Moving beyond the “rich, suicidal idiots” stereotype of GA pilots

Thomas P. Turner has written a provocative article for General Aviation News saying that most people think that general aviation pilots are “rich, suicidal idiots.”  That’s a very strong statement coming from someone who has a Masters Degree in Aviation Safety, was the 2010 National FAA Safety Team Representative of the Year and is a master CFI but he made some interesting points in the article about the stereotype for general aviation pilots.

First of all and in the US, Thomas pointed out that a pilot who rents the cheapest aircraft and only flies 50 hours a year will need to allocate at least $5,000 in disposable income to the endeavor. And if a pilot decides to own an aircraft, figure a minimum of $20,000 per year and likely much more.

On the other hand, the costs of flying may not be as much compared with other luxury items like big houses and fancy cars or even other pursuits such as ski vacations, equestrian activities and sail boats (Apparently, a retired airline captain once told Thomas: “You think airplanes are expensive? Buy a sailboat”). In other words, flying is just another choice to spend discretionary income on.

Thomas then mentioned out how the general public is scared to death of “little airplanes” given what is seen on TV, in the movies and even at the airport. After all, entertainment and air shows are supposed to be about “death-defying stunts” and situations rather than touch and go landings.

Moreover, what the public usually hears about general aviation includes:

Flying in thunderstorms. Loss of control in low clouds or fog. Crashed trying to take off or land. Running out of gas. Crashing into people’s houses. This is what the public hears about general aviation — and many think we’re idiots for going up in these expensive, dangerous toys with no idea how to fly them.

However, good planning and cockpit technology can largely avoid bad weather and other problems. For example: If your aircraft’s range is five hours, make sure you can complete the trip in less than four hours and have a backup plan to fly to an alternative place. Moreover and when flying over a heavily populated area, always have emergency landing sites within sight at all times as an emergency over a city is just as risky as having one over a forest or over mountains (not to mention all the attention you will get from the media if something bad were to happen…). Finally, practice, practice and more practice will help you know your abilities and that of your aircraft.

In other words, there are plenty of arguments to counter the notion that GA pilots are all “rich, suicidal idiots.

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