A long time ago when I was a little kid, every Sunday evening I watched a wonderful television program called Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. All of us watched programs that were varied and entertaining. I am sure this show created many future doctors, scientists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and yes, even some pilots and astronauts. Many of those “1960s kids” decided on their careers spawned by their imaginations after watching this wonderful show each week.
* * *
We have a problem in aviation we really need to address. Over the time I attended fly-ins or hung around local FBOs, I discovered I was one of the younger people in attendance. Now, most of us are all old geezers. Specifically, the problem we have in aviation today is dwindling pilot starts and completions, along with the shrinking pilot population. For the aviation business, the importance goes back to the simple lessons of supply and demand as it affects pricing.
In 2003, the FAA reported the ranks of private pilots in the nation as slightly more than 241,000. Last year, the number was 188,001. Commercial pilots numbered 123,990 versus 116,400 for the same reports. The number of total pilots decreased approximately 19,500 pilots at all certificate levels. The bright spot in the FAA statistics is an increase in student pilot applications by more than 13,000.
With fewer pilots flying, the unit per hour cost of flying rises. If we have more pilots flying, the cost will decrease.
So, what to do… what to do…?
Somehow, we have to find a way to bring new blood into the industry. If we don’t, the industry will die on the vine. This is something we cannot afford. That brings us back to the question of what to do…?
We must get more youth in aviation. Many questions need to answers. For one, where should we target our efforts? Teenagers? Early 20-somethings? People in their 30s or 40s?
Here are some terrible truths we must face: teenagers and young people in their early 20s typically lack the financial wherewithal to pay for an aviation habit. Those making money in their 30s are too busy making their money, raising their children, and paying for their kid’s school activities.
People in their late 40s and early 50s may have the money to start in aviation, but the only thing they are typically interested in is personal flying rather than professional flying of some sort.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with flying for yourself. But here is another ugly truth regarding the growth of the general aviation industry: We need more flight instructors. This means pilots working through not only private pilot certification, but also completing an instrument rating as well as a commercial pilot license. No matter how you cut it, this is tough. And expensive. It is a very real detriment to industry growth.
So how do we get people interested in flying again? Why are they not as interested in flying as they were, say, 20, 30, or 40 years ago? What has happened that young Americans have drifted away from aviation?
I think, in a word, it is imagination.
It is not a question of our young people today having less imagination; today’s youth have focused their imaginations in other directions – unfortunately, away from aviation.
Our youth today do not see things in the same manner of the youth of past. This is neither bad nor good; it is just an observation and fact.
Here are other facts: 1) the cost of renting airplanes to learn how to fly is too high. 2) The regulations for private aviation are too many. 3) The certification process for private flying is overly cumbersome. 4) Some of us in aviation make it too hard for “outsiders” interested in flying to learn enough about the business to get a start in learning how to fly. 5) Some of those same individuals want to keep the mystique of flying secretive, perpetuating the idea that piloting airplanes is “too hard” for most. 5) There are too many other distractions for young people that are easier to do than flying.
We have to capture the imaginations of our youth. Somehow, our pilots of today must capture the imaginations of our school-aged children. We have to get them involved with flying, we have to make them aware of aviation, we have to get them excited about being… a pilot in command.
The key is hooking them as very young children. And this summer, one of those hooks came out in the form of Disney’s Planes.
So, I had to write about the movie and I must report – it is a great movie, even for adults (it has jokes only pilots get). I had the chance to see it with the 5-year-old grandson, Bubba, who was actually out on his first “movie date.” Bubba sat next to his girl, with her entire family sitting on the other side next to her. On Bubba’s left side, his dad and Nana accompanied him. (Before I can comment on Bubba’s date, I will have to wait a few years to ask if he remembers any of the particular details of the “mass date” with all his and her relatives.)
For the pilots, the movie was more than funny. It was technically correct and filmed in cartoon HD. When the airplanes moved through the air, their flight controls moved in the appropriate directions. The Disney cartoonists also made the laws of physics come to life with the movement of each airplane.
My true memories of the movie will always be stealing glances in Bubba’s direction while he was watching the movie. Every time I looked over, he was sitting on the edge of his seat completely mesmerized by the action on the big screen. I could tell he was learning; he is a very inquisitive kid and learns something from each of his experiences.
I think Bubba was a little more than hooked by the movie, as were many of the other children in the theater. My hope is that they will think about the movie for a long time and choose to work in aviation as they come of age.
I have not watched a cartoon in a very long time. I am really impressed with how much they have improved since I was Bubba’s age. I believe Hollywood soon will be able to do things previously thought impossible. The technological advancements of the last two or three decades, in both the entertainment and aviation fields, has been very amazing, indeed, if not related.
With the visual aspects of controlling scenery, combined with the new technology of sound, it is easy to understand how simulated flight can now seem so real.
There’s no question that if you have a little kid in your family, little brother, sister, cousin, son or daughter, you need to take them to see Planes.
©2013 J. Clark
Note: Email subscribers, please go to my blog to view vids