Is Safety The Big Problem for GA?

After my last posting about the Redbird experiment with $1 avgas to see if cost is really the big drag on GA a longtime reader sent me an email saying cost isn’t the problem, it’s safety.

This thoughtful fellow knows many people who have the resources and the travel requirements to be perfect candidates for owning and flying their own airplanes. But the risk in GA is keeping them from even considering learning to fly. Or more typically, the perception of risk by a family member is the barrier to becoming a pilot.

I am sure he is correct because I know people who feel the same. I bet you do to.

To those of us already involved in private aviation issues like high cost, complexity, changing rules, airport restrictions and so on are the big issues. Those are our biggest concerns because we have resolved the issue of safety to our own satisfaction. For a person who is already a pilot safety just doesn’t enter the calculation. The high cost of fuel can keep a pilot from flying as much as he would otherwise, but has no effect on the person who believes GA is just too risky.

Is there anything those of us who are already in the GA club can do about this?

Obviously, improvement in private flying safety is essential. Our world overall has simply become less risky. Highway fatalities have been cut dramatically. Workplace accidents that were so common 50 or 60 years ago are now rare. Just about everything we use in normal life from a lawn mower to a coffee maker carries less risk than it did before.

We can decry the “nanny state” and the impact of trial lawyers putting warning labels on everything, but the trend is clear. Our society expects activities of just about any sort to be safer than they were even a few years ago. GA safety improvement hasn’t kept up. We do need to do better.

But I think there is a model for GA to look to that demonstrates risk elimination isn’t the only path to success, and that is motorcycle riders. The number of motorcycle riders isn’t exactly booming, but the industry did slow or even stop a decline in the number of riders, and with the economy improving, so are motorcycle sales.

Clearly a motorcyclist accepts a higher level of risk than a driver. I can’t articulate the reasons people ride motorcycles, but safety cannot be the number one priority, or even high on the list. In fact, many motorcyclist actually want to assume at least some level of additional risk by not wearing a helmet, or at least not being required to wear a helmet.

I don’t know any biker who expects to be in a serious accident, or even a skin scraping minor one for that matter. And I don’t know a pilot who expects to crash. Both groups know it can happen, and almost certainly know someone who has had an accident. But we pilots and bikers have made the personal risk-reward tradeoff to suit ourselves and have accepted the risk.

Some level of risk for the person who just wants to fly their own airplane is acceptable to a pilot. But that same risk level is not acceptable to a person who wants to travel from A to B with speed, comfort and the convenience of going on your own schedule.

Cirrus understands that the traveler will not always accept the same level of risk as the GA pilot and that’s why the whole airplane parachute has been successful. People—most frequently spouses—who would not consider traveling in a GA airplane without a chute agree that the chute provides enough obvious, understandable, and reliable backup that the risk becomes acceptable.

The way I see it we have two safety concerns in GA, and they are not the same. For the person who just wants to fly for the challenge and freedom of it we need to reach a level of risk that keeps that person’s family, friends and loved ones from scotching the idea. But for the person who wants to travel conveniently on their own schedule in a private airplane we need to offer much lower risk than we now have in GA.

In either case the perceived safety of GA flying is an impediment to growth in the number of pilots, sales of airplanes and hours flown. Is refusal to accept the risk a bigger problem for GA than costs or regulation? I don’t know. But I am sure that without safety improvements it will be ever harder to attract people to our favorite activity.

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87 Responses to Is Safety The Big Problem for GA?

  1. Eric7 says:

    Your reader is partially right. GA safety was much worse in the 70′s and plenty of people flew but people were also less risk averse then (and possibly not as aware of the real safety level of GA).

    Society is much more risk averse now than it was then and we are all to “blame.” Most of us grew up without bike helmets and safety belts in cars, etc. but we would never have let our children do the same. We taught them that risk is bad and it’s important to be “safe”. They listened to us! The idea of flying in a small airplane does not compute with them from a safety standpoint. I think what the new generation wants is more protection in the form of automation. The new autopilots are a step in the right direction – the “wings level” button on the Avidyne for instance. Even further, I think they’d like to get in an airplane and program it like an iPad to take them safely from A to B, and protect them from harm along the way. I know we old timers cringe at that, but I believe that’s where we’re headed.

  2. My company manages the maintenance of about 10% of the Cirrus fleet. I think the CAPS parachute system is terrific. It has an almost perfect record of “saves.” It’s expensive; the rocket must be replaced and the canopy repacked every 10 years at a cost of about $15K, so it adds about $1,500/year to the ownership cost. But I think most folks would consider that an acceptable cost if it prevented death or injury.

    But here’s the thing: The Cirrus — with its CAPS and it’s wall-to-wall glass-cockpit situational awareness and its TKS deicing gear and its 28G seats — has total and fatal accident rates that are no better than average for the piston GA fleet in general. Earlier in the product live of the Cirrus, its accident rate was worse than average. Now it’s just average.

    The Cirrus has the potential of being the safest single-engine piston GA airplane ever built. Why isn’t it achieving that potential?

    For that matter, why do piston twins have roughly the same total and fatal accident rates as high-performance piston singles do? Isn’t that second engine supposed to make the airplane safer? Why isn’t this borne out in the accident statistics?

    I have a theory about that.

    My theory is that human beings have some specific level of risk tolerance programmed into their DNA. Each person is different in this regard. But for a given person (pilot), when presented with technological improvements that should theoretically improve safety, the pilot unconsciously compensates for those improvements by engaging is riskier behavior that precisely offsets the effects of the technology.

    We’ve all seen this. Twin drivers routinely take off with known mechanical deficiencies that they’d never accept if they were flying a single. Pilots of airplanes with deicing equipment routinely tackle weather that they’d never tackle in a non-deiced airplane. In my own case, I have to admit that having nearly-realtime NEXRAD weather in the cockpit has caused me to be “bolder” in penetrating fronts and other convective weather.

    I don’t personally fly a Cirrus, but I’d be very surprised if the presence of the CAPS system and those other safety improvements doesn’t cause Cirrus pilots to be “bolder” than they would be otherwise — in other words, to take more risks. It’s just human nature to do that.

    If my theory is correct, then all attempts to make GA safer through technology will be futile so long as we have human pilots making the decisions.

    • Rodney Hall says:

      It isn’t about the actual safety of flying it is about the PERCEIVED safety of flying. Every YouTube video of a crash. Every news story of a plane crashing or landing due to an emergency increases the perceived risk. Thousands of people die in car crashes but it rarely makes the news so the Perceived safety of cars is good. Every time I hear of a crash I try and show how it is only on TV or the newspaper because it is a rare event and not because flying is more dangerous than other activities. Of course if people just stopped doing stupid things like landing gear up or running out of gas and crashing that would help.

  3. Bill Berson says:

    I don’t think safety is a big issue.
    Pilots get bored and quit flying not for safety, more for lack of any real purpose or use for the airplane.
    Sure, business types get some use from the airplane. But average people have no need for distance travel, and small airplanes are inconvenient for transportation.

    The focus needs to sport fun, not travel.
    Just read some of Paul Poberezny’s Homebuilders Corner columns from the Sport Aviation archives from the 1970’s, it’s all there.

    • “The focus needs to sport fun, not travel.”

      I could not disagree more. I’ve been a pilot and aircraft owner for 45 years, and I use my airplane strictly for travel, not for “sport fun.” Virtually 100% of my managed-maintenance clients (who typically fly high-performance singles and twins) use their airplanes for travel, not sport flying.

      Sport aviation is an important facet of GA, but it is surely not the dominant one. I’m fairly confident that more aircraft owners use their airplanes for travel than for sport. There certainly needs to be plenty of room in GA for both.

      • Bill Berson says:

        Of course you disagree Mike. You are a 100% GA guy and your articles are only about GA.
        I don’t understand why you are a staff writer for a Sport Aviation magazine. And it’s obvious your articles (good as they are) are used to advertise your business . You even mentioned your business again here.

