Thursday, February 18, 2010

Another LSA Flight School Lands in So Cal

Charles Thomson sounds wise beyond his 21 years, all the better since he’s just started up a flight training operation at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) in the general aviation-dense L.A. Basin.
NOTE: photo at left is a SportCruiser I shot at Sun'nFun '07, Thomson is not the pilot.
Santa Monica Flyers is its moniker, and transplanted Brit and CFII Charlie seems ideally suited to the task of teaching people to fly...since he could easily have died himself in a recent training accident.
“Starting a flight school came out of my anger and annoyance at my own student pilot experience. I found it too expensive, and during my Commercial check ride, a throttle linkage on the Cessna 172 broke. We were only 1000' up in this old airplane with steam gauges, the airplane’s horrible inside and out anyway, and then it breaks and tries to kill me! We had a bad crash.”
“I feel that training in a Light Sport aircraft has got to be the future of flight training if general aviation is going anywhere. LSA training has to be cheaper, more fun, safer, nicer and it’s done in newer aircraft.”
Now that Piper is marketing the PiperSport, its rebadged version of the popular SportCruiser, (Santa Monica Flyers trains in one), Thomson feels flight training will only improve.
“It’s already been busier than I expected. People were champing at the bit to fly the SportCruiser. Once Piper announced, well, we were already ahead of the curve.”
The SportCruiser is “a great little plane, I absolutely love it.”
He’s hoping to become an official dealer for Piper in the area, and is glad the company will supply parts and maintenance for existing SportCruisers as well as the PiperSport.
“Santa Monica Flyers is my first business. I wrote letters to every SportCruiser owner in America. The volume of responses was astounding! People fell all over themselves to say nice things about the airplane and encouraged me to start a school with one - even people who already had their own flight schools.”
His confidence suitably bolstered, he bought the SportCruiser and jumped in with both feet.
---inflight photos courtesy Piper Aircraft and CSA

—more on Charles Thomson and Santa Monica Flyers tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Bad rap for the 172 in general. It's one of the safest airplanes to fly, and it has the track record to prove it.

I like the Piper, but let's give it a few years in the air and then compare it to a 172.

Sounds a little like the arrogance of youth. You might want to be careful with that while you're in the air.

Anonymous said...

Awesome looking plane! I want to come fly it. Good luck to you!!

James Lawrence said...

Thanks for your comments. I mean to give the impression Charles Thomson was bad-rapping the 172. He was making a specific comment on the condition of his C-172 that broke in flight, and generally on the training fleet as he's experienced it: old and often dilapidated airplanes.
Certainly the high regard for the C-172 and C-150/152 airplanes is nearly universal. They've done their job wonderfully.
And of course there are many fresh versions of the 172 once Cessna started reproducing them.
But I know from personal experience, and I'm guessing yours is the same: Of the scores of Cessna 172 photoships I've rented over the years, the majority of them were moderately to completely ratty.
Most of those were part of the school's training fleet. They often smelled bad, looked worse, and while they weren't unsafe (I'm still here after all), they were clearly past their prime, mid life and well into seniorhood.
Not many flight schools today can afford to spend a couple hundred grand on a new 172 when there are so many older ones out there for less. The economics are a no brainer.
And certainly there are many used 172s in good shape. But in my experience of renting since the late '80s, the fleet in general has that "worn out" feel.
And that's a turnoff for new, especially younger, students. That's Thomson's point, as he expressed it to me.
So his context of students, especially younger ones, being turned on by shiny new airplanes is what I meant to convey.
GA needs to have contemporary appeal. We need to grow a new population of younger pilots.
When I was 20 or so (early 60s), training on a Stearman or a Jenny would have been an equivalent-aged airplane. The C-150 and 172 were only about five years old then!
If I was 20 now, and faced with the choice of a beautiful new LSA or a ratty old Wichita Tin, whatever the make, it would be a slam dunk: I'd go for the LSA in a heartbeat.
How well the new LSA, including the PiperSport, hold up is something we won't know for another 5-10 years. But from personal experience, I can tell you that training in an LSA was more fun than any Cessna or Piper I ever flew. They're livelier, climb quicker, handle lighter, and give away performance mostly in turbulent conditions. That's not a problem for me...I prefer not to fly in bumpy conditions in any airplane anyway.

charles said...

Hey Guys, I Just want to say that I love 172s, as James said its just the one that broke that I'm not a fan of.

Charles Thomson