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Changing the Stereotypes of Aviation

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.

October 19, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Becoming a Pilot at a Discount

Let’s be honest, cost is the single most prohibitive attribute of becoming a pilot.  Sure there are other reasons like fear, air sickness, and lack of interest, but for the vast majority of people I talk to, cost is the biggest issue, me included.

So how on earth can we make flying cheaper?

It is quite the tall order with fuel and insurance costs being as high as they are.  Not to mention the fact that airplanes themselves aren’t exactly cheap.  I actually just got a hold of a copy of The Pilot’s Guide to Flying on a Budget which is a great resource that I will be writing about more in the future, but it relates to the system as it currently exists rather than an actual reduction in cost across the industry.  The closest comparison that we can make might be to driving, but it isn’t quite the same.

Even a small plane like this Tecnam costs more than 10 average cars.

Even a small plane like this Tecnam costs more than 10 average cars.

Gas for your car costs approximately half as much as gas for a plane, depending on where you live obviously.  Insurance is also substantially higher due to the inherent risks of flying, as well as the greater cost of an airplane.  However, I think there is one major difference between the two markets that ultimately causes these costs to be as high as they are.

Simply put, there are a lot more cars and drivers out there than there are planes and pilots.

I don’t claim to be an economics expert, in fact I’m pretty sure I had to take one of my economics classes in college twice.  However, there is a principle that I think I understand, at least in very simplistic terms, and that is economies of scale.

For those of you that lack economic savvy like me, economies of scale means essentially that by producing something in larger quantities you can reduce the overall cost.  This is largely based on the fixed costs being distributed across a larger number of goods.

The best example that most of would recognize is stores like Costco and Sam’s Club.  It is cheaper to buy 10,000 diapers or 500 lbs of cheese because it only costs marginally more to manufacture, package, and ship that much than it does to do the same with 20 diapers or 2 lbs of cheese.

Please pardon my exaggeration, but that is the principle in essence.  In getting back to comparing driving and flying, there are a ton more cars out there than there are planes, thus pretty much everything associated with them costs more.  Driver’s Ed courses are a dime a dozen, which makes them cheaper than a flight instructor.  Cars are almost more common than people, which makes them much cheaper than a plane.  Think about it.

A brand new Cessna 172 costs somewhere in the vicinity of $300,000.  Even one that is 40 years old can cost $60,000.  Comparatively, a car that costs $300,000 would be a Bentley or something of that nature.  Thus, it is the people who can afford these types of cars that can also afford flying.

On a crew of 6 we had two females.  We need more of that.

On a crew of 6 we had two females. We need more of that.

Now, my point in this was not so spend an hour comparing cars and planes, but rather to point out that if we could increase the number of people flying we just might be able to reduce the costs to make it easier for people to afford.

As luck would have it I came across two articles today that related to just that topic.  The first is about how China is easing the rules to become a private pilot.  Prior to this announcement, which took effect last Sunday, obtaining a private pilot license in China was comparable to getting a commercial pilot license in the US, which is substantially more time-consuming, and thus more costly.

China is also working to open up its airspace to general aviation.  At the moment only about 20% of Chinese airspace is open to public use with the rest being restricted by the military.  In comparison, approximately 85% of US airspace is open to public use.  While these barriers are not present in the US we have barriers of our own, but there is a movement that is gaining steam that could lead to the growth we need, and thus possibly the reduction in cost that we want.

Dan Pimentel of the Airplanista Aviation Blog wrote about his Christmas wish for aviation in his contribution to December’s Blogging in Formation series.  In his article Dan expresses his lofty wish of having 1,000,000 active pilot certificates in the FAA database by the end of next year.  Just to give you an idea of what that would mean, there were approximately 610,000 certificate holders in 2012.  That includes pilots as well as student pilots.

With any luck I will be able to turn all three of these #avgeeks into pilots.

With any luck I will be able to turn all three of these #avgeeks into pilots.

