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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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  • Cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by asmkm22 (1902712) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:16PM (#46214225)

    Amazingly, pretty much nothing about people's income has kept pace with the cost of living during the last 30 years. And they are wondering why less people are flying airplanes?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Indeed. It's the same story with recreational sailboat registrations.

    • Re:Cost (Score:4, Insightful)

      by aurizon (122550) <bill.jackson@gmail.AUDENcom minus poet> on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:13PM (#46214797)

      Tort reform lacking, plane builders are driven out by fake litigation costs.
      What do you expect when you elect lawyers to run things they feed their brethren...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sycodon (149926)

        Many things have "conspired" to drive down private aviation.

        1. As you mention, insurance costs for small plane manufacturers. Somehow, when some idiot flies into IFR weather, despite warnings from the FFS and ATC, the plane manufacturer is liable. Several small manufacturers have been bankrupted by lawsuits resulting from just one accident caused by pilot error.

        2. Local communities are raising fees, placing restrictions on, and generally forcing small airports to close. Small strips in the middle of nowhere

    • Re:Cost (Score:5, Informative)

      by tlhIngan (30335) <(ten.frow) (ta) (todhsals)> on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @02:24AM (#46215571)

      Amazingly, pretty much nothing about people's income has kept pace with the cost of living during the last 30 years. And they are wondering why less people are flying airplanes?

      Well, the cost of flying lessons is mostly dependent on the per-hour airplane costs.

      Ground school is so cheap, most flying schools (Flight Training Units) ask for $200 and it's a lifetime membership - take it as many times as you want. Or you can take online courses for a little more.

      But the plane rental is fairly expensive. Though there are several innovations in the area. Like Light Sport, which has far lower rental costs, far lower training requirements (half the time), and while it's a bit restrictive, it is a cheap stepping stone to a full private pilot's license. Plus, no medical - if you hold a valid driver's license, you can self-certify.

      The other innovation is flight simulation - many schools are getting new RedBird full motion simulators (cheap - something like $30K fully equipped). Some schools even offer free use of the simulators to practice as much as you want, minimizing the amount of propeller spinning time because you can practice maneuvers over and over again at a much lower cost.

      And it's not news - AOPA in 2011 did an extensive survey of why aviation has an 80+% dropout rate. Barring financial difficulties, they discovered there's a lot of systemic problems - imagine you're spending $20,000 on flight training - you'd like to be treated with respect, courtesy, and everything else due a customer, right? Surprisingly, they found a good portion of horror stories.

      Of course, the other big reason is, well, pilots aren't paid very much. If you intend to make it a career, you're looking at $40-80K+ in education (comparable to many degrees). However, the starting pay for a right seater (copilot) on a regional is barely $20k. And that's the shit routes with shit times and shit layovers. Give it a good 15 years, and maybe you can get into big iron like a 737 and start making $100K+. Provided your airline hasn't folded, merged, or anything else (one of the biggest things during airline mergers is seniority - the longer you have been with the airline, the more you're paid, and it takes years).

      Yes, the early career of a pilot is poverty. Most people have done the math and realized they could just get an engineering degree (even in aerospace!) and make twice that as a new grad. Or more.

      Of course, the final thing is that people think flying is "for the rich" - but all you need is a decent middle-class income. It greatly extends the reach of the "weekend getaway" from a state away to several states away. Or you can go from coastal California (say, San Diego) to Vegas for a weekend and still have a lot of time to gamble, see a show, and partake lunch, while arriving home in time for dinner.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Except for those that got wrecked, most of those planes from 1980 are still flying. So if there are fewer pilots, it's no surprise that few new planes are being built.

    • by postbigbang (761081) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @12:18AM (#46215141)

      Add to the costs: fuel. Overhauls from hell, with designs that haven't improved much since the 1940s. Draconian IFR costs. Jepps that break the bank. Tie down fees from the depths of hell. NOTAMs only a mother could love or an engineer understand, and plentiful poundage of them. Insurance costs.

      Yeah, older planes still fly, fewer pilots, new plane costs far higher than the cost of an average new home.

      And people wonder why sales are in the crapper.

  • COST (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Garybaldy (1233166) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:19PM (#46214259)

    Well perhaps if planes did not cost as much as high end luxury cars (i'm sure federal regulations are some of that cost). More people would be into flying. Just learning to fly is expensive. It is a hobby only the well to do can afford anymore.

