New Blood from Where?

September 30, 2009 by Bruce Landsberg

PilotPopFollowing up last week’s discussion on CFI pay, let’s broaden it out a bit more to where the new pilots are coming from or not coming from.

If we continue on the present course, the number of pilots in the U.S. with current medical certificates will dip below 600,000. This is down from 800,000 in the early ’80′s. Not so good!

The question is why? AOPA has done some research on why people don’t become pilots or stay active. Some of the answers were:

1. Time and money – not enough of either or both.

2. Didn’t like the flight school or CFI.

3. It wasn’t as much fun and/or a lot more work than I thought it would be.

4. There are a lot of other cool things to do that give me greater satisfaction.

5. It scares me – all I read about is crashes.

Seems to boil down to the value equation – I’ll pay a lot for something that is perceived of great value and not much for something that isn’t. Is aviation not the value it used to be? Is it becoming so commonplace that the “cool factor” isn’t there? Are the economics totally out of whack? Has it become too complex?

There are no simple answers and this is an unscientific survey but we’d like to hear from all of you – don’t just lurk. AOPA, the Air Safety Foundation, the industry and you, as pilots, all have skin in this game. Collectively, we need to understand the problems and then come up with some ideas.

It’s your turn now……

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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90 Responses to “New Blood from Where?”

  1. Stephen Wilson Says:

    Credit card fuel pumps neither teach people to fly nor buy planes. Has anyone noticed the decrepit state of GA infrastructure? Where are the flight schools that promote aviation and the value of their airports locally? Preaching to ourselves and a dwindling choir of flight instructors about pilot retention is neither the solution nor the problem. No one’s learning to fly because there are practically no active or profitable flight schools. Hello!? Industry leaders bailed on GA Team 2000/Be-a-Pilot initiatives at a time impossible insurance premiums and fuel prices drove hundred s of schools out of existence. I used to make a living selling planes, lots of them, but guess what? Credit card fuel pumps that sprout up in place of defunct FBOs do not train pilots, serve the community, or buy planes. Ain’t no school. No place to rent. Fewer people learned to fly last year, less than 18,000, than in all the 44 years of such FAA record keeping, and it ain’t looking better next year. Cessna’s introduction of the SkyCatcher may be too little, too late.

  2. Nate Says:

    Stephen makes good points, but I think the overwhelming issue is cost. Flying is a very expensive proposition for all but a fortunate few. I just spent around $2500 to add on a mutit-engine rating, and that was a bargain, such a good deal that I couldn’t pass it up. Add to that the minimal utility that entry-level GA provides- not much room for family and friends, weather problems, its hot/bumpy, you might be flying a 30-40 year old aircraft- you get the picture. One major airline offers airfare for $29…for a trip I recently spent over $700 to fly in a Skyhawk. Add to that the perceived risk- perhaps the spouse or parent isn’t too keen on their loved one flying around in that “little plane”.

    What to do? In the interim, one thing that will support GA is the large number of foreign students that train here. As much as we hate to admit it, these folks plunk down a lot of money. Long term, we need to start thinking about what kind of GA flying fits the modern world. Perhaps putting the “fun” back into flying doesn’t mean renting 70′s vintage planes with trim screws laying on the floor (this will turn off the wife, I promise). There are some exciting LSA designs. Soaring and sailplanes are another great option.

    If we sit back, long for the good old days, and keep doing what we’ve always done, GA here will be as it is in Europe. Out of reach for all but the very wealthiest.

  3. Oliver Says:

    Private aircraft require mountains of cash to purchase and maintain. Government regulations appear crafted more for the job security of those who feed off of GA than for safety. Controllers will give a flock of mosquitos priority over a flibber. Airspace regulations are about as complex as the tax code (well, not quite). Aircraft components fail often (compare, e.g., to my Tahoe, which has not had a single problem in 9 years, and no annuals either).

    You’ve got to really, really, really love to fly to put up with the increasing resistance to private aviation. And then you have to have the money.

    The nice part for those of us who do fly is there’s hardly anyone else at our altitudes. If I can just shut out all of the above, flying is great.

  4. Kurt Says:

    I just got my private certificate a couple of months ago and am loving it. I enjoy flying. I live in a city with a Class C airport but had to drive an hour out of town to find a flight school. There was a little instruction going on in this metropolitan area of about 600,000 but no flight school or rental program. I don’t know why.

    While I love it, part of that is fulfillment of an interest that started when I was a child in the 60′s. Aviation still had a mystique about it then that it has now been lost for the younger generation. Even commercial flights were a rare and special experience for most people then–something for which one dressed up a bit! It has no such attraction to my adult children. To them it is just Dad’s dangerous and expensive hobby. The same is true of other hobbies that developed around early 20th century technology like ham radio and hot rods. They too no longer capture the imagination of kids who grow up already connected to the world. That isn’t going to come back. At this expense level, there is a dwindling pool of people who will fly just to be flying.

    I would be disappointed had I got into it for practical reasons. Anywhere I want to go regionally, I can get there about as quickly by car by the time I add in preflight planning, the drive to the airport, the preflight inspection, and securing the plane and obtaining transportation on arrival. The interstate highway system is great and cars so much more reliable than even 40 years ago. I remember road trips when I was a child before the completion of the interstate with the crawls through every little town. I can easily see why so many more business men found GA practical then–because automobile travel was so much less practical.

    When I do fly to airports in the area, I find no reason to be there. There is nothing there, nothing to do, not even pilots to meet or talk to. I have learned to bring my lunch. It is pretty much just land and fly back. Log the xcountry time and enjoy the journey.

    The expense is a problem for most I imagine. My hourly earnings are about equal to the rental of most GA planes. So I work two hours to pay off the government and have enough for an hour of flying. That works for me to cover about 2 hour of flying a week. But for most people that would be much more of their labor and far too expensive. I would give it up it the ratio of labor to flight time were any worse.

    GA has a practical value in certain niches where it will continue to survive of course. But for the general public, I think whatever future it has lies in sport aviation. Flying for the pure fun of it. Obviously it needs to be cheaper if possible. I don’t know how, we are probably stuck with the cost.

    I think that we need to develop the structure that enhances the sporting aspect of it. Give pilots more reasons to get together, get more social interaction, to feel a part of something special. Maybe even inject a note of childishness, where we can do so safely. Motorcyclists have their poker runs. Sports car enthusiasts their rallies. A big part of any expensive hobby that engages large numbers of people on a continuing basis is the social aspect of it. There are only so many of us loners out there. It will be interesting to see where light sport will go when the economy picks up. The planes are still expensive, but it looks like the cost of ownership can otherwise be reduced.

  5. Robert Says:

    And then there’s the matter of medicals for the aging pilot population. The driver’s license “medical” helps but the LSA category has limits.

  6. Andy Foster Says:

    You can’t just look at the number of active medical certificates anymore. If you want to figure out the number of active pilots, you’ve got to have some means for accounting for pilots flying under light sport rules. I’m one of those.

  7. Bruce Says:

    I see it as a cost, time and difficulty issue.

    Why it costs so damned much is depressing, guess I just don’t make enough money. I’ve been flying for over 40 years, started when I was 15, currently own a 65 HP Luscombe. Why in God’s name should something similar to this or a J3, new, be $100,000 or more???…….. and homebuilts are crazy too. It seems like the focus today is how much crap you can stuff in the insrument panel, not flying just because you like to fly. Even though I love airplanes, I would never try to start flying now. I couldn’t afford to pay $100+ an hour. But, maybe after adjusting for inflation the cost is the same as when I started.

    As far as time goes I don’t go flying sometimes because I know that to just go bore holes in the sky for an hour I’d better plan on killing 3-4 hours.

    If I were 15 again I might be oblivious to the difficulty but can I imagine how overwelming it must be to a lot of people. I can see why they might give up after seeing all the material they have to learn. It just seems to be getting more and more complicated, if you let it.

    All this promotion about how useful flying is. Yeah, there’s an element to this for some people but I’d be willing to bet that 80% of the airplanes at my airport are not used for any kind of business or for travel. How many people that have a couple of snowmobiles or atvs, a travel trailer, you name it, seriously try to justify them as a necessity? Yes, some people have them as workhorses but the truth is, just like airplanes, it’s recreation. If you get more bang for your buck someplace else – oh well.

    We’re a very small segment of the population and I think that is part of why insurance is way more than on a car, avgas is more, vehicle is more, training is more, etc.

  8. Bruce Landsberg Says:

    Excellent comments ! Please keep them coming – Lurkers – put in your short or long points. The industry hasn’t been able to sort this out and is probably way too close to the problem. A victim of group think?

    Both AOPA and ASF are gathering information on this to look at where we go from here. There will be much discussion on the topic at AOPA Summit in Tampa this fall. If we don’t get this right, the numbers will continue to drop. I, for one, am committed to keep that from happening – how about you?

  9. Jerry Singer Says:

    I for one am dirven to get my license. I have medical complications, ie: Open heart in 1998, and the cost of meeting the FAA requuirements for special issueance is great. I have to have an EKG, Stress test,cardio doctor reccomend and three blood pressure readings each and every year. After I make these medical expenses each and every year I have no idea if I will be allowed to fly. Want to spend $120K for an Airplane that you may or may not be able to fly next year. Last year I lost 3 months of flight time because the examiner was cauious and sent my medical records in to the FAA because he was afraid he would be over ruled and get a black mark on his record. He stared off with there is no reason you cant fly but I need to send this in just to be safe. He had called in to the FAA and asked a questiion. The FAA did not give him an answer that day so he sent the records in for their approval. My EKG and stress test were normal. My blood pressure runs 106/68. My Cardio Doctor reccomended approval in writing. Most pilots with an open heart would kill for those stats,

    The 3rd class medical says you were alive when the exam was given. If I can fly a cub with my drivers license what is the difference with a C172. Open the field for sport pilot to more and better planes. When you know you will be able to fly next year with any assurance then you would be willing to spend the money to learn to fly and buy a decent aircraft. Better yet open the field to any single short of commercial rating.

  10. Tom Batchelor Says:

    Reading all the comments above, I would add one more component to the mix. I have held a CFI &CFII certificate for over 40 years and for a number of years have attended the traveling road show Refresher Course hosted by the ASF. Usually there are approximately 90 attendees there for renewals and the question sometimes is asked of the audience, “How many of you are actively flight instructing?” The show of hands in recent years has been very low.

    During the breaks, I would circulate among the groups gathered around the coffee oasis and ask them why they were not flight instructing anymore. Was it the same reason that I will no longer flight instruct? You bet, the issue of personal liability is too frightening at my age. There is not enough time left in my life to ever recover from defending myself from an ambulance chasing attorney.
    Granted, it isn’t a scientific poll, but the majority agreed with me.

    I have watched for many years the dismantling of my industry by personal injury lawyers and for that reason, I , and from comments made by other CFI’s, will never teach a attorney to fly. Litigation is driving up the cost of aviation to unheard of levels, reflected in acquision costs, insurance, etc.

    I may be deluding myself with the my many years of both airline and corporate flying, flight test work involving product improvement and inflight icing testing, thinking that I could possibly contribute some meaningful instruction to new pilots. But even considering the meager contribution that I could ever make, this is now going to be lost. In a way, very sad.

    Another issue that is distrubing to me is the required medical certificate. What is the reasoning behind even requiring a private pilot to have a med certificate in the first place. We allow 70 to 80 year old individuals to get into their 40 foot Prevost motor homes, with a auto in tow behind it, and drive on our highways after suffering a previous heart attack. Yet, for a pilot to even go fly their single engine piston popper, you are in violation without a valid and current med certificate. This reasoning escapes me. As if we needed one, I guess this is just one more example of government control.

  11. Herb Rutter Says:

    The medical certification dept.of the faa is a major reason there are fewer
    pilots today.
    The “absolute authority” concept without honorable oversight is permitting the
    dept. to accept anomyous tips without checking their honesty or even their
    existance, uses “application” in place of “medical” when no application was made, informs the pilot that he ” doesen’t need an extension, because he has
    given them everything they have asked for”, then sends him a letter( a few days after his medical has expired), denying his right to fly anything.
    —Tell me, does absolute authority result in total corruption?

  12. Herb Rutter Says:

    SEE COMMENT ABOVE!

  13. Herb Rutter Says:

    SEE COMMENT ABOVE!!

  14. Rick Says:

    I’m having a bit of trouble buying into the premise of this discussion. It starts out by stating the fact the number of current medical certificates has declined from 800K to 600K in 25 years. It then postulates reasons for the declining pilot population.

    How strong is the correlation between current medicals and active pilots? Sure, much of the drop in the number of medicals can be attributed to pilot dropouts. But what about active pilots who choose not to get a medical? Those numbers are up, I would guess. There are a lot more balloon, glider, motorglider, LSA, and ultralight pilots now than there were in the early 80s.

    Learning to fly and getting a medical are two separate challenges. Some pilots opt out of the latter.

  15. Paul Says:

    Riding a motorcycle is just as much fun and a lot less trouble.

  16. Vic E. Says:

    I as a owner and instrument rated pilot am just getting worn out of the government regulation of aviation.
    I’m 55 years old and have been flying since 1977. Three years ago I had throat cancer and I have had no problems before and after treatments that would in any way effect my flying. Since then the FAA wants a yearly letter from my doctors and then an approval by the FAA to extend my third class medical for another year. (Not the normal two)
    Add to this the ever tightening of aircraft maintenance. Even if the rules don’t change the bureacrats continue to tighten their interpetation of them.

