Everyday GA as transportation?

Many factors have challenged the typical GA airplane as a transportation mode.

I recall the early-1960s debate at my home field whether the new Interstate Highway System would be boon or bust for General Aviation, at least for the average Cessna or Piper. My conclusion then, as now: Both.

Although still a teen, I had already seen technologies change and transportation modes fade. Our town’s little train station had deteriorated, welcoming only daily Philadelphia commuters and the occasional “Iron Horse Ramble” steam train excursion celebrating past glories. Little did I know that our “also-ran” Reading Railroad had once hosted the B&O’s indirect but upscale “Royal Blue” Washington-to-New York service, the preferred choice of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But all that ended in 1958 with the withering of intercity passenger rail except on the faster, more direct “Northeast Corridor” route.

Along with modern airliners, post-World War II road building and modern automobiles diminished most train travel by the 1960s. But post-war roads were congested, under-engineered and badly lagging behind unprecedented demand. And they were dangerous; the highway carnage was legend.

So in 1956, the National Defense and Interstate Highway Act began a national system of fast, safe limited-access freeways. It’s said President Eisenhower’s experience with both the Army’s nightmare 1919 transcontinental road expedition and Germany’s Autobahns were the genesis. At first, the Interstate Highway System was cloaked in Cold War defense terms: quick wartime military movements (and the hope of civilian escape from nuclear-targeted urban areas.)

By the 1960s, beautiful new freeways crisscrossed the land, combining with state turnpikes to slash intercity drive times. Would such convenient and affordable car travel hurt GA, we wondered? Most thought so.

Others saw benefits: Broad, straight roads (no curves tighter than 3,000-foot radius) with near-level routings through hills and mountains. In other words, GA could now enjoy endless ribbons of concrete below for navigation reference and emergency landings.

Flying across mountainous Pennsylvania in my youth, Interstates were warm comfort. Decades later out of D.C., I offered thanks many times for the new Interstate 68 through rugged West Virginia. Flyers out West blessed the wide new highways in mountain passes (while also thanking FAA planners for aligning their VOR airways there.)

Quicker door-to-door drive times did offer competition, especially against GA’s particular inconveniences: Getting to the airport, pre-flight, tie-down, acquiring ground transportation, weather delays. GA still appealed where good roads didn’t go or where cities and water crossings cut traffic speeds. Yet the new web of Interstates meant fewer routes where flying at 100+ knots trumped the door-to-door convenience of high-speed driving, at least over then-typical single-engine trip lengths.

Flying does still win where Interstates are indirect or congested. Example: Between Denver and Wichita, where there is no Interstate. GA wins again where Interstates crawl with rush-hour commuters. We pilots can “jump” traffic jams and congested water crossings. Ask any Washingtonian who gleefully flies over the chokepoint Chesapeake Bay Bridge to a beach weekend or any New York-area pilot zooming past clogged bridges and turnpikes to reach New England.

Did competition from the Interstates (or the DC-9 short-haul jet or the post-deregulation airline) put our segment of GA out of business for travel? Not completely, and none of them alone. A myriad of demographic, economic and technical factors worked us over — as they always do. Just ask the old Reading Railroad, the makers of pay telephones or the Remington typewriter company. The challenge is to reachieve relevance through new products and capabilities, and fresh marketing approaches.


Part 1 in a series. Look for Part 2 tomorrow.
© 2013 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved


  1. says

    Al Beckeith My Utilization of an airplane and my time.
    I received my Private in 1966, IFR Rating in 1967 and Commercial License 1n 1970
    My Job was as a Manufacturing Manager of on a plant in Ohio and after my Private License I bought a Cessna 172. The company added a plant in Arkansas and I then was responsible for 2 plants. I decided to get a faster airplane with Long range Tanks which
    ended up to be a Cessna 182 in 1970. What followed was Plant 3 in Georgia, then another in Denver, CO followed by a Cessna 210. Next a plant in Texas and Cessna “New”
    Cessna 210 followed by a new 1973 C-310 Twin.
    Once a month my staff and I did the rounds of all the plants and by 1979 I flew about 9,000. hrs just doing my job as a Manufacturing Manager.
    Because I bought and airplane right after I Received my Private License: I went home and told my WIFE in that order.
    She wasn’t too happy about that. To make restitution I started a Flight School which I still operate and remarried a woman that Loves to fly with me.
    Do what you love to do and marry a good woman and you are on to Healthy Longevity. However Stay Current !!! My Policy for pilot customers is 30 DAY Currency. If you own an airplane that is on lease to my compary the owner follows the same currecy requirements
    Don’t be BRAVE “BE CURRENT”

    • says

      Hi Al, Would you be “willing” then to concur that the “utlity value” of the GA (non-jet) airplane is either under sold OR not being sold as a viable business tool today?
      Rod Beck – aviationbiz.us

  2. Doug Drummond says

    Another flying club pilot has business fairly often at Bell Labs in New Jersey. He “drives his car” and gets reimbursed for the mileage from Chicago.

  3. says

    Business Transportation by Al Beckwith
    As a Manufacturing Manager of a large company I was approved to travel in my airplane for company business with my staff on a monthly basis for operational business. I carried sufficent Insuance ($100,000. per seat Liablity coverage) to satify the comany requirement.
    This process resulted in Face to Face contact with the corporate team and factory team at 4 locations.
    Quality & Productivity was the prime result on the bottom LINE $.
    A happier staff produced results
    Driving andor Airline Travel was not an option . Personal time produced value and a happier home for my staff.

    • Doug Drummond says

      One guy in my flying club had a temporary engineering job in Rockford IL and fly the club’s 172 to work. He lived very close to DuPage County Airport in the far western suburbs of Chicago, and had an instrument rating.

  4. says

    Why not the best of both worlds? Have a car that is also a plane, and you can fly/drive from wherever to anyplace, using the best means to do so. Weather a problem? Drive under it. Highway under construction? Fly over it. You are never stopped, and not having to count on transportation on the other end of the flight enables a lot more practical use of flying than we find today.

    Molt Taylor almost made it, but a last-minute change in auto manufacturing regulations after certification was accomplished through the FAA put him out of business. I don’t love his design, as the wings didn’t easily go with you when you drove, and it looked a bit odd. It worked, though. I think we have improved on things with our Switchblade. I am looking forward to the day when it doesn’t matter whether you want to fly or drive.

  5. JIM says

    Like others of you, I yearned to fly as a small child in the late 50’s and eventually earned a private, single engine, land pilot certificate in the mid 70’s, after graduating college in 1972 and making enough disposable income to do so. I still love the very special feeling of being able to fly amost 40 years later, but I realistically never had the free time or disposable income to advance beyond (VOR) status. I did briefly own a well maintained single engine late 40’s Cessna for several years, (my ultimate fly)ing dream come true) but came to the harsh reality that it was way to expensive to insure/maintain/hanger, given the limited amount of time I flew it. I had intended to use it for some 200-400 mile business use, but the overall cost and practicality was just not viable, particularly when erratic weather patterns were factored in. I made a practical financial decision, sold my my dream and went back to flying rented Piper Warriors at the local FBO in the mid sized midwest market I live in, only to see the current hourly rental cost “wet” rise above $100.00/ hour, (and it is still climbing).

