Sporty’s Trends for 2012

It’s that time of year again, when I sit back in my chair, stroke my chin, and contemplate the trends we saw from the past year. These trends can give us clues of what’s in store in the year to come.

Michael Wolf

Michael Wolf

But before we talk about the new trends we’ve spotted, we are going to take iPads out of the “trend” column and move them into the “here-to-stay” column. For the past two years, we led with the iPad trend, but no more. iPads have changed the way we fly, and until the next new thing comes along, we declare that iPads will remain a routine part of flight planning and flight management. Same with webinars. No longer revolutionary, online learning, whether as an ongoing course or a one-time seminar, is here to stay.

So what is new?

ADS-B goes from “what’s that?” to “must have.” Most pilots may not be able to tell you that it stands for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, but all pilots know that in-cockpit weather (and free weather no less) has changed the way we fly. Sporty’s own Stratus was successful, even beyond our strong belief in it when we launched the product at Sun ‘n Fun. Garmin has its ADS-B Academy (see what we mean about online learning?) to market its GDL 39. The question remains: How else can ADS-B be used to make our flying safer and more efficient?

Everyone’s a movie star. By next year, we may be moving cockpit cameras from the trends column to the here-to-stay column. Right now, though, the technology is still developing. The fun of recording a flight and posting it on YouTube for friends and family is no longer the sole purview of technology geeks. At Sporty’s, we equip our training aircraft with an in-flight camera and always record a student’s first solo. What a souvenir of a momentous occasion – sure beats the static photo! Now a pilot can live and relive that important flight. We suspect that more and more utility will be found for video in the cockpit, and we have big plans for 2013.

Flight Training continues to evolve. The biggest change we noted this year at Sporty’s Academy is the success of our finish-up course. This training is intended for someone who started their training, but stopped for some reason – and the reasons we’ve heard range from family issues to job overload, finances, boredom, or a clash with their flight instructor. Yet, the desire to fly remained and when they come to us, we analyze where they are and create a personalized program. When you think of the pitiful retention rate of flight training – and how many drop outs GA has spawned nationwide – a finish-up program is something that could work at many flight schools.

We’re all learning on the go. There was atime when the “computer room” was a new thing in all of our homes, but no more. Home study is centuries old – computer home study is decades old. What’s new is that home study-ers are no longer trapped at a computer desk in the computer room. Now you’ll find folks studying online in the doctor’s waiting room, lying poolside, sitting on a park bench – or jogging through the park. iPads, iPods and iPhones make it possible to study anywhere, anytime, and we’ve embraced this new way to learn with all of our training products.

Hal remains surprised. After 51 years in the business, it takes a lot to surprise Hal, but he has frequently said the biggest surprise of his career is that pilots would be willing to pay $1000 for a headset. Where once a high-end headset was the privilege of only the most elite pilots, these headsets are becoming more mainstream. The success of Bose, Sennheiser and Lightspeed are all testament to the fact that pilots are willing to pay for the top of the line.

The dogfight is on. For years, Microsoft Flight Simulator led the pack in flight simulation games, followed by Flight Sim X. Now there’s a new player in town: X-Plane is edging upward as the flight simulation  program of choice, with more realistic aerodynamic models and some higher end features. Everything old is new again. We’re hearing more and more talk about pilots flying just for the pure pleasure of it. Affordable used airplanes and LSAs make it possible to fly for no particular reason other than FUN. And maybe it’s just us, since our Sweepstakes airplane this year is the Legend Cub, but taildraggers seem to be more in vogue than ever.

Ok, one last iPad trend. Is the iPad mini the perfect iPad for pilots? The jury is still out, but there’s lots of interest here among pilots for a reduced size iPad that does everything its bigger brother can do. Small flight bags and small cockpits are ideal for this device.

So that’s it – how we see things from our little airport in Ohio. All of us so often hear that the best aspect of the general aviation industry is the people. We couldn’t agree more. We value the friendships and relationships that grow stronger by the year. To our friends worldwide who celebrate Christmas or Hanukah, another holiday or no holiday at all, we send all our best wishes for a New Year packed with good health, happiness and prosperity.

Best Wishes,





Michael Wolf and Sporty’s Pilot Shop Staff