That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong…

Dennis Miller, the comedian, social commentator, and all around intellectual bon vivant, once had a popular cable program that was famous for two things. His guests were encouraged to disagree without becoming disagreeable. There was no shouting on Miller’s show, even when the topics were incendiary enough to have degenerated into a slobbering, spittle-spewing, scream-fest had they been conducted by any other host of the day.

But perhaps more than that, Miller distinguished himself by beginning each program with a rant. These five- to eight-minute long diatribes were pithy, funny, often on target, and written with a highly specific perspective in mind. Yet no matter what the topic, Miller always ended his rants in the same way, saying, “Of course that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”

Can you imagine how productive our culture might be if we all adopted a similar position? Wouldn’t it be refreshing to engage in a spirited debate on any topic with an adversary who argued fervently for their position — but kept in mind that he (or she) was ultimately expressing an opinion that could, in fact, be faulty. Just accepting that possibility would elevate our discourse considerably.

Yet who will be first among us? Who is willing to throw up his or her hands and admit, I could be wrong.

I will. What the heck, I’ve been wrong before and I’m fairly certain I’ll be wrong again. What’s the harm in admitting fallibility? It only serves to validate the expression ”to err is human.” Well, I’m human. I err. Big deal.

Unfortunately, you know what the big deal is. Most people cannot admit the possibility they are in error…about anything. Somehow they have come to believe they are experts even on topics they know almost nothing about. They’re virtually omniscient as far as they can see.

Which is the point of the matter. Anyone who believes themselves to be unfailingly right on all issues is as myopic as…well, an extremely short-sighted person, frankly. They can’t see the forest for the trees. They’re blind by choice. And we all suffer from this affliction from time to time, because we’re human.

Of course, knowing the inevitability of our failings doesn’t mean we have to accept them without a fight. We could reach beyond ourselves and take a page from Dennis Miller’s book to at least consider the possibility we might be wrong.

How many times have you flown into a destination only to find the FBO virtually devoid of life? We’ve all had this experience. Sometimes that FBO on life support is on our home field. The lack of activity these businesses foster tends to be a wet blanket on airport activities as a whole. Certainly there are places where the quiet of the terminal building is understandable. Whiteriver, Arizona, has a population of roughly 5,000 people and an airport with one runway, no tower, and no services to speak of. Consequently you will not often find yourself number 16 in line waiting for takeoff. On the other hand, Hartford, Connecticut, with its population of approximately 125,000 should be able to put a steady stream of customers and visitors through the doors of their FBO. Combine their population with those of the more suburban West Hartford, as well as East Hartford across the Connecticut River, and wealthy Wethersfield just up the way, and you’d think Brainard Field would be a beehive of activity. Yet it’s not.

Could that lack of customers in Whiteriver, or Hartford, or in your town have to do with an inadequate business plan? Perhaps the marketing efforts of the businesses on the field could be tweaked a bit. Might there be an airport committee or director who could get a bit more involved and consider the possibility that the status quo is not quite meeting the potential of the airport?

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve met businessmen or government officials who are convinced their plan is the only plan worth pursuing. Even after years of underachievement they’re still dedicated to the plan, often a plan they concocted themselves. It seems no amount of failure or underachievement can bring that simple sentence to mind: “I might be wrong.”

We can do better than this. Really, we can. There’s no need to lay blame, point fingers, or cast aspersions on the character or lineage of anyone, anywhere. But if we were to all look inside ourselves for a moment, measure how well we’ve succeeded objectively, and ask ourselves if that’s really the best the market can do — well, we might just take our first step toward turning the general aviation industry around.

Flying is no less exciting than it was in 1935. Seeing the world from half a mile up in the sky has not become such a pedestrian activity that nobody is interested in pursuing the experience. Having the ability to travel from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in a straight line has become no less desirable over the years — and only aviation can provide those options to people.

The market is out there. Our customers are waiting for us to invite them into our facilities and share the excitement of what we do with them. But the first step in getting them to notice us and visit our airport businesses might just begin with us looking into the mirror and saying with heartfelt honesty “I might be wrong.”

Dennis Miller used to say that every week and he’s done just fine. Let’s consider adding that sentence to our lexicon and making some changes to the way we do business, shall we?


  1. Matt says

    Hi Everyone: This has been an interesting conversation. Its unfortunate that Jamie, the catalyst for the topic has chosen not to chime back in and comment, and that no one has chosen to moderate.

    I’ve gathered a lot of input from you all and contributed more than I perhaps should have.

    However I’ve got to say that I also found it unfortunate that some people used this as an opportunity to promote their own web-site/blog/business and others found it a soap box for their ego rather than their knowledge.

    Fortunately others sought to calm things. There was a lot of “Off-line” exchanges which I’m glad were off-line as one person seemed to think it their right to comment on people personally as well as professionally, while proclaiming themselves heir apparent and all knowing. Passion is one thing, verbose is another. As another contributor pointed out, if anyone person had all the answers they’d be implementing them and making the industry well again. I think the usefulness of this discussion has expired as it has gone far afield of anything remotely related to the topic introduced by the author, or any of the topics that ascended from it.

    I wish you all and urge you to keep in mind the intent and nature of these forums in the future. Healthy debate and discussion. Not personal attacks and self promotion.

    With that said, I wish you all a very happy holiday season and many joyous departures and soft landings.

    • says

      Matt; I will say , your are “Wright on” in your assessment of the article and comments. Frankly, I’m GUILTY of going way afield from the intent of Jamie’s fine writing. That said, however, Mike Dempsey, Jim Hackman, and myself, who HAVE had “hands on” experience in various professional aspects of GA, are certainly qualified to offer our evaluations and viewes from a purely business perspective – without the “passion”! NO harm intended – just honest, straight forward, and most of all, rational. And you too, Matt, have many happy landing and enjoy the holiday season!

      • Matt says

        Hi Rod, I do appreciate your response. The discussion just got to be a bit of a ridiculous pissing contest. And there is no probable outcome, so why? Trust me, I can match my credentials and experience in GA (or Automotive for that matter) and a whole lot of other business disciplines with anyone. Likewise, I have the stick hours in many types of aircraft that I don’t have to take a right seat to anyone either. I might be younger (or older) than some of those in the conversation. However, if you read my entries, I started flying in my early teens, and worked line service too. According to my mother I was born with motor oil in my veins, not blood. However I’ve also been party to legislative debates and court referendums. I grew up surrounded by cars, trucks, planes, boats and trains, literally. The boats never really gained my interest (except for Hovercraft). “If its winged, wheeled or rides on rail, chances are I’ve cleaned, worked on, raced and driven/piloted it. And I’ve sure as hell marketed, advocated for and sold it”. I actually used to have a business card that said that at one time. So reading all of the posturing and soap boxing that started got old quick. Absolute knowledge never accomplished anything other than disagreement in my experience. And honestly, commenting in these columns is about as productive. So while I like your passion, and applaud your concern, the tones that evolved in this conversation I could do without. Clearly others began to feel that way as well.

        • says

          Matt; OK then, lets JOIN forces – I know WE; you, Mike, Jim Hackman, and myself I can see now, we all have much more in common since you’ve revealed your credentials. We would very much like to invite you in our “group”! contact me @, at your leisure! I’ll try to remove my Gen. Patton “six gun” before any future exchanges! Look very much to hearing from you soon! Regards, Rod

        • SuperMom says

          Matt (and all)-
          THIS discussion, right here, is JUST EXACTLY what these posts are designed to do: engage members (either brand new or more experienced than a retired airline exec) in the topic.
          I watched the Congressional Subcommittee on Transportation broadcast the other day. One of the ranking members of that committee pointed out that “If you want the support of Congress, you need to work at educating them on what you see as the issues.”
          One issue is ALWAYS going to be “keep the bottom line a black one”. This is true regardless of what you fly or why you fly it.
          In the meantime, we are currently being bombarded with increased minimums for flight instruction AND NextGen. Have YOU been tested for sleep apnea? What’s YOUR BMI? In the absence of those most directly involved being willing to take a public stance (right, wrong, or indifferent) those who work against you are left saying “No one told us it would cause any problems”
          Aviation is not (and has never been) a one size fits all economy sector.
          Look it up.

          • Matt says

            Hi all,

            Rod, thank you for the “invite”. Supermom, not clear on where you were going with your last entry, but I think the gist is any involvement is better than no involvement and I’ll agree with that.

            Having sat at a legislative Tourism committee for more than a few years, I also ended up on a sub committee for land use. Strange bedfellows until you realize how many states are keen to develop more tourism income. Its “perfect money”. People come, spend and leave. The require little from the state, or so it would seem.

            The debates that got me on these committees where ones that might interest you all. One of my involvements was the ownership and operation of an aerial advertising firm. We flew Hot air balloons (HAB) with logo’s emblazoned on them, we also did balloon rides and excursions. Also we pulled banners behind planes. My firm was also a key player in the first ever airship race. We were key in bringing a first ever flying art show to the US from Europe. We also were instrumental in the staging and production of a number of airshows, balloon festivals and concerts. All of these things come under the heading of tourism, and are affected by land use laws and regulations. Whats more they influence recreational statutes and many other regulatory issues and matters.

