The dilemma in which general aviation finds itself is that it is an expensive pursuit in a time of increasing complexity. A shrinking portion of the population is willing to invest the time, money and effort required to fly airplanes.
In an effort to combat the decline, the industry has trotted out advertising saying flying is easier than you might think. Going a step further, NASAs SATS program aims to create a generation of advanced airplanes that will allow cost-effective transport between cities – and that program hinges on getting more people to fly.
On a more personal level, think about how you respond when someone expresses an interest in learning to fly and asks if its easy. The dilemma, of course, is that you want it to be appealing rather than academic, but you dont want to take the position that any idiot can learn to fly.
In a broader sense, is convincing non-pilots that flying is easy a good thing?
Be A Pilot, the industry organization created to recruit student pilots, has produced some of the television commercials in question. President Drew Steketee thinks the industry is nowhere near scraping the bottom of the barrel with respect to student pilots. In addition, he says, promoters are getting more sophisticated about those to whom the messages are targeted.
Aircraft manufacturers are not lost in this equation, either. Interiors are becoming more car-like, even at the expense of useful load. Hopefully thats an attempt to appeal to non-flying spouses when the flying spouse suggests a new airplane.
I would hate to think it was an attempt to position airplanes as flying cars, because the last thing aviation needs is for pilots to adopt an automobile mentality about things that fly. Take a look around a Wal-Mart parking lot and youll see things that make even the rattiest airplanes look positively loved.
So if flying isnt easy, what is it?
Be honest to yourself for a minute, isnt the challenge part of what got you here in the first place? Dont you feel just a little swelling of pride when new acquaintances become somewhat agog when they hear of your craft?
We need to get off the kick that flying is easy and that anyone can do it. Sure, some parts of flying are relatively simple. But to be a well-rounded pilot proficient in all areas of airplane operation is fairly difficult to attain, and even harder to maintain over the long haul.
To steal from one of my favorite movies, Of course its hard. Its supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
Well see how that plays at the next cocktail party.