Travel Thoughts

Aviation trade shows and conventions have been an important part of my education for more than 30 years, and still are. I spoke at the Aircraft Electronics Association meeting in late April, and came away with my usual respect and admiration for this vital part of the aviation industry.

I flew a Cessna Skylane in my first aviation job. The greatest difference between that airplane and Cessna’s latest Skylane is in the avionics. And, as we say down South: Lawd, chile, what a difference it is. Today’s avionics are lighter, more reliable, do more, and, apples to apples, cost less.

The best, I believe, is yet to come. Free flight is going to happen. We will break free from our addiction to little round gauges with little wiggly needles. There has been a better option ever since Al Gore invented the cathode ray tube, lo those many years ago, but it has taken all of this time for us to move in that direction. The difference will be awesome, and it will come faster than you think.

In May, at AS3 in Las Vegas, NATA put six industry bigshots on one panel. They had the head honchos from Piper, Bombardier, Gulfstream, Eclipse, Raytheon, and Falcon. We eagerly flocked in to hear them tell us how blue skies and prosperity are right around the corner. Didn’t happen.

One thing upon which all of those gurus agree: Finding adequate insurance at a reasonable price is part of the problem. The reasons are basic. Selling insurance used to be a way to get money to invest in the stock market. If you broke even on the premium — you paid out in claims what you collected in premiums — you at least made a profit on the money while you had it invested. As the old saying goes, that dog won’t hunt no more. Many carriers have dropped out and the others are getting hard-nosed. It all boils down to supply and demand.

I asked Chuck Suma if New Piper Aircraft might ever subsidize insurance for airplane purchasers. After all, when Jimmy Carter and friends had the prime rate up around 20 percent, Piper subsidized interest rates big time. Mr. Suma implied that Piper wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea. Vern Raburn, however, said that they are studying the idea at Eclipse. After all, they plan to upgrade owner pilots into a new jet, so may need to help buyers acquire coverage.

Also on insurance: It looks likes the Sport Pilot thing, allowing pilots to fly certain small aircraft without a medical, is going to happen. I called several aviation insurance people — Harold Miller of Eagle Aviation Insurance Agency, Jon Harden of Aviation Insurance Resources, and reps of EAA, Falcon Aviation Insur-ance, AVEMCO and AOPA — with a simple question: “Is anybody going to sell those pilots aircraft insurance?” They all seemed to think that insurance would be available. Harold Miller pointed out that the industry has discussed this possibility for years, and Jon Harden points out that some of the finest carriers have had good results insuring small aircraft in recent years.

The Sport Pilot market could be huge.