            In each and every case, there was substantial dissenters concerned with aspects of safety, economics and safety. There were even more who were concerned with elitism, safety, lack of accessibility to the “masses” (whoever they are) and of course safety. It didn’t matter if I was dealing with a local parent afraid that a banner might fall from the plane and squish the little darlings on the soccer field, or if I was explaining to the legislature that they had no ability to regulate flight over a given area, be it of a 757 heavy or a hobbyists balloon. People will always rise up against what they don’t understand or know about. People do not any longer know or care about what we are all talking about as GA. It doesn’t exist in their mind other than the noisy plane overhead on a quiet sunny day or the really cool balloon that took off landed next door at the school. But….its entertainment. Announce a balloon festival or air show at a local and people will turn out in droves to be entertained, fascinated and educated.

            When I launched my HAB division, loads of locals came out against me. They didn’t know me, let alone like me. They said I was “undercutting the market” not knowing I was waay more expensive than they ever imagined being. Price and quality perception are closely linked. I never wanted to be the biggest business, I always want to be the most profitable. So, I am generally the most expensive in anything I do. I learned in the car business, you can invest a few million to open a Chevrolet store, work 80 hours a week, and inventory 100 cars and make a few bucks on each, or you can invest a few hundred grand, work by appointment, have little or even no inventory, and sell exotics (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Anston Martin…etc) and make thousands, even tens of thousands on one car for a lot less effort, but a more enjoyable experience. The key is dealing with an educated, capable crowd verses one that is not.

            Its the same thing in all cases. Suppermom, you and everyone is correct, there is no one size fits all answer to any of this. But knowing what it is we are talking about before we go out to the general population, and knowing what their real concerns and interests are, as well as aligning our outreach with all of those is key to winning any of what we seek.

            As of now, the gate has been reopened to user fee(s). The airlines actually advocated for it, as in the short term, it will help them. In the longer term, it threatens to hurt all of us. The AIP (Airport Improvement Program) continues to be less about the GA communities it is suppose to serve, and more about the indirect aspects of commercial aviation that seek additional federal subsidy. We as a nation can’t have it both ways, free market and government subsidized. We as general aviators can’t have it both ways either, small rural country airports that are able to serve Skydivers, LSA users, rotocraft, amphibs and G5’s, MU-2’s and so on.

            Like golf courses, airports are under pressure or taking up large valuable tracts of land that support and benefit a precious few, and develop little revenue in comparison to their potential used otherwise.

            Like shopping centers airports are often seen as sources of unwanted and unnecessary sources of noise that are better silenced.

            However, if we made airports centers or public activity, (they are already centers of economic activity, but more people need to know that), then we might have a fighting chance to calm the noise that is against GA, and then, and only then, can we begin to make a case for GA and attracting more to it. And the only way to reduce the cost of GA is to increase the demand and therefore supply of it. That might sound counter intuitive and it normally is, but in this instance, its not. Flying will always be costly, but if you can subsidize it in alternative ways, then you can reduce, not its actual cost, but its participatory costs.

            I think I’ll drop the references to the original articles title at this point….though that might not be right. 😉

          • SuperMom says

            Still not posting my resume on GA News, guys. Not because it is not lengthy and just as illustrious as any of yours, but because it really isn’t pertinent to the conversation.
            The greatest current threat to continuing to own a private plane in terms of expense is NextGen. My housemate just recently put a new radio in the Cessna he paid $26,000 for (the plane, not the radio) and the avionics guy told us $5000 more for out, $5000 more for in, and $5000 on top of that for interactive. It’s a bitter pill to swallow that ‘the toy’ needs upgrades that total 60% more of what has already been paid. He has already let go of the Waverunner this year because it needs either a complete overhaul or a replacement engine. He prefers to spend time on the pontoon.
            In every government meeting that where I have been a part of a committee (including development of a municipal economic plan) the first session is always developing rapport among the interested parties. Meeting two is usually brainstorming, or free thought, all ideas from all comers. Meeting three is usually prioritizing the ideas. It isn’t until at least meeting four that an action plan starts to gel. And, it looks as though this group knows that any action plan is a fluid one, subject to change and adjustments as new factors are encountered.
            I am seeing a lot of comment among the GA pop, but no goal or action plan.
            And ‘stopping government intervention for all time’ just isn’t specific enough.

        • says

          Matt; See you received my invite. I think we have the same destination here – just different “navigational” methods to the airport! Nothing loss by having a “civil discussion” – we, Mike and I, are waiting to hear from you and get your more immediate, and I’m sure you have one, answers/solutions to shore-up GA’s woes! Regards, Rod

  2. Matt says

    Hi All! I see the party continued long after I left the building. Frankly the tone of some of the comments began to take on an ugliness that was unfounded. But…I could be wrong. So interesting how things interact as life would have it. I spent the earlier part of my day attending and presenting at a conference on “trending”, in particular demographics and business. In particular interest was one of the presenters addressing the leisure sport industry. It is a highly fragmented industry on the whole. However, many of the fragments are consistent with GA.

    The short version is this, the major portion of the population that would be “predisposed” to participate in GA took a significant hit in terms of existence. The number of the population that is known mostly as the baby boomers, was one of the largest in existence. They were followed by generation “X” which was one of the smallest generations to ever be. Please don’t quote me on the absolutes, but there was in the area of an 11% drop in actual population between the two. Throw in the advent of a few recessions, growth in educational debt, and things of that nature, and you get an unavoidable drop in most everything discretionary which I don’t think there is any argument, that GA is. The same precipitous decrease in population also led to a lack of need for everything from nursery facilities in hospitals to wedding related products and ultimately to cemetery plots.

    At the same time how people defined themselves changed significantly. Again, please don’t hold me to absolutes, but if you were born prior to 1965 that advent of color television is still an amazing thing to you. If you were born after 1975 you’ve possibly never seen a black and white TV.

    Today’s young people association GA as the G5’s and Lears they see their celebrity hero’s riding in as they are interviewed. Few have ever “hung out” at an airport let alone washed a plane or gone for a ride. I’d guess, emphasis on guess their more likely to have jumped out of a plane, then have ever gone for a ride in one.

    So we’ve got demographics against us. We’ve got economics against us. And no doubt we’ve just got poor business practices at the base level, the FBO’s and Flight Schools, all against us. I can as I am sure those who haven’t already done so in this ongoing exchange can, demonstrate that many times with many stories.

    So…how does the industry turn it around? Truthfully if you’re waiting on Boeing or Airbus or any of the larger deep pocket players to attempt to turn it around, forgettaboutit. We’ve all just read first hand what the “industry representative” attempt at doing resulted in care of the BAP program (thanks for that input, always wondered how well it didn’t work).

    So the reality is, short of hiring scientist to clone the DNA from those already in the industry in significant numbers, it would appear waiting for a demographic surge is about the best thing we can hope for. NOT!

    How about introducing the industry all stars to the mix? Industry all stars you ask? Yup….don’t get all miffed when I throw this out there, but like I wrote much earlier…GA is as much about entertainment as is rock and country music concerts or base ball and football, or for that matter NASCAR or INDY racing. But GA is a whole lot more exciting and romantic if you present it right.

    When people have enough time and wealth (a rare combination) they migrate into GA. Look at how many celebrity pilots exist. Depending on how you define celebrity from Jeff Gordon to Larry Ellison to Harrison Ford, John Travolta and to keep things gender neutral lets respect Angelina Jolie for one.

    No I’m not suggesting they do a celebrity endorsement commercial, or even that they fund such a program.

    What I am suggesting is that create a new series that shows the reality of GA. Okay….here is where I admit to perhaps having to much time on my hands, or likewise to much imagination.

    Have you seen the effects of the TV show CSI on those wanting to enter the “Crime Scene Investigation” field? It is huge, and its a field with limited, very limited opportunity. Have you thought about the effects of shows like Storage Wars, Shipping Wars or for that matter Orange County Choppers which isn’t even shooting any longer? These show have created a significant impact on the industries they are about. They’ve made celebrities out of their characters, and they’ve significantly increased interest in industry events.

    As some of you have already pointed out…there is still tremendous interest in airshows the world over. Have you ever been to a HAB (hot air balloon) event that wasn’t well attended. Heck, one balloon is an event most of the time I’ve seen it.

    There has long been a huge and controversial debate about the influence TV let alone the media has on human behavior. Advertising is expensive. Trust me, its not only been my business, its also been what I’ve used to create business. And its effects get increasing more expensive daily, and the results are more fragmented as well.

    Instead of using any funds available to buy advertising, instead how about funding a show.

    There is one reality show about the repossession of aircraft. It might help attract people to the repo industry but it surely isn’t doing anything positive for the GA world. There was another show about the airline industry, I have no clue what became of it. I suspect it was a Southwest Airlines venture of some sort.