    During the course of my private flying career, I have observed that there are several basic types of GA pilots: Group (1) Flying is there absolute passion and they have a strong apptitude for the skills to do it successfully. Flying is often their 1st priority over just about anything beyond making a living, which in many cases, allows them the needed funds to keep flying. They are serious students of flying and they tend to gravitate toward others like themselves for kindred, tight knit fellowship as focused pilots. (2) The 2nd basic group are those who also always wanted to fly and finally acheived their goal. Unfortunately, after earning their wings and entering the ranks of GA pilots the realities a variety of external factors begins to increasingly chip away at the ongoing pursuit of flying, the most notable being the constantly escalating costs and other pressing demands on their time due to job/income earnings and family obligations. It finally becomes to expensive and/or time consuming to continue. Flying time diminished to save money and satisfy other key time obligations. Concerns over possibly eroding flying skills and the recognized need for spending more time for ongoing training forces a decision to hang it up.

    Other forms of recreation such as boating, or riding ATV’s, (which can be done at less expense and more easily with a wider circle of family/friends, becomes more practical and attractive (plus, having a social beer or two while doing so is not seen as likely being a fatal action). Most long time pilots have also likely noted that not everyone you invite to go flying is jumping to go, including family members. They will hop in a nice boat or on the back of an ATV, often without any reservation, because it is safely on the surface of mother earth and that makes it seem inherently safer. Group (1) pilots, based on many years of personal observations, often tend to build their focused passion for flying around family members and/or friends who wholeheartly sign on to their passion. If not, they move on to those that will, often that close circle being fellow serious, focused pilots. I personally know of 3 group (1) GA pilots who divorced over the fact that their wife wanted them to either quit flying or scale back their flying, in part because of the cost and time factor, or because of fears associated with their flying small planes. Flying was their 1st love.

    I have probably covered ground familiar to most reading this comment. As previously stated, I love flying and have done so for almost 40 years. I have made my living as a busy consumer goods/services marketer on a national/regional basis over the same period of time and have read with great interest, the comments previous to mine. There is a great deal of vailidity and almost all of the posts.

    While I firmly believe that the love of flying is still out there in the hearts of a large segment of young men and women, the reality is that the bulk of them will never become GA pilots at any level because in addtion to life in general having become much more complex and expensive over the post WWII time frame, so has flying. Many young people fortunate enought to acheive a post high school education today are challenged to pay for that education, Those that do have disposable income often find it less expensive and easier to buy a boat, ATV or a motorcycle, none of which require months of expensive training to operate. I recently had a bright younger man tell me he had always wanted to fly, but could not justify or afford all the costs, including flight training and airplane rentals. Instead, he bought a decent, used Harley, which he said gave him a special feeling and did a nice job of flying at low levels for much less cost.

    Consumers today with some level of disposable income, have a plethora of enticing options for spending what free time they have, be it cruises, casinos, time share vacation homes, etc. Unfortunately GA flying is competing head on with those many alternatives while both basic groups of GA pilots I earlier outlined, are also shrinking. Baby Boomers are almost all now 50 and over. We have been fortunate to grow up and in many cases prosper during a formidable economic boom period. We in many cases were able to earn good incomes and yet there were far fewer attractive options for spending our free time and disposable income. The lure of flying at the hometown airport was attractive, visible and attainable for most with the desire. That has obviously changed as the middle class and the related US work force continues to contract and with it, disposable income.

    Some of my observations and comments do not apply to the small percentage of wealthy individuals who continue to have the purchasing power, as well as as contol of their time to do what they want. They will continue to be a viable force in GA as long as they desire to be. Glass panels and other high end tech options, as well as new factory built airplanes will be within their means.

    As such,I believe the future of GA related flying might primarily be focused in (3) target niche areas: 1) High wealth individuals who can easily afford to fly as GA pilots, either for pleasure, business, or both. 2) GA business based flying where it still makes sense economically, and fortunately that niche does still exist, particularly in more remote areas of the USA. 3) continued development of lower cost recreational type flying opportunities which would likely include less expensive VOR flight training with some restrictions on flying areas/hours and airplane types. More focus on the development of pre built component rec. category “plug together and fly” kit planes that can be safely assembled by pilots with reasonable building skills, but who are not highly skilled craftsmen with full machining shops in their garage, much less thousands of hours of free time and the patience to build a from scratch airplane. I believe that their is a large untapped, pool of potential pilots in this 3rd group. They are typical, mainstream middle class individuals who still have a strong desire to fly, but realistcally know that the more traditional route many of followed, is now out of their economic/time parameters reach. While they desire to become a pilot, there expectations would be well satisfied in flying a simple airplane with the performance specs. similiar to that of a Piper Cub, Taylorcraft or Luscombe. They don’t want to fly that far from home, or at night, or need to take the whole family for an extended pleasure ride at the same time.

    Sometimes revisiting the early success in the start of a successful business era can prove to be of value in restaging. Most early stage post WWII young men with a desire to fly also did not have strong earning capabilities, or a good deal of disposable income. The ecomomics of the time and many of the available small, single engine aircraft became an opportune fit. They just wanted to fly a plane, even if it was not a Corsair, or P-51.

    Entrepreneurial, “outside the box” thinking FBO operators, particularly at smaller non commercial GA airports might establish communal style workshop/hanger space operations with teaching/mentoring staffing where lower cost “plug and fly” component kit planes could be assembled, tested/certified and hangered. They could also rent the same type of planes and provide the low cost, reduced time flight training needed. (I believe that there has been some discussion within the EAA about this type of concept). I think it could attract and keep involved a good sized group of very cost/time/priority concious potential GA pilots, primarily mid 20’s-60’s who otherwise will not likely be able to fly. Today, the ability to successfully identify and then reach out to underseved “niche” markets is sometimes overlooked in business areas that have taken a more traditional approach to reach their established customer base. There are still viable opportunities ahead for GA aviation.

    • says

      Jim; An articulate and well writen piece! Your last paragraph makes a lot of sense. However, I would iike to offer a bit of information about airport FBO operating costs since I have considerable experience in this area having operated at two GA airports as well as a libary of operating agreements from over 50 GA airports nationally.
      The airport owner/authority charges, in most cases , exorbidently high rents for leasehold space; hangar/office/lounge, which makes for higher “breakeven costs” for the FBO or flight school. One of the principal reasons many small FBO/flight schools fail is in acheiving the break-even point which relies on frequent and volume purchases – seldom the case in recreational GA. Any “income” that may be of low volume and not seen as profitable may be rejected by the operator or airport manager. This also may be viewed, if not in conjucntion with, as “competition. That said, however, a few may see the idea you sited as a “good will” or a public relations gesture. Your idea has merit and has great potential I beleive in the more rural low density air traffic and less costly real (airport) estate markets in the US such as the mid-west.

      • JIM says

        ROD: Thanks much for your response to my post. In particular, your comments about the difficulties of operating a financially successful FBO operation do not at all surprise me. It is a very difficult business to survive in, given many of the issues set forth in my post. My KEY point in the later part of the post with Group (3) lies in carefully evaluating potentially viable marketing opportunites that might create a new era of middle class GA pilots on a fiscally sound basis through a “NICHE” positioning. That means correctly identifying a marketing opportunity that can create enough traction within a specific user subset to actually develop in to a profitable risk vs. reward end game success story. It certainly will not work en mass in the early stages, but if the right mix of “elements” needed to launch such a NICHE project is assembled, it can have a real chance to grow and create the needed initial marketing awareness and traction, (“Mojo”) needed to then expand into other viable marketing areas around the country. There is a very basic concept in the marketing business that states: “MASS attracts MASS and you can’t create that MASS until you build the necessary initial MOJO.