        In the past, EAA was limited to sport aviation. Sport aviation included homebuilts, vintage, antiques, aerobatics and private maintained warbirds, not new Cirrus.
        Look, Paul Poberezny explained the conflicts from mixing Sport and GA. For example, sport guys avoid and don’t need the expense of control towers while GA guys want towers.

        I could post some direct quotes from Paul, if interested.

        • Mike Busch says:

          First of all, sport aviation is part of GA, not something separate.

          Second of all, the reason EAA ask me to write for Sport Aviation is that the total makeover of the magazine that occurred starting with the January 2010 issue was specifically intended to broaden the appeal of the magazine far beyond the scope of sport aviation. Perhaps you noticed that about the same time, EAA also hired Mac McClellan to head it publications division; Mac is the consummate certificated, high-performance, gadget-laden, business-use airplane guy.

          The fact is that the overwhelming majority of all EAA members fly certificated aircraft. Experimental aircraft represent a small, important, extremely vocal minority of EAA members in the 21st-century. Today’s EAA has grown far beyond the original scope envisioned of its founder. The decision to do that was made by the founder’s son, and EAA’s current leadership is clearly dedicated to continuing in that direction.

          EAA will never abandon the experimental segment of GA, but it will never again be limited to just that segment.

          • Bill Berson says:

            It’s true that the majority of current EAA members own certificated airplanes. But I think it is also true that majority of these airplanes are used for fun, not just business transportation like you and Mac. At least that was the data in 1970’s reported by Paul.
            Can you provide any recent reports that support your comment above? (“more aircraft owners use their airplane for travel than for sport”)

          • Mike Busch says:

            ‘Can you provide any recent reports that support your comment above? (“more aircraft owners use their airplane for travel than for sport”)’

            Well, how about this:

            EAA membership: about 170,000

            AOPA membership: about 400,000

            Of course, that’s not what you were looking for. But only organizations like AOPA and EAA would have access to that data.

            I suppose one might try to get it through the back door by analyzing the FAA registry and counting the number of high-performance non-aerobatic aircraft (presumably used for travel) versus other aircraft (presumably used for fun).

          • bdk says:

            The change to Sport Aviation totally turned me off. If I wanted to read that stuff, I would subscribe to Flying. To me the EAA filled the sport aviation niche market, while Flying Magazine covered the newer general aviation aircraft and the pilots that used aircraft for commuting/traveling or were building time to get into the airlines.

            Of course most of my flying was to the practice area and back and to an occasional airshow. I never had the time or interest for a significant number of long cross country flights, although I have done a few.

          • Rodney Hall says:

            My personal experience is the opposite. At the airport where my plane is hangared there are several EAA members. Out of the 8 I can think of off the top of my head only one has a part interest in a Cherokee. None of the others, including me, own a certified airplane. Our chapter meeting are about RV’s and who is building what, not the latest Cirrus. With the cost of certified planes and their maintenance I think experimental aviation is the growth area for the next decade. Apparently some companies, like Garmin, agree.

      • Bill Berson says:

        On page 9 of Sport Aviation March 1978 a comment frame EAA’s David Scott says:
        “Every survey that has been undertaken by the FAA or other reputable organizations has concluded that sport and recreational aviation account for more hours flown and more aircraft used for these purposes than all other segments of general aviation combined.” – David Scott

        Mike, EAA should stick with sport and recreation. Using airplanes for safe travel in most weather conditions (like you and Mac) requires a much greater amount of skill, recent experience and expensive airplanes, often twin engine. Actually, to fly safely in all weather requires a skill level almost of a pro pilot.

        Sport flying doesn’t include the need to get anywhere in bad weather, so could be safer, in theory.
        Again, EAA should focus on promoting sport flying.

  4. Mike Massey says:

    When you discuss risk versus reward with someone who really never experienced the freedom and the cool factor of personal aviation, you are in a one way conversation.
    People didn’t buy power steering in cars or refrigerated air conditioning without first experiencing it multiple times. People need to be exposed to the luxury repeatedly before they understand the value. How do you do that with GA?
    The dirt cheap commercial airline fares are certainly a factor.
    In 1979 (the biggest year for GA sales) you could buy a new or fairly new airplane that would legally carry 4 or 5 people 800 or 900 miles non stop for about $150,000 ($400,000 in todays money). Name any new or fairly new airplane that you can buy today for under 1.5 million dollars that will do that? They do not exist.
    High cost of personal aviation has to be a huge factor. However, many people who are afraid to fly small airplanes do have motorcycles, fast cars, use drugs, use alcohol, etc. Personal responsibility is a huge factor that no one ever mentions. Flying your own airplane is all about personal responsibility and personal responsibility is being banished in the USA. It’s worth adding to the list of reasons aviation is in decline.
    I was exposed to personal aviation long before I could afford it through my job.
    Without the reward part of the equation the risk takes center stage.

  5. Roger Halstead says:

    GA safety is the result of a very diverse group of pilots, many of which stop practicing the day the get their license. There are many who still fly mechanically (over half from my experience)and who do not take recurrent training. There are those who earn their instrument rating (just in case) but stay out of the clouds.

    Then at the other end you have the pilot who practices whenever he/she gets the chance and strives for perfection, knows the airplane’s limitations and their own.

    The risk for these groups are drastically different, but they are GA so they are all grouped the same. That number is not realistic as the risk depends on each and every pilot. However business and family view the number for all of GA.

    Me? I was far more comfortable flying my own plane than setting back in the buss.
    Setting back there in an overloaded DC10 ( when carry on meant all you could carry) and feeling the wheels tuck under as the nose comes up on rotation had me thinking that “sometimes it’s better not to know what’s going on”.

    But GA is not held to the same standards as commercial which meant a lot more people can afford to fly. Unfortunately to many, flying is just a convenience of getting from point A to B faster and not having to go through check out or setting in a terminal for hour waiting for a connecting flight.

    I’d say for most, being current is good enough and do not work on being proficient.

    There are a few who fly for the joy of flying and strive for perfection. It’d be interesting if we could break these out, but the numbers are small enough that to separate them out statistically would be difficult.

  6. Jeff Welch says:

    Safety is not the primary issue for the lack of pilot starts, expense and perceived expense (the spouse) are the two major road blocks. Growing up in the 60′s there were flying clubs and flight schools on every airport. “Joe the plumber” flew aircraft in the 60′s and shared expenses with 8 or 20 other pilots. Flying in the 60′s was no less expensive than it is today. Flying wasn’t as safe 50 years ago as it s today. Flying clubs died in the 80s and with it went Joe’s future in aviation along with the support system of flight schools, CFI’s, shops, etc. As an industry we must put Joe back in the air by creating state of the art flying clubs to reduce costs. Ease of entry and exit from a club, cost sharing, focus on training and safety, credit card and computer based operation…it can be done. Share the air will work and is the future of GA as we have known it. God bless.

    • Doug D. says:

      A C172 in 1960 cost $9500 new. That’s $75,000 today. Checked the price of a new 172 lately?

      • Jeff Welch says:

        In comparrison to family income flying was expensive in the 60′s and it remains expensive today. However, today there is a lot more competition for a families money, such as housing, health care costs, college etc.

        “Joe the Plummer” , or an average wage earner, was able to fly in the 60′s because of flying clubs. Flying clubs could be found at most airports. Because Joe flew, his children were exposed to aviation and some of them fly today. Flying clubs reduced costs and created an opportunity for a lot of pilots that may not have been able to go it alone.

        When flying clubs vanished by the 80′s so did the flying opportunity for the average wage earner.

        Of course no one single issue is totally to blame for the declining pilot population. Lack of CFI’s for the past 20 years is a culprit too. I see the CFI supply increasing (in the future) as FAR 121 has changed to require FO’s more flight experience before filling the right seat (BUF Colgan crash). The CFI path was historically a time builder for those seeking airline careers. When airlines started hiring 250 hour FO’s the CFI supply dried up.

