by Dr. Patrick Mattson
Professor Emeritus Aviation St. Cloud State University
As I stood looking out the living room window in mid-December, I couldn’t help but think we won’t have any snow on the ground at Christmas. I thought to myself this can’t be because we almost always have snow in West Central Wisconsin during December; heck, just last year, we were fighting drifts from a 2-foot snowstorm. Now consider the following things that foreshadow some great possibilities of what the future holds for us; much of this was Buck Rogers stuff or far-fetched ideas back in my youth:
• The updated, optimized, improved next generation of the Transition(R) “Flying Car” has now been unveiled to the world. Who would have thought we could buy our own personal aviation adventure and have it double as a road vehicle?
• The Japanese are making realistic, lifelike robots.
• Many people are using the video cameras on their cell phones to see the person they are talking with.
What’s my point, you ask? I feel it will take a blend of the traditional methods along with some pretty radical changes in how we approach training and education so we can make aviation cool again and reignite the passion for flying in the younger generation.
Everett Rogers, a professor of rural sociology, in his 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations, talked about stages through which a technological innovation progresses: “knowledge, decision, implementation and confirmation.” He further identified five categories of adopters when it comes to something new (like a glass cockpit or new learning tools and methods): Innovators are the risk-takers and tend to be younger; Early Adopters exercise opinion leadership and are likely to be held in high esteem by those who accept his or her opinions; Early Majority individuals are slower in the adoption process, but come around eventually; Late Majority are individuals who approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticism and tend to go with the flow after the majority have adopted the innovation. Finally, we have the Laggard, those who value “traditions” and don’t relish change. Which category are you in?
One could apply Rogers’ theory to flight training and aviation education today. We need a blend of “round dial” time, along with moving students fairly rapidly to the glass world. With the recent passage of the FAA long-term funding bill, it appears that NEXTGEN will become a reality. With that said, many of the old style ILS or VOR systems will go the way of bonfires (the original NAVAID) and be replaced with GPS navigation and approaches.
Do you remember when you saw your first glass cockpit or heard that the FAA was going to allow iPads on the flightdeck to replace all those paper manuals? How did you feel? I thought, “way cool.”
I’ve been told that kids like the iPod Touch and iPad devices because they are cool and you can do neat stuff with them. When was the last time you introduced someone to the coolness of aviation? For a primer, read “The Business Side of a Successful Fly-In.” I know it sounds like another boring, “well, we didn’t make money again this year” story (tiny URL to AeroNews Network article at http://tinyurl.com/6o7l8s4). I think once you read about how John Youell, the Palatka, Florida airport manager gave their fly-in some refreshing twists, you will be surprised how inexpensive it is to get them engaged (hint: he used free admission and allowed spectators the run of the place with safety about the only restriction). I feel that John is an innovator in doing his part to stop the attrition in General Aviation, but then again, I remember that is the way the aviation field used to be.
Higher education is changing also and it remains to be seen if these changes will spill over into the Aviation Departments (See “Rebooting the Academy: 12 Tech Innovators” – (tiny URL to The Chronicle of Higher Education article at http://tinyurl.com/86gyqkl ). Right now aviation departments at colleges and universities will need to analyze how the recently passed FAA funding bill, the pending airline pilot shortage and new pilot certification requirements for air carrier operations will affect their student flow.