        Now, go back to the basic marketing concept I set forth in the later part my initial post, regarding the creation of a significant new pool of middle class based GA pilots. First, an acceptable initial level of prospective new GA pilots in a target marketing area would respond to and then buy into both the practicality, as well as the “lets go fly” romance factor of a simplified, less time consuming low cost basic pilot certificate, coupled with the availability of an economical “plug together and fly’ component type small, basic single engine airplane through a user friendly “turn key” type package provided by carefully solicited, well run FBO(s) in the initial target market. Done correctly, a solid foundation of success is then established as a well publicized and promoted working model. From there the program can expand further and gain more traction/mojo -IF- the same carefully implemented steps are followed in additional targeted markets, while working with the right FBO’s, aviation manufacturers/ suppliers and coordinating support groups.

        Obviously, what I suggest does not happen without first creating a start up consortium of viable, interested commericial entities in the GA aviation business that can collectively develop and then implement the initial plan, while also preparing for anticipated incremental sustained growth in additional target market areas on a balanced/controlled basis. I believe that if a properly skilled group of entities in the GA business would objectively evaluate the concept, they will find that a substantial pool of middle class, potential younger pilot prospects exist who still have the “dream”, but who today live in a much more complex, demanding, fiscally and time challenged society than was the case post WII- 2000. The opportunity to be able to become a pilot in a low cost, less time intensive training program and then be able to fly a basic, economical airplane on some type of shared ownership, lease/rental, or “plug together and fly” turn key build program can prove to be quite attractive, when compared to what it currently the norm.

        It will NOT likely create nearly as many middle class GA pilots, as was the case many years ago, who will have the sizable disposable income and free time to afford complex type new aircraft, a long with IFR certificates and and a fat log book of cross country flights. Current and projected domestic employment economics play heavily into that scenario as of now. It could however help sustain and again grow a basic segment of GA aviation, keeping a number of involved GA airports, FBO’s and aviation manufacturers and suppliers in business. “Adapt or cease to be”. In the end, its all about viable numbers and a SOUND idea with MOJO that creates MASS. I would think well run umbrella aviation organizations such as AOPA and EAA, both of which I have been a member, could embrace that time tested concept and work with it in this proposed application.

        • says

          Jim, Thanks! Now my critical review of the concept of pulling in the “masses”.
          Like you said, “sheep will follow sheep”, but first, it takes MULTIPLE sheep!
          We all know as markerteer’s (three -humor!) EVERY product or sevice is a numbers game – GA – or should I say the recreational segment, from personal experince in it AND out of it as a more ojective un-bias observer, this is what I think recreational GA is up againt. I’ll try to be brief.

          1. To start, stats show only (fact) ONE in 1,400 of the general popiulation has an INTEREST in GA – not good odds for starters.
          2. Also, the facts show a constantly DECLINING pilot (consumer?) population
          3. Is “cost”perhapsth main issue – somewhat, BUT I don’t think so!
          4. As “pure recreation”, many alternatives that don’t require skill, intellect, time/commitment and expense/investment in that order.
          5. Technology – the “kid” today can ‘fly” (or close) on his/her PC!
          6. For this group -” FLYING -NO BIG DEAL”!
          7. INCEREASE the quanity – not very possible.
          8. INCREASE the quality – possible.
          9. Objective – “Neutralize decent -maintain altitude” (at best)
          10. REALISTIC outcome -“getting behind the power curve”
          If I were “gifted” in ANY way – people who know me well, would say I have an uncanny ability to “predict”, with a high degree of certainy, outcomes of various events in the “future”

          In summary, I think the real DIFFICULTY comes in not only getting the intial interest of the prospective “aviation enthusisist, but KEEPING them interested – take a look at the drop out rate of pilot candidates!
          I see many, and I bet YOUR reading this, are only interested in “selling the gospel” (emotion) of flying to ANYONE who will buy or listen to your lecture!
          ANSWER: THEY need a REASON to GO THE DISTANCE – find that REASON and the problem is solved!. My approach to GA (recreational – utility value) has ALWAYS been this; work the ONE who has “the NEED to complete the mission”, the GREATER the need, the HIGHER, the probably they’ll go the distance “less dropouts?) – make sense/cent$? Continuing to “sell” light planes, etc and their recreational (non-utility) benefits is like trying to solve “Rubics Cube”!
          I look at aviation from the eyes as a BUSINESS person first and foremost with the upmost of ojectivity – the airplane is viewed as an “investment” – nothing more – this is the way I see it – “O” emotional (passion -RARE – no attachment) – so no rose colored glasss here and zip fluff – sorry gals and guy’s – but I’m not the enemy here – just straight forward and BLUNTLY honest – to old (pushing 70) for any fantasies!
          Still not “buying” my stance? OK – try this! YOUR one of (1,399) who DOESN’T fly – now HONESTLY -would you want to subsidize less than 1/10 of 1% of the populations hobby – HONESTLY – without bias – come on now – don’t be affraid!THE REAL ANSWER – PLEASE SIT DOWN!
          Show ME, the “average” Joe/Jane, the non-flying public, the BENEFITS (up-play) economic, air ambulance, etc or otherwise, for the existence of the GA airport and FBO; DOWNPLAY the recreational stuff – THEY don’t want to hear that, or PAY for it (we know you’ll be there anyway – quite please – get my driff, Jamie)

          Perhap I’ll write a more extensive article on this and submit it to “Ben”, dare he publish my “Gen. Patton” style views in the future – late here, EST – NIGHT everyone – for now!

          • JIM says

            ROD: Thanks again for the additional valued input! You clearly have a much better sense of the GA aviation market as a full time career AV Man than I do as a long time, fairly low time VOR marketing guy. Based on your expert assessment of the “potential” middle class pilot pool currently out there, I would agree that the likelyhood of building and sustaining the “low cost” easier to learn/low cost basic plane concept approach I put forth is not a viable concept because the numbers, (potential critical MASS) is simply not out there like I thought it might be. I have had many typical younger individuals over the last 30 years tell me how much they would like to learn to fly, if only it was more affordable to rent/buy a plane and not as time consuming/costly to get a GA license. Your response is why I always stress doing the evaluation/research BEFORE starting an intial project based on ASSumption. In this instance, that worthwhile data research would have likely provided predictability stats that mirror your “gut” intincts, based on a long aviation career.
            Oh well, we’ll just hope that the real wealthy upper crust of America keeps on buying and flying whatever high priced, high tech factory made product is out there, so the rest of us middle class types, that are still hanging around until the money runs out have a decent place to take off and land. Based on your input, it sounds like the days of the average Joe learning to become a GA pilot inexpensively and then fly a low cost, economical plane of some sort started going west with the end of the last century. For most of them, their flying buzz will have to come from low cost, high tech video simulators and games. Its to bad, but that is the constantly evolving economic landscape of America. As for me, I will refrain from any further good ideas to help save GA.

    • says

      Hi JIM, Just sent you later/last reply (AM today), but it got posted at tne LOWER wrung of this page! Also, you might enjoy the following blog/articles relative to GA recreational in particular at our sites; get-aviation.com OR aviationbiz.us. “Mar 31st, 2012, “Passion or Profit – A Conflict of Motives”, May 2012. “Does Every City Need an Airport”? and last, Dec 2, 2012, “Will BUSINESS Ever Come to Recreational Aviation”! – enjoy!

