums.

    What else? I live in the mountain west. It’s an hour to an airport, where I can keep a plane. I regularly drive 2-6 hours for business. I have a decent income and can even write off some of the expense. I *should* be the target demographic for GA. And yet…I don’t see it happening.

    I divide GA into “Cirrus,” “everything else certificated” and “experimental”

    Ciruss looks great. That’s the pond I would swim in. You can solve any problem you have with a Cirrus with enough money. It won’t be cheap, but parts, instruction, and annuals. You can get it done. Want to fly hard IFR with an instructor. Book it! Want sim time? Sure. My personal minimums would involve doing a lot of recurrent training in sims and attending COPA fly-ins. Figure a $50K year burn and $300K to 600K buy-in. That’s a lot of effing money for the utility. I’m not there yet.

    Everything else certificated holds no interest to me. The 1970s era 172 at my local flight school doesn’t even have an inertial reel harness. You get something at all exotic (like a Commander) and you’re signing up for scrounging parts and two CFIs in their 60s who are six states away that specialize in the type. Maybe a DA 40.

    Experimental is super interesting. But more of a lifestyle. To do it right, would be like getting a second job. Too bad, I’m married, employed and raising kids. I feel like with experimental GA you can only pick one of those three.

    I’m getting my pop corn. I’m expecting folks to pile on my love for the Cirrus. Tell me I’m wrong, can’t do math, or evaluate risk.

    • “I need to virtually eliminate the risk of dying in GA”

      Well, I guess that answers the question: yes, some people do let the news of GA crashes discourage them from GA.

  18. Mr. Bertorelli; I love your writing. It’s the only reason subscribe to this “publication.”

    BUT NO.

    People accept the risk of death everyday in the road. The average person doesn’t believe it will happen to them. Stupid yes, but that’s how people cope with things.
    People pay insane amounts of money for the silliest things. Our economic situation degrades and inflation continues to accelerate at such rates that it’s fairly obvious that the cost of anything is never more than a passing irritant until the wallet is actually empty – which takes a long time to happen in modern first world nations.

    My opinion is that flying is absolutely pointless. That’s why people aren’t interested.

    Sure it’s fun. Even a neophyte enjoys it. But much like my sister, it’s essentially good for nothing. The lack of airports and the nature of their locations, when added to the lack of transport on the other end make it impractical as a mode of transportation. It doesn’t achieve anything in and of itself. Having to go seek out somewhere to do it and that place being essentially a foreign world to the average person creates a hurdle that most folks aren’t afraid of, but just see no reason to cross. In a very real sense General Aviation just doesn’t have any appeal unless you’re a zealot like us. We don’t have anything to sell.

    My outlook is that soon the only “small” aircraft will be for training airline pilots. General aviation as we know is the Passenger Pigeon of our age. Sure a lot of folks will put up the good fight and it will hang on longer that it would have naturally, but it’s on the way out. Enjoy it while we can.

  19. Best Aviation Accident Quote:

    “Maverick: So you think I should quit?
    Viper: I didn’t say that. The simple fact is you feel responsible for Goose and you have a confidence problem. Now I’m not gonna sit here and blow sunshine up your ass, Lieutenant. A good pilot is compelled to always evaluate what’s happened, so he can apply what he’s learned.”

  20. The risks of flying were forcefully made clear to me some years ago. My CFII flew a Beech Baron into a mountaintop. And I had an appointment with him the following Thursday for an ICC. OK, Bob was a bit of a cowboy, and I’d never do that, right?

    Then my CFI – the guy with whom I did my Private – was killed when his Apache lost an engine. And the other engine didn’t have enough poop to fly the airplane. He died in the post crash fire. They had to identify him by his dental records. Robert was a careful and meticulous pilot… but he was a lousy mechanic. NTSB found water in the fuel.

    These were my instructors; the people who taught me to be safe. But they themselves were not safe.

  21. Fear Of Crashes Should Keep More People Out of Aviation and for a Very Good reason, until all pilots realize what they are up against. There is one reason that causes most plane accidents, that has not been fully realized before. I have found that 9 out of 10 small plane crashes are due to this. Small planes crash because they unknowingly fly into a vortex, either created by a weak tornado or a landspout. Yes, I said a landspout! Landspouts are created from any hot air source, such as an electrical power plant, an industrial plant, a forest-fire, or a volcano. In fact, it has long been said that a volcano could create a tornado. But these are not tornadoes they are vortexes (landspouts). And the sooner we understand how vortexes (landspouts) form the better and safer we will be. I have just authored a book on this subject titled: Science About How Tornadoes And Vortexes Form And How They Are Causing Planes To Crash (Including MH370)
    Ronald B. Hardwig, Professional Engineer

    • Wow ! You are close as tuey actually sucked up by an extraterrestial vacuum cleaner which spits them out on a galaxy 300 million light years away.
      Peter Goldstern
      B.Sc. Civil Engineering MIT
      M.Sc. Civil Engineering, U. of Wash.
      M.Sc. Management, MIT Sloan School of Management
      10,000T ASMELSES, Comm, A&P/IA

      • luckyfivetwo and goldsternnp,
        I would suggest that you both look at my research before you take exception to it. My book titled: Science About How Tornadoes And Vortexes Form And How They Are Causing Planes To Crash (Including MH370), the first few pages of which can even be read online for free on Amazon and purchased from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
        Ronald B. Hardwig, PE

  22. The light GA accident rate is only one-sixth what it was in 1960, but it’s been pretty flat the last 35-40 years. At the same time, the 24/7 news cycle, wide dissemination of information via the internet, and unrelenting search for sensational news have combined to make the least violent aircraft accidents hot items for the general public. Just look at the ultrasensational and rather misleading front-page article about ATC problems in the NY Times earlier this week predicting doom and gloom for airline passengers despite the fact it’s been 14 years since anybody was killed in an airline accident.

