Category Archives: Business Aviation

The Problem with Laser Pointers

It sounds like a simple and goofy prank.  Shine your laser pointer into the sky and see if you can “hit” an airplane.  Your chances are probably slim, but if you live near an airport you may just succeed.  And what the heck, huh?  Sounds almost harmless.

But it isn’t.  In fact it can be very dangerous.

Recently a friend on Twitter who is an airline pilot talked about getting hit by a laser while on final approach the other night.  I had never really paid much attention to this phenonmena, so I thought I’d look into it. 

Turns out a USAToday article in Janurary reported that over 2,800 pilots reported being targeted with lasers.  This is a doubling of these incidents from 2009 and represents a 10-fold increase since 2005. 

The problem is that these lasers can blind pilots in critical phases of flight, namely takeoff and landing.  As pointed out in a NYTimes article, laser beams diffuse with distance, but the intensity remains.  What that means is that a beam 1/25 of an inch wide can be 2 to 3 feet wide by the time if arrives at an unsuspecting pilot’s cockpit.  And yet, it’s just as brilliant and blinding as it is at 3 feet. 

The risks are obvious.  Laser pointers continue to increase in size and power and the damage they can inflict. Recently a 15 year-old student burned his retina and damaged his vision when he got an eye full of a powerful green laser he was using to try and pop balloons. 

Click for scientific details behind these picturesThis photo and it’s related article are a great and scientific analysis of what happens and why.  You can clearly see the blinding effect the laser causes on this simulated night flight.  The flashes simulate the effect of having repeated “hits” because most people can’t steadily hold the laser on a moving aircraft.  Therefore, pilots often get hit several times in a row.  See this article for more information. 

It’s not a joke at all.  Please let people know this is dangerous.


Plane Guilt: The Unfortunate Stigma of Aviation

by Chris Findley, CFI

Recently I was having a conversation with a Charter Operator’s team about possible ways to increase their visibility and market share.  I mentioned the use of customer testimonials as part of their advertising.  They responded, “But our customers won’t do it.  They feel like people will judge them negatively because they used a private charter.”

I haven’t been able to get that thought out of my head.

There is a stigma about general aviation- that somehow these planes are the wasteful toys of the “rich”.  To admit to flying one or utilizing one for business seems to be tantamount to admitting you have stock in Exxon, own a Hummer, or that you were involved in clear cutting a rainforest.  There’s a stigma.  And ironically it doesn’t matter if you’re flying a Cessna 172, a Cirrus, Baron, or a Phenom.  People will look sort of sideways at you and wonder if somehow you’re the clandestine “millionaire next door”

There are several things that we need to understand about “Plane Guilt” if we hope to overcome it:

The relative nature of the argument. When someone uses what is perceived as “rich toys” either for pleasure or as a part of their business, there is a judgment that happens in many people’s mind.   “Mr. Jones is so extravagant and wasteful to be using that business plane. ” And many clients/owners/operators are very aware of this stigma. The argument that aviation is simply an extravagant and wasteful tool for the wealthy is completely relative.  It’s relative based on one’s perception of affluence and wealth.  What is extravagant to one may not be to another.  In many ways Americans have blinders on and miss the fact we are, in general, an affluent people.  Consider the fact that Americans and Europeans  spend enough on ice cream and pet foods to provide  water, health, nutrition, and education for the entire planet.  Also, consider that 80% of the people on the planet live on less than $10 a day.1  Of course Americans are a generous people too.  Even in the economic hard times we are facing at home, over $200 million was raised in short order for the victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti. 2   But realize that this relief was only possible because we, as a people, are successful.  And never mind the crucial role, dare we mention it, that private aviation continues to play in that recovery effort.  Nonetheless, we need to understand the argument that somehow Aviation is more wasteful than something else is really to give in to a selective form of logic that ignores the larger picture.

In fact, most of the pilots I know are far from wealthy (including yours truly).   Most would fall into the middle-class.  They work hard, have families, and developed their flying hobby. Even professional pilots aren’t soaking up the dollars.  The  average salary for a new corporate pilot is $32,500.   Flight Instructors average about $25 per hour before taxes (at 30%).3  Of course these can increase with seniority, but very few are making anywhere near the six-figure income many people wrongly assume. Somehow people have gotten it into their heads that pilots and those involved in GA are wealthy (which equals ‘suspect’).   Those who work in the industry know better.  Flying has a wonderful cross-section of people.  Yes, there are celebrities and wealthy people, but by far most GA patrons and operators are not.

