Stars Aligning for Brighter Aviation Future

By Scott Spangler on August 2nd, 2009

Ensuring aviation’s future by encouraging more people to fly has been attempted by many programs in the past. Despite their good intentions, their collective results are ultimately measured by the ever shrinking pilot population. But several events at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh are chipping away at my skepticism. They are tangible, visible  signs that the necessary stars are aligning, perhaps the best chance ever for success.

JetWhine-LTF-1 I saw the first star at the National Association of Flight Instructors Meet the Master’s Breakfast on Thursday, July 30. New FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt was there to present the Jack J. Eggspuehler Award to the  Jeppesen Aviation Training Solutions Team for its enduring and “significant contribution to flight instructors, flight instruction, and aviation education.”

Before presenting the award, Babbitt mentioned that he started his career in general aviation and was a flight instructor. Hmm, that’s something I’ve never heard from an FAA administrator. But what he did next really got my attention.

JetWhine-LTF-2 Instead of bolting from the tent immediately after making the presentation, as administrators typically do, Babbitt loaded up a plate at the buffet, sat down at a picnic table, and listened to Airbus A380 test pilot Terry Lutz talk about how training that’s too standardized can impede critical, creative thinking. Even more unusual, Babbitt stayed to talk with NAFI Chairman Phil Poyner, Executive Director Jason Blair (in photo), and the other pilots. Before long his hands were flying in conversation.

Having an FAA administrator who is a pilot–and likes being with them–can’t be a bad thing, especially when he got his start in GA.

JetWhine-LTF-4 I saw the other stars falling into place in EAA’s Learn to Fly Discovery Center, just up from AeroShell Square, where earlier in the week EAA and AOPA signed a historic memorandum of cooperation. Right there, next to the Remos GX on display was the AOPA Flight Training magazine kiosk, working like everyone else in the tent to encourage people to act on their dreams of flight.

In the Learn to Fly Center, EAA, NAFI, and AOPA, joined by sponsors Sporty’s Pilot Shop and Remos, a German LSA manufacturer, announced that the inaugural Learn to Fly Day will be held on May 15, 2010. Its primary goal is to get people interested in flying out to the airport no matter where they live. While the details are still in gestation, overall it’s a collaborative effort that involves governments, associations, and industry working toward a common goal. It’s about time they realized that fighting for a larger piece of a shrinking pie is counterproductive when making the pie bigger offers greater rewards.

JetWhine-LTF-3 I have no doubt that International Learn to Fly day will get people out to the airport. My larger concern is turning these prospects into student pilots; putting people in cockpits as happy student pilots is something that most flight schools don’t do well because they are run by people trained to fly, not to market a product or service–and make the sale.

The last star in the growing alignment is Gary Bradshaw of PilotJourney.com. Another resident of the Learn to Fly Center, he excels at finding qualified prospects, and he has the stats to show that one in four who take Pilot Journey Discovery Flight sign up for training.  (I’ll cover Gary’s innovative ways in an upcoming post.)  So, it seems that all that’s necessary to give aviation a future are getting into place. All we need now is time and persistence. — Scott Spangler

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8 Responses to “Stars Aligning for Brighter Aviation Future”

  1. Bill Says:

    I would urge you not to forget the soaring community in the push to promote general aviation.

    Soaring is a great way to learn to fly, or add a “pure fun” dimension to pilots with power experience. There are glider schools, clubs, and places to fly them all over the world, and many excellent ones throughout the U.S.
    The focus is entirely different than the point A to point B – drilling holes in the sky burning expensive fuel- power plane approach. As the glider pilot learns to pick up on micro-meteorology, just having fun, personal challenges on time aloft, altitude and distance goals, or just flying around having a good time literally soaring with the birds (how many Cessna drivers will tell about the time they’ve spent in a thermal with a bald eagle?).

    There is a huge transfer of knowledge between soaring and powered flight, so a pilot with experience in one can quickly acquire a license in the other.
    However, the lessons and perspective learned by flying a glider will add a whole new dimension to the power pilot’s knowledge tool kit. Captain “Sully,” besides being a veteran A320 pilot, was also a glider pilot. Glider/airline pilots (such as myself and others) quietly credit his ability to evaluate where he could go (i.e., not back to LGA) with the understanding gained by flying a glider – which is what that A320 became that day.

  2. Dee Says:

    The Redbird Flight Simulator was set up in the Learn to Fly/NAFI tent at OSH. It is an FAA Approved, Full Motion AATD. It was there to encourage individuals of all ages to experience flight, for both current and future training. Over 1000 individuals sat in the cockpit and left with huge smiles on their faces. Flight simulation is the future in flight training. It’s unfortunate Redbird Flight Simulations, Inc. did not get due recognition for their part. They were invited sponsors in the Learn to Fly tent.