  6. says

    Thomas Boyle says:

    My mental model is the yacht club or golfing country club: you want a place that’s attractive to hang out, associated with food and drink, has both a friendliness and perhaps a certain amount of prestige (probably means no battered training airplanes), has a strong social element with regular organized events, has a lot of casual members and a smaller hard-core group (in a yacht club, they’re those people who actually go places at 6kt in their sailboats).

    I say:

    I would like to see the faces of the recreational flyer when I announce the $2,000 membership fee and the monthly fees for hanging out at the airport after we made it nice!

  7. Pier says

    Flying, which must compete with other discretionary activities, has at least a couple drawbacks:
    — The price of admission (the time and effort required to get the minimum certification required) is much higher than that of most other non-essential activities. In a couple hours you can learn enough to feel fairly competent in a power boat, and probably learn enough to avoid killing yourself in a few minutes. The realistic minumum for a plane is probably 30 hours over a period of several weeks (Recreational). In an “instant gratification” world, that may seem too long.
    — The ongoing expense is also higher than most.
    There’s a small subset of the population that is willing to jump through the financial and mental hoops to fly. My wife and I own homes separated by 500 miles and neither town is served by airlines. It would be completely impractical to own them both if it weren’t for our little Mooney (and an instrument rating — another time-consuming certification many avoid). The challenge is finding that subset and actively marketing to it, rather than expecting those people, who may never have considered general aviation, to walk in off the street. (Purveyors of recreational boating take out full-page, color spreads in local newspapers. You’re lucky to find a few black-and-white lines hidden in the classified section related to aviation.)

    • says

      Pier; So right about the “subset” or shall we say demographic. Your “case ” is almost identical to a gent and former “student” who later, in less than 30 months purchased TWO birds and also got his instrument ticket!
      On the marketing side of GA – problem is in finding a cost effective media vehicle to reach a very (1 in 1,400), not the masses, vertical or limited prospect is a challenge.
      That said, one must correctly indentify the BEST potential student/aircraft purchaser; best done by looking at the “profile’ (demographic) of those who have completed a private/LSA license AND purchased an airplane. Once identified, say by residence, profession or income, a DIRECT mailer inviting them to an “Open House” (for them only) on the benefiis AFTER one has a license!’Lets say 50 show at at your FBO/flight school – if they have the financial ability, and we KNOW they do, for a private or LSA course AND buy an airplane – for ??? $$!
      Other media such as cable TV, glossy 1/4 page print ads in an “upscale” monthly magazines while reaching the “right ” prospect are very costly – same for daily newspapers. Internet or web-site – good for “pre-sale” information, But NOT to “seal or close” the deal! However, “Personal selling” is best – and face to face with the prospective student/customer!

  8. says

    My experience since 1966 has proven the value of GA Aircraft where my experience in Single & Twin Engine Piston Aircraft has provided me the ability to expand my opportunities in business in addition to the value my improved utilization of personal time.
    Safety on Flight through Currency and excellent maintenance of my aircraft has proven itself over and over .
    At 85 and still holding an FAA Medical supports my Healthy Longevity together with “Don’t Do anything Stupid”

    Al Beckwith

  9. Thomas Boyle says

    There isn’t any “steak” left to sell. Small planes simply aren’t useful, and likely never will be again. GA is dying because it has little or no practical utility for most people, on most trips – but we’re stuck in a “utility” mindset that results in airplanes that are far too expensive for recreational use, and that results in a “transactional” rather than a “fun community experience” focus at the FBO. Recreational users drift away, unwelcome and unable to justify the cost; utility users are disappointed in the end and go back to their cars.
    By the time you allow for the trip to the airport, the hangar/tiedown, the walk-around, flight planning, the tie-down and paperwork at the arrival airport, ground transportation at the destination, and the unreliability aspect (weather, and the fact that the aircraft themselves are terribly unreliable), there are few trips where either a car or an airline doesn’t offer a better cost/benefit combination. A lot of those trips that do make sense, are between small towns that are poorly-served by roads – but America is far more urbanized today, and a far smaller percentage of us live in/go to such places. And, yes, flying may be faster than urban freeways, but to get to a GA airport in a major city generally requires… a long drive, on urban freeways, to the outskirts of the city!
    Small airplanes were a marvel of transportation utility before the era of fast highways, fast cars, cheap airlines, and big cities with no convenient GA airport access. But they’re not now.
    Sure, there are routes where the little airplane is better, but there aren’t enough of them anymore.
    That’s why the letter groups are pushing toward recreation and community: they’re realizing that small airplanes are no longer relevant for transportation – but that need not mean the death of GA. Sailboats are no longer relevant for transportation either – but, if GA were as healthy as recreational boating, we’d all be a lot happier. If boating were sold as “steak” (utility) instead of “sizzle” (fun), and if yacht clubs had all the charm of ferry terminals, boating would be as dead as GA. But it’s not – and GA needs to learn from that.
    And, yes, there are places where a small boat makes sense as transportation. But that’s not why most people have small boats.

    • Greg W says

      I agree and thanks for making me not feel alone in this. Here in northern MI, planes sit in hangers while the owners drive to local ski hills (that have runways at the resort) why because the car is better mobility at the destination. The same type of owner will spend a lot of money on “up grades” to increase the utility of their aircraft and yet not use it because of the $6.00 gas and inconvenience at the destination. They will go out with boats, snowmobiles and motorcycles just to play, yet say they need a reason to take the airplane. The mantra of utility is a major cause of increasing cost ( we don’t need a glass panel to fly safely) and decreasing use.

      • Thomas Boyle says


        You’re not alone in this!

        Cost is a huge issue, and glass panels aren’t the worst of it: speed and regulation are. That glass panel need not cost $60k: it can be done, easily, for $10k. The other $50k is regulatory cost; sport aviation needs to be flat-out exempted from almost all the regulations, frankly. As for speed, well, fast is expensive.

        If small airplanes were seen as a hobby, how would things be different? I’m not sure, and of course people would still use airplanes to go places. However, I’d expect to see a lot more focus on group/social activities: group fly-outs, monthly spot-landing-and-bbq, monthly precision-navigation-and-bbq, groups with specialty focus – antiques, maintenance, instrument flying, aerobatics, experimental, electric, avionics, soaring, ultralights, models (for kids and adults), whatever – getting together regularly to share their passions, regular social events, a place at the airport where people gather after flying (with, heavens above, drinks!). My mental model is the yacht club or golfing country club: you want a place that’s attractive to hang out, associated with food and drink, has both a friendliness and perhaps a certain amount of prestige (probably means no battered training airplanes), has a strong social element with regular organized events, has a lot of casual members and a smaller hard-core group (in a yacht club, they’re those people who actually go places at 6kt in their sailboats).

        Right now, urban airports (the ones most people are exposed to) are industrial-ugly expanses of asphalt. The FBOs are transaction-oriented, with no reason – or desire – for people to just come in and hang around. There’s no food, or drink, or socializing of almost any kind there. There are few organized events, and they’re almost always dreary safety lectures. They’re not (usually) actively unfriendly, but would anyone go there to meet people and hang out? Would anyone be proud to take a guest to their “club”, at the local FBO?