        Total pilots is nearly 1/2 of what it was 40 years ago. This in and of itself is a crisis, but compared to the total population on a per capita basis it is much worse as the population has grown by 25%. As an industry we must correct the problem. Modern up-to- date flying clubs will be part of the solution to the pilot shortage. Flying must be made available to the average wage earner. I am confident that organizations such as EAA and AOPA will rise to the challenge.

        God bless.

        • Snaucler says:

          Having potential airline pilots who are “building time” as instructors is not necessarily an improvement. What we need are instructors who want to teach not people just putting in time. CFI’s who are not engaged with their students will drive people away for GA.

  7. brett hawkins says:

    The comments break pretty clearly between the “professionals” and the recreational flyers. I got into flying late (age 38) but didn’t worry about safety in general terms because my dad flew rag wings out of Boise for 500 (strictly VFR) hours in the 1950s. He loved it, and never had a serious problem.

    I fly a very basic Glasair 1 TD. While constructing it, I spent a lot of time researching the topic “how to kill yourself in your Glasair”. More than a few have managed it.

    I chose to eliminate a number of documented pilot-killers by following the KISS principle for all systems, esp. fuel, and opting to stick to VFR. I don’t fly at night anymore. People who enjoy flying do not hesitate to fly with me. OTOH, I know a lot of people who won’t go near a small aircraft based on general principles.

    My vehicle selection goes like this: bad weather? Use the car. Fine weather? It’s a toss-up among the Finn dinghy, the Ducati and the Glasair. Each is carefully inspected and maintained.

    Am I an unsophisticated, uncommitted rube? Probably, but I am still alive and I still enjoy flying (and driving and sailing and riding).

  8. William McIntosh says:

    Good column, Mac. Safety is certainly a factor that may be keeping some people away from General Aviation, although I think that most of these folks are engaging in a lot of self-doubt. And who can blame them from the way aviators often strut about proclaiming the necessity of having “the right stuff” and being steely-eyed supermen who love danger? Probably most of the people who cite safety as a factor are really afraid of themselves, of their own perceived shortcomings, rather than being afraid of a small airplane.

    In looking over the responses to Mac’s column in the past few months, I’ve seen high cost, lack of utility, boredom, and safety cited as a reason for the decline in flight operations and new pilots in training.. All of these ‘reasons” are just excuses and are really baloney. Flying is just as safe, useful, and inexpensive as you are willing to make it in return for reaping a much larger reward than whatever you have invested in it… depending on your commitment to reaping that reward.

    The truth is that some or all of these factors may be reasons why YOU fly less or have quit, but it doesn’t explain the overall decline. Look. No one is really out there marketing flying as a lifestyle. And that’s what modern personal aviation is–a lifestyle . Airframe manufacturers are too busy trying to sell small lots of trainers to “the world market” or going to some in-house once -a -year convention (that no one in the general public ever heard of) to market to the huge number of potential pilots and owners that are right here, right now? In short, it’s the same old people staying in the same old places selling to the same old people in the same old way, and with not that much enthusiasm. General Aviation needs people who believe in its promise, to other people like themselves, not people who are ready to quit because it’s changed over the years.

    When was the last time you saw an ad for a brand-new Cessna Skyhawk on TV?

    Why not?

    • Doug D. says:

      There is no truth, only perception. Public perception is a huge obstacle. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them my plane is as cheap, maybe cheaper to own and operate then their SUV. I make much less than most of those people do too.

    • Doakley says:

      William McIntosh is absolutely correct. Our biggest problem in GA is failure to bring in new people. By and large we keep focusing on the same people, who just keep getting older. How can GA possibly grow or even sustain with this approach? It cannot. We must go where the people are. We keep wanting them to come to us (the airport). This is fundamentally wrong. Mr. McIntosh asks an excellent question, “When was the last time you saw a C172 advertised on television?” When was the last time you saw a GA aircraft on display in a public place, like a mall? go where the people are; don’t make them come to you. Marketing to ourselves, we are preaching to an ever smaller choir.

  9. Richard Montague says:

    Safety is not THE big problem, if GA planes completely quit crashing it would not be the salvation of GA. I’m not at all sure there is a “THE big problem”. Likewise, if avgas prices were cut in half the pilot population would not double. Even if the FAA were actually functional in the manner they should be, it would not create aviation heaven. There is no one silver bullet that will bring back the good old days. There is a smorgasbord of problems, real and perceived, that must be addressed for us to even maintain what we have. Some of these problems are aviation specific, others are societal and economic. Every potential pilot has to juggle the myriad of demands of discipline, health, time, costs, other obligations, training, regulatory compliance, ability, and above all, commitment. Even those of us who have been longtime aviators have to periodically re-evaluate our situations and decide whether the game is still worth the candle. Too often lately I have heard the sad refrain, “It just isn’t worth it anymore. “

    • Bob Johnson says:

      You’re absolutely right, but it’s hard to write a blog posting in which the answer to the problems of GA is “everything” :-)

      I think it would be far more effective if the GA powers-that-be focused less on perceived “problems” and more on solutions, particularly those that involved keeping currently active pilots active. Start by getting the driver’s license medical in place for private VFR flying in planes less than or equal in size and capacity to the average SUV. Then work hard on making auto gas as convenient and available as Avgas at every airport. Push hard to get SWIFT or some other substitute non-leaded fuel available for the non-auto-capable fleet as soon as possible. Ease up on the more burdensome regulations, like those that prohibit most owner maintenance on certificated Part 91 aircraft. There are plenty of other good ideas out there as well, but those would be a start. You probably wouldn’t see hordes of new pilots, but at least you’d staunch the bleeding of the pilot population we already have, and wouldn’t be discouraging the newcomers quite so much. Most of these “problems” are really nothing more than a century of cruft and special interests making it impossible for GA to evolve and adapt–like everything must–to a changing world.

  10. Stu Baxter says:

    I would like some kind of comparison to driving a car, riding a motorcycle, walking down a urban street. We all know that Darwin’s law is in effect in all endevors not the least is in the art and skill of flying an airplane. Every magazine spends way too much time focusing on crashes and safety in instead of on training and improving ones skill. I think flying is pretty safe. I think there is a group of folks that will be afraid of flying no matter what the record. Let’s face it you’re more likely to get hurt going to the bathroom in the middle of the night than you are to get hurt in a airliner yet people are still afraid to fly on the airlines.
    Our mantra in our modern society in “be afraid, be very afraid” of everything. We will only solve this problem when we get back to the mantra of “going where no man has gone before” instead of taking councel of our fears at every turn.

    • Mac says:

      Hi Stu,
      We all would like the answers to your questions, but the information doesn’t exist. The problem is we only know the number of serious and fatal aviation accidents, not the exposure. Unlike airline flying where departures, miles and other statistics are carefully recorded, the FAA can only guess at how much and what type of GA flying happens. That estimate is based on the annual survey of GA airplane owners.
      One way to compare is the number of fatalities per 100,000 vehicles. As of 2010, the most recent I can find, there were around 7.9 million motorcycles in the U.S. In nearly all states these are bikes with engines larger than 50 cc displacement. The motorcycle fatality total for the year was about 4,500. That means there were about 57 fatalities per 100,000 motorcycles.
      There are about 225,000 GA aircraft of all types. There were about 450 fatalities in the year. That is about 200 fatalities per 100,000 GA aircraft.
      To make GA look a little better we can compare fatal accidents instead of number of fatalities. There were about 260 GA fatal accidents in each of the most recent available years. That would be about 119 fatal accidents per 100,000 GA aircraft in a year.
      Mac Mc

  11. Glenn Darr says:

    I have owned aircraft since 1988, and flying has always been “recreational fun”, with an occasional trip. I try to make each flight as best as I can, but I mostly enjoy being up in the air. I have ridden motorcycles since God knows when. I have had my “hospital time” because of them, too. But that does not deter my enjoyment of riding one. I always hope for a safe ride, wear a helmet and jacket, and do the best I know how. I am 68, and I am going to have fun until I or the world runs out of gas!
    As far as twins go, I heard the 2nd engine is only to get you to the scene of the accident.
    Stay safe!

