General Aviation is dead. If it’s not dead, it’s dying. If it’s not dying, it’s paralyzed with a sickness that manifests itself in the form of high prices, lousy service, ancient participants, and a generalized sense of ennui among the spectators at the fence line. You’ve read these charges, and I’m here to tell you they’re bunk.
This twisted logic is a prime example of pure, unadulterated, down-in-the-dumps nonsense. It’s the sort of thing that sounds good and can get a crowd to believe the hype. But it’s not true.
GA isn’t dead, it’s in transition. In human terms it’s going through a period of change, not all that different from the change that occurs when an optimistic, energetic, action-oriented 10 year old transitions into a slightly more serious and somewhat less energetic 19 year old with a job, a full course load at college, and a significant other he or she would like to spend more time with. Simply put, GA is growing up.
After nearly 100 years of boundless enthusiasm, relentless growth, massive technological leaps into the future, and an explosion of popularity that is only surpassed by humanity’s adaptation to electricity and the automobile – GA is going through a period of transition. And that’s a good thing.
You can’t be young forever. Even Peter Pan had a tough time with the idea of perpetual youth. That’s true for GA, too. It’s grown a bit, is learning to accept some limitations, and is finding a way to set its sights on more attainable, if slightly less ambitious goals.
Perhaps private ownership of an airplane isn’t as practical for most people as we might like. That’s not the end of the world. The club model still exists to fill the need for some. Partnerships work for others. Fractional ownership is an option that was a true oddity not long ago, but is becoming more mainstream every day. And there’s nothing wrong with renting for those who fly less frequently but would still like to have access to an aircraft they’re proud to get some altitude in.
Many of us have a tendency to see GA as a binary business. It’s either thriving or dying. There is no in-between for this crowd. Unfortunately, they’ve been seeing the dark gloomy base layer of a very dark cloud deck for a long time. Their focus has been so laser-like, they’ve failed to notice the bright silver lining higher up, where the sun glints off the puffy, cheerful upper reaches of those same clouds.
For those who haven’t noticed, kids are beginning to get involved in aviation again. What’s more, there are educational programs being launched from coast to coast. Many are born and run from the offices of highly respected learning institutions and aviation bases of operation. There is hope for a new tomorrow, with a new population of pilots who have a fresh, vibrant appreciation for GA’s role in the US economy, and the world at large.
What makes all these good things happen, of course, is the active involvement of GA participants. Let me give you a good example.
I invited a young man out to the airport the other day for a chat. Our first appointment came and went, the victim of last minute scheduling conflicts that couldn’t be avoided. But on the second visit he arrived with a smile, a firm handshake, and settled in for a conversation about the opportunities available in aviation. That chat lasted for more than two hours. He met with retired airline pilots, mechanics, business owners, and flight instructors. With each new face came new information and new contacts. He took notes.
By the time he left the airport he had met more than half-a-dozen airport regulars. He’d spent some time in the pilot’s seat of an airplane too. That was a first for him.
He came out the next day with his son, and asked if the two of them could replicate the cockpit experience to get a photo or two. By the time they left, the son was enamored of aviation, and the father was noticeably pleased. He even talked about bringing his own father out to see the sites at the local airport.
By the next day this young man had a Facebook post up with photos of his visits. His post raved about the great time he’d had and his new-found interest in GA. He had successfully transitioned from being moderately interested in aviation to being a full-blown aviation enthusiast in a single weekend. That’s progress.
My young friend may never own an airplane. He may never even take the substantial step of learning to fly. Then again, he might. Either way he’s out there today talking to people he works with about what an inviting, exciting, inspirational place the local airport is. And that’s beneficial to all of us.
GA isn’t dead. It’s not sick either. It’s growing up, stretching its legs, and getting ready to launch off in a whole new direction. This time, the trip will be planned out with a better understanding of the challenges ahead, and will be driven by people who have the experience and the tools to make a more viable and long-lasting GA model work.
I have hope. You should have hope, too. Better yet, you should seriously consider becoming a participant. Because if I can have an impact, so can you. And if both of us have a positive impact, we might just inspire a third person to get into the game. Just think of the possibilities if we get that ball rolling in the right direction.