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Sustainability with Microlight Aircraft

What is sustainability ?


Wiktionary defines sustainability as….


1. The ability to sustain something.

1. (ecology) A means of configuring civilization and human activity so that society, its members and its economies are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, planning and acting for the ability to maintain these necessary resources for future generations.

2. (business) The ability to sustain a business in the long term, which is a state that is partly dependent on, but broader than, profitability today or in the short term; it involves aspects of a plausible path toward eventual profitability and ecologic sustainability.


You may be surprised that unbeknownst to most people, the CAA and the rest of the world, the Microlight pilots in the UK and world wide are the first adopters of this ethos:-reduce air pollution and noise pollution.


The CAA has a strategy on Sustainability… they see it as their duty to acknowledge and reduce the impact that aviation has upon the planet and on local environments through air pollution and noise pollution.


We should also look at what sustainability means to (y)our business as a flight school or club or even to (y)our private bimble through the sky.


Think of Sustainability as a roof or shelter supported by several pillars – Human, Social, Economic, Environmental.



Human

Many readers of this essay will have personal experience of flying gliders, hang gliders and para-gliders, then graduating to powered hang gliders and para-motors. You may have seen, experienced, experimented, designed, built and contributed to the rapid evolution of this personal form of flight.


The Human desire and dream of flight is as old as story telling – for example, in the Occident there is the Greek myth of Daedalus and his son Icarus, depicting escape from life imprisonment (and tragedy in the “first documented aviation accident”). In real life, Ivo Zardski (better known for founding his company “IvoProp” in the USA) built a Microlight aircraft and escaped from behind the “Iron Curtain” in 1984. He is famous for his excellent propellers used on many Microlight aircraft.


In the Orient there are tales of magical flying carpets used by youthful adventurers to escape, to see the world from above, to impress and elope with their ladies, and epics of flying gods with their supra-natural powers of travel over long distances and different worlds.


What dreams, dear Reader, do you have of flying?


The Human wish to fly may well have its origin in the need to escape mortal danger faster than one’s legs could. The great example of birds flying away from danger or escaping from their hunters by flying faster or higher or performing aerobatic manoeuvres have been observed by Humans, wishing they had the same powers of aviation. What evolution did not help us achieve in more than 10 million years, we have achieved since 1904; a span of less than 120 years, which is a ratio of 250,000 to 3.


As humans we desire to see our surroundings from the above. Early humans climbed mountains to see beyond the horizon; sailors climbed up crow’s nests to see over the horizon, early aeronauts went up in hot air balloons made of bed covers to see what lay above the clouds…


We experience deep pleasure for viewing the world from above and also a deep sense of relief and achievement when we land safely after an adventurous flight. This experience makes us almost addicted to flying; Microlights make it affordable and accessible.


Microlight aircraft are also used as personal transport saving time and money due to the speed and frugal fuel burn. Generally landing and parking fees at airfields and airports are lower for Microlight aircraft.


Social

The Social aspect of aviation (other than transport of goods and passengers and machines of war) is such that it makes for strong friendships and social bonds in the flying clubs, schools, associations and federations worldwide. This leads to friendly competitions to increase knowledge in aviation and all the related subjects and sciences. Innovations in design are encouraged and promoted, globe spanning flights are made, budding astronauts are created by aeronautical adventures of discovery, thus our sights are raised higher and further to achieve something that nature precluded from us through evolutionary steps.


Curiosity and Competition are an inherent part of human psyche and society; this is seen in Microlight aviation where individuals are highly motivated by the adventure of winning laurels if not cash. Combining pilot skill and innovative designs of Microlight aircraft has seen many successes and some failures too.


Humans learn from mistakes when these become shared knowledge. We are fortunate to have regulators and agencies worldwide that investigate accidents and report on them without apportioning blame, but with the intention of learning from those mistakes and reducing the risk of making the same errors.


Microlight aviation is more accessible to a larger group of society, requiring the same medical fitness and ability to drive cars; enabling specialised controls for pilots who may not be able to use one or more limbs. It is a more inclusive form of aviation due to the lightweight control forces, enabling the not so physically strong pilot to control the machine accurately.


Flights from farm strips and non-licensed airports allow more accessibility to hobby pilots.

“Further Education” for youngster and Adults in “build an aircraft” projects run by schools and colleges provide educational and engineering ability and awareness allowing young students to determine their future interests and profession or vocation or further specialization.


STEM subjects awareness incubator activity is provided by microlight aviation in unique ways due to the exciting variety of aircraft shapes and designs, which are easily accessible to the general public, more so than any other type of general aviation aircraft.


Economic

Economic activity of Microlight flying and manufacture of modern aircraft is a specialised activity worldwide. Some countries have extremely popular locations to fly these sporty aircrafts, whilst some nations simply do not allow such activity. In my opinion, personal flight should be available world wide, where possible as an adventure activity.