    • Stu Baxter says:

      I totally disagree. I can fly my TC around on one engine all day. There is that critical period during takeoff when you better just pick your spot to put it in. Guess what, if you are in a single and it stops running you had better just pick your spot to put it in.

  12. Bill Berson says:

    I found this 2010 (most current) aircraft use survey:

    It lists for primary use:
    Personal – 150,854 aircraft
    Business – 21,666 aircraft

    I don’t know what percentage of personal use is travel or just recreational.

  13. Greg Spicer says:

    Mac, Great article.
    After some forty years riding motorcycles I quit as it was just too risky. My wife was happy about this decision. Now at 59 years, I’ve gotten my Private Pilot license. She now thinks that I’ve completely lost my mind. My co-workers think that flying a small plane is about as safe as base jumping. Something that only crazy people would do. Reckless, foolhardy and irresponsible. Not the reputation I’d like to see. It won’t be easy to change this.
    Thanks for the great work.

  14. Brian says:

    Hi Mac, Great article. After reading some of the previous comments and from my own experience of flying for over 25 years, there is no way to separate GA and EAA as Mike Busch pointed out.

    But I have a slightly different problem. My partner and I recently upgraded from our T210 to a TBM 700 (1992 model). 95% of my flying is for business purposes, but always try to get to Oshkosh (what a place!).

    About a year ago, my youngest son joined me in the business. He has flown a few times in the 210 before coming to work with me. He flew with me on business trips during the transition training with a TBM certified pilot required by insurance (after a 6 day course at Flight Safety which occurred beforehand). He has flow with me and other colleagues from work. The other workers all have no issue, but my son does not care to fly in small planes. (How I wish this had come up before making the offer for him to leave his previous job to join me.)

    This really upsets me. Wanted to have him fly on a business trip today, but he came up with excuses to justify working on other projects. Do you have any suggestions for helping him overcome his “safety” concerns? I have suggested he take a couple basic flight lessons to help him understand what is going during flight, but he is not interested. His older brothers can’s wait to go flying and always join me at Oshkosh.

    Hundreds of people can die each day in car accidents nationally, but very few make the news unless they cause a traffic delay. But when a GA plane crashes for any reason, it can make the national news. I believe this “hype” “journalism” (and I use the word journalism loosely) has caused the safety concerns that you refer too.

    Not sure what to do. I refuse to pay for airline tickets when I am flying the plane, just for him to join me for a week at a customers plant setting up a new program.

    Any suggestions from you or your readers?

    • Stu Baxter says:

      Trade him in for a rational person.

    • Mac says:

      Hi Brian,
      There is no data to show that flying in GA airplanes is as safe as driving, for example. Even when flying a very capable airplane such as a TBM turboprop single. And nothing comes close to the major airlines in this country since they have not had a passenger fatality in 12 years. Even the regional airlines have had only two fatal accidents in that 12 year period. Amazing.
      But GA airplanes such as a TBM flown by a pilot who receives thorough initial training, and then recurrent training, can be very safe. As safe as a major airliner? No, because nothing is. Unless the discussion can be moved away from the safety perfection of the airlines to a reasonable level of safety vs. comfort and convenience of a trip in a TBM there is no solution.
      The person who was president of the publishing company that owned my previous magazine for many years would not fly in small business jets. To him a Citation XL was just too small and he wouldn’t get in it. A Challenger or Gulfstream was fine, but nothing smaller. He is a smart and successful guy and knew his attitude was not rationale, but he couldn’t change.
      The only way you may be able to convince your son of the value of the small risk tradeoff in flying in your TBM is to both go on the same trip. You fly the TBM and he goes on the airlines to meet you at the destination. If his experience on the airline versus your trip in the TBM doesn’t convince him, then I’m out of ideas.
      Bottom line is that when we fly ourselves we do trade some risk for everything else we value.
      Mac Mc

      • Bill Berson says:

        EAA should do a detailed study or survey of why people chooose to use small airplanes and how they use them.
        The FAA General Aviation survey is not that detailed or useful.

      • William McIntosh says:

        Mac, I would say that your former magazine owner just didn’t know enough about the very activity he was hoping to promote and profit by.

        Now, in reference to small aircraft, what are people really afraid of? I would answer that there are 2 main fears–1) a fear of falling, and 2) a feeling that they themselves lack the capability to engage in what they perceive as an activity too demanding for their abilities.

        Properly engaged, both fears are manageable in reassuring an otherwise interested party that flying small airplanes is safe.

        But merely to cite statistics, as you do, is misleading. You reach
        the conclusion through statistics that personal flying can never be as safe as airline flying, and therefore that safety gap is an assumed risk by the personal aviator. While that may be true on an aggregate level, it is meaningless to the personally -flown pilot in determining risk.

        Why? Because the only statistics that really matter to an individual pilot is experienced risk, that is, how many accidents has he or she personally experienced while flying?

        If you have experienced none, then flying has been pretty damn safe for you…although you probably had a just plain lucky moment or two along the way…as do the airlines.

        …And you can duplicate any airline operation if you so choose, down to flying with a copilot, recurrent training, and conservative operating principles.

        I ride motorcycles in addition to being a pilot…once you believe, really believe, in gyroscopic stability as an operating principle, it all becomes a lot safer. I’ve never put down a motorcycle. As far as flying is concerned, pushing back my own levels of ignorance and coming to believe in the principles that keep my bird safely aloft at night, -and through clouds, wind, rain and snow- has been one of the accomplishments of my life of which I am most proud. And I promise you that my wings have never fallen off.

    • John says:

      Yes, the news is GA’s image problem, due to the overwhelming ratio of negative (crash, fire, death) article to positive ones. If we could eliminate fuel mismanagement issues from the fleet, there would be quite a bit less media fodder.
      I have two children who like to fly GA aircraft, and one that has no interest at all. He is also my youngest. Birth order does seem to affect risk tolerance, but at least in my case the youngest likes motorcycles and I can share that with him. If I were you, I would find a way to have the youngest manage the shop, so I could fly even more!
      The cost of flying is steep for me, but I would fly at least twice as much if my wife would fly with me. Before our first was born, she actually was taking flying lessons. After having children she worried that the kids would become orphans. Now that they are older, she just does not want to fly.
      I am not sure if I have a damaged frontal lobe that is preventing me from seeing the risk, or if she is the irrational one.

  15. Pingback: Thursday trivia #97 | Paul's Down-Home Page

  16. Gary Motley says:

    I too believe that the biggest problem facing general aviation is the public’s perception. The perception that its too expensive, too unsafe, too unreliable and just to much trouble to learn to fly. I do not believe that the overall accident/fatality rate in general aviation is terrible. I believe that the fatality rate is stagnant because it is at the “sweet spot” already. One must accept that such an activity does present it’s own set of hazards that one must accept to fly. Until recently, I believe that the FAA and others thought that advanced automation in the cockpit was the answer to safer flight. Now, I hear that those same people are saying that perhaps it’s lack of piloting skills. I believe that not much will change because of human nature in the choices we make and the actions we take. I am am dumb founded by all the press the NTSB and aviation groups give this topic when compared to the much, much higher fatal injury list of other activities. Does a couple hundred accidents per year really compare to the thousands and thousands of accidents with cars, bikes, motorcycles, boats, trains, and pedestrian accidents every year? We need the FAA to become general aviations friend to promote the growth of aviation and not to be the foe it has so long been. We need advertising to promote GA to the masses. Advertising kind of like Honda’s that stated “You meet the nicest people on a Honda motorcycle”. That slogan was believed to be an undeniable force in changing the perception of the person riding motorcycle as being a criminal to just an ordinary guy/gal having fun with an innocent activity. We need “welcome signs” not warning signs at our airports to invite people through the fences, gates, and guards. And we truly need a mass production means of lowering the cost of new aircraft to a point the we can have two in every garage just like with our cars.

