Aviation’s doomsday preppers

Roughly 20% of Americans think the world will end in their lifetime. That seems awfully pessimistic, but these doomsday preppers have nothing on pilots. Based on a number of recent conversations and comments from readers here at Air Facts, a solid majority believe general aviation will end in their lifetimes. Not get weaker – cease to exist.

Doomsday prepper
It’s the end of the world as we know it…

It’s a truly depressing message, and there is no shortage of villains in this story. Multiple pilots have recently told me that “ADS-B is the end of GA as we know it.” Others say it’s high avgas prices. Professional curmudgeons know the real answer, though – it’s the TSA’s fault! (I’m not sure how Congress, global warming and solar flares get off scot-free.) Crucially, the critics see these developments as not mere inconveniences to be endured, but the deathblow for personal flying.

Now I don’t have any special affection for the TSA, and I would welcome $2 avgas as much as the next guy, but aren’t we getting carried away just a bit? Is it still possible to disagree with something, without viewing it as a conspiracy that was personally designed to screw us over?

Chicken Little America

In this one sense, at least, pilots are no different from the population at large, which has a long history of remaining paranoid and depressed in the face of statistics to the contrary. Polls consistently show that Americans feel far less safe today, even though we probably live in the safest period of time in the history of humanity. Life still may be nasty, brutish and short, but an objective observer would have to admit that it’s a lot less of all three.

Why do we exaggerate the negatives?

At the risk of offending a huge chunk of our readers, and recognizing that I am a young whippersnapper by aviation standards, I suspect a lot of this hand-wringing is a generational thing. Baby Boomers, who came of age during the 1970s general aviation boom, may have assumed those glory days would continue forever. But the future (heck, even the present) is much less appealing than the one they expected. I hear a lot of wistfulness in the “end of aviation” rants.

This Chicken Little attitude also represents, on a certain level, a refusal to engage with reality. Again, the parallels with politics are instructive: it’s hard to admit that your opponent is a thoughtful person who is supported by millions of people; it’s much easier to believe you’re the last person on Earth with the right answers and the other guy is evil. The truth is usually messier than that.

In aviation, the lazy reflex is to blame the FAA or “the lawyers” or other faceless organizations. But while there are plenty of bad guys out there, the reasons for general aviation’s malaise are much deeper than just bureaucrats. Cultures change, demographics change, and priorities change. Bowling and drive-in movies are a lot less popular than they used to be too – should we pin it on the TSA?

The new reality

I’m not suggesting we lie or pretend there aren’t major headwinds for pilots and aircraft owners. But there’s a difference between admitting times have changed and seeming to revel in it. A good first step is to consider the statistics in addition to the anecdotes. These show that there are as many private pilots today as there were in 1965. Certainly the number is down steeply from the late 1970s (and the US population has grown since then), but it’s amazing how much better the statistics look if you exclude the bubble of 1970-1985. More recently, the trend in student pilot certificates is actually slightly positive over the past few years. Nobody would call these numbers booming, but they certainly don’t suggest a race to zero either.

Van's RV-7
The Cessna of the 21st century?

The reality is that private aviation will look different in 2020 than it did in 1980 – better for some and worse for others. It will probably feature more flying clubs and fewer Bonanza owners, more 50-something businessmen and fewer teenagers rebuilding Cubs. And much like the overall trend toward increased income inequality as a society, general aviation will probably see growth at the bottom and the top while the middle gets hollowed out. Cessna’s piston airplane sales may be terrible, but part of the reason is that those buyers are moving up or down to other options.

At the top end, transportation flying increasingly means turbine-powered airplanes. Owner-flown turboprops and light jets are flying significantly more than they were 20 years ago, even after the financial crash of 2008. As silly as it may sound, the TBM 700/850 may be today’s version of what the Cessna 210 was in 1978: a single engine personal transportation airplane. Higher up the food chain, jets flown by fractional and charter operators are even busier – NetJets began in 1986 as the piston airplane crash was beginning, and has only accelerated since then. Even helicopter activity is up (dramatically so), led by offshore oil exploration and emergency medical services.

