By STEVE SCHAPIRO
For too long now the aviation community has focused on the question of how to revitalize general aviation. The pilot population has been steadily declining and the costs of flying have been increasing.
There have been programs geared to grow the pilot population, such as the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles. A whole new class of aircraft, Light Sport, and a new certificate, Sport Pilot, were created. As good as these programs and efforts may be, the downward trend continues.
All of these efforts were geared toward those who, on some level, were drawn skyward — to those who already want to fly. But what if the answer to strengthening general aviation lies outside the cockpit?
That’s the premise of the 19th Annual New Jersey State Aviation Conference sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Coalition May 2-3 at Princeton University and Alexandria Airport (N85) in Pittstown, N.J.
“That is the gist of the whole conference — changing mind sets,” said conference organizer Linda Castner. “The future of general aviation is not, I repeat, not just producing people who can fly and buy aircraft. The future of the whole industry is how many people seek careers beyond being a pilot or air traffic controller, and will lobby for the value of having a small airport in their community.”
For the first time, the MAAC conference is expanding to two days. The first day is the “Seize the Day — Build for Tomorrow” Symposium, which will feature innovations on growing general aviation with panels on education, policy, safety, and technology. It will look at what is happening right now and how you can get involved, as well as looking outside the box — beyond an aviation audience — to strengthen the industry.
Panelists include representatives from Redbird Flight Simulations, OpenAirplane, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), the FAA, the New Jersey Department of Education, and Rutgers University.
The second day, “The Art and Science of Flying Ground School”, presented by Stowell, takes attendees from talking about general aviation in a conference room and brings them out to Alexandria Airport, a living laboratory to experience general aviation first hand.
This interactive ground school weaves history, biology, and technology into a high-level exploration of the wonder of flight in general, and of airplane and human performance in particular. Through the lens of aviation, pilots and non-pilots, educators and students will gain not only new insights into the world around them, but also renewed awareness about themselves, organizers note.
“We want to do more than put people’s fannies in airplanes to get them to buy them,” Castner said. “We want to put people’s fannies in airplanes for what it teaches them about themselves, about careers in science that may be outside of aviation. How does aviation help an engineer in biology? We’ll show you in this workshop.”
The first day of the conference will take place at Princeton University’s Carl Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding and the second day will be at Alexandria Field (N85) in Pittstown.
Cost is $85 for both days or $50 for just one day and includes continental breakfast, lunch and reception on May 2 and lunch on May 3. Attendees will have a chance to win door prizes, including two round-trip tickets anywhere United Airlines flies in the United States.