There’s only one newsprint periodical I still read on real newsprint: The Funny Times. It’s mostly a mix of satiric essays and left-leaning political cartoons, but my favorite section is the “News of the Weird” page. These are real-world news stories collected under sub-headings like “Government Inaction” and “Couldn’t Possibly Be True.”
I felt like I had a submission for one these stories when first I heard about Cessna’s Discover Flying Challenge program on a recent visit to Wichita. Eight recent CFI graduates of aviation universities would saddle up eight Cessna Skycatchers and spend a month traveling the country to expose potential pilots to aviation. I liked the idea. Young Eagles has helped with pilot exposure and the EAA now has a program for adults to get rides. Cessna has a vested interest, but this is the kind of thing that’s good for aviation overall—a touch of the old barnstorming days.
Except that the Textron lawyers told the Cessna folks in charge that the CFIs couldn’t take people up for rides. They could blog and tweet about their travels. They could land and show people the airplane, but no risky flying could occur.
At least the program would be aptly named. Not letting people fly would make discovering aviation more challenging.
Then again, while this might not be the right message about accessibility and inclusion in aviation, perhaps it’s an accurate one. Items have come across my desk recently about people dropping out of aviation because adequate insurance is too tough to get, good equipment isn’t available to rent, and financing for the small, starter aircraft isn’t available despite the lowest interest rates in memory. A few blogs titled “Travels with Two Alpha Charlie” isn’t going to inspire anyone enough to surmount these barriers, let alone address the problems.
On my airline trip home, I sat next to a young fellow who saw this issue of IFR on my laptop. He’d started training, but drifted away. When he found out I was at Cessna to review a $750,000 airplane for Aviation Consumer magazine, he didn’t sound surprised, but did look resigned.
I told him about the Legacy LSA article I’d done for Consumer. An Aeronca Champ for $25,000 was something he suddenly seemed excited about, especially with a partner. I sent him a copy when I got home.
I also found out when I got home that the Textron lawyers relented to reason and will allow passengers on flights that actually slip earth’s surly bonds, but only sitting on the right and the CFI must do all the takeoffs and landings. That’s better, but it’s still a bit like advertising a pony ride and not giving the kid any reins to hang on to.
One thing this industry can’t afford is fostering exclusion. People start flying for many reasons, but they stay flying because it becomes part of their life and community. That’s a concept we need to clarify. —Jeff Van West