For the non-turbine end of the market, recreational flying is increasingly experimental. If you believe the FAA’s annual statistical report (and while it has lots of holes in it, it’s all we have), active experimental airplanes are up 45% over 2001, driven by both Experimental Light Sport Aircraft and amateur built. It’s worth pointing out that some of these airplanes are outstanding machines – equivalent to many “traditional” GA airplanes of 40 years ago. That’s a great story that I don’t hear enough pilots telling.

Don’t discourage the next generation

If the realist gets busy adjusting the sails while the optimist and the pessimist argue about the situation, what should we adjust? The first step is to stop the doom and gloom. It’s like gossip: fun to engage in from time to time, but ultimately destructive. True, a sudden burst of growth is probably unlikely, but so is a total collapse.

Secondly, consider how this complaining sounds to a new person. Every year, around 50,000 people receive a piece of paper that says “student pilot certificate.” It’s one of the most exciting days of their lives, and they don’t want to hear about how cheap gas was in 1968. For these dreamers, the good old days are now!

Besides, the defeatist attitude does nothing to solve the problem. Better to focus on realistic improvements to the general aviation world as it is today, not the one we wish existed. The current efforts to eliminate the third class medical, reform Part 23 certification standards, encourage flying clubs, refurbish older airplanes, and find a replacement for 100LL seem like smart ones. While they may not offer quick fixes, at least they acknowledge reality, instead of trying to recapture the glory days that are never coming back.

Aviation is – and except for a brief period, always has been – a niche activity, not a mainstream one. Incremental steps with a reasonable chance of success are worth more than moonshot programs to recruit 5 million new aviation enthusiasts. The more we as pilots can rally around these causes, the easier it is to imagine a positive future for pilots. And as any sports psychologist would tell an athlete in a slump, the first step is to “visualize success.”

Preppers are exceedingly creative about how the world (or in this case, general aviation) might end. If we could redirect some of that creativity towards solving the very real problems we face, general aviation might make some progress.

40 Comments

  • Interesting writeup!

    I always enjoy when people compare GA of today to the boom in the 1970s. Unless we see some sort of conflict where tens of thousands are taught to fly, North America remains safe from attack, and everyone lives happily ever after in a post-war economic boom, we will NEVER see that number of pilots again.

    And that’s a good thing.

    The accident rate was appalling, postwar training was poor, and frankly, general aviation made very little progress in the time it was “on top”.

    Almost all of our most important advances in avionics, composite structures, safety features, and notably pilot education, have been made in the years following the downturn in pure numbers. We’re better off for it, and I truly believe that although we have fewer pilots today, they are far better off than in the “good ‘ol days”.

    Quality over quantity.

  • The aviation world has forgotten how to innovate. Many flight schools refuse to offer training to sport pilot standard and keep pushing PPL that many people don’t want, need or can afford.

    Today’s sport pilot is tomorrows PPL.

    • That is completely true. Here in Northern New Jersey I found only one pilot who offers Sport Pilot training an it’s only with a Piper Cub!! No one else want to give that kind of training here. I was checking all flight schools here and they are going sadly for the PPL. That is out of respect to the FAA who approved the Sport Pilot Certificate. We need to put pressure on the FAA to enforce or to fine the schools or the instructors that do not fulfill this request. CASE CLOSED.

  • Fantastic Article. As a relatively new (4 years) and relatively young (34) PPL, I can’t agree more with your assessment. And you’re right, it isn’t one thing that’s holding back GA, it’s a bunch of things having to do with affordability. In the 70s a 172 cost double the average household income in the US. It now cost 7 times. It’s both because of stagnating wages since then as well as costs ballooning faster than inflation.
    Aircraft costs need to come down, and flying clubs really need to grow.

    One other aspect that really hurts GA that we can do something about is the customer service side. The piston-engine side of GA puts, on average, a pretty terrible face towards pilots and potential pilots. Information is generally hard to find, many instructors, a&ps, etc come off as unprofessional, and many airports are uninviting. Outdated/nonexistent websites are a huge problem if you’re trying to attract anyone under the age of 50. It shouldn’t be hard to find out where the local flight school is, what planes they have, what it costs, etc.

    GA is competing for disposable income, and the competition is significantly better in this area.