There are plenty of other expensive hobbies that consume thousands of dollars in discretionary income each year.  Is golf looked on with equal disdain?  What about bass-boat owners?  Or Harley-Davidson riders?  There was a time when it was a bit pretentious to have a cell phone (remember when they came in those gigantic brief-case-sized bags?)  Not that long ago to have more than one car or a flat-screen television was a sign of excess.  But times, and stigmas can change.

The Expense of Charter? Charter flying can be expensive.  But it can also be surprisingly affordable.  As I was working on this article I looked at what the cost difference was between airline and charter flights for a trip from Evansville, Indiana to Atlanta.  The average price for the airline ticket was $800.  The charter price was around $780 in a modest Cessna 310.  For a bit more speed, a King Air was $944.  Jet service in a  BeechJet was $1300.  This illustrates the idea that charter can be had for less than most people realize.  Perhaps that would be worth the cost to avoid the hassle and extra fees of today’s airline travel.

But it’s the perception, right?

Overcoming the Stigma by Stories How can we overcome the stigma of Charter/Corporate flying?  We tend to argue from the statistical side, particularly the cost and relative affordability of flying.  But there’s one critical feature missing: emotion.  People often pay for a good or service because of emotion and perceived value.  One of the most effective means of doing this is through the use of stories.

Aviation needs a Jared.

When Jared Fogle was a junior in college he weighed a whopping 425 pounds.  His father, a doctor, warned him of his weight and the dangers it posed to his health.  After his roommate noticed signs of edema (fluid retention that can lead to diabetes) Jared decided to get serious about losing weight.  He discovered Subway’s new line of low-fat sandwiches and developed his own diet based on eating one veggie sub for lunch and a turkey sub for dinner.  The rest is history and marketing genius by storytelling.  Most of us have seen Jared’s commercials and know that dropped to 180lbs.  The story caught on, despite the initial resistance of Subway’s marketing firm.

In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath make the point that this serendipitous campaign contains all the things necessary to be successful and “sticky”.  It is simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and given by a story.  They note, “Inspiration drives action, as does stimulation.” Later they note the surprise in the story, “[Jared’s story] violates our schema of fast food…the guy who wore 60-inch pants is giving us diet advice!” (Heath and Heath, p222)

Can we find a story like Jared’s?  We need a story that violates the schema, the stigma, currently popular about flying.  Aviation has tended to depend on celebrities to make its case.  That has its advantages.  But perhaps a far more effective and change-inducing idea is to find the “ordinary person” who is utilizing and benefiting from charter aviation and has the courage to tell their story.

Because, we have a story worth telling.  Can we find our Jared?

If you have a story, I’d love to hear it!  Email me:




A Neglected Market?

For a businessman or woman, obviously there can be real benefits to using corporate aviation.  BizAv can provide more access to a greater number of airports, less waiting, and greater flexibility with scheduling.

But there may be another market, perhaps a neglected one.

You wanna know someone for whom the airline travel really bites?  Try a family on vacation.

Ever try to manage a stroller, car seat, 3 irritable kids, snacks, tickets, bags, “stuff” from Disneyland, potty stops, meltdowns, and a TSA agent with a wand?

What if…and this is purely hypothetical, charter companies began offering flights for families on vacation?  There could be some cost sharing between families if the plane was large enough.  Also, on the other side of the coin, you could use modestly fast planes (King Air or even a Pilatus or Caravan on a regional leg) that would make things a bit more affordable. One site showed the King Air/Pilatus going for about $1200/hr.  If it’s a regional hop (vs a truly cross-country one) that really puts this type of flying more in reach, particularly when you consider the cost of 5 airline tickets in the peak summer vacation season.

Convenient?  Fast?  Direct flight in a King Air to Disney w/ no wrangling through the airline terminal?

Sign me up.

Can General Aviation “Tip” Again? (Pt II)

Developing a “Sticky” Message

by Chris Findley, CFI

While waiting for my kids at their bus stop, a light-plane flew over.  From where I sat in our van, it looked like a Cessna 172.  I found myself wishing it was me zooming overhead.  I looked around at the other parents waiting in the parking lot and I wondered what their impressions and thoughts were of the Cessna –assuming they even paid attention to it.

Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, The Tipping Point, begins with the observation that most trends and epidemics are not caused by a large number of people.  Rather, they are often the result of a few influential and motivated people.  Some of these people are able to have a large influence because of their connections to others or by their ability to influence those around them.  But contrary to conventional wisdom, most trends start with a few.  He aptly calls this the “Law of the Few”

Gladwell’s second major point in The Tipping Point is “The Stickiness Factor”.   He says, “The specific quality that a message needs to be successful is the quality of ‘stickiness’.  Is the message memorable?  Is it so memorable, in fact, that it can create change, that it can spur someone to action?”1

Where’s the Beef?

I believe one of the most difficult things to overcome in General Aviation (GA) is the lack of self-reflection on what GA’s message actually is.  I’m not speaking of a particular business’s message.  They will determine that based on their own services and market.  Rather, I’m asking what is the message that we, as an industry, wish to promote?   When someone, waiting for their kids hears a small plane fly over, what do we want them to think?

Other industries have asked these questions.  Remember the “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner!” campaign?  It was launched in 1992 by the Cattleman’s Beef Board.  They recognized a problem–the negative image and growing public concern over the consumption of red meat.  They developed a plan and a message and as an industry, sought to change public perception.  Was it successful?  The “It’s what’s for dinner campaign” is one of the most recognizable taglines in history and is recognized by 88% of Americans.2

Therefore, I believe one of the first things we must do if we want to positively move public opinion to a more favorable position on GA, we have to think critically about what we want people to take away from their contact with General Aviation.

Considering the Message

The AOPA’s “General Aviation Serves America” campaign is a great campaign aimed at raising awareness of the ways General Aviation is an integral part of American communities.  The campaign, which makes use of the Law of the Few by involving well-known actors Harrison Ford and Morgan Freeman and others, is primarily aimed at raising awareness of how regulatory changes and legislation will negatively affect GA.

While this message is needed, I think there are a couple of ways to improve it.  First, I think it is a “circle the wagons” message that is more effective with the flying public than the non-flying public.  The people most likely to have this message “stick” with them are pilots and those in the aviation community who are already concerned about increased regulation and user fees.

Secondly, it seems limited in scope.  These ads don’t seem to make anyone want to do anything.  These ads don’t invite one to participate in General Aviation.  I think that message is crucial to the re-awakening many of us long for.

I am a proud AOPA member and I think they do a phenomenal job of advocating for General Aviation.  My task here is not to be nit-picky or critical, but to think of how to craft a GA message that is truly for the masses, that is both broad and “sticky” without being defensive.  I believe this can come in two distinct ways: telling a practical story and engaging in invitation more than information.

Tell a Practical and Real Story

Within the last couple of months we’ve seen the best and the worst in GA.  The tragic suicide flight of Joe Stack into the IRS office building in Austin, TX certainly brought general aviation to the forefront of the public.  Public concern began to swell again about the light-plane fleet and public safety.  The negative comments directed at lightplanes are as silly as criticizing Ryder panel-vans since that is what Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  But nonetheless, the image of GA is further marred.

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Can General Aviation “Tip” Again? (Pt 1)

By Chris Findley, CFI

And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days

–Bruce Springsteen, “Glory Days” (1984)

Glory Days and Gladwell

Most of us, if we are honest, have a certain amount of wistfulness when we consider the “glory days” of General Aviation.  Whether we are considering the 1930’s and 40’s boom in commercial aviation, the incredible pilots and aircraft that came of age in World War II, or the surge in production and training of the 1970’s, there is always a sense that these “glory days” have passed us by.

Gone are the days of Cessna rentals for $13 a day as Time magazine reported in March of 1971.  Gone are the days of AvGas hovering around the $.90 to $1.00 mark as they did the year I started flying (1986).  But moreover, gone are the days of 1979 when there were over 200,000 student pilots bouncing around the skies of the U.S.  In 2007 there were a mere 84,339 licensed student pilots.  This represents a drop of 58%.  Anyone who cares about the future of general aviation understands the implications of these numbers and what the impact of diminishing ranks of pilots has on the industry.

