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Thread: What really "killed" General Aviation

  1. #1

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    What really "killed" General Aviation

    We were chewing the fat after a nice hour or so in the air when the subject of an FAA safety seminar came up and the best way to get to it.

    Ol' Jim owns both a Champ* and a 172, and he was mulling over which plane to take down there - and whether to actually fly to it or not.

    The Champ is, well, a champ and just a joy to fly. Nothing beats it (well, until my plane is finished, anyway).

    The 172 is loaded (Jim instructs instrument ratings in it) and he could go IFR if needed.

    "The Champ would be my vote," I said, "but it's not the best of the three for cross country flights."

    Both would be less dependable than driving.

    We both paused for a second.

    "Darned Interstates."

    Our minds went back in time to when the Champ was new - 1946 - when it would have been a godsend for anyone trying to get from Point A to Point B as quickly and trouble free as possible. There were no Interstates. State and County roads that linked towns in a web were all there was, and most were two lanes.

    Here in Alabama, chances were good that a portion of one's trip would be on a gravel road.

    Looking historically at the bulge of licenses, one can definately take into account the demographic hump of the Baby Boomers, but the huge decline in new licenses doesn't match up.

    Cost is usually fingered as the cause, but I don't really buy that. Most of the GA fleet was built about the time of the bulge, and flying has always been expensive. The EAA wasn't founded because production airplanes were dirt cheap and everyone could afford them, after all. A new plane cost about as much as an average home, and a used one about as much as a new car (just like today!).

    Nope, we reckoned that when the Interstate grid was fleshed out it simply became more effective to load up the family in the car and go. It's often quicker and almost always easier - nobody worries about weight and balance in sedan, after all. And the weather rarely gets too bad to drive; when it does there are lots of options on how to wait it out.

    If one was born in 1945, the Interstate system grew up with one. The resident memory and habits passed down didn't fully allow for them; even when the option of driving was more effective than flying the words of their elders held fast.

    I was born in 1965; I can't remember a time when there wasn't one to make automobile travel as fast and reliable as it is today.

    Really long distance travel is by commercial air - a sanitized mode where every effort is made to keep the sensation of flight away from the passenger to where one is sitting in a waiting room in much the same manner as in a doctor's office. It's cheap, too - I remember when the informal dress code for boarding an airplane matched the expense of the ticket. Today people dress better when they're going to cut their front lawns than on an airplane.

    Back to the Champ. The time saved by cruising at 55 mph in a straight line versus 45 mph in a serpentine manner was worth the loss of weighty baggage back in the 1940's and '50's. It was a viable cross country option for a 150 mile trip. As GA airplanes got bigger and faster in the '60's and early '70's it was still break even or better. By the 1980's there was no competition - the Interstate had won, and with it a lot of the relevance of personal flying for travel.

    Uncle Bob no longer smirked about how he had gone to such-and-such in just an hour in his Cessna 140 while others creeped along under him. He started driving, too, when he really needed to be somewhere, and his plane became a recreation first and foremost. Worse, he started flying less and less, and with it stopped taking his nieces, nephews, and the kid who cuts his grass on flights, spreading the joy and fact that yes, if Uncle Bob could be a pilot anybody could. Heck, he can't even change his own oil!

    But it's not all doom and gloom for General Aviation, and the death of her is greatly exaggerated.

    Traffic compounded by the inevitable rebuilding of the Interstates are slowing things down (at least around here), and the security nutrolls along with shrinking services are making anything but the longest flights on commercial airlines cost ineffective. When one has to add an hour (or more) on both ends of a two hour flight they're at the break even point with driving some of the time (anybody waited longer for a bag to hit the claim area than the duration of the flight?).

    The cost of aviation has remained constant, so it's in reach of those who really want to fly, just as it always has been.

    What we're going to see is more purely recreational flying with a healthy mix of "transportation" flights thrown in.

    The pool of pilots as a percentage of the population is going to shrink - make no mistake of it. The pilots are going to be more like the guys and gals in the 1930's than in the 1970's by their habits, but in greater relative numbers. And yes, just like back then a heckuvalot of "fat cat" hyper expensive flying is going to happen as well.

    * I almost bought that Champ when it came on the market; if I hadn't committed to building my own airplane at the time....
    The opinions and statements of this poster are largely based on facts and portray a possible version of the actual events.