    What I am talking about is frankly something I’ve thought about for years (in the back of my head). There are a million ways to spin it, but they are all pretty dang real and great. A weekly series about a professional hot air balloon teams travels. I’ve lived that life and trust me its pretty darned wonderful. Likewise a fixed wing competition teams travel from event to event. Again, been there done that and you don’t have to turn to fiction to find all the drama, romance, and scandal that makes for great entertainment. Get a decent and reasonably realistic show on the air regularly and watch the pilots and support personnel become celebrities. Then watch as the general interest in GA responds.

    I know….I know….lots of words to get all this out. And I’ll even admit I might be very wrong about some of it. You know what though…..I’ll bet I’m not! Thanks for everyone’s interest and input on Jamie’s story. I think I and everyone have gone rather far afield from its original purpose, but we’ve been talking about things none the less important. I’d for one be interested in hearing back from him and his comments on our exchanges. Thank you to all who’ve read this far and considered my input in its entirety.

    • SuperMom says

      I am public record (FB) as saying all my rock stars are pilots.
      The concept has been tickled by TV, but only as a product placement idea (a pilot was one of the Bachelors) and the drama about Pan Am.
      The reality shows got a little bit too real for most people. While intended to persuade passengers that a lot more goes on behind the scenes than they realize to ensure they and their luggage arrive together at their destination, it came across as whiney employees responding to whiney customers.
      As much laughter as I hear around hangars and terminals, it would probably be most effective to have a character in a sitcom take flight instruction. Most flying (Thank you, Jesus) is not dramatic (if it is done right), but there is always something funny going on.

  3. Doyle says

    Sorry to be the spoilsport, but you’re all right, at the same time you’re all wrong. Confused? I am. I know one simple fact – I can no longer afford to fly.
    If it’s not the cost of the rental, it’s the cost of the insurance. If not that, it’s the cost of the fuel. If not that, then how about the cost of even the least expensive L.S.A. Shoot! Let’s go whole hog and blame the cost of the physical from my friendly, neighborhood A.M.E. So let’s all agree on one factor – cost is a major detriment to G.A.
    Now, how do we remedy the situation? Simply throwing more money at it is not the answer, (look at our national debt, if that is a question in your mind.) But, if there is an increased demand, prices may come down, if for no other reason, the owners/operators of these aircraft can make their required return, (to pay for their overhead and net profit, by the larger number of users of those planes.)
    So, how do we get that increased demand? How about going after ALL the public, starting in elementary school. (Check the results of advertising addressed to that age group.) Continue by addressing all age groups. Bring back the airshows. Open up the airports to the general public, after all it’s called General Aviation because it applies to a complete population, not just those of us lucky enough to have at least a sport pilot license. (That’s another of my pet peeves – can’t even get on to my “home” airport without an “official” representative of that airport escorting me.) The “local” airport advisory committee is comprised of all members of the local county legislature, one of who has a PPL, and is only interested in “business aviation,” as if that’s not part of GA. And that’s it. They want no part of GA. (Not enough money in it.) Several aviators have tried to get involved, but their voices have been ignored.
    We need to generate a renewed interest in GENERAL AVIATION, not commercial, or airline. Until that happens, we, in GA, are on a slippery slope heading over a cliff. Oh! By the way, I need to add, this is in my humble opinion.

    • says

      Mr. Doyle; cost – OK then!?
      I would like to “offer” as to why I feel cost isn’t the “culprit” here. Several years ago, when I still had a nice C-152, I offered a “discount” on a 90 day period to ANY student/private special (prepaid) $499 for 10 hours of Hobbs time. The stipulation was one had a period of 90 days – from Dec 1-Feb 28th, the following year to complete the 10 hours – this was DISCOUNTED from a standard rate of $90/hr – a SAVING of $41/hr – fair enough? now, a direct mailer was sent to 50 area student/private pilot, not flying with me or at my home airport, but all residing within a 40 mile radius of my base. READY; not ONE was receptive to the offer! You, and I would think, “What’s wrong with this picture”? My conclusion: If you can’t entice those ALREADY sold on flying with “such a deal”, how does this motivate the “new” person? Don’t THEY have a need to save? Or is it they just aren’t “moved” by cost? My point is this: If you give someone who has been or already is” sold” on flying a substantial “break – then one would “deduct/deduce” that “cost” ISN’T a determine as to the “why” many new folks aren’t interested in flying?

      • SuperMom says

        And therein lies the nub of the problem. What appeals most to YOU, personally?
        * a personal story of another pilot who (looking back) said, “It was easy and money well spent”?
        * a friend of yours (whom you consider to be a complete idiot who has a difficult time deciding which shirt to wear w/ which pants) got a pilot’s license?
        * the fact that you watch the news and know (only from that source) that TSA (or FAA, or DHS, or some other alphabet agency) is ‘out to GET pilots’? (I liken this objection to fundamentalist preachers who tell me ‘God is out to GET YOU.’ I thought that was the goal. If you had time to do research on jobs with these agencies, you would find they expect SOME experience with those whom you will be out to GET)
        * Simple. old-fashioned, fear of flight (I called this ‘being a control freak’. Anytime I feel I am not totally in control, I freak out)
        Because, with everything you have heard, and everything you think you know about being a pilot, the simple truth is:
        any idiot can do it, and some actually DO.

    • Jim Hackman says

      OK, let’s look at some facts! I was on the founding board of Be A Pilot. Co-Chair of the Infrastructure Committee. Our mission was to aid the flight schools in preparation for dealing with the prospects. BAP raised and spent literally millions of dollars on cable TV and print ads. Generated thousands of “leads”. By then I was working for the Cessna Pilot Center program. My 80 CPC’s in the West got leads with contact info weekly. Cessna was able to see if the “lead” was opened or downloaded by the schools. Fact is most simply ignored the leads. “They are just kids looking for free stuff”. “The lead is from someone clear across town. ” BAP IMHO was an unqualified success. It accomplished what it was tasked with doing. The flight school “industry” and I use that term very loosely couldn’t be bothered. “If they are serious they’ll come out to the airport”. We want the volume of customers we had in the 60’s but we’re not going to get it with 60’s vintage training practices. OK, that’s opinion and I could be wrong….

      • SuperMom says

        Not one bit. Often someone just sees a plane flying over head and says, “Gee, I wonder what is required to do that?”, but they never follow up on the why’s and how’s.

      • SuperMom says

        When I was a Tupperware consultant (and if you think that getting women to invite you to show ‘little plastic food containers to them and all their friends is easy, you are simply INSANE), the rule of thumb was “call ten, three will say yes, one will decide to sell”.
        It’s those other seven that become depressing. For some, they see this as a challenge to keep calling and get twice or thrice that many. For others, it is just the excuse they need to stop calling.

      • says

        Jim; ____WRIGHT ON!!!!!!!!!
        Thanks for confirming what Mike and I have know for decades – the “wrong” people – the flight school owner/operators with ZIP sales skills – “oh , but we know how to fly”, right , but can you take a ‘warm/hot” lead and turn it into a sale?
        I was working recently with a gent here in a huge market (NJ/NY metro)and I offered to work for him selling a “no brainer” package (performance based commission ONLY) to small-medium size business’s; “The Business Pilot Program”. This was geared towards the “owner flown” aircraft, typically a HP piston single or later, (upsell) possibly a PC-12, TBM or C-414 or King Air? The program consisted of a “back-back private- instrument course where as much of the x-country requirements as possible, could also “double” as business trips further enhancing the ultimate efficient use of the “business airplane” in “real world” or actual experience – this IS selling! Is ANYONE doing this??? Here is A NEED – the utility value at its best in action – right?
        A very intelligent man; but placed little value on “personal selling”. And get this; has a background in transport cargo sales. His “age”, 40’s, does this have a bearing on his attitude – maybe so. NOTHING today, in the computer/Internet age, REQUIRES the personal sales presentation – really?
        Enough; please go to our site and Mike’s recent article of aviation AND sales, Dec 5th, at our site; and other marketing oriented articles. PLEASE – to those who are interested in WHERE and WHY the decline in GA student starts and more, WE have the answers AND the solutions – “CAN YOU BACK US UP”?
        Thank you – Mike Dempsey and Rod Beck

      • says


        So….what you said is EXACTLY what I have been talking about. MOST in this discussion understand the challenges, but not many ACTUALLY have experience with the business of flight schools. It is at this point, the background of experience is totally different…because aviation is different in many ways. That being said, the problem regarding pilots and the number of pilots is a flight school problem, pure and simple. Any questions, tell me what the 83% washout rate is and tell me that is a good thing!

        SECOND! Ask a flight school how they are promoting their flight training, and most will tell you that they don’t have to because EVERYONE knows where the airport is????? Let me tell you, cars don’t sell because everyone knows where the dealership is at!!!! How about some real VALUE building, some unique offers, some REASONS for doing business with you and a reason to start learning how to fly NOW!!!

        GET IT! Yes, exclamation marks because this is how the industry thinks and I challenge anyone to show me that it is working.

