Stereotypes are the simple reality of life. While they often have a negative connotation, that is not necessarily the case. There are good and bad stereotypes and there is also a certain level of truth to all stereotypes whether they are positive or not.
One of the biggest things that is killing the aviation industry as a whole are the stereotypes that many people associate with the world of flying. One of the most common stereotypes that gets talked about regularly is that you have to be a rich person to fly on anything other than an airliner. While money can be restrictive to the aspiring aviator, there are some great references out there, most notably to me being Brent Owens, the Fixed Wing Buddha, for ways to fly as inexpensively as possible.
Personally, I think there are two much bigger stereotypes that we must change if we want to see a resurgence in the industry.
The first is that aviation is only for boys. While there was a time that women in aviation were either flight attendants or travel agents, that just isn’t the case anymore. I am well aware of the fact that there are substantially more men in aviation than women, but there are some serious powerhouses out there that are doing their part to change that.
One of the biggest voices, and more important examples, is Karlene Petitt. I don’t have the space to list all of her accolades, but the short list includes being type rated in just about any aircraft that starts with B7xx, incredible author (you should check out her books), grandma, and just because she had too much spare time, doctoral student. We need more incredible women like this that have not only made it to the top of the industry, but are actively promoting it.
We also need more of the major players in the industry to actively pursue and encourage women like Airbus recently did with their “Girls for the Future of Aeronautics” event at their Toulouse factory. Not only do events like this actively encourage women to pursue careers in aviation, it shows them how many different careers there are in aviation which is the second major stereotype that we must change.
Tell someone that you work in aviation, and 99 times out of 100 their next question will be, “Are you a pilot?” Not that there is anything wrong with that, I am trying to become a pilot myself, but pilots make up only a small percentage of the world of aviation. Even in the Air Force there are tons of jobs that are not done by pilots.
There are lots of different jobs with airlines which are relatively well-known, but there are also tons of opportunities at FBOs that are relatively easily attained. There are tons of jobs at airports that get entirely overlooked by the vast majority of the flying public. There are jobs for aeronautical engineers, mechanical engineers, public relations, social media, and even a few jobs left for navigators. However, we are a dying breed, which really just makes us more special.
The point I am trying to make is that aviation used to be an exciting environment that attracted the best of the best and that almost everyone dreamed about in some way, but somewhere along the way aviation lost some of that appeal. We need to start attracting those people who don’t want to be pilots but would love to work around airplanes.
There is a growing community of avgeeks brought together by the wonder of social media, but these people would work in aviation for free. We need to find the closet avgeeks and bring them into the fold where their passion can infect others and bring aviation into the next generation.
We are on the precipice of a major change in aviation, I can just feel it. We really just need each member of the aviation community to bring along a friend and the industry will be changed forever. Who knows, that friend you bring along may be the next Wright, Earhart, Lindbergh, or Armstrong. Or they may just be a guy with a PPL and a Piper Cub, either way we will be one step closer to changing the stereotypes that are holding us back from incredible growth.