Each month, a visionary group of six formation bloggers blogs about something aviation related, each from their own perspective, for six days straight. Our first series was about how we got into flying. In month two, we discussed our most memorable flights.
As a series, we generally all post the first full week of each month, but this month we are changing it up just a little due to the American Independence Day holiday on July 4th. This month, we are starting a little earlier than usual and changing up the order of bloggers, all so that we can focus on a topic near and dear to all of our hearts – our freedom to fly and it’s future in the US. See what we did there? FREEDOM to fly? INDEPENDENCE Day (a celebration of American FREEDOM)?
Okay – so enough with the obvious.
Let’s talk about this month’s topic – the future of US aviation.
There are so many directions to go on a topic of this magnitude, and I’ll start by saying how much I hate predictions. Not because I hate being wrong (that happens CONSTANTLY), but because people make predictions all the time, but rarely revisit their predictions to talk about whether or not they actually happened (and why or why not – which is the more important part, in my opinion). Think New Year’s predictions or the stock market financial talking heads. Blech.
That said, I CAN say with relative confidence that the future of aviation is the present. Aviation generally changes SO SLOWLY (dreadfully so), that the things making news today can be confidently predicted to be making news tomorrow. On the negative side – think user fees. We’ve been fighting user fees pretty much every year and under every president since at least Clinton (and probably before). It’s a fight we will continue to have in the future in the US, and it is not a small issue (look at general aviation in many other countries (such as the Netherlands – where the loss of business far outweighed the gain in revenue) and the UK, Germany, etc.) and you’ll see that this issue is no small potatoes for us here in the US if we want to maintain our freedom to fly (relatively) affordably.
On the positive side, let’s talk technology. Technology has been advancing faster and faster for all of recorded history, and its velocity today is nearly unimaginable. One of the issues US aviation has had (and still has) is safety – how can we continue to improve our safety record? One of the ways this is happening is with “synthetic vision” technology – something like “Head Up Displays” or HUDs, which have been the sole domain of fighter jets for years, but are now making their way into business jets. It’s only a matter of time before they become available (and even standard) on GA airplanes. There are already even synthetic vision apps for your phone or tablet!
But now let’s focus on something I personally think is inevitable: the greening of US aviation (and aviation in general worldwide). I’m one of those rare birds who is a pilot and an environmentalist (sue me). I’ve been following with interest the “unleaded avgas” research and experimentation with “mogas” and biofuels, and this is one issue that is not going to go away, no matter how much the industry and alphabet groups (such as AOPA, NBAA, etc.) try to push it off for as many reasons as they can come up with.
For one thing, as the holder of an MBA in entrepreneurship (yet another of my many onion-like layers), I know that business and industry tend to fight change like a cornered animal when that change is being discussed and contemplated (the fighting gets fiercer the closer it is to happening), but I also know that those same businesses and entrepreneurs are the most creative when it comes to ultimately figuring it all out when the change is actually upon them. Regulation for the public good is usually a good thing overall – and business has always (and will always) be the best placed and most motivated to make it work for them – no matter how much they gripe about it.
There are many examples today of ways people are trying to make flying greener – not the least of which is a number of electric aircraft currently traversing the country and the world! Pilot Chip Yates is planning on becoming an electric Charles Lindbergh by flying an electric aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean. Pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg have been flying the Solar Impulse around the world (albeit very slowly), having recently flown from Cincinnati, Ohio to Washington, D.C. (at a whopping 39 knots or so at 10,000 feet). One of Borschberg’s statements from the above-linked article struck me, since it speaks to multiple aspects of the greening of aviation in the US:
…Borschberg acknowledged that 100 percent solar-powered airplanes are not normal in day-to-day aviation, he said some of the ideas behind the Solar Impulse could find its [sic] way into general aviation aircraft. “I will see the first [general aviation] electric propulsion coming soon,” he predicted. A plus with that: Fewer noise complaints at airports. “This airplane doesn’t make any noise,” he said.
Electric, nearly noiseless flight is happening now, and will only get better and find its way into our day-to-day flying. But another green idea (that pilots will readily admit, whether they are granola-crunchy or not), is simply increasing the efficiency of aircraft. This can range from “lean-of-peak” operations (sound off in the comments, those of you on both sides of the LoP debate) to new aircraft designs that fly on less than 3 gallons per hour of fuel (that’s better than most cars on the road)! Talk about a great way to make less impact on the environment (and less impact on your pocketbook, with avgas reaching into the $6s and higher per gallon)!
So on top of higher efficiency and different power generation, which directly impact the earth and our environment, pilots today (and tomorrow) can also indirectly impact the world both environmentally & socially by flying for non-profits such as Pilots N Paws (pet rescue), Angel Flight (flying medical patients to care), LightHawk (environmental protection through flight), Civil Air Patrol (search & rescue, among other things), Kids in Flight (giving seriously ill children a chance to experience aviation), Angel Flight ( free air transportation for any legitimate, charitable, medically related need), and even mission trip flying (if you’re a religious person). This list barely scratches the surface of what good aviation can do in the world, environmentally and socially. I personally think that the above FAR outweighs any bad aviation may do socially or environmentally…
So with that, I’ll leave off with with one final prediction about the future of US aviation – and this one is more certain than anything else I’ve discussed above: that what we do right now to get and keep the next generation interested in aviation is more critical than anything else we can do as pilots and enthusiasts to secure the future of general aviation in the US. One of the upcoming Formation Bloggers – Karlene Pettit – recently wrote a couple of posts speaking to this very thing – one about the upcoming movie Planes, and a more recent one about the upcoming kid’s TV show “Airpark” – and this is one of the ways that we can ensure that there will even be pilots in the next generation… popularization of flight has declined ever since its peak with Top Gun, and it’s time we bring it back and ensure that US aviation (and aviation across the world) even HAS a future – if the kids don’t care, our dwindling population will continue to shrink.
And that would be a great loss of freedom, don’t you think?
Please check out all the “Formation Bloggers”
Saturday, June 29: Dan Pimentel (Airplanista – The Future of U.S. Aviation: Again, the Resiliency of the GA Family Will be Tested)
Sunday, June 30: Andrew Hartley (Smart Flight Training – The Future of Aviation in the USA)
Monday, July 1: Brent Owens (iFlyBlog – The Future of Aviation in the U.S.)
Tuesday, July 2: Karlene Petitt (Flight to Success)
Wednesday, July 3: Eric Auxier (Adventures of Cap’n Aux)
Thursday, July 4: Ron Rapp (House of Rapp)
Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor in Columbus, Ohio.