        • Jim Hackman says

          “How do you find the entrance to the flight school?” “It’s where all the employee cars are parked!” I am not making this up, there are plenty of schools out there with reserved parking in front marked “Chief Instructor” or something similar. Try and find a Hallmark card store with reserved parking in front marked Owner. Critical to survival, stencil cut for parking lot= CUSTOMER. Why is this so hard? I’ll bet the ladies room doesn’t have a super large can of hair spray either. Oh well….

          • says

            SON: (25 year old VP oson of “dads” real estate developmen firm)
            “Why do you think the’re arent’t more business folks in general aviation”?
            DAD: Principal partner/owner of $900M in shopping malls, over 55+ condos, etc) and owner (crew flown) of a Falcon 50.
            “Well, son, frankly, if there were, there would be NO general aviation”!

  4. SuperMom says

    Henry, I am reading over your comments and finding myself in agreement with many of them.
    When I was working as a Flight Attendant, I had a couple of Beatrice Foods employees on a commuting flight who wondered why the commercial ops had basically stopped using TV ads for promotion of their product, having moved rather rapidly to the internet. Of course, again, cost investment is a factor. Which avenue gives you the most bang for your buck.
    As an AOPA member (I am one, too. I just support EAA, haven’t joined yet), would you be comfortable with some of your membership dues being spent on advertising? Where? I think that USA Today would be a good venue, but I the ads aren’t cheap.
    On GA News, we have already come up with a slogan: “Cloud dancers wanted. See driver for details” on a bumper sticker and maybe a button pin.
    I think the aviation community should remember ‘where we came from’ as we move forward, but only in the sense that I just read the other day about a pilot who bought a plane back in the 1940’s and taught himself how to fly it, then started teaching others. :)

    • Henry Kelly says

      Hi Supermom! Yes I think your idea that part of the dues to any aircraft or pilot organization should go for promoting aviation is excellent!…I just sent off a note to Mark Baker at AOPA about promotion of aviation to the general public..I think Mike raised a very important point in his post that raised advertising as an issue….I think the aircraft manufactures are missing an opportunity and should take part in trying to promote a renaissance of flying in the USA. Every other segment of the population has a organizations that promotes their sport, skill or product nationally to the general public. Aviation is only pitched to aviators..No wonder our membership is shrinking. Aviation has shrunk into itself..Only the airlines promote flying. No one else does. No wonder most non pilots don’t even bother to look…Maybe Cessna and Sirrus should offer free discovery flights to get people back into the flight schools and have a great first experience, plus promote flying and aircraft sales… Some good ideas coming out of these exchsnges..The perception of flying in the minds of the general population must change or eventually there will be not much GA aviation business to debate about and the infrastructure will gradually disappear except for commercial,charter and business aircraft. I like having airfields available to fly into….This mania to come up with reasons to close airports and control towers is absurd and self destructive..Grow GA and they justify and pay for themselves.

    • says

      Hello Supermom;
      Both you and Henry “Hank” hit on an area, advertising/promotion, totally “ignored” by the RAP (Retail Aviation Provider), my term for the FBO, flight school, etc
      As I have formal training and experience in advertising as applied to GA, I’ll offer this input;
      1. Very few media vehicles; print, cable, radio, or even the Internet, is “cost/effective”
      2. Unlike products like cars or food, where purchases are made in larger volumes , traditional media vehicles, as mentioned previously, are to EXPENSIVE, and thus the “return” doesn’t warrant the investment. This is a major dilemma facing the ARP, which has limited or “vertical” and select market. That said, however, once IDENTIFIED, or a “demographic profile” of WHO is the BEST prospect, a plan of action can be implemented. Lets say then , for purposes here, we’ve determined that;
      1. Income earners of $150k+, home owners, a white collar professional, and at a minimum, a college grad or graduate+ degree, and over 55 years of age.
      2. In our “market” area (25 mile radius of airport) approximately 5% of the population, of 161,425 residents or 8,000+, have the financial means not only to learn to fly, but BUY and maintain an aircraft.
      3. The next BEST (in order) are income earners of $100K+, who are also home owners, and 23% have attended college, which is 11% of the population and average age of 48, makes up this group
      4. This group has LESS long term potential to the ARP, however, approximately 2% of this group has the financial means to earn an LSA or Private license and .05 of 1% (or HALF) can afford (within3-5 years) to purchase a “used” aircraft in the $35-40K range.
      SUMMARY: What we have than is: 1. 11,675 who can AFFORD to FLY (lessons)
      2. 8,000 ” ” ‘ ” ” BUY an aircraft
      3. 175 ” within 5 years
      Now, IF ONLY 1% of those who can afford to fly are “captured”= 196 QUALIFIED BUYERS for flight training – At a 25% completion rate = 49 NEW aviation (pilot) consumers
      And if ONLY 25% BUY aircraft; an additional 12+ aircraft owners!
      MOST COST EFFECTIVE VEHICLE: Direct mailer for; “Special Invite – Open House” to the fore mentioned demographic group(s).
      NOTE: Flight school owners- no charge – my “noble” gesture for today!

      • Henry Kelly says

        Hi Rod, the marketing approach is all well and good..I understand why you are focused on that piece of it. But, if we stay focused just on the current demographics and on making money we may as well throw up our hands, especially based on your dismal predictions and the miserable current economy..But, that is not all we are talking about here..If people get interested in flying and know it is doable and at a reasonable cost, then they will participate. I got my ticket while working later in my life and it took years and more than 10K because of 9/11 and changing instructors plus my own issues. You yourself know that sometimes you have to spend money to create a market..Make something visible and interesting and inspiring and of value. Air Shows are still pulling in thousands of folks every summer. The companies who build airplanes like Boeing sponsor Public Televison and show their wares. You see airline ads pushing particular equipment. They want the public to recognize and support their brand. What happened to the national excitement with flying?
        I disagree that advertising will not be effective..It will help establish a cultural awareness and presence. It will focus attention on the individual flying adventure. It will also show that individual flying is more widespread and is a cool valid pursuit in our culture. I saw a guy last week who spent 1000 dollars on a tattoo on his arm because tattoos are for some reason cool in this culture..That same money could have gone toward flying…. I think we are all in this together. The builders, the FBOs , the pilots, the avionics people, the FAA, the associations and clubs, CAP and the military. We need new blood. We need the type of interest that made aviation so popular in the 30s and 40s..It is only 110 years since the Wrights. More people want to fly up there in the sky than any demographic study will pigeon hole. The spirit that drives people to fly is not all wrapped up in money.
        I don’t make any money off it…I just love it. I would like more people to have the experience. It should be less expensive and more accessable. Lindbergh getting to Paris was no sure thing..He and ohers took a risk but they had the public behind them. If we help sell aviation to the general public now, before it dies out, the money will come..

        • SuperMom says

          ” I think we are all in this together. ”
          While I was working as an FA for that first regional airline, I was always asking who my flight crew (pilots) were to be. I did this to confirm I was on the right plane, headed to the right destination, with the right pilots. I confirmed their identities so much, they started asking if I was writing a book, to which I started replying, “Sure. It’s called ‘Pulling My Own Hair, Screaming My Own Name”, as a joking reply to their joking affronted attitudes.
          One of my Captains at my first airline was a guy originally from New Zealand. I looked him up and he had an FIVE digit employee number which meant he had been at the airline almost since inception because mine was a SIX digit number. I was scared to death and on my toes, because I was flying with someone waaaaayyyyyy more experienced than I thought I was ever going to get the chance to be. (I was right about that, but anyway….)
          We were sitting at a gate waiting on a plane to arrive, so we could turn it around to a different destination. I was telling Cap about a couple I had spoken with before he turned up at the gate who were from South America. It was a father and daughter. He was a scientist in some specialized field who was called at the last minute to speak at a conference of some sort in the US. He had brought along his instrument case, which included (according to his daughter, or granddaughter?) approximately $50, 000 in equipment. TSA would not allow him to take the case in cabin, and insisted he leave the case unlocked for inspection. His female companion was outraged at this insult to her eminent male relative.
          I related the story to my Cap. (As soon as he put me at ease about talking to him at all)
          His reply was the same as yours: “We are all in this together.”
          It was this, and many other positive experiences in commercial aviation, that FAR outweighed the negative experiences I had (and there were at least a thousand of those in less than one year)
          and I fell in love with planes.

        • says

          Hi Henry; I LIKE you even if we have different “motives” here! Now, kindly go to get; and my article of March 31, 2012, “Aviation Business – Passion or Profit – A Conflict of Motives”, hopefully, this will give you an idea of where I WAS and still are coming from. PLEASE leave a comment on our site – no one has to date – can figure out WHY?

      • Mark says

        Wonderful diatribe on GA state, and how to fix it. As my now 24 year old son had a vision of being a pilot, then realized that through an aviation degree and instructing and now steeping into corporate charter career, he kindled in me a desire as a 50’s boomer guy to take it up myself, 175 hours later, a PPL, a plane, my own hangar, and a part time mechanic that loves my wallet and I BE ONE. working on instrument now by the way.

