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Ugly Trends Threaten Aviation Industry 473

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the the-year-man-forgot-how-to-fly dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Washington Post reports, 'In the past several decades, the number of private and recreational pilots across the country has plummeted, as has the number of small aircraft being manufactured — trends that some say have been accelerated by increasingly strict federal regulations. If the decline continues, it will spell trouble for entrepreneurs ... Since 1980, the number of pilots in the country has nosedived from about 827,000 in 1980 to 617,000, according to the Frederick, Md.-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. During about the same period, data from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association in Washington show that production of single-engine planes plunged from 14,000 per year to fewer than 700.'"
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Ugly Trends Threaten Aviation Industry

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  • by swb (14022) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:51PM (#46214417)

    I kind of wonder if there's a business opportunity in all this.

    Create a national chain of airplane rentals and subsidize the cost of obtaining a pilot's license. Encourage the use of rented planes for regional travel. Build a common air fleet of simple to fly, fuel efficient planes with modern materials and avionics.

    There's probably a group of wannabe owners and former owners who like to fly and would fly more often and for more utility but can't afford their own planes. Plus existing rentals aren't setup like car rentals and don't promote them for travel. Discounts or credits could be offered for pilots who would fly a "one way" plane back or to its next destination, since some would fly for free because they could.

    I would think there would be an unmet aviation need out there.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:11PM (#46214523)

    Before spewing the data that you have no way of substantiating (because it is simply not true), you should check the statistics, say the well known Joseph T. Nall Report on the safety trends in aviation. Private, recreational, and sport pilots account for barely 50 % of all the accidents. There are plenty of `commercial crashes' around. I have seen two this year with my very eyes. A lot of accidents happen in training (not all of them deadly), with an instructor (who is a commercial pilot at least) on board. A lot of factors contribute to accidents, and the ailine industry, of course, does everything possible to assure everybody that flying is safe. For the most part, it is. The Korean pilot you are referring to was hardly `inexperienced', he had 10,000 hours IN TYPE. He was just badly taught. There is more to commercial flying than airlines though. By the way, just nitpicking, but General Aviation includes commercial pilots, as well. I am a flight instructor by trade (one of them, anyway)

  • by ReallyEvilCanine (991886) on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:56PM (#46214717) Homepage
    Along with FAA bullshit like increased ramp checks and the resulting harsh punishment for the most minor of infractions (OhNOES! There's an old sectional map buried under the back seat!), the biggest killer is -- not surprisingly -- DHS. Loads of additional bullshit regulations, security theatre, outright bullying. The surprise searches-- conducted under any auspice (ICE, CBP, general Tairism) -- are claimed (currently untested in court) to be superconstitutional, meaning they do this without warrant, court order, active investigation, or any other reason. And in inspecting the aircraft they also inspect all private contents of all pax, not just that of the owner or pilot being run.

    Here's a story from last September [toledoblade.com] that no one saw. Pay careful attention to the harassment about 2/3 of the way down:

    Gabriel Silverstein of New York flies using flight plans as standard procedure, said the Iowa state troopers who detained him in Iowa City this spring were more blatant [than those in another case]. “It was, ‘We are inspecting your plane,’ not, ‘May we search your plane?’ ” Mr. Silverstein said.

    In the two-hour encounter one of the lawmen advised him to confess to possessing “a little personal-use dope and it’ll be all over and easy.” Mr. Silverstein said he was hardly about to make such a confession, considering that he refrains from drinking coffee, much less anything illegal.

    The Iowa City stop was the second for him in four days. Mr. Silverstein also had been visited by two Customs agents in Hobart, Okla., during a fuel stop on the outbound leg of a business trip from New Jersey to California and back with his husband. They checked his paperwork and quickly inspected his baggage while he fueled the plane, he said.

    That's a pretty damned clear set-up for a slam-dunk civil forfeiture case [washingtontimes.com] with a bonus uncontested drug possession charge.

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:24PM (#46214857) Homepage

    I'm in a similar position. I could get a pilots license without a whole lot more time investment but there are a bunch of things that cumulative caused me to stop my training. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed the time I spent on lessons and don't consider it a waste for the experience. Some of the issues I found are:

    1. I'm reading slashdot, ok. I'm the sort of person who contributes to the linux distro he runs, has a diskless PXE mythtv front-end in the living room, and so on. However, despite working at a fairly decent IT job the only planes I could really afford to fly only contain integrated circuits in the (fairly old) radios.

