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Hitting the slopes.

Sitting in the AVweb trailer at Oshkosh this year, my friend Bob Miller and I were talking about ... skiing. The estimate is seven million skiers hit the slopes several times last winter for about 60 million people-days of skiing. About 46 percent of those people had annual incomes over $100,000.

Miller put this in context with another stat from the FAA. Downward trends in pilot starts, attrition in the current pilot population (through age or otherwise) and other measures showed a dwindling trend in GA that effectively hits zero by 2030.

His take-away from this was we in GA have something to learn from the ski industry. The industry has worked hard to make skiing safer--through better equipment, better trail markings, a cultural change toward wearing helmets and taking lessons, and more rigorous certification of those instructors. Public perception of skiing changed in response and now more people ski.

I can't help cross this with the revised start-up screens on Cirrus aircraft that categorize pilots into infrequent (green circle), average (blue square) and elite (black diamond). This was "to make it easy for people." Read which pilot category you fall into and fly to those minimums.

But it's not that simple. Take off down a black diamond slope without the skill to run it and those shape skis give you a fighting chance. Failing that, the modern bindings will turn what would have been a spiral leg facture into only the embarrassment of kids shouting, "Yard sale!" from the ski lift. Take off for a flight that's beyond you, and technology (autopilot, datalink weather, and even a parachute) can help, but only so far. "Hitting the slopes" at 170 knots is just deadly, period.

It's cliche to even say it, but the missing factor is judgment. Higher instrument minimums aren't the answer. Per the latest Nall report, weather was VFR in 43 percent of the weather-related accidents in 2010 and VFR-into-IMC was still the biggest weather killer. The biggest non-weather killer was maneuvering flight. I don't know of any proof that high, recent, flight time correlates to better stall/spin recovery.

But perhaps there is a lesson we can take from the ski industry after all. We talk about dwindling numbers in "aviation" as if it's one, uniform mass. It's not. Powered parachute pilots live in a different universe than Cessna 340 drivers. Yet we focus on people committing to the long-haul of Private pilot training, rather than people looking for some fun that happens to involve flying. I don't think we'd see seven million people on the slopes if from day one we were training them to be back-bowl heliskiers.

Should be push Sport Pilot harder? (Those powered parachutes are pretty fun, easy, and relatively safe.) Maybe work more fun missions into our core training? More time just playing in the air means more time developing the skills and judgment that will make a difference to those who do move up the chain--and might steal a few dollars off the slopes.



SHED THE TECH CRUTCHES--Leveraging technology to complete more missions is great; relying on technology to survive the flight is not. Here's how you know the difference.

HOW WE KILL MULTI-ENGINE PILOTS--You know all that stuff you learned in basic multi-engine training? We suggest your forget most of it before it causes trouble.

CEILINGS FOR THE VERTICALLY CHALLENGED--How much does that ceiling and visibility information matter if you're going to shoot the approach anyway? More than you might think.
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Title Annotation:REMARKS
Author:West, Jeff Van
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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