        Point is, something has to kindle the latent desire to soar in the skies, and though commercial flying started my kid, and me to thinking, actual getting in a GA situation and seeing why we love it is the only way new recruits willGET IT.

        This was an excellent business plan, Rod, and I submitted it as a project for our EAA chapter in Hot Springs. Oshkosh is cool, may go there some day, but it isnt what got me in the plane.

  5. SuperMom says

    It seems to me that in our ‘civil discourse’ here, you can lecture, but I cannot post a full reply.
    Yes, of course, one would expect a business to make a profit, unless it was intentionally set up as a tax write-off division for a larger corporation. I don’t like your use of the word ‘entitled’ since it now has such negative connotations, thanks to federal government handouts.
    Let’s see if a parallel situation helps any: I played tournament golf for my college two years ago, at Eagle Knoll in Missouri. (BTW, I am 51 years old and nothing more than a greens hacker). While there, I asked the Course Manager his opinion of Tiger Woods. At the time, Tiger was in the news because of his proclivity for not remaining faithful to his wife, but he was still considered ‘the best thing that had happened to golf in 100 years’. Public courses had opened up all over the US because Tiger had shown the world that ANYONE could play golf.
    I hit the sore spot with that Course Manager. “Everyone is building courses now and there is too much competition for business!”
    You have quoted a figure of 1% of the population as pilots. That number has obviously nose-dived from the last time I looked at it two years ago when it was 2%.
    Perhaps you also have a statistic for the number of persons who were willing to fly commercially even after several planes were hijacked and directed to other landings, but put their foots down and their wallets away after 9/11.
    However, if you prefer to continue to refer me to historical FACTS, I would rebut with we would not HAVE flight, if the Wright Brothers (and others like them) had listened to the ‘common sense’ of the day.
    Flight is magic. It’s fun. It’s cheaper than therapy.
    We have come a long way since Daedalus and Icarus.
    Again, just one opinion. I have long since discovered that in any group of ten pilots, you can find at least nine and one-half different opinions of any given situation.

    • says

      Hi Supermom;
      Sorry, if I “bent” your feathers in any way – not my intention! Since I come from a business background and NOT as a “weekend/hobby” pilot as such, I’m rather “bias” as to the WHY recreational GA is stuck at the “hold line”! But to further qualify my “attitude” and also that of my associate, Mike Dempsey, I would like to refer you to an article I posted on our site; get-; “Will BUSINES ever come to recreational aviation” of December 2012.
      On your golf analogy; Like flying – AVAILABLE to everyone – but NOT for everyone, wouldn’t you agree?
      In closing, I would very much like your comments on ANY article and that of others on my and as well as Mike’s conclusions since I (we) have been IN the GA business and out, and therefore can see “both” sides. I think once reading this, you’ll understand WHERE I’m (we) are coming from. Thank you!

      • SuperMom says

        Coming to you from the back seat and working my way up to the left seat, with an Associate’s Degree in Business Mgmt and 25+ years in the ground transportation industry, I can tell you one thing:
        Most people WOULD care, if you could quantify what your issue means to them, personally.
        For instance, I used to own a house. The thought of that flight in 2009 in Buffalo, NY had me watching contrails a little more closely for a while.
        Rod, I did go to your website. I will comment on one of your articles. In the meantime, as a former Howard-Scripps Spelling Champ, you make me shudder.

        • says

          Hi “Mom”, Thanks for the response – love it! Kindly drop me note DIRECTLY when you have the time; – NOT the “bad guy” here – just don’t have the patience for so many who just don’t “get it” (not you?) WHAT the real problem is in GA – and that’s creating NEW pilots who are also future aviation CONSUMER$ – and THAT’s my issue!

        • says

          Supermom – a/k/a Soccermom or is it Planemom?
          Spelling – OK , I wrote my comment(s) in a rush and late at night (EST)
          Perhaps missed a few keyboards? I guess your only “claim to fame”, besides knowing how to land and takeoff an airplane, is your a spelling expertise – are you really that insecure? BTY, haven’t heard from you yet as promised!

          • Henry Kelly says

            Rod, The original topic intro was around civil discourse..It said….”Dennis Miller, the comedian, social commentator, and all around intellectual bon vivant, once had a popular cable program that was famous for two things. His guests were encouraged to disagree without becoming disagreeable.” In my opinion,you broke that rule.
            Maybe your “claim to fame” is that you are too full of yourself. .
            You owe Supermom an apology. She isn’t the one looking insecure,..Let’s stay on topic, minus attitudes.. No one has all the answers. Anyone claiming to be an “expert” at this point, including you, given the condition GA is in, is either very ineffectual or probably wrong, since their ideas have obviously failed to make any difference so far toward improving things. No matter how long you have been at it or what you think you know. It is real easy to turn people off, especially around a topic that people are passionate about..That was a point of this piece in the first place. No one is running the comments here or I hope is more interested in trying to impress anyone instead of encouraging free discussion and ideas to actually try to improve the situation, so let’s all try to lighten up and get back into some more recommendations and new ideas or approaches..I have yet to see here what you would do to fix this mess, and I don’t want to go to another website or email back and forth..We have a forum right here..Let’s use it. I still feel general private aviation has become cut off from the general population, inbred, and is going extinct. Costs and zero promotion of the skill and sport to the larger population is a big problem my opinion.

          • SuperMom says

            Thank you, but I don’t take offense from comments made by others. (Most of the time) I grew up with too older brothers and am very aware that many males think ‘girls’ should be in the kitchen serving the coffee, not in the board room expressing anything even slightly like an opinion.
            While working as a Flight Attendant, I attended a day of open meetings with Management, which included my own department head, the division head, and the President of the company. In the short time I was there, we had had several minor changes in supplies for the galley, with little or no notice that these changes were taking place. The changes weren’t consistently applied in every airplane.
            One of my close friends BEGGED me not to bring this up at the meeting, but the President just kept saying, “Are there any other questions?” Who better to ask than the folks in charge?
            The responses were enlightening. The President spread his hands wide and informed me that “Full meals used to be served on these planes”. (I don’t care what USED to be done. Thank God all I had to pass out were beverages and pretzels. I also carried candy to give to special passengers and it got me through a lot of delayed take-offs. On MY dime.)
            The head of my department began to talk to me very condescendingly about “We are a code-share partner airline. We have no choice in these decisions.” (Which was not true because our company had a seat on the other company’s Board.)
            And the head of my division sat behind the action, with his head down, laughing silently so hard I thought he was going to choke. (Seems no one had ever really challenged the President publicly since he became President)
            I asked a couple of other questions about operations. I left the meetings seriously concerned about my physical safety working for these people. And my JOB was assuring others that they were safe in our hands. Up to two hundred different people every day.
            Point being: if we continue to do things they way we have ‘always’ done things,
            We can expect the same result.
            To me, the attractiveness of flight itself is that it has always been cutting edge and innovative. For some reason, in this point in our history, we seem to want to rest on our laurels and wait for those who know nothing about flight to saunter by with their checkbook.
            And the first thing we say is, “$10,000”. That’s a lot of change.

          • SuperMom says

            My children awarded me that name. I have successfully raised four. The youngest is 25. And yes, I have been a Soccer Mom (who didn’t vote for Bill Clinton) and a Girl Scout Cookie Chair for my county, AND both Popcorn Chair and Blue and Gold Banquet Chair for a Cub Scout Pack.
            I also was certified as a Red Cross 1st Aid/CPR instructor, which is why I know the best way to get something going. However, my memory gets faulty with the wrong person.

  6. says

    Jamie – I think your other (main) point about civil discourse is right on the money. We need to get away from the dogma and divisive/inflammatory dialog and seek real and practical answers.

  7. Matt says

    Wow, really good and thought provoking comments by most all. Have you noticed those reoccurring themes though?

    (1) Public commissions and authorities, regulation, slow change.

    (2) Cost! To high for the consumer. To low to be profitable for the FBO, Instructors, owners…etec.

    (3) Low participation.

    I have had a dream to fly since I was a real kid. My father had it too, never did it. Likewise and older brother had it, never did it. Cost was the factor in both cases.

    Growing up my best friends father was a VP of a major manufacturer that owned an FBO. I washed and waxed, vacuumed and did whatever else I could to get rides, and later hours. Wasn’t enough to gain the cert. By the time I was twenty (maybe before) it was my dream not to own an airplane, but to own an AIRPORT. A GA airport.

    Eventually I got my pilots license. I want to both ends of the spectrum. Commercial pilot to Hot air balloon pilot. Still more than anything I wanted to own an airport.

    Today, I am on hiatus from flying, despite having owned a successful aviation business. Between the cost and regulatory environment, the business was ravaged, and as much as I love all things aviation, I prefer to eat than fly.

    I still dream of owning an airport.

