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Is Flying for Fun Shrinking? Here’s Another View

Our good friend, Mary Grady, posted an article on AvWeb, one of our favorite aviation news sites; lots of good content available. Mary recently editorialized about electric aircraft and their potential appeal.

Following the NASA Green Flight Challenge, her timing was as impeccable as her writing. I encourage you to go read the editorial, but what you’ll find at least as entertaining as Mary’s editorial are a great many reader comments; the topic clearly inspired aviators.

That said, I had to write Mary* about one line and I want to share some of what I told her.

Mary wrote, “For people who fly for fun — presuming there are many of those left, it seems to be one of the fastest-shrinking segments of GA — electric airplanes are sure to appeal.”

In my communication to Mary, I asked about the source of the knowledge that flying for fun is shrinking. Is it really? Who says? On what information? I am keenly aware light aviation is suffering, via sales in particular as are all segments of aviation, but I am not aware that flying for fun is shrinking fast. Reminded of the impeachment-hearing logic of ex-President Bill Clinton, I’m inclined to ask, “What is the definition of “flying for fun?” As one answer to the question, let me recount a story.

Years ago when I visited the Cessna 172/182 Club Annual Convention, my travel mate and fellow ultralight pilot, Gregg Ellsworth, and I came away thinking, “These 172/182 pilot/ owners are essentially ultralight pilot/owners.” (In those days, we didn’t yet have LSA.) We felt this way because we observed that their fl ight missions were remarkably similar. Asking simple questions we discovered these owners commonly fl ew one long trip per year (several states away) and a few regional trips (one or two states away). Mostly they fl ew local trips (in-state or within a couple hours). So far as we were concerned, these GA pilots used their aircraft in almost identical ways to ultralight owners. If ultralight pilots fly for fun, these 172/182 pilots do so as well, even if someone might not consider their aircraft as “fun” fl ying machines. Our information came from 150 attendees at the event. Our methods weren’t scientific but we had a decent sample of 172/182 pilots and nearly every one told a similar usage story.

Now, I don’t know how someone else might characterize such fl ying, but I’d say those 172/182 owners were “flying for fun.” Such airplane trips are certainly not business or commercial flying. If accurate and if those surveyed truly represent fun flyers, then I can’t imagine how the number of pilots flying for fun are shrinking any faster than the pilot population as a whole. Of course, I might be wrong and statistics can be manipulated to bolster an outcome. I simply don’t see shrinkage among the fly-for-fun set that is my entire focus in aviation. If you fly for fun, maybe you better speak and be heard!

* Mary Grady’s Reply— “You’re right [about the ‘shrinking’ comment], it’s just a statement of opinion based on casual chitchat and input we get from readers who say they have put off fun flying to save money. I’d be glad to be wrong on it.

What also has given me the impression of less fun flying is the slump in ballooning, which is where I got my start in aviation. I guess my thinking is that business-related flying is easier to justify and maintain.

Quicksilver’s GT 500 ultralight that also was the
first-ever Primary Category aircraft to be certified.
To view this article in digital format, click on link below:

Light Aviation Edition October 2011