The general-aviation industry in the USA is putting its money where its mouth has been for a long time. It is sponsoring a television-advertising campaign in an effort to revitalise the US pilot population and to reverse a decade-long decline in the number of people learning to fly for pleasure.

Campaigning under the banner "Stop Dreaming. Start Flying", the programme has been developed and funded by more than 100 US-based aviation companies through a coalition called GA Team 2000.

The US Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) launched GA Team 2000 in March 1996, with the goal of raising the number of students starting to fly to 100,000 a year by the end of 2000. GA Team 2000 has spent nearly two years identifying an audience to target and, then, what would appeal most to that target group.

The initial two-week trial run in May has been judged a success, generating more than 2,000 requests for a $35 introductory-flight coupon. The campaign was to be fine-tuned for a second two-week run beginning on 8 June, before the full run during the peak US summertime flying season. GA Team 2000 chairman Ed Stimpson says the initial response has exceeded the coalition's expectations.

"We know from the past that there is a direct correlation between student starts and the growth or decline of the pilot population," says Phil Boyer, president of AOPA and one of the founding members of GA Team 2000.

Research commissioned by AOPA and GAMA found that about 11% of the adult US population harbours a serious interest in learning to fly - but has misconceptions about the cost of instruction, the time required to earn a licence and the expense of aircraft rental.



In the best tradition of Western culture's "suggestive-sell" concept, the advertisement does not show an aircraft, an airport or an aviator, but starts with a guitar solo by Carlos Santana playing against a background of white clouds.

The unseen announcer tells the audience: "It costs less than you think. It takes less time than you think. And you can do it. So, what are you waiting for? You could be here. Stop dreaming. Start flying. Call (888) BE-A-PILOT. Or,e-mail:"

The call or Internet e-mail triggers a mailing to the candidate, which includes a coupon for a $35 introductory flight at a participating flight school. Additionally, through advertisements in magazines, there will be more than 1 million coupons available this month.

The GA Team 2000 sent 5,000 flight schools packages inviting them to participate and offering help and materials to get them involved and identified with Be-A-Pilot. More than 1,000 schools have so far signed on. Their main obligation to the coalition is to honour the coupons and then, to their profit, enrol new students.

For the initial year to 18 months, explains Experimental Aircraft Association president Tom Poberezny, GA Team 2000 has no plans to charge the flight schools for participation. In addition to a listing in Be-A-Pilot's database, schools also will receive advertising material and logos to use in telephone-book listings.

To determine how well the advertisements work and which television programmes and magazines generate the most response, GA Team 2000 staff will track the use of the coupons and the users' progress towards private pilot licences, explains Boyer.

"We will know how each individual progressed, so we can modify the programme and keep it on target," Boyer says. "We plan to keep this up for at least three years."

According to Stimpson, GA Team 2000 now boasts more than 100 company members. "The good news is that we are fully funded for our initial push," he says. "It's not something we can do once and have work forever," AOPA's Boyer stresses. "This has to be an on-going process if we want to keep growing."

This means money - much more than the $1 million already committed. If the people come, the companies will sell more aircraft, engines and avionics than in the past decade. This should mean that more money will be available to sustain the project.

Source: Flight International