I am an Etsy addict. I have a shop on there, but I spend WAAAAAY more time looking at other people’s items than I do maintaining my own shop. Not very profitable, I know. Anyway, I was perusing stuff on there today trying to figure out what to get my dad for Christmas. He loves to fly, but because of some truly ridiculous FAA medical restrictions he can’t fly most airplanes unless there is another licensed pilot in the plane with him. There are a few small planes, like the Piper Cub, that he can fly without that stipulation, so lately he has been trying to get back in to flying these smaller planes. He recently purchased a Cessna-172 that he plans to use to fly out to see me, and to maybe take short vacations with my mom. Every mid-life crisis is different – some men buy a Ferrari and find a 25 year old girlfriend. My dad buys an airplane.
To celebrate his recent purchase, I was thinking about getting him something airplane-related – maybe a painting, a framed photograph, something like that. When I did my search for “airplanes” on Etsy, I was disappointed to find that most of the items were related to children – birthday party invitations, decals for nurseries and kids’ rooms, little plush biplanes, etc. There were very few airplane-related paintings, photographs, sculptures, or other pieces of art that would be appropriate for an adult. I realized that this made me kind of sad. Why were there so many children’s items, but very few items for adults? Does society really crush our dreams so thoroughly that every child by the age of 12 has given up his or her dream of flight? That might be part of it. Unless you are in the military, it’s hard to find a full-time job as a pilot, especially since airline companies have had to cut back due to decreased air travel (mostly caused by fear of terror attacks, the obnoxious routine of going through airport security, poor customer service, and ever-increasing prices). When someone asks an 8-year-old kid what he wants to be when he grows up, and the kids answers, “I want to be a pilot!” the adult probably chuckles, thinks “That’s cute,” and then chalks it up to one of those crazy dreams kids have, like being an astronaut or a t-rex, and then assumes the kid will turn out to be an accountant. But, if at age 16, the same kid still wants to be a pilot, well then there’s a problem. His interests must be re-directed into something much more practical, like accounting! So, our wide-eyed 8-year-old has his dreams unceremoniously crushed and he becomes a miserable 33-year-old who does other people’s taxes for a living while constantly keeping one eye on the sky.
It doesn’t help this situation that flying has become extraordinarily (and prohibitively) costly. The cost of fuel has increased significantly over the past 10 years, resulting in increased operation costs for airplanes – they use much more fuel per hour/mile traveled than cars do, and aviation fuel is more expensive anyway. The cost of renting a plane, paying an instructor, and paying for other costs involved in getting a private pilot’s license are quite high, and there are more regulations for flying than for driving car (even though driving is far more dangerous, statistically. Most people simply do not have the time or money to put into getting licensed.
A desire to become a pilot is often dismissed as an unattainable childhood fantasy, and as a result, the aviation culture is suffering. Pilots from my dad’s generation (people in their 50s &60s) are beginning to retire, or their health prevents them from continuing to fly and they are not being replaced by younger pilots. Female pilots of ANY age are almost unheard of. There are some programs for youth to get involved in aviation, but very few scholarships are offered and the programs are not well-publicized. There are a number of famous people who have their pilots license (John Travolta, Clint Eastwood, Dennis Quaid, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford – the list goes on) and if these celebrities did PSAs or set up programs to get people into aviation, I think things would start looking up for the whole field. It might even help commercial airlines, who have been plagued with bad publicity (some of it well-deserved) since 9/11, and even before then. They have had to continually raise rates & charge extra for luggage because fewer people are flying, but then less people fly because they hate the security hassle and financial cost of taking a plane. If more people were comfortable with the idea of flying and if there were more private pilots among the general population, I think this would change peoples’ attitudes about flight. It would also help if the FAA would relax some of their ridiculous restrictions on pilots. If these things came together – youth programs about aviation, relaxed restrictions, and celebrity endorsement & support of aviation programs and scholarships – I think there would be a lot more people lining up to fly the friendly skies, both in airliners & in their own small planes.