Malaise and Mencken

September 13, 2012 by Bruce Landsberg

It’s easy to get down about the state of GA: the cost of fuel, the economy, the political situation—heck, almost everything if you believe everything you read (which is, of course, not wise). I’ve read numerous treatises on why the best days of GA and the USA are behind us. One gets to the self-fulfilling prophecy if the spiral gets steep enough.

H. L. Mencken, a Baltimore newspaper journalist, knew how to say it with no extra verbosity—something that is in an abundance of today (present blog included—but thank you for reading):

“All successful newspapers (media) are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced on them, they tackle it by denouncing someone or something else.” 

Sound familiar?

Could this be the case with GA with its demise predicted by some in the next year or two? Or has it already expired and we’re merely sitting with the corpse? I think neither—the patient is not well, but we’ve put off seeing the doctor for some decades while hoping that the illness would pass. It won’t. The good news is that pretty much everyone now acknowledges that we need more pilots, the cost is too high for the value received, and flying is more complex than it needs to be. The first step on the 12 step program is to acknowledge the problem. That has finally happened.

Fixing it will take effort—a lot of effort, but we’re moving. All the associations, the manufacturers, and even some within the FAA (!) now understand that some antibiotics are needed soon. The patient is in serious condition, but with proper care and participation by the intervention team (that includes all who fly), the activity can be saved and begin to thrive. It won’t happen overnight and we’ll need some resilience and commitment.

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”  Without opining on any particular party, it’s safe to say that GA will face non-partisan challenges due to government economics and our own self-inflicted wounds. There will be changes coming, and the critical point is how they are managed. Not every airport improvement project will get approved. There may be fewer FAA personnel which mean some services may be curtailed. Some activities may be outsourced—too soon to tell.

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” It’s time, mates, to start pumping broadsides into the problems facing us and then grabbing a cutlass for a boarding party. To put that in less piratical terms, every pilot needs to offer intro flights to those who have even the slightest interest. If they want to go farther, help them through the training process (AOPA has many resources here). I’ll put in a shameless plug for supporting the AOPA Foundation as we work in the four areas of growing the pilot population, preserving airports, improving the perception of GA, and last, but not least, all the wonderful efforts put forth by the Air Safety Institute. (Did I mention that you can help with a tax deductible contribution?)

“There is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.” Let us hope that we haven’t fallen into that trap!

Until next week—safe flights!


Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • TMB

    I voted for “weak pulse, but it’s there”. I do believe that we can rebuild it and that some, perhaps most, of us have the commitment — I’ve never met anyone involved in GA who has a “who cares?” attitude. At the same time, my 15-year-old daughter has never been up in a GA aircraft (even though we’ve flown commercial numerous times, she refuses to take that first GA ride with anyone but her father), and I’m being held back by inability to pay $1K-plus for an annual waiver on my bypass. That’s the new generation, and the clock is ticking . . .

  • TMB

    PS — Bruce, this is a great article. Kudos to you, sir. Keep it up!

  • mf

    you can not change basic economic facts. The plebs is not making enough money to afford flying. I make good money for a working stiff, but even for me continuing to fly seems like a real frivolity. I keep going why I still can because I have been flying for almost forty years now, but if I had to start now I probably would not. Costs also make GA completely non-competitive as a mode of transportation, except for people who do not have to ask about the cost. I appreciate what you are trying to do, and you are surely doing more than me, but GA will simply continue to shrink as long as a simplest new airplane costs 5 x a luxury automobile while incomes are dropping. The LSA segment completely missed the mark. These airplanes are just as expensive, and significantly more dangerous to fly. A good speech can go a long way, but it can not change economic reality. Unfortunately, to start helping GA, we need to address income inequality. It kind of all flows from there.

  • William M Morse

    As a reader of yours and pilot and Menckener, I was delighted to see H L appear in an aviation context. By you.