    However as entrepreneur its simply fact that on traditional basis, an FBO can not survive, let alone support an airport. But the reverse is true as well. An airport can not survive on its own or support an FBO in most instances. It takes out of the box thinking and multiple revenue streams. We all know of airports that are doing it. But they need to be operated for what they are, real estate ventures and fabulous ones at that. They need to recognize what business they are in, and if the majority thing their primary business is transportation and logistics, they are going to be sadly mistaken. They are in the safety business first and foremost. The entertainment business second, followed by, if they are lucky, some or more of the following: education, transport and logistics, fuel and maintenance, and so on. Once they can understand that, they can look to other things to enhance their appeal to the general public, which brings that population into the aviation world, and hopefully wets their appetite for more, and ultimately recreates the “days gone bye” experience of watching the planes, the real planes at the airport come and go, getting a ride, doing whatever it takes to fulfill the dream, and ultimately creating the next group of pilots and aviation fans.

    About this, I might be wrong, but I doubt it….and I still dream of owning an airport, much more than I ever dreamed of owning a plane

    • says

      Matt: You ARE “Wright on”! I too, like YOU, have always wanted to be in the BUSINESS of aviation, and at “70” +, think that there still may be hope for a old f–t like me to bring FIRST intelligent business principals to GA, primarily at the smaller community FBO level. However, “gave up” in 1978 after a 12 year run at it – having a “good time”, driving a 20+ year old car, surviving on TV diners and living in a furnished room wasn’t a life style worth the “GA 24/7 life that would provide any semblance of financial security.
      I KNOW you’ll relate to the many articles at our blog at: – VERY pro-business and aviation. We should TALK – you can reach me if you choose at: – look forward to communicating with you!

  8. Henry Kelly says

    First,very helpful and usefull comments all…No idiots. So why is there a problem? Instruction is way too expensive and lease back aircraft used to train pilots are too expensive. So on top of a lot of people unsure of their ability to pilot an airplane, GA has given them an excuse to not find out..The money! At a recent airshow/fly-in that we participated in folks were surprised how cheap an older Cessna 172 was. Simply compared to a car…But what killed them was the $10,000.00 price tag in our area to obtain a license. There are fewer and fewer flight schools and they are expensive. They are geared to getting instructors flight time toward their careers and the flight school owners an income. Neither in and of itself is a bad thing, but honestly few of us were born Chuck Yeager or are Warren Buffet billionaires to pay for the very expensive instruction and air time to make up for it. We all needed to learn how to fly and what else was needed to know besides just having a passion or partial gift. Discovery flights should be free!. Period! Then if someone wants to go from there, it should be affordable. It does not have to happen in a 2012 182T with a glass cockpit. That situation makes the lease back owner happy and pays his bills and the flight school owner richer, but guess what? No one can afford it anymore. Discretionary income is at its lowest in 50 years! You can get a decent 172 for 26K that will suffice, so why is it half the cost of a plane to get a license? And simulators are an adjunct not an answer. It is remarkable how many aircraft have been flying into the ground or ocean lately with pilots seemingly oblivious to the fact that when you crash a real airplane, you don’t just hit reset. Flying as a career should be paid better than a bus driver, although they need a raise too to attract serious drivers. Most young people want a career in aviation not just the pilot’s license. But they need to make some money in the field…The airline CEOs make a fortune, the pilots get their pensions cut in mergers and company failures. Lot of cost, lot of responsibility, rotten hours for rotten money these days. Corporate greed has killed American aviation, like a lot of other things..The money guys want drones not piloted planes..Even the military has the bug. So,…… training must be cheaper and better, propective young people need a career path that makes sense, and finally our GA airports should be family recreational facilities, not fenced in prisons. High school and junior college programs and pilot sponsored events should bring people to see and sit in airplanes and watch them take off and land. There should be restaurants and shops on the field. Family days, events, free things. Not everyone can fly or needs to, but everyone can enjoy seeing and being around airplanes…And pilots, make it fun for the kids and approachable, not some ego trip for you! Hank Kelly

    • says

      Mr. Kelley; To EXPENSIVE – then how do YOU propose to reduce the “cost” in making flying for everyone “affordable”? If in FACT cost is the culprit here, I and so are the other readers curious to know WHAT your offering in the way of a solution – perhaps “other peoples money”? Oh, one last thing – WHAT do you do or did professionally – curious?

      • Henry Kelly says

        Hi there Rod, Yes TOO expensive. I initially worked in hospital administration and then for the last 35 years in Information Technology. I am retired as of 2 years ago. How about you? You mention 50 years of business experience, doing what? I have been flying for 15 years. I own a 1984 172RG. I was recommending as part of a solution that instruction and the planes to deliver it be lower in cost…First there are many CFI and CFII instructors out there and also many older but perfectly viable aircraft that can be obtained and rented at a fraction of the cost of renting a 172S 1000 or SR22. A lot of flight schools get into expensive lease-back arrangements and price students out of renting planes and getting a license. I don’t get your “other peoples money” comment..
        I did not say that if would be affordable for “everyone,” but it has come to the point that except for the 1% and few others, hardly anyone can afford it. No wonder airports have no activity and so it is hard to justify them not becoming instead new industrial parks or housing developments.. You talk about demand…Point is without pilots being newly minted to replace the older ones dying off and a general growth of pilots in relation to population, you have no volume of flying and no demand! For planes, airports, or training, or pilots or avionics and the thousands of jobs and millions of dollars GA generates. If we are not attracting people to attempting flying at a reasonable cost, from training to plane costs and fuel and FBO bases, GA is doomed. I don’t see any recommendations at all for growing the pilot population and flying activity and so increasing “demand”, as you call it, in your comments..
        I think myself and others would like to know how you would increase this demand..
        Over to you…Hank

        • says

          Hank, Thanks for your reply.
          I’ll start with a little aviation background.
          1. Flight school owner/operator `(CDW) 1966-67
          2. Uncle Sam -1967-71 Active/Reserve/Natl Guard
          3. 71-72 Flight school/aircraft sales (TEB) 7i-72
          4. Aircraft sales manager – (DAB) 74-75 – (PTK) 76-77
          5. FBO principal (TDZ) 77-78
          6. 5,000+ hrs flew about 84 birds (1956-2011)
          7. Aero Ventures- aircraft sales (IN7) 2009-2012
          8. Aviation business consultant – 2011-present
          1979 – 2004
          auto rental , small dealership, 1993-2004, principal of second largest auto wholesale group in state of NJ
          2006 – present – real estate sales – eastern Bergen County (NJ -part time)
          Education – Essex County College – Thomas Edison State College (NJ)
          Now, to the topic at hand -GA ‘s woes!
          many, and yourself, cite “costs” has being a major factor in “demand” for the product – aviation. I’ll elaborate a little here on this – bare with me.

          ANY product or service REQUIRES a “demand” – this is, a BUYER who is willing and able $$ to afford it.
          Lets ktake, for example, the typical flight school rate for ‘dual” and sol for the generic C-172; we”ll use $120/hr solo and $150/hr dual.
          On a national basis, the “break-even” point excluding debt service on an OWNED (not leaseback) is about 18 hrs monthly. Another words, if the bird is flown only 30 hrs/month, the “profit” doesn’t start until the 19th hr. Having done a “zillion” pro-forma’s on aircraft income/expense, if the flight school NETS say $20/hr,this (example) would then make: $20 x 12 hrs= $240. If a given flight school has 6 birds “averaging” 30 hrs/mo, they’re only netting ($240 x 6) $1,440/mo. Now add in about an additional $30/hr for “dual” of which (example) is 100 hrs )$30 x 100=
          $3,000. We now have a total GROSS income of $4,440. Deduct for airport leasehold rent, tie-downs and CSR (office, etc) and other office expense (tele, computer, etc) of (estimated) of $3,000 – and YOU end up with a whopping $1,440 -assuming YOU did all of the instructing!
          For ANY fight school ANYWHERE to make $100K annually – try about a 20 bird fleet flying 65+hrs monthly/aircraft – not likely, wouldn’t you say?
          Aviation, any aspect, has high FIXED costs thus creating higher “break-even” points. To even bring down “cost” even 10-15%, would require unobtainable and extremely high hourly fleet utilization.
          I assume tour very “unhappy” with the benefit not justifying the cost of your hobby flying. IF cost is so outrageous for you – just find friends who share your passion for aviation WITHOUT the expense of ownership or rental. Not everyone one can afford a luxury car or $2m home – that’s the AMERICAN way – we make do without it.

          BOTTON LINE: The entire industry is faced with over supply and little demand – from personal (CFI’s, pilots) to GA airports and FBO’s.
          I suggest you read my prior comments on the many “reason(s)” for the limited “demand” for GA – appreciate your plight, howver! Rod

        • says


          If flying is so expensive, and the answer is for the discovery flight to be free…why stop there? Why not offer the first 10 hours free? That way more people will enroll in flight training? Seriously?

          First, the largest problem facing GA, and this is what I think is Jamie’s point, is that the business of aviation is a train wreck. While other recreational business is doing quite well, aviation is still on the down stroke. It is because the actual business practice of making a profit and providing a product that people are willing to pay for just isn’t being sold. We have the wrong approach to aviation, and that is we don’t need to market and sell the product. Because I am a Catholic, you should be one too?

