The New Golden Age of General Aviation
President Ronald Reagan handed his successor, President George Bush, the most powerful military establishment in history. That force won the Gulf War with minimal American casualties. By contrast, Bill Clinton handed his successor, President George W. Bush, a military establishment cut in half and a Central Intelligence Agency which has been forbidden for eight years to recruit penetration agents unless they had a “good human rights record.” Now, the man who wanted to be the “education” President must be the President who must, instead, rebuild our military and intelligence capabilities. And, at enormous cost.
On September 11, 2001, our government failed in its first Constitutionally-mandated duty which is to protect its citizens from foreign attack and to keep us safe in our persons.
In fairness, only those who voted for eight years of military and intelligence folly should have to pay to rescue the airline industry from collapse. But America doesn’t work that way. We will all have to pay.
Ironically, airliners, which were used as the instruments of the tragic destruction, were the first aircraft to be allowed to resume operations. General aviation – the business and private aircraft not used by the terrorist -- were the last airplanes to be allowed back in the air -- and then only on a very limited basis.
But, in the long run, this tragedy may usher in what may be called: The New Golden Age of General Aviation. Fear of terrorist attacks may cause a sizable segment of the flying public to opt for other transportation alternatives such as ground, rail and (drum roll) general aviation.
Fortunately, this shift occurs just as number of new, powerful and relatively inexpensive aircraft propulsion and navigation technologies and ownership-management tools are coming on line.
Americans have already come to know and love GPS. Soon, acronyms such as: SATS, HITS and FO will become almost as well known.
SATS stands for Small Aircraft Transportation System. This NASA-backed project envisions the day when almost all Americans will live reasonably close to a SATS-capable, general aviation airport and will have affordable, rental access to a large fleet of six- to eight-passenger, turbine-powered aircraft with cruising speeds of approximately 350 miles-per-hour.
HITS stands for highway-in-the-sky navigation. Basically, the pilot tells an on-board computer where he or she is and where he or she wants to go. Based on GPS data, a cockpit display lays out a graphic highway-in-the-sky to be followed by the pilot.
FO stands for Fractional Ownership of aircraft. FO will find increased favor with corporations that do not have their own flight detachments and with relatively well-heeled individuals who can afford to own a fraction of a professionally-flown aircraft. United Airlines itself is getting into the Fractional Ownership business.
Meanwhile, America’s over 600,000 pilots will be joined by thousands of new, private pilots who will need more Pipers, Cessnas, Mooneys, Beechcrafts, Bellancas, Maules, Lancairs, Cirrus and other aircraft brands. More flight instructors will be needed. But look for access to hangers, to aircraft and to flight instruction to be much more carefully controlled.
Even so, general aviation flying offers enormous advantages. You set your own schedule. A thorough pre-flight inspection means no unsafe conditions or bombs. You never get attacked. (My co-pilot, Wonder Wife, and I share the same religion and political philosophy.) We do an excellent job of inspecting our own luggage. We never lose our luggage. It arrives when we arrive. We can even take our canine-American with us. We carry food and soft drinks of our choosing.
Granted, ground transportation is needed; however, that’s true with the airlines as well. But you can rest assured that as the SATS comes on line, more and more ground transportation will be available at general aviation airports – be it airport courtesy cars, rental cars or public transportation links.
Mark my words, the Phoenix of general aviation will arise from the ashes of this terrible tragedy.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, has been flying for 33 years and is the co-author of a novel about terrorism entitled: The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn. See: www.thegrandconspiracy.com.