    • Stu Baxter says:

      Can we start by convincing out trade magazines to not have 14 articles in each edition talking about crashes and screwups? How about packing said same magazines with articles about the joy of flying, all the convieence of GA and all the beautiful parts of the country you get to see.

  17. Bill Berson says:

    The FAA survey (link below) shows that for 1-3 seat airplanes, only 61% are active.
    I bet the total registered airplane numbers will also drop dramatically after the recent reregistration process culls the dead airplanes.

  18. Edward says:

    I think one of the problems is that many companies have business travel policies that prohibit use of GA, even a personally owned aircraft flown solo. The includes such aviation centric companies as Rockwell Collins and L-3. There is no prohibition on use of a motorcycle for business travel, but a specific one against flying yourself.

    • Brian says:

      Amazing that companies that manufacture GA aircraft equipment would prohibit their employees from using their GA planes. I would like to see a complete list of companies trying to sell equipment to GA that prohibit their employees from using GA posted so I could be sure not to purchase equipment from those companies. “You are either with us or not.” No doubt they have layers on staff or retainer that do not know squat about what GA can do for a company!

      Mac – can you have your staff work on this list? I think it only proper that us GA folks should only support companies that market us their products but limit their employees from using GA.

      No doubt motorcycles are far more dangerous than planes. So where do these manufacturers come up with these restrictions?

      My company has(had) an insurance broker that told our folks “just tell him he can’t fly for business”. Thank God for an office manager that understands what GA has done for me and our company. There is no way for me to cover the customers I have with out a plane! No doubt my planes over the past 25 years have allowed me to grow the business and allow me to keep my sanity and my marriage together. I fly all over the US and it allows me to accomplish so much more than I could flying commercial.

      • Mike says:

        Lawsuits not insurance companies are to blame for this situation. We have a society trained by teachers in American classrooms, to avoid personal responsibility and trust our government along with money grubbing lawyers and ignorant jurors more than our own judgement. Liability in our country is based on deep pockets not anything else. It is a shame.
        Somebody tell me, how can we turn this around until we start teaching real freedom and responsibility in our classrooms?

  19. Dana says:

    Safety is not the problem. Available income is. People just don’t have any disposable income. Airplane costs come out of disposable income. Even if you do have a little left over at the end of the month and you have half a brain, you are saving for retirement not spending money on an airplane. By the way, retirement occurs at 50 now because your company will fire you at 50 to avoid the higher costs. According to federal figures, the average American household’s wealth declined by a staggering 40 percent since President Obama took office, wiping out nearly 20 years’ worth of wealth accumulation and growth; middle-class families bore the brunt of that decline, by the way (what else is new?). In real numbers, that’s a decline from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010, which is about where Americans were in 1992.

    • Mike says:

      Dana, you are exactly right.
      Both prosperity and personal responsibility are the enemy to our current administration. Productive people are under attack and people who are on the take seem to love it. We need to speak out at every opportunity. It is Socialism and nothing more or less.

  20. Cary Alburn says:

    Whatever we do, we seem to preach only to ourselves. Back in the hay-day of GA, we saw ads from the major manufacturers in the popular media, not just in GA publications. Granted, some of those were pretty far-fetched, extolling flying as easy as walking, with landomatic landing gear and such. But now the only manufacturer which sells itself to the masses is Cirrus–and that won’t resurrect GA, not at their cost–gosh, Ma, that parachute costs as much as our Honda! But otherwise we don’t sell aviation to anyone except those who are already interested in aviation. That makes no sense.

    But even if there is an interest in aviation already, how do you convince anyone when the cost is so high? Gas is expensive, twice what car gas costs, and airplanes get lousy mileage compared to almost any land passenger vehicle–mine gets about 13.4 nautical mpg (15.5 mpg) in no wind, its interior is about the size of a compact car, and although it flies twice as fast as one can drive that compact car, it has almost none of the amenities of that compact car–it’s not air-conditioned, it has only the add-on cup holder I stuck on the side of the windscreen, only recently have I been able to pipe in tunes, its panel looks incredibly plain albeit cluttered with radios and instruments, and it’s 50 years old! I have to spend at least a couple thou a year to maintain it, and counting the upgrades I had to do to bring it into the 21st century, I could have bought a new luxury BMW or Lexus for much less.

    But back to the compact car comparison: I can get all that same comfort stuff that a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla has for $22,000, along with a padded, comfort oriented panel–but it still will get lousy mileage, and it’ll cost close to something like $365,000 to do it–that’s a new 172, and nearly twice that amount for the allegedly safer Cirrus SR22.

    And you don’t think cost is impacting GA?

    Safety of GA, or on the other side of the coin, risk of GA, isn’t the issue. Some people simply won’t fly–and you can’t convince them with statistics or comparisons to other modes of transportation. I’d be willing to bet that bungee jumping is relatively safe compared to a lot of recreational pursuits–but you sure won’t get me to voluntarily leap off of a 200′ platform with nothing but a bunch of rubber bands catching me from going splat.

    But you might convince those who are not already afraid of flying–until you hand them the bill. Go up for an hour in a rented 35 year old 172, and then tell your buddy that his half share is $65–WHAT?????

    The only way GA is going to resurrect is if it becomes a whole lot less expensive relative to other modes of transportation and other modes of recreation. Whether flying is for business or flying for pleasure, the cost is prohibitive for many people–or most people, if middle America is most people.

    In the words of Pogo Possum: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

    • Gene Kent says:

      Well put.


    • Mike says:

      I agree with everything you wrote.
      But, airplane companies are not getting filthy rich, they are still going out of business. Cirrus and Continental motors sold to the Chinese to avoid bankruptcy. So can somebody tell me, how much lawsuits and government regulations add to the cost of equipment and airplanes??? Is that the difference between aviation and everything else??? What else could it be? Are we so conditioned ourselves that we can’t see the obvious? Or is it just black magic?

  21. Josh says:

    I remember early on one of my instructors telling me that flying a Piper Arrow would be a real stretch of my abilities, so a few weeks later I got checked out in a C310 by someone else! There seems to be this group who want to make flying out to be harder than it really is.
    I tell my students regarding safety, that one of the neatest things about flying is that for the most part you can choose how much risk you want to take. I make it my job to help them know what is, and what is not risky behavior in an airplane – ironically many pilots don’t know.

  22. Paul Randall says:

    This may sound crazy, but bear with me. I’ve been flying powered aircraft since 1962 and gliders since 1997. I’ve had people decline a ride in a powered aircraft, but I’ve never had a person decline a ride in a glider. Furthermore, every person that I’ve taken up in a glider has been very positive about flying after the flight. Gliders are like sailboats – there is no ‘practical’ reason for them. They are certainly not ‘transportation’. People seem to be less afraid of gliders, so let’s start the skeptics out in gliders. Check for locations of glider operations. Then, treat a skeptic to a glider flight. I’ll bet you make a convert to flying as a result.

    • John says:

      So true! I still remember my first flight in a glider, 6 or so years prior to solo in a powered aircraft. The practical reason for them is for primary pilot training. Egypt used gliders for ab initio training of their air force cadets at some point. EAA should do a thesis on the cost reduction in private pilot training if gliders were incorporated in the first 15 to 20 hours.