  17. Roland Says:

    Too expensive, too much trouble, too many hoops to jump through. Hangar rent runs as much as a small house, aircraft insurance payments are higher than the aircraft loan payments, fuel’s expensive. Utility? I used to fly to visit my sister for a few days. Then they started charging $20 a day for parking. Now I drive. I’d rather fly, but if I stay over Thanksgiving weekend, that’s $80 to park next to a collection of flat-tired dry-rotted sad looking former aircraft that have been there forever. This is also a park-it-yourself and self-serve fuel place, as well.
    Fly somewhere and need to stay overnight? Hope and pray there’s some way to a motel and diner, and some way back in the morning. That self-serve pump doesn’t help with that. The regular medicals, annuals, 100hrs, flight reviews, etc. as well as insurance required recurrent training – well, you’d best love taking tests that can stop you in your tracks no matter how much time and effort you put in.
    Rent a plane? I’m in a reasonably decent sized town. There are 4 planes available to rent. A pair of Skyhawks, a 2-seat Diamond and an Arrow. But a rental to go on vacation for a few days? That’ll cost enough to make driving a much better option.
    So, the utility is far more limited than one would like, the fun factor is overshadowed by the regulatory/insurance/legal environment, the cost and effort of entry is very high, and just staying in the game is way expensive.

  18. Terry Says:

    Who want’s to rent forever? Back in the early late 70′s and early 80′s you could actually buy an airplane for a reasonable price.
    Has anyone even attempted to purchase an airplane lately? If they have, it’s more than probable they have a corporate or business case for owning one. Anyone remember Mr. Piper’s idea of making AFFORDABLE airplanes?
    I’m sorry, an $80,000.00 or more, very limited use LSA doesn’t qualify as affordable. Blame who you want, but until airplanes are available that the average guy can buy, there won’t be an increase in people who want to learn how to fly. Students have asked me what they can do after they get their license, I tell them that they can rent an airplane and take their family on a trip. When they do the math, they realize they can’t even afford to do that. 30 and 40 year old airplanes cost as much as a (high end) luxury sports car. New airplanes are going for the same price as a new two story, four bedroom home(and that’s a two seat airplane, can’t take the kids along, sorry).
    –sorry for the disjointed, rambling post.

  19. David Ferraro Says:

    I received my PP-ASEL about 2 months ago. You may want to focus on why people like me continue to get licenses. Since childhood I was enamoured by flight. I put together model airplanes, bought airplane posters, read airplane books, put together “whitewings” paper airplanes….all with great passion. There was MAGIC in flight. My parents convinced me that other bachelor degrees like economics were more profitable, and so life went on. But the dream never died. And in 2006, my wife bought my an intro flight for my birthday. Times got hard for a while and I stalled after 3 lessons. But the second I got a paycheck again, I was flying again. Every week all the way non-stop to checkride.
    I’m lucky enough that I had enough money to pursue my dream because yes, its darn expensive. But, I truly believe that I wanted to be a pilot so badly, that no amount of money within reason would have stopped me. It also helps that my wife was supportive. The studying is within reason, and I like that the tests are difficult, because frankly, I don’t necessarily want a bunch of dumb pilots in the air making critical decisions.
    One thing economics did teach me is that declining real wages (wages not keeping pace with inflation and taxes) will continue to make everything more expensive, and there is no government action that will change prices without affecting supply; it’s market driven. Continued decreased for aviation demand, copuled with a fixed supply of aircraft will only mean falling prices in the future, which will result in an equilibrium eventually…..if price is THE determining factor in becoming a pilot (which I don’t believe is true).
    Lastly, I strongly believe that if GA wants more pilots, it has to bring the MAGIC back to flight. I didn’t become a pilot to utilize the business side of aviation. Kids aren’t interested in business. I rent planes for recreation, sights, and fun transportation. But mostly , for the MAGIC. The magic feeling hits me most the split second the wheels leave the pavement. The magic of being above the clouds.
    Involve youth early. Give free rides to children and teens. Give airplane models to them as birthday presents. Take them to Redbull Air Races or to Hang gliding centers like the Outer Banks of NC. They receive superhero toys all the time, but can never realize the dream of becoming the toy they play with….using xray vision and super human strength is just fiction. But if you give them airplanes to play with, and aviation books to read, they really can make their dreams become true by becoming pilots, and that’s what its all about.

  20. Pat Says:

    Glad to see the “time and money” as the #1 reason and “didn’t like flight school” as #2 reason not to become a pilot because that has been my experience all along.
    We can’t change the fact that many people don’t have the time and money so we need to find ways to market to that niche of people that DO have the time and money and the interest in aviation to end up with a certificate in-hand and not just a partially filled- out logbook.
    Regarding flight schools and instructors, very few know what the words “customer service” mean! We all have dealt with other types of businesses that strive to give us what we want on-time and with good value. Think of the last time you visited a restaurant with good food and good service or a car repair shop that recognized the problem with your car, fixed it correctly, quickly and at a reasonable price. Flight schools and instructors need to learn to apply those principles too. Theres way too many instructors out there that are always willing to provide a “lesson on demand” with no long-term plan for getting the requirements completed and a certificate for the student. The instructor’s planning is key to the success of the student simply because most students are so overwhelmed with simply learning to fly that they can’t even think farther ahead than the next lesson!
    These points have always been problems holding back flight training but nowadays with so many other things competing for people’s time and attention, they need to be addressed if we are to even slow the decline in the number of pilots and hours flown. How about AOPA rallying around this cause and forming something like a “flight school success department” that provides marketing help and training guidelines??? If AOPA doesn’t do it then I really don’t know who will!!

  21. kbee Says:

    Government, that’s the problem. SFRA around the nations capital is a major obstacle with no apparent public safety enhancement. lets offer drivers license third class medicals. make aircraft annuals required every two years.

    why is aviation gas $3.30 in the midwest and $4.85 in northern virginia. why are engine overhauls $15000+. why is the flight school hard to deal with and charging $130.00 an hour for a cessna skyhawk? why is the garmin 430 $11000 installed?

    why is it SO hard to create an STC?

  22. Larry Settle Says:

    I haven’t flown since 2002. For me it was the Adiz now the SFRA over the Washington DC area that stopped my flying. I loved to just rent an airplane at the flight school at 2W5 and go fly for the sake of flying. You can’t do that now with that restricted area above the airport. Time and money weren’t a factor since I am retired. The Complexity of flying was actually enjoyable since it provided new challenges for me. The flight school was great. The Fear factor was one that I used to keep me focussed on proper safety habits and safe flying.

  23. Don Olandese Says:

    The three or four key things that have got to be addressed to rejuvenate GA in the US are pretty much identified above: in summary, they seem to be
    (1) allow the industry to grow by reducing costs
    (2) allow the industry to grow by reducing complexity (mostly regulatory)
    (3) allow the industry to grow by making flying easier
    (4) allow the market to grow by making small planes more accessible and useful

    Changes in regulation will pretty much address the first three. The fixes of the first three will pretty much provide the last.

    Specifically, how to encourage the first three? Most obviously, the driver’s license medical for private pilots, ASEL; expansion of LSA category to include faster aircraft up to 4 pax (say up to C-172/PA-28 non-complex); relaxation of certification and maintenance requirements for non-commercial-use aircraft up to 4-place (non-complex).

    These simple changes would unleash the industry to meet resultant new market demand, and market demand itself – the profit incentive – would likely do the rest. Without these simple changes, GA in the US is eventually doomed, and almost all the aircraft in the mid-levels will be flown by ancient (but fit) and wealthy pilots who learned to fly in Cessna 150s and Cherokees in the 70′s. And we (and our legislators) are running out of time.

  24. Tom Launder Says:

    My challenges are:
    1. Too expensive
    I want to fly to Miami and realize that outside of the adventure of it all, I’m going to pay 700 dollars more than if I just flew Southwest Airlines.
    2. Too many hassles
    The medical, keeping current, the FBO do’s and don’ts, the inconvenient airport locations, the 1960′s crappy planes that are falling apart but still cost 125/hr, etc.
    3. Too many safety concerns
    Yeah, it’s a risk and when you have a few close mid-air collisions at uncontrolled airports and along major routes, you start asking yourself “is it worth it?” I have a wonderful wife do I want to leave her because some bozo arrives unannounced in the pattern?
    4. Too few friends
    GA is a dying industry and outside of the airline feeder schools, you’re left with the old boys club. Not many pilot friends, not many ways to share your passion except awkward pancake brunches at obscure airports with eccentrics.

    It’s sad, but with the increase in population (and thus encroachment to virtually every airport space — then complaints about noice, safety, etc.), the insane expenses (who really wants a million dollar hobby?), the over-regulation, and the large barriers to entry, GA is quickly becoming that curious oddity.

  25. Warren Whitford Says:

    I let me medical go because of the high cost of flying. I’m retired now and can’t afford the high cost of flying, except sport aircraft and gliders. About 90% of my flying is in gliders now and I love it! Once in a while a friend will take me up in his Cub and let me get my hands on the controls again and it sure feels good! I have heard that if you have cancer anyplace in your body you will not be able to get a medical certificate. Since letting mine go I was diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer. They caught it so early that I’m doing watchful waiting. Prostate cancer does not have any effect at all on my ability to fly, but it is my understanding that if I tried to get a medical it would be denied. So I’ll continue having a lot of fun flying gliders. For anybody who has never flown a glider, you should try it.

  26. Bruce Says:

    Not to put too much negativity on this, but really, the demise of general aviation can be tied directly to both the congressional removal of “Promote and” from the mission of the FAA to “Promote and regulate the national airspace”, and to the hysterical anti-aviation reaction to 9/11/01.

    Let’s see, new student pilot, before we go for our first flight, we need to call a toll free number and hopefully find out which of the hundreds of assorted locations around here we have to avoid, in the name of national security, with use of deadly force authorized. We don’t want to be shot out of the sky! Well, there’s a real mental picture of a pleasant outing! (sarcasm).

    USA Today and other media have portrayed all of general aviation as a bunch of rich lunatic terrorists hell bent on Kamikaze bombing Disneyworld and nuclear power plants. I am not a terrorist, and I am sick to death of being the usual suspect.

    A constant barrage of dreadful initiatives, like the permanent DC ADIZ, closure of Meigs Field, SD-8f, LASP, prohibited airspace over Disneyland, serves to conjure up an image of these United States as a very hostile place to try to fly an airplane. I feel that I spend all my limited resources fighting a losing battle with those who, for whatever reasons, simply want to end all aviation. There’s no money or time left for me to try to get a medical certificate, or heaven forbid, actually try to fly.

    Even Mr. Chesley Sullenberger said: “I do not know a single professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps.”

    I also agree with Herb Rutter, who said that the FAA medical certification is a major reason there are fewer pilots today. Absolute authority most definitely results in absolute corruption. Medical certification people seem to feel that the more you spend proving your medical merit, the less you can fly, and therefore the less likely you can die in the air. Too often, they spend all of your money, and you are still effectively grounded.

    I thought about flying an LSA, but while Americans like me grow heavier, the payloads of an LSA do not, and so now LSA is not really a workable option. The $80K to $140K pricetag of most LSA fails to fulfill the promise of affordable aircraft, as new four-seat GA aircraft are not a whole lot more expensive than new LSA. There are virtually no used LSA. But it isn’t the purchase price that really kills my interest. Try $2,400 every year for hangar (four year waiting period), $4,000 for state property taxes, and $4,000 for insurance, and another $12,000 if I need a medical certificate, all before I fly even a single minute. If I have $12,000 a year to spend on flying, I will never even get off the ground as a light sport aircraft owner. Furthermore, nobody within 1,500 miles of where I live has an LSA that I could rent, either dual or solo, with enough payload to fly it legally.

    I also agree with David Ferraro, who said “declining real wages (wages not keeping pace with inflation and taxes) will continue to make everything more expensive, and there is no government action that will change prices without affecting supply; it’s market driven.” Right now, I am one of the 15 million recently laid-off Americans with no job whatsoever, and prospects do not look good for the next 6-18 months. So, no, despite my passion for flying, with more than half my 400 hours in tailwheel aircraft, I probably will never again show up in the number of medically certificated pilots, and I will probably never fly an LSA.

  27. Keith Bumsted Says:

    This is actually funny — AOPA/ASF gathering more input, opinions and ideas about declining pilot numbers and “what’s wrong with GA?” Virtually all the ideas mentioned above are relevant and valid, and have been for the past 30 years.

    There’s nothing new here, AOPA, and no matter how many times you pose the question, you’re going to get the same answers. What part of this discussion don’t you understand??

    The short answer is that AOPA/ASF has no vision of the future that is much different from what we have now, and not even the foggiest notion of how to address the issues of outrageous costs, limited utility, excessive government regulations, and a dysfunctional training environment that happily tolerates 500 or 600 deaths a year. It is much easier to occasionally pop out a question or two than to get serious with action plans that have goals, objectives, programs with timelines and allocated resources. Until that happens, you should stop wasting members time with these silly surveys!!

  28. Nickolaus Leggett Says:

    I think that the regulatory environment is becoming more hostile to general aviation. We see a constant push for more and more mandatory equipment as well as a push for user fees. In the future, increasingly automated safety systems will be required. This makes aviation less and less appealing to those who want to participate in aviation as a manual art (stick and rudder flying).
    We feel that sport flyiing will be increasingly displaced by semi-automated digital aviation. Why should we invest time and effort and money in aviation when it is migrating in a direction that we don’t want to go.
    Add to this, the very high costs even for light sport aircraft and we can see why people are turning away to other sporting and hobby activities.

  29. L. Bond Says:

    Unless you are engaged in revenue producing flying or can write off the expense, flying just about anything now for pleasure is beyond the financial reach of most of America. As a partner in a Bonanza, my per hour flying cost, including fuel, hangar, maintenance and insurance, totalled anything from $200 an hour and up. Top that off with increasingly complex airspace and the frustrations of keeping current and there is no mystery that the pilot population is decreasing.

  30. Kevin R. Says:

    My own experience is most closely aligned with the comments of Kurt and Roland, above.