    • Couldn’t agree more, Tyler. I’m a little older (43) but not by much. I recently (well not really recently at this point) had my annual done in September. The owner of the shop boasted of his knowlege, how he built ten lancairs, and could do wonders for my airplane. So I trusted him with an annual and paid him $4000 for an annual he said he completed but didn’t (no signoff). *Five* months later, my airplane was in pieces all over his filthy shop. Still no signoff and excuse after excuse. Finally this past January he tore open my wings (wood and fabric), with a story about how he needed to do that to replace my “senders wires”. Then he wanted $7,000 up front for more work I didn’t need and to put it all back together! When I asked him to focus on just finishing the annual he quit the job and said business is finished. I found out later he has “special arrangements” with a big corporate customer, whereby they pay him extra and in return he drops whatever he’s doing (ie my project for example) and fixes their airplane. They’re probably paying him on the side for this, but I don’t care – I’m paying his full shop rate!

      Now I’m struggling to put my airplane back together again after I waited 5 months for him to tear it apart. On top of that, he sent me a defensive, hostile, and threatening email. All because I didn’t want to pay yet *more* thousands of dollars up front when the work I already had paid for was far from complete! I used to drink the Koolaid and believe “it’s all the FAA’s fault”. They are partially to blame for sure, but just as much if not more, the airplane services industry has FAILED to regulate itself and is without even the most basic notion of customer service. So in the late 70’s and 80’s the lawyers saw an opportunity and licked their chops. THAT’s how we got here…

      And my ex-A&P? He worked wonders alright! I wonder why I went to him and why this level of mal-performance seems to be the status quo in this indsutry. In 45 minutes, I had the sender wires run he said would takes “a full week or more to install and require detachment and removal of (all four of my 40yr old) fuel tanks”! The silver lining to all this if there is any, is I am learning my airplane intimately, and soon will only need an A&P for supervision.

      Treating the customer like an adversary or an annoyance may have worked for the WWII generation, maybe baby boomers. But guys my age and younger aren’t going to tolerate annuals and installs that take months, and prima-donna attitudes that bite the hand which writes the check which puts food on mechanics’ tables. Business doesn’t work that way in the 21st century, it’s time GA services catch up.

  • Normally, I would be right there with you in shaking my head at all the doom-and-gloomers. But something has happened recently that has startled me. It’s not ADS-B, congress, or the TSA. It’s another kind of vehicle taking over the airspace.

    AOPA (I think we can agree it represents the voice of organized GA) has around 400,000 members. There are around 900,000 licensed pilots (of all stripes) in the US – active and inactive. If you believe the industry news, unmanned vehicles will dwarf those numbers in a few years. If “unmanned systems” ever organize (as they are doing right now – just take a look at the “heft” AUVSI, Amazon, and Google are throwing around in Washington DC), they could easily see GA as a threat to THEM, and reduce our freedom to fly dramatically.

    There are already discussions of separate airspace and airways just for UAS – no GA allowed. Soon, the top voices in Washington may be the airlines and unmanned systems operators, with GA a distant third in influence.

    I’m not saying GA would go away completely, but I think our freedom to fly is set for a change.

  • Of course there is no conspiracy. But when you add up all the facts, it’s clear that society no longer values general aviation the way it did many years ago. The romantic vision of aviation has largely vanished, and been replaced by the grim realities of the passenger airline experience. That said, there’s no dishonor in fighting the tide — as pilots, we need to inspire and encourage the next generation to keep the flame burning. I required both of my children to take flying lessons at our local airport, just so they would have the experience. It also gave us something to talk about at dinner. That’s my contribution to the cause. I could have easily found a zillion other ways to spend the money, but I invested it in flying lessons for two kids, in hopes they will carry the flame and become part of the next generation of GA pilots.

  • A good commentary on the situation.
    I believe that GA as we know it in the USA was a grand experiment based on the premise that there would be an airplane in every garage after Lindberg made his Paris flight and after the GIs returned from WWII. As time goes on, it has become apparent that there were some flaws in the premise. So now we have this large infrastructure built up to meet that ideal but without the customers and the money to maintain it. This will require a, probably painful for some, re-adjustment. But that doesn’t mean GA will go away it will just be different and, just maybe, for the better.

  • You make a good case! I agree that GA is unlikely to completely disappear, but I think what you’re responding to isn’t doomsday preppers as much as aviators who love the game and want to see it thrive. They see plenty of folks who would love to jump in, stay in, or move up and simply can’t because of factors which are largely man-made. A Skyhawk needn’t cost $400k. A pilot certificate needn’t cost $15,000. You had a picture of an RV7 in your post; we know things could be better and cheaper because segments of the industry like E-AB prove it.

