I was at Sun 'n Fun last week, and several of the conversations revolved around keeping flying affordable. If you haven’t been to Sun ‘n Fun, put it on your calendar for next year. It’s the second largest air show after Oshkosh, and it’s always held in April at the Lakeland, FL airport. That’s a hop, skip and a jump from either Orlando or Tampa International airports, which gives you lots of choices if you choose to fly via the airlines. If you fly in yourself, make sure that you read next year’s NOTAM for the show. The 2008 Sun ‘n Fun NOTAM is a pdf file that runs 45 pages and applies to 17 airports in the area.
AOPA had a large presence at Sun ‘n Fun, and they were...
surveying pilots about the relative importance of various issues. You’ll note from the tote board I photographed late in the week that pilots were most concerned about the cost of flying. The future of our airports, which I recently blogged about in connection with Santa Clara County’s latest study of closing the Reid-Hillview airport in San Jose, Calif., ranked second.
One person I talked with that’s in touch with many flight schools around the country mentioned that some of them have seen a drop in aircraft rental hours of as much as 20% over the last year. She felt that the cost of fuel—not just for the airplanes, but for homes and cars—was having the biggest impact. Obviously if one spends more to heat their home and fill up the gas tank, there’s bound to be less discretionary income for fun things like flying.
Mike Shifflet, who runs MS Aviation, mentioned that he talked with someone who said that their flight school is routinely completing Sport Pilot license applicants in about 26 hours at a cost of around $3,500. Always quick to double check facts, Mike asked how long it took their Private candidates, and the answer was around 70 hours, similar to the national average for Private students. The reason given was that they were finding that the LSA aircraft they were using were easier to fly. If that’s the case, I’d love to know what model they’re using, as there are now about 50 different kinds of LSA aircraft, and it’s hard to believe that they’re all easier to fly.
This is encouraging information, as we need to rebuild the pilot ranks if were going to continue to have the influence we need in Congress to prevent user fees and unfair regulations from being enacted. Having a lower cost threshold for getting a pilots license has got to help.
I had a discussion with another person about ways for pilots to stretch their dollars so that they can still find some time in the air. One idea was that rather than going for a new certificate, such as the Commercial for example, that might take 10-20 hours of flight time, consider smaller, bite-sized flying goals. For example, take a 2-hour lesson and learn the autopilot in detail. Most pilots (and CFIs!) were never taught to use an autopilot, so this is excellent activity that won’t cost a bundle. You could also take the same approach and spend an hour or two in the air learning how to use in cockpit weather systems such as XM Weather or a Stormscope.
Also, why not kill two birds with one stone and take someone flying with you? Surely you have acquaintances who have the means to learn to fly and have expressed some level of interest in your flying. Invite them to come along and ask them to share half of the cost of the flight. Over the years, I’ve discovered that flying is much more fun when there’s someone else in the cockpit with you.
You may have noticed in the AOPA tote board picture that “Declining Pilot Population” was voted the third most important issue. The pilot population has declined from 800,000 pilots in 1980 to about 590,000 pilots. As pilots, it is incumbent upon each of us to find one or more pilots to replace ourselves in the population. The great summer flying days are virtually here, so plan to take someone flying with you and get them started on a pilot’s license. Don’t let higher fuel costs keep you away from the sky!