5 min read

A non-pilot friend recently asked me, “What do pilots want for Christmas this year?”

Since he knows I work at Sporty’s, I think he was really looking for the hot aviation gadgets of 2013. And while that new Garmin GPS watch is pretty cool and ADS-B receivers are very popular, those aren’t the answers I gave him. As I thought about what would make pilots happy in the year ahead, some much bigger wishes came to mind. The more we talked, the more wishes I added to my list.

So in the hope that Mr. Claus is reading this (he is a pilot, right?), here is my list of Christmas presents I’d like to receive on behalf of the general aviation industry. Many of these may be long shots, but ’tis the season to dream big.

wish list

Making a list and checking it twice…

1. The FAA comes to its senses and eliminates the 3rd class medical. This has been a hot topic for years, but the FAA’s recent announcement of a draconian sleep apnea testing policy seems to have ignited a fire. Pilots have long known that the medical certificate doesn’t improve safety, but the latest proposal would change it from merely ineffective to dangerous “gotcha medicine.” It’s simply an idea whose time should never have come. But like the income tax, the third class medical is an example of a program that is impossible to kill once it gets created. Maybe in 2014 someone in Washington comes to their senses, acknowledges that this relic does nothing but add cost and scare away potential pilots, and kills it once and for all. AOPA and EAA have a plan to replace it–the FAA needs to be humble enough to accept an outside idea.

2. Shell’s “drop-in” 100 octane unleaded fuel catches on. The recent news that oil giant Shell has developed a 100 octane unleaded fuel blindsided most of the industry. For the past few years, we’ve all been adjusting to a future that does not involve 100LL. Whether the future is diesel, electric or something else, everyone agreed that a simple replacement would never exist. Those calculations seem to be out the window now, as Shell claims its fuel behaves remarkably like 100LL, but without the lead. They even think the price will be competitive. Here’s hoping this initial burst of good news holds up, and Shell can bring this fuel to market quickly and at a good price. It would remove the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over high performance airplanes, and just might spur some growth in general aviation.

3. The Part 23 certification overhaul makes a difference. After a lengthy industry effort to rewrite the rules for certifying light airplanes, Congress recently passed legislation that forces the FAA to act on these recommendations. The goal of the Small Airplane Revitalization Act is to make it faster and easier to certify new airplanes, which is prohibitively expensive right now. The end result should be lower costs and increased safety, since new safety technologies could be added to more airplanes more quickly. This is a noble effort, but similar attempts have died out in the past. My wish is that this effort is taken seriously by the FAA, gains legs in 2014 and starts to change the way airplanes are designed and built. There are vast trickle-down benefits from this if it really works.

4. Airports open up and start acting like businesses instead of prisons. I can’t imagine a vibrant future for general aviation that doesn’t have airports at the heart of it. Airports are the first point of contact for almost every aspiring pilot and they are the only point of contact for non-pilots in the wider community. We’re incredibly lucky in the US to have thousands of GA airports, but many seem to shout “go away.” No restaurant would ever succeed if it hid behind barbed wire fences and rusted signs; airports aren’t any different. Next year, let’s hope flight schools, flying clubs and FBOs all make an effort to open up and welcome the public. Sure, security rules can make it difficult, but even subtle things like a good sign by the road or an open door can make a difference.

5. Refurbished airplanes hit the market in force in 2014. While the Part 23 overhaul may pay dividends long term, a more immediate impact may be felt from the many remanufactured airplane projects that have either been announced or are shipping. Whether it’s a diesel-powered Cessna or an overhauled jet, these airplanes offer good performance and reliability, but at significantly lower prices than new airframes. Besides being a better value, many offer some truly innovative features, and are a great way to get new pilots buying airplanes. It feels like we may be at a tipping point with some of these projects, and I hope they catch on.

6. Congress makes someone answer for random pilot detentions. What started out as a few isolated incidents soon became front page news, as dozens of pilots started complaining about being stopped by local law enforcement or Customs officers for no reason other than “suspicious flight profiles.” Since then, AOPA and Congress have been pressing anyone and everyone for answers–and they’ve hit a brick wall. These warrantless stops are a disgrace, and Congress needs to keep the pressure on. Hopefully in 2014 these stops will cease, but at the very least, some security genius needs to explain their reasons for this massive overreach.

7. Pilots spread a little Christmas cheer all year round. Pilots are often considered to be part of a brotherhood: we help each other out when in need and we welcome new people in with open arms. That’s certainly true for a lot of pilots, but I’ve seen some depressing examples of the opposite lately. My hope is that we’ll carry the holiday spirit into the new year, going out of our way to stay positive, welcome new new pilots and encourage lapsed pilots to come back. Aviation is not a country club and it’s not our job to police who gets admitted.