  23. Jack Hohner says:

    As president of EAA Chapter 79 in Spokane, Washington, I am always trying to nurture and grow our chapter and encourage new pilots. Everyone always says: where are the younger people. Indeed our chapter meetings look like an AARP meeting. Surprisingly EAA national is responsible for the perception of flying safety. Here is an example:
    A young potential pilot walks into our clubhouse looking to learn how to fly. The conversation goes like this:
    Him: “Can I sign up for flying lessons here?
    Me: “No, we don’t give lessons or have a trainer for rent.”
    Him: “How about someone else on the field.”
    Me: “No, our last flight school closed three years ago.”
    Him: “Why doesn’t your club offer flight training.”
    Me: “We have tried but EAA national won’t let us.”
    Him: “Why is that.”
    Me: “They don’t want the risk.”
    Him: “But you guys are all about flying. If its that risky, maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about flying.” And then he leaves never to be seen again.
    That is pretty much the synopsis of what has happened several times. EAA National seems adamant about not allowing chapters to fly. Something about their deep pockets and risk of losing a lot of money. And yes, individual members can set up their own flying club…but that doesn’t get the job done for encouraging new pilots. EAA could make it happen if they wanted. The SSA….Soaring Society of America is a good model. We have a SSA chapter near us. They own and operate sailplanes and a tow plane. Membership is cheap as well as renting a sailplane. If we could copy that model at our chapter, I bet we could generate 20 new young pilots a year. We have that many that go through our ground school. (EAA allows us to teach ground school.) We have one of the nicest chapters in the country, 150 members and prime real estate on a great airport. All we need is EAA to stop scaring off new pilots.
    Jack Hohner

    • Brian says:

      Hopefully Jack Pelton is listening………….

    • Mike says:

      Very good comments, except for the fact that you can’t just ignore the Legal climate in this country. If you have assets you have a target on your back and the US constitution does not apply to you. The EAA can’t ignore that.
      The EAA should spearhead an effort to change the law and allow individuals the ability to accept the level of risk they can handle without their family being allowed to sue for ridiculous amounts of money.
      There is no place for personal aviation in a Socialist society with no middle class. We need to wake up and fight for our freedom and our country before it is too late. Lets face it, the enemy is right in front of us.

  24. stan sanders says:

    I have a patented VTOL aircraft ( Verticraft ) that I hope to have funded this month that will make the automobile obsolete just as Henry Ford made the horse and carriage obsolete in 1914. Mass production allowed affordability which was the main reason for Ford’s success and my success if the Veritcraft is mass produced. The two billion person increase in world population predicted in the next 20 years will cause global gridlock even if automated cars are built to minimize accidents. The world will have one giant parking lot. Details can be found at

  25. John Zimmerman says:

    I think Mac nails it here.

    Yes, costs are up, but millions of Americans can still afford to fly. Maybe fewer than the 70s, maybe it’s a different demographic. But there are plenty of people with the disposable income to do it–if they see value. That’s the key. My neighbor just spent $7,500 on a vacation, and he’s no millionaire. But he saw value in it. That’s a year worth of flying in some airplanes.

    He doesn’t fly, and would never consider it, because he thinks it’s unsafe. There are too many other options today we almost zero risk that he doesn’t spend a second re-thinking it. Flying? Not safe–next!

    The next generation of pilots never fought a war, always wore seatbelts behind airbags and can’t remember the last airline crash. We have to address the safety issue, but without eliminating our freedom that is so essential to flying. It’s a tall order.

  26. Phil King says:

    My wife and I recently flew to a wedding near Dallas. It was about a 2.5 hour flight in my club’s 1960 Comanche. Many others from my area drove the 8 hours in their SUVs, or flew in Southwest’s cattle cars. Two of the attendees flew personal airplanes to the wedding, me in my old Comanche, and another fellow in his RV-7A. During the festivities we both talked to the bride’s father about our respective flights, and he was obviously interested in hearing all about it. We told him about the wonderful convenience with no security lines, no waiting in crowded waiting rooms, no lining up according to our prioritized seating cards for boarding on the boxcar and no need to be at the airport 1 hour ahead of the flight. I don’t think we did a hard sell, we just told him the facts of our respective trips and some information about ourselves and about our airplanes. He subsequently has taken flying lessons and is soon to be a private pilot. No one had ever told him about personal flying before. This is how I think GA will gain pilots. We need to communicate the benefits, independence, and beauty of personal flying to the general public. True, there is a fatality rate in small airplanes that exceeds that of other modes of transportation. I do my best to keep current, trained, and keep the airplane maintained to mitigate the risk. For me, the risk-reward comes out in favor of GA. There have to be many potential pilots out there who will feel the same once they have someone simply tell them about all the benefits of personal flying.

    • Mike says:

      Exactly right. My Father in Law did the same thing after watching me fly all over the country for about 5 years. Without being repeatedly exposed to the luxury of flight, people do not understand the value.

  27. Murray Marien says:

    I got started late. I think I was 55+ when I took my first lesson. When it looked like I was going to continue my wife thought that she should have a look. I took her to the FBO and sat her in the passenger seat of a C172. I didn’t have my PPL so we just sat there and I demonstrated all the things I was taught to explain to a passenger.

    When we left I asked her about the experience. She said it was a bit high and claustrophobic in the plane. We hadn’t left the ground. I think she’s typical. You love it or you don’t.

    In her defense, she was my most common passenger in my Glasair II for the first few years. But she lost interest or decided she was never going to get use to flying so quit trying. On the other hand I’m signing up for some aerobatic instruction to increase my skills.

    Does that help explain the phenomena GA is experiencing?

  28. steve says:

    My eight plane is a 1958 C172 straight tail that I refurbished five years ago with my AI who is a sheet metal expert. Avgas was not a problem then. Now at my airport in Florida the price of avgas is holding at over $6.60/gal. Not many singles and twins are flying and the selling prices are down. The cost of training, replenishing the GA fleet, maintenance and avionics are also contributing to the slow death of GA. The FBOs, pilots, A&Ps and suppliers are unhappy….just ask around, except for the ones in the business of dealing with corporate America, the older planes and average
    aviators are on the way out because it costs over $50/hour to go the 400 nm to visit grandma and when you return home you’re out around $400 just for the fuel. Granny may be worth it but how many can afford it?

  29. Jim Accuntius says:

    I agree with the Pogo analogy. We are a big part of problem.
    Airports have become increasing unfriendly places for those who do not arrive by airplane. Fences, locks, signage and attitude… etc. Tells people if you aren’t a pilot we do not want you here!

    The decline in infrastructure many flight schools will not rent an airplane after you finish getting you certificate or rating. What image does that give of their confidence.

    Do the math what level of disposable income does it take to support 50 hours per year of flying even with the 10 to 15% savings of a club.

    My partner and I spend $1000 a month fixed costs for a 50 year old Comanche before we even burn any avgas. It would cost more to upgrade our 1980′ s avionics than the airplane would bring on the current market. Try and sell any airplane that burns more than 10gph most owners are shocked to find no interest from buyers.

    The activity of the 1970′s may have been a bubble based on VA paid training.
    I took about 10 people from private to commercial instrument in a VA approved program. I would guess only 2 continued flying after the VA benefit ran ou.
    So maybe our memory of how it was “back in the glory day” needs a little tweak.


    • Mike says:

      Well the government is making up for it now. The war on terror (freedom) and the war on prosperity is sure to do us in eventually if we don’t change course.

  30. Cathy says:

    I do think safety is one piece of the puzzle, as is most people just not understanding GA. Talk to non-pilots and there’s still the thought that getting into aviation is something beyond them. Too complicated, expensive (private flying is for the wealthy), too time consuming.
    I have to admit, time and money have been the major barriers for my husband and myself. Full-time work with an hour commute each way left little energy after work to drive to an airport to fly, and flying while tired isn’t a good practice. Weekends were used to do shopping, finances, laundry, chores, household maintenance, etc. Now I’m not working (thanks sequestration) but with one income, we don’t have the money for flying.

    • Jeff Welch says:


      Your story is echoed across the country by pilots like yourselves, and persons considering aviation.

      I believe a flying club, to lower operational/ownership costs and ownership responsibilities, is the answer for people like you and many who want to enter aviation. Question, if a flying club existed in your area would you fly enough to stay current or perhaps fly more? I realize you can’t answer the question without knowing all the facts. If your answer is at least “possibly”, then perhaps flying clubs could one of the solutions to a declining pilot population.

