August 22, 2010

Viewpoint - Guest article by Walter J. Boyne

Last week I published a blog titled The Future of Vintage Aircraft Operation and Restoration.  This was a culmination of thoughts I have been composing in my head for months.  I finally wrote it out and wanted to post it so that it might spark some thoughts in my fellow aviation enthusiasts.  A few weeks ago I read an article by Walter Boyne in ProPilot magazine.  With his permission I am posting it here as I really like the direction of his thoughts towards the future!  Could we see a new "country club" type organization join the aviation community together for social interaction?  I like the idea!

Viewpoint by Walter J.  Boyne

    This is written with no little trepidation, after reading the bold, insightful Viewpoints of industry leaders, whose experience, inside knowledge and vision enable them to take a longer, more perceptive view of aviation and its future than I am capable of doing. I also realize that I’ll be treading on ground that might be deemed somehow politically incorrect, a grave danger now-a-days. Nonetheless, I would like to offer a somewhat wistful, amateur approach to a couple of problems that I feel seriously affect aviation, and offer some optimistic, if perhaps ambitious, solutions to them. Both of these approaches require a change in thinking, taking advantage of what the future is offering and at some point, some capital outlay by a venturesome investor.
One of the things cited most often in arguments concerning the growth of general aviation in the future is the rising cost of flying. There is no gainsaying this, but in my view, the increased cost of flying is not the most important limiting factor. Instead, I believe that general aviation flying has missed several generations of boats by its essential lack of the social elements that one finds in other equally expensive sports such as sailing or skiing. I suggest that these two popular pastimes are as expensive as flying, but offer social benefits that flying does not, and are hence are attractive to and enjoyed by more people.
Owning a boat—power or sail, it doesn’t matter—and means, as a rule, membership in a marina or a club, the maritime equivalent of an airport. Being a dedicated skier means going to a resort often during the season to polish up skills on the slopes. Both the marina and the resort provide social opportunities for men and women to meet, something that is almost totally absent in the aviation community. There are certainly exceptions to this, but the male-dominated airport scene is all too common. It derives from the history of aviation, from the time that there was an implicit danger attributed to flying and which established a macho-male aura of heroism to our profession. This was undoubtedly a genuine expression of the times, but it manifested itself over the years into a male culture that only in recent years has been challenged by an influx of women pilots into the arena. We are grateful for this, most particularly among professional pilots, but there is room for improvement in general aviation.
For too many years, the typical scene in a fixed base operations was an austere flight planning room, perhaps with a few counters where essential gear could be purchased, a coffee or candy bar machine, a less than fastidiously clean rest-room and some chairs to slump in. The routine was for the male pilot to come out, plan his flight, execute it, perhaps landing for lunch at another similarly equipped airport, but one with a hamburger joint attached, and then returning, fulfilled with the genuine fun and emotion of a successful flight to home base. What were the odds that a pilot would meet a woman in the airport and that a relationship might develop? A thousand to one might cover it, and no wonder.  There was no reason for most women to be there just to observe the departures and the arrivals. The airport as we knew it, and too often still know it, was devoid of the necessary social qualities to be attractive to couples.
Contrast this to a typical experience at a marina, where the would-be sailor invites a few friends, including some women, out to his boat, for a quick trip around the bay, with lunch to follow. Typically a marina is not lavishly equipped, but it almost inevitably has planned for women to visit, with the resultant amenities.  To make a further contrast, a trip to a ski lodge can be quite luxurious, with good restaurants, specialized clothing,   and even …. bars.
And I can hear the ahas! already. For there is a fundamental, unchangeable difference between flying, sailing and skiing and that is that alcohol is in absolutely forbidden commodity in the sport. None of this nonsense of twelve hours between bottle and throttle, you must not be drinking at all when you are flying. However it is my contention that society and common sense are working away from alcohol as the primary issue in social gatherings, and that flying is now in a position to compete socially without alcohol and with any sport—if we put our mind to it.
The task is to make airports a social destination for both men and women by creating an atmosphere in which women are not only welcomed as pilots or potential pilots, but as friends who enjoy the experience of being with others with similar interests. It would be ideal (if no doubt too expensive) to have an area the size of a ski resort, with similar hotel accommodations, be designated as a Flying Resort. It should be luxurious enough to have the cachet necessary to have women not particularly interested—yet—in flying to just want to be there. It should have the aircraft, the runways, the radar, and all the other essential requirements to make it a productive flying area, particularly for student pilots.
But, moving on to my second perhaps over ambitious point, it should also take advantage of the magnificent advances we already see in aviation, and which can be adapted to revitalize general aviation in particular. The age of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is upon us. It would be but a step to create a hybrid flying training, one that incorporated the advances of the UAV in terms of being monitored and if necessary controlled from the ground, with a new kind of training aircraft, one in which novice pilots could feel secure even when flying solo. And this would merely be an interim step. We are working inevitably toward pilotless flight in the military, and we will ultimately see it first in civilian cargo aircraft. I maintain that within ten years, it would be possible to have aircraft designed with redundant computers and ground monitoring so that new pilots could learn to fly within a few hours at the resort dedicated to their use. 
And these could easily be “green” airplanes, perhaps electric powered, and designed at such low weights and of such strong composite materials as to be survivable in the event of almost any crash.
The resort flying would be just the start of the experience, of course. Once trained and confident, the new pilots, half of them women, one hopes, would branch out to extend their wings outside the resort air space.
Oddly enough, the basic premise of my idea has already been proven, many years ago, at the famous Aviation Country Club of Long Island, located just outside of the charmingly named town of Hicksville. In 1931 the club boasted a membership with an aircraft inventory valued at $500,000 (more than $7,000,000 in today’s constant dollar.). The Aviation Country Club had the social cachet of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, and attracted successful men and women of all professions. What it lacked of course, was the easy-to-fly, inexpensive aircraft, and it was ultimately doomed by the depression.
My twin points, too obvious perhaps, and both hard to achieve, is that we could rejuvenate general aviation by making it genuinely attractive on its social merits to the entire population, and that the means to do that—inexpensive, safe, and easy to learn to fly in aircraft—are easily within engineering and manufacturing capabilities to produce. What we need is a change in attitude. The vision of the Errol/Flynn/Harrison Ford flyer, indifferent to hardship, brave and always facing danger, has to be replaced by the vision of ordinary people having a great time enjoying the greatest sport in the world: flying.
It can be done. All it takes is time and money. Let’s stop groaning and get to work doing it.

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