March/April 2002 Letters to the Editor


Calling All Celebs

In previous messages I have talked about the steps I believe need to be taken to protect existing airports (owning the land around them, under the traffic pattern at least, so development can be directed in an aviation-friendly manner). Now I’m going to talk about GA’s more general problem.

I think one of general aviation’s biggest problems is that it has no public “image” other than that which is defined for it by the media, and events which occur from time to time that are of interest to the media. In other words, stories of tragedy, such as that kid flying the Cessna into the side of a skyscraper in Tampa. GA’s public image is completely defined by a constant series of small tragedies that parade across the public eye: people losing their lives when they smack into a hill in foggy weather on the landing approach, get their little Cessna 150s caught in power lines, etc. There is no counterbalancing good news in the media; nothing to give GA the “coolness” that it needs to survive and thrive.

For each small plane that “drops out of the sky” and kills its occupants, there are probably ten times as many people killed on motorcycles. (It would be interesting to see what the statistic really is, but I’ll bet it is at least an order of magnitude greater than GA.) But the world of motorcycles has a powerful “cool factor” that allows it to thrive and grow despite its inherent risk. Celebrities and beautiful people ride motorcycles in movies and in real life. It made the news a year or so ago when the actor Russell Crowe took time off after his Oscar-winning work in “Gladiator” to take a motorcycle trip across Australia with some buddies.

Just think what a boost it would have been for GA’s public image if he had, instead, made that trip in a new Skyhawk!

This is exactly what I am leading to: GA needs celebrities to save it.

AOPA is currently running some kind of fund-raising effort so that they can launch a GA public-awareness campaign. While I laud their effort, I fear they will go about this the wrong way. AOPA has always focused on facts and logic — countering public misperceptions about safety with dry statistics, and focusing on the business benefits of small planes and airports.

This is fine when you are pitching GA to a group of businessmen at a convention. But does Budweiser use facts and logic to pitch beer to the public?

Heck, no! They play to emotions.

This is what GA’s defenders must do. They must get over this “sell them with the facts” mindset. GA needs a celebrity, and it needs coolness. Instead of running cheap spots on local access channels across the country, the money should be pooled, and an aviation-aware celebrity, such as Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise, should be hired to appear in one or more commercials that would be placed in popular prime-time shows such as “Friends” or “Sex in the City” or “Witchblade”.

Yes, this would be expensive. But I think that ONE good commercial on ONE episode of “Friends” would do more for GA than dozens of “look how safe small planes REALLY are” spots on local access channels.

One commercial showing Tom Cruise flying along in a small plane, telling viewers how much he enjoys flying and how they too can do it, and get thee hence to your nearest airport and try an introductory flight for $35 — this would do so much to push GA to the nation’s young (whom we should REALLY be targeting!). And if he is sporting a David Clark or Lightspeed headset on his attractive noggin, I believe the headset company would be happy to pitch in funds to help.

Robert Epps
via the Internet