    I received my PP certifcate and instrument rating about 10 years ago. I’m constantly knocking around the idea of getting back into flying “regularly” – for more than just renewing, for renewing’s sake, the BFR, IPC, and medical (lately, I’ve only renewed the BFR and medical) .

    I’m really pulling for our love of flying and our common GA pursuits; but staying current can be tremendously tiring, expensive, and time-consuming. Also, it can be tremendously irritating when renting worn-out aircraft from marginal FBOs.

    So, a solution after all that whining / complaining ? I don’t have much to offer other than that I’ll just keep on supporting my beloved AOPA to the best of my ability, keep my fingers crossed, and hope for the best !

  31. John Townsley Says:

    Sure cost is a factor, but it’s not the king pin in this case. On a per hour basis, it costs more to own and operate an RV, or even horses than it does to own and fly an airplane. Try buying a new, fully decked RV and we find the cost is pretty close (and maybe even more) than an LSA or even a well appointed older SEL fourplace Cessna.

    I think there are several factors at play:

    First and foremost is demography. Why in the world would a 50 or 60 year old professional want to invest a ton of time (and a relatively small amount of money) in learning to fly? In talking with people in my demographic I often hear “I’ve always wanted to, but…” The “but” list is long, but boils down to flying just ain’t a priority. Visiting grand kids, relaxing by a creek in their $100k RV, or doing yard work aces out Martha King videos and bouncing down the runway in a noisy, cramped cockpit. Face it, there’s a lot of money even in this economic ‘correction’ in the pockets of smart boomers. Learning to fly is a lot of work and just isn’t appealing to people at that point in life. Even staying in the game requires a lot of effort. Some good friends sold their nicely maintained, very current C182 a couple of years ago because flying had become too much effort. Now they drive their $100K plus RV to visit family, and trek around the world. I hear this story more often than I’d like.

    Then there’s Gvmt regulations. I had a great chat with a wonderful lady who’s very active with the Washington 99′s. We talked about TFRs, the Federal bureauacracy, and the hurdles TSA Security Directives (SD) have created for aspiring pilots. During the summer (when a lot of serious flight instruction occurs) TFRs pop up everywhere in the western states. And they linger… some would argue long (very long) after the fire or whatever emergency has passed. That in itself would be a good topic for AOPA to pick up and address! TSA SD have made airports very inaccessible to prospective students. One flight school I visited in Montana had a locked personnel gate with a voice box and buzzer for students to pass through to reach the lobby. It looked a lot like the entrance to the Walla Walla high security prison. Not exactly an inviting facade for the business. At many airports in Washington where there’s enough business to support an FBO we also have commerical service. We’re seeing similar barriers erected here to public access that I expect will be chilling to any pilot wannabe.

    I think the biggest hurdle to attracting (and retaining) young people to a career in aviaiton is wages. But wages are dependent upon business cash flow and profitability. Pilot wages are not keeping up with those of other professions. $30-40/hour is about the going rate for a CFI. Because of liability premiums, training and recurrent training requirements, and other factors, probably $50-60 pre hour would be more appropriate. The same depressed wages are found in the auto industry. Shop rates for auto mechanics working at the local Ford or Subaru dealerships exceed $100 per hour. When was the last time you had your engine logbook for your Taurus signed by your auto mechanic? I see A & P shop rates hovering between $50 and $80/hour in this area. Wages are sensitive to supply and demand. Unfortunately, with declining numbers of aircraft (we’re bending or exporting em faster than we’re building them) demand is falling as fast, or faster than supply. The industry can’t pay more unless there is greater profitability.

    Where can a non-owner pilot rent a well maintained airplane? The tax code has a lot to do with this. In years gone by a lease back arrangement was profitable. Hence aircraft were available for flight training or for rental by the non-owner pilot. I’m told by my FBO owner friends that there ain’t no money in that any more. Flight instruction is also a marginal enterprise. Liability insurance continues to be a huge hit on the balance sheet.

    Then there’s the diminishing number of airports. Land use is the root cause of airport demise. Development (single family residences, high rises, hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers, etc.) adjacent to the airport and beneath the flight path continues to proceed, one nail at a time. Each nail driven into a new triplex is like a nail in a coffin. Soon the lid is on tight, and demands escalate to close the airport or severely restrict its use. Anyone remember the ruckus at North Las Vegas, Santa Monica, Hillsboro, or Miramar after high profile accidents killed bystanders on the ground or destroyed homes and apartment buildings? It’s tough to learn to fly if you can’t find an airport or a flight school.

    Finally, aviation is no longer sexy or exciting. Representative Barney Frank’s diatribe against the three auto CEOs wouldn’t have occurred had there not been a strong undercurrent of class envy among his consituents. President Obama’s words which were merely a restatement of Representative Frank’s was just affirmation that his party sees more value in demonizing the supposed rich patrons of aviation than in solving large demographic and infrastructure problems. I see some interest in an aviation career among young people, but not a lot. Where the local Boy Scout aviation explorers and Civil Air Patrol cadet programs once had many posts and squadrons, there are just one or two in this area. Kids are not enthralled by flying. It’s too much like engineering or hard sciences… it’s perceived as hard and not particularly fun.

    So, I guess we’ve got a multi headed hydra here. It’s not just economics. It’s not just marketing, it’s not just government regulation (though I think ultimately regulations are the biggest of the thunderheads), and it’s not just demographics. It’s the perfect storm of all these factors that have come together in the last few years.

    Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic we’ll put many to rest.

  32. Bob Says:

    FOLLOW THE MONEY. Government control, it’s a problem. Medical reviews, it’s a problem. Time, it’s a problem. But, for the numbers, getting more new pilots, keeping active pilots flying, the big thing is the money. In the late 1960′s, as the working middle class, I made about 8.00 dollars an hour, I could rent an airplane, that was 2, to 10 or 15 years old for 8 to 12 dollars an hour. Right now, the middle clas workers wage is less than it was 6 years ago.
    Comparitive costs, a few weeks ago, my c150 was sick, in the hanger. I wanted to go on a short trip on Saturday, rented a 35 year old 172, ragged, beat up, I wondered if it was safe to fly, (it did run good) 95.00 an hour. Compare that to a few years ago. Now only professionals with lotsa money, Actors and such, can actually afford to fly. FOLLOW THE MONEY.
    And just look at the price of LSA, made in China.

  33. Gabhan Says:

    As people have pointed out, the decline in GA has many reasons and each of them needs to be addressed. Addressing just one or two of them will solve only part of the issue. Sadly, I doubt there is the collective political and societal will to solve all of the problems so we are on a sure path to a different kind of GA than we had in the past.

    But it’s not all bad right now I think … here’s why.

    I am a British citizen and learned to fly in the UK (although I now live and work in the US). When compared to the UK flying in the US is dirt cheap. Even with today’s rising prices. Here are some facts: I rent a 30 year old single engine plane for $121 per hour + tax. In the UK the same thing cost me $222 (see http://www.wlac.co.uk/aircraft_fleet.htm for rental costs at the FBO I flew at in the UK). That’s a huge difference! Plus, the UK has “user fees” already which you pay on top of the rental. So as far as cost goes, the US is still a lot, lot cheaper than other aviation enthusiast countries.

    My point is that although costs are rising and seem high – the US is still a great, great place for GA!!

    However, I think the cost factor is just dimension of the problem. GA definately has an image problem too. The media only report GA crashes – they never report on the wonderful things that GA does such as Angel Flight or the Young Eagles program. As a result, GA is seen by many in the public to be a dangerous, expensive and pointless thing.

    I am hopeful that LSA flying will re-invigorate GA. The GA fleet needs to modernize and replace all those aging planes that are falling apart with newer, more modern kit. The only economically feasible way to do that is with LSAs and even then I think LSAs need to become much cheaper than they are. GA needs people that promote the fun and the thrill of flying; the beauty of seeing the world from above; and the sense of pride we all feel as being pilots. We need to promote those things as reasons to fly. Too much emphasis is placed on GA being a business/utility tool. For almost all people, GA will never be a business tool – so we need to get real. GA is mainly about fun, the thrill and the challange. We should promote it that way because they are all worthwhile things and things that people will pay for.

  34. Tom Paddon Says:

    I think we need to make flying easier. If we make flying as easy as playing a video game, I think lots more folks would do it (especially the young ones). The standard pilot training requires learning about a lot of old systems alongside new systems. With a video game approach, there should be a lot less to have to learn. Why can’t we program a flight on the ground, upload to a FMS in the cockpit? We’ll still need to be smart about the weather, but we could get some weather models to help us make decisions about the probability of encountering thunderstorms or ice. Add in FADEC, autoland and lower MEAs by having more precise GPS. Then flying to Grandma’s house can truly be more like loading up the SUV.

    Cost is another issue, and its difficult to build up economies of scale with so few pilots flying. I’m hoping companies like Swift fuels can quickly bring biofuels to market so that fuel costs will drop.

    On the subject of ice, why not use nano-materials to create shape-shifting wing surfaces to keep the surfaces clear in all types of icing conditions? I fly a lot into the northwest, but we get grounded so much of the time due to ice in the clouds.

  35. Rashelle V. Says:

    There are many good comments listed above on this issue and I agree with all of them. I think another reason that was eluded to but wasn’t specifically listed is fear of the unknown; what I mean by that, is fear of user fees; the fear that avgas will become less and less available which will continue to increase the cost; fear that increased regulations will continue to restrict the places where we can fly; fear that the media will continue to portray GA as a, dangerous, rich man’s hobby which the general public receives no benifit from; fear that because of some of these other reasons that if one does own an aircraft that they won’t be able to sell it, at least not for the price they paid for it, the list goes on.

    Another fear for me as a flight instructor and one of the big reasons that I stopped intructing was the liability issue. The thought of having to defend myself over some frivolous lawsuit, at my stage in life, makes flight instructing much less desirable for me. When I was actively instructing I did really enjoy it and I strived to be very good at it, but as with some of the other comments listed by others, I could not afford to do it full time, it just didn’t pay enough or have any benefits to be able to survive, at least somewhat comfortably.

    I don’t have a lot of good suggestions for helping to improve the situation but some of them that I have thought of are:
    Getting school kids and teachers more involved in aviation, such as working with local flight schools and elementary schools, possibly holding an essay contest where the kids would do a little research about the benefits of aviation, or why they would really like to learn to fly, and then offer a prize such as a one hour lesson, both ground and flight for the child. The whole thing could be done as part of a science project by the kids and publicized by local news media. If it was done correctly I think it could boost a lot of positive interest in flying. In addition and in conjuction with that, I think it would be good to enlist some more of our celebrities, like Mr. Ford and others, to make a short film about aviation which could not only focus on the utility of flying but the fun, romance and freedom it provides also. That could also be shown at local schools and airport open houses where it can be viewed by the general public and even shown on television, such as the discovery or the science channel. I also agree with the need to have more and improved FBO’s at airports, you can’t interact very welll with a self serve fuel station. One last thing that I have thought of is to try and get more women involved in aviation. In most of today’s households women work outside the home providing some of the monetary support for their families, so they have more and more say of where that money goes, if they aren’t involved and/or are afraid or don’t like aviation, that could mean the difference of whether money is spent on aviation or not.

  36. Kevin Collins Says:

    A few people have mentioned the cost of hull/liability insurance being a barrier to owning a plane. I would love to know how much insurance contributes to the cost of a typical rental airplane. AOPA, any research available on that?

    I have also encountered some problems getting access to decent airplanes to fly. Insurance is also an issue there, since the FBO where I trained for my PPL cannot afford insurance to rent airplanes for non-training purposes due to previous accidents.

    I think the keys are promoting the unique aspects of GA, such as the incredible views and the ability to visit places not accessible via commercial service. GA may not be cheaper than the airlines, but the journey is much more enjoyable.

  37. Rashelle V. Says:

    One other thing that may help, that I forgot to mention in my earlier post, is to contact our elected representatives when there are aviation issues that are coming up for them to vote on. I have written (e-mailed) my representatives each time that AOPA has advised us about important issues that will be coming up for consideration. It may not do a lot of good, but if you don’t make your views known there is even more of a chance that the vote will not go the way we would like it to.

  38. Stephen Says:

    I don’t buy the argument that cost is the issue. There are way too many people out there driving $60-$80k Hummers, BMW’s and Mercedes. And I don’t buy that it’s too difficult. A sport pilot license only takes 20 hours to earn.

    The real issue is that aviation is no longer “sexy” the way it once was. It does not appeal to young people. Look at pop culture. Do you ever see airplanes portrayed positively in movies, music videos or in the news? Never! Go out to an airport and try to find someone there under 40 years old.

    Do you all remember how aviation got a big boost immediately after the movie Top Gun? Military enlistments shot through the roof. That’s what this industry needs is some positive portrayment in the pop culture. Having guys like Harrison Ford promote GA is a step in the right direction, but honestly, he appeals to all of us, who are old farts. We need to turn on the young people to aviation. And we have to make it look sexy compared to the competition: the internet, high-tech cell phones and TV’s, and SUVs with every convenience imaginable.

    I recently attended an ASF seminar and it looked like a retirement home. That’s the future of GA, folks.

    The AOPA is focusing on attracting people to GA that have disposible income. That’s people over 40. That may inject a few additional pilots to our ranks, but that does nothing to solve the long term image problem.

  39. Deborah L. Scheetz Says:

    I’ve read a few of the comments above, but mostly I am struck by the gender of the commenters. No offense, fellas, but FBOs and airports aren’t really woman friendly. And I don’t mean there should be more pink. I hate pink.