  31. Greg Young says:

    There is risk and cost in everything, including GA flying. The trick is to find a reward that makes the risk and cost acceptable. For some business and personal travel it may be convenience and accessibility to remote locales/customers. For others it may be just the sheer joy and freedom of flight. For many it’s the social aspects. GA, in general, has done a lousy job of explaining the variety of rewards available. It’s not a one-size-fits-all argument. We have to promote all aspects and more importantly make them all obvious and accessible. If people can’t get on an airport to investigate aviation for themselves we fail. If they can’t get an airplane to fly after they get their license we fail. If airports don’t have ground transportation and lodging available we fail. If there are no places to eat on/near airports we fail. If there are no flying clubs, EAA Chapters, airport bums, type clubs or other social groups we fail.

    We will never attract the folks like my wife that have a pathological fear of flying. Everyone else has a price.

    • William McIntosh says:

      Excellent points, Greg…in my earlier post I tried to point out that there was no targeted marketing taking place in promoting GA to the very large group of folks out there who are interested but just don’t know it yet, and have not have the rewards that would matter to them explained to them…and more than that, there is no coordination among aviation groups in promoting GA…and can you imagine automobile salesmen talking about SUV cornering accidents and poorly designed gas tanks and auto mags publishing accident reports on every other page as do GA mags? The services and infrastructure you mention are vital, too, and will just take someone who believes enough to start a franchise that includes family-friendly aviation parking , service, hangaring, lodging, and dining , all at one location. If it’s a go, then others will want to be franchisees. Again., it’s all about marketing and can-do, not can’t do.

      …And try spending about $75 for Microsoft FSX, then have your wife try a simple flight sometime. When she’s successful, be sure and call her a pilot. Repeat. Some day, she’ll suggest you all go out to the airport…

      • Mike says:

        Soon as we stop suing, regulating and taxing our selves out of business we can start a recovery. For that to happen many more government employees will have to find work in the private sector.

    • Stu Baxter says:

      You mean there actually is one of you government workers that got laid off? Wow.

  32. David F. Pawlowski says:

    If you love aviation then the deal breaker for GA/personal flight/ownership is cost pure and simple. For all the feel good stories pumped in the EAA/SA magazine building and flying an airplane is big bucks versus buying a used Harley and playing biker poser on the weekends with your buds. As for safety, if you are not in love with aviation then it is the prime concern especially if that person is your spouse or significant other who wants say in what you do and where the money goes. ‘nuf said.

    • Bill P says:

      Succinctly put and great line: “For all the feel good stories pumped in the EAA/SA magazine building and flying an airplane is big bucks versus buying a used Harley and playing biker poser on the weekends with your buds.”

  33. Bill P says:

    I find the psychological aspects of this topic interesting.

    It can’t be denied there are people who have the financial wherewithal to own and fly their own planes yet have no interest in doing so on account of safety concerns. Mac asks what, if anything, we can do about that, and in my opinion the answer is “not much,” at least as far as the people in that group are concerned.

    Not everyone is cut out to accept the risks involved in GA flying. What makes one person willingly encounter a particular risk while another avoids it? In my opinion, most of us tolerate flying risks because (a) we get such a bang out of the whole experience, and (b) we believe in our own ability to accomplish the task (and get the rewards) safely and come back in one piece. The “cold and timid souls” (just kidding non-flyers) in that other group just don’t derive the same rewards we do, and may not believe in their own ability to do it safely. Consequently, they have little incentive to tolerate the risk.

    Okay, you might argue that others could get just as much of a practical benefit out of flying themselves from point A to B in their GA aircraft as you do. But the fact is that you may place a higher value on being able to do that than they do. And you may place a higher value on avoiding the negatives of airline (a/k/a cattle car) flying than they do. Apparently you so much enjoy being able to fly yourself that you were willing to go through all the training, time and expense of becoming a pilot and acquiring/maintaining an airplane, while meanwhile they are content to sit back, relax and read magazines while somebody else drives the bus. In addition, you obviously have the self-confidence to believe you can pull it off, while they may not, and possibly for good reason. They may not possess the innate skills or, even if they do, may lack the passion for the activity it takes for a pilot to stay on top of his flying skills.

    But the real point of Mac’s blog is to explore what we can do to get more people to become pilots, and I think the focus on safety points us in a different direction. It’s common knowledge that young people, and particularly younger males, have the highest tolerance for risk, whereas older people on the whole are much more conservative regarding risk. At the same time, younger people apparently derive highest levels of gratification from involvement in active, sporting, motor sport, exploration and/or adventure-related activities. So it’s logical we should look to them as the group least likely to be deterred by safety concerns and most likely to be interested in entering aviation.

    That being the case, I would re-frame the question to ask “are there younger people out there who want to fly but aren’t moving forward and, if so, what’s holding them back?” Or, more generally, “are there people interested in flying for whom safety is NOT an issue, yet who are not moving forward and, if so, why?”

    Here’s where I get back to my personal opinion that cost plays a major factor, because cost hits hardest in the most prime group of flying candidates. Younger people are usually poor or effectively poor (meaning they’re just able to pay their bills), and for them the financial barriers to entry are steep. They will be most sensitive to (i.e., deterred by) increased prices.

    You can see lots of younger people at dirt bike, mountain bike and road bike races, bombing down ski slopes, catching big waves, riding fast street motorcycles and driving fast cars. The barriers to entry for those activities are fairly low in comparison to aviation. I have a hard time believing some of those fun-lovers wouldn’t be interested in flying if they felt it was within their grasp.

    • Mike says:

      I think you are right. However, flying has always been more expensive than other pursuits. I think it was Gordon Baxter who wrote a column about the high cost of flying 20 years ago and he said: “Flying cost the same now as it did 30 years ago, all you got”. (That’s close, I hope I didn’t miss quote by much)
      Flying will always cost more than riding a boat or motorcycle, but there are factors at play now that make parts and planes 5 times more than they should be after factoring inflation into the cost today versus 30 years ago.

  34. Cost was a big factor in my late entry to the GA community. I wanted to learn to fly as a teen, but dad, who held a PPSEL, but was not flying since I was a toddler said it was too expensive.

    When I got out on my own and had LOTS of disposable income in my 20s I could not find a place to learn to fly. This was in the early 1980s living in New York City. New York City having no GA airports really made it a barrier. Probable better advertising of GA facilities in the nearby suburbs would have gotten me into a plane sooner.

    Fast forward to 2001/09/11 I was making good money and had enough to take lessons. I booked a lesson at Teterboro for that day….we all know what happened after that. Not only was GA grounded for weeks, but I lost my job as a result and had no way to afford flying.

    I eventually got my certificate with a combination of paying the FBO for lessons and working off my lessons when I was out of work. I can say that cost is a big factor to the general public. My little plane cost less than my car, but when folks hear I own an aircraft they think I am loaded. The perception of the public is that GA is expensive. While a used small single like my Falcon XP, or a 150 or 172 comes out at about the same price as a new car and since we have strong inspection requirements the plane should be as safe as it was on day 1 the general public does not see it that way. The general public sees the current price of a 172, or even a Carbon Cub and says…..DAMN THAT IS MORE THAN MY HOUSE, and walk away from GA.

    With the new LSA rules we are seeing some cheaper GA aircraft, but the price point needs to drop further. We need a GA aircraft that comes out of the factory at a price point of $25-$35K. When we see that and see them advertised on TV or in magazines to the general public we will see expansion in GA.

    My mother was strongly against my flying. She went so far as to tell me to never fly to see her, one of the key reasons I got my CERT and PLANE. My wife has no real desire to fly with me, but she is not afraid to fly with me. She was my passenger just weeks after I got my PPG and while she enjoyed our brief flight she just has no great desire to fly for fun, but she trusts that I take the proper care in flying activities and in maintaining my machine. I can see that family pressure may play a role in keeping good folks out of the skies, but if we had enough cheap reliable GA aircraft, even 2 seat ships, then I think we would see public perception change because with the greater accessibility there would be more people that personally know a pilot and we would see a growth in GA.


