With the price of a gallon of 100LL holding around $5, and expecting further clearance to $6, $7 or even $8 a gallon (No kidding! As of 5 May, it was $7.57/gal at Signature Flight Service at KORD.. CRAZY!), GA flying will be taking it on the chin, economically speaking, over the coming months or maybe even years. Already the airports in my area are reporting reduced GA operations and one CAP member reported to me that his airport FBO manager told him the majority of the 100LL they dispense lately seems be going into CAP planes. (the rest of their traffic being kerosene burners)
So what does that have to do with CAP, you ask?
::More after the jump!
Think back to 1940 (some of you can, I'm sure. I have to consult "Flying Minutemen" 'cuz I ain't that old..).
Folks like Gill Robb Wilson, Fiorello LaGuardia, Guy P. Gannett, Thomas
Beck and others looked across the Atlantic and saw how the looming
specter of war basically wiped general aviation from the skies of
Europe. They decided they didn't want that to happen here in the United
We may find ourselves in a similar situation today simply based on one word: economics.
The cost of AvGas may rise high enough to ground your average GA
pilot for the duration. Where can a pilot go to find a way to fly
without having to mortgage his or her house to "Put a Tiger in [the]
Tank"? Getting qualified and staying qualified may
suddenly be beyond the reach of your average Joe of average means. A
lot of folks with wind up letting their currency lapse and stop flying
This has the potential for a rather long-reaching and somewhat
deleterious effect on the future of GA specifically, and aviation in
the United States in general. A shortage of qualified pilots will drive up demand, salaries and eventually labor costs
to the aviation industry. A later correction to the price of gas or improvements to the economy may not cause a corresponding dip in the labor costs.
Consequently, flying will be as expensive as ever.
Our very own Rod "Data" Rakic even said to me that an FBO at the
Palwaukee Airport north of him is getting $55/hr for CFIs. $55 an
hour! While I'm sure that the CFI is not seeing all of that, that's
still a significant bump from the days when the CFI's time was $10 or
$15 over top of the plane. And while it may sound like its suddenly
lucrative to be a CFI, my bet is that the total number of hours flown
with students will drop precipitously the more expensive AvGas gets.
CAP would do well to capitalize on this potential shortfall. Not
only to help itself out in what may become a dwindling pool of pilots
in the U.S., but also as a way to help keep "people in the pipeline" so
A couple ideas:
- Expand our Air Force Assigned Missions (AFAMs) to things other
than SAR flying. Right now we do route surveys, ADIZ stuff, AFROTC
orientation flights, etc. Why not do pilot screenings like we did for
the Army Air Corps WWII? (I realize there are differences in aircraft
performance, etc, but I'm trying to simulate some thinking here!) The
concept of UAV chase over CONUS has been discussed. What about other
AF-type missions? Can we put those GA-8s to good use, or are they
going to be sold to skydiving and cargo operators once we realize that
Archer has lost its fletching?
- Pursue other customers (states, municipalities) for disaster
reconnaissance, training missions, watershed surveys, forest fire
patrol, that kind of thing. What about airborne photography? (not SDIS.
Thats crap. I'm talking geo-referenced photo datasets designed to be imported directly into ArcGIS for Emergency
Management agencies and the like. High speed data links, real-time or
near real-time photo interpretation, etc..)
- An expanded cadet orientation program that leads to more flight
training opportunities for cadets AND seniors. What better way to help
keep General Aviation alive and well by pumping more pilots into the
- Expand funded and non-funded pilot training opportunities so that
CAP pilots who are contributing can still get and keep advanced ratings.
While I'm not suggesting that CAP become "Pilot Welfare," if we're a good alternative to eating Ramen noodles so you can afford to stay current, all the better. Once we've weathered this storm, maybe GA will be stronger than ever.
And it sure would be a feather in CAP's thinking cap to be able to say that it did its part when the going got tough.
It can't hurt, right?
(PS. And CAP should look close at how it bases its aircraft, and how it organizes its units for pilots. Maybe a wing-wide "Operations Squadron" idea will work better, and put the airplanes where the pilots are, population-wise, but not necessarily where the units are. Driving 30+ miles just to get to the plane when mogas is over $4/gal won't be helping much, either.)
Put your suggestions in the comments.