    I learned to fly at a small airport where the owner had only daughters, so he was more female friendly than most operators–and I was determined to get my license. But after he sold out and the airport closed, I flew at another airport for a couple of years where week after week I would come to collect my plane–and wait —- and wait ———– and wwwaaaiiiitttt until eventually someone would “notice” me and ask if they could help. These were the same people most of the time, and they were uniformly surprised that I was there to fly an airplane. That’s not a good attitude.

    As long as it’s more interesting to talk to your buddies in the FBO lounge, or your girlfriend on the telephone, or whatever, than to IMMMEDIATELY notice and help a customer, people are going to do other things. As long as it’s a surprise to see a woman who wants to get a pilots license–or who has one and wants to rent an airplane–women are going to go elsewhere and do other things.

    Women are half or more of the population. They’re about 6 percent of the pilot population. Why? What are we (pilots) doing about it? I don’t know all the answers about making airports/FBOs more woman friendly, but I’d say the number one thing to do is simply to recognize that women exist and are a potential audience. Maybe pay a premium to have at least one female flight instructor so there’s a role model for women. But women are a HUGE potential audience that is largely being either ignored or actively discouraged.

    Worth thinking about.

  40. Roger Mullins Says:

    i love flying. i put up with FBO’s that don’t care, instructors that don’t show, high prices, old ragged planes, driving 2 hours one way to rent a plane, driving 900 miles to get a flight school that delivers what they promice because I love flying. Most people simply give up.

  41. Robert 3V5 RIP Says:

    It’s simply a matter of cost for me. And I’m not talking about the cost of an hour in a 30-40 year old spam can. I’m talking about the cost to stay safe. The cost of a C172 at my local airport is now $115/hour. How many people have $600 bucks a month just to stay proficient enough to be safe? How many people have the $10,000 to maintain a 35 year old airplane not including flight time (annual, hangar, insurance)? How many have the quarter million or more that it costs to buy even the most conservative single engine aircraft? .

    And I’m angry at AOPA. Last month, I let my AOPA membership expire because I feel that the association no longer represents the non-professional pilot, the weekend pilot. AOPA Pilot magazine has turned into a catalog of the unattainable interleaved with depressing sidebar stories or self-congratulatory puffery. I was tired of seeing articles about jets and million dollar plus sets of wings and avionics stacks that cost more than most single engine aircraft. I am tired of hearing about fatal accidents, enforcement actions and bad news from Washington. I’m also tired of reading about the self-important AOPA Pilot staff writers and association executives who spend dues to fly heavy iron or even their own aircraft under the pretense that such expenditures are necessary to do their jobs. As another writer points out, Southwest can provide transportation for a lot less than GA. To me, such a misuse of association funds is blatantly abusive. For AOPA to earn my dues, it needed to spend more time on finding ways to make GA more affordable and enjoyable. I don’t care about the politics of flying, Garmin’s latest flat panel display or about another idiot who augered in to the side of Storm Peak or landed on a freeway because of fuel starvation. In the end, it doesn’t matter because flying is simply too expensive.

    I was recently invited by my father-in-law, a non-pilot, to join him at an AOPA safety seminar at the local airstrip. There were over 200 people in attendance. Of those, two thirds of them were clearly over the age of 60. What does this tell us about the health of aviation? What was the topic? Fatal aircraft accidents of course. And there surrounding the audience were 8 brand new airplanes with flat panel avionics. The starting price was $275,000. What an enjoyable evening! And you wonder why the pilot population is diminishing?

    After over 25 years of flying and owning two planes, earning my advanced ratings, I simply can’t afford flying any more. Last month I let my medical expire and will likely not renew. For me, flying the system cross-country was my fascination. With that fascination no longer within reach, I’m moving on. Unfortunately General Aviation for recreational pilots will be relegated to the LSA category, slow, low and simple. If that’s what turns you on, have fun and fly safe.

  42. Nate Says:

    Cost and time. I live by the Pentagon and there are no close airports and if I did make the trek there is still the issue of cost. I have 2 young kids and after expenses there is not enough left to stay current. I’m in the top 25% when it comes to family income so I’m not hurting and yes I could find the money if I cut back somewhere else (like savings), but the family comes first. If you could stay current/safe for $250 a month, then I would do it but it ain’t going to happen here in D.C.

  43. Bobby Picker Says:

    Well, I took the time to read every post to this point. I can agree with some or most aspects of everyone of them. I am a current and active CFI and an aircraft owner. I throughly enjoy teaching people to fly. I also, struggle with selling the utility of aircraft. I can’t justify paying for a $10 hamburger by spending $100 to $200 to have the opportunity to buy one is just crazy in addition to finding an airport anymore that has a resturant on field is minimual.

    The flight school (very small by some stardards) I work for uses those 25-40 year old aircraft that some have listed. Why? Try to run the numbers to determine the breakeven cost of a 2-5 year old Cessna. They are totally out of the range of 90% of our students to pay. Another related issue is the cost of having new or maybe older aircraft with “modern” avionics. The certication cost to avionics manufacturers just to provide us aviators with a “good” radio or other components has far out stripped our ability to afford. My personnal aircraft desperately needs updating in this area. But it would cost more than the hull value of the aircraft to do the changes. WHY?

    1. The limited number units given manufacturer can expect to sell based on the available candidate aircraft.
    2. The absolutely tremendous amount of paperwork and time it takes to get a new avionics product through the rediculous beauracy for “certification”. I feel that 20%-30% of the cost of a product is the numerous steps and excessive paper required so a beauracrate will feel overwhelmed that he/she has done “everything” they can and they have no choice but to approve the application. Aslo, that a manufacturer has bleed enough to the point of near bankruptcy so their product can be approved.
    3. The cost of “insuring” a product from hungry lawyers. Many lawyers will argue with a fence post hoping that they can find a small crack inorder to split the post and have their way, while saying that they had the right and duty to destroy an industry while they make their livelyhood from the pain and suffering of others. Oh yes, in this “insuring” we use more lawyers to try to help us to ward off the other hungry ones. This has effected every aspect of our society not just aviation. I would venture a guess that 33% to 50% of the cost of every product aiviation uses is just due to product liability. This is also why true innovation can not be found in general aviation products except those used in the experimental category to a point.

    Another of my soap boxes is beauracratic control by the government. No, I am not a far right wing nut. I just know, due to working closely in and around a highly controlled industry, the nuclear power industry. It is far easier for a beauracrate to say “no’ or ‘you need to provide more data” than to say yes. This makes them feel more important. They also feel they are doing a good job by delaying a process. Also, remember the base purpose of a beauracracy is to enhance and build its self. We need to use all of our energies on stopping beauracratic empire building. We have allowed our government to be the police of safety, but we need to provide the limits and guide the government to understand its limits and not let it grow unchecked. Unchecked growth is like a jungle that soon you can not penetrate or even see into for more than a few feet.

    The TSA is one of the newest of these beauracracies that is running wild. We need to tell it, since its powers are only a broad as we the people allow, to stop right here and go no further. Security organizations can think up some outlandish scenerios and will, if left unbounded, stiffle any organization.

    Lest I forget, insurance companies have some of the blame along with the legal profession perviously mentioned. They cover risk. The problem is that most of the risk that they now factor into the equation is the lawyers. We do not teach any aircraft beyond a single engine due to insurance reasons. Renters do have accidents and the effects of the accident falls on the rental agency as much or more than the renter. This occurs to the point that a company can no longer afford to pay for the insurance to cover, in a large number of accidents, the stupidity of a renter. Therefore, as a rental agency they are forced out of providing aircraft for future training or rental due to actions of others when they made every attempt to rent to “qualified’ and “current” renters. Is it any wonder that those schools with multi-engined aircraft available for rent continues to delcline or their cost are too high for renters because of insurance requirements to have one of their MEI’s on board to hopefully pervent stupid actions on part of the renter.

    I hope I have not rambled too much. These are my views and in stating them I know that I have stepped on some toes. If you are howlering, what I have stated my ring too true. Think about it!

    Thanks to Bruce for facilitating this discussion.

  44. Roger Bailey Ph.D. Says:

    The answer is more simple then we are willing to admit… cost and medical limits. Lets get real about LSA and expand that evasive drivers license to cover ALL aircraft that are fixed gear, 4 place as Van has suggested. Then ALL of the experimental “home built” and used aircraft from Piper, Cessna, Grumman, Vans (RVseries) and others would qualify. We know from statistics that less then 2% of accidents are caused by medical reasons.
    How is it that a person can drive a car down a highway often separated by only 2 FEET or so from oncoming traffic (at 60+mph) and no medical exam is required, save a visual test.
    Could it be there is a medical reason for the dropping in active pilots? Perhaps it is that a typical 3rd class exam (usually completed in about 10-15 minutes) costs about 100.00 of so…that is at least 10MILLION dollars a year for flt surgeons…hmmm! Whatever would happen if all we required was a BFR and a drivers license?
    The LSA “movement” will not stem the tide of losing pilots, but expanding that drivers license “option” will. I have lots of friends who will not put up with an annual physical exam because they once had a “medical condition” now requiring annual exams, or are on a minor blood pressure med. Such detailed physicals can be an expense beyond flying.
    As a professional health provider I find it interesting that so many medications cancel your medical for flying. Interesting to me is that a person can be depressed or anxious or AND FLY but if he/she is receiving medications to mediate that depression or anxiety they can’t fly… that is good logic? Check out AOPA med list yourself.
    And remember, if skill is attained through good flight instruction and activity, then allowing the PPilot to keep flying is far better then a “limited” LSA license where a less exacting requirement is the new rule.
    If you look at the speed limit on the LSA, you will find that many previously designed aircraft would fit into that category. LIke All the Cessna A/C like the 140, 150, 152, 172, 177, and the older gummans and many pipers sure would not get past 120 knots… so speed isn’t the issue is it ?
    Most pilots I know cannot afford a “new” LSA… so why did we need a NEW industry to remake the reliable 150/152 into a 162? …at over 100K a pop?
    …I would really appreciate a response …

    Now you know the rest of the story.

  45. Bill Lanman Says:

    I could be a poster boy for the LSA. After flying from 1973 to 1990, I became an inactive pilot. Thanks to the LSA I became active in 2006 and have been logging 150 hrs per year since. Limited? I flew my (25% owner) Evektor SportStar from Kentucky (KLOU) to Phoenix (KCHD) to see my son and his family for Thanksgiving. Took them all for a flight (one at a time), had a wonderful time and flew home. I could not have done this by driving, as I only had a week off from work. This year, I am flying a buddy to San Diego to visit his son, then I’m going to Phoenix to see my son and his family. I am going to see the Grand Canyon for the first time on the way out. The experience is priceless, fuel burn is 4 gph, and the FBOs on the way treated me like royalty. So don’t count me among the inactive private pilots anymore!

  46. Dave Says:

    My wife and I each got our PPL last year, bought our first airplane earlier this year, and are both scheduled to take our Instrument Rating checkride on Sunday (got our finger’s crossed). We’re an example of folks in our early 50s who found enough fun in flying to make the effort and expenditures worthwhile. We’re in it only for recreation.

    But I’ve been shocked and appalled at how expensive flying is. A new Cessna 172 is $300K, hangar rents are $500/month (and that’s if you can even get a hangar given the long wait list), and gas is over $4.00/gallon. It costs $400 just to take a checkride with a DPE. The only way we afford flying is with dual professional incomes, and my having started my own business.

    I suppose it’s possible to fly less expensively if you live in the Midwest or if you’re willing to fly 40-50 year-old beat-up Cessnas or Pipers. But flying an antique plane is also not very appealing to anyone under the age of 30 who lives in an age of iPhones, videogames, and the Internet.

    What’s needed is to bring the cost of new certified aircraft down to where middle-class people can afford to own an aircraft. And that will never happen with the current liability and certification requirements. We seem to be stuck in a situation where innovation can’t take place either, given the tiny number of new aircraft sold per year. Somehow, we’ve got to break the “death spiral” of smaller numbers of ever-more-expensive planes being produced.

    Make aircraft more affordable and we may get a larger number of younger people interested in becoming pilots.

  47. Paul House Says:

    Do you have other statistics for some comparisons? Specifically – how do the numbers of current medicals compare to the US population? (assuming this would show the pilot % of population has declined even more dramatically) How do these numbers compare to numbers of IFR flights yearly in the USA? How do these numbers compare to the number of non-LSA GA aircraft registrations?

  48. Roger Says:

    Having just read ALL of the comments, I am proud of what so many of you have said. We do know what it will take to re-invigorate the flying community. Now lets see if AOPA/ASF will dedicate a large chunk of their next issue to the great comments and suggestions herein noted!!
    Bravo Rochelle for her comments on women pilots. My wife is taking lessons and between full time work as an CPNP and adult children…and getting our darn tiger to land, she is a busy person. More women at the field would be welcome. SHe had a great female instructor before 9-11…but now in washington state affordable female isntruction is rare indeed.

    Thanks to everyone for their great thoughts.

  49. Roger N8YX in KC Says:

    I seem to remember a big initiateve by AOPA to limit product liability for GA aircraft. We all supported it by writing to our Congresisonal leaders. Yet prices for new GA aircraft has only spiraled up. Sure, Cessna came back on line to produce it’s legacy 172 but at what price? Project PIlot may attract a few more people to learn to fly but it will never make up for the shrinkage that we are experiencing because of cost, over-regulation and overblown medical qualification criteria. These facts are much more serious than the proposed user fees. AOPA: Show us the beef. Let’s see you take on the death of General Aviation rather than just talking about it.

  50. Jim McSherry Says:

    More than a few posts indicate dissatisfaction with the cost, with medicals, with regulations. But none of that has much sway with the younger crowd. It’s true that if you look around at almost any aviation event (ASF seminar, FIRC, AOPA event) the median age is over 55 – and sometimes way over. Does anyone truly think a twenty-five year old college grad will have trouble getting a medical? Will that individual mind taking a knowledge test that is barely more difficult than the driver’s test? I don’t think so. And insurance costs are not on their horizon. We ‘old farts’ have our problems, but those are not the limits on GA.

