Until not very long ago, there were only two serious indicators that Christmas was just around the corner. They were, in order of importance, the arrival of a Sears and Roebuck catalog in the mail, and the calendar pinned to the kitchen wall.
As anyone with first-hand experience can attest, anything and everything you could possibly want was listed in that catalog. From dishes, to dolls, to go-carts, and boats — even entire homes could be purchased in kit form from that one magical book.
Today things have changed, of course. Christmas has busted out all over the place. It seems every retailer in town has become overstocked with items destined to be found under the tree a few weeks from now.
Even the home improvement stores are jammed with artificial Christmas trees, living Christmas trees, recently cut Christmas trees, and more blow-up, light-up lawn ornaments than you can shake a stick at.
Then, I came across an animatronic Santa that could dance and sing.
It’s all too much for me. In the wider world, the commercialism of Christmas has taken a turn that I fear is not to the benefit of the spirit of the holiday or us.
General aviation, on the other hand, is hardly represented at all. And that’s a problem that is both vexing and easy to fix. So let’s fix it.
General aviation’s problem is, in a word, visibility.
Hiding in Plain Sight
As a Christmas shopper wanders the aisles of any traditional store, they’re barraged with advertisements, images, tuneful recordings, and salespeople all intent on helping them part with a few dollars in exchange for a gift the recipient will hopefully enjoy.
Most of the items sold this Christmas season will find their way to a landfill before next Christmas season. But that’s not the problem of the retailer or the gift giver.
If the goal is to find something memorable, meaningful, or just plain colorful, there are literally millions of items to choose from that run the gamut from Dollar Store discount prices to Neiman Marcus high-end rates. And someone is willing to make those purchases, regardless of cost.
Regrettably, you won’t find much of anything that has to do with general aviation out there in the mall, or at the department stores of old, or the mom and pop shops downtown. Nowhere.
Why is the general public not enamored of the adventure of aviation? Because we hide it at the general aviation airport — the one place the bulk of our local population will never, ever go. Unless we invite them, of course.
Here’s my suggestion. If you own a flight school, or a ride operation, or an aircraft rental business, why not partner with the mom and pop shops downtown? They’re small, family owned businesses that don’t need to get approval from a superior at Corporate HQ if they want to add a new item to the inventory.
Print up gift cards. Sell your t-shirts. Offer flight training for couples. Extend a discount to mother/daughter intro flights. Make available an adventurous but romantic sunset flight for two.
Do something, and let the world know you’re doing it. At least some will buy, and try, and continue.
That’s an all-around win for everyone involved.
This idea is not entirely original, of course. It came to me as the result of an experience I had back in the 1990s.
Early in my career as a CFI I got the opportunity to fly with a local celebrity. He’d been an active pilot for many years, which he enjoyed immensely. That all came to an end when he suffered a serious crash that nearly killed him. Because of the strain that situation put on his family, he quit flying. He didn’t quit wanting to fly. That desire stuck with him. He just stopped actually flying in an attempt to avoid causing his family any further worry.
Fortunately for him, he had a very understanding wife. She knew he wanted to fly again, but she also knew he was concerned for the well-being of his family. So she did what so few family members do. She came out to the airport, booked a flight, and paid in advance.
When he received the gift, he was moved. When he came out to fly with me, he was understandably a bit nervous. Yet as soon as our wheels left the earth, he was comfortable again. He flew beautifully. He was back and the sense of satisfaction he felt was evident as we cruised high above the landscape he’d restricted himself to for such a long time.
Imagine if his wife had encountered that opportunity downtown, while out doing her normal shopping and day-to-day activities. Would the wait have been so long? I don’t think so.
Consider, if you will, what the public perception of general aviation might be if average, everyday folks regularly ran into the opportunity to experience flight in the course of their normal activities. They could buy a flight for themselves. Or with a loved one. Or a friend.
It seems likely to me there would be at least a certain number of impulse sales to folks who were feeling bold. There may well be sales to folks who had been thinking about flying, but really didn’t know where to go or who to talk to about their interest.
Yes, it’s true. Most people who consider flying have not realized that they’re allowed to go to the local airport to book a flight. As obvious as that connection is to us, the active aviators, it is a truly puzzling and mysterious concept to those who have no experience inside the airport fence.
This year, let’s all put on our Santa hat and consider giving the gift of flight to someone who might appreciate it. The gift will certainly be long remembered, and fondly so, but it might also open a hidden door for someone who will was ready to make a major change in their life, but didn’t know how to go about it.