LAKELAND | With an abundance of new restrictions and a fast-growing pilot shortage, the future of aviation looks uncertain.
But it doesn’t have to.
That’s the message a panel of presidents representing four of the most prominent aviation associations in the world offered Monday night to a group of more than 100 Sun ‘n Fun attendees.
The four panelists — Jack Pelton of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Mark Baker of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Matthew Zuccaro of the Helicopter Association International, and Ed Bolen of the National Business Aviation Association — each represented a different area of aviation. And each offered a unique perspective on how aviation enthusiasts can help revitalize the industry.
Zuccaro said one of the biggest problems the helicopter — and general aviation — industries face is a lack of experienced and qualified pilots. Helicopters are widely used to navigate and land in remote, or challenging areas, but Zuccaro said tough regulations and expensive training costs have kept many pilots from reaching qualified levels to perform those duties.
“We need people who can fight fires with helicopters and who can land on rooftops,” Zuccaro said. “There’s not enough experienced pilots or mechanics. And if we don’t take action or turn this around, it’s going to stop our industry.”
The panelists agreed that there needs to be a better understanding from everyone, especially political officials, of how much the aviation industry contributes to the nation’s economy.
Bolen said about 1.2 million people are employed in general aviation in the U.S.
He said one of the biggest things the industry struggles with is positive promotion. Baker agreed that people need to be reintroduced into aviation and reminded that there are ways to be involved in aviation without “breaking the bank.”
But all agreed that the biggest thing everyone needs to do to help further the industry is share their love of flying.
“This is a great industry and people need to know that,” Bolen said.