Simplicity and affordable flying for fun were the driving forces that sustained the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft effort during its 10-year path to reality. In short, it was supposed to be flying unplugged — stick and rudder, look out the window and enjoy the view.
That may be the goal of those who want to fly a light-sport aircraft, but it seems that technology is all that matters to those who are selling LSAs, and selling the idea of becoming a sport pilot.
Don’t get me wrong. Glass cockpits in light-sport aircraft makes perfect sense to me. With fewer components and easier installation, glass costs less than steam gauges and their associated plumbing, and that helps contain the cost of a light-sport aircraft. But what about autopilots? It’s an easy addition in the world of glass, and at least one LSA manufacturer is offering it as an option.
Making technology the anchor of the SP/LSA marketing effort is, I fear, a mistake. It may work well when selling airplanes for IFR transportation, but that’s because the buyer, whether it be an airline, corporation, or individual who needs to go places efficiently and economically. LSA buyers and sport pilots are, I think, still motivated by the romance of VFR flying, and there’s not much romantic about flying a video game.
No disrespect to the industry leaders I listened to at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh last year, but as the father of pilot-age sons, a glass cockpit is not going to entice them skyward because it connects with their inner video-gamer. My boys fly often in virtual skies, and they’re always yankin’ an banking–with the instrument panel turned off.
Nor will it entice someone like me, who’s been flying for awhile. When I was flying IFR I would have paid almost anything for all that technology offers. But I stopped flying instruments long ago because it was too much like work. I fly for fun, not to play with the latest technology. All I want is an easy and simple display of essential information necessary for safety.
To sell sport pilot/light-sport aircraft the industry should look at ads by the recreational vehicle industry. Instead of the mobile comforts of home, satellite TV, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing, the ads sell the idea of an unplugged RV life.
I can’t believe that people buy RVs to spend the weekend at some campground, crowded bumper-to-bumper and bathed in the never-ending white noise of belching generators. No, they buy them with the idea that one day they will park with a friend beside some remote, pristine lake, just like in the ads.
Selling sport pilot/light-sport aircraft the same way seems like a no brainer, especially to the boomer generation, which really needs to unplug from time to time. They have the time, attention span, and financial resources to fly, and they can live the idea more fully than RVers.
By getting the boomers involved, they can share the idea to their descendants. Going after the pilot-age kids directly is, honestly, a waste of time and money. As a group they aren’t interested, perhaps because they don’t have the attention span needed to become a pilot. Maybe in a decade or two, but not now.
Naturally, some kids are becoming pilots. Many of them are pursuing a career, and a few are following the example set by the pilot in the family, because flying is how they had fun. It seems to me that a more effective–and economical–way to get the young eventually involved in flying for fun is to go after their role models, their parents and older relatives.
Selling the freedom that flying for fun offers seems to be the most effective lure. And because not everyone is doing it, it has a patina of adventure that appeals to many.
Recreational flying’s purpose is to unplug from the earthbound demands of over-tasked daily life, to mute its sharp-edged details by looking at the big picture from a lofty perch. So why are many in LSA-land suggesting that newcomers look no further than the instrument panel?–Scott Spangler