        • says

          I get the” messsage” here! How does the”social aviator”, find their place as you mentioned – to “hang out” without being RESENTED by the FBO or GA business enterprise? Herein lies the problem! The PROFIT minded (rare) FBO or flight school wants people, aviation CONSUMERS, to spend money -maybe he/she is just getting fed up with non-spenders who drink coffee, read expired issues of Trade-a-Plane, etc. and “socialize” – perhaps a large size Lounge Hobbs Meter is the answer? The FBO is a place of BUSINESS , yes, many could be “warmer” – but still, not a place to JUST convene social activities. I’l bet if the “social aviator” spent a little more $$, and a little less time “hanging out”, you’ll see a very different attitude on the part of the financially fledging FBO or flight school operator. OR perhaps buy your own airport – and develop the “model” aviation social club – great idea and concept – but still, it takes$$$!

          • Thomas Boyle says

            Hi Rod,

            Sounds like we’re in all-too-violent agreement, here.

            Yes, yacht clubs and country clubs have business models that are built around extracting value from the folks who hang out there – membership fees and food/beverage and retail services, in addition to the activity fees. They are not ferry terminals, which are designed around folks who are passing through.

            Your comments suggest you are an FBO operator – a “ferry terminal” operator, in my analogy. I’m not suggesting you should run your FBO as a social club (although you could). I’m suggesting that ferry-terminal FBOs are appropriate for business jets and turboprops, but increasingly the wrong answer for small airplanes. I’m arguing – from the admittedly non-financially-committed safety of my own chair – that, for small airplanes, the sporting social club is likely a better long-term model. If your FBO serves a healthy market of business jet and turboprop customers, good on you – heck, maybe you should shut the doors to the riff-raff altogether (they’re the wrong demographic). On the other hand, if your customers operate small airplanes, and your FBO is not thriving, you may want to study other models.

            I’m not doing it (at least, for now), but I do know there are folks looking seriously at the social club model (the Aviation Access Project is one such effort). I hope they succeed!

          • Tom Chandler says

            I have truly enjoyed reading the debate between you guys. Very interesting, valid points, but I have a little bit to add. The country/yacht club model is a good idea and has certainly been validated in their particular industries. We have one complicating factor in the aviation mix…most of the venues in question are owned, and, to some degree, supported by taxpayers. We’ve long lamented being viewed as the “rich boys club” at the airport. We have combated that view with a list of significant and relevant benefits an airport brings to a community (econ development, air ambulance, etc). The country and yacht clubs don’t have to justify a thing since they are not beholden to the taxpayer.

            Now for a couple of exceptions. In my small, midwestern town, the city recently took over ownership and operation of a nice golf course. In the two years they have owned it, it has consistently done better than breakeven. The airport…never. As the airport manager, I am the one responsible for growing the airport, but the honest truth is, it probably never will breakeven. This will become especially true if/when the FAA Airport Improvement Program grants are cut. It would be more than a tough sell to take the yacht club route with tax dollars paying for the expensive infrastructure. At that point, the taxpayers would have a legitimate complaint.

            Example two… an hour south of me is a great little strip that has blossomed because they have embraced the model you suggest. The key to their success…it’s privately owned. Fifteen years ago I use to take students to this strip to show them how to operate on a “badly maintained, short, narrow runway”. This runway is now nearly 5000 x 75 ft runway. They have a great restaurant (food, live music, and, yes…a bar), new hangars, hangar homes being built ranging from $250K to well over $1M, some have Cubs in the garage, some have jets, everyone has fun and shares the aviation passion. The new owners have put a huge amount of time and money into the airfield. I don’t know if it has paid off financially, but it certainly paid off in helping like-minded aviators enjoy flying together. (www.stearmanfield.com)

            In the end, while there may be some exceptions, this movement would almost certainly have to take hold at private airports.

    • says

      Ok, “Mr. Wizard of Smart”, perhaps you could try answering this:
      How do YOU propose to “sell” the non-utility (pure recreational user)
      through “economys of scale” – that idea hasn’t worked for decades – I suggest you get with REALITY – the general public just isn’t interested in recreational aviation – one in 1,400 – increase that by even 400% (highly unlikely) and now it’s one in 350!
      Whatever the product or service, a NEED (utility) is a lot easier to sell than a pure WANT (recreation?). So LOGICALLY, that’s why my emphasis would be on “selling” the utility (practical) value. But of course, that generally means a higher volume (airplane) user. Does that make any cent$ or is that to difficult to comprehend?
      CASE HISTOTY: A little over 4 years ago a gent in his early 60’s came to me and wanted to learn to fly. His motive – he owned a vacation home in Myrtle Beach (SC) and flying (utility) was a great way to get there – and have ‘fun” while doing it – a “win-win”. Less than 30 months after his first lesson, he 1. Otained a private and instrument rating. 2. Purchased a Piper Archer (before solo!) and a SR-20, 15 months later. Of course, add an annual or two, fuel and hangar storage, etc; result – INSOME to the GA industry!
      Might check a quote by Ralph Hood, a respected speaker and contributor to AOPA Flight Training Magazine from the November 2008 edition, “Perhaps we need to accept this (GA) is a high end business and start marketing as such”.
      And that, Mr. Boyle, is the REALITY – like it or not!

      • Thomas Boyle says

        Hi Rod,

        I appreciate the title!

        Look, I don’t like the prospect of the death of GA either. But small airplanes are useless. Business jets, useful. Airline travel, useful. Cars, useful. Small airplanes are recreation, and sometimes you can use them for travel.

        We can fight it. We can rail at it. We can get angry. But, absent some revolutionary ideas, we can’t bring back the utility of small airplanes. It’s over.

        I don’t market light aviation: I do analyze businesses. I don’t think there’s ever been much effort put into GA as a sport – gliding and ballooning do it, but they’re being killed off by the requirement that their customers live in rural places. But you can market skiing (formerly a means of transportation, now irrelevant as such), and yachting (ditto), and powerboating (ditto), and biking (ditto), and… Oh, enough. Yes, I know flying is an expensive hobby – but a) it’s much less expensive if you don’t think the goal is to travel 200kt in IMC, and b) priced a new 40 ft sailboat lately? (Top speed of a 40ft, $400,000 sailboat: less than 8.5 kt.)

        If you want to be in the business of utility aviation, I suggest focusing on business jets and turboprops. It’s a teeny tiny demographic but it’s a business. Single-engine airplanes are a sport – maybe a viable one, maybe not, but a sport nonetheless. We just haven’t adapted to that fact yet.

        • says

          Tom, Sorry for the somewhat “harsh” first reply. Both Mike and I have extensive backgrounds in both avaition and non-aviation industries. I spent the “golden” years in GA from 1966-78. Like you, I analyize business too – FBO’s, flight schools, ect. which is a our specialty. You mentioned that the business/corporate segment is WHERE it’s at regarding “ultity” value – I must disagree slightly here. Check the stats – about 25,000 of the “business” use aircraft (owner flown) NOT professional crews, are light piston/tubo-prop (PC-12, TBM, Cirrus, etc. This IS the “missed” market that’s not being adressed – that’s my premise for selling the utlity value – ilke you stated -PURE recreational use just isn’t cost effective. A a business person and marketing oreinted guy and if I were to be in the GA business today, I would: 1. Identify WHO is my BEST customer – be it business OR recreational 2. WHO has the greatest NEED. 3. WHO can AFFORD it. Regardless of the “motive” or reason my customer, business or recreational is for flying, my FIRST concern is serving those individuals who SPEND for my products and services which RESULT in profitablity to my stake/shareholders, AND myself, assuming I’m one of them!

