I have been helping crew a hot air balloon lately, just locally where I live. Recently, during an event, we stood up the balloon up while it was dark out to get some awesome photos and just let the community get a look at it. While we were hanging on to keep it on the ground, a group of high school age kids approached us. They were obviously super excited about being up and close with it, which is great—I love seeing it. But after conversing I realized that they didn’t understand general aviation at all. What I gathered from them was that everything with flying seemed out of reach. It topped off a question I’ve had for a while: how do we help people understand aviation and GA in particular?
At the time of writing this, I just turned 17 a few months ago and completed my Private Pilot certificate two months ago. Thanks to my obsession, my friends know that is reachable. But it has always shocked me how many people, teenagers and adults alike, do not understand aviation. Aviation is somewhat of a niche thing in the fact that I do not think people just read or watch topics on it unless they have an interest. This poses an interesting discussion, and that’s what I want this article to be, a discussion, so please post your thoughts in the comments.
Anyway, how do we try to explain aviation to these people? Do we do it through Young Eagle flights? Fly-ins? Air shows? I know some will say, “why do I care what these people think about aviation?” Well, just think, these people may be the ones complaining about noise at your local airport or trying to close it. A little education can go a long way. As selfish as it sounds, it helps keep our passion, work, and hobby safe. However, it can also bring more pilots into our community, and that’s what we want.
I recently became a registered Young Eagle pilot and am going to do my fair share of mentoring kids to follow their dreams, while in the meantime showing them and their parents a little bit of aviation as a whole. This can create the ripple effect because they may just go and tell their friends about it or help generate an interest in the community.
Just today, there was a 14-year old boy taking his first discovery flight. I made some small talk with his parents while he was flying and it made me get pretty reflective. I was 13 or 14 when I took my first discovery flight and just never stopped. It also brought back the countless numbers of people who helped me and inspired me along the way. Before his parents left, I gave them my name and phone number because mentoring kids is not only rewarding but it can bring more people into flying, which can help educate the community in turn.
At the end of the day we can try to educate the community on flying in each of our own ways, whatever way we feel most passionate about. Personally, for the people my age and younger, technology is such a huge aspect of what helps us become interested in things. YouTube was a huge contributor for me when I would want to look at aviation related content. I’m not saying everyone who wants to bring younger people into aviation need to start a YouTube channel, but some form of sharing through social media could most certainly combat this.
However, I think that the best way to try and get people into aviation is just to show that is obtainable. Yes, it’s not cheap, we all know that. But you don’t need to have a masters, a Phd, or even a college education to do it. We, as pilots, just need to explain and show to the people who are interested in it that it is a very much obtainable goal to the general populous.
In the age of COVID-19 it is hard to organize airshows, fly-ins, or Young Eagle flights. But all three of those are excellent ways to get people of all ages involved in aviation. Sadly, where I live in northwest Montana, we very rarely have an airshow—about once every 15 years. Due to this I challenge everyone, including me, who is in an area which lacks these kind of events to take on the burden of trying to organize some. No harm in trying.
I know my writing in this article hasn’t been top quality because it was more of me just trying to get some thoughts out on this idea, as I feel very passionate about this.
Again, please post your thoughts and comments below in their respective section, my email is also in my bio if you would like to communicate directly. Thanks for reading.