Let’s Fly on Saturday!

May 18, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

This Saturday, May 21st,  is Learn-to-Fly day. It should come as no surprise by now that GA is in need of more pilots if our activity is to survive as we know it. There may be a better reason to go flying than to introduce a prospective pilot to our world but I’m not sure what it might be. Ditto for educating people who will never become pilots. The more “air-minded” we can make people, the fewer hassles there will be regarding airports.

The sad part is that a week won’t pass without someone somewhere trying to bash or close an airport. Many of the NIMBYs moved in well after the airport was built but that doesn’t silence them and they outnumber us by a huge margin. “It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument.”  said William G. McAdoo a former US Treasury secretary. So it is with airport opponents and far better to begin enlightening them about the value of airports before things get unpleasant.

This past weekend the AOPA chapter of Women in Aviation hosted a girl scout troop and introduced them to our airport. Many of the girls will return this weekend to go flying with their parents here at Frederick. Wanna bet on how some negative perceptions will change?  Not all the girls will become pilots or go on to careers in aviation but most will come away with a new appreciation, as will their parents. The LTF event is open to everyone and several of my neighbors are slated to come.
If you have the time and inclination – take someone up:
  • Pick your weather carefully. Obviously, a bumpy intro flight is not a good idea.
  • No stalls, steep turns or any kind of “hot dogging.” If you want to be a bone head do it solo!
  • If someone asks how safe it is – tell them the truth. It is not as safe as driving a car – on average. But it is as safe as the PIC chooses to make it. We can have a long discussion on that.
  • If someone shows  a more serious interest –  send them to this website for more details http://www.aopa.org/letsgoflying/
  • If there is real interest, help them with picking out a flight school and CFI.
Your AOPA Foundation has a complete initiative devoted to growing the pilot population – it started about three years ago and realistically, we and the industry should have started about 20 years ago. That said, the joy of flight and the freedom is still there – not so easy or as cheap as it once was but that applies to most activities.
Be safe, be smart and have fun this weekend. Perhaps we should have LTF day once every weekend. What do you think?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Gerard

    A little late but eh…

    Bruce it looks like you forgot one last bullet after helping them choose a CFI and it should have read >> help them secure financial aid.

    Tons of people dream of flying, but most can’t afford it. If we truly want more people to fly GA then we truly need to make a serious industry wide effort to lower the cost. I make a comfortable living, but I still had to make some fiscal sacrifices in order to fly and it is a dream I was only able to realize at the ripe old age of 40.

    I completely agree that taking non-pilots flying and being a good GA ambassadors are a must, but if the average newer GA aircraft continue to cost as much to purchase as the average house and operation cost continue to climb for all types, well we might as well enjoy what little time GA has left.

    Sorry to rain on the future girl scout pilot parade, but I don’t see enough effort being made on reducing cost, but I believe cost is the number one barrier to having more GA pilots and aircraft in the air.

  • Taran

    Gerard hit the nail on the head. Cost is the single largest barrier to GA.

    Let’s face it, anytime the government is involved in regulating an industry’s standards, the cost goes up. Add to that the drama that inevitably ensues whenever a plane crashes (despite the numbers being incredibly small) and you get knee-jerk over-regulation to the detriment of all players in the industry. As a result airplanes, airplane parts, and fuel have achieved a premium that surpasses their realistic value to someone who doesn’t fly for commercial purposes.

    Gerard’s statement about planes costing as much as a house are spot on, and for what added value? Cars and planes are certainly not a perfect comparison, but many of the processes used to build parts and assemble the final products are very similar. I make the following statements knowing full well that airplane engines work at full load 98% of the time.. perhaps a generator engine is a better comparison, but I have a rant, so here goes.

    Today, a car has a 300hp engine that costs $4,000, and a transmission that costs $1700. That engine has fuel injection that can compensate for altitude, engine temperature, manifold pressure, exhaust temperature, electronic ignition control that can adjust timing to prevent ping and knock (and adjusts for fuel type!), has backup modes in case of faults, spark plugs that last 2000 hours, and only costs about $1500 to completely overhaul after 2,500 hrs in service, if not longer.

    In contrast, basic airplanes today are equivalent to flying a Model-T Ford. A $40,000 180hp engine with carburetor, carb heat, manually adjust the mixture (and get it right, or either melt a piston or burn too much fuel!), magnetos, manually watch manifold pressure and exhaust temp, manually open and close scoops to control temp, with $7000 rebuilds(mandatory, not necessarily based off true engine condition) . Simple is great and robust, but cars have successfully controlled this stuff since about 1976. Where is the efficient use of technology in today’s aircraft? It’s not there because certification of such products causes the cost to skyrocket for the manufacturer which makes the products less appealing, especially in today’s world. FADEC costs $20,000+? You have to be kidding me.

    Insurance is obviously high for a number of reasons, as are care and maintenance, even storage costs are exasperating. I could own and insure several very fun vehicles and motorcycles for the cost of keeping a plane, let alone buying one.

    In short, if God had wanted to men to fly, he would have made them rich. The rest of us average suckers who want to fly as a hobby are left wondering if it’s a dream worth having.