          • Thomas Boyle says


            No real argument here. I’d suggest only that you expand the thought a little. You might enjoy The Innovator’s Dilemma, if you haven’t read it already. The thesis is that, once a market is mature, you don’t get dramatic new growth by serving the best existing customers. When dramatic new growth emerges, it almost always comes through a product that is a) dramatically cheaper, b) “good enough” for some group of customers, and c) useless to the best existing customers. That last one is the big surprise, but it’s true. (The reason it’s true is that, in a mature market, any innovation that is useful to the best existing customers will already have been adopted.)
            If you want to build a business that will generate good cash flow tomorrow, you need to serve today’s best customers.
            If you want to envision a big new long-term opportunity, today’s customers are unlikely to be the place to start: you want to look for worse (“cheaper”) customers, and find something that works for them.
            Today’s best customers are the business jet and turboprop owners. The Cirrus operators are at the low end of that crowd – and Cirrus is moving up (with the jet). If you want to build a business today, that’s where the money is, no argument.
            My focus is on whether there’s any future to small aviation and, if so, what it is. I don’t think utility can save the light airplane (basically, anything less capable than a $650,000 SR22). There simply may not be a viable business to be built around small airplanes, but if there is, it’s likely to look like one of the viable businesses built around other things people pursue because they are passionate about them, rather than because they have utility. Thus, the social club model.

        • says

          Hi Tom, Again! I was in the “business” in the GA’s heyday (1966-78) and the last several years (semi-retired) now and have sold a few birds and performed aviation business consulting for FBO and flight school want-a-be’s. Frankly, I left when I realized I was a business person FIRST and incidently, a pilot, in that order. Not at all compatable with my peers, EVERYONE wanted to fly – I WANTED to make MONEY in aviation – boy, was I a lone eagle!
          Recently, and over several years of research, I’ve concluded this: The smaller the market (demographic) population which to draw potential avaition consumers, one has a much LESS likely hood of being (financially) successful. Simply, this IS a numbers game – NO consumers – NO business – NO profits. The failure of many small FBO’s, incompetent magement excluded, is just lack of DEMAND – “plane and simple!
          I have created the ideal demographic business model/criteria for some assurance or probability of success; that is: 1. A general popualtion of 125,000, 4.5% of which have household incomes of $150K annualy, unemployment UNDER 9%, an INCREASE in population growth, and 200+ small-medium size busniess’s who may be prospects for “business use” aircraft. Now, IF this community is already served by TWO FBO operators, the area is OVER served -adding an additional FBO would be now dividing the potential market share by 3 – good luck!
          The industry, at the “retail level” has an over supply problem – and more so with FBO’S serving a high percentage of recreational aviation consumers. For example, it would take abourt 25+ C-172 owners who fly about 50 hours each annually to acheive the same income ONE King Air business owner/operator.

          Although, noble and well intended, the Access Aviation project has merit; I personally don’t think the “numbers” LONG term will happen. What is needed is not increasing the quanity of aviation consumers, but INCREASING the quality; just to many recreational alternatives to flying that don’t require the investment, skill, intellect and time that even a Light Sport Pilot license does. But, correct me here if I’m wrong, that this movement is more about promoting the social group comradery of aviation rather than the actural flying of airplanes?

          • Thomas Boyle says


            I think you’re right, there are two different motivations going on here. You have a lot of people who are passionate about flying, who are worried that the decline in GA will make it effectively impossible for them to continue their flying, as infrastructure and the supply of equipment dry up. You also have people who are interested in aviation as a business activity.

            Clearly, for sport aviation to survive, there has to be a business model that it can support. I think the club approach is an attempt at that. I don’t think that’s likely to be a very attractive business in its own right, but it might be good enough to support some enthusiasts who “just want to fly”, i.e., it could be a “lifestyle business”. I don’t know if it can survive, let alone grow: in Europe, where GA is much tougher sledding, clubs have hung in there, but only just. In the US, in those branches of aviation that are clearly purely for sport – gliding, hang gliding, ballooning, aerobatics, antiques, model flying – you do see a much bigger emphasis on camaraderie. Whether this is at the expense of actual flying, I don’t know: I don’t think it is. I think it can promote more flying, in fact. But, none of those is a huge business either.

            I do think that flying is both too difficult, and too expensive, to have truly mass appeal. Frankly, it’s also rather dangerous. Electronics may, over time, help with two of those problems (but, so far, not the cost).

            Separately, there’s a niche serving business users and wealthy private users of GA aircraft with genuine utility (basically, we’re talking turbine engines). As you point out, to a business operator, one King Air is worth all the puddle-jumper customers in the world. That’s a real business, and although it’s probably also at saturation, I don’t see any reason to fear that it will go into decline.

            Where I think we are seeing decline is where people are confused, and get into flying while thinking that an airplane a “normal person” could afford, a PA28 or C172, for example, is going to be a useful travel machine. A fun travel machine, no question. Useful, in the sense defined by a non-enthusiast… not so much. That equation has changed: the PA28 was useful when introduced, but not now. The “everyman’s” airplane is now a hobby, not a work tool, and the infrastructure and marketing don’t reflect that yet. So we wind up with the hobby pilot facing excess costs and the “fixed stare” effect at the FBO, while the person who buys for utility gets disappointed and returns to using their car. That’s lose-lose-lose (counting the FBO).

        • says

          Hi Tom – ONE more time!
          Lets look at the various “profit centers” of your typical Aviation Retail Provider (ARP) or more commonly referred to, the “FBO”.
          1. Highest risk of all the profit/income centers
          2. Probably of success – low
          3. WHY? 1. Unpredictable and inconsistent customer (student/renter) demand
          4. LTCV – low (Life Time Customer Valve) same as 3 (difficult to project future income)
          However, IF license sought completed – average 6- 12 months
          1. Risk – moderate
          2. Probabiltuy of success – good
          2. WHY? Individual is already “sold” on flying – QUALIFIED buyer
          4. LTCV – good – potential exsist for future “upsale” to another aircraft
          NOTE: The aircaft puchaser now becomes a maintenance/fuel/storage customer
          1. Risk – low-moderate
          2. WHY? The customer has “committed” to flying by way of ownership
          3. LTCV – very good – excellent – 2-10 years?
          Assuming shop “rates” and service are competative
          1. Risk – low – moderate
          2. WHY!The aircraft owner NEEDS both
          3. LTCV – good 2-10 years? as long as ownership is maintained and based at your facility
          Ideally, the small FBO needs to be offering ALL of these profit centers.
          It starts with the “student, then he/she puchases an airplane, maintenance, fuel
          and storage -this is the LTCV cycle – but so many (in the business) fail to see this progression of WHO the BEST aviation consumer really is!
          Of all the profit centers, the flight school has the greatest volitilty and require a constant replenishing of customers (students) and the unpredictable nature of demand.

    • Ken Deken says

      I’ve found that for driving times of four hours or less, the car will be as fast with all factors considered, unless there’s a lake or something in the way that makes the flight much shorter (like Cleveland to Detroit.) For drive times of four hours (250 miles to 900 miles) to about fifteen hours, the plane will be from a little to a lot faster. Over fifteen driving hours, even with the delays front and back end of the trip, the airlines will make sense. And I guess I should be knocking on wood, but in nearly 1500 hours of transportation flying, my planes have not stranded me yet. If the planes are used, they are far more reliable than when they sit idly, waiting for that sunny day with no wind for sightseeing.

      • Doug Drummond says

        For driving times of about four hours, I found that you get there about the same time as those relatives who drove the same distance (to a wedding), BUT they are completely fried and we were much fresher.

        On another weekend, leaving from suburban Chicago (DPA) we visited my Dad in Indianapolis and daughter & granddaughter in Macomb, IL.