          Considering the price of a new car is approximately $30,000 and sales are up the past 18 months, why can’t they afford the $10,000 pilot license? When I was learning to fly, WITHOUT any reason to become a professional pilot, I worked for $4.50 per hour, with airplane rental @ $35.00 per hour, flight instructor was $15.00 per hour in 1981. When I went to the airport, we all enjoyed flying and knew it was not cheap and decided we liked flying and we spent our money on it. If you want to check what is expensive, try college tuition! It keeps going up and up, yet people are still filling these institutions…so what gives?

          Quite honestly I can’t stand to go to the airport anymore, because everyone is sitting around in the lounge waiting for a free cookie and complaining that flying is too expensive. The truth is, without a marketing and sales plan…one that will lead to success and sales, is something most flight schools can’t grasp. 99% of the flight schools rely on floor traffic that somehow finds them, instead of the flight school going after the people who have disposable income and will spend the money!

          Volume is and will cover a lot of sins and poor management, because it provides cash flow and allows for error. Simply waiting on someone to show up at your doorstep is a seriously flawed concept, and explains general aviation and why it has a decreasing pilot population. I recently was helping a lady with her photography business…guess what, she didn’t think about advertising either! Therefore, she had clients that were barely paying her bills and her time she should have sued herself for minimum wage violations (I volunteered to submit the paperwork for her) :) As I explained to her, the more opportunities you have, the more you are able to price your product at a profit. What did this do for her motivation? She was now making money because her phone was ringing all the time AND she really did a more professional job because she walked away with money in her wallet!

          IF we had more volume in all areas of flight training, aircraft sales, and aircraft maintenance and services, the price seems to go down as solutions are found to satisfy market demand. Grinding away with such tight margins doesn’t make any sense, and explains why I see grumpy airplane business owners at the airport all the time!

          • Henry Kelly says

            Hi Mike, thanks for your reply. Spending money to make money like an investment in college is different than wanting to enjoy being able to fly and getting a license……If there were more volume there would be more aviation jobs which could help justify the investment for young people. So volume drives demand, and nothing succeeds like success….I think you threw out a new idea. and what I think is the best idea I have seen so far in the comments..I have never, except in flying magazines that are preaching to the choir, seen any add whatsoever about learning to fly..I have not heard a single radio or local TV spot or seen even a newspaper or magazine add, the only exceptions being a War Bird ride in an AT-6. and an air show promo in the paper. It is remarkable how many TV shows and movies feature airplanes in some way, but you never see any adds about learning to fly. Only the airlines themselves push flying. Maybe AOPA and EAA should start taking out adds themselves to promote flying and put it in a more public exposure. As an AOPA member I will send on the idea….Thank you, Hank

  9. Jim Hackman says

    The old formula for FBO success is broken and needs to be relegated to the good old days. Small and medium sized airports lack the based flying that once provided fuel and maintenance business. Unfortunately many airport “sponsors” , cities, authorities, boards, etc require the FBO to continue to provide 1970’s service in a 2013 economy. Technology has played it’s part. In the 70’s if a Lear or Sabre landed, you had a fuel customer, they couldn’t go anyplace without buying fuel. Someone had to be there to answer the unicom before AWOS, etc. The pay phone needed to work so you could call a cab. The FSS was on the field and if you had federal employees you had a coffee shop. Both attracted customers to the FBO. The point is, our expectations of what a small airport FBO should be are overdue for an update. Self Serve fueling, limited business hours and most of all, a reasonable expectation by the “sponsor” of the income the FBO should provide. It may even be necessary for the “sponsor” to subsidize the FBO rather than vice versa. There is still a viable business here but it isn’t the same one that we knew and loved “back in the 70’s”.
    I could be wrong…
    Jim H

    • says

      Jim; your sorely correct on the older, 70’s and past, that the “full service FBO” model isn’t applicable in 2013. I agree and disagree!
      Although I TOTALLY agree that many smaller communities cannot justify a “traditional”
      40′-60’s style FBO, are THEY willing to fund or sponsor the “shortfall” just to provides “basic” services that you eluted to such as self-serve fueling AND for a very small portion (pilots/aircraft owners) of their population? Basically, the smaller the general population; the GREATER the need to provide many income sources.
      But, for the truly profit motivated FBO provider, he/she NEEDS several profits centers or income/revenues streams to even “break-even”! naturally, LARGER FBO’s like Landmark, Signature, or Million Air, can “survive on the volume of fuel (Jet-A) alone – 3-4 jet “fill ups” a day can easily exceed 5,000 gals AND $5-7K in gross profits!
      That said, after many “failed ” attempts by an FBO candidate, communities will often resort to providing limited services as you mentioned – they can’t make the “airport” into a drag strip – don’t forget; it was build on the premise it WAS needed – demand study – HELLO!
      Simply, putting poor customer service and dated training/rental aircraft aside, ANY business; pizza parlor, car dealership, diner, flower shop AND FBO, first and foremost REQUIERS a consumer/customer base or DEMAND.
      The hard REALITY is this: probably 50% of the nations GA airports aren’t needed or justified. Think I’m “wrong” on this? Want a few examples – how many do you want me to provide?
      I’ve done a myriad of “demand studies” on several GA airport nationally and without an adequate DEMAND, no matter how you go about creating it, is the FIRST order of prudent planning and the FBO “business” is really no different than your local auto repair shop; FIRST, you need a customer!
      AND If I’m “wrong”, then I guess 50+ years of business experience and education was a bit of a contradiction!

  10. Ed Watson says

    Well, I am NOT wrong. What IS needed is a REASON to travel from A to B. Then and only then does a plane make sense. NY to LA – not sense for a GA machine, but CRQ to PMD (Carlsbad CA to Palmdale CA) VERY ok as you overfly LA cutting the time from 4 of 5 hours to an hour or so. So if you need a plane find a business that requires you to cut down on your travel TIME. Time is money remember. But I guess even I could be wrong.

  11. Matt says

    Ooops, major bad on my part…had intended to bring this back to the comments on the FBO’s activities and business planning. Most FBO’s, like the one mentioned in Jamie’s column are small to mid sized businesses. At the end of the day their goal is to derive a profit from their activities. In the case of FBO’s like all businesses they are seriously affected by their own and surrounding environments. While the numbers are all there for the airport in the article, the extenuating circumstances must be taken into account. Hartford is known for being the insurance capitol, that itself may no longer be true, but the conservative nature of the beast remains. Also, while positive in some instances, its a negative in others: some of the other communities mentioned in the column also have their own small airports, that don’t have the obstacles to access, odor or usage that the airports in the article do. The FBO’s at this airport have survived, that alone is to their credit. Could they do a better job? I think the answer to that question is the same as it is is to most small businesses, and most individuals as well.

    Again, thanks for reading and enjoy the New Year.

  12. Steve Schell says

    Marketing is one thing, but if it isn’t followed by a great experience, it won’t sell.
    Any member of any demographic is going to be put off and perhaps apprehensive about climbing into a dirty, bugsplattered, greasy, unattractive airplane with an unkempt, ununiformed flight instructor. How much more would it cost to provide the staff with logo shirts and require them to keep the aircraft and facility clean in their down time?

    Once, after flying my perfectly functioning airplane in for it’s annual and getting it back full of greasy fingerprints I asked the owner of the FBO what he thought I would notice more, a $4000 bill and a dirty plane…..or a $4025 bill and an airplane that looked better than when I brought it in.

    Since then he hires high school students to clean every aircraft leaving the facility. The FBO is doing great and the students get exposed to aviation.

  13. Matt says

    Jamie and others: Interesting comments you make, and I’ll stipulate to some of the presumed facts as well. As an advocate for many groups and activities I find many reoccurring themes.

    Ignorance or unwillingness to look at the root of the issue, and likewise, ignorance or unwillingness to look at the root of the cures. These are two huge issues that are at the root of many issues including those of GA.

    Last night I sat amongst an intelligent and knowledgeable group of concerned citizens of a well to do community. A community mentioned in the Jamie’s article. It was a part of the agenda to seek final comment from all participants regarding a report and application being made for town recognition by a national group who’s award can seriously influence economic development, the awarding of other even more prestigious awards of recognition. The report, like the application focused on many possible improvements that could be made to enhance the towns future ability to win recognition at ever increasing levels. It was a very well researched and articulated report and application with “buy in” from town employees.

    Constant in the conversations were referrals to the past “old school” employees who had a different value system, and different marching orders. Also constant were the positive referrals to the new school of thought that had dawned with new and younger employees of the town.

    However it all came to a more realistic quiet, when two local political board members introduced themselves, advocated their willingness to support the cause, and reminded the members present (about 20 of more than 700 members) that at the end of the day….it would take their advocacy efforts and presence, not just at this particular groups meetings, but at the towns budget and other meetings. In addition, the politico’s further reminded all those present, that while its great to have a report, applications, and recognition, at the end of the day it all takes money.

    The recurring themes are that it takes member participation, in this case, pilots, crews, corporations, and families. Not only is awareness required, but participation.

