The perception disparity between aviators and the rest of our society is serious business. To start with, it’s serious for our business, because all of the things mentioned last month have largely eliminated the opportunity to easily engender the joy and wonder of aviation in young people – and right now, at least, we need people who like airplanes to pilot them. In its great wisdom, our government has built fences around even small airports which completely eliminates the ability of kids to hang around the places and learn about flying and airplanes. (I always thought there was a bit of irony in the commendable programs out there to give airplane rides to kids . . . who then are kept locked out of airports and away from airplanes by the government.)
And if you fight your way through the fence, you should bring a wad of bills. Ask the first person you meet on the street about what they think about flying small airplanes. A hundred bucks says that they respond: it’s hard and expensive to learn how to fly, it’s dangerous (you could kill yourself), and to own an airplane really costs a lot.
We in the airplane business really need to work on all of this. Our future is tied up in our being able to change this general perspective. In some kind of systematic, strategic way, the industry must come together around a set of common images, messages and communications that begin to offset the almost universally corrosive image we have with the public at large. Understand that this is not about slogans on lapel pins that are handed out at aviation conventions to the already converted.
This is about changing our image with the outside world.
This issue needs to be engaged at two levels:
• We need to work on the current image. We’re not talking about a magic act here – companies and industries do this all of the time. It’s about coming up with a new, very carefully considered concept that can be translated into easy-to-understand words and graphics that quickly and effectively offset the commonly perceived problems. Well placed, the new ideas begin to show up in movies, articles, on TV, in computer games . . . and, in time, people begin to see GA flying in quite a different way.
• We also need to change airplanes and flying. Our industry needs to come up with innovative solutions that give lie to the common perceptions. We should take away the noise (electric airplanes}, make flying easier (people friendly software on top of fly-by-wire systems), eliminate our pollution (new propulsion systems), find ways to make learning to fly affordable (computer games that teach the skills and count towards license requirements), and figure out how kids can play inside of the fence (find a homeland security leader who isn’t myopic). There are numerous ways that these things can be done and already some initiatives, like the Lindbergh Foundation’s Aviation Green Alliance, which provides a place where the industry’s environmental leaders can work on common problems, are beginning to sprout up.
We really should have been hard engaged in this repositioning when things were good and there was a lot of money around – but we didn’t. Now, we don’t have any alternative. I think the future of general aviation is at stake. We need to remake ourselves . . . soon.