    It’s amazing what mankind can do–or not do–when we put our minds to it.

  • “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you.”

    Chicken Little may have heralded the end of the world. Today’s “doomsday aviators” foretell “the end of the world as we know it.” Semantics?

    John, as always, I appreciate your points. But when the FAA declares (as they did last week) that you have to possess both a private pilot certificate AND a current third-class medical (what – no BFR???) in order to operate a model airplane in line-of-sight, I’m forced to conclude that the paranoid poultry may be onto something.

  • Two truisms apply here:

    1) The only constant in this world is change

    2) Most people don’t like change

    Aviation is constantly changing, and those who don’t like change don’t like it. So what else is new?

    Private aviation (a much better term than the ubiquitous and mostly meaningless “general aviation”) is here to stay in the USA .. has been since the birth of aviation (the Wright flyer was, after all, a personal aircraft). But change is constant.

    As someone who is of the so-called “baby boom” generation (I hate that term too! as if who I am is entirely defined by the accident of my birth date), I learned to fly in the 1970s. Flying cost less then, but it was still expensive because most people earned a lot less then too.

    You could still buy a pretty nice house in most of the USA for around $25-40 thousand in those days, and a brand new car could be bought for less than $3,000. Av gas goes up and down with the price of crude oil – coming down now. New Cessna’s are god-awful expensive … basically because Cessna would rather build $30 million bizjets than single engine piston prop models for the middle class. In any event you can still buy a perfectly functional legacy aircraft for less than the cost of an average new car today, or you can build your own brand new experimental for about the cost of a nice luxury foreign import.

    We should just ignore the complaining old farts who just don’t like change – they’ll never be happy no how. The rest of us old farts are quite happy, and the younger folks are excited as always about the thrill and challenge of personal aviation.

    Onward!

  • I’m with John on this one. I will also add that the average local airport is not very welcoming. Yes the fences suck, but its more then that… The hanger flying population is getting older, more grumpy, less inviting… No young person will dare enter…

    AOPA should work on a lighter version of thier fly ins to take place in many local airports on weekends and bring young people , young pilots and thier families together. The non flying community will follow the crowd… Who dosent want to sit in a cockpit of an airplane ?, even if it’s only to post pictures on Facebook .

    My 2 cents

  • There myriad reasons for the decline. There has been a shift in interest in our youth. The airport has become unfriendly and the costs have out placed inflation.
    A Cessna 152 in 1978 $14,940
    Chevy Corvette in 1978 $13,653
    Cessna 162 in 2011 $149,000
    Chevy Corvette in 2011 $59.045
    Cessna 162 in 1978 dollars $43,000
    Mooney 201 in 1978 $43,500
    If you’re middle class or blue collar, you can’t afford to fly enough to stay proficient, let alone to extended cross country vacations or buy anything new.

    • Except, Jetcal1 – almost nobody buys new aircraft anyway because there’s a couple hundred thousand legacy aircraft that are perfectly serviceable and airworthy, or easily made airworthy, readily available at prices equal to or less than that of a typical luxury car, like the Corvette you cite. Or if you prefer, you can buy and build a kit plane and end up with a brand new aircraft for about the same as or a little more than your Corvette.

      There are plenty of affordable aircraft available today for those who want to fly. It’s not a cheap hobby, certainly but most hobbies aren’t cheap anymore anyway – it all depends on how much money a person has to spend and how passionate.

      I know a lot of fishermen here in Florida who think nothing of spending two hundred thousand on a fishing boat, and burning $500 a day in gas to go offshore and chase grouper, marlin, or swordfish and spending $20K or more on fishing tackle. Ditto with dedicated hunters who go out on guided hunts and regularly spend $15, $20K or more for a single week of entertainment. And there are plenty of motorcycle enthusiasts pimping out their Harleys to the tune of $40 or $50K or more, and spending every annual vacation heading out to Bike Week in Sturgis SD.

      To each their own. We have more opportunities to go flying in the USA than anywhere else in the world at any time in history.

