Spend enough time reading this site or any other aviation publication, and you’ll eventually get to the articles or comments sections stating how there just simply isn’t enough interest in general aviation for it to survive. The various threads I find can usually be boiled down to low interest, high cost, more rigid regulations, little understanding from the non-flying public and so forth. All these outside threats thrown together can make it quite difficult to look for any positives in flying personal aircraft. It can be perfectly understandable for a pilot to feel cornered and start to feel that his or her avocation is on life support.
That having been said, if we spend so much time writing and thinking about all the negatives in GA, it is quite difficult to think about the positive aspects that would actually entice a non-pilot to consider flying. Let’s face it: we’re not exactly shining examples of good aviation advertising. In fact, we can be frighteningly good at shooting ourselves in our collective, proverbial feet.
Think about it…someone who wants to get into aviation starts to do his research. It’s not too difficult to look up this website or those of any other aviation publication out there. They find some very informative articles and also look at the comments sections of these articles to find out what pilots are thinking. I can say from personal experience, that had I read some of these comments, I would wonder, why even bother? Clearly pilots are not having any fun themselves, so I might as well go do something else.
Instead, why don’t we ask ourselves what we can do to improve the flying experience?
Fly: I know this sounds almost too simple, but simple is oftentimes the best. Just fly, for whatever reason you feel like. Want to travel somewhere? Have at it! Feel like an expensive breakfast? Go find that great airport diner you love that’s 60 miles away. Have no destination whatsoever and just want to enjoy time aloft? Don’t need my permission.
Invite someone up: Is there someone you know who has always wanted to know about flying? What better way to introduce them than taking them up? I’ve taken plenty of family and friends up with me over the past five years of my flying life, and I’ve never regretted one flight. Even if they never consider learning to fly themselves, their being up with you helps demystify aviation and keeps that one more person firmly in GA’s camp.
One more thing: While the wheres and hows of taking someone up for a first flight could easily fill another article, it should go without saying that you should *NEVER!!* try to show off with what I’ll call “Watch this!” maneuvers. Simply being able to control a flying machine and offer a smooth ride is impressive enough.
Consider your audience: In my personal experience, at my age (31), I’m often the youngest one in the various pilot groups I belong to. It is an oft-repeated desire for more young people to get involved with aviation. So, how to do this?
The first thing is realize that they’re no longer riding up the airport on their bicycles. They’re getting involved by working at FBOs, practicing on computer flight simulators, and joining related organizations like the Civil Air Patrol. They’re watching flying videos on YouTube (I seriously can’t get enough of those), or making one themselves. The Aviation Good Old Days of the 60s and 70s have no bearing on them. It’s academic history; good to know, but has no direct impact on their flying lives.
Reconsider costs: Clearly, aviation is not a cheap avocation. It’s brought home every time we get our bills from the fueler, FBO or flying club. However, I’m here to tell you that committing aviation while living under a modest budget can be done. Going back to my previous point, because I grew up after the so-called heyday of aviation, I have never believed that flying wasn’t expensive. It was simply something I considered and budgeted for. I have yet to really “make it” in the world, so budgeting can get challenging, but I can still grab one of my flying club’s 150s or 172s and spend some time aloft without breaking the bank.
Also, considering your aircraft mission can go a long way to making flying as expensive or affordable as you’d like. If you’re used to flying a Mooney or Cirrus 40 miles to grab lunch once every other week, it might be time to reconsider the airplane you fly. There are still great and very airworthy airplanes available out there for less than $30,000. They may not have the latest and greatest in avionics and comforts, but that’s not why you really got into flying, right? Telling me how much cheaper and better it was “way back when” simply does nothing for me but smack of sour grapes.
Consider the context: We in the United States still have a remarkable amount of freedom when it comes to deciding where and when to fly. In my home state of Washington, I can look out the window, check the weather forecasts and decide on a whim to go burn some avgas. I do not have to file a flight plan, I do not need to tell someone exactly where and when I’m going (unless you’re IFR), and the only barriers to me are distance and gas (well, and the Pacific Ocean, but let’s not go crazy here). There’s plenty of room around and under the Seattle Class B airspace to maneuver, and I’ve never had anything less than courteous encounters with the tower, center or TRACON controllers in the region. There is still a phenomenal amount of empty airspace out there.
Also, the tools available to pilots nowadays are simply nothing short of amazing. From standalone traffic spotters and GPS moving maps to the amazing aviation apps available on our mobile devices, it’s possible to have cutting edge avionics for little more than cost of your phone and your app subscriptions.
Reconsider the “Good Old Days:” John Zimmerman made note of this. Many pilots seem to think that if we can just go back to how things were 40 years ago, we’ll be good. Time, unfortunately, does not work that way. There were circumstances that are not repeatable anymore and I invite you to read John’s column for the specifics, but suffice it to say, it is still possible to create your own personal “good old days” in the here and now. Every time I take my wonderful wife up, I am adding to those good old days that I’ll remember, when we both get older, and I don’t plan on stopping.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we not be concerned over what is going on in the greater world. Certainly, we as human beings have a talent and almost God-given right to complain about how things are (besides, how entertaining would family gatherings actually be, if someone couldn’t complain about something?). However, I hope I have at least pointed out that there is much to appreciate about general aviation. If we can occasionally focus on those positives, then we can entice more to our ranks.
Still don’t think aviation can be a positive? Consider this YouTube video, and tell me that I’m wrong: