Here’s a message about an exciting new program for growing our sport from SSA Chairman Al Tyler.
Video by Robin Clark (RF)
During the February 3rd SSA general membership meeting in Reno, SSA Chairman Al Tyler announced a new SSA growth and development plan, which he said is the most exciting project that the SSA has undertaken during his long tenure as an SSA member. Al introduced Bill Daniels, Chairman of the SSA’s Growth and Development Committee, who summarized the strategy and tactics that he and his committee have developed to grow the sport of soaring in the United States. On Saturday, Bill unveiled the details in the following presentation.
[If the text appears squashed, try viewing it in full-screen mode by clicking the four-arrow icon in the lower right corner of the presentation screen—Ed.]
Slide 2: Many of you are aware there is a petition being circulated opposing the government’s proposal to impose per-flight fees on gliders. The minimum number of signatures is 50,000. Could we actually collect that many? Not likely. We’d have to more than double our numbers just to get those signatures.
Slide 3: I suspect these numbers will strike some as smaller than they might have imagined. This was certainly the case for me. However, on the up-side, if you view those 12,000 members as sales people in 195 branch offices, it’d be enough to make a fortune 500 company drool. To me, this says we can solve our growth problem if we all work together.
The number of gliders and tugs are going to be a choke point limiting our future growth – especially with the body blow of losing the services of 181 Blaniks. Imagine what would happen if those 119 Pawnees were grounded by an AD.
Slide 4: Using these numbers, and others not presented here, I tried to come up with an estimate of our training capacity in annual student starts.
As you can see, these are very “round” numbers”. One might argue our student capacity is 600 or 2400 and I couldn’t disagree. However, it’s certainly less than 3000. I think 1200 represents the most likely case.
This exercise also made it very clear that year ’round seven day a week commercial operations can turn out far more pilots than a northern club which operates only 50 days a year.
Scott Manley’s use of flight simulators is an idea we all need to adopt. Simulators can take some of the load off the training gliders.
Slide 5: OK, Assuming we need 1000 – 1500 new student starts, where do we find them?
I think there is a case to be made for the existence of a “Glider Gene”. These are the people most easily recruited to soaring. All you have to do is make them aware of what soaring is all about and they’ll take it from there.
The 1:1000 number is based on pilot populations in Germany and other European countries.
Slide 6: Rolling billboards are a proven advertising medium.
Fortunately, our sport has a lot of blank advertising space rolling round the nation’s highways or parked in plain sight. This is particularly true of our competition pilots. I think we all have been asked, “What the heck you got in there?”
The SSA is sponsoring these graphics for the “US Team” and a selected number of competition pilots. The rest can install them for around $300.
These trailer graphics will have a “QR code” which, if a smart phone is pointed at it, will launch a web page on the phone for “instant gratification”. It will also capture the URL for future use.
Slide 7: The SSA has offered matching funds to help this proposed PBS television special on cross country soaring come to television screens across the country. The producers are eager to do it but need to find still more funding for it to happen.
If you would like to help, see me later. I’ll put you in contact with the producers.
Slide 8: The SSA has retained a professional firm to handle WGC promotions. This is an event we can use to make more people aware of soaring.
We will be buying print ads in several aviation related magazines.
Slide 9: All promotions and media advertising will point people to this web page. It’s the focal point of the whole scheme.
Unlike the ssa.org, which does an excellent job of informing members, LetsGoGliding is exclusively designed to introduce newcomers to the sport and direct them to the Where-to-Fly database where they can find a nearby glider operation.
Slide 10: For those individuals who best master the art and science of introducing newcomers to our sport, the SSA wants to show its appreciation.
We will recognize them in Soaring and offer them free rides in contests with these pilots.
Slide 11: All SSA promotions will channel prospective new glider pilots to the SSA Where-to-Fly database. When they select a soaring site to contact, the ball falls in your court.
As you will see in the following slides, I think it’s possible 1500 newcomers are falling through the cracks every year right now.
Slide 12: I hope I’m not patronizing, but the following slides will offer some suggestions for handling people the promotion campaign drives to the soaring sites.
Slide 13: I think maybe the SSA should offer a prize every year for the best web page. My nomination would be the AGCSC page. It is clearly designed to inform and excite the first time visitor.
Many other club web pages seem to be just bulletin boards for members. A first time visitor probably shouldn’t read about a cracked canopy.
Slide 14: I think only 30% of the chapters are now unreachable using their Where-to-Fly listing. That’s an improvement but we have to do better.
If they can’t reach you, no matter how much money the SSA spends on promotions it simply won’t help.
Consider this: Forward the club phone number to a group of volunteers, who will answer the club phone for a few hours each week. Rotate around the group so no one is overworked
Slide 15: We had to see this one coming, right? (I’m picking on our host :))
Soaring operations are very often in remote locations and people will use their GPS Personal Navigation Assistants to find us. They’ll use the GPS coordinates shown at the top of the page when they click on Google maps or MapQuest.
Please select GPS coordinates which guide them to your visitors parking lot or your office not the middle of the airport. (Cursor coordinates are in the bottom center of the Google Earth image.)
We need to put ourselves in the shoes of non-pilot newcomers who will arrive by car.
Slide 16: Airports are big, confusing places for novices. Give them a hand finding their way around. Make a big poster with the FAQ’s about soaring at your site so they can read it instead of asking questions.
Most of all, have a plan to make them feel welcome.
Unfortunately, I know individuals who make it their business to yell at every visitor. Clubs who want to grow can’t have a “This is our tree house – stay away” attitude toward visitors.
Commercial operators are struggling to keep their heads above water so it’s hard to take the time to talk to visitors but, if you don’t, the job gets even tougher.
Slide 17: Newcomers are people just like us but without our training and experience. They simply don’t know things we take for granted.
On their first visit, they’re extremely easy to discourage so choose your words carefully. Treat them with respect and consideration. Help them into the sport.
Slide 18: Some glider facilities in the US are very nice – others not so much.
You don’t have to be a country club (Although that would be nice…) but you can mow the grass and take out the trash.
You can also keep glider canopies clean and wipe the sweat and sun screen from cockpit interiors.
If your location feels like a nice place to be, the Significant Other will be easier to convince.
Slide 19: With the loss of almost 200 Blaniks, we’re seriously short of training gliders. Fortunately, this is a historic time to buy new ones.
If you use an online “Dollar Deflator” calculator, you will see the current price of gliders is not that different from when the Blaniks and 2-33’s were bought. That’s without taking into consideration the incredible advance in the quality, handling and performance of new gliders. The figures on the slide use “Income/affordability index” method of calculating inflation.
A slick new training glider has a strong impact on instructor availability. Instructors like nice gliders too so they’ll appear in droves to teach in a new glider. The ASK-21 shown is a very comfortable and quiet place to teach and instructors backsides love the shock absorbing landing gear.
Slide 20: I’ve been taking non-pilots for their first ride for a long time and I’ve learned there’s a very specific way to do it if you want them to come back.
A very short flight in dead smooth air works wonders. They just want to know they will survive and not get airsick. If they like their first ride, they’ll be far more tolerant of turbulence and steep turns on their 2nd ride. I always assure them if they feel it necessary, I can get them back on the ground in a couple of minutes.
Please don’t turn them over to a brand new private pilot who will show them stalls and steep turns. Let your “Pro” fly with them who’ll be very smooth and attentive.
Remember the first ride is all about them, not you.
Slide 21: Let me end with a plea for help. The SSA can’t do it all alone. We need the help of every glider pilot out there if we are to grow.
Talk to your friends and acquaintances about our wonderful sport. Put a bumper sticker on your car and a banner on your trailer. Put the LetsGoSoaring.org URL on your business cards. And please, please, walk over and talk to folks leaning on the fence.
Thank you. Questions?