While Dan admits to the loftiness of his goal he also provides a legitimate solution to this problem which includes three parts.  First, we need to tie aviation and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) together.  Second, the big 7 aviation organizations (EAA, AOPA, NBAA, HAI, GAMA, the Ninety-Nines, and Women in Aviation International) need to form a “power collective” as he calls it, to promote aviation.  Finally, that collective needs to push that STEM/aviation message to women and girls in junior high, high school, and college.

The number varies slightly depending on the report you read, but women pilots only make up about 6% of the pilot population.  That is just ridiculous when you think about it.  That means that of the approximately 610,000 certificate holders only 36,600 are women.  Now imagine we increase that number up to 50% of certificate holders being women, and we will get dang close to that 1 million that Dan dreams about.

Increasing the number of pilots is good for everyone in the industry as it helps to provide the variety that makes aviation so much stinking fun.  If increasing the pilot population also leads to a reduction in cost than all the better as that will only lead to even more growth thus more pilots, and even lower costs.  That is the type of cycle that I can buy into.

If that scenario did ever play itself out, then maybe the headline in The Beijing News associated with the article about China above may just become a reality:

“In the future, getting a private pilot’s license will be just as easy as getting an automobile driver’s license.”

December 2, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Remembering True Heroes of Aviation

As a member of the Air Force I regularly think about those that went before and left an amazing legacy for me and my contemporaries to follow.  They went up against incredible odds flying aircraft that went from inception to production in months, not the decades we see now.  On top of that they were actively engaged in conflicts where they were just as likely to die as to come back home.

One of my favorite activities is to listen to the stories of these great aviators who paved the way for the rest of us.  They have stories of courage and strength that my generation can’t begin to comprehend.

For a long time I have thought about how I could possibly honor them, or at the very least ensure that their memory is not lost.  There are thousands of these great men and women out there, and every day we lose more of them, and unfortunately many of their stories are lost with them.

I haven’t yet determined exactly how I will do it, but my goal is to archive as much of this history as possible in one place online so that others may be inspired by their story.  I want to collect stories, pictures, videos, anything that adds to the legacy of these amazing aviators.

I really want to collect the history of aviators from all of the major conflicts, as well as the minor ones.  I realize many of these great men and women have already died, but I am hoping their family or friends will be able to share their stories as well.  I want to collect as much information as possible including campaigns, battles, awards earned, and the other people that were there.

If you have something to contribute, I would love to hear about it in the comments with some way to contact you to collect more information.  The level of content I want to collect will take a lot more than a short comment, but it is at least a start.  I would also love to hear ideas of how I can make this venture successful so that we save as much of this history as possible.

Every single one of these people deserve to have their stories preserved.  It is not just the famous people who made a difference, but all of them.  Please help me to ensure their memory is never forgotten.

May 28, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Young Girl Taking Her First Ride in an Airplane a Reminder of Where Women of Aviation Week Should be Focusing

Today is International Women’s Day which is closing out Women of Aviation Week.  Two very important events that bring attention to those most wonderful of creatures: women; and an even more special group: female aviators.

There have been all kinds of different events all week that are geared towards getting girls excited about aviation, and recognizing the women that do some much to make aviation an industry where women can grow to their full potential.  The industry would truly be lacking were it not for all of the women involved.

While the video below may not have been specifically designed as an event for Women of Aviation Week, it no doubt had a special impact on that sweet little girl.  This is the kind of stuff that needs to take place if we are to get girls excited about aviation.

It is so awesome to watch her apprehension as they are getting ready to take off, and then how it instantly turns to pure joy at lift-off.  I must say I know exactly how she feels.  I felt the same way on my first flight, and have felt that same feeling over and over again practically every time I fly.

I won’t bore you with anymore commentary, but please take 5 minutes and watch this video.  It nearly brought tears to my eyes thinking about when I will be able to do the same with my daughter some day.

March 8, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.