    The suggestion that seemed to me to hold the most promise was one that involved figuring a way to produce more movies or TV shows that show General Aviation in a pleasant, attractive light. I’ll bet the old “Sky King” shows did more to promote aviation than anything AOPA has done in the last ten years.
    Are there any scriptwriters,producers, directors, and so forth who would get involved in such a project? I don’t know any personally, but Harrison Ford might.
    Or what if Cirrus or Cessna took out ads during the SuperBowl? [Might need some financial assistance, but what else is ABAA doing now?]

    Civil aviation is not suffering from costs any more than the rest of the economy; aviation (at least part 91) is not that tightly regulated, and the government is no more onerous to my flying than it is to my driving. These are NOT the things that are keeping new blood from flowing into General Aviation. NASCAR has tougher regulations, and zillions of fans flock to it, and would love to drive it. Alas, I think it is just not the era for an interest in aviation. NASA can barely get support for a moon shot; this is not the 60′s. Muscle cars and teenagers who want to fly jet fighters have faded into Guitar Hero and Death Star games. It is a different era, and I think we might just have to learn to live with that. Maybe the pilot population will level off at 500K, OR 450K; maybe in twenty years there will be a resurgance.
    But I doubt that learning times or medical certificates or costs that are in line with golf or scuba will make much difference in those outcomes. Good media coverage might, but I don’t know.

    Jim McSherry
    Philadelphia

  51. Steve Brown Says:

    Reading all the comments above has convinced me that I should quit flying. The underlying reason I might want to quit is an updated fear of flying. I suffer a constant fear of violating a regulation. There are an abundance of them, and I just want to fly to my place three hours away in North Carolina without bothering any one. I fly VFR, no flight plan, and circumnavigate any and all dedicated airspace (MOA, etc.) I talk to no one. If they don’t know who I am, they can’t violate me. Now it is inevitable that we will be required to have transponders that report our aircraft N number and will put a stop to that particular freedom.

    The next “fear of Flight” I suffer is that I will fail a medical, and my airplane will become a white elephant into which I have invested all my money. I am one of those sixtyfive year old pilots who has been out of commission for months because of having to control blood pressure, and could have a prostate problem in the future. Do I want to continue to invest in flying?

    All the comments above seem valid, and as far as getting younger people to fly, I have found that there is a very disconcerting trend in flight instructors. I learned from an old barn stormer who made it fun to fly with the accent on “fun” Now when I have to suffer the biannual flight review I encounter what I call the grumpy wannabe airline pilots who are instructing because they can’t get in on a hundred thousand dollar a year piloting job, and they act like that is my fault! I am boring him and he wishes I would just leave my check on the desk and go away. By the book. This is how it’s done. I don’t care what your instructor told you thirty years ago.

    I don’t think there is any solution to the problems of people who want to fly. Soon enough we will be extinct in favor of professionals, which, I agree, is who the AOPA wants in our skys in the first place.

  52. John Says:

    Great comments by everyone so far! I finally realized my childhood dream in late 2002. Family and work commitments were priorities before flying could even be considered. Then there was the money issue. Never enough! When we finally became empty nesters there was time and finally enough money. Our EAA chapter has a club plane for members to use to get their license and I took full advantage. Because of work issues (excessive overtime during good weather) it took me about three years to get my PPL. The next problem was availabilty of aircraft when I wanted to fly. I found a one owner. 1966 Piper Cherokee 140 with just under 900 hours total time, but needed windows, tires, paint, and avionics. Working under the direction of my home fields IA I did all the upgrades over a four year period, a little at every annual. Owner assisted annuals is one way to lower the cost of ownership and flying. My wife and I purchased this plane to travel with. So far we’ve been to Sun-N-Fun in Florida, Cherokee Fly-In in Missouri, to North Carolina to visit our son and grandkids. This is a 12 hour drive at best, sometimes up to 14 hours depending on traffic and road repairs. If we fly commercial we have to go to Charlotte, then drive the rental car 45-60 minutes to our sons house. Flying ourselves in the Cherokee it’s about a 5 hour flight. No construction, detours, and gourgeous scenery along the route. I absolutely love flying! My goal was to get my instrument ticket with this plane, it’s certified IFR. Now for the downside of my experience to date. I was planning to fly to Oshkosh for a weekend workparty before the convention when a Presidental TFR popped up around Chicago. I called Flight Service the night before for an outlook briefing. Was a flight possible by a VFR only pilot? The briefer said sure and walked me through all the steps. Out to the airport early morning to pull the plane out of the hanger and preflight and load up. Then into the FBO for another call to Flight Service. The briefers last words were “did I want to open my flight plan now?” “Affirmitive” I was told I had a five minute window to launch. Fired up the plane, made all preflight checks and called Chicago Center for a squak code. Numerous calls failed to get a response so off came the headset and I called on my cell phone. I was given a descreet code and launched. After landing at Oshkosh when I was on the taxi-way the controller asked if I was ready to copy a phone number. NO pilot ever wants to here those words! It seems the briefer at Flight Service never opened my flight plan. The FAA at the local FISDO launched an investigation. Luckily, when I got home I filled out a NASA form. At the hearing at FAA Headquarters the lawyer claimed I launched without cotacting anyone. After I produced all my phone records, to include the time and number of Chicago Center, the lawyer wanted to know who I talked to. When I said Chicago Center and Kankakee Flight Service he said “yes, but who did you talk to?’ From my first day of training, no proper names are used. Communication is by facility name and N number. My lawyer called for a time out and in the hallway he asked me if I was willing to fight the 800lb gorilla? Final outcome was suspension of revocation and 5 year probation. From the first day of training I prided myself on never violating any rules or airspace. My Instructor was very firm on procedures. No less than three FAA employes lied during this incident. During the preliminary investigation the guy from the FISDO said that “because it’s a Presidential TFR, someone is going to pay.” This event has had a great impact on my flying. I was averaging 80-100 hours a year, but since this occurance it’s probably down by half. Oh! And that IFR ticket I was going to pursue, nuts! Why should I spend all that time and money to upgrade when some government mope can take it all away in an instant, because he can. We’ve lost too many freedoms in the last couple of years and as our old AOPA president Phil Boyer was want to say “the camel is poking his nose under the tent”. Well I’ll amend that, “the camels up to the second hump”. MY Cherokee is currently for sale, too many tire kikers though. I’ll purchase a light sport kit and fly simple. I just don’t need the hassle of the medical anymore. I hope GA survives, but the handwritig is on the wall. One only has to look at the example of the rest of the worlds GA.

  53. Greg Anderson Says:

    I was in flight training just before 9/11/01. Then my company decided to lay people off and I decided I needed to save money. Then came a move, which meant my mortgage went up (of course). Even with a good job, I can’t afford any toys. Maybe next year, I’ll be able to afford flight training again. But even then, it will be years before I could even afford a used plane. Costs, all costs of flying, have gone up from what we read about in the fairy-tail stories of kids who got jobs washing airplanes to pay for training and bought their first Cub within a couple of years after getting their license.

  54. Alan Swearingen Says:

    I have read it a couple of times, but the romance just isn’t there. I am younger than the average pilot (42 yrs. old) and love to fly. But the truth is that my grandfather was a pilot and I was drawn to it because of my childhood. It’s a wanderlust that I associate with aviation. My kids (3 and 7) see the airplane as another car. They don’t get that it is cool.

    You want to get more people involved, stop catering to the over 50 crowd that is flying now and start enticing the younger crowd. If we face facts, it isn’t more convenient, cheaper, or practical if faced with a value equation.

    Flying is cool. We didn’t learn to fly to save time. We learned because it was cool and we wanted to be cool. It just isn’t as cool as it used to be. I fly quite a bit and completely love it. I’m not jaded, but I honestly did it because it was cool. I’m a married guy with kids and was married when I learned, so it wasn’t to pick up the opposite sex, but how proud were we to show off our pilot’s license when we got it. It made us special and a little dangerous to other people. With the amount of money I spend on maintenance, it better not be dangerous but people see it that way.

    You want more people flying, focus on making it cool in the public eye. Not by romanitciziing it with a bunch of pilots as old as me or older, but by talking to the youger pilots and marketing the coolness of taking top the skies and enjoying the view that I imagine every time I look into the sky on a nice day.

  55. Reg Barnsdale Says:

    Excellent comments by all, and yes,gov t regs and lawyers can ruin the best we have and enjoy. Even the folks wi AOPA issues, Necessity can make strange bedfelows,and in these times solidarity is so imp.And Deborah,. your welcome to the FBO could not have been any colder than mine. BUT WE PILOTS ARE A HEARTY BUNCH. If I ever do buy a RV, every time a plane flies over I will longingly look to the sky and wish it were me up there. I really don t see looking at serial # of RV s @ the park giving (to those who have been to the skys)that same satisfaction. And finally, Alan said it best with bringing the cool factor back to flying. Yep, Out of the Western Skys, we need SKY KING !! Fly Safe

  56. Sam Billings Says:

    I have been involved in aviation for over 30 years. I am a private pilot and an A&P with IA. I have seen nothing but decline in GA from the beginning of my involvement. The question is why.

    Let’s talk about cost. In 1978, a brand new Cessna 152 cost $14,000.

    http://flighttraining.aopa.org/learntofly/articles/0108.cfm

    If adjusted for inflation that aircraft should cost $46,000 new today!

    http://www.halfhill.com/inflation.html

    These days, if one rents an aircraft, renters insurance should be considered a necessity. To cover liability, hull loss, and loss of use, most people will probably be looking at a $1000 per year premium. Hangar expenses near large cities can be very expensive if they are even available. As everyone knows ,the cost of all fuel is high but the lack of progress in development of suitable replacement avgas closer in makeup to auto fuel aggravates the cost. When implemented, GARA (General Aviation Revitalization Act) relieved some product liability but increased liability for maintenance operations. Maintenance shops have had to increase rates to cover increased insurance premiums. Some small shops have closed rather than deal with the liability, thereby decreasing competition.

    Now for restriction. I have a neuromuscular condition that is keeping me from getting a medical. I can still work and still drive but I can’t get a medical. The fact is as someone becomes older if they are honest about the medical and not the picture of health, they will be dealing with a special issuance. I could fly LSA, but that area is still very expensive and very limited. The light sport regulations didn’t make sense or work very well. We already had the recreation pilot license why not just make the medical requirements for it a driver’s license? I know this is the idea AOPA supported but the FAA wouldn’t hear of it. The FAA can’t get something right even when they try.

    The Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 has insulated the FAA (along with many other agencies) from the normal legislative process. My members of congress have little interest or reason to be concerned with these issues. The only hope we have is through large political groups or coalitions. I am not saying that self-certified medical for recreational pilot is a cure all and would solve everything, but it could be implemented with the stroke of a pen at almost no cost. This would help keep older pilots flying and they could help start and keep younger pilots flying.

    I am glad someone is asking this question. Bruce, I want to thank you for doing so. It seems that there is a lot of common ground in the posts. I think now the question can be asked. Is anybody listening?

  57. Jerry Brooks Says:

    Flying has become very expensive! Thre are a few airports in my area (4) but the governmental structure and or ownership of two of them shun flight training and small aircraft. They do manage to hold their hand out for the government dollars however! The lack of paved airports (we have only one in the county that I live in) adds to the problem if you can’t train there and aren’t welcome in a small aircraft.

  58. gregg Says:

    Cost is likely the major factor in discouraging would be pilots (and their spouses who have zero interest in aviating). Given that, the GI Bill and flight training may be a seminal opportunity to grow new pilots. I’m not certain the GI Bill still covers it, but three decades ago it provided me with the ability to earn my commercial and instrument ratings. And, of course, young people who have the GI Bill are likely targets for the fun and excitement of flying themselves.

  59. george Says:

    Your commentary does not take into account the fact that no medical certificate is needed to fly light sport aircraft and the number of individuals doing this is substantilal.
    Personally speaking the FAA’s ruling on medical certificates has caused me to start to fly motorgliders which I love. Because a disqualifying medical condition discovered by an AME is disqualifying for both the light sport aircraft and the standard private pilot’s license it has caused many to not renew and go the LSA route. So the bottom line is that medical certificates issued is not a good way to measure interest in general aviation.

