You don't have to look far these days to find people whose primary and exclusive motivation in life is self-interest. In the US, we are constantly bombarded by reports of greedy individuals who seem to require millions and millions of dollars every year to support their lifestyles. And once they acquire significant wealth, it's still not enough.
I'm all for encouraging people to be self-reliant, but instilling future generations with a desire to take care of themselves and their families need not preclude an appreciation and respect of shared needs and interests. There's nothing like an economic downturn to help people realize how interconnected we all are: If large numbers of us fail to prosper, everyone suffers. We may try to hide, figuratively by ignoring what is happening, or literally by living behind walls and gates, but we're better off facing facts.
It doesn't take an economic downturn to help one realize that general aviation is a ridiculously impractical activity. We spend a lot of money to create aircraft that will safely get us airborne. Then we spend a lot of money acquiring those aircraft or gaining access to them. Some of us spend even more money, along with a lot of time and effort, to learn how to fly those aircraft. The aircraft themselves consume a lot of our time and energy. They make a lot of noise, sometimes for the purpose of travel but often times for the sole purpose of just getting us up in the air.
For all its warts, general aviation is one of the few remaining activities in contemporary society where people come together out of shared interest. Trying to fly on our own is just not economically feasible for most of us. We join flying clubs or rent aircraft as way to disperse the cost and in the process, we get the opportunity to fly and to mingle with other pilots. Aviation draws people together who often have very little in common. We may have different views on life and were it not for our love of flying, we otherwise would not have come in contact. And yet that is precisely what a community is: A group of people with diverse views who cast their lot together to make a better life, not just for themselves, but for everyone in the group.
The effects of the economic downturn have not been lost on general aviation. The effects have been probably greater on general aviation than other sectors precisely because the activity is so implausible to begin with. Fewer people are flying fewer hours. Many pilots I know are trying to walk a fine line between saving money and maintaining currency and proficiency. The good news is that the price of avgas has dropped dramatically and that helps a little.
My own situation was made worse by the recent loss of my medical certificate, which has significantly reduced my teaching schedule by limiting the kinds of instruction I can provide. On a positive note, I received official notification from the FAA medical certification folks that I may reapply after a one year waiting period. And for those who have been wondering, I feel fine and all signs point to my problem as being a one-time freak event. My thanks to the folks at Virtual Flight Surgeons, Inc. for their assistance in facilitating the entire process. Two months down, ten months left to go.
As a professional flight instructor, my future has always been a bit uncertain. I'm already being challenged by this double-whammy of temporarily losing my medical right when an economic recession has unfolded. Some of my friends just assumed that I'd throw in the towel and look for a non-aviation job. I've been providing a lot of simulator training and am fortunate to have a few commercial pilot candidates and some flight instructor candidates, too. So my plan for the future is to stay the course.
Tough times can bring out the best in us, or the worst. A lot depends on how we approach the challenge. Flying in turbulence or bad weather can stress even the most accomplished pilots and in that stress, we learn about ourselves. We might not like everything we discover, but stress often reveals the kind of cloth from which we are cut. If we acknowledge and recognize our shortcomings, there is much we can learn. We might even discover that we're more resilient that we first thought, that we can live without a new car every few years, or many of the other trappings our consumer society tells us we absolutely must have.
I know that many people have lost their jobs or are worried about losing their jobs. I have friends who are working reduced hours and taking pay cuts. While things will undoubtedly be tough, life will go on. I'm optimistic that we will come out the other side of this economic storm. In the mean time, we have the opportunity to learn once again that in a country that idolizes the individual, we are more together than the sum of our parts.