    2. The costs just really add up even when when flying bare bones. I could take a Sat afternoon to go have lunch at an airport 60 miles away, for $450. I could probably drive there in the same amount of time. For a longer distance trip the plane might be faster but unless I just fly there and back the owner is going to want to be compensated for the time it is sitting on the ground while his fixed costs accrue. If I'm the owner, well I'm paying for those fixed costs so I'm not saving anything.

    3. The regulatory atmosphere makes just about any kind of modern technology incredibly expensive. We're talking $1k for a radio, or $10k for a GPS that might have looked modern in the mid-90s (oh, and $3k/yr database updates). You can get modern glass cockpits but that costs more than the 40 year old plane that you want to install it into. Some of these devices can be bought at 1/10th the cost minus their certification, so that they can only be legally used in an experimental plane (despite being identical hardware).

    4. The costs (driven by regulation, largely) mean that many pilots don't want to invest in technologies that improve safety. Few aircraft are equipped with ADS-B/TCAS, and pilots lobby to get rid of regulations that would require their installation. Heck, pilots lobby to prevent the requirement to even install radios in planes.

    5. Honestly, the flying community really comes across to me as curmudgeony. Everybody wants to do everything the way it was done 50 years ago. Things like fuel injection, engine computers, automatic fuel mixture, and automatic transmissions are considered scary new experimental technologies. We fly around in planes with float carburetors which can ice up on humid days. Costs certainly interfere with modernization, but so does the culture.

    6. Anything having to do with the FAA is really stuck in the 60s. Official weather products are all coded or formatted to be transmittable on a 45 baud teletype, or a radio FAX (if you listened to one of these you could practically demodulate the transmission in your head). Exams contain questions on equipment that few pilots have equipped in the last decade. Exam questions give wind problems that require estimating the travel time on a 75mile flight to the nearest minute, or require interpreting obscure symbols on charts that nobody uses, and which are only used on the ground where anybody can look up the conventions. Instructors openly talk about students having to learn flight planning techniques that nobody actually uses in real world flying.

    I found that most of the things I was interested in about flying weren't really accessible at a cost that most could afford. I'd rather fly a flight sim where fuel is free, any aircraft can have a glass panel, and so on. Sure, it doesn't actually go anywhere, but if you want a plane that gets you someplace faster than a car you're talking about serious money.

    Then for me personally I really struggled to deal with moving air. I really had no trouble with the concepts, but it felt like I was swimming in a rip tide half the time I was in the air, constantly being bumped about by erratic currents and having to adjust. Sure, I could land the thing, but I was never really quite sure when taking off if my next flight would be my last. My instructor would tell me that I was doing everything just fine, but it felt like skillfully driving down the middle of a freeway coated in ice; perhaps some would fine this exhilarating, but for me it was bordering on terrifying.

  • Re: Cost (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:39PM (#46214941) Homepage

    You should never hoard money during periods of inflation. In fact paradoxically, it's better to be in debt owning assets (car, house, etc) in inflationary times. OTOH, you don't want to be the lender as they lose their ass. Overall though everyone suffers in inflation in some form or fashion. None come out unscathed. Though I will say this: in times of inflation, this is the time where the disparity in wealth widens! The poor gets poorer, the wealthy more wealthy. Exactly how it's happening now where homes are being purchased and flipped into rental properties in all the major US cities now.

  • Rules rules rules (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:40PM (#46214945) Homepage
    I was a pilot many years ago and heard aviation stories from the 60s and before. Those stories basically had lots of people having fun with their airplanes. Many people flew crappy old airplanes that they either fixed themselves or knew someone who could fix them. Maybe an old mechanic from WWII. The planes ran on car gas and people generally knew the limitations of these planes. In many cases a license was a formality which after many years of flying people might go in and get their license.

    But by the time I was flying the cowboys were mostly gone and the rule books were out and self righteous people ran around thumping the rule books like they were bibles. So instead of training people to have safe fun, a private pilots license was all about creating little airline pilots. There was this foolish belief that enough rules and enough training would keep people from augering in. I have read that small plane manufactured in 2014 will have insurance as nearly 50% of its cost. This might be important for a plane used in commercial passenger services but the reality is that if I were to get back into flying it would be for fun. A great safety mechanism is actually available to put into crappy airplanes and that is a parachute. Yes there are parachutes for the small planes themselves; wing falls off, pull the chute. This almost makes small planes idiot proof.

