Everybody has a game plan

General aviation is something of a massive storage locker that houses a plethora of game plans designed to save the industry. It seems as if virtually everyone has one they’ve been working on, refining, honing to perfection. And the story of each plan is the same. It’s better. It will achieve more impressive results. Honest, it will.

There’s only one problem. For all the rock’em sock’em can’t-possibly-fail game plans on the table, there’s no team willing to take the field and implement them. We’re all chiefs with no indians. This is a reality that presents the industry with quite a conundrum. How do you save a group of people who refuse to be saved? How do you help people who decline any help?

We shouldn’t be surprised. It’s human nature.

Our situation reminds me of one faced by a friend who grew up in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans. As Hurricane Katrina bore down on his hometown he implored his family to leave. They had a car, so they had the means to leave. They had enough money on hand to buy gas and snacks for the drive. They had family out of state willing to take them in. Yet they stayed put while a hurricane tracked right toward them, bringing devastation and death to their neighborhood.

Their decision to stay didn’t work out well.

My friend was upset, as you can imagine. But he shared a perspective with me that has stuck with me ever since. “When you walk out into your yard and hear the sound of a ship’s horn, and you realize you have to look up to see the ship, that’s a pretty good indication you should move.”

Those houses on Deslonde Street are built on stilts for a reason. And that reason ain’t fashionable, it’s about survival.

That’s general aviation. We’re in denial. We’re all smarter than the market. We’ve all got a better idea than the alphabet organizations we belong to, or used to belong to. If it was up to us fuel would be cheaper, hangar rents would be reduced, insurance costs would be slashed, and the FBO would greet us with a red carpet and a flurry of rose petals every time we taxi up to buy five gallons of mogas, avgas, JetA, or just grab a free cup of coffee.

Every one of us has a better, more practical idea, yet we never seem to have what it takes to put that idea into action. Until we do, we’re sure as shootin’ not going to help anyone else get their plan working. What would be the point?

Imagine for a moment what the Super Bowl would look like if the players took the same attitude. The players come out of the locker room, line up on the sidelines and wait for the kick-off. Well, most of the players come out. A handful never made it out of the locker room. As they see it, they’re second and third stringers who probably won’t see any action anyhow. What’s the point of suiting up just to sit on the bench? It’s embarrassing. Screw that. So the 53 man roster slips to 45.

No problem. The coach can make the game plan work with 45 guys.

The kicker boots the pigskin, it sails into the end zone, and so the ref brings it out to the 20 yard line. The teams line up to play. Except they don’t.

The offensive right guard just found out from an online post that the offensive left guard makes almost double his salary. So he dawdles on the sidelines trying to get his agent on the phone. One of the wide receivers is concerned the reality show he was signed to do in the off-season might not be as classy as he expected it to be. Worried that his future earning potential might be hurt by the perception he willingly participated in a second-tier program on a third-rate network, he’s distracted. The text to his manager should only take seconds but with gloves on it’s hard to type on his iPhone. The spellcheck keeps changing his message. In a huff, he leaves the field.

The tight end decides the coach isn’t treating him right and spends the first 10 minutes of the game trying to get the tackles to boycott management with him.

The quarterback decides to get a jump on his vacation and signals that he’s ready to film his, “I’m going to Disney World,” shot four hours early. As the remainder of his teammates mill about the field aimlessly, the center gets into position, grabs the ball, and awaits the signal. And 20 minutes later he’s on the cart headed for the locker room with a strained quadriceps, never having gotten off the first snap.

Upon witnessing the mayhem on the field the announcers in the booth unanimously agree to place the blame for this fiasco squarely at the feet of the owners. Departing early they sign off the broadcast declaring, “Football sure isn’t what it used to be.”


  1. says

    Democracy is dead, we now have a Plutocracy OWNED BY THE VERY RICH. The only way we can restore a functional government that operates in the interest of the people instead of the rich and corps, is a new amendment. Term Limits, no more political contributions, all political advertising radio, tv, newspaper, etc is FREE, as part of our so-called FREE PRESS. This is the ONLY way we will be able to HIRE politicians that have no vested interests. Did you know that your representatives work only 3 days a week?

    • says


      Your context of “Free Press” is incorrect. The term implies that writers and publishers can write what they wish. They are free to express themselves. This is not to say any publisher or content provider is required, or was ever intended to be required, to give away their labor and their product at no cost. Your post assumes an entirely different and completely incorrect interpretation of the term.

      Similarly, congressional representatives do not work 3 day work weeks. They are salaried employees of the people and as such they set their own work hours. They also decide for themselves when they will be in Washington, when they will be in their home districts, and when they will visit other destinations doing research that may be pertinent to their committee assignments or professional interests. I have not yet met a congressman who doesn’t put in a significant number of hours per week, work weekends, and leave their families on holidays to be with their constituents. That is not a requirement of the job either, But then if they don’t put in the hours and visit as they do, they won’t hold the job for long, either.