        Visiting my Dad did not cost anything more to fly–the difference was the $50 we would have spent on Motel 6 if we drove.

        But yes, some of the aviating was on the “entertainment” budget.

  10. Ken Deken says

    Our GA airplanes offer real utility, but to extract it takes work and time that can’t be included in the justification — those just have to be a labor of love. My Bonanza can take me and my golf buddies to an airport in Myrtle Beach in three hours from Cleveland with a car waiting on the ramp. My wife and I can fly from Cleveland to St. Pete/Clearwater in five hours non-stop, again with a car on the ramp, beating the airlines in block-to-block time. I can fly across Lake Erie to the Detroit area in an hour vs. almost 4 by car. We can do this in almost any weather (except icing) with minimal delays. However, an airplane without IFR capability and currency is not a traveling machine — it’s reduced to recreation only. And it takes work to maintain the IFR currency for non-professional pilots.

  11. Jeff Cooper says

    Cost of fuel. maintenance, upgrading equipment as an owner, not to mention cost per hour just to get your Private nowadays is really discouraging to the average person, who 20 years ago could still afford it but now is just priced out of the picture. And younger people with less time and money would rather experience flying with the latest Microsoft Flight Simulator – 50 bucks, fly whatever and wherever you want, and if you crash, so what?

  12. says

    The topic is exactly why GA is declining. Too much emphasis on the recreational side, not enough of the presentation of the practical benefits. If the flight school and FBO operators would understand this concept, GA would be growing with users of GA…because it makes sense.

    I think right now is the best time to buy a used airplane…a lot of bang for the buck! The manufacturers are concentrating on the business jet market, but not the small business user or someone who needs an airplane and thinks a corporate airplane is a jet. Rod Beck is right, look at advertising for GA singles and light twins, they all went after the small business owner who had a need for efficient travel.

    When you own/operate a FBO, you have to have consistent business, not just the weekend flyer. Without real income, the FBO cannot stay in business, and that doesn’t benefit anyone. From a business use, you can’t find a more efficient way to connect and grow a business in a geographical area of 350 miles or less…which is 90% of business travel anyway!

  13. Greg W says

    Sell the “steak not the sizzle”. That is a great line but it also puts GA in direct competition with the automobile and the airlines,we have and will continue, to fail against them as pure transportation. The manufacturer wants to sell new, the publications/organizations claim to want to just increase activity. We already speak of utility, yet very few expose the thrill and romance of flight. We as a market need to compete against the motorcycle,ATV,snowmobile and personnel watercraft all of which have comparable cost to a used light plane.Watch a Can-Am commercial they do not say anything about mpg. or load capacity,or speed and range. Most of all they do not say anything,or even imply, practical transportation. These companies sell the EXPERIENCE of simply riding.We need to do the same and sell the idea of flight not the utility, at least as far as private light aircraft.

    • says

      Greg, Great line – or reality? WRONG! That IS the problem! I suggest you take a good hard look as WHY the “fun” (experience) aspect is waning – the cost doesn’t justify the benefit! If one is going to market/sale the light plane, it’s need to concentrate on those, BOTH recretional and business, who have or see a bonafide “utility” value. This was the focus of Cessna’s light/piston market approch of the 60’s and 70’s. Before you go and make comments without doing your homework, you best do a little research and you’ll find there’s a direct relationship with hours flown by an aircraft owner, recreational OR business, and the utility value they receive from their airplane. Altough many feel GA (recreational) needs to compete with ATV, motorcycles, etc, they can’t for one simple reason – the COSTS doesn’t equal the BENEFIT. This is the “rational” for promoting the utility value rather than the so called “fun” or experience – that gets old – if my premise is incorrect, then WHY are some many birds out of annual or flying few hours?
      Bottom line: The industry needs to “wake up” to this – or it’s doomed!

      • Arthur Johns says

        I had to get to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for a funeral. I was flying from Pickens County Airport near Liberty, South Carolina. The funeral was at 11 am. We took off in a Cessna 182 Skylane at 6 am, stopped in Blacksburg, Virginia to visit their restroom and took off from there to Harrisburg, Pa arriving shortly after 10:15 am. We borrowed a courtesy car (rent free) and drove to the church arriving around 10:30 am. We had enough time to visit with my brother, sister, and other relatives before the funeral service began at 11 am. After the service, it was off to the cemetery, then back to the church where we got our car, drove to the airport and flew back to Pickens County Airport in 3.5 hours. It cost $1500. round trip. $1200. for the plane and $300. for the pilot. When I flew this same trip solo in July 17, 2002 to visit my mother in the nursing home, my total cost was only $500. round trip. I flew a cheaper airplane and did the flying myself.

        The airlines wanted $1,000. per person on the funeral trip so for me and my wife the Cessna 182 was $500. cheaper than the airlines. On the funeral flight, we filed an instrument flight plan, was in constant contact with ATC, and flew at an assigned altitude of 7,000 feet on the way up, 6,500 feet on the way back. The funeral flight was done in one day. No hotels. The flight I did in 2002, I stayed overnight at my brother’s home, and he provided car transportation. I came and went when I wanted too. No security hassles and no layovers or plane changes.

  14. says

    I could not agree more — we need new capabilities and fresh marketing approaches. At the root of both, however, is a group of thinkers, leaders perhaps, in the aviation community who can envision both.

    Do we have those leaders? I ask because the current marketing by most of the mainstream Biz Av groups makes ME fall asleep, and I consider myself an aviation super-geek, impassioned, even. I know that Biz Av and GA are not the same thing, but there’s more money, more ROI from the former segment of the industry.

    Do we have those leaders? I also ask, because when I look around the industry now, I see that we aren’t investing in the next generation of leadres, and current leaders are not doing much to invest in themselves and their peers.

    I’m eager to hear your insight, as a leader who’s been in this field that I love much longer than me.

    Mark Jones Jr.

    • Drew Steketee says

      Mark: Thanks for your thoughtful (and concerned) comments.

      Do we have those leaders? Not recently, although new leaders are coming to the fore in some areas (Sun ‘n Fun, EAA with Jack Pelton) and some good things have been done by EAA and AOPA over the last decade or two. Unfortunately, the great driver (Cessna) has been retreating from the cause of basic GA due to corporate fiat (and business conditions.) There are new innovators, however: Redbird, for instance.
      In the past (including my time at GAMA), there were “Greats” that did wonderful things, plus EAA (since the 1980s), and AOPA (in the 1990s, for instance) — plus the 1995-96 GAMA PEARC committee cooperatively executing the BE A PILOT concept. Today? For now, new concepts may come from smaller players (and, sadly, not the traditional OEMs.) Because of that, we’ve all got to noodle (and then promote) how we can preserve and grow our segment of GA.
      (Just some early thots. I’m at Sun ‘n Fun working and can dash off just an initial reaction. Thanks for your comment. -ds

      • says

        Drew; the problem is, at the moment, a “Cessna” player in the light aircraft buisness is non-exisitent, that once had the volume and interest they once did. What GA has at the light/piston level presently, like it or not, is a non-business experinced artisan and one who’s passion alone doesn’t guarantee financial (dirty word) success as an FBO, flight schoool or other aviation retail provider. Cessna HAD a management/marketing plan in place for the want-a-be GA entrepenuer to follow via their Cessna Pilot (CPC) Centers. Now, present day, we haven’t anything like the “guidance” Cessna one provided. Until GAMA, NBAA, AOPA, etc comes to terms that this is the PROBLEM and “delegates” collectively, a formal or structured management/marketing plan for the start-up or fledging FBO or flight school you’ll continue to have the 3 hour J-3 student who now beleives he can master (solo) a P-51 Mustang!