    The funny thing is that in my few years of flying I found out how to figure out who was going to die. If they were perfectionists who talked endlessly about following the rules and how yahoos were giving pilots a bad name and wanted ever greater training and certifications they were dead the first time something went wrong. These were people who would have an engine failure and pick the absolute worst place to have a forced landing. Or do a perfect forced landing with all the perfect radio patter, until they flew into the high tension power lines.

    But the people who thought that half of their checklist was done by farting and burping, and were just as happy to take off from a taxiway were basically immortal.

    To give a great example there were a crew of drug smugglers about 40 minutes of flying from my home base who owned a bunch of crappy planes that they ducktaped together and they took off and landed on these hilly dirt roads and only one license among the lot of them. After 30 years of activity the only thing that shut them down was being arrested for the smuggling part. No crashes.

    But at my flying school we made bets as to who would crash and wrote their names on a wall. About 15 years after leaving I got an out of the blue letter from the guy who managed the airport and he included a letter with about 80% of the names crossed off. They had all had a serious crash. It was dead easy to identify these guys. They were typically around 50, slightly portly, had that cop look, and always had a mustache. They took flying way too seriously and would say things like, "You aren't ready for that." The that being something that wasn't actually much, just more than they had.

    The reality is that flying is really really easy. Any monkey can learn to fly. Few people who enter flying school will fail, they might chicken out or run out of money but few will fail. But what is basically impossible to train for and certainly not tested is keeping a cool head. When things go wrong, your training will help but you have to adapt. Sometimes you are handed an easy emergency such as engine failure at altitude. But often you are handed something such as a partial elevator failure that could be potentially handled by quickly changed the center of mass of the airplane (moving everyone to the back) and then using the throttle as for pitch control. But you don't train for that; you can't. You just have to be able to say, nothing I know is going to work, what can I do. But if you are a rule book thumping dogmatist all you have to hang on to is that someone is to blame for this and they are going to pay.

    Now very tiny planes have far fewer rules but quite simply they should designate certain(most) airspaces as near rule free zones. Fly what you want how you want and have fun; do this and you will have people 3D printing something that will blow your mind.
  • Re:Cost (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sentrion (964745) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @03:11AM (#46215699)

    The downfall of the USA will probably look a lot like the collapse of the Soviet Union during the 1990s, with break-away republics, terrorist insurgencies, and the rise of corruption and organized crime. But it won't happen until the rest of the world, or at least China, drops the US dollar as the default reserve currency, starts trading global commodities with an alternate currency, and stops buying US debt as if it were a "good investment". But the implosion could instead be an explosion if the US feeds its dwindling resources into its military like Germany did to keep its people working during the Great Depression. The US military has been "stabilizing" just about every region of the planet for the past 60+ years. The US occupation of its old enemies never ended and the US just kept redeploying its forces to avoid the short term economic damper of dealing with ex-soldiers returning home with no job prospects. Protecting "US interests" abroad had some marginal return back when US companies ran rubber and banana plantations in third world countries during the 50's and 60's, but now the US is footing the bill enforcing Pax Americana while Chinese corporations are buying up natural resource producing real estate around the globe like it's a game of Monopoly without fueling massive navies, corps of marines, or strategic air commands.

    So there will probably be only one of two scenarios: 1. The US will see Chinese hegemony over resource rich third world countries as a threat to its "security" and launch World War III to substitute national pride, glory, and unity to cover for the lack of economic opportunity. or 2. The US will sell off it's navies and air forces to the Chinese so that China can better patrol and protect its third world holdings. In either event, after the dust settles the US will probably split into a number of very different nation-states. You will see the emergence of Greater California, which will encompass most of Washington, Oregon, and Nevada. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio will be abandoned and eventually annexed by Canada. Greater Texas will grow to take in states from Florida to Montana. New England will become a commonwealth nation allied to Canada, while remaining areas become smaller isolated buffer states between Texas, California, and New England. There will probably be conflict between Texas and Mexico after Mexico closes its borders to illegal US immigrants fleeing to Mexico for safety and job opportunities. Some element of the former US will continue to play a role in world affairs, just like Russia and the UK do today, but they will probably be "leading from behind", while India, China and Brazil call the shots. During all of this change and turmoil the UN will probably continue to meet in New York City.

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