    Have you done anything personally or financially to enhance the general populations awareness of, participation in a GA activity or event, let alone a flight?

    Studies continue to show a growing disinterest in GA amongst young people because they just do not have exposure to it. A small plane to most young people today is a G5 they see their favorite music or sports celebrity on.

    Politics, again one of the very airports that is the focus of this story is actually also in the cross hairs of many politicians for closure and elimination. While its doubtful it would ever happen, this airports lack of utilization or ability to generate revenue has nonetheless put it under a microscope repeatedly. There have been multiple plans to close this airport for expansion of nearby public/private utilities that are located in the same area, likewise for alternative economic development.

    The lack of voice and regard for this facility has enabled local government to locate waste recycling facilities on two ends of the airport. This has brought about a very significantly large number of days the air around the airport is so odorous, even if it was not hazardous to your breathing, you would not want to be at that airport under any circumstance.

    Like wise it has resulted in a regulatory environment that itself was rather odorous if you tried to create any out of the ordinary operations at the airport that might bring awareness, attention or people to the location. Twice there was an exception to this, and one of GA’s largest organizations held an annual event at the airport. Even that failed to produce significant participation. Participation is key to creating awareness, and awareness is key to creating a critical mass of interest that leads to participation.

    Education is a part of this process. Where a high school teacher has offered a curriculum that was aviation based, it more often than not becomes a favorite of students. With the on-going need for STEM workers, why are there not more programs based in aerospace, or even better, GA aerospace.

    I have a friend who teaches math, science and vocational education in a local high school. He has created a program based on the creation of hovercraft. By their final year in school, the students have the ability and opportunity to build their own machine. His program is one of the schools most popular.

    I knew of an instructor in another community, not far from the airport in the article that created a similar program whereby ever other year or so, students helped the instructor to produce a fully functional, certified fixed wing aircraft. Some of those students had also become pilots or soloed by the time they graduated. Many went onto STEM careers and some also went onto aviation careers, and plenty went onto to become GA community members.

    If we can remove some of the political discourse surrounding GA, if we can gain the participation to create the awareness, and plant the seeds, GA itself will become a budding flower that will survive the current atmosphere and begin to again grow. The economics of GA have never been and will unlikely ever be favorable, its a simple reality. What is favorable for one, is still going to be too expensive for the next. However, if the drive is there, people can often find a way. More clubs, more groups, more fractional ownership or participant options can develop. We can not change the economics of the activity, more participants will only impact the industry so much, and it will never be enough. What more participants will do is create more opportunity and practicality in the sport of GA. More places to go. More affordable planes to get us there, and more affordable instruction to get the ball rolling.

    If you have read this far, are still awake, I appreciate it. Hopefully you see some of the my points. I could suggest like other that have commented on Jamies article that I might be wrong, and truly I might. But instead, I’m going to end with another comment: I once thought I was wrong, but found out I made a mistake.

    Live well! Fly safe! Soft landings!

    Happy and Safe Holidays, and a Grand New Year!

  14. says

    I could be wrong but flying is damn expensive. Aviation is awesome but let’s face the fact that the market share of people who can afford to fly is very very small. We’re looking at this whole thing from the wrong point of view. Instead trying to make flying “less expensive” we should focus on helping the flying infected make more money – no I don’t mean make money in aviation – we all know the joke of how to make a million bucks in aviation – start with two million. Seriously, I see it all the time. When an Entreprenuer really starts to make money, what does he do? He buys an airplane. Why not because it is cheap but because he has the bucks. Aviation should be the biggest promoter of Entreprenuerism in the world. CFI’s should help their students discover ways to make more money along with how to plan their cross-country flight. The big dogs know this. Everybody else just complains about the view of being the last dog on the sled team. If you want to fly – GO FIND A WAY TO MAKE MORE MONEY AND THEN DO ALL THE FLYING YOU WANT TOO – you will have deserved it.

    • SuperMom says

      Nearly everyone with discretionary income has some sort of hobby. You know, the thing that your kids buy you for Christmas after you start making bad jokes about having too many ties?
      Some collect something, like too many toys that they never had when they were kids.
      Some people collect flight time.
      Now, how to convince them those flight hours will be more satisfying than those cheap plastic train sets? (Or golf junk, or Hummel figurines, or old coins….)

      • says

        Supermom; And does EVERYONE need or want to fly?
        Given your “bias” opinion”, perhaps you could also “ex -plane” WHY only ONE in 1,400 of the population have an interest in aviation? Today, more than ever. to MANY leisure time (discretionary income) alternatives that are of greater BENEFIT (to them) and less costly. Just like not everyone is into golf, boating, ATV’s, coin or stamp collecting, there just not into aviation either. Still not “buying” this? Ask several flight schools of the “X” number of “Discovery Flights” that actually turn into COMMITED LSA or Private Pilots that ultimately get licensed.
        FACTS speak volumes – opinions, well, I may too be wrong!

        • SuperMom says

          Nope. I know people who aren’t sure why others require them to get out of bed before 8:00 a.m.
          Who is giving away Discovery Flights? I have paid for mine. At the very most, they have been 1/2 flight and I know my expense more than covered the cost of fuel.
          What is it that flight schools are selling? Sexy sizzle or overcooked steak?

          • says

            Supermom; Simple question that only requires a YES or NO
            not 1 and 2 only – or all of the above.
            IS THE FBO or flight school (a private enterprise business) entitles TO MAKE A PROFIT? yes OR no?
            Flight schools – they AREN’T doing any “selling” at all!

  15. says

    Congratulations on hitting the nail squarely on the head – WHAT business plan?
    Actually, the business/marketing plan is really part II in the way of business planning – part I, which is essentially FIRST; is that of a “demand study”. BEFORE any long range plans can be made, one needs to realistically ask ; is there an adequate POTENTAL consumer/customer base (demographic) to assure a high probability for (financial) success in the proposed (airport) location?
    Allow me to “shift” to two well know “retailers” to illustrate my point; the Lexus Division of Toyota and Wal-Mart.
    OK, many readers will immediately say; yeah, but two very different firms. one who caters to buyers of “highline/luxury” cars, the other general consumers goods from food to clothing! And THIS is my point; Lexus markets their cars to a very SELECT market and buyer; generally considered “upper-middle class” and affluent. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, has consumer base is which is WIDE ranging – lower middle – to upper-middle with the working or middle classes their “core” consumer/customer base – a BIG portion of the general population. If one were to investigate WHERE Lexus and Wal-Mart has retail stores, you’ll probably see 5 Wal-Marts for every ONE Lexus dealership. WHY is that; demographics – and the same goes for GA!
    Just like not every community cannot support a Lexus dealership, many smaller communities CANNOT justify a GA airport let alone an FBO. Sorry folks, but that IS the reality.
    But lets get back to Jamie’s mention of Hartford (CT) for a moment. I believe Jamie, and I too would agree, that Hartford has the “right” demographics – then WHY aren’t things BOOMING at Brainard Field? Here’s a classic example of ,”everyone knows WHERE the airport is; if they want to learn to fly or charter a plane, just plug in your GPS”!
    Bull—-! Marketing, advertising, or sales promotion – what’s that?
    Where Jamie shines here is in his “PRO-ACIVE” efforts to sell (a dirty word?) and promote GA and WHAT it has to offer! That said, however, “preaching” or promoting to an audience that either; 1. Just isn’t interested 2. Does NOT have the financially ability (a second dirty word?) to buy the service (lessons?) or a product (airplane?) is mote or fruitless! Well meaning – YES, but does it get RESULTS? And results is WHAT is needed by GA NOW – not decades from now!
    I sincerely hope the readers here who want to see GA , and particularly the “recreational segment” survive, can truly see the problem IS in marketing and sales – remember; “nothing happens until something is sold”! If readers have found Jamie’s fine article of interest, Mike Dempsey, recently wrote a wonderful piece on “sales” our site;, this November 5th.
    We welcome ANY of your comments! Happy Holiday to EVERYONE!

  16. SuperMom says

    Of course I could be wrong, but it happens rarely.
    In MY opinion, anything that increases traffic at an airport (and that starts with FOOT traffic) increase aviation awareness, which increases aviation enthusiasm, which (hopefully) increases aviation support.
    Unfortunately, what often happens is that expression of superiority, something like “I am a pilot, but YOU, my friend can never be worthy.” We take for granted that everyone is already aware of the safety of flight, and any lingering fear on their part is mere ignorance.
    While this is massive oversimplification of the myriad problems facing aviation today, it is still a basic premise on which public perceptions become based. This is not overcome by the fact of ‘any idiot can learn to fly and many do’ which far overshadows the number of pilots who fly safely on a consistent basis, privately, corporately, and commercially.
    Safe landings just don’t seem to make the news.
    Happy passengers just don’t make the news.
    The number of airplanes in the air at a given time are only highlighted when there are weather concerns.
    Flight crews have become people who are in business to ruin your good time, and make you pay to have it ruined.
    In my opinion, based on constantly interviewing everyone everywhere, and wearing these little red airplane earrings.

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