In the UK, Europe and the USA ultra-light aviation is an industry, which generates employment and significant amounts of money (accurate figures are impossible to find).


It is estimated that in the UK this economic activity is worth about £10 million annually when manufacturing Microlight aircraft, flight training, service and maintenance of these aircraft, hangar rentals, landing fees, fuel sales, engines & instruments sales and related activity of flying clubs and airfield cafes are taken into consideration, according to Mr. Rob Hughes of the BMAA.


The two main associations, the BMAA and the LAA collectively have an annual turn over of about £2.2 million. The two associations employ approximately 25 persons with an outward cascade of more than 500 inspectors, engineers, pilots, flight instructors, examiners and service personnel.


The CAA as the aviation regulator in the UK employs several hundred persons. All the above economic activity generates direct and indirect taxes such as VAT, fuel duties, income tax, to the Treasury.


An example of manufacturing activity, Pipistrel aircraft in Slovenia, produce about 100 ultra light aircraft per year, employ more than 200 highly qualified and trained staff, with a turnover in excess of 150 million euros. World wide this sector would surely be worth in excess of several hundreds of millions of Sterling.


The Microlight industry makes possible many innovations such as electronic maps which make use of the latest technology tablets and phones. It allows innovators to design and build apps like SkyDemon. Modern electronic instruments are installed in Microlight aircraft are intuitive to use and can be extremely useful in data collection during flight. Gadgets such as PilotAware enhance safety in the sky for general aviation due to the low costs and early adoption in the Microlight world where innovations have been readily included, adopted, used, experimented and improved. For example, the SkyDemon navigation app and PilotAware warning system have more than 500,000 users worldwide, thus generating a positive employment and economic output.


In my opinion, the use of such innovative equipment and electronic mapping in Microlight aircraft has reduced the financial cost and air pollution impact of inadvertent airspace infringements and enhanced safety for all by generating a visual and aural warning of aircraft on collision course with another aircraft or indeed penetration of controlled airspace.


With the advent of 600 kg Microlight regulations, is bringing in new, better designed, light weight, personal flying machines, which will continue into the foreseeable future, with innovations in reducing noise and air pollution, while training more pilots, giving better access to young persons through STEM subjects and “build an aircraft” projects in schools and colleges.


This Economic Pillar is a solid foundation supporting the sustainability of Microlight aviation.


Environmental

The environmental aspects of flying Microlight aircraft have been overlooked by the mainstream aviation industry, as well as politicians and regulators. It has quietly crept towards reducing noise levels (pun intended) and air pollution.


During the bad old days of the early 1980’s and 1990’s the emerging Microlight aircraft were seen as noise generating machines, flying slowly over our neighbours and disturbing horses in open pastures.


Some airfields prohibited such activity; fortunately since the advent of St. Rotax, that patron saint of reliable horse power with frugal petrol and even lower oil consumption and low maintenance regimes, the Microlight aircraft have become the norm for low noise and low cost flying. The general aviation fleet of single engine aircraft have noise levels in excess of 90db, whilst Microlight aircraft of today have less than 60db noise at maximum power.


Nowadays, microlights are well known for their low noise and low air pollution qualities and are accepted at almost any airfield, except those where the local nimbys have a stranglehold and where local councils have not changed their outlooks.


The G.A. fleet world wide burns AvGas which has carcinogenic compounds of lead added to it to help run the older engine technology, whilst the Rotax engine burns UnLeaded petrol with 10 % Ethanol, making fewer carcinogenic emissions. The low fuel burn of modern engines and low drag designs of modern microlight aircraft requires less power for the same performance, thus making a virtuous circle of low noise and lower emissions than any other conventional piston engine used in general aviation.


Another overlooked sustainability aspect of Microlight aviation is that we only require a grass runway. To quote an unknown pundit “You build a mile of railway, the train can take you one mile, you build a mile of road, you can drive a mile, you build half of mile of runway, you can fly anywhere in the world”. Recent amazing achievements by siblings, Zara and Mac Rutherford who individually flew solo around the world in a Microlight aircraft, shows that a short grass runway is what the modern, reliable, robust, easy to fly Microlight aircraft require. No need for Airports with thousands of meters of tarmac, no need for control towers and traffic controllers, no need for invisible airspace barriers. This absence of such infrastructure makes Microlight flying more sustainable than any other mode of private aviation.


Microlight aircraft when operated on grass do not leave much of a mark on the runway during take off and landing, due to the very low weight. It does not need much longer than 400 meters of grass runway length to operate safely, thus making a negligible impact on the environment.


I have put forth my opinion on how Microlight aviation is by far the most sustainable type of private flying at present anywhere in the world. I would request you, dear Reader, to talk about this aspect of your flying to as many people as you may wish to enlighten.


Deepak Mahajan

15 December 2022.




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