      • Hello Duane,
        It was cheap when I started at the airport as a teenager, I could afford to fly. The ratio was 9:1 work/fly in a new C152 at minimum wage. Now the ratio is about 19:1 in a 37 year old C152.

        There was time not so long ago when a 4K hour airplane had little more than salvage value. The pilot on a low budget would go buy a Citabria/152, finance it for 84 months and leaseback.
        I knew people who humped away at warehouses that could afford a both buy and own a new airplane.

        You speak to the number of available aircraft on the market now; as an A&P, I say go look at them with a certain level of caution.

        “…two hundred thousand on a fishing boat, and burning $500 a day in gas to go offshore and chase grouper, marlin, or swordfish and spending $20K or more on fishing tackle. Ditto with dedicated hunters who go out on guided hunts and regularly spend $15, $20K or more for a single week of entertainment.”
        (I think we maybe in different social-economic circles.)

        With the possible exception of the Harley folks and few A&P’s with serious seniority, no one I know that is blue collar can afford to their own airplane anymore. (I agree with your kit-plane, which still takes you to around $80K for something useable for X-ctry.)

        We are now where Great Britain was 25-30 years ago. You have to be mildly affluent to afford to fly

        • It’s not even necessary to own your own plane to fly affordably. Flying clubs split the costs amongst multiple owners, especially for the typical private pilot who logs 50 hours a year or less. If you don’t need to have ready access to the aircraft at all times – such as a person who uses their aircraft for business purposes – a flying club makes perfect sense, and can get the annual cost of flying down to four figures. If a pilot can’t afford at least a few thousand a year to fly, he or she isn’t going to fly, period.

          Flying certainly isn’t for the poor, but plenty of middle class folks can afford to join a flying club. Maybe they can’t do that and also buy the expensive boat or trick out the custom car or buy the fancy Italian shotguns or do the annual high end guided big game hunting trip in the Rockies, or the take the European tour too. No matter who we are, and how much money we have or don’t have, it’s about the choices and priorities we have that matters.

          I learned to fly in my 20s and then took a long long layoff in my 30s, 40s, and early 50s before my priorities could be adjusted to get back into aviation again, and buy my plane. The fact that my business made flying a sensible investment also helped a lot. But I set my priorities (college, family, other stuff) and I have no regrets.

    • I’m with you, Jetcal1. I own a ’75 C172M Skyhawk which cost $21K when it was new. Except for the nice G1000 and an upgraded interior, a NEW C172 is essentially the same airframe. When I read analysis of the costs of airplanes which somehow try to right-justify the cost as still being in line, I KNOW it’s pure bunk. There’s a reason Sporty’s is now building a refurbished C172 “Lite” out of M and N model 172’s. Used A/C values are down, those airframes are good ones and they can rebuild one and sell it. If NEW Cessna 172’s cost — say — $150K, they’d be selling like hotcakes. Instead, LSA’s that cost that and more are NOT selling like hotcakes … except to people with more disposable income than good ‘ol common sense.

  • An insightful article followed by valid and insightful comments.

    We Baby Boomers have been the bulge in the belly of the snake ever since 1946. Our generation enlarged every aspect of life in America as it went through the milestones, and we are now about to enlarge the nursing home industry and, finally, the funerary industry on our way out! Along the way, we had that very effect upon all aspects of aviation, particularly private aviation. Due to a complicated set of circumstances that may never again be duplicated, I believe that a significant percentage of us made more money, earlier in our adulthood, than generations before or since. Yet even in those rosy times, I myself could never afford to own a brand new airplane, at least not without going seriously without in a number of other areas of life, like house, electronic equipment, car(s) and so on.

    It has been said, rightly I believe, that most of us only get the privilege of one expensive hobby in a lifetime, and for many of us that turns out to be family!! For others, the choice comes down to Country Club (golf) or Boat or Airplane or Fancy Car but not more than one.

    There are, however, two tax related circumstances that have contributed mightily to the death blows being dealt to private aviation, or at least personal airplane ownership: Inflation and the loss of leaseback tax benefits (depreciation).

    It is no secret that incomes today, incomes that provide for only a middle class living at best, are being taxed at marginal rates intended only for the very rich, at least in the early years of the income tax. Most in the middle class are, all things considered, turning over to Uncle Sam and his State cronies close to half of their income over the course of a year, when sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes, FICA and all the rest are added up. In the ’60’s and ’70’s income levels were lower, and the tax rates on those income levels were lower (although the buying power of that income was higher); thus leaving more disposable income in the hands of the middle class.

