General-aviation businesses to test market with seminar

A group of small businesses that serve the aviation community in northern Nevada think the aviation industry is awakening from its long slumber.

And to test their belief, they're joining forces for an April 1 seminar to see if they can drum up additional business for flight schools and other general aviation businesses.

"We're trying to show people that there's a critical mass of these businesses here," says Ed Rathje, the owner of Fly Reno IFR, a company that uses computer simulations to train pilots to fly by instrument flight rules.

Along with his firm, sponsors of the April 1 seminar at Atlantis Casino Resort include Ace Aviation, Aerobatic Company and Flight School, Proficient IFR and the Experimental Aircraft Association.

Running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the seminar dubbed "ifly 2006" will cover subjects ranging from building your own airplane to aviation careers. (To RSVP, call 832-8171.)

The small aviation firms, banded together as the nonprofit Reno Flight Schools, promoted the event with a mailing to about 1,110 pilots students and veterans of the air transport industry alike in the Reno area.

Rathje says organizers hope those experienced pilots mingle with newcomers.

"We want to have not just more pilots, but better pilots," he says.

Owners of the general aviation businesses think they're seeing the resurgence of interest in flight after a troubled two decades first, when liability issues forced manufacturers of small planes to the wall, second when the Sept. 11 attacks brought new fears to the market.

The number of student pilots began creeping up slowly in 2002, the Federal Aviation Administration says, and rose each of the next two years. Statistics for 2005 aren't yet available.

In Nevada, the FAA counts 6,797 licensed pilots in Nevada as of 2004.

Rathje believes that demographics alone should cause those numbers to be higher in northern Nevada.

"In this area, there are some people who could afford to be flying, but don't," he says.

Also driving the growing interest in flight, he says, are new small aircraft on the market as well as new FAA standards for "recreational pilot" and "sport pilot" rating. Both are easier to attain than previous licenses.

"The FAA is trying to get more people into flying with these new ratings," Rathje says.

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