Friday, May 8, 2009


If you are already a pilot and have been initiated to the inner sacrum of “Aviators”, have you ever taken a look at your airport from an “outsider’s” perspective. You might have been flying for years, but how does a person merely interested in aviation view us?

I have run into several friends recently, who are not themselves pilots and who did not have an idea that flying is something they could do. Misconceptions such as “I thought I was not allowed to wear contacts or glasses”, or “I thought it would takes years of training to get a license” or “I thought you had to get trained in the military or by an airline”.

One friend told me: “If I knew I could go up for a $ 99 discovery flight with hands-on training in the first flight, I would have done it years ago”.

Well, these episodes made me look a bit further than what I had. I took my wife out to Van Nuys airport and I also brought a camera with me. I told my wife: “Let’s pretend that we have never been to this airport before and see what our first impression would be”.

Van Nuys is one of, if not the busiest General Aviation airport in the world. I first heard about it back in Sweden in the 1970’s and always wished I could go there some day. Well, here I am, a licensed pilot flying in and out of Van Nuys all the time. For a pilot who flies in, the airport though busy, is very inviting.

Driving in as a “rookie” to aviation, however, makes it look uninviting and not friendly. The first impression you get is “I better stay out of here, or someone from Homeland Security or the police will probably catch up with me”.

Fences, Barbed wires, cameras and “Stay out of here” is the message. The few signs and banners promoting learning how to fly, look worn and ragged and did not invite confidence.

Our pilot population is dwindling to the lowest in 40 years– yet, is there a lack of interest in learning how to fly? Or is it just that the economy has gone sour? I dare to say that neither of these things are the reason why!

A friend of mine who owns a flight school in Van Nuys, sent 2,000 fliers out to the local area to invite people to an open house. His phones were ringing off the hook and he got more than 200 people who came out. A 10 % response rate on a flier sent out to households is unheard of. (I know I consult businesses for a living and my wife is a marketing specialist) Any other industry would do anything for that kind of response, and here my friend just sends a flyer and baam! there is the response. His is not an inexpensive low end flight school either, it actually is a premier school flying some of the newest most modern airplanes. Yet, he is not allowed to put up a sign on his building, since it violates “sign ordinances”. This is not unique to Van Nuys, almost every other airport we have been to has had these draw backs too. Cable airport so far has been the one exception.

Are we trying to keep people out of airports, we may ask?
Well on the upside of things, there are people actively promoting the airport. There is a viewing area where you can watch airplanes land and take off. The 99’s have done a number of displays there. There is a replica of the airport that acts as a play area for kids. There are also some outreach programs being done to schools and they offer tours of this airport. Other airports have some of these too. Still, the first impression you get when you drive around most airports is that you do not feel welcome and that this is not for you.

Look at your own airport from the perspective that my wife and I just did. How would a newcomer view your airport? What would need to be done at your airport to make it more inviting and attractive?

Friends of Aviation has taken on the task to enable the Aviation community to reach out to the general public and create a good impression of General Aviation and Aviation in general.

Our News media do not make it easy for us to accomplish that task ( ever notice how they report every crash and violation but never mention record and other accomplishments?) They always neglect to mention that aviation is still the safest mode of transportation too.

It is up to us as an Aviation community to get the good news of aviation out to the general population. We have to either open up our airports to our local communities, or failing that go out there and inform people of what we are all about.

Having pilots or other aviation professionals talk to kids at our schools, arrange for open houses, hosting a Chamber of Commerce meeting, having a boot at a local fair or just have a talk at the Senior Center in your area does more than what you realize to create a good image for your local airport and let people know they can learn to fly.

People are also not aware in how many ways aviation improves lives and helps our communities, creates jobs, helps manage emergencies, does rescue and search missions, keeps kids off streets and yes it does also help the environment. Let’s clear people’s misconceptions on this topic.

Do not let ourselves be viewed as a “clique” or shield ourselves off from our communities. Talk to people you know and meet about the possibility of flying- and the many other fields related to aviation. Let’s get effective and show people what aviation can do and present what we do to the world.

Happy Flying

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Dream of Friends of Aviation

About 17 years ago, I was spending some time during the Holidays to take some friends up flying at a small General Aviation Airport outside Los Angeles.
Throughout the day, I taxied in to the ramp several times to pick up the next batch of passenges. When doing that I happened to notice a young boy with a black leather jacket sitting on his bicycle outside the fence. He must have been 13 or 14 years old and was there for hours, quietly observing the plane.
At one point I found myself having an hour until my next passengers would arrive. Remembering being in this situation myself many years earlier when I was a kid, I walked up and asked him if he wanted to go up for a flight. "Really? Are you serious?", he said and his eyes opened wide open, like saucers, with excitement. I showed him all parts of the Piper Warrior that I was flying, as well as the controls and instrument panel.
We went up for about half an hour and I let him take over the controls for a bit. He seemed like a natural at it. After we landed, he went back to his bicycle and asked me if we could go back up the next day, which we ended up doing. I found out his name was Paul. After this incident, I did not think too much of it and thought I’d never see him again.
However, I happened to go back to the same airport about 5-6 years later. A young man with a mustache approached me when I arrived, shook my hand and said "Hello!!". At first I did not recognize him, but a moment later I remembered the face and said "Paul!". "Yes, that's me", he said and continued "It is funny that when you take someone up flying, you change their whole life".
I found out that he had managed to borrow money for his flight training after I had taken him up and he was now a Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor. It had indeed changed his course in life and made an impact on him.
What occurred here made me realize how powerful the experience of flight can be, and how much more can be done to bring aviation to the general public. From this was born the idea and dream of Friends of Aviation, and it is now becoming a reality. Thanks to all who join us. We welcome you onboard!