  60. Thomas Boyle Says:

    - Yes, we really need to eliminate the medical hassling. LS Pilot has been a great move in that direction, for those of us who don’t fly much and for whom the idea of spending as much time & money on medically unnecessary testing as we do on flying, was rather offputting. If FAA can’t drop the Class 3 medical altogether, how about going back to actually using that limited list of reasons for special issuance, instead of expanding the list of reasons to include practically any checked box on that very extensive form?
    - Extending the driver license medical to bigger, faster aircraft would be a big improvement. For private pilots, even under IFR, or at night, do we really need medicals? Why? Seriously? But AOPA, happily, knows this. (When will we at least see renewed efforts to get driver license Recreational, if not Private privileges?)
    - The LSA regulation (for certification of new aircraft) was a great move too. People are grumbling about how much the new LSAs cost, but there’s a forest of new aircraft designs out there, some of them no more expensive than a midsize luxury car, albeit with modest capability. Sure, some of them cost $150,000 but those are kitted out like small airliners – people are overequipping simple aircraft to use them for serious XC because (very importantly) you can put modern electronics in an LSA without paying $80,000 for the STCs. Which brings me to…
    - LSAs are really limited. 120kt was useful when cars averaged 30mph, but not now. Maybe it’s still useful on the east coast, but in the west the cities are farther apart. 1320 lbs is a nice round number (600kg) but it’s too light. These little planes have good useful load for 2-seaters (500-600 lbs) but they’re built like Coke cans – they just don’t seem that sturdy. 10,000 ft may seem really high when you make regulations in DC, but when you fly in Colorado it’s less than 4,000 AGL – on the flatland. And the wing loading required to meet the no-flap (why no-flap?) stall speeds mean a very rough ride at cruising speed – wing loadings are 40% too low on these little planes, and we have actual turbulence out west.
    - Light aircraft need to be marketed for the FUN and the JOY of it! Lots more photos of people in exotic places enjoying their aircraft. My girlfriend LOVES the idea that we FLY TO LUNCH! We don’t have to go far, it’s just very COOL!
    - AOPA publications put WAY too much focus on accidents. Seriously. Leave it out – you’re scaring the bejeepers out of our potential passengers, new pilots and their significant others. Leave it to the instructors, maybe have a safety reference section on the web site, maybe have emails that go out, but PLEASE stop marketing DANGER and market FUN instead! Whose side is AOPA on, anyway?
    - Much, much less government regulation in general. We should regulate light aircraft like private cars, not like business jets. AOPA tends to focus on trying to increase the amount of government subsidy we get (free ATC, free weather briefings, etc.) but what flying really needs is a lot less hassle. We do need some sensible rules, but could we pleeease reduce the hassle factor? And remember – what the government pays for, it may want us to do less of! We’d be happier getting less from them, if they’d leave us alone more.
    - Why isn’t flight instruction fun? Every flight instructor I’ve ever met, excepting only 2, has reminded me of my first piano teacher, complete with me flinching in expectation of the rap across the knuckles. I’m doing this for fun – could more instructors please communicate the joy of flight, instead of the fear of messing up?

  61. David Minderman Says:

    I originally got my PP certificate in 1975 when I was 21. Then I did nothing with it until 3 years ago. I took ground school again and logged another 40 hours of dual and successfuly passed my BFR. I realized that flying got a lot more complicated in the 32 years between flying. Then there was the fear of busting airspace, ramp checks, regualtions, etc. I still had my FAR from 1975, the current FAR is three times thicker. We didn’t have to purchase a AFD every 54 days in 1975 (I don’t think). There are so many more regulations than there were before that flying isn’t as much fun as I remember.

    When I was in third grade, our entire class went across the road to the airport and flew on a Ford Tri-Motor. I was hooked. My friend got his PP certificate and encouraged me to get mine. Now there are no class trips to the airport, and fewer people to to encourage new pilots to start and complete their training. I agree with some of the bloggers that there are too many negative and not enough positive stories in many of the industry rags.

    We, as pilots, must encourage youngsters to embrace general aviation. Where are the toys, the dreams, the stories? 40 years ago, the airport was accessable to all; now it is all locked up. Most people haven’t even SEEN a small plane up close. More open houses and less mystery will go a long way to opening up the industry and hopefully regenerating the interest that once drew me in!

  62. Thomas Boyle Says:

    - I should add that I don’t mean to be negative about the new LSA designs. I really think the LSA rule was a great move. It has resulted in a proliferation of new designs, a wave of innovation – both in new aircraft designs and in new instrumentation – that was obviously being held back in the past by certification costs. It has clearly demonstrated the damage being done to aviation by Part 23 certification requirements.
    - The LSAs are also MUCH more appealing to my passengers than the 1970s-era spam cans I can otherwise rent. Granted, a Cirrus or DA-40 would also fill the bill for passenger appeal, but many of us can’t afford to rent those.
    - I only mean to say that the rule is overly-constrictive. It would be nice to see a similar wave of modern designs for larger, faster, more capable aircraft. Instead, we have aircraft that are hobbled (speed-limited versions of) European microlights.
    - One other comment on the medical front – I think the “catch 22″ rule is almost custom-designed to get people to drop their medicals. After all, now there’s a big downside to applying for a medical (you can lose your sport pilot privileges), and that wasn’t the case before (there was nothing to lose). Combine that with the letter-of-the-law enforcement that John Yodice constantly warns us about and it’s almost as if the FAA had deliberately set out to reduce the number of medicals it has to sign off on. If so, the sensible thing would be to expand the privileges of the driver license medical…

  63. Boogie Says:

    I got my PP in 1987. Since then I have added the instrument ticket, commercial, and multi. I love to fly, but the above comments summarize my frustrations. Thank God for the AOPA. Although I believe our wannabee socialist government will eventually regulate us out of existence (like Europe), the AOPA is delaying it as long as possible. I hate to be a pessimist, but the class-envy of the general public and the media like USSA Today (extra S intended) acts like we “little weekend warriors” have no business flying. That right is only reserved for law enforcement, military, and airlines. They don’t realize most pilots drive beater cars and live in slum houses to afford a plane that typically costs less than a new ‘Vette.

    Add to that the “guilty until proven innocent” IRS-like mentality of the FAA and the post-911 treatment of us like terrorists, it has almost become more trouble than it’s worth. Did the trucking industry get regulated after the Oklahoma City bombing? To be fair, they should have. You should, by rights, have to fill out a bushel-basket full of paperwork to rent a Ryder truck (transponder-equipped, of course). I hate to be so grouchy and hope you guys can provide some encouragement, but the dollar-to-fun ratio is getting better with the Harley than the airplane. I thank God for my health, but if it ever goes, I will not jump through the hoops. I just wish we would regulate the screwballs on the road half as much, since many of them endanger society. Imagine if we had the “have pulse, get medical” mentality. USSA Today would be cover-to-cover outrage.

    Another thing I have noticed in the last ten years is that if you don’t burn kerosene, you are not important. This applies from fueling-up to getting an annual. The annual means it happens once a year, not that it takes a year. I know, I can go elsewhere, but anywhere you compete with the kerosene-burners, it seems to be the same story. “We gotta get that Citation done. Sorry we’re two weeks late on your bug-smasher.”

    Since this has been so negative, I would like to end on a positive note. The LSA movement was a wonderful idea, and I hope it takes off (sorry). Despite all of the complaints about flight instructors, I have not seen much of that. Yes, most are doing it to build hours, but I have found nearly all of them to be professional, courteous, and enthusiastic. Anyone that endures rough landings in a hot, sweaty, noisy environment for 5-10 years deserves the big bucks . Of course, after paying their dues, they usually start at $15K in a CRJ.

    This is why GA is dying, I believe. I hope we can solve it. I appreciate AOPA working with gov’t, but I think this is all by design by our gov’t. A neighbor bitches about the noise (at the airport that was there 50 years before he was) to a politician, and here’s their chance. Sen Ben Nighthorse-Campell was once quoted as saying that politicians sit around in a dark room and dream up ways to ruin people’s lives. Too much freedom, you know, for a peasant.

  64. Keith B. Says:

    I went to an airshow today, and unfortunately, most people were over 50! Granted there were some kids and their parents, but I saw almost no teenagers or twenties demographics. I feel like airshows are becoming a thing of the past… and to be honest, I got bored. Look at how much action and special effects the movies these days have to have to keep our attention! Airshows as we know them just don’t instill much excitement in the younger generation.

    Check out the Red Bull Air Races and it’s a high-octane, action-packed, short 2 hour event. Look at the spectators and you’ll see a lot of young, single people in their teens, twenties, and thirties! These are the people with some disposable income we need to inspire!

    I don’t have the answers, but I feel the image of GA needs to change from “good ol boys club” to something more exciting if we want to attract new pilots.

    Just watch a waverunner or speed-boat commercial. If that’s the competition, then we need to study their marketing.

  65. Bart Robinett Says:

    I never gave much thought to it actually, I always wanted to fly. I got my private license in 1971 and have kept it active since then upgraded to to Commercial multiengine instrument. I made it happen, made the time and made the money. I couldn’t have everything I wanted, so I made a choice, I chose to fly, I still do. I put two kids through college, without loans, grants or scholarships, and cut back my flying when I needed to and when money was tight. I learned to do most of my own maintenance, because it’s the only way I could afford to keep the airplane in the shape I want it in.

    I use my airplane a little for business, but own it personally, and almost exclusively for travel. I don’t count the cost, I fly because I love to fly, not because it’s cheaper than buying ticket or driving. If I have to I wait for weather, or leave early, happens sometimes, but not all that often and I make about 10 round trips a year over 800 NM.

    Whining about how much it costs, or how difficult it is to get or keep the rating just means they really don’t want to do it anyway, unless it doesn’t cost too much or doesn’t take too much time. Whiners and tightwads never get what they want out of life.

  66. Luis R. Urbina Says:

    I am a student pilot, and for pleasure or business, fly commercially quite often. When I was 12 years old, I was allowed in the cockpit for takeoff, in a commercial flight out of Lima, Peru. The experience left in me an intense desire to fly.

    Grown up now, I am a physician, and a few years ago, en route to London from JFK, I had to assist in the care of a sick passenger, and was allowed in the cockpit over the Atlantic, in order to communicate with the medical team awaiting the patient. It was an awesome experience. I often wish I would be allowed in the cockpit for the duration of the flight, as an observer, with headset and everything.

    In this post-911 world, access to the cockpit is understandably restricted, but I was wondering if AOPA could coordinate some mechanism with the FAA, the Dept of Homeland Security or whatever the appropriate federal agency might be, so that children and student pilots could, on occasion and with special clearence, fly in the cockpit.

    Such experience would result, I believe, in many aviation enthusiasts in the future.

  67. Sean Walsh Says:

    I’m 29 years old and never finished flight school. I started in 2006 and in 2007 my flight bag including my logbook was stolen out of my car. Since I had gone through 4 flight instructors at that point, it was a terrible ordeal to get my logbook recreated. That put a huge dampener on my enthusiasm for the whole thing.

    I flew about 6 more times with a new instructor but then life got in the way of finishing. By the way, one of the more frustrating things was having to redo everything with a new instructor at the same flight school. I’d have to spend basically $600 to show them the basics again instead of continuing where I left off. I ran out of money on my line of credit and I started making excuses, the flight school was an hour away, I should spend time with my girlfriend, etc.

    My father and uncle are a pilots and brought our family’s Cherokee to Frederick (its usually up north) and offered to pay for gas if I’d finish my PP, I only had to pay for the instructor’s time but I live in Arlington, VA and that meant I’d have to drive an hour and a half to get up there, which basically ruled out flying except for the weekends.

    I still want to finish but I feel to do so and maximum my $$$, I’d have to take a week off from work to cram it all in. Then I feel like a PP isn’t that useful for travelling unless an instrument rating is attached, which means another 40 hours. There should be an easier way to go for PP with instrument rating.

    To add insult to injury, for instance if I wanted to fly to the east coast, it would take forever because of the time it takes to travel around the ADIZ/SFRA. I’m terrified of busting the ADIZ/SFRA because of all the stories about being intercepted, arrested and questioned.

    One other thing, the prices of new aircraft are ridiculous. A Piper Cub knock off can cost over $100k? I can buy a finely engineered sports car, that pushes 400 hp, and still have money left over for a downpayment on a house for that price. I’m paying $100k for an ancient aircraft design, that has minimal instruments driven by aircooled inline 4 cylinder engine? Aircraft piston engines are basically 50 year old designs, why do they still cost the price of a new compact car?

    Saying folks just aren’t passionate enough because they say they can’t afford it or it takes too much time doesn’t solve anything. If a large number of folks are complaining about those things, its indicative of systemic problems.

  68. Dan Casper Says:

    I agree with most of what’s been said above, and I do hope that, one way or another, GA will be able to thrive well into the future. That said, I have a few poorly-organized thoughts on the matter…

    1) I think we should stop making comparisons with the pilot population of the 1970s-80s. Those years coincided with the coming-of-age of the baby boom generation…so is it really that surprising that there’s a big bulge in the curve? Seems to me that benchmarking off the bubble is a little like judging future real estate price increases in comparison with the years 2000 – 2006.

    2) Flying can be great, but let’s be honest: It can also get kinda boring unless you’re really making an effort to get out and do something other than “bore holes.” (see other posts above). There’s a reason, apart from cost, why a lot of people get excited about it for a year or two, then drop out…and then maybe come back…and then eventually drop out for good. If it’s semi-boring, and expensive, and a little dangerous to boot, well…

    3) Unlike someone in 1975, I can–for minimal outlay–buy a very impressive PC flight simulator that may not give me all the physical sensations of flight, but WILL give me a fair percentage of the excitement, with none of the risk. Given what it costs to pay for an hour of flying these days, that starts to look like a pretty attractive alternative.

    4) I agree with some of the folks above that we don’t emphasize the “fun” aspect enough. Read a motorcycle magazine sometime, then turn around and read AOPA Pilot…and I think you’ll see what I mean.

    5) Going along the above: Is the latest Garmin G5000 super black box for your panel all that exciting? I love technology, but I just don’t understand the fascination. Say what you will, but I think this seeming obsession with panel gadgetry is leading us away from what aviation should be about–flying–and probably breeding a generation of less-safe pilots in the process. But I digress…

    6) Why, exactly, should I care about the wonderful new Citation MCCXVII (5% more useful load!) from Cessna?

    7) The point’s been made already, but for the average person, the supposed utility of flying (you know: loading up the family for an impromptu weekend in the mountains) is essentially a myth. I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by peddling it.

    8) Finally, AOPA…are you sure you’re on the right path? In addition to the points other have made, is it really the best use of resources to put together a huge “summit” for the relatively few members who either happen to live in Florida or who can afford to (and actually care enough to) make the trek? Is it really doing anything meaningful for the cause? How many more employees could you have dealing with member issues (and I mean really working them–not just going with the FAA/TSA/DHS flow) if you didn’t have to “feed” that beast? For that matter, can you look at me with a straight face and tell me that purchasing a Caravan was a wise use of member dues? At a time when you’re asking for donations? Maybe I’m missing the big picture, but it’s not really working for me…

    I don’t mean to be entirely doom-and-gloom. I think that things can change for the better, and I think it’d be a mistake to give up trying. But I think we’re fighting bigger trends, here. I think that improvement is likely to be incremental at best, and I suspect that even our best efforts will probably do little more than ease the long-term decline. And I know that sounds negative, but I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by sitting around blowing sunshine up one another’s…you know. Because the “good ol’ days” probably ain’t coming back. And frankly–unless something really dramatic and unexpected happens (a possibility that shouldn’t be discounted)–we should probably start to take seriously the idea that lower-end private aviation will continue its decline, and start thinking about ways to make the the best it can be, at a sustainable level.

