Lac Leman Lament

The high cost of fuel and strict government regulation make GA in Europe a very different, and much rarer, pursuit.

Saleve Mountain overlooking Geneva
Saleve Mountain overlooking Geneva
Saleve Mountain overlooking Geneva

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Sadly, it was a rare sight (and sound) over Geneva this week: a lone, single-engine airplane scooting overhead as a group of journalists together with our gracious dinner hosts from Rockwell Collins enjoyed the view from La Perle du Lac restaurant overlooking Lac Leman.

A few miles away inside the city’s Palexpo Center, the site of the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE), the mood during the show was brighter than it has been the last couple of years, thanks to economic signs pointing to a budding reversal in fortunes for business jet manufacturers. General aviation in Europe, however, continues to languish due to high fuel prices, government rules aimed at restricting access to airspace and airports, and attitudes that favor “carbon offsets” and ever higher taxes as an indirect, yet apparently effective, assault on recreational flying.

Talking with a friend who lives in England, he counted his lucky stars that he’d found a sweet deal that lets him fly a Cessna 150 for just the cost of the fuel. After doing a quick conversion from pounds to dollars and liters to gallons, we determined that the avgas he buys in the UK sells for about $15 a gallon. That so-called sweet deal was still costing my friend around $90 an hour. And, truly, he’s one of the lucky ones.

So rare is the sight of a piston airplane over Lac Leman that you might mistakenly conclude that some sort of flight restriction for this whole area of Europe has been put into force. Then you look south toward Saleve Mountain across the border in France and realize otherwise: on sunny afternoons along the high ridge of the mountain range that dominates the cityscape here, hang gliders circle for as long as their hearty pilots choose to remain aloft before they take advantage of the favorable upsloping air currents and settle back down right where they started. (European legislators want more regulation of hang gliding, too.)

It looks like good fun. But it also makes me appreciate that we in America still enjoy comparitively low priced avgas and don't have to make do with the wind and a patch of grass atop a lonely mountain.

On the other hand, a different type of flying, perfected in Europe, looks incredibly entertaining, though a tad risky. (Don't try this at home, kids.):