  2. #2
    rosiejerryrosie's Avatar
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    Frank, I think you have hit on a reality. Affordable flying is just not that convenient any more, nor does it save any time. In my case, for instance, it is a 40 minute drive to get to the airport (at 50-60 miles per hour), then opening the hangar doors and moving out two airplanes before I can even get to mine, time for preflight (and maybe fueling up if I hadn't done it when I put the airplane away), cranking up the engine and letting it warm up before I even taxi to the runway. By now, Ive used up in the neighborhood of an hour and a half. Once in the air I can travel in a straight line at maybe 85 miles per hour (wind direction dependent) unless I have to deviate around restricted airspace. But if all things are in my favor (wind direction, air sapce, etc) in the two hours of fuel that I have on board, I can get maybe 180 miles from my start point. This means that I have travelled 180 miles in three and a half hours for an average of 51.4 miles per hour, which I can easily do by car (which requires very little int he way of 'preflight'). This means that I fly because I like it - not because it is convenient, timely or comfortable.......
    Cheers,
    Jerry

    NC22375
    65LA out of 07N Pennsylvania

  3. #3
    sdilullo's Avatar
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    Great points... and I'll be honest and say I've never thought about the Interstate effect before.

    For me personally, our usual trips to Detroit from Dayton just don't make much sense in an airplane. Sure, we can make it in about 1.5-2.0 hours in the air... but that ignores pre-flight, driving to the airport, etc. It's only a 3.5 hour drive max up I-75. The only places it saves some real time for us are where we're not using the interstates as much... Dayton to Kalamazoo, for instance. There, 1.5-2.0 is vs. a 4.0-4.5 hour drive.
    My flying/training adventures:
    amileofrunway.blogspot.com

    A mile of road will take you a mile, but a mile of runway will take you anywhere.

  4. #4
    detlili's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rosiejerryrosie View Post
    .... This means that I fly because I like it - not because it is convenient, timely or comfortable.......
    I agree with you. 95% are flying for fun and meeting nice pilots all over the world.

    We also...

    Detlef

    Detlef Heun & Liliana Tagliamonte
    www.flight-around-the-world.org
    www.DL-pictures.com

  5. #5

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    When I drive to Boulder it takes me about 4 1/2 hours if the weather is good and I can go over Ind Pass, which is spectacular scenery. That's with one stop for gas or a sandwich.
    If it is mid winter and I have to drive the long way, it can be anywhere from 5 hours to all day, the bus once took 8 hours.
    When I flew over last night, it took 45 minutes with a slight tailwind.

    The flying probably cost $100 for gas, the driving perhaps $50.

    But the big difference is the flying is effortless. I take off, climb up, open the flight plan, and just cruise relaxed over all the obstacles on the ground. I have to concentrate for landing, but not a big deal; that is IF AND A BIG IF THE WEATHER IS GOOD VMC. If not then there is some effort, or else I don't go.

    In driving, almost all of it is effort and stress. There is traffic to watch out for and even dodge, and a number of places where the road is dangerous or can be. There's very little just relaxed straight cruising with no traffic and no stress.
    I arrive in the plane feeling great and in the car with my back hurting and worn out.

  6. #6

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    The only reason that the automobile was successful was that mass production made it affordable. The mass produced auto made the horse and carriage obsolete as the primary mode of transportation.
    The same is true for the airplane. Airplanes are not affordable because they are not mass produced. The mass produced affordable airplane described below will eventually make the auto obsolete and eliminate the predicted global gridlock of ground vehicles.