    I spent pretty much my whole childhood hanging out at the local general avaition field. Gone were the days when pilots felt secure taking some local kid up for a flight. And that was 30 years ago.

    • Re:COST (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:39PM (#46214371) Homepage Journal

      Yes. A new Cessna 172 Skyhawk probably cost $310,000 or more.

      Even renting an older (though nice and very well-maintained) airplane is $90/hr, which at least includes fuel.

      Some people kit-build planes, but that's a lot of work and it all has to be done and maintained right.

      Insurance is expensive. Renting a hangar stall is expensive. Continuing education is expensive.

      Regulations don't help, though there are low-regulation categories. Those are a considerably higher risk category because some of the people that take advantage of the lower barrier to entry are a bit more lax in doing things properly.

      Learning to fly often isn't a good career move because pilots are now generally paid poorly.

      One really has to want to fly badly, especially to give up several other hobbies to afford flying.

      • by Skater (41976)

        Yep. Also, I recently got life insurance, and one of the questions they asked me was, "Have you been aboard an aircraft other than as a passenger on a commercial airliner?" I wonder how much a "yes" answer would've cost me each month. I'd love to do it, but we're talking about $6000-$8000 just for the license, daytime, single engine only. How much more for any of the other certifications? I drive past an airfield every day on my way home from work and look longingly...then remember how much it costs.

        Sp

    • Re:COST (Score:5, Informative)

      by Guspaz (556486) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:44PM (#46214393)

      Luxury car? As far as I can tell, the cheapest Cessna (the 172) costs $275,000 USD... that's as much as a house. And yet, the price of the aircraft when it was introduced, adjusted for inflation, is only about $72,000.

      So the cost of the aircraft has increased nearly 4x faster than inflation. That can't help!

      • I was visiting an aviation site a couple of days ago and it said you could start picking up decent used planes at around $30k.

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          I was visiting an aviation site a couple of days ago and it said you could start picking up decent used planes at around $30k.

          Yup, and by those standards you can pick up a decent used car for around $200.

          Granted, the engines on the planes are in much better condition, but the interior is probably not nearly as nice as what you'd find in a $200 used car, nor is the safety equipment.

          • I'm thinking this is somewhat better than a $200 car.

            Aeronca 7AC Champion [flyingmag.com]

            • by Rich0 (548339)

              I don't see any pictures of the interior. If the seat belts are anything like the ones in the C172 I trained in you'll have a hard time just getting the shoulder harness to stay in place, so we won't even talk about pretensioners, airbags, or crumple zones.

              Read my post carefully... "Granted, the engines on the planes are in much better condition, but the interior is probably not nearly as nice as what you'd find in a $200 used car, nor is the safety equipment."

              If you buy the $20k "project" airplane mentio

        • by rubycodez (864176)

          you can pick up a decent one for half that price.

          BUT then there is yearly costs:

          $500 to park it outside or $2500 in a hangar
          $1000 inspection
          $3000 toward engine overhual ($18000 every 1700 - 2000 hours but we'll say every six years)
          $1000 insurance
          and we haven't talked about fuel

      • by dryeo (100693)

        A lot of things have gone up 4x faster then inflation.

      • Not Cost! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:52PM (#46215021)

        The cost of an airplane is not the issue. If you look back to at least the 1960s, an airplane cost about as much as a middle class house. That has not changed. The cost of OPERATING an airplane HAS changed. It is more expensive. It is more complicated and arcane. I say this as a licensed pilot for the last 25 years. Some things are much easier and safer. TIS and ADS-B have improved traffic awareness. GPS has improved navigation. Moving maps and weather overlays have improved situational awareness tremendously. Some minor improvements in aerodynamics have trickled down to the GA market and that has helped as well.

        But the airspace systems is hideously more complex than it was in decades past. Controlled airspace has grown enormously over cities. The day when you could cross the country in a Piper Cub without even so much as a radio are vanishing fast.

        All that said, I don't think the complexity or cost is the issue. I think the primary change is social. People returned from military training wanting to do some of the things they did in the service. So amateur radio grew, aviation grew, recreational shooting sports grew, sport diving grew... but if you look at the statistics today, there aren't as many who make the transition from military to civilian life. It ended when the draft ended --and those baby boomers are retiring and dying off.