  3. Linda Says:

    The stars are aligning but the focus is still too narrow. We’ve been working on putting together a multi-airport aviation extravaganza in NJ and have broadened our goals to reach the 99% of the population that doesn’t fly and would never think of it. These people only think of aviation as the latest crash on the “breaking news” report. If we can get these people out and leave them with a good feeling about GA, we’ll be ahead of the game. New pilots will be the gravy on top.

    You should check out Leaders Take Flight.com – here’s a person taking a new approach.

  4. Phil Poynor Says:

    Bill, you make an excellent point.
    Almost as soon as the NAFI/EAA Learn to Fly Center opened, we realized we had a total conceptual bias toward fixed wing airplanes built into the Center’s concept. Before the close of AirVenture, we had already had meetings at the highest levels of NAFI and EAA to explore ways in which we can expand next year’s event to include a much broader array of other ways to access learning to fly. Gliding is one of the first we will seek to include next year. Others could include rotorcraft, seaplanes and various LSA modes. We welcome comments such as yours as to suggestions of how we can be attractive to as many of the varied interests in flying that we can be.
    Phil Poynor, Chairman, Nat’l Assn of Flight Instructors (NAFI)

  5. Bill Says:

    People’s interest in flying may come from many aspsects of it (seeking a practical alternate means of transporation, just like the idea, future career, etc).

    Their decision (or indecision) to not learn to fly must be met with answers aimed at what their real goals in aviation are, in order to break down the barriers that they perceive exist.

    The person who declares he wants to be an airline pilot, one seeking an airline alternative for his buisness travel, and the one who has learning to fly on his list of “things to do before I die” could – or should – be steered down, or offered, different paths. The options available to the prospect (power fixed wing, rotary wing, soaring, ultralight, etc) need to be address to achieve their goals while addressing cost, subject matter appropriate for their flying goals and interests, availability of facilities in their area, and others.
    Check out http://www.ssa.org (Soaring Society of America) for a nice selection of resources for getting going on the pure-fun side of aviation.

  6. Robert Mark Says:

    To Phil’s point about the NAFI tent at AirVenture.

    I had no idea the Red Bird Flight simulator was going to be there and was absolutely fascinated when I stood in back to watch. I couldn’t wait for a turn because the line was too long. Congrats on that.

    I watched this young boy in the sim flying around with the instructor. He did well up to the landing, but then there are days mine are pretty poor too.

    Then he comes out and I realzied the kid must have been maybe 8. His dad asked what he thought and all the kid kept saying was that “Flying was so cool.”

    Obviously we had a convert.

  7. Robert Mark Says:

    To Bill’s point on soaring. I live in the big city, Chicago. Getting to a soaring center is a long drive, I think.

    But honestly, I’ve never looked that closely into it although I think many of us thought much differently about flying gliders after the US Airways’ crash.

    Does the Soaring Society have sessions for us folks who are clueless about even what questions to ask?

  8. Bill Says:

    Learning to fly gliders WILL make you a better power pilot (if you pay attention). And not even so much in a stick and rudder way (though probably that too), but in the things that you have to pay attention to, that a power pilot too often ignores: Micro-meteorology, cloud shapes, smells, birds, feeling the accelerations in the seat of your pants, applying knowledge about performance curves to know the best speed to fly at any one time, energy management, the list goes on.

    Here’s some resources for those that might be interested in soaring (yes, even for “the clueless”):

    http://www.ssa.org – See the right hand side of the page under New To Soaring (what is soaring, where to fly, take a flight, etc.)

    http://www.bobwander.com – Bob Wander’s Soaring Books and Supplies. Bob is probably the leading soaring author today – and has been a top recruiter and supporter of general aviation for some time.
    Click on the Beginnners section in the menu on the left and Check out:
    Millenium Gliding Video – From New Zealand comes this stunning (and remarkably low priced) video about the fascination of soaring. At this price, this thoughtful and scenically spectacular video belongs in everyone’s
    tape collection. Period! I’ll even throw in the mountains and the glaciers and sheep and pastures for free. $4.95 –

    Everybody’s First Gliding Book
    2008 Edition, 112 large-format pages. The 45 articles that comprise Everybody’s First Gliding Book! answer the questions that newcomers want to have authoritative answers for.
    “Can an ordinary person like me learn to fly gliders?”
    “Where can I go to learn to fly gliders?”
    “How many lessons will it take for me to go solo the glider for the first time?”
    “How much will it cost to get to solo standard in a glider?”
    “What risks am I undertaking if I learn to fly?”
    “What are the medical requirements to become a glider pilot?”
    “I am an airplane pilot. Will my airplane skills help me in glider flight training?”
    “If I get airsick, what can I do about it? Does it mean that I cannot learn to fly?”
    “Are there national standards for glider pilot training? If so, where are they found?”
    “What tests do I have to take to become a glider pilot?”
    “What books and materials will help me to learn to fly? Where can I buy them?”
    “Does the FAA know about this glider thing? Does the FAA set training standards?”
    “Are gliders maintained as carefully as airplanes are required to be maintained?”
    And many more.

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