        • Drew Steketee says

          I understand that a “Cessna” player is not currently engaged, that’s why I responded to Marc (above) that some non-OEM players are coming to the fore. One (today at Sun ‘n Fun) was Redbird, backed by an array of industry players including AOPA, FLYING, King Schools, etc. in a joint project built around the new “AOPA Jay” flight sim. Not sure it’s the be-all-and-end-all to the problem, but they’ve done good thinking — and it’s a “scenario-based” gimmick that can talk a newbie or prospect through a productive, safe cross-country. You’ll be reading about it almost immediately. The press room was PACKED – standing room only. Everyone wants to see SOME SOLUTIONS to our dilemmas. (Pilot Mall.com also announced its ADVANCED PANEL flight sim — real instruments, not on-screen replicas — for REALISTIC flying based on MicroSoft Flight Sim X scenarios. But the Redbird AOPA JAY (not loggable time) offers lots of education and motivation to the curious prospect (and the wannabe) beyond just a computer flight sim gimick.) Thus: an example of new ideas from non-traditional sources instead of OEMs, few of which are in the game right now as in previous decades. -ds

    • says

      Mark; Your on the $$money$$! The “problem” is for the last 3 decades+ has been a lack of applied business principals and ROI $$ motivated GA enterpeneurs at the “recreational” GA market segment level. WHY is that – OK, here goes! The principal reason for being an FBO (small/indepentden/Mom & Pop” )or flight school is NOT to be financially successful – rather to “experience” and share one’s passion for aviation, as if it were a “religion”; the intangible emotional high (no pun intended) of flying an airplane. Only after years at toiling a 70 hour+ work week and living, at best, a megar life style, does the skilled artisan comes to terms with reality – making a lot of flying “freinds” is fine, but why is it I’m still living at home at age 42 and driving a 28 year old Corolla?
      When BUSINESSS minded and motivated grads of ERAU, UND and other fine college AVIATION MANAGEMENT programs are the “new” 21st century leaders who may bring aggressive business and marketing practices to the recreational segment of GA and the child like “airport playground” atmosphere ceases -there’s hope. Not buying this – than WHY are the mediun-large FBO’s such as Landmark, Million Air, Signature, and Ameican Flyers or ATP professional flight schools prospering – is BUSINESS spelled with one or two S’s?

  15. Mark says

    In getting my license just this year (56 isnt to late) and flying the Cherokee 235 to parents in Central Texas, the thrill of doing it without my instructor son now more than once is replaced with accomplishment and practicality. They are now 2 1/2 hours vs. 7, most of that on traffic congested freeways full of 18 wheelers. I am finishing a hangar at a grass strip close by, my mogas tank next to it. I can soon be in the plane in 30 minutes or so, warming it up. I can see my elderly parents more often, and that means much to them and me. Fuel is a big deal anymore, way more than times past. So, the reason at least in some part for less financial practicality for the average family. But for me, the plane is a means of transport for longer hauls as well as an accomplishment.

    • says

      Mark, Thank you for confirming my feelings and demonstating the “ultility” value of the light airplane while having fun – the industry NEEDS more (pilot) folks who see the efficiency here as you do!

    • Doug Drummond says

      I also got to see my Dad more often in his last years. He always had some interest in aviation, but he lost friends to stupid mistakes often enough that he never started flying lessons. His retirement community was five minutes from Indianapolis Brookside (now, sadly, closed) and the line guy would give us rides to/from the FBO. One day it was marginal VFR at best, we made a VOR approach on an IFR flight plane–we may have been the only gas they sold that day.

  16. says

    In the 1967 film, “The Graduate”, the word was “plastics”.
    And the word in GA today is “utility”!

    Message: Sell the steak – not the sizzle!

  17. says

    To “JIM”, You used a key word in your final response to my previous response to yours – ASSUMPTION! Has this been the “problem” with the proponets of recreational GA for decades possibly? Shortly after WW II, many light plane manufactures sprouted up – Globe Swift, Seabee, Aeronca, Taylorcraft, Stinson to name a few, and now,long defuct. Cessna, Piper, at the time were already “in thegame” prior to Pearl Harbor, and had somewhat of a “rolling start”, which as we know, all still here, with Cessna now focusing on the Citation Jet market for the last several decades – Piper is still working on re-inventing themselves!
    Then we have Beech – I’ll save that for later.
    The “assunption” was that with all these miltary trained aviators being discharged would CERTAINLY want to continue their flying as civilians – guess again – it didn’t happen! WHY – not sure, but I’ll try guessing. First, this was a duty and “job” – not a hobby. These REAL (skilled) pilots came home and went back to thier normal jobs and occupations – dentist, accountant, lawyer, auto mechanic, drug store owner and the like. Of course, a few started FBO’s – not a hobby turned business – a BUSINESS, and these guy’s, while already having flight credentials courtesy of “Uncle Sam”, saw an opportunity – buying up and utilizing surplus C, 46’s C-47′ and C-54’s for freight charter, for example.
    But lets get back to the “light plane” area for a moment. Walter Beech and a few other visionary exec’s saw a market for a bird like no other – a niche – the Bonanza – an honest 140 knt+ fully retractable machine for BOTH the business and recreational “utility” user/buyer. Did the “others” offer ANY real utility value – if so, why their demise? Lesson here – except for the late singer/actor Frank Sinatra, what do you know had this long of a run? This fine airplane passed the “test of time” -1947 – today!
    Now, do you suppose “utility” had anything to do with that? I rest my case.

  18. Kevin Schutz says

    I would like to mention the fact that 75% of the post’s on this topic are not related to the blog. I currently work 200 miles from home, am in the power line construction industry, and change locations every time we finish a project. I drove I 81 at 3 am Monday for three hours and again on Friday at 5 PM for 3.5 hours so I would get home at 8:30 or 9 depending on traffic which was always slow. When I got home I was useless on Friday and had to be in bed Sunday at 8 so I could get up at 2:30 to drive back to work.
    I shopped around and found a well equipped C 172 for lease by the hour and now my commute is 40 minutes to work and about an hour on the way home. The cost is about the same as the 35 gallons of diesel for my pickup. I have a beater car at the work airport and now park my truck at the home airport. When you factor the cost of purchasing the truck, insurance, tires, maintenance, taxes verses the aircraft lease which includes maintenance, I pay for tie downs and fuel. The airplane allows me to have a quality of life not possible if I drove granted I stay out of town all week but I could not drive back and forth in the car either.
    Two weeks ago I got to take my wife to Williamsburg, Va for a weekend I was in Lancaster Pa at 6:30pm and flew home picked her up at the airport and arrived in Williamsburg VA at 9 pm This would have not been possible were it not for the plane our three day weekend would have been one day driving to and one day driving from and one day of vacation with a frazzled husband from driving in traffic.
    I say that in certain circumstances that GA with an IFR ticket is a viable way to commute. I could not fly only three times because of weather [ice] since November 1.

  19. says

    To Kevin from Al Beckwith

    You are my kind of guy when you determined to buy an airplane and use it to not only to SAVE time but to reduce the the wear and tear time on your physical self.
    The additional advantage was to realize that you considered the extra time you could spend with your wife on a weekend “Get Away”.
    Congratulations for putting that opportunity in toward a happier marriage.

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