        Most kids approach these endeavors with Grandpa gently hoping a spark will light in their grandchildren. And it doesn't happen. These activities are all perceived as legal liabilities, frightening, and pointless.

        The thrill of doing really cool things in aviation/radio/mechanics/shooting sports/etc.. is vanishing fast. These activities remain as expensive as they ever were, but the romance of doing it is just not there. We have killed the adventure and excitement with safety, policies, regulations, and so on. I'm not saying the latter are a bad thing; but people want to feel alive by doing something unique and exciting. Aviation is just another form of transportation and it isn't even particularly glamorous any more. Radio is your cell phone. You can call your buddy overseas for next to nothing any time you like. Who needs a shortwave radio? Guns owners are regarded as social pariahs by much of the population, with politicians and the news media ranting non stop nonsense against them at every opportunity. Backyard mechanics are considered an environmental nuisance by most home-owner associations. There was even a time when kids used to have chemistry labs in their back yard sheds. No longer. If you have a chemistry lab, you are usually regarded as some sort of subversive bomb maker.

        We are killing this generation with mediocre education, discouraging technical endeavors at every step, polluting minds with nonsense endeavors from the Internet, and then we sit and wonder why so few kids take any sort of STEM interest.

        Aviation isn't the only thing that is dying. It is the curious, entrepreneurial spirit and playfulness of the average teen-age kid that is dying. They're being coddled and protected by every helicopter parent and school administrator around. Then they go to college in record numbers, only to come home and live in the basement for lack of any interest in the world around them.

        Societal mediocrity has won. We need to light an afterburner under the maker movement to undo this nonsense. It is killing us as a society.

        • by GauteL (29207)

          "The cost of an airplane is not the issue. If you look back to at least the 1960s, an airplane cost about as much as a middle class house. That has not changed."

          Oh dear. You are comparing the airplane with something which has also increased massively in price compared to income over the last few decades. That middle class house costs many more times the average income than it used to. Not least due to easy availability of loans. What has changed is that both the housing and planes have gone up massively in

        • Re:Not Cost! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ShoulderOfOrion (646118) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @05:10AM (#46216029)

          I agree with most of what you wrote, except your title. Cost is indeed a large part of the problem, along with everything else you cite.

          I also think you unfairly pick on teen-age kids. I see ' the curious, entrepreneurial spirit and playfulness' of just about every age group diminishing in all the activities you cite, and more. I've been a pilot for two decades and an experimental aircraft builder, and I see fewer and fewer unique homebuilt planes every year. Most new homebuilt planes are now assembled from a handful of popular kits. Why? Building from plans or even designing your own plane takes an extraordinary amount of time and money, something only a few have anymore.

          Amateur radio? Only a hardcore few still build their own gear, with the rest buying do-everything transceivers from a few big firms. What happened to the rest of the electronics hobbyists? Those with the passion and money apparently moved on to computers and now robotics. The rest left the hobby along with Radio Shack and the newsstand electronic and computer magazines. To build anything other than basic LED-flashing circuits today takes a lot of time and fancy (expensive) equipment.

          Shooting? My grandfather was an avid shooter and reloader. It takes time, commitment and the right gear. Another niche, expensive activity now.

          Mechanics? In 1982 my brother and I hot-rodded an old '67 Camaro for around $2K in our driveway. New V8, new tranny, and a bunch of parts scrounged from junkyards. 32 years later, I can't even change the oil on my Honda for less than $20, plus another $10 to take the used oil to the hazardous waste facility. None of the kids I know have the money to buy the tools and parts needed to 'hop up' a modern car, even if they had the skill to deal with EFI, CAN buses, and the like.

          In my opinion, the '50s and '60s were an anomalous time in U.S. history. A post-war economic boom, a baby boom, a nascent technology boom and Cold War panic, along with 40% fewer people around to get in the way, made for a unique set of circumstances that invigorated all the activities noted above. Those times are gone forever. Even the Maker movement cannot rescue us from the reality of the lack of disposable time and income that exists today.

        • by clodney (778910)

          All that said, I don't think the complexity or cost is the issue. I think the primary change is social. People returned from military training wanting to do some of the things they did in the service. So amateur radio grew, aviation grew, recreational shooting sports grew, sport diving grew... but if you look at the statistics today, there aren't as many who make the transition from military to civilian life. It ended when the draft ended --and those baby boomers are retiring and dying off.