    Nevertheless, we in light GA continue to cause fatal accidents which result from being stupid. Whether it’s failing to maintain proficiency (often due to egos which refuse to partake of recurrent training) or refusing to accept when one’s mental/physical condition is no longer adequate to the task or cheapskating on maintenance, we keep doing things which attract public attention like a moth to a flame. This won’t change until we start policing ourselves, including accepting our own limitations and dropping the dime on pilots we know need to be grounded (temporarily for training or permanently for things they can’t fix).

    In the words of Walt Kelly more than half a century ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We have only ourselves to blame, and only a concerted effort by every single one of us can fix it.

  23. When you get away from the place we’re designed to be – i.e., from land, and into the water or air (never mind space…), you get expensive, and dangerous, and pain in the neck. That is, significantly more so than moving ourselves about on the hard surface (which of course has it’s own amount of each of those).

    Weather becomes a much more significant factor too (you know landspouts and so forth, lol). When the equipment fails you there, it can so quickly be life and death.

  24. Great fun flying for a living,can’t think of any other job i’d rather be doing.Then in the spare time,what else then polishing the Cessna or using it to go from point a to point b.

  25. As a general comment I would suggest that society has become much less competent at assessing risk. The 24 hour news cycle with a “if it bleeds it leads” sensationalism as the norm, has inculcated an unrealistically inflated sense of the risks of any activity.

    It also has caused risk to be seen as binary. That is all risks must be reduced to zero. This is simply unreasonable and drives some frankly silly decision making.

    Flying in the GA hay day of the 1970’s had a significantly higher accident rate than today but I think people were more sanguine about its risks and did not obsess about all the dangers of living your life.

    I do think Paul is on to a factor that is affecting GA today, but I still think fear is not the primary factor. A confluence of, cost, greatly increased easily accessed recreational opportunities, and the fact that being aviation just is not as cool as it once was; is the primary driver of the slow fade out of recreational GA.

  26. “t also has caused risk to be seen as binary. ” Precisely! VERY good point, David.

    The GA accident rate has gone down about as far as it can yet the FAA persists in pushing the stats even further down. They’re driving us all nutty with their overzealous preoccupation with same. I guess they haven’t heard that here’s a diminishing rate of returns as you approach a zero accident rate? The people who are pushing this need to be let go OR placed somewhere else within FAA to do something productive.

    • Problem there is that you now have a NTSB chairperson who has no aviation experience other than attempting to get her private pushing the FAA to do this. Her insistence of having pt91 pax carrying ops regulated like pt121 airlines is a perfect example of this.

  27. “They still make sailboats,” Randy says a friend of his likes to observe.

    Actually not; the sailboat market is completely moribund. Except for J-Boats and Catalina, all the American manufacturers have given up the ghost. I know this because I’ve been trying to buy a comfortable, stable, geriatric adult sized day-sailor since I bought a lakefront house 2 years ago. None to be had.

  28. I was at Grandfather mountain in North Carolina yesterday. There is a photo of John Harris of Kity Hawk Kites launching himself from the mountain in 1974 in a hang glider. What possessed him to do this and would anyone do it today? Hang gliding grew into ultralights and thousands of ultralights were manufactured and purchased in 1980s. People of that generation wanted to fly for the fun of flying and accepted the risk. Many went on to becoming GA pilots. Someone who was 20 years old in 1974 is now almost 70.

    What is usually missing from all these hand wringing conversations is that ultralights are available for fun flying. For me, flying out in the open uncaged, never gets old. I don’t know why. Flying in a GA “spam can” is not fun, it just gets me from point A to point B. It’s like riding a motorcycle. Very few ride a motorcycle for everyday transportation. Why do we do it then? It’s uncaged fun. The LSA rules killed training in “fat” ultralights and thus made ultralights higher risk. As with any endeavor, training results in fewer accidents and less risk.

    Flying ultralights is a communal sport and the comradery is very important to brining people to the sport. At a recent grass roots fly-in, my buddies and I went to a restaurant after a day of flying. At the restaurant the waitress asked what we were doing and we told her about the fly-in. She said, “oh, I wish I could do that”. And we said, “why not?”. Her answer was striking! She said, “because the government won’t allow me”. She had no clue that she can fly an ultralight for fun and that she could afford it on a waitress salary. And therein lies the problems aviation and the solution!

  29. My unscientific polling shows that people think flying is safer than driving and they’d love to fly themselves but can’t afford it. They’re half right.

  30. And I keep thinking that, nowadays, youth isn’t minimally interested in GA (period), and they don’t care at all of what is (in the times of my youth) the passion of that thing we call the freedom of flying. And the “powers” of the nation just “navigate” in the same “waves”.