Monday, December 15, 2008

Turbulence Ahead

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.


Anonymous said...

"There were 15 minutes of the last hour of which I had no recollection."

For this little blip you lost your medical for a year?

I've lost _months_, nevermind minutes, and I still have mine:-)

I'm sure you are reevaluating the manner in which you've responded to this blip.

It's a darn shame you've been so forthcoming - you approach your instructional flying in such a professional manner and go so far out of your way to share your insights with others, for free.

Darn shame. As honest as you are you didn't need to leave it up to the FAA to decide whether this little consciousness anomaly was something to worry about. You _know_ they are going to worry . . . it's their job. If it was anything to be concerned about you would have grounded yourself until you know one way or the other. Now, instead of a few weeks, you have a mandated year.

I have an extremely well-qualified friend who went through a problem with the FAA and has decided to take advantage of a job in Dubai, I think, instructing on sims. If you're willing to leave your comfortable environs, you could easily be making over 100K+/yr.

It is an excellent thing to get out of this country for extended periods periodically anyway, and not just for the money.

I hope you continue with your blog. It's been great.

John said...

I appreciate your kind words.

By their very nature, regulatory agencies are problematic. A relative of mine works in the pharmaceutical industry in the area of regulatory compliance. We recently swapped stories about miscues, misteps, and mistakes that regulators make while pursuing safety.

Two months after my incident, I still feel fine and am fairly confident that I'm okay, but waiting a year to ensure there's no recurrence seems prudent. It's inconvenient, frustrating, and aggravating, but I'm not going to claim that I know what's best. I don't think anyone knows for sure.

I could wallow in it and grouse about it, or get on with it. I've chosen to get on with it.

Regarding sharing my insights on flying and teaching for free through this blog, my ongoing choice is to use this format. I periodically encourage readers to donate and leave it up to them. Fewer than 3% of my reader (by my estimate) ever donate anything, but I'm standing by my choice of the honor system of payment.

I'm not making my living by writing a blog or writing for the occasional magazine article, but writing is mostly a rewarding activity for me. It's clear from the comments posted here that there are plenty of thoughtful readers out there and that, in itself, is rewarding.

So thanks for your encouragement. It's part of what makes blogging a rewarding. And if you'd like to chip in, well ...

Anonymous said...

With your qualifications I've no doubt you've turned down many good jobs and, probably in order to maintain domestic tranquillity, you still do.

The few sheckels you might get from grateful readers is a pittance compared to what you could be making in Asia or the Middle East, or probably even in this country should you decide to take this medical interruption as an intervention instead. It may be a message . . . and probably is!

John said...

I appreciate your confidence in my skills. Your comment presupposes that I have the requisite experience to land a simulator instructor job in another country. I do not believe I possess those qualities, but thanks for the suggestion.

I also gather that while you enjoy reading my blog and find it useful, I shouldn't expect a donation from you anytime soon?