          Great post, and I agree that for aviation the reduction in number of military pilots is certainly a factor. But I am going to quibble about SCUBA diving - equipment has gotten vastly better and relatively cheaper over the last 30 years I have been certified, and I don't think people who were trained by the military has ever been more than a tiny fraction of the diving population. My impression is that diving is getting more popular, not less, but I admit that I don't have any statistics to back that up.

      • Luxury car? As far as I can tell, the cheapest Cessna (the 172) costs $275,000 USD... that's as much as a house. And yet, the price of the aircraft when it was introduced, adjusted for inflation, is only about $72,000.

        Just to give you a comparison, a Pagani Huayra [caranddriver.com] costs $1.3 million. The Lexus IS 350 is not a luxury car.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Forget the cost of the plane, because if you can afford the 100LL fuel, you can afford the plane. Even a relatively cheap little Cessna 172 costs more than $100/hr just for fuel. Once you add in maintenance, insurance, and fees for things like parking and landing, you're going to be paying at least $2000 per month!

      dom

  • Blame the lawyers. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jcr (53032) <[jcr] [at] [mac.com]> on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:20PM (#46214267) Journal

    The cost of manufacturers liability awards is what's killing the light aircraft industry in the USA.

    -jcr

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And how have they changed in the past 60 years? You know, since Congress pass a law (1958) explicitly protecting manufacturers from liability: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Aviation_Revitalization_Act

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The protection from the General Aviation Revitalization Act is only for aircraft older than 18 years old.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:23PM (#46214291)

    $100 hamburgers are gone now days fuel costs have gone up alot.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:32PM (#46214327)
    The way one instructor pilot explained it to me is that it is lawsuits not regulations that are killing off manufacturing for the private pilot audience. He had numerous examples of pilot error, cited in the FAA accident report, that still led to juries awarding big settlements to families for various bogus reasons. Leading to a trend towards kit aircraft these days. These aircraft get a big "experimental" sticker on the fuselage and apparently this protects the designers sufficiently.
    • by jonwil (467024)

      ok, so clearly the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G... [wikipedia.org] that someone else linked to isn't working and needs to be strengthened to give manufacturers of aircraft stronger immunity against this kind of lawsuit (i.e. protection strong enough so that the manufacturer can get it thrown out of court before a jury even gets to it)

      Maybe pass a law that gives manufacturers strong immunity from lawsuits (civil and criminal) if there is a valid FAA report showing that the manufacturers aren't to blame.

      • Quoting from that Wikipedia article:

        GARA is a statute of repose generally shielding most manufacturers of aircraft (carrying fewer than 20 passengers), and aircraft parts, from liability for most accidents (including injury or fatality accidents) involving their products that are 18 years old or older (at the time of the accident) , even if manufacturer negligence was a cause.

        (Emphasis mine.)

  • If the decline continues, it will spell trouble for entrepreneurs such as Austin Heffernan, who runs an aircraft maintenance and repair company in Hagerstown, Md.

    Sure, and if people eat less fatty food then the entrepreneur who started up my local fry-up breakfast café will be in trouble.
    (Note: I'm not saying the use of the word is incorrect, but rather noting that it generally seems to carry concepts of innovation and novelty with it, which really don't apply here)

  • The B-52 completed fifty years of continuous service ... it is expected to serve into the 2040s.

    At least they must be doing something right.

  • The Light Sport Aircraft category was supposed to help with the cost by creating a new category of plane that is a bit smaller and hypothetically cheaper. What I've noticed is a very large number of manufacturers in the market which seems good, but none can get enough sales volume to reduce cost.

    The cheapest route of course is to build your own, put an engine on that can run car gas, and be your own mechanic. This is not appealing to everyone, and not everyone whom it would appeal to even knows it's an op
    • I don't think LSA is so much a "problem" as simply not delivering on its planned promise.
      The idea was new LSA-compliant aircraft would sell for about the price of your typical 40+ year old Pipers and Cessnas (the $25,000-50,000 range - and mainly toward the low end of that spectrum), which would make them an attractive option for new pilots pursuing flight training to buy and fly at a cost similar to a boat or car.

      The reality is most LSAs are a far cry from the simple aircraft that you can find as a "Legacy

  • by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:40PM (#46214379)

    The motorcycle community is facing the exact same problem of declining numbers.
    Libraries are facing the same problem.
    Classical music is facing the same problem.
    Newspaper readers are dwindling.