    Also, it was possible to partly pay for a new airplane with the benefits of a leaseback arrangement. I knew people back in the ’70’s who did just that, one with a brand new Mooney 201. The income and the relatively generous depreciation allowances took a big bite out of the cost of acquiring and owning an airplane like that. Much of that apparently went west in the ’80’s as the tax code was changed.

    It is too bad that most secondary schools no longer offer practical courses like metal shop and auto shop, both of which might prepare an individual for a future homebuilding project. Kits these days are easier to build than ever, but not for someone with zero handyman skills, and no way to acquire them. Classes like that would be a great night school idea for school systems everywhere, and perhaps EAA could help get that sort of thing started.

    Meanwhile, fly, eat and be merry. The hamburgers are still out there waiting for us!

    • Hello Tony,
      The net income issue is something I had not considered. One area that did kill our hobby/industry were product liability lawsuits.

      • From my seat on the left side of the plane liability issues are individually and collectively the bane of GA. Can’t sue the manufacturers for a product built 50 years ago that doesn’t meet current OSHA or Consumer safety standards? Sue the mechanic who signed the log. Can’t sue the mechanic because there’s no money to be had? Sue the parts manufacturer? Can’t sue the parts supplier? Sue the company that sold the oil, gas, or whatever… all the way up the supply chain. Any time a product liability suit results in a multi million dollar award the costs of owning/maintaining/operating an aircraft go up measurably. How many Lycoming engines are sold each year? How many are flying? The combined number is less than or equal to about 45 minutes of production any one of a number of luxury (read that smaller niche) cars. Add the costs (time, effort, money, angst) of earning, then keeping a pilot license and the President’s mention of the “rich 1%” last night in his State of the Union takes on important meaning for those of us who ain’t among ’em. I know very few young pilots, very few early career pilots, and a lot of 50-70 year old pilots (why not 75-90 year old… because health or declining retirement income forces a reality check). I guess I’m one who thinks GA is an odd historical anomaly that will pass.

        • John,
          Please point me to all these lawsuits? You won’t find them. Why? GAR Act of 1994 limited liability for aviation manufacturers. This is what put Cessna,etc back in the single engine piston business.

          You (and others) hit on the main concern which is affordability. Something can be done from the FAA’s end (we’ve seen it already with LSAs and ATSM standards), but a big part is also something that is a broader economic issue- wages are stagnant or falling while costs (like aviation) increase.

          • Hello Tyler,
            By 1994 GA was dead. A 172 almost doubled in price over a 6 year period due to product liability. From $20K in 1975 to about $38K in 1981.
            The $364,000 172 of today would be about $83,000 dollars in 1975. That’s Bonanza money. (And probably 2.5 Mooney Rangers! If I remember correctly, it listed for about $36K in 1977.)
            Maybe if congress had passed that law in 1978?

            The FAA has not been a paragon of helpfulness either, with the way they have stifled the STC process. That’s another article in itself.

          • I think the lawsuits is a red herring, but the THREAT of the lawsuit is very real. What effect does that have?

            I’m building a Zenith Zodiac 601. Take the case of a single rudder cable. I have serious doubts that this cable will *ever* experience 100lbs of tension, but I followed the “only use aviation hardware” mantra and bought everything from Aircraft Spruce, who generally has very good prices. Two shackles at $10 apiece, 10ft length of cable at $1.50 ft, and a $35 turnbuckle. One, just one, rudder cable cost me around $60.

            I could accomplish the same feat with $10 at the local big box store, and the cable would still be way stronger than necessary…but, no inspector would pass it during an inspection.

            In the 70’s, manufacturers were still using hardware and materials that were locally and widely available. Today, they are still working off of those same drawings, but most of the manufacturers of the outdated parts went away years ago. But, the drawings don’t change because you can’t use the argument that the exact same plane has been flying since the 70’s if you change something.

            Because of the lawsuits, we’re stuck with 40 yr old designs that are expensive because they are 40 yrs old.