    I have a patent on a new transportation vehicle that is designed to run on natural gas or any other bio-fuel at several hundred miles per hour at a lower cost per mile than the Prius. Bill Ford, CEO of Ford Motor Company, stated recently that personal transportation will become limited, not by the price of fuel or CO2 emissions, but by congestion (http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_ford_a..._gridlock.html). We will rapidly approach a point where traffic simply stands still, and that will limit our personal movement.
    The Verticraft is the ultimate transportation vehicle of the future. It has maximum speed and safety at minimum cost. Very high speed on the ground is very dangerous, while very high speed in the air is desirable and very safe. On the ground, vehicles are separated horizontally by a few feet with zero vertical separation. In the air Verticraft will be separated by hundreds or thousands of feet horizontally and by hundreds or thousands of feet vertically, making air travel thousands of times safer than driving. Residents of low-density, residential-only sprawling communities are also more likely to die in car collisions which kill 1.2 million people worldwide each year, and injure about forty times this number. The incredibly large costs involved in having to build roads and bridges to desired destinations and the destruction of the environment caused by those roads would be eliminated. The vehicle is designed to run on LNG or any bio-fuel to minimize emissions. A ballistic recovery parachute allows the Verticraft to make a normal landing in the unlikely event of multiple engine failure, because it is a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle. If anyone does not believe that electronic collision avoidance systems work, check the accident record. Before collision avoidance systems were perfected and then made mandatory there was a tragic series of collisions involving airliners. Since the electronic systems went on watch there hasn’t been a midair involving an airline jet. It is a little known fact that the public has been flying on an automated airline flight system for years. Only three minutes of the average airline flight is not operated on autopilot.
    The aircraft would be totally automated. Each property owner would enter their address and each 12 'circular parking spot number into the FAA's NextGen transportation system using the Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B) system. The desired address and spot number would be entered into the Flight Management Computer. The FMC would reject any flight path that would have a traffic or weather or spot occupied conflict. The aircraft would all have TCAS ( traffic collision avoidance systems) connected to the autopilots that would take evasive maneuvers automatically just as the current airlines have TCAS warnings for the pilots to take manual evasive maneuvers. This system would automatically be activated by ambulance, police, or fire vehicles which have priority. The response time and efficiency of emergency vehicles would be greatly enhanced. If a spot at your desired destination is unavailable the nearest spot available would show on the cockpit display screen along with the nearest spot available to your current location at all times. At major airports the airline flights would operate in their normal flight corridors while inbound passengers would fly in unobstructed routes to their parking spots available near or on the terminal building. Passengers that live nearby could send their aircraft home as UAV's to free up parking spots. Rental aircraft would be available to international airline passengers. This would minimize the current causes of fatalities from automobiles such as falling asleep, alcohol, drugs, texting, many other distractions and last but not least, incompetence. Air taxi vehicles would be available for the people concerned about automated flying. The aircraft could be flown manually in low density airspace just as they are currently and still have the TCAS available to maximize safety as a backup to visual flight. The automated air transportation system would be used for transportation to the edges of high population areas where only mass transit vehicles are allowed. A good example is Disney World's transportation system.
    The initial market would be the 600,000 licensed pilots in the USA along with the estimated 400,000 foreign pilots. I would like to discuss a joint venture to mass produce the Verticraft to replace the current fleet of cars, trucks and aircraft and eventually eliminate global gridlock and dependence on foreign energy sources.
    Sincerely,
    Stanley G. Sanders II, President Verticraft LLC.
    email- j2sande@yahoo.com
    phone- 239-248-0747

  7. #7

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    Stan, please don't copy and paste from your other thread, okay?
    The opinions and statements of this poster are largely based on facts and portray a possible version of the actual events.

  8. #8

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    I was answering your question about what killed general aviation. Affordability is the answer and mass production is the solution. The auto is obsolete but its replacement can only be successful if it is mass produced just as Henry Ford proved in 1914. Mass production of aircraft for primary transportation outside of high density population centers is the best way to prevent global gridlock that is ironically discussed by Henry Ford's great grandson (http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_ford_a..._gridlock.html.

  9. #9

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    Frank, I've had the exact same thought - the interstate system combined with reliable cars has killed GA's utility on < 300 mile trips. By the time I drive to the airport, preflight, load the airplane, fly to the destination, unload, then pick up a rental car, the time savings vs driving are essentially gone. Add in the fact that GA is a lot less reliable than a modern auto (due to weather, mechanical reliability, etc), and the car is a better transportation solution.

  10. #10

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    It's not just the interstate. In the last 50 years the safety, comfort, and mileage have all doubled. In 1961 my family car (my dad's rather) was a noisy station wagon that got 12 mpg. Today my family car is a reasonably quiet suv (aka "station wagon") that gets 20 mpg. At the same time, Cessnas and pipers have not changed at all. They are still noisy and get 12 mpg. Today airports are fenced off too.

    The interstate highway system just made the choice to not fly easier.
    Richard Johnson, EAA #395588

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