      The source of the problem is the same:

    There are less and less younger pilots, riders, readers, etc. interested.

    As the Baby Boomers slowly are forced to give up their passion / hobbies due to age, sickness, etc the rate of exit is significantly >>> the rate of entering. :-/ Liability (getting sued) and Risks (crashing) are seen as "not worth it" by the younger crowd. Like any community, you need enough "new blood" to sustain it and that isn't happening. Is that a bad thing? I don't know, but we can see trends and it looks like our world is changing. I guess that is the million dollar question: Is it changing for the better ?

    I also wonder if /. mirrors this change to some degree? You have new "hip" / "emo" sites like Reddit, Dig, 4chan, etc., yet sites like /. have been around "forever" in internet time but for the most part people don't want "deep intellectual stimulation" anymore. They want "sound bites." the "10-second news."

    The same trend is also happening in gaming; I call it "Fast Food Gaming" -- dumbed down button mashing of which Diablo 3, COD, etc. are the perfect examples. Now there is a time and a place for less cerebral challenges but I wonder if we're losing something along the way ...

    Developing the heart & soul of personal relationships, and we no longer care about experiencing and exploring our passions physically. Why, when we can do it "all" virtually?

    --
    Piracy === Disrespect.
    Piracy =/= Theft.

    • by NoImNotNineVolt (832851) on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:11PM (#46214521) Homepage
      I can't help but suggest that maybe the younger crowd isn't buying into these things because of the development of new technologies.

      Motorcycles and aviation catered to a certain demographic of people looking to get out there and do something interesting, something crazy. Perhaps they were the adrenaline junkies of their time. Today, if you're an adrenaline junkie, there are plenty of more accessible alternatives. You can go skydiving with little more than a couple bucks in your wallet. Hell, you can play Grand Theft Auto at your buddy's house for free. I'm not suggesting that playing a video game is the same thing as riding a motorcycle, but merely that it can be a substitute [albeit a poor one].

      Libraries and newspapers are dying, well, for the same reason the buggy whip industry died. There's really no good reason for someone to print stuff out and distribute it physically when it's so much easier to distribute information digitally. Sure, some people prefer real paper [myself included], but some people prefer horses over cars. That didn't stop the automobile from taking over, leaving equestrianism as a hobby for those with a peculiar interest.

      Classical music fascinates me. Its claimed death aside, I find the 'timeless' sense of classical music truly interesting. When we think of music from 200, 300, 500 years ago, we think of classical music. Of course, there must have surely been "folk" music around at the time as well, but we don't really think of that. "Folk" music seems to be largely forgotten by history. Today, we see all this pop music permeating contemporary culture. However, 200, 300, 500 years from now, will all our rock & roll, rap, and dubstep be largely forgotten along the mass of other "folk" music? Will people be talking of our "contemporary classical" composers (I can't even name one) as the benchmark for our generation while being ignorant of Elvis, Rakim, and Bassnectar?

      To contradict what I just said about classical music: complaining about the death of classical music is like complaining about the death of women's shoulder pads. Culture changes, but it doesn't disappear. It's not like people have stopped listening to music, or stopped making music.
      • Will people be talking of our "contemporary classical" composers (I can't even name one)...

        Your geek card is now on probation. John Williams? Composer of the Star Wars Imperial March (and everything else in all six movies, but especially the damn March). Also composer for everything Spielberg has ever done, with the exception of The Color Purple.

        Williams has won 5 Academy Awards, 4 Golden Globe Awards, 7 British Academy Film Awards and 21 Grammy Awards. With 49 Academy Award nominations, Williams is the second most-nominated person, after Walt Disney.

        He's 82 years old, but he's still alive, and still composing. One of a tiny handful of symphonic composers who became a legend in their own time.

        Classical folk music is still alive. I have three different CDs of it, featuring bagpipes, hammered dulci

        • Perhaps I could've written part of my post a little better.

          When I spoke of folk music, I was referring to "not classical" music. The music that is largely forgotten over the years. Sure, your "Snug in a Blanket" is ancient, but you yourself say no one is certain of its origins. In contrast, everyone knows Bach composed The Well-Tempered Clavier. It seems that classical music is very well documented compared against [what I was calling] folk music.