  2. Mack says

    The public-at-large has a primal fear of flying, they generally express it as “you can’t pull over to the side of the road”, and if you have a collision, “the second hit (colliding with terrain) is fatal”.

    This fear leads to severe regulation, causing over-extended government, and promotes salaries and empire building. Over-extended government causes aviation maintenance and parts to escalate beyond practicability.

    Aviators use knowledge and rationality to assuage the fear, and the experience of flying, makes flying desirable, not fearful.

    It does take passion and dedication, to make flying practical. Passion hones our knowledge of aviation, and many of us can make aviation work to our satisfaction and pleasure.

    Many people in aviation even attain the knowledge and experience to maintain ther own aircraft, and those are the die-hard people that keep aviation alive, at least for themselves. It can be using Mogas in their Lycomings, doing preventive maintenance to nearly all maintenance, (like E-gapping and engine timing their own magnetos, and checking plug and high tension lead resistance, and understanding and checking valve train dimensions (dry tappet clearance), compression checks, oil condition and quantity, fuel flow, induction and exhaust condition, starting circuit and charging system health, etc.)

    Aviation can ands does “come together” for many of us, and if the government would step out of our way, there would be so many great and talented people who would love the hobby, the travel, and the the satisfaction of enhanced living, that aviation gives us.

    The obstacles we put in the way, discourage the public from participating, and in all probability,
    the only public-at-large future of general aviation, will come from a different source, computerized technology, where computerized flight modules (drones), will make automated transportation possible, if an electrical power source is perfected to meet durability and endurance requirements.

  3. says

    I actually am at the same airport as Jamie …..good article
    Talk is free………it can be gotten anywhere
    General Aviation has kinda gotten like politics…….
    No one likes what is and has happened in Washington and our great nation but yet all thats done is complain instead of 1st of all VOTE and 2nd wear our the local senator’s and congressman until they quit or instigate change with their postilion and power or group together to get a voice heard…(Oh i forgot the majority of politicians are very wealthy before they get to Washington so their concern is not on the average everyday mate in the marketplace)
    FAA could care less about the struggle of pilots who have flown for years and now cant afford a gallon of gas to fly a young person on their 1st flight………..hangar rent dont help any and to insure their plane has gone crazy…..so most planes sit in a hangar collecting dust …..get cranked up every once in awhile some even washed occasionally but many sit like a orphan that has been forgotten as the passion is slowly robbed from the pilot and the frustration of not having anyone to help them make change……..
    yeh thats my bandstand!!! It took me 56 years to get my certificate and i refuse to let it die now.
    Im reminded of a famous saying: “No one man did anything great by himself……it required other people to help them achieve the dream”
    Thats what its going to take to general aviation alive…………group together in what ever fashion and make the passion heard from someplace beside your hangar once a month or while drinking coffee at the FBO
    You ask what im doing about it ?
    At 71 as the visionary of our team “Changed for Life” mentoring school of opportunity at Lone Eagle Aviation Florida at Gilbert Field, Winter Florida (GIL) we have developed a aviation mentoring program for 2nd chance youth and have a team of passionate aviators who want to give back to a youth that chance they got years before……….its called resurrection of passion by some of these mentors…….
    I am at the same airport my Father soloed at at 16 in 1939 and now full filling my passion while doing what i can with my little experience to keep aviation alive.
    You want to see change? Stop talking and do something……Talk is free you can get it anywhere
    Oh and by experience ( yes im qualified at 71) when you have a PASSION you love you will do what it takes to make time for it and thats when things happen
    have a fun day……..fly safe

  4. says

    Great article, all so true. I’ve always thought that a major problem with the industry is that, from a business perspective, the risks are so large and the [financial] rewards so small. What fuels our business is passion, which has a way of descending in direct proportion to our bank balances. Anyway, thanks for your perspective; your always a pleasure to read.

  5. says


    I agree with your analysis. Although AOPA and EAA have been spending their members’ money on programs to grow the pilot population, ALL of the personal-flying trends are down-and-to-the-right. And that’s been the case for over 30 years. The best we can say is that if they hadn’t been doing what they’re doing, the trends may have been even worse.

    I too have an idea to turn things around. However, despite over 50 years as a successful aviation entrepreneur with several pilot-culture-change projects to my credit, the leadership of AOPA and EAA won’t even talk to me. All of the new ideas you mention should have a fair hearing within the GA community. The only way I can see to do that is for AOPA and EAA to use their communications capabilities to put those ideas before the rapidly dwindling number of GA pilots.