  69. Marc Says:

    Cost. Cost. Cost. Nothing else as big as cost.

    I’m a young (23) pilot who just wants to fly for pleasure. I’m happy to jump through hoops and regulation, there’s just as much in medical bills. But the costs of a new plane or of rentals is just astronomical.

  70. Dave Says:

    Although they are all valid points, I’m going to focus on just two, cost and the perception of danger. Let me emphasize up front that I’m only talking about personal, not professional, aviation.

    First, it’s the cost, not the “value”. Speaking of “value” is delusional, implying that high costs can be overcome by high benefits. That works for businesses but not for personal use. Beyond a certain price, “value” is meaningless. Consider that computer you’re sitting in front of right now. How much faster would it have to be to make it a good value to you at a price of $100,000? For most people the answer is self-evident, no computer could be fast enough to be worth that much. At that price, personal computers would be a very small market, just as personal aviation is at the current price, no matter how great the value.

    And it’s not just the purchase price; the running costs are too high as well. Between hangar rent, insurance, annuals, currency and navigation subscriptions, the fixed costs of owning a plane are prohibitive. That’s OK for a business that can spread those fixed costs over many hours per year but for personal aviation it’s a deal killer.

    Second, it’s scary. That’s your fault, Bruce, you in the media. As someone pointed out, you can read months worth of magazines about cars, boats, motorcycles etc. and never see mention of anyone dying in an accident, but AOPA Pilot and other aviation magazines bring it up in every single issue. All we hear about is risk; risk to our lives, risk of getting sued, risk of FAA enforcement, and on and on. If the good guys ever win enforcement actions, John Yodice never mentions it. The magazines that should be our best recruitment tool instead need to be kept out of the hands of non-pilots, especially spouses. Just yesterday I read advice that to buttress our inadequate liability insurance we should have passengers sign a disclaimer of risk before every flight (AND it should be a different form for every state we fly over, custom-written by a lawyer because standard forms aren’t adequate). My car doesn’t have nearly the insurance coverage of my plane, but nobody would dream of suggesting something like that for every passenger in privately owned cars, motor homes or boats. Of course people think flying is more dangerous than anything else, because we talk about how dangerous it is more than anyone else.

    This constant focus on risk management is inherited from the military and airlines and for them it works well, for the simple reason that THEIR PILOTS GET PAID, in money, pride, status, esprit, etc so they are motivated to keep going in spite of a constant, depressing drumbeat of negativity. Personal aviation doesn’t have that external motivation so if you take the fun out of it, people stop doing it.

    Moreover, it’s not clear that this harping on risk, that scares everyone away, does any good. Yes, flying is safer than it used to be, but so is driving, and there’s no monthly accident analysis column in Car & Driver. If constantly scaring ourselves to death only gets us the same improvement in safety as in other hobbies, hobbies where they’re allowed and even encouraged to focus on fun rather than danger, why don’t we stop doing this to ourselves? Or rather, why don’t you stop doing it to us, Bruce?

    The root cause of all these issues is the FAA. Their thicket of paperwork keeps airplanes expensive, slows innovation (so maintenance-intensive designs don’t get replaced) and encourages training that discourages pilots. It’s all in the name of safety, which is of course a noble cause. But ask yourself, how far down would personal aviation – not including professional aviation and the training pipeline that feeds it but personal aviation alone – how far down would personal aviation have to shrink before some office of the federal government saw it as their problem, and what office would that be? What office has preserving or growing personal aviation as part of its mission statement? To my knowledge, there is no such office. Unless that changes, we are fated to be squeezed to death.

  71. Brian Says:

    I think that flying for real transportation takes a combination of skill/dedication and money that realistically very few people have. Many (in comparison to the number of pilots) have the money. Some have the need (an actual travel mission that justifies an airplane). And professional pilots and dedicated amateurs have the skills. Unfortunately, the number of people that actually fall in all 3 groups is tiny.

    On the other hand a lot of people (like me) enjoy, or would like to, flying just for fun with no mission at all and the occasional impractical transportation. Just like motorcycles, boats, etc. And realistically, the stick and rudder skills required for this type of flying are just not that hard to learn. Of course like those other hobbies if you chose you can spend a life time honing your skills.

    However the whole industry seems biased away from fun flying. Renting a plane for fun is an enormous hassle (book too far ahead, can’t take it for a day etc). Ownership is possible, but the biggest fear that keeps me out of it is the cost. And not really the cost to buy, it’s the fact that the costs are there, and significant, every month whether you fly at all. The motorcycle, skis, boat etc can sit around for essentially free if you get too busy, short on cash, etc. Airplane, not so much.

    The ‘system’, as well is very biased toward the professional pilots. Everything from rules to the weather, to tfrs, notams. Like a poster above mentioned, I worry far more about fake problems (being busted for some regulation on a technicality) than on real problems. When I was training for my instrument rating we planned a x-country to an airport. There was a notam, abbrieviated. I didn’t know what it was (what the abbrieviation meant). So I asked the instructor (retired airline). He didn’t know. So we asked every instructor at the flight school. No one knew. So we called the airport manager. He didn’t know, didn’t really care, and couldn’t find anyone who did. I’ve gotten duats for a local flight (50 mile radius) that spit out pages of warnings for thunderstorms 2000 miles away, airspace changes 500 miles away, etc.

    On the cover of my 2010 FAR/AIM it says it contains “Rules and Procedures for General Aviation, Sport Pilots, and Instructors” and inside it boldly states that it “contains the fundamentals required in order to fly in the United States NAS”. But, then I come across helpful information like this “LORAN transmitter stations…have tower heights ranging from 700 to 1350 feet tall and transmit from 400 to 1,600 kilowatts of peak signal power.” Exactly how is that fundamental to flying? And it’s full of helpful “information” like that. So much so that it’s unreadable. The information that really is fundamental to flying is buried under a deluge of useless trivia. Just like the written tests. The pilot information manual for an integrated glass system is 1000 pages. That’s not a typo. How many people do you think have actually read that, cover to cover?

    The regulations/liability need to be overhauled somehow because really as other posters have pointed out if you can’t own an airplane, the fun of flying diminishes pretty quickly. In some ways I think the popularity of homebuilts has been a double edged sword, because it keeps away from that sector any manufacturer, who can’t possibly compete (due to certification + liability). On the other hand the idea of a homebuilt airplane is just never going to be popular for the masses and probably rightfully so, because the safety record is pretty bad. I’m not categorically against homebuilts but that is the reality. The LSA addresses this in a way but the category is pretty limited as other posters have already mentioned. As many have said, the weight needs to be raised but it’s not just for the useful load, the reality of airplanes is that weight and cost are very closely related. Virtually every weight saving technique adds cost.

    I think if AOPA wants to revitalize GA, the number one thing is to carve out a space for recreational flying. Think about the guy that wants to fly an lsa off a grass strip somewhere in middle america on a warm summer afternoon. Assume he’s going to do everything by the book, exactly the official FAA way. Anything about the current ‘system’ that would be difficult, confusing, or impossible to that guy, needs to be fixed.

    One last thought is that I have met and know a lot of people that like airplanes. I would say for every actively flying pilot there are minimum 5 people that have licenses and don’t fly and another 5 that took some lessons and then ran out of time/money/desire etc. These are people under 40 for the most part, they gave up I assume for pain vs reward reasons. It wasn’t for medical or age reasons.

  72. Brian Says:

    Dave posted above while I was typing and I think we’re headed to the same point from different directions so I’ll add one more thing, going back to the certification requirements.

    Why do (private, recreational) airplanes have to meet the safety standards they do? Show me a motorcycle, boat or even a car that could pass a part 23 FMEA / SSA (failure modes and effects / system safety analysis). And yet they are safer!

    As Dave mentions this culture is designed for and inherited from the airlines and military. And while it mostly makes sense there, it makes no sense for private flying. Because they can (almost) take the human element out through culture, training, standardization, and processes. Private flying can’t do that.

    It’s a different reality that calls for a different approach. Instead we’re saddled with a regulatory environment that doesn’t even remotely fit. For fun flying to thrive, that has to change.

  73. Fred Goldman Says:

    Everyone talks about the high cost of flying. A partner cuts the cost in half. That makes it acceptable. Everything is half price. I like that. Since we do less flying because of the expense, there is room for three partners or even four. Lots of guys that have gotten out of individual ownership are looking for a partnership situation. I am happy with mine. It would not be practical for me to own my airplane outright. I falso found a total lack of cooperation from airplane dealers and manufacturers with regard to helping me find a partner. I think that is where they should be spending all their time, putting together groups of guys to buy and fly.
    Another things comes to mind. A few years ago when money was plentiful, lots of young guys were buying motor boats and racing around without the understanding and consideration of the older boating community. Would you really want those guys up in the air with you? Maybe many of the young people today shouldn’t be flying.

  74. Diana Says:

    Money. And maybe that is intentional to keep it a more elite group. But that could be working against the industry now.
    I’m a new sport pilot and former skydiver. I love being in the air.
    I wish I could be in the air 50 hours a week. I’m retired with a gov pension and no bills, it should be easy. But renting at $125 and hour or going into debt to the tune of $100,000 plus for a LSA is insane.
    The liability is also a big concern. I carry renters insurance, but if a friend wants to go up…will it ever be enough?
    There have to be less expensive planes, less restrictions for sport pilots.
    But continue the education requirements. Safe is smart and good for everybody.
    GA needs to attract more women pilots and more flying clubs…start a nation wide flying club….something please.

  75. Jim McSherry Says:

    Among the 74 preceding comments I have seen a few common themes:
    1) the high cost of flying
    2) some version of medical obstacle
    3) various government complaints
    4) a need for the “pizazz” ingredient

    There are a few ways to deal with the cost. For some, it is not a major consideration – good for you, but now for those of us without a trust fund:
    A) Flying clubs are wonderful, and most sizable airports have at least one
    B) partnerships are (in my mind) even better. I bought a share in a C-182 for about $5K, and spend around $750 a year for my share of the costs. That’s a lot less than what many friends spend on golf. And I spent more on each of three motorcycles over the years.
    C) inexpensive older planes are less prestigious, but less costly. One friend has a 60′s vintage Cherokee that he used to earn his instrument rating. Cost less than a recent-model BMW, and gets him all around the northeast US
    C) Get your glider rating! My glider club trains about five new pilots a year, in newer, composite, high-performance sailplanes. A $20 tow can get you aloft for an hour of soaring – - or five hours, if you are good.

    Medical requirements are a good thing, in my view. But Sport pilots, balloons and glider pilots fly without them, so if that’s your obstacle, work around it. Kwitcher-bitchin and do something to make it better.

    The hoary old FAA is not the best friend G.A. has in the world. But the regs are not that onerous. Yes, the FAR/AIM looks imposing; but so would the DMV code. No one tries to *read* either one; we learn what rules apply to us, and follow them. Some good manners and common sense will keep you from needing that NASA form that we all carry around. I feel for the guy who got stung going to OSH, but I wish he’d had the AOPA Legal Service at his side. I am sure I have accidentally transgressed one or two FARs in fifteen years of flying; but no harm has come of it,and I don’t see that changing. I have only filed one NASA form, but keep one handy in case.

    What I want to see is an aviation version of NCIS or CSI – - a snazzy TV show that uses aircraft in some manner that teenagers or college age kids can appreciate. It would do for G. A. what those shows have done for the glamour of science learning over the past five years. I have seen much more interest in science among youngsters since those shows came on (I teach those courses). And let’s have a show of hands: how many (over age 55) were inspired by Sky King shows as a kid?
    Who can pitch a (ahem) pilot program to a studio about this agency who can get to the scene and do the job, because they use Cessnas instead of Chevys? Or should it be that the office manager finds herself in a different branch each episode as she flies around the country for her business?

    It also would not hurt if AOPA dedicated some budget to getting out press releases for every Angel Flight or Corporate Angel mission in the country for a month. A little awareness can go along way.

  76. Larry Bierwirth Says:

    Privately, I have told some friends that if they really wanted to fly, there was a way to do it pretty cheaply. I suggested that they begin flying lessons with the goal of solo flight as a student. That way, they could experience the thrill of walking out onto the tarmac, firing up an airplane, taxiing out onto the runway, taking off on their own, and flying over to the practice area for some maneuvering work. I’m not sure if encouraging this approach would be viable for an organization like AOPA. But, one could certainly reason that it might create some pilots that would otherwise not commit to the full flight training program.

  77. Becky Ikehara Says:

    I always wanted to fly, so almost 15 years ago, when I was in my forties, I started taking lessons at a small non-towered airport near my home. To make a long story short, it took me 6 instructors, hundreds of hours, and probably thousands of dollars, but I finally got my PPL in 2002. If I hadn’t been really motivated, I know I would have given up. I now own a 1970 Cessna 150, which I bought for $14,000, but over the years, I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on maintenance. Since I don’t fly many hours per year, my costs per hour are extremely high, with tie-down, insurance, annuals, and avgas. I wanted to fly because I wanted to go places, but I’ve found it difficult to do that. There’s always the weather (I live in the Northeast); the airport is an hour’s drive away; and as soon as I arrive somewhere, I have to rent a car to get anywhere at all. I am also a rabid environmentalist (and vegetarian) now, and the $100 hamburger is not something I feel comfortable doing anymore. So I’m now in a downward spiral: since I don’t fly much, I don’t trust that my skills are sharp enough, so I become afraid to fly, and then I fly even fewer hours. At the moment, I am considering giving up flying, and I still can’t believe I even said that. What to do? I’m not sure. It’s become a perfect storm for me: high cost, little time, aging aircraft, personal health issues, limited utility.