Are these numbers the result of economic pressures and increased rental fees and fuel costs?  Perhaps, but if that were the only issue, then we should see a peak of training in the mid to late 80’s when our economy was very strong.  Instead there is a decline during that time.  During the recession of the late 70’s there is a general upward trend in student pilots and in the total number of pilots.  Common sense dictates that, of course the economic climate has an effect on flying, particularly for recreation.   But there seems to be something larger, something more going on in the flight training world.

Recently I read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point .  I could not stop thinking about  how Gladwell’s observations might help the flight training industry.  His premise is that trends and epidemics (trends that catch and spread like wildfire) do so as a result of several factors.   Therefore if you want to start a trend, or encourage the start of a trend, there are several things that one can do to influence that process.

In The Tipping Point, Gladwell observes that most trend epidemics are influenced by a relatively small number of people who get the ball rolling.  He also observes that the message being conveyed has to be memorable, and that the context of the people receiving the message had to be considered.

The Power of the Few

One of the great misconceptions about any movement is that it takes a large number of people to initiate it.  This goes for trends in clothing, sports, and religion, remember Jesus began with only twelve.  Most clothing trends begin among a small group of people that have a certain influence.  Many restaurants grow by word of mouth, most movies owe a lot to not only quality (or in spite of it) but to word of mouth.  The key is to get the message one wants to convey to those most likely to have the influence to spread it.

One of the best moves has been the AOPA’s “General Aviation Serves America” campaign which holds up the likes of Morgan Freeman and Harrison Ford as spokesmen for General Aviation.  Unfortunately the messages do not seem to be widely disbursed and mainly aimed at protecting legalities of flying.  These are important points to be sure, but why not involve these well-known actors in promoting the joy and adventure of flying to the general public in a campaign to increase the number of student pilot starts?  Let them share their love of flying in a commercial or informercial that can be purchased by a local airport or Flight School for use in a local television market?   Even my  eight-year-old recognizes Indiana Jones when he sees him!

Having a few, well-known, established, credible faces speaking of the joy of flying would spark interest and conversation.  It’s the power of a few.

If aviation is going to “tip” we need to define the trend we would like to see.  For many of us a great goal would be growth in the number of students who start and complete their training for their license.  Additionally (and related),  we must improve the perception of General Aviation in the eyes of the public.  These are lofty goals, but ones that deserve our utmost effort.  One fuels the other: improve public perception; you’ll see an increase in the number of new pilot starts.   Increase the new pilot starts, and you will increase the public perception because these new pilots will be veritable Aviation evangelists.

In the world of general aviation flight training I’m not sure we’ve ever really considered these things.  Most flight schools operate on the “drop in” method of attracting new prospective pilots.  They simply unlock the door in the morning and hope someone that is thinking about flying will wander in.

We’ve neglected a simple principle that we all inherently know: The love for flying is caught before the skills of flying can be taught.

So first, we have to consider our message.  Then we have to consider the best way to help that desire into reality. It can start with the power of a few that are motivated to spread the word and be creative and proactive in how they do it.

More “Tipping Point” applications later…

The Tipping Point Part II

The Tipping Point Part III

GA Escapes User Fees


Good news for General Aviation for sure…. Chris

Aviation fares well in budget proposal


by Janice Wood, GANews

The alphabet groups are pleased with President Barack Obama’s proposed 2011 budget.

A preliminary review by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) of the budget proposal appears to show aviation faring well in a year of federal belt tightening, association officials said.

Officials at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) also were pleased that the proposal includes an extension of bonus depreciation for GA aircraft sales and an increase in funding for additional FAA safety inspectors.

In his State of the Union address on Jan. 27, President Obama announced that he would be seeking cuts in discretionary spending, which would potentially include the Department of Transportation (DOT) and FAA, but that they would not be across-the-board cuts. Some departments and agencies would receive more funding while others would receive less. The FAA appears to be one of the agencies receiving more, and that funding increase will come without the imposition of user fees.

“For the past year, AOPA and the general aviation community have made it clear that user fees are not the best way to fund the nation’s aviation system,” said AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller.“Today’s budget proposal makes it evident that our voices were heard. Someone in the Obama Administration decided to hit ‘pause’ when they came to the aviation user fee option.

“The decision not to include user fees in the 2011 budget is encouraging, and it allows all of us in the aviation community to focus on important priorities like air traffic control modernization, keeping airports open, and growing the pilot population.”

GAMA officials also said they were pleased that the budget proposal does not include user fees for general aviation.

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