By the time I was finished, my friend was sorry he had asked. But he did agree to go flying with me, so I’m already working on #7.

What would you add to my list?

John Zimmerman
12 replies
  1. Louis Sell
    Louis Sell says:

    Thank you for your list–a few comments.
    (1)–Shell was the leader back in the 1930s to high Octane Aviation Fuel. This allowed engine builders to rerate their engine horsepower and was a very real factor in us winning WW-II.
    (2)–Part 23 certification rules. May be revised but bureaucrats being bureaucrats will never be happy. Like all things in Washington, it will be “Toyed” with until it is just as bad as it is now.
    (3)–FAA and Customs bureaucrats. There will always be a few bad apples in the barrel. Let us not forget the Bob Hoover debacle!!!

  2. AirShowFan
    AirShowFan says:

    Great list! I like it! Indeed, I have found myself wishing many of these things.

    Here is what I would add. In a way, it’s an extension of your seventh item.

    Pilots with CFI ratings who have a steady non-CFI-related job could do some instructing on the side, at or below cost, basically (A) for fun and (B) to get more new people into flying.

    Flying with an instructor at a flight school costs a fortune. Some people can afford that (most pilots did) but most can’t. I have heard many stories from people who learned to fly from a relative or coworker or friend who is a CFI, charging them nothing (or, at most, the cost of fuel) to fly. I got my PPL the expensive way, but then I got my TW endorsement from a guy in my company who owns a Cessna 170 and who instructs in it for fun. Renting his Cessna cost me roughly half as much per hour as rending a 172 where I got my PPL.

    If more people did this “Good Guy CFI” thing, I bet the number of new pilots would increase significantly.

    In the future, when I am done with certain goals (finishing my graduate degree, writing a couple of books that I already have outlined and half-written, etc.) I plan on getting my CFI rating and instructing for fun, as a way to “pay it forward” to the General Aviation world. I don’t think I would do it for free (maybe for relatives and close friends), probably charge around $60/hr to cover fuel, one or two students at a time. Seems like the right thing to do.

  3. Peter Steitz
    Peter Steitz says:

    John, nice article. I am a retired airline Captain. I teach private, instrument and commercial at a university. How on earth are these young aviators going to get the new requirement to be a first officer at a regional airline? Because of Colgan at KBUF, Congress just slapped on the 1500 hour and ATP rule. What? How? The students ask me and I have no answer. What are your thoughts?

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Peter, I agree with you 100%. The 1500 hour rule is a farce, and obviously won’t do anything to improve safety. I think you’ll see one of three things: lots of pencil-whipped logbook time; lots of hours in 1962 Cessna 150s flying in circles; big aviation universities lobbying to get exemptions.

      I see us going the Asian route – airline training is going to be something you plan on from age 17. Very few will go the GA route of learning to fly, instructing, flying freight, etc. It’s all a career track through big academies.

      • Peter Steitz
        Peter Steitz says:

        I agree. Airlines will have to hire for a contract. Sign up and train for maybe 10 years. This is what the military did 50 years ago. It worked then and it can work now. The flying public will just have to pay for it. My students are in debt to about $25,000 for a job that pays less than that for maybe two years. This just won’t work. Look, at a part 121 company,you’re limited to 30 hours in 7 days, 100 hours a month and 1,000 a year. This means about two years flying the maximum to get the requirement. So who do fly for to even qualify?

  4. Steve
    Steve says:

    The costs of flying, rather renting aircraft is shy-rocketing.
    Now with the new Gamin G100 the costs of renting a 172 in $125-$150 hr.
    Even some of the owners of older C-172 are asking $135/hr with the
    standard cockpit instrumentation so unless you come from wealth I don’t see how GA will attract many new young pilots.

  5. Doyle Frost
    Doyle Frost says:

    John, thank you for such a realistic look at modern G.A. and the problems with it, but especially your wishes for the correction of those problems. Sorry to say, I don’t think we’ll see much improvement in the problem though. Right now, there are too many roadblocks, not the least is the red tape thinking in our nation’s capital.
    My personal biggest gripe is the local officials having absolutely no understanding of the real issue of the “jail type” airports.
    I wanted to check in with a friend on our local field, but couldn’t unless I had a “badged staff member” to escort me to his hangar. Those local politicos want nothing to do with General Aviation, only large commercial aviation. They have no idea of the risk they are running, especially as there is a small “hub” airport only fifteen nautical miles away, in an area with a much larger population base, and we are a non-hub, small, primary airport. (This was a closed USAF S.A.C. base.)
    Shoot. They don’t even want airshows here.

  6. Keith Perry
    Keith Perry says:

    The use of flight simulators will need to play an increasing role in training and for logging time it seems to me.

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