The conundrum of the GA industry is daunting. Solutions abound, but many of the players are not paying attention to their peers. In fact, many of the players are openly — and counter-productively — competing with their peers under the theory: If I can harm your business, my business will benefit.
Not so. Not nearly so.
There are fewer pilots today than there were 10 years ago. There were fewer pilots 10 years ago than there were 20 years ago. The trend is not encouraging.
Yet all is not lost. A change in attitude and a redirection of our efforts could bring benefits to our industry. First, each of us has to accept in our hearts and minds that it is not all about me anymore. It is all about we.
Consider for a moment John Nash. Immortalized in the Ron Howard film, “A Beautiful Mind,” the spectacle of Nash’s struggle with schizophrenia often distracts the viewer from recognizing the larger contribution Nash made. He shares, with John Harsanyi and Reinhard Selten, the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize in economics. For Nash’s part, he has given us insight into the distinction between cooperative and non-cooperative gaming.
In a cooperative game, each participant can make decisions based on agreements forged with other cooperative players. In a non-cooperative game, it is not possible to make enforceable agreements between players, because the players are not sharing information with each other. They are not playing as a united team, they are playing as individuals. You might think of the players in the non-cooperative game as sharks, each out to get what they can for themselves, with no thought of the bigger picture or the long-term viability of their fellow players, or even the game itself.
Welcome to general aviation in a nutshell. I’ll bet Nash, his partners, and the Nobel Committee weren’t thinking of us when they got all game-theory crazy and applied their findings to the field of economics. Their rationale parallels us quite closely, though. By continuing to conduct business with a win-at-all-cost philosophy, we are succeeding in accomplishing one goal: Killing off general aviation in the United States.
Now consider an alternative method of doing business that is largely foreign to the GA market, but just might breathe new life into an industry that is both indispensable to modern society and loathed by the very people who depend on it. What if we refocused our attentions on making GA truly accessible and affordable? What if we dedicated ourselves to providing a level of service our customers had never even considered possible? Would GA grow? Yes. Yes it would.
Argument number 1: Flying is too expensive.
Solution number 1: No, it’s not. The cost of learning to fly could easily be cut in half. It is possible today to go from zero time to a private pilot certificate for less than $5,000. Yet it requires learning as a member of a club, not via the typical FBO rental method.
Given that example, would it better serve FBOs to continue to maintain the old business model that is failing, or would it be better for FBOs to sponsor non-profit flying clubs that would bring customers in the door, put CFIs and mechanics to work, rent tie-downs and hangars to club aircraft, and foster a growing stream of sales for books, headsets, charts, fuel, and everything else a student pilot or a recreationally motivated private pilot might need?
You know the answer to that question. Heck, everybody knows the answer to that question.
The challenge is putting this new business model into action. And that requires imagination, resolve, and a willingness to part with the sharks in order to commit yourself to building an industry, not just one business.
Let me challenge you with this thought. Don’t immediately flip the page. Don’t move directly to the next column or story. Think about the idea of a new paradigm in GA and how you might be a part of bringing it to life. Imagine how you might be a driving force in building a new aviation-centric society where even a kid with a part-time job at the local burger place could afford to become a pilot, and continue to fly afterward without incurring large debts.
Yeah, we can do that. The math works out. It’s only a question of whether we are willing to part with the old ways that no longer work in this market while we embrace a new, different, and eminently viable alternative that is just a wee bit outside our comfort zone.
I know where I’m headed.
We’ll talk more about this later, after you’ve had time to think it over a bit first.