          Kudos for the recorder ownership. I personally would lo
      • by JanneM (7445)

        Motorcycles and aviation catered to a certain demographic of people looking to get out there and do something interesting, something crazy. Perhaps they were the adrenaline junkies of their time.

        I have a bike license. Haven't owned or driven a bike in ten years, and by now I probably never will again.

        Part of it is simply growing up. It's just not as much fun any longer as it was in my 20's. And with work and other committments I have little time left to ride, never mind maintenance and other chores.

        Why youn

      • motorcycles
        Libraries
        Classical music
        Newspaper

        Think horses and horseback riding. All this is heading in that direction. Horses we're more used than cars or milk bottles back in the day and now what? It's a niche recreation. Expensive or not.

        Flying's not mainstream anymore and will reach a steady state, likely through rediscovery. Then again, if rediscovery is a lost passion, we are doomed.

      • by Bo'Bob'O (95398)

        "Folk" music seems to be largely forgotten by history.
        There are a great number of folk and ancient music groups and organizations out there, and people interested in it overlap widely with people interested in classical. Also, many very famous composers (Dvorak, Brahms) regularly integrated folk music into their work to bring it to wider audiences, well before the days of recording and Alan Lomax.

        As for who will be remembered? It's hard to say. Bach was largely forgotten for decades before multiple reviva

    • by Kjella (173770) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:02PM (#46214739) Homepage

      Pardon me, but you sound like a grumpy old fart who picked the randomest things to suggest the next generation is going to shit.

      We frigging didn't have much choice, if we wanted to hang out together we had to physically be together. Being at home was pretty damn boring, we had to get out. Today I've got a ton of entertainment and access to everyone I know in my pocket, of course that changes things. YMMV but I'd say overall for the better. And no, I used to play "fast food gaming" a lot when I was younger, it's called getting old and not so easily dazzled by a cheap adrenaline thrill anymore. They're no worse today than I was back then, do you really remember yourself ten or twenty years ago? Honestly we weren't much into "deep intellectual stimulation".

      I used to tinker with my machines a lot and felt it was great fun, swapping parts and building machines from scratch and it was somehow fun. Then it became routine. Then it became a chore and now I just want to get the damn thing working out of the box and to never break. Same way about running around in an FPS deathmatch, it used to be fun for years. Then I hang in there to play with friends. Today I find the idea of everybody running around shooting each other and respawning just for the sake of shooting each other incredibly dull and pointless. But I'm the one that's changed, not the world.

    • by Pseudonym (62607)

      [...] for the most part people don't want "deep intellectual stimulation" anymore.

      I find it cute that you think a thousand people all yelling "FUCK BETA" at the same time constitutes "deep intellectual stimulation".

  • by ebonum (830686) on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:43PM (#46214385)

    As a private pilot, doing short hops in your own plane is nice. You skip the humiliation of the TSA.

    Unless you own a jet, longer flights are hard to do in a private plane. Range and speed limit how far is practical to travel in a few hours on your own.

    • by w3woody (44457)
      When I started working towards private pilots license (just got my instrument rating), I calculated on a map of California the circles where it made more sense to fly a rented plane (assuming 100 knots ground speed) than to drive or fly commercially.

      My starting assumption was that from door to wheels up at the local airport was about 1 hour; it took 45 minutes to drive to the airport, prep the airplane, and get it off the ground to my destination. Add 15 minutes at the other end parking at an FBO and pay
  • 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.

  • Liability (Score:4, Informative)

    by tricorn (199664) <sep@shout.net> on Monday February 10, 2014 @09:52PM (#46214425) Journal

    I'm an airplane pilot and glider instructor, I donated my time to the local glider club. I stopped instructing in part because I was concerned about the liability if a student should be in an accident and someone was hurt. Paying for hefty liability insurance wasn't really practical for me, especially as I wasn't getting any income from it. I pretty much gave the whole thing up shortly after 9/11 when the security regulations started to become too intrusive. It was also becoming too expensive, even for gliders, especially as insurance and gas costs increased.

    I've trained many students who went on to become pilots, some became airplane pilots from their exposure to aviation in gliders, some became instructors (a few of whom I trained to be instructors). Without instructors, you don't get student pilots. Without student pilots, you don't get new pilots, or new instructors.

