On one end of the general aviation spectrum, we have the business jet. A multi-million dollar piece of equipment that represents years of research and design work, many thousands of man hours dedicated to construction, and perhaps an equivalent amount in maintenance over the life of the aircraft.
And during that lifetime these sleek machines so rich with compound curves and mighty turbine engines will take men and women all over the landscape to do whatever it is they need to do at the other end of each journey.
Last week National Business Aviation Association’s Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition was in full swing indoors at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, as well as outdoors at Orlando Executive Airport.
The convention center, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island, was jam-packed with more than 1,000 exhibits and enough people to make it clear that business aviation is alive and well in the world today.
With exhibitors as varied as Japan, touting the benefits of Narita and Nagoya Airports, and Abu Dhabi singing the praises of Al Bateen Airport, the well-heeled attendee could buy a business aircraft, select its interior, specify a paint scheme, arrange for financing, insurance, catering, maintenance, and even flight training for the crew, while planning flights to specific destinations.
The economics of the industry are massive, and the number of companies and individuals participating in that economy is absolutely mind-boggling.
General aviation is very big business at this level, and thank goodness it is. Every one of our lives is improved by the existence of this segment of the industry.
One day and 40 miles north NBAA’s extravaganza of business aviation, the Deland Sport Aviation Showcase kicked off its inaugural installment of what is intended to be an annual event.
At Deland Municipal Airport-Sidney H. Taylor Field, general aviation was shown in stark relief to the high dollar, high performance machines being sold and operated just down the highway in Orlando.
Here, the entry level market was well represented with machines and providers who can usher an aviation enthusiast through the airport fence, into the cockpit, and implant the contagion of general aviation fever on a more accessible budget.
It was also an outstanding display of the hardware and software recreational pilots might involve themselves with for the long term.
For those who are dreaming of climbing into the pilot’s seat, but haven’t yet found the opportunity to actually do it, the Deland show was a godsend. Not only does it establish a starting point, it provides access to a path that leads directly to the big iron in Orlando and beyond for those who choose to make that transition.
If general aviation is to continue in the United States in a form that’s familiar to those of us who have been participating in it, it is essential that we increase the number of pilots entering the market.
Maybe even more pressing, we need to increase the number of aviation enthusiasts, people who have a positive view of general aviation, even though they haven’t yet taken the plunge and begun their training.
The Deland show did a stellar job of making that connection happen. It was impossible to miss the young men and women in light blue shirts with epaulets, dark slacks, and sporting colorful ribbons signifying accomplishments, weaving through the maze of aircraft and indoor displays.
There were 80 members of the Deland High School JROTC program on site, many of whom expressed an interest in learning to fly. One young man acknowledged with pride that he’d already begun his flight training, although he admitted financing was a concern for him.
That’s not surprising considering movie tickets and a stop at a fast-food restaurant represent a financially challenging adventure to most people in his age group. The fact that he has set his sights on a goal more lofty than obtaining a double-cheeseburger suggests there is hope.
His presence on the field, with his peers, doing his level best to make connections, learn new skills, and connect with a population of achievers that’s well outside his normal day-to-day crowd speaks well of him.
It also gives hope to old dudes like me who would love to see a tsunami of young talent backfill in behind me as I wander aimlessly off into the sunset one day.
Now here’s the really exciting part. This might be true on your field too, so pay particular attention to this bit.
At the exact same time, and on the exact same airport, exists an EAA Chapter that has expressed an interest in forming a flying club specifically to attract young student pilots to the industry and give them an opportunity to participate inexpensively.
Yes, it’s true. There is a wandering horde of young potential pilots and mechanics wandering the ramp. Only yards away is a collection of experienced hands looking for an opportunity to have a positive impact on a young, ambitious audience. Yet they do not know each other. Each is looking for the exact opportunities the other offers – but they haven’t found a way to connect as of yet.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to recognize that GA is one introduction away from putting them together, to the mutual benefit of all concerned.
Make no mistake, that next generation of new aviation enthusiasts is out there. They’re right under our noses. We just have to meet them and show them an open door. We can do that. You can do that.
There’s a local high school administrator not far from you right now who will be very surprised to be getting your call…all you have to do is start dialing.