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Remarks March 2012 Issue

Flight begins at 40, or maybe 50

One of my secret wishes is that when I’m 90 I’ll have at least half the belly-fire of Howie Keefe. The man is 90 (or maybe 91 now) and still attacks the day like he’s flying a P-51—something he did 'round the pylons of Reno many years back. That’s just one facet of a flying career that would keep your rapt attention over several beers.

Howie is also a businessman who’s made his dimes on seeing and seizing opportunities. He invented Air Charts, spiral-bound books of all the en route and sectional charts for the lower 48, with changes mailed to you as lists so your books were technically current for a year. While I can’t say Howie and I see eye-to-eye on what today’s market wants from a chart solution, I still get a kick out of our phone calls.

I also think he’s spot-on about an unseized opportunity for marketing GA and getting some new pilot starts. He calls it “Flight begins at 40.” Here’s the idea: Forget the pro-pilot hopefuls who haven’t had their Pollyanna visions of an airline career busted yet. The most likely demographic to start pilot training and end up buying an airplane—and feeding the economic lifeblood of GA—are professionals in their 40s who’ve always wanted to fly and now have the resources to do it. (Given that 40 is the new 30, and I know many a 40-year-old still mired in the raising of young children, the real age might be 50. But I digress.)

The system would be similar to the EAA’s Young Eagles program. That program is now open to adults—high-five on that to EAA president Rod High-tower—but this would tie the volunteer pilots to targeted marketing to the 40- and 50-somethings who could go for a flight with someone just like them.

The potential pilot would see a peer (sorry, no 20-something CFIs allowed) using an airplane just the way they’ve thought about doing. It would be both an introduction and an opportunity for mentoring down the road. If it were underwritten, the coupons given out at boat shows and in golfing magazines would be for half the fuel of the flight in question. There’s many a pilot-owner out there who’d gladly take up an enthusiastic adult for half-price on the gas.
Perhaps best of all is that in this case the planes don’t have to be high-tech dream machines. Not that a glass panel is a bad thing, it’s just that the flight is about the relationship, both between the pilot and the would-be pilot and the would-be pilot and the flying life. There’s nothing so powerful as seeing someone just like you doing something you didn’t think you could to break down a barrier that existed only in your mind.

Of course, this effort would require some soul-searching honesty on the part of those who marketed it. Not everyone who wants to can afford to fly. (Heck, I couldn’t if I didn’t get paid to do it most of the time.) But there are a lot more people who could do it—who actually might want to do it—if they ever got the vision of themselves taking the left-seat controls the same year they hit their 25th high school reunion.
—Jeff Van West

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