Making Grass Roots Flying "Worth It"

It’s no secret that general aviation activity has slowed down in the past few years. Unfortunately, the increasing costs of fuel, insurance and other factors have made it difficult to justify our sport against competing hobbies like golf and outdoor family activities. But is general aviation dying or gone? No, it isn’t. In fact, it’s alive and well but it takes a different form today. Continuing to foster growth means adapting to those changes and embracing them.

When a prospective student learns to fly, the drive is usually based on the desire simply to fly an airplane. However, once the student begins to solo and feels that he or she has accomplished learning to fly, that student begins to look for other reasons to continue flying. Failing to help them see what they will be missing if they leave aviation is where we in the aviation community have fallen short.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about snowmobiling. He started out riding with his family and as the family grew, so did their involvement in the sport. Soon he was driving a full size pickup truck towing a large trailer full of sleds up to the upper peninsula of Michigan to spend the weekend. This friend was not an extremely wealthy person but decided that the cost in time and money was worth it.

Why was it worth it? Was it because he loved riding a snowmobile? Not exactly, it was worth it because he was with his family and friends sharing experiences that otherwise could not be had. The snowmobiles were the vehicles that brought everyone together.

When you consider the cost of earning a pilot’s license and maybe even buying an airplane, you have to ask yourself, “what would I be missing if I didn’t do this?” For many, the idea of traveling with a small airplane is cost prohibitive and less reliable than flying on the airlines. Flying around “boring holes in the sky” can also become tiresome and a person can only fly so many trips around the traffic pattern before he starts to look for something else.

This is where the aviation community comes in. Groups like the EAA, flying clubs and the FBO are the unofficial stewards of general aviation. It is up to these groups to provide the community a place for interaction with other pilots and their families in a fun and welcoming environment that makes the cost of entry worth it.

Here in Elkhart, there are a number of these groups already doing this and our own EAA Chapter 132 is a great example with Saturday morning breakfasts, Young Eagles and pot-luck dinners hosting interesting speakers. Indiana Flight Center is positioning its self to reach out to general aviation in all new ways for 2015 with events and activities that don’t take all day and don’t cost an arm and a leg. Cookouts, hangar flying, free lunch Wednesdays, flour bombing contests and a fly-in movie night are just a few of the ideas being passed around. Most importantly, we are starting a monthly newsletter so that area pilots can know what events are coming up and hear about the fun that happened last month.

General aviation is still a young sport and has changed tremendously over the past 100 years. The landscape is still changing and it’s up to us to embrace the changes we face. This means stopping telling stories about how it ‘used to be’ and start coming up with ideas that work today. We have to move forward together and show people that taking the journey to fly is still worth it.