Bragging Rights & The Future of Flight

By Scott Spangler on September 8th, 2012

Here in Wisconsin, a swing state, we have been incessantly pummeled by political ads of both parties. This onslaught has been painfully punctuated almost daily by political surveys whose questions do little more than support the delusions of the person who paid for it. Add two weeks of intellectual drown proofing in the tsunami of lies and half-truths taken out of context that emanated from the thankfully ended conventions, and it’s hard to have a good mental outlook about anything, let alone aviation.

Try as I might, I could not escape the tentacles of cynical aviation apathy, the feeling that there was no place in aviation for people like me. This metaphysical predator ambushed me in, of all places, the travel section of the New York Times. The headline says it all: Space Tourism is Here! Wealthy Adventurers Wanted.

Reading about all the ways rich people can get into space was interesting. Yes, there’s some training involved, but in the article it seemed secondary to wining and dining with their economic peers at something akin to an aerospace spa. In the end, what matters more than acquiring a skill is the bragging rights, which is what they are really paying for.

What pulled me under was the realization that, for the most part, rich people don’t invest the time and effort needed to truly accomplish something hard, like climbing Mount Everest or flying a plane. They hire someone to take them there by the hand or in the back seat. This confirmed a dark notion that’s been lurking in my subconscious, unless we revive the middle class and restore the economic vigor it exercised three or four decades ago, general aviation as we’ve known it is doomed.

clip_image001As commenters have mentioned many times here in JetWhine, GA flying is too expensive. That’s one way of looking at things.

Another perspective is that the cost of flying has increased like everything else in life—except middle class incomes. Those have been essentially stagnant since the late 1970s, when the middle class stopped thinking things through and bought into the trickle down delusions that have made rich people exponentially wealthier.

Maybe it was fate, but after reading the Times travel article I stopped by my favorite (and most literate) blog, The Rumpus, which says, “Inconsistency is human, but try to be nice.” In The Week in Greed #13: The Speech Obama Didn’t Give, Steve Almond outlined a workable plan for restoring the middle class. Not that it will ever happen, mind you, but it was nice to dream for a second.

But you never know. Maybe there’s enough residual critical thinking among us to ask not if we’re better off now than we were four years ago, but whether we are better off today than we were 30 or 40 years ago. Back than I was in the Navy, before it went all-volunteer and started paying real money—and before the trickle-down delusion started siphoning off its purchasing power. Back then I could afford to fly. Now it’s still a dream that will probably never be realized again.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to fix myself a nice drink and find a good mood in the pages of fiction of a better time past or some fantasy future where everyone enjoys equal responsibilities and benefits. –Scott


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5 Responses to “Bragging Rights & The Future of Flight”

  1. Greg Morris Says:

    I have to strongly disagree with the statement that “for the most part, rich people dont invest the time and effort needed to truly accomplish something hard, like climbing Mount Everest or flying a plane. They hire someone to take them there by the hand or in the back seat.”

    At Gauntlet Warbirds we train people with diverse income brackets and all levels of net worth. There is absolutely no correlation between either of those measures and somebody’s work ethic or the energy they put into flight training.

    Greg Morris
    Chief Pilot
    Gauntlet Warbirds

  2. Scott Spangler Says:

    Greg, I won’t deny that your customers, regardless of their income, are dedicated to their aerial passion. But unless you have several thousand such students lined up at your hangar, they are the exception to my generalization, which I attempted to qualify with “for the most part.”

    In the similar vein, the steadily declining number of active pilots stands a bit more than a half million, and compared to the entire US population, they are the exception to the rule as well. If I’ve done the math right, they are .oo1 percent of the population. That’s not even a rounding error.


  3. Greg Morris Says:


    What data are you using to come to your conclusion about “rich people”?

    Your math is not correct regarding the active pilot population. 500,000 / 311,000,000 = .0016 or .16%. That is about half of the historical highest fraction of the population with active certificates, which we saw in 1980 with 800,000 active pilots, about .35% of the population.

    Greg Morris

  4. Dane Boicos Says:

    Good story. I imagine Virgin Galactic space flights to substantially decrease over the years. Just look at the costs of flying in the early days? It was reserved for the rich and famous. Now, anybody with a thousand bucks and a passport can can travel abroad! For what it’s worth, I have written a post at my blog about Virgin Galactic.

  5. John M. White Says:

    I think the current trend to create a class warfare based upon income inequality is not helpful. I owned an aviation insurance agency for 30 years and insured a lot of very wealthy people, but for the most part you would not have known it.

    They were passionate about flying whether as a pilot or an aircraft owner, and were willing to spend time, money and effort to insure a safe operation.

    As for the declining pilot population, it is scary. When I go to the local airports around here in Michigan there is no activity where just a few years ago they were busy with enthusiastic student pilots. It seems the young have lost interest in the adventure of flying airplanes.

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