What’s Happened to Personal Flying?

Lately, there has been a lot of speculation as to what has happened to the pilot population through out the United States and indeed through out the world!

Being a private pilot myself, I have began to examine some of the issues that aviation has presented to all pilots and all aspiring would like to be pilots.  Whether you are young or old, we all face just about the same problems when it comes to aviation.

At one time, it was thought, that every family, at least, would have their own personal airplane or flying device at their home, just like we have the family car or cars in the garage today.  After World War II, there was a spurt of growth, because of all the military pilots coming out and home from the war.  Many loved flying and wanted to pursue it in their civilian lives, but things got tricky after a while and everything did not pan out the way we all thought!

Some of my own considerations for the dwindling pilot population are as follows:

  • It is not easy to become a pilot.
  • Flying is not a casual activity.
  • It often takes nerves of steel to overcome the natural feelings of being on Terra Firma and perhaps the un-natural feelings of flying through the air like a bird.
  • Regardless of what some people may say, you really do put your life on the line every time you fly.
  • Flying is expensive, no matter how you look at it, whether you own, rent or borrow.  Unless you go “old” as in “vintage” or build it yourself  “wow” the threshold of ownership is certainly prohibitive for the average person.  Even the LSA – Light Sport Aircraft market has a threshold of around $125 K and the store bought models in the small category are around $300 K give or take.  Fuel is actually the cheap part of flying but if you do a lot it can mount up also!
  • Flying is extremely inconvenient!!!  There is an old saying that flying is having to go somewhere you don’t want to go (the airport) so you can fly somewhere else that you don’t want to go (where you usually have to rent a car) to get to where you really do want to go.
  • While there are many airports throughout the United States and the world in general, they are still very limited for a number of reasons.  Not so much to fly into, but the first time (getting out) convenience of your home base airport, where ever that is.  It may be within five miles of your home (great) or it may be within thirty-five miles or fifty or a hundred miles depending on where you live.  This heavily impacts the decision to use a “personal” airplane, even if you do have the qualifications and and the availability of an aircraft.
  • Any destination beyond 300, 400 or 500 miles is often better served by commercial flights.
  • Personal flying, like all flying, has become very technical in this modern age.  No longer, do you just get in the airplane and go flying, at least hardly ever!
  • Equipment on the aircraft itself has become increasingly complex and expensive and often requires new training to use.
  • Flight Instructors are becoming as scarce as hen’s teeth for a number of different reasons, so bi-annual reviews and new ratings and even just basic instruction is often difficult to obtain.  Flight ground schools are just as difficult, logistical, costly and difficult to assimilate.
  • It takes a “Major” piece of real estate to operate a “fixed wing” aircraft and helicopters are extremely pricey and hosts another whole bag of issues.  So, there are “extreme” limitations on places of operation for airplanes whether private or


  • Air space has become very complex and rather congested in many areas making it down right dangerous in many cases for flying without very strict rules and regulations.  So much now, that new Automated Data Surveillance Broadcast systems – In and Out, will be new FAA required standard equipment in all aircraft, by the year 2020.  You can read up on the details!
  • All aircraft accidents are broadcast, almost daily, over the local and national news, and for the most part are extremely unpleasant with multiple fatalities and carnage.  No wonder, fewer people want to fly!  In small airplanes!
  • It is so much cheaper and safer to pay $89 or whatever it is to fly to the beach for the weekend than to hassle with all the difficulties and challenges of flying a personal airplane and subjecting you and your family and loved ones to all that risk!
  • Risk aversion is a primary consideration when it comes to not flying small airplanes.
  • The big airlines have done a marvelous job of providing good, safe, relatively quick and (???) convenient and (???) affordable air travel, so why bother with trying to do it yourself?
  • Yes, deep breath, air travel is all the above and more – no wonder it is so much misunderstood and falling in a death spiral of its own making!  Personal air travel that is!
  • Commercial travel has just about pushed small general aviation out of the picture.

To fly today as a private pilot, you just about have to be a “Superman” for sure!  There is very little evidence otherwise!  General aviation, for the little man, is getting smaller by the day.  I have been watching it and participating in it for the last 68 years or so.  Less than one-half of one percent of the population today are pilots.  There is a severe shortage!  Who, the H…, wants to do all that and risk his life doing it?

Some of us.  The old “Aviator” is becoming a relic of the past I am afraid, but, hopefully, as we continue to grow and advance into the new age of space and beyond there will be new horizons, new challenges and new “Space Men and Women” of the future!  God Speed to them all!


2 thoughts on “What’s Happened to Personal Flying?”

  1. A lot of old pilots and a lot of bold pilots, but very few old bold pilots. I liked the read Steve. Yes, many factors that outweigh being a pilot. If it were easy (and cheap) we would all be flying now wouldn’t we.
    Best wishes,
    Robert Shonerd


    1. Thanks Robert for the comments and kind words. You have that right about not many old, bold pilots around for the obvious reasons! Be sure to read my next blog post “On the Other Hand…” which addresses the “Positive” side of personal flying!
      Coming in a few days! Thanks Again! Steve


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