Thursday, January 14, 2010

Private Recreational Sport Flying Airports/Airparks - a Paradigm Shift

In an earlier blog, I said that we needed to see sport pilots move away from the burdensome restrictions of public airports and head to smaller privately-held airports/airparks to facilitate and advance recreational sport flying. And that we need to encourage the development and promotion of non-residential, privately-held LSA recreational sport flying airports/airparks emphasizing exclusive recreational use – and ultimately build a recreational sport flying airport/airpark infrastructure and network throughout the U.S.

With that said, I propose that each private airport/airpark consist of a host of specific departments in order to optimize the recreational sport flying experience. The idea is to build a replicable system not unlike a franchise model. Each private airport/airpark should foster a strong sense of community among recreational sport flying enthusiasts and aviators alike. The airpark should be a place where like-minded aviators can hang-out on a regular basis – a home away from home, a safe harbor for youth, and a place of passion, spirit and adventure – a catalyst for a general aviation revival!

The concept includes several key departments - currently referred to as zones. Each zone working together in concert results in an optimal sport aviation experience - the zones are the following:

 The Community-zone is the cornerstone of each airport/airpark, the central meeting place where aviators congregate and meet to break bread, share stories, laugh and build relationships and community – better known as the pilot’s lounge.

 The Entertainment-zone is primarily for youth and visitors. Its purpose is to promote flying through rich multi-media presentations filled with compelling aviation and flight videos – using visual and audible means to stir emotion and stimulate excitement over flying.

 The Imagine-zone is essentially a bone yard display filled with selected aircraft – from single-engine GA airplanes to commercial and military airplanes – including cockpit cross-section displays. It is primarily for youth and visitors to have an opportunity to touch and feel real aircraft – sit in cockpits and tinker with authentic flight controls and instrumentation – daydream – and imagine being a pilot!

 The Simulator-zone is a place dedicated to flight simulation introductions, training and arcades/games. Other training may include VFR communications and “thumb-on-the-map” navigation. This is a place where sport pilots can hone their skills using a simulated environment. It’s also a place where youth and visitors can have fun with the latest arcades/games, and get a taste for the thrill and exhilaration of flying in a virtual environment.

 The Training-zone is for sport pilot ground school training and flight instruction. It also includes refresher training and other brief topical seminars and educational programs for sport fliers.

 The Flight-zone includes the flight line, aircraft rentals, fuel services and active runway. Each airport/airpark will have a special Unicom-like frequency so pilots can report all movement within 5 miles of the active runway. The airport/airpark owner may elect to offer one type of S-LSA product for rental in order to leverage same-aircraft economies related to maintenance/operational costs. Both Avgas and unleaded automobile gasoline would be available to pilots as well.

 The Maintenance-zone is an area dedicated to aircraft owners who need to perform minor maintenance or repair work while at the airport/airpark. This is a do-it-yourself model offering basic tools and equipment for use on a first-come, first-served basis - including an onsite mechanic to assist with minor engine repairs (i.e. Rotax, etc). This area would comprise a hangar-like station where aircraft can easily flow in-and-out – and quickly get back to the Flight-zone.

 The Build-zone is primarily a location for the avid builder of experimental light sport aircraft and advanced ultralights to gather and share ideas/experiences. This area would also have related educational projects (i.e. Build-a-Plane program) for high school youth who are interested in the design and engineering of personal aircraft.

 The Career-zone is primarily for youth to learn more about the various professional career opportunities in aviation as a whole. Different aviation representatives or entities would be invited to talk to youth about careers in commercial, corporate and military flying – and more.

 The Club-zone is dedicated to local/regional high school flying clubs. It serves as an extension to high school youth outreach programs whereby students have the opportunity to hangout at their local/regional airport/airpark on the weekend and/or holiday, become a part of the culture, receive flight training, build proficiency, and develop strong character. It’s the bridge from classroom-to-cockpit.

 The Volunteer-zone is dedicated to facilitating and managing volunteers such as retired airline and military pilots who desire to offer their time to help mentor youth and assist other sport pilots at the airport/airpark. Volunteers may also include local/regional EAA Chapter members who desire to promote the EAA Young Eagles Flight Program, facilitate youth flying clubs, and help out where needed. Volunteers will be instrumental in helping run selected zones and optimizing the recreational sport flying experience.

 The Demo-zone is dedicated to having LSA vendors come to the airport/airpark to demonstrate and promote their products. This includes S-LSA, E-LSA and advanced ultralight aircraft manufacturers. They would have the opportunity to do both static and flight demonstrations to a very captive audience. This venue offers a very grassroots approach to addressing the appropriate target market.

 The Ownership-zone is dedicated to offering shared ownership options to sport pilots serious about their flying. Its intent is to offer sport pilots the opportunity to afford ownership and fulfill their passion for flying. The beauty of the private airport/airpark structure is that it allows pilots to first build relationships with fellow aviators and then later decide who best to partner with in an aircraft.

 The Trailer-zone is simply what it says – it’s an area where pilots of foldable-wing aircraft can park and unload their aircraft at the airport/airpark. It facilitates portability and storage flexibility for sport pilots/owners.

 The Camp-zone makes it possible for sport pilots to stay over night, have an option of RV or tent camping, and enjoy a fun-filled weekend (or longer) of recreational sport flying – not unlike enthusiasts who camp over the weekend to enjoy off-road and boating recreation as well as other powersports pursuits.

Adopting the structure described above requires a paradigm shift in thinking. If we are to see growth in the Sport Pilot and LSA market, then we need to provide recreational playgrounds for sport pilot enthusiasts to fulfill their dream of flying – and we need to move away from the public airport system as there are too many growing challenges and restrictions that will continue to hamper recreational sport flying. As an aside, this model also encourages entrepreneurship - as it provides a means for business-minded aviators to start small “for profit” businesses around their passion for aviation - deriving revenue from affordable daily landing/usage fees, tie-down fees, Sport Pilot training and flight instruction fees, LSA rental fees, aircraft sales, fuel sales, campground fees, etc.

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