    My analysis of the situation is that if a new strategy for growing the GA community isn’t implemented soon, there won’t be any personal flying in the U.S. by the end of this decade.

  6. James Mitchell says

    Change the saying “You can’t fight city hall” to “You can’t fight the FAA” and you will know why General Aviation is dying. They won’t be happy until the people flying are the military and the airlines.

  7. Len Assante says


    We’re a pretty fractious bunch. (Is that even a word?) A pastime in this industry seems to be mocking anyone with a different idea. I get it, millions -maybe billions- have been lost in aviation, thus we’re cynical. But at some point we must put the cynicism and mocking aside and do something.

    I work with a group with an idea. We’ve received the usual attention from the press and the tire-kickers. But if half the energy used in bashing us behind our backs was used instead to help us or even just fly a couple EAA Young Eagles kids, our world would be a better place, filled with more pilots and airplanes.

  8. Charlie Kile says

    So long as the FAA persists in blocking any and all attempts to encourage the general public to fly, all the plans are doomed to failure.
    Sorry to be such a pessimist but that’s the way it seems to be.

  9. John Wesley says

    I have a plan, A plan that I have worked for over 45 years, A plan that has brought many to GA and if it had been accepted 20 years ago, could have dramatically improved GA, if not totally saved it, Alas that opportunity is gone, it may not ever exist again.
    AOPA with its latest smoke and mirrors program is only perpetuating their preaching to the choir efforts of the past. Who will go to a fly-in, people who for the most part already have at least a passing interest in GA, who will buy a flying related magazine, someone with an already passing interest in aviation. The candidates that we need in GA are people who have never given a thought about us, or even more important people who set in those kerosene powered aluminum tubes and cuss our very existence. We need to put airplanes in places where people do not normally expect to see them, Outdoor shows, recreational shows, boat shows, Airline magazines, Playboy, NHRA Magazine,not Fly-ins, not aviation related rags. It has worked in the past, but it requires effort and money, I do not have the financial assets or the ability to carry this on much beyond my local area, AOPA does, but won’t, EAA does, but won’t, GAMA does but won’t. Why, it flies in the face of common practice, it smacks of a long term planning program and does not serve to immediately salve their bottom lines.
    So instead they bring out the smoke and mirrors, call it back to basics and all of the Pollyanna’s with their rose colored glasses, line up to partake of the Kool-Aid.

    • Greg W says

      Indeed, an ad. campaign like the recreational vehicle association runs, “go camping” with no suggestion of what brand of equipment, just get out to see “your” state/national park. AOPA. NAFI,EAA, all would be great funding sources for such ads. You mentioned GAMA, they too would benefit, the new flyer may not buy new to start with but if they do not begin to fly the GAMA member surely will not sell them a new aircraft. We all fight each other, IFR vs. VFR, piston vs. turbine, recreational vs. business. The main organizations all seem to dislike LSA,hate part 103 ultralights,(hey, they still fly), and don’t even notice balloons and gliders. We must all stand and work together to promote aviation to those outside or indeed we will all be “hung” separately by increasing regulation and cost.

      • Drew Steketee says

        All fine ideas, but I’m continually ASTONISHED at how much pilots don’t know about what has already been done. Examples: I DID hire the promotional agency from the “Go RVing” campaign for BE A PILOT, can’t be more cross-over than that. We ran a million in TV ads every year. But you can’t push money into a recession economy and get results when other factors aren’t working. In recent years, it was time to pursue small, targeted, low-cost efforts. Now, the issue is 1) when to increase the investment, 2) who is willing or able to pay for it and 3) what is the “spark” that will light it off? New product? New change in flying’s economics? Or just an improved economy? (And balance those against daunting demographic, income and consumer interest trends.)

        • Greg W says

          I don’t think any one meant to imply that it had not been done before,simply that it should continue to be. I worked at an FBO that had once been a Piper dealership in the early 80’s and we would get people stopping in every week due to the old “be a pilot” T.V. ads. I, specifically, was only trying to point out that my own membership dues, at several groups, do not seem to be spent well as far as expanding operations. Even the EAA does not seem to promote the lower cost option for flight today. If it is not a kit with a new engine and 40+ thousand in the panel it is unwelcome. The flight training stat. that matters is the part that is ignored. Namely the 80% drop out rate, it shows that the public does still want to fly, but are turned away by cost, availability, attitudes or something else. The point is they still find us behind the fences but WE can’t seem to keep them engaged.

  10. says

    Jamie –

    Great article! We need to spend as much time getting behind other people’s ideas as we do dreaming up our own – an organization of one is a futile struggle.

    And spell check on the iPhone is awful – regardless of whether you have gloves on.

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