  78. Jay Says:

    I have to put in my 2 cents. I’m seeing a lot of bitching and moaning about the state of regulatory agencies and public perceptions of GA, and blaming those for the state of pilot training today. I have to disagree with that conclusion.

    We engage in a high-profile activity. Elderly driver crashing and killing a whole family might make the back page in the New York Times. A bus crash killing 20 people might make the second page. Mid-air collision between two GA aircraft? That makes the frontpage and CNN Headline News to boot.

    Society is this way not because of he FAA, TSA or any other government organization. The person to blame is the one looking at you in the mirror–WE are the ones who demand that people in high-profile positions be held to a higher standard. It’s human nature, of course. The FAA and TSA exist because WE as a society demanded they exist.

    Lest anyone attempt to deny this, consider what kind of standard you would hold your doctor to? Or your priest? Or your children’s teachers? The architect who designed the building you work in? The director of FEMA?

    Consider your doctor. Most states require disclosure of any settled malpractice cases that did not go to trial, e.g. it doesn’t matter if they were not found guilty, it is still discoverable. Is this fair? of course not. Why does it happen? Because WE want our doctors to be under more scrutiny and to be more accountable.

    Think we’re under the microscope having a pilot certificate? Of course we are, and that is probably the way it should be.

  79. Andrew Hartley Says:

    I know that I would be more likely to fly regularly if I could do so in many different locations – i.e. I go to visit my father-in-law with my family, but if we want to fly while we are there (assuming we didn’t fly there in the first place), I have to go get checked out with a local flight instructor for an hour or two, then we can go tool around for awhile or actually go somewhere.

    The cost/benefit there is WAY out of whack… if there was a nationally-certifying check out by aircraft type or something that insurances and FBOs would recognize and accept, then I could go and flash that card, they could confirm my identity, and we could go flying without the local checkout – MUCH more likely that I would do so in this scenario… two hours of checkout for one hour of flying with who I really want to fly with (i.e. not an instructor) is just out of balance, in my opinion.

    Money will always be an issue, and the reason is that wages haven’t increased as quickly as inflation… but also because people make choices. People SAY that they would love to learn to fly, but they buy a widescreen TV and get spinners on their car’s wheels instead of saving the money to go learn to fly. People SAY they want to be in shape, but they still eat fast food for lunch every day and watch TV instead of going to the gym. It’s the same old story, different backdrop.

    Solutions? GET IN FRONT OF PEOPLE! Where do people go to have fun? How about amusement parks? I would think that many roller-coaster riders would relish the idea of loops and rolls not connected to a track… perhaps ads and videos of aerobatics and air races while these people wait two hours at a time for less than 5 minutes of thrill? How about flight lessons excursions on cruise ships? Here’s where people spend money to have fun, because they’re on vacation! I drove my rented scooter past the Nassau airport – right past the GA buildings – and thought how much I would rather see the bahamas from the air instead of on the scooter. It was fun, but it was NOT flying.

  80. Kevin Says:

    Hello Bruce. The median household income in the city where I live is $39,589.00, which is about $500.00 above the national median household income. Median annual gross rent here is $7,776.00, annual food expenses are $5542.00, annual transportation expenses are $7918.00, utilities and household supplies are $6334.00, health care costs average $2373.00, and annual clothing and educational expenses consume an additional $2375.00 each year.

    Flight training in this area is $157.00/hr and ground training is $48.00/hr. Assuming a resident in this area pursues a Class 3 certificate and requires 60 flight hours + 40 ground hours to pass the check ride, the cost for the certificate will be at least $11,340.00, which is attainable within two years. Granted, flight training is not cheap, but it is attainable if the desire is there and if other discretionary expenses are controlled and/or eliminated.

    Still, given the median income above, what does a Class 3 certificate buy you? While the license to fly may be affordable, the opportunity to fly is not. The major issue in GA today is still cost. Airplane rentals are prohibitively expensive for anything except quick jaunts to maintain your rating. Private ownership is extremely expensive with even LSA purchase costs exceeding $100,000.00, hangar rents approaching $5,000.00 (if you can find one), thousands of dollars in state property taxes, thousands more for insurance, $$$ for annual inspections, maintenance, etc., etc. This is a quantum shift from the heydays in the 1960’s when airplane rentals could be had for the average hourly wage and new four seat airplanes could be purchased for about twice the price of the average new car. The point is a person with average median income today cannot afford to pursue GA as a lifestyle.

    LSA’s are definitely a step in the right direction, but their scope is still too limited and a significant portion of their costs (like larger 4 passenger GA aircraft) are tied to certification/liability issues. I agree with Don Olandese and Roger Bailey that the driver’s license medical for private pilots should be extended to include larger (and slightly faster) aircraft like the Cessna 140, 150, 152, 172, 177, older Grummans, as well as many Pipers, for example. Relaxation of certification and maintenance requirements for non-commercial-use aircraft up to 4-place (non-complex) would open doors for a multitude of individuals that love GA but are unable to pursue their dreams because of monetary constraints.

    The bottom line is if we make aircraft more affordable and lower entry barriers to GA, we’ll see a larger number of young people interested in becoming pilots, and older pilots will maintain their ratings and keep flying. The future of general aviation depends on it.

  81. Bill Fusselman Says:

    Why are we losing pilots and not getting new ones? I have read most of the comments posted to date and the comments are right on target: Expense, over-regulation, not appealing to today’s young people, impractical for serious transportation given the aging and less reliable used airplanes most people can afford to buy. That is if they still have a job in this economy!

    But most significant, I believe, is that the FAA is a cancer preying on it’s host until it kills it. Then, the cancer (FAA) will die also (or be significantly budget cut).

    I am 68 years old, retired, and have put almost $70,000 into my 36-year old airplane which I have owned for less than three years. If I have to sell it because the FAA revokes my Medical Certificate, I will lose about $35,000 trying to sell my airplane in today’s market. So, every two years, I live in fear that the great, powerful FAA will end my flying with either a denial of my Medical Certificate or an enforcement action of some type. And this is supposed to be fun??

    Buy an LSA you say? Did you ever try to get into one? At 68 years old, I’m still very agile, but my wife and my other prospective passengers aren’t. They can barely get into and out of my Grumman Traveler. And besides, after I lose $35,000 trying to sell my 150 HP Grumman, which flies at about 120KTS but can’t qualify for the LSA rules, I simply don’t have enough money left to purchase an LSA which are priced over 80,000 for a basic airframe. So, at that time, I’ll be another AOPA Dropout! Just what are those idiots in the FAA and in Washington doing to this industry? Their rules are insane, their enforcements heavy-handed, and they are biting the hand that feeds them!

    Here’s another tip for you at AOPA. The Airport Authority in Bay County/Panama City, Florida is building a new $330Million airport ten miles to the Northwest of the present airport. General aviation is being almost totally ignored. My FBO still hasn’t received any tangible information from the airport authority as to whether he will be in business at the new airport. I have my airplane in a rented hangar with this FBO. The airport is supposed to open next May for “Airline Service.” AOPA needs to look into why general aviation is being ignored here. We are truly second-class citizens in the aviation world of today, but they like our tax money!

    Insofar as today’s young people go, future pilots most of them are not! They aren’t interested is spending $80,000 to $100,000 to get qualified for a $25,000 commuter airline job which they might have for a year or two until the company lays them off or goes into bankruptcy. Furthermore, at least where I live, the training airplanes are old, tired Cessna 172′s with minimal equipment and no cockpit standardization, right down to the old, tired avionics. Yes, I see the dream machines shown in AOPA, but they aren’t for the average new pilot. Around here, the local flight school lives month-to-month, pushing the tired old Cessna 172 toward the end of it’s useful life. I’ll bet that’s the reality of a lot of airports. It’s a depressing picture to show young prospective pilots.

  82. Thomas Jefferson Says:

    Personal flight is the final, dying gasp of freedom in America.

  83. Jim Long Says:

    Hold ATP with seaplane rating. Started flying in 60′s. 18years on County Airport Authority Board in northern Indiana
    Was fortunate to have father as flyer and a grass strip behind my house with the busness locals from small town keeping planes at our farm stip.
    Attained ratings from a uncle who flew for major airline.
    Have had Aeronica Champ, Cessna 172, Cessna 210 and now a Citabria.
    COST, COST, COST. Today the cost of owning and maintaining an aircraft is totally out of wack. Annuals, insurance, storage, fuel and keeping up with the AD’s. Cost of training is considerable to say the least. Keeping your medical is a challenge. Probably a third of the aircraft based at our county airport our out of annual or have AD issues the owners are unable to afford. Our fuel sales have been on a steady decline for three years and we have had the lowest prices in Northern Indiana.
    Have used aircraft for business and must justify the cost of flying self vs airline. Used aircraft for sales trip to major retailer in Bentonville, AR and the cost of flying vs airlines is double for flying myself. Hard to justify to company and accountants.
    Thought the LSA might be answer but the initial cost is much higher than many can afford. Only redeeming factor is can do much more maintainence yourself.
    Somehow the cost of owing and or renting an airplane must come down. Even the new Cessna “Made in China” (Wichita is dying) is way overpriced.
    Don’t have answers but it’s a hard sell to get the youth envolved. Tried to get the local school to bring students interested in flying to my grass strip but due to insurance and possible suits could not happen.
    Questionable future for GA but hopeful cost will level and or decline a bit.

  84. Pierre Stendeback Says:

    You should know that this is one of my fav articles.

  85. Kevin Berger Says:

    I am nuts about airplanes and love to introduce people to general aviation. My goal is to work with flight schools to improve their marketing and business processes in order to attract more students.

    I am not flush with extra cash, nor do I have a surplus of time. I was bitten by the aviation bug at a young age, though, and nothing was to stand between me and my license. My monthly budget for flight is meager ($160), but it keeps me in the air and it usually gets me to a greasy breakfast.

    In the comments following this article, there are a lot of “causes” addressed. What are the solutions? What can we do to address the problem? If over-regulation causes inordinate security restrictions, high gas prices, and expensive maintenance, what is left for us to do?

    We can:

    * Take friends and their children for flights
    * Build friendly flight schools
    * Talk to everyone about flying and its benefits
    * Refer interested friends to quality flight schools

    The more people we hook with the flying bug, the more pilots there will be. The more pilots there are, the louder the GA voice. The louder the GA voice, the greater power we have in regulation. The larger the demand for affordable aircraft, the more motivation and ability for manufacturers to build lower cost aircraft.

    I will not wait for the government to solve our problems. Let’s be proactive! Let’s turn the tide!

  86. Curtis P Heimberg Says:

    Hi,
    All these posts, cite expenses, difficulties in passing the requirements, the government and medicals as the reasons for declining general aviation medicals. One or more cited the LSA ruling of not needing a medical, except the state government issued drivers license as a reason.

    These are all accurate, it seems. Yes a plane that should cost 30,000 american dollars like a pick-up truck does, is just government abuse. Yes, the use of medical licensing, to predict ahead of time when a person is going to have a medical issue causing an accident is absurd even in the non aviation world.

    The real issue here seems to be ‘Opinion’ has a higher value than ‘Fact’. For instance the last time I looked into the medical certificate reasoning, I could find none that was based on fact. Neither the EAA, nor an opinion by the AOPA could find any valid factual reasoning behind the medical, yet it persists till today. Nor could I find any real factual needs, justifying the cost for a Cessna 172, new, of 200,000 dollars. A Chevy pickup truck, it’s automobile equivalent to me, costs much less.

    Please, this is an easy issue, it just requires the government to leave data found from experiments, to rule over opinions of theirs or others.

    Is the point of government is to promote government unless there is a large enough public outcry? Is the plight of Aviation, just a civil rights issue disguised by the government as promoting aviation? Does anyone have any provable facts to support the general political restrictions in aviation? Why does getting a pilots license seem like working for the Federal Government? Why is every law that is egregious to aviation allowed the force of law, merely by opinion? Why was Bob Hoover and others attacked by opinion?

    The solution is also legal. Stop the rediculous law suits. Make it impossible, to sue over opinion such as found in this illustrative dialogue.:

    “Well if a phoshphorous alloy aluminum were used on the wing supports or stainless steel, then my aluminum wing support would not have corroded. My plane was in a high humidity environment. They should have anticipated my needs. Give me one hundred million dollars. That will make it all better. You are negligent. I don’t care that your plane was designed and constructed in the middle of the desert. I don’t care that you never saw this in your planes. I don’t care that none of your planes ever showed this corrosion even till today in your location. I was scared. My wing fell off. It’s your fault. Pay up. This will make everything better for everyone in aviation because I have your money.”

    Turn this into: No one ever can or will be ever, able to anticipate all the possible ways for things to go wrong in anything. Flying has certain risks not associated with boating, driving, or even swimming. When the unknown even is consistent with the risks of the even there is no harm. It is an merely and accident. When the the result of your actions contributes to the incident, the incident is mitigated or relieved in total, except in notifications to others. Wear, aging, and unforseen uses are typical reasons to free a manufacturer and the designer of a ‘supposed flaw’ in their design or construction, resulting in a charge of negligence or liability.

    Well, the general issue for me is regulators, politicians, lawyers and opinion mongers are presently hurting the industry. This is happening whether they are Hooverizing the industry, the planes, or the individuals in the industry.

    That is roughly all for today.

    Curtis P…. Heimberg

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