  • I have used a B model Bonanza and a Twin Comanche in running two businesses in the Northwest for more than 50 years, and in the early years I could not have managed without the flexibility and time saving they provided over driving the early 2 lane highways. With the advent of the interstate highway system, that offered 70 mph cruise speeds and door to door times almost as good as what could be accomplished flying, there are increasingly more trips that can be driven at a far lower cost and without regard to weather.

    I still fly the PA30…..as it owes me nothing……but if I were starting these businesses now, I doubt that I could justify the expense of flying over driving. I’m of the opinion that I was fortunate to enjoy the golden years of personal aircraft ownership.

    AHP

  • I’m a relatively new PPL holder with the means and desire to purchase a pretty decent airplane. However, I’m having a difficult time pulling the trigger because I believe that I will probably not ever be able to get rid of it short of donating it to AOPA (Greater fool theory). I see thousands of 30-50 year old airplanes for sale that I know there is a very limited market for, yet owners still think they are worth $50- $100K. Today’s’ older sellers need to swallow their pride and price their aircraft at a realistic level. Maybe then there would be enough new buyers willing to take the plunge. A lot of aging owners will be buried in these white elephants. Yeah, I guess I’m a doomsdayer.

    • I was just privileged to broker the estate sale of a Navion owned by a dear friend. He had been holding out for years at $30,000. The family accepted a good offer at half that and were thrilled to see it go to a qualified buyer who holds an A&P license with prior experience in the breed. There are deals out there but sellers have to be realistic about what they are asking in a market where the cost to get in is a fraction of the cost of staying in.

  • John,
    I live in Texas, which is crawling with Doomsday preppers of the Tea Party persuasion who have wasted the last 8 years grousing about Obama. They listen to Fox and other right-wing sources which traffic in cynicism, misinformation, half-truths and outright lies, and stoke up the latest right-wing conspiracy theory. Is it any wonder that we are in trouble?

  • I was one of the kids who’s dad supported my desire to learn to fly. I live in the northeast and when I was in college my dad paid for flying lessons. I went to a Unicom field Brookhaven Airport and found a FBO with brand new Grumman tigers cheetahs and tr2’s.
    I sat in one smelled the brand new new plane smell and fell in love. BTW new AC smell different then new cars…. Wonder why??? Anyhow I found a cfi and took some lessons. I got a real thrill out of driving out to the airport a 40 minute ride from where I lived on Long Islands south shore. I guess I was lucky… My dad bought me my 1st car a 3 year old Mustang Grande, a fairly unique mustang and gave me flying lessons. We’re we rich? I suppose not but my dad always supported anything I wanted to do. I never did finish lessons but thought put such value into the training in classes I took I convinced my 16 year old son to retake ground school with me. I bought us twin Bose A20’s a sporty nav com HT and all the goodies…. We looked into buying an AC but my wife had a fit!!!!
    Anyway…. Ground school and hanger wandering and tire kicking taught us sooooo much and gave us things to do together. He tried his skills on a piper warrior (we fell in love with), a Sirrus, the photos of him with that baby are still all over the house. If nothing more he’s a lot smarter then most kids, he’s been there done that, now he’s in college and has already been a kid TV actor, been on network TV, authored a Bill presented before the NY State Senate and Assembly, started a firm who developed the mobile application for the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach for New York State Parks. Now he’s got 2 businesses starting a 3rd. He wants to go into politics….
    Don’t know what prompted me to write this but…. Like my dad before me- I learned to follow your dreams- you may never reach the goal….. but can have a lot of fun trying and learn so much doing it!!

  • While we do see a definite decline in GA as a whole, I do believe the trend can be reversed and the path forward is through innovation and moving from traditional airframes power plants, fuels and structures. Having flown many types and models of both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, poor performance in various operating environments presents barriers to acceptable levels of utility at a cost that allows for aircraft ownership and regular operation on a broader scale. As noted above, today’s autos present greater levels of utility at a lower cost, while providing a standard of quality and reliability that has surpassed many aviation standards. Hybrid power plants, alternate fuels, and lighter/stronger composite structures will be a key element though alloy structures still have much to offer. From an operational/human interface perspective, today’s aspiring pilots (and many current pilots) seek greater performance in the form of speed, load carrying capability and occupant safety/survivability. Legacy airframes are limited in all categories.
    To help move the industry forward, I would suggest using those operators who are moving toward or using newer airframes providing some or most of the performance noted above (I have no affiliation with any of these operators/manufacturers). Where demand develops, solutions follow.
    From the regulatory perspective, stay involved with your local, state and Congressional representatives to ensure your right to fly is protected. Over the years, GA has successfully fought back against the deep pockets of airlines, municipalities and federal “over-reach”. With new players such as UAV’s and “drones” coming online, we are facing a new threat and GA must be prepared to engage in any dialogue relating to Airspace utilization.
    Get involved in developing the solutions and the future could be surprising.

