The light-airplane segment is a very different animal and responds to completely different economic forces. If history is a guide, light GA will take a while longer to recover if it can fully recover at all. Its recent high-water mark of 1,500 airplanes sold in a year sounds like a tall order at this point and for good reason. The very people who are candidates to buy a $300,000 to $700,000 piston single are the people who have been hardest hit by the recession or who have had their confidence in the economy most shaken.
Again, if history is any guide, in the meantime we are likely to see a good market for nearly new airplanes, low-time ones that are nicely equipped and that cost a third to half of what comparable new airplanes cost.
When Cessna discontinued production of its piston lineup in the mid-1980s, there emerged a market for low-time used piston singles. One dealer, Van Bortel Aircraft out of Arlington, Texas, got out ahead of this trend and made a good living selling these high-wing cream puffs. It would scour the country for low-time Cessna singles and twins, make the owner a good offer and then turn the airplane over at a fair and healthy profit. After Cessna resumed production in 1998, Van Bortel was ready to go. Today it claims to be the largest Cessna dealer in the world.
Regardless of what happens with the new airplane industry, I think we’re likely to see this kind of premium-used market mature over the next couple of years, with low-time, high-value used airplanes presenting an attractive option for buyers still too wary to buy new.
Checking Boxes Versus Learning
We’ve all been there. You’re in the middle of a ground school discussion when something doesn’t make sense to you, so you ask for some clarification, an explanation to help you put things into context. Instead of the instructor launching into an animated and illuminating explanation, you are instead greeted with a pause, a healthy sigh and, then, that look. You know, the one that seems to ask, “Now, why’d you have to go and ask a question just when we were on a roll?”
That look has a lot of subtext. First, it says wordlessly that the purpose of the instruction is to get through with it.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of truth to that and very little of it is the instructor’s fault. It’s built into the system. It doesn’t mean that we have to capitulate, though.
When instructors accept the “checking the boxes” approach, they are also accepting an attitude that the purpose of their job is to complete it. Which misses the point, which is to do whatever is needed to help the student master the material. A question is not a roadblock; it’s a critical piece of information. The student is saying, “Hey, if you didn’t notice, here’s something I don’t get. Help me.” It’s a gift.
I know that there are all kinds of factors in our aviation education and certification system that are inimical to open-ended learning. But as pilots, we need it. After all, if we always knew everything that was going to happen in a given flight, our safety record would be near perfect, which it is not.
To its credit, the FAA has started to do something to make the learning more relevant. FAA-approved courses for many ratings have required components for so-called line oriented flight training (LOFT), which is an innovation for which we can thank the airlines. With LOFT the pilot is asked to go about his simulated day, flying an actual mission and being checked on that — there are, of course, random emergencies and contingencies thrown in to improve the value of the LOFT experience.
In light GA training we’ve taken this concept and run with it. Our scenario-based training programs create realistic flight situations and ask the pilot to respond appropriately to changes in the plan, from deviations to mechanical problems to weather challenges. It’s the real world on steroids.
With scenario-based training, learning is the guiding principle, and boxes, even though they might still need to be checked off, momentarily take a back seat. That’s a good thing for student and instructor alike.