Dayton NAHA: A Model for the Rebirth of Aviation

By Scott Spangler on October 5th, 2015

Graphic design for the NAHA Aviation Writers SummitWhen the National Aviation Heritage Alliance, a coalition formed by the leaders of the 19 sites that comprise the National Aviation Heritage Area (both served by the NAHA acronym), invited me to its inaugural Aviation Writers Summit in Dayton, Ohio, I accepted without expectations. My anticipation of the event, which concluded last Friday afternoon, was eager because we would visit many of the sites that have long been on my aviation to-do list. But the symposium held a subtle surprise worth much more than tick marks on my selfish list of places I want to visit and things I want to do. It is a lesson for everyone in aviation that might hold the key to the industry’s rebirth.

If there has been a common denominator to the countless aviation media events I’ve attended for nearly three decades it is that the effort is focused on enlarging a single slice of the shrinking aviation pie. In a larger context, one could argue that the summit’s goal was the same, but scaling generalizations works in both directions. With 19 NAHA sites represented, not once during our daily interactions with their leaders at receptions or dinners, did any conversation, participatory or overheard, deviate from the shared goal of improving the lot of everyone involved. In many cases, the conversations delved into the ways the larger members, like the National Museum of the United States Air Force, have, are, and will support the whole.

clip_image002The symposium (its participants here with Amanda Wright Lane and Smithsonian aviation curator Tom Crouch at the 1905 Wright Flyer) was elegantly organized and efficiently run, and the defining example of it was the announcement to all during the reception at the National Aviation Hall of Fame before we all adjourned to the adjacent Air Force Museum for dinner. Explaining that when mixing different groups people tend to congregate with those they already know, to integrate the aviation writers and the individual NAHA site leaders the evening’s emcee, Susan Richardson, asked everyone to sit at the table indicated by the number on the back of our nametags. I was at No. 4. This resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable dinner conversation with the nine other people at the table because no single facet of aviation dominated it.

Promising to write about any of the NAHA sites was not a requirement for accepting the Aviation Writers Summit invitation. They would be thrilled if that happened, naturally, and they openly hoped that we aviation word merchants would become their advocates, which is the hope of every media event organizer. And they made one of me, but not because of my to-do items it ticked, but because of how it was organized and presented. That a diverse group from the aviation community on any scale can focus on efforts to sustain and improve the activities of all is evidence that aviation, at least at its birthplace in (as its residents call it) “Dayton O.” has a future. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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9 Responses to “Dayton NAHA: A Model for the Rebirth of Aviation”

  1. John W Says:

    General Aviation will not come back until there are new, four-place, 160 hp, factory-made airplanes that cost no more than two times the U.S. median income — as was the situation from the 1950s through the mid-1980s. (Note: A few years, a new Cessna 172 cost slightly more than twice the medium income; mostly it was below.)

    AND the non-flying public will need to be made aware of General Aviation, and made interested enough to drag them away from their 500 channels of cable entertainment on their giant TVs, the Internet, their smartphones, their ATVs, their PWCs, and the other distractions we have today that didn’t exist or were less common during the heyday of GA.

  2. Scott Says:

    I couldn’t agree with John W’s comment more….if you don’t make ownership affordable it’s an ever shrinking market.

  3. Steve L Says:

    Until the costs are in line with people disposable income the decline will continue. In order for GA to survive it has to look for people that have a lot of disposable income and have a need for aviation. That is a finite club of people. All others need not apply.

    Even if buying a used plane is more cost effective, maintaining it is what causes the financial hardships.

    GA needs to do a better job of advertising its potential. As the pilot population shrinks, the cost of doing GA related anything will go up to such an extent that it will be untenable at any level for all but the wealthy.

  4. JBS Says:

    Income for working people, even professionals, has stagnated or declined for the past three decades. Can’t say that about inflation; the FED is dedicated to causing a 3% decrease in the value of the dollar every year – inflation. That means a “professional”, like an engineer for example, has to get a 3% raise very year just to stay even. Wage earners have decades of making up lost income to do to be able to play any part in a GA recovery. That’s not very likely with currently dominating political/economic theory and practice. Add to that the effective hostility of airports to visitors – who might be terrorists! – and the GA subsidence problem is compounded.

  5. JMC Says:

    When there are affordable and useful airplanes, GA will thrive. GA’s problems have very little to do with airplanes or technology, but have a great deal to do with the larger economic and political conditions as previous posters stated. For example, AOPA’s “new” 152 at $100,000 is about the most useless thing going. Who, in any state of mind, would pay that much for a 152? That’s not an advancement, it’s an example of everything that’s wrong with GA.

  6. Larry Says:

    I made the decision to hang up my wings last year because I could not handle the expense of flying while trying to live a somewhat normal life. It just wasn’t possible any more on my sub-six-figure, middle-class income. Lower the cost of flying to one-half to one-third of what it is now, and GA might have a fighting chance of survival, with emphasis on the word “might”.

    While I have met a good number of talented young pilots, the effort required to accumulate the proper knowledge and skills for flying is more than a sizable portion of our current crop of millennials is willing to expend. Of course I am generalizing when I refer to a generation that seeks quick fixes and instant gratification through as little thought as possible. John W is correct about all the distractions presented to the public these days. Sensory overload on a daily basis keeps many from taking on extra challenges that make life a bit more interesting and rewarding. The ever-shrinking percentage of people who rise above the fray and consider learning to fly are often turned away once they see the financial commitment involved.

    Now when I travel long distances around the country, I drive rather than fly. Getting there by car is less than one-tenth the cost of flying there myself. Sure I miss the fantastic views from above, the speed and the fun of breaking out of clouds to a welcoming runway directly in front of me. But when I factor in the price difference, my chosen mode of travel becomes a no-brainer.

  7. Aviation Writers Summit spotlights NAHA sites - National Aviation Heritage Area Says:

    […] promote aviation and preserve its history.” Scott Spangler, editor of the, described the Heritage Alliance’s cooperative effort as “a model for the rebirth of […]

  8. Ken Towl Says:

    As one addicted to flying things since childhood, I’m not convinced GA problems are simple economics. If potential flyers are caught by the dream, they will work to find a way into the air. Lowering barriers is helpful – but what is critical is keeping the dream alive. The key question – how can we pass on the glories of flight to those who have never experienced them?

  9. Christopher Sims Says:

    One way of keeping the GA dream alive in my opinion, is as follows. Here in Melbourne Australia our premier helicopter charter operator announces each year custom packagers to a number of major events around the state. I’m sure that this goes a long way toward keeping GA at least partly accessible down under.
    If you want to take a look, then here is the link to the events list.
    As you will see, one way transfers to some of the events are priced from as low as $145.

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