  • The primary reason was that the accessible aircraft are pretty low performance unless you're planning on dropping a lot of money. Somehow, we had hundreds of thousands [sic] of prop jobs able to do 300-400 mph in WWI but the planes the average joe will get to fly today move at less than half to a third of that. So, for me all the fantasy trips across country became unreasonable.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:13PM (#46214533) Homepage

      Because those high performance 400 mph prop planes were piloted by 20 year olds with great eyesight and reflexes (and a depressingly large fatality rate). Your average 50 year old dentist should be in a Cessna, not a P51.

      • You, however, probably need the income of a 50 year old dentist to afford the fuel bill for a zippy 'little' P51 (about 4.5 nmi/US gallon) runabout. (The C152 runs about 13 nmi/USG)

    • 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.

  • A big part of this trend is the aging of pilots trained in the Vietnam war. The youngest of them are in their 60's. When the war ended, the US government's "learn to fly for free*" program sharply contracted.

    * Certain sacrifices required.

  • It has little to anything to do with regulations. It mostly comes down to the fact that aviation is a really, really, really, really, really expensive hobby that has only become more expensive in recent times. There just aren't that many people with that much disposable income.
    • by fatmal (920123)
      There's a lot of money to be made in General Aviation.

      I know, because I put it there!

      Mal.
  • by edremy (36408) on Monday February 10, 2014 @10:28PM (#46214605) Journal
    and haven't flown since my first kid was born. As so many others have mentioned, the economics just don't work anymore. I trained on C-152s many years back and they're a nice plane, but even then they were $80/hour to rent one from the local FBO. They sold them right after I got my license and the next cheapest was a 172 at well over $100/hour. To keep yourself from literally being a danger to yourself and everyone around you you need to put in 100 hours/year. $10k/year on a hobby? Yeah, there are a few folks out there who could do it, but not me. Buying a new plane will run you as much as my house, and a used one will cost thousands a year just in inspections and even more in hanger fees.

    The only way I think you could do it was the way my old neighbor did- he was a master mechanic who was working on his FAA certificate. He'd signed up with a couple of wealthier folks and he got a fraction of the plane free if he did the work on it.

  • TFA says

    it will spell trouble for entrepreneurs

    I am glad we care about the entrepreneurs, but why focus only on that person? What about the employees of the business that are impacted? They do not deserve to exist in the author view?

  • The stagnation of design in the factory-built market was caused by a few jury decisions to hold manufacturers liable for crashes, not by government regulation. The liability problem made USA manufacturers stop introducing bold design changes. The "51% rule" holds that if the customer builds an airplane himself, then he's the manufacturer and assumes liability. This has caused all of the interesting design progress to show up in the kit plane market instead of in the factory-built market. (Two examples a

  • With aging populations, rising fuel prices due to crude oil depletion, population growth, and the improvement of rail roads and bus services, and effective telecommuting: why is hte reduction of personal aircraft in any way a surprise?

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:38PM (#46214939) Homepage Journal
    With gas going up and the hard-won benefits of our grandparents' unions eroding, it probably won't be much longer before the majority of Americans can't afford to own or operate any private vehicle, much less one that flies. Enjoy your bleak-ass future, bitches, I'm having another cigarette!
  • Rules rules rules (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:40PM (#46214945)
    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.
    • by tricorn (199664) <sep@shout.net> on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @01:19AM (#46215371) Journal

      Man, I take issue with about 90% of what you say. Yes, there are people who are all rules, but I haven't found them more likely to be in an accident, mostly because they spend so much time worrying about the rules they hardly ever fly. What I did find was that people who didn't take flying seriously were the ones more likely to have problems, regardless of their attitude towards being a stickler for the rules. Now, I knew quite a few of the "old fart" pilots, they were great pilots. They also knew their limits, they knew the rules, and they didn't do stupid things. They weren't good because they ignored the rules, they were able to get away with ignoring SOME of the rules because they understood exactly what the rules were for and when you could bend them. You fly a haphazard traffic pattern with them, though, you'd get your ear chewed off.

      My experience with FAA regulations is that most of them are more about common sense than blind obedience to stupid rules. If you read between the lines, most of them say "you can kill yourself, just don't kill anyone else, please." Many of the rest are about protocols, how you and other pilots can co-exist in the same airspace. That's as of 9/11, I pretty much stopped around then when stupid security regulations started coming out, so maybe things have changed.

