Good riddance 2009!

Happy New Year! I’ve been waiting to say that for about six months now. While there is no guarantee 2010 will be any better than 2009, it always feels good to flip the calendar to a clean sheet, full of possibilities.

That said, looking forward I find loads of challenges (or opportunities if you prefer a positive outlook) ahead. The ongoing dialogue around the future of fuel, new pilot starts, the public perception of general aviation, amazingly insane proposed rules and regulations from the FAA, and aviation as a business are just some of what we’ll be discussing in 2010 and beyond.

In 2009 we started a blog titled GAfuels written by Todd Petersen, Kent Misegades, and Dean Billings. Their backgrounds are varied and insights profound. Simply put, it is their belief that 80% of the GA fleet can be accommodated with the wide-spread availability of ethanol-free premium mogas. Their blog looks into the varied details of the complex fuels industry. I look forward to hearing from them, and the letters their blogs will generate, throughout the year.

New pilot starts is an ongoing discussion. On the FAA website, I found data about the student certificates issued, by month, for calendar years 1999-2008. It shows that 61,194 student certificates were issued in 2008. That was down from 66,953 in 2007 and 61,448 in 2006, but up from 53,675 in 2005.

You know, 60,000 new customers a year is a pretty good number. Perhaps instead of focusing so intently on acquiring new students, we should work harder to convert the customers we already have into bona fide certificated pilots and evangelists.

For many years now, we’ve all heard that aviation is getting older and we must attract younger blood. While I would certainly welcome 100,000 20- and 30-somethings, might I suggest we look for and attract ANY person who exhibits a desire to learn to fly? I’ve grown weary of the monotonous drumbeat of attracting young pilots. For an industry that exists primarily on the fringe, I would think it prudent to attract anyone interested (which I know we do, by the way), not just those younger than 40.

After all, I will turn 40 in 2010 and, with a wife I want to spend more time with, three kids (all of school age and their myriad activities who I also desire to spend more time with), two businesses that keep us fed, and little time for anything else, I keep asking myself: Why does the aviation industry want to attract me? I would take one 60-year-old with a lifelong passion, some disposable income and time over 10 people of my age and all the baggage that comes along with them.

Last year was particularly brutal for aviation in the eyes of the public. More intense and public scrutiny was directed to our industry in 2009 than I can recall in the recent past. There are many reasons for this, but it drives home the point that we all need to stick together to ensure our future.

Like many of our readers, I am dumbfounded by the lack of insight some of our regulators seem to possess. (Allow me to insert the standard disclaimer: There are many, many great and compassionate employees in the FAA, TSA, and DHS). However, few seem to be in any position of legitimate power. Case in point is the through-the-fence issue, which we’ve written about and linked to extensively on our website. For some reason, the FAA has it in its collective head that federally-obligated airports with residential neighbors who have access and want the airport to be there are worse than residential neighbors to the same airport without access who, at best, are ambivalent and, at worst, hostile to the existence of the airport. Huh?

Or what about security? A would-be terrorist who tried to detonate a bomb on his flight to Detroit on Christmas Day had how many red flags? And yet, those of us who house our planes and/or fly from airports with commercial airports are subject to onerous security even though we in GA have been tagged as NOT being a credible threat to national security. The government is always accused of being reactionary yet, in looking at GA, it is being proactive. Lucky us!

The business of aviation — whether making airplanes, selling insurance, training pilots, supplying parts, or the many other facets of this industry — is made up of dreamers and lifelong advocates. I’ve heard many people in our industry tell me being associated with aviation is better than working for a living. Despite all the challenges (or opportunities), I feel much the same. The people who make up general aviation are the reason I enjoy coming to our offices everyday. For all of you, Thank You!

I heard from many readers in 2009 who took issue with something we wrote (mostly about climate change, ethanol or at-large proposed legislation) in the pages of General Aviation News or on Most called or e-mailed to tell me they want General Aviation News to be their bastion of enjoyment away from all the doom and gloom of mainstream media. They come to aviation and General Aviation News to “get away from it all.”

I hear you and, to a point, I agree, but if we ignore our place in society, we may find ourselves without a place altogether.

With that, may 2010 be the first of many prosperous years for all of us in general aviation. I promise we will re-double our efforts to make sure all of our content flows through our filter of informing, entertaining, or inspiring each of you. And if ever we fall down, don’t hesitate to call me out.

Blue skies and tailwinds my friends. I look forward to seeing you around the country.

Ben Sclair is GAN’s Publisher.


  1. Jim Newman says

    Very well expressed, Ben!

    However, it is NOT always the FAA with inane ideas of through-the-fence airport access. Many years ago, I put the idea to the Board of a small Indiana airport seeking to draw more people and businesses to its tiny town out in the corn. They were horrified…in particular one prominent member and businessman who seemed to regard the airport as his own! Their excuse against an aviation sub-divison – with a linking taxiway on to the airport and FBO – was that they,”….didn’t want to lose control of the airport!”

    To this day, some 20-odd years after, I am still shaking my graying head.
    I always got the feeling that, whenever I entered that town, like some others in Indiana, I should wind my watch back 100 years.

    I’m embarrased to mention the name of the airport that I regularly flew in to for gas and A & P attention, but it is on IN Rt 41….!!!!!

  2. Paul Peterson says

    Thank you for reminding us that we should not be exclusively looking at the younger generation to grow the GA population. That idea immediately brought to mind someone who has the time and interest. Someone, who because of his age, I had not considered until now.

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