  • Lots of great comments. I’m one of what is now the typical PPL pilots, between 50 & 70. I took about a 14 year hiatus from flying to live the American dream, house, kids, job, commuting to said job. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to start again, but it is the only hobby I can afford, although I have a boat that adorns my front yard because I haven’t been able to sell it. In the last couple of years I’ve been able to fly because I know someone trying to build cross-country time towards the instrument and commercial ratings, which I am also working on. When he’s not able to fly it’s difficult finding people to share the expense of rental. So it’s local flying around the flag pole and some touch and goes with my daughter, who is to young to help share the expense. Hopefully she will be my first student once I get my CFI.
    Anyway I think the FAA is mostly to blame for why there is a lackluster GA interest among young people. The young people I have taken up love it, although once you start talking money they start to shy away. I was lucky enough to get my license when I was on active duty in the Air Force in Florida. Once I got my license I struggled to maintain currency never mind proficiency. When I started flying again I got checked out in an LSA, but the FBO I fly at had gotten rid of most of them. The LSA market is a great idea but the promise of cheap flying hasn’t panned out and the FAA not allowing LSA time to be applied to higher ratings is a terrible idea. As is shortening the amount of time ATD’s can be counted towards the instrument dating or how long they’ve been dragging their feet on the changes to the third class medical. They’re also dragging their feet on the RPV’s (drones ), while Canada and Australia already have regulations in place. While I believe the local FSDO’s do a good job of trying to get the word out about safety seminars and ways to maintain proficiency, the bureaucracy seems more intent on pushing the airlines’ agenda while making it it more difficult for the average recreational GA pilot.
    I don’t think we’ll ever get back to the good old days of the 70’s & 80’s, but with some better marketing by local FBO’s and some smart changes by the FAA to get young people to interested in aviation, we won’t have to suffer the same fate as European GA.

  • Aviation used to have a romantic perspective, pilots were treated as extraordinary ones if not heroes ’cause it’s hard, exotic, accessible only for the brave few. With today’s technologies the aviation is becoming sort of common luxury, either we general public are growing too comfortable sitting in front of the virtual world or indeed the GA is decaying into merely rich ones toy?

  • Wow, this article is SPOT ON. GA may not return to its historical peak, but it is absolutely self-defeating to lament its demise and simply blame your favorite specter, rather than trying to do something more positive.

  • Thanks, John for such a refreshingly positive view of out clandestine little world. I think most of your observations and predictions are completely accurate. But it’s just so much fun bashing lawyers and the TSA. I, for one, refuse to stop doing that. Somebody has to keep those folks in line.

  • I personally think that sadly General Aviation is already doomed by the pilotless planes and UAV around. Aviation is only reserved for the rich people considering the high cost of training and requirements of the FAA. Check how big is the decline of pilots these days. Too much obstacles are taking the toll for it. Any solutions?

  • There are plenty of good and insightful comments here, both for and against John’s points. However, as I read some of the more “doomy” comments, I can’t help thinking that maybe the ADS-B deadline will be good for GA, as it will cull the herd of grumpy complainers.

    I’m frankly glad I never talked to some of you 8 years ago, when I started flight training 1 year out of college. I think some of the points made are fine examples of the grousing alluded to in the article. You may very well believe that GA is done, and fine, that’s your prerogative. But what good does it do to tell me? What should I do then? Should I stop flying, because I’m not rich? Should I tell some of my younger friends who are working their way up the private and commercial ladders that they should stop? Should we not be working to overcome the obstacles?
    Clearly, some of you are no longer having fun. Fine, but I could do without the “I got mine” vibe I’m getting. Don’t drag the rest of us down with you. Go fly. Take a child up. Take one of your co-workers up. Take up a friend. Damn the cost, and go fly.

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