      The most dangerous people are yahoos who think the rules are dumb, they're better than the average pilot, they can get away with it, so why should they bother. People who say "flying is easy, any monkey can do it" tend to be like that. Yeah, the mechanics of flying are pretty straightforward, and most people can learn to do it, however I found that people who took longer to learn tended to be the ones that had the highest flying skills eventually.

      If your instructor wasn't constantly testing your situational awareness, asking you what you'd do if something unexpected happened, either you had a poor instructor or you weren't paying attention. That's at least half of what your training is about.

      If your plan of action if your elevator gets stuck is to ask your front seat passenger to climb into the back seat - well, I don't think you've really thought it through very well. You're either going to be in an uncontrollable spin well before he gets his seat belt unbuckled or the airplane is controllable and the last thing you want to do is push your CG backwards with limited elevator control. Fail.

  • Pilot here. (Score:5, Informative)

    by KiranWolf (635591) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:41PM (#46214949) Homepage
    I'm also going to chime in with the "it's too expensive" issue. Flying is amazingly expensive. It's always been expensive, but the costs of aviation have risen along with everything else (and in some cases, much, much faster) while real wages ... haven't.

    At my local FBO, airplanes rent for between $110 and $170 an hour wet (with fuel) depending on the type and equipment. If you're a student, expect to pay between $25 and $50 an hour for instruction, and the average student (so I'm told) requires between 50 and 60 hours of instruction before they're ready to sit for exams. Add in about $200 for your medical and another $500 or so for leaning materials, another few hundred in miscellaneous costs, and the cost just get licensed is, at the low end, around $8,000 and can easily go in excess of $13,000+.

    And then you've got your license. Then what? Have you looked at the cost of airplanes recently? There's a reason pretty much nobody buys airplanes anymore. Only clubs and flight schools own airplanes. You want something newer than 40 years old and seats 4 people, it will run you in excess of $50,000. And forget anything new. A new Cessna 172 currently goes for in excess of $300,000.

    So yes. It's so expensive even to just learn to fly that it is effectively priced out of all the but (what's left of) the upper middle class and the wealthy.

    But there's another issue, too, that I think warrants some attention: health.

    So many things that are considered "common" diagnoses now and are easily treatable, such as high blood pressure, ADHD, depression, etc. are considered disqualifying conditions by the FAA. Even though many of these conditions are easily treatable by modern medicine, they're disqualifying for even a third-class (private pilot) medical certificate.

    While the costs are what is primarily keeping people away from flying right now, the archaic medical certifying process used by the FAA is not helping.
  • I doubt that includes the many light aircraft being produced overseas and imported. But even most of those have a starting price in the low six figures.
    • The problem is that overseas aircraft are treated the same as kit built ones by the FAA. They're "experimental" so you don't have to get FAA certified everything, but that's because non US parts normally aren't normally FAA certified, even if they're from the manufacturer. This sounds neat until you realize that these "experimental" aircraft are restricted by the FAA, and you'll be paying an insurance premium. Plus, you now have to worry about finding a mechanic that will work on your plane.

  • This isn't a problem that is limited to the USA.

    I live in New Zealand and have a workshop on the local airfield.

    Of the 9 hangars at the airfield, only two now have airworthy aircraft in them -- and most of those are home-built or microlite types rather than GA craft (like Cessnas).

    Just about the only (semi) regular users of the runway are flight schools which train pilots for overseas airlines such as EasyJeet and JetStar.

    The skyrocketing cost of maintaining a PPL combined with hikes in just about every oth

  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Monday February 10, 2014 @11:59PM (#46215063)

    The requirement is “a definite detractor to business,” Heffernan told the committee. He and several lawmakers noted that the closest individuals come to a medical exam when obtaining a driver’s license is usually a vision test. Meanwhile, most boat operators do not need any medical certifications.

    In the case of a car or boat when the operator becomes ill he can pull over and stop. An aircraft is a different matter in that it could kill many more people including the operator if it crashes. There is also the difference that aircraft fly at altitude and the thinner air can exacerbate health issues. One needs to be much more fit to pilot an aircraft than operate a vehicle and boat. By the way, commercial drivers usually require a doctor's exam on license renewal.

    The other issue is have these regulations changed recently? I had a glider pilot's license in the '80s. I needed a medical exam and private aviation was pretty healthy then..

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