  35. Mike says:

    Years of airplane wrecks in the news, create a belief that airplanes are dangerous. Most people are not exposed to the wonderful luxury that general aviation is.
    That belief can not be overcome by paid for advertisements in the media.
    There is not enough money in the industry to overcome that.
    People need to be exposed to other people who safely enjoy aviation year after year.
    Even highly educated people do not always rationalize their fear and beliefs. I recently went dove hunting with a brilliant doctor who will not fly in small airplanes. But there were 3 teenage boys with shotguns on this afternoon hunting adventure and they were intermittently pointing their shotguns at everyone there. This did not seem to bother the doctor at all. Go figure. I bit my lips until they were about to bleed and still I felt terrible for telling one of his sons not to point that shogun at people anymore. I would rather fly my T210 anyday. Even well educated folks can be irrational.

  36. Greg W says:

    As to business or sport/ pleasure flying this was a recent AOPA poll.What kind of flying have you done this summer?
    Pleasure 49.51%
    Proficiency 14.56%
    Business 12.96%
    Family vacations 10.49%
    Instruction for new ratings or certificates 7.69%
    Other 4.78%
    I would guess that “sport/ recreational” flying generates the most activity and that the “business” flyers generate the most income certainly in localized areas. The 10.49% family vacation I would think should be part of (added to) the “pleasure” category.

  37. Jeff B. says:

    We’re sitting ducks! Years ago, I tried to generate interest in flying with my son. We flew to a nearby airport with an interesting mix of aircraft for lunch. I kept the jargon and technicalities to a minimum and he did the majority of the flying. After returning to the home field, I asked what he thought. His reply was that it was “OK, but I can do a lot more stuff with the plane on my Play Station”. We still fly together, but he usually sleeps.

    I’m going to sell my 165 mph cruiser, build some sort of bush-plane and take another stab at him.

    • Reid Sayre says:

      Depending on the age of your son, I am not really surprised that he is not impressed with a 165 MPH cruiser. Bush plane might be better. But before you make that commitment for your son, send him off with an aerobatic instructor for a session in a Pitts Special, or Christen (Aviat) Eagle II, or Super Decathlon. He may be able to SEE more stuff on his PlayStation, but he can’t FEEL the effects except in an actual airplane. (You might want to take a ride, too, especially a Spin Training and Safety Proficiency Course or something similar. My extended session in a Super Decathlon at Harvey & Rihn Aviation in Texas definitely brought out the inner child in this 70-year old pilot!) He won’t appreciate the 165 MPH cruiser until he has to suffer through a commercial flight. If your son is up to the age of college survey trips, that 165 MPH cruiser can save a lot of time.

    • Bill Berson says:

      Your son might get involved with a local RC model club. Some pretty advanced stuff out there for kids and adults. I just attended an impressive regional event yesterday.

  38. Tom Davis says:

    There are lots of factors contributing to the decline in GA, but I believe cost is by far the biggest roadblock. Some people have commented, rightly so, that GA ought to advertise, like Honda did for its motorcycles, or the way all car companies do. Trouble is, aviation manufacturers are trying to sell a product that costs $400,000 or more! And for a Cirrus, Bonanza, or any new twin the cost is WAY more. The only certified airplanes that most people can afford are used (VERY used) 40-year-old ships that STILL stretch the average person’s bank account to the breaking point.
    Even the new LSA aircraft, if factory made, are $100,000 and up. I can’t afford one of those, and could never come close to affording a Cirrus or new C-172.
    However, there’s another option (which EAA and the GA community ought to be promoting):
    It’s possible to build an airplane, whether a Sonex, Kitfox, Hatz, RANS, or whatever, for way less money. Of course this doesn’t eliminate the high cost of learning to fly, but it sure presents the prospective student with an option after they get their certificate.
    Remember the old model of “if they learn in a Cessna 150 they’ll buy a 172″ or “start them in a Skipper and they’ll naturally move up to a Bonanza”? Well, nowadays they look at the price of a new 172 or Bonanza and they hit a brick wall. But start them in any LSA and show them the possibilities: RANS, Kitfox, Glassair, RV, Sonex, Starduster, Pitts, Bearhawk, etc. OR restoration of an old Champ, Taylorcraft, etc. The ball is in EAA’s court.

  39. Roland Richards says:

    Part of the problem is the bulk of the aircraft at the average airport are infrequently flown, but the tie up access to hangars. At my airport, the hangar wait list is 14 years. The municipality sees stagnant fuel sales and concludes there is no reason to make the airport into a big Stor-Mor where people can stash the junk they’ll never use (even of the junk is an airplane). What new potential airplane owner is going to consider plunking down $750,000 on an airplane only to have it sit out and be subject the same damage that ruined his patio furniture?

    I think we should adopt an Inspection Sticker program where airport administration can look at an airplane in a hangar and immediately determine whether it is airworthy and if not, demand that the hangar be relinquished to someone who does actively use their airplane and is a consumer of fuel and maintenance services.

    • Phil G says:

      I have seen this at quiet a few airports I have visited. Of course, the airport is dead because 1/2 the planes never get flown. And hangars are huge which makes them perfect for storing boats, cars, RVs and shipping containers.
      Having a 2 hr drive to go flying really kills the passion unless you like driving.

  40. Phil G says:

    Can I also add that the media is addicted to disaster porn. It seems that every aviation crash seems to make the news these days. The average person only sees small planes in the media after they have crashed. Its no small wonder that the fear of flying is so prevalent in modern society.

  41. Chris H-B says:

    Given that there is so much cognitive bias in how we perceive risk, discussing safety and risk, for pilots in the plane and for those staying firmly on the ground, needs to be open and understand more about how people think about uncertainty.
    The spectacular dangers, like air crashes, get massive overemphasis, compared to widespread but mundane dangers, such as death from hospital infections, often passively accepted as part of life (or the lack of).

    Once in flight, the idea that risk is just an exercise in applied probability – as shown by this slide from the FAA last week,, is deeply flawed by these biases. Once in the air, the calculations are about managing cumulative hazards and dangers, not some statistical risk, averaged across the world. You’re interested in what’s going on here and now. Studying NTSB reports over many years shows that risks turn into hazards which gang up together to become dangers, there are few accidents with a single factor.
    The approach to GA safety needs to reassure people that the competence and training of pilots is sufficient to equip them for the situations they intend to encounter and to give them enough judgement to escape from the other situations.
    Clearly there’s also an issue with persuading loved ones, who see much more of the whole person than a flying examiner ever does, that they are willing to get in the same plane. Maybe there’s a need for a new qualification or rating, ‘Relation Pilot’ indicating those with relatives who’d fly with them without sedation.

  42. tbinva says:

    I think the cause is primarily costs, especially financial uncertainty. My wife has never hesitated to encourage me to go fly, and my daughter can hardly wait for her first GA flight — but only with her dad. Twenty years ago, I lost my job, and worse, I lost my career. I had to start again from scratch. Until recently, I have never felt like I could relax enough to let loose of the cash to go fly the way I enjoy doing it. Now that I have the money, I’m constrained by medical requirements that relieve me of two to three months’ worth of what it costs to fly a rental before I can turn the key. Clearly, I have a stake in relief of some sort on the third class front. My house is directly beneath the base leg for runway 1R at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. I can’t tell you the last time I saw anything smaller than a large-ish bizjet pass over my house on its way in. Weekend before last I participated in the Special Olympics plane pull at IAD; there were quite a number of GA aircraft lined up on display, and scads of interested families lined up waiting for a chance to sit in a real airplane. The interest is there. Just like me when I was a kid getting my free prints of Cessna airplanes in the mail, I saw lots of kids who had that gleam in their eyes, desperate for a chance to fly. The interest is definitely there.

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