Where do I begin? Chris Clarke of AirFacts has launched a full-out assault on something many of us embrace as a simple and fun term of endearment — "AvGeek." So please excuse me while I step onto my soapbox.
He starts off by diving right into stereotypes about us, saying we play World of Warcraft, pants-less, in our mother's basements. While I can't speak for all of us, I've never touched WoW. He also suggests that we go out and rent a VHS copy of "The Right Stuff." Wait, VHS? How old is this guy? "The Right Stuff" happens to be one of my all time favorite movies, with one of the best musical scores ever.
I'd like to remind Chris that AvGeeks are the reason we have aviation. Engineers. Chemists. Physicists. Mathematicians. There's nothing shameful or derogatory about being a geek, and I think many pilots, including those early Mercury and Apollo Astronauts would acknowledge they are geeks on some level. Geek is in!
Clarke says the "AvGeek" buzz word is damaging to aviation because people don't want to be perceived as geeks. To me, the thing that is the most damaging about aviation is that it's so cost-prohibitive to get into. Most of us can afford nothing more than being casual bystanders. This is why airlines are reporting pilot shortages. The younger generation is choosing not to make the investment in aviation. The path to becoming a career pilot is similar to a medical career. It takes several years, and is insanely expensive. You don't make much money to start out with, but the end reward is a potentially lucrative career doing something you love.
To the enthusiast, going out to the airport just to watch planes land is really not much different than going to a racetrack to watch cars drive in circles. In the same way race fans like certain brands or drivers, AvGeeks are fond certain planes or manufacturers as well. It feeds that craving to be around something about which you are so passionate.
Clarke suggests social media is a potentially valuable, but flawed tool:
"While social media tactics are what need to be used to reach today's consumer, these tactics need to be used to their full potential and not squandered on cute little cliches. The biggest barrier with using tools like Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets is that they are crowd sourced. There isn't one major corporation as a driving force changing the paradigm of aviation perception. So unless we all can get behind a change we can believe in, the status quo will remain."
Crowd-sourcing isn't a bad thing. Social media requires an active participation! Like anything else, knowledge and passion for aviation isn't going to just fall out of the clouds into someone's lap. I think AvGeek was really born due to Twitter's character limitations. It simply uses less space than saying "aviation enthusiast" and still gets the message across easily. Using a hashtag like #avgeek on Twitter helps those with the curiosity to instantly resource all aviation-related discussion. That's precisely how I became so involved in Twitter's aviation community. All are welcome. I've met people from high school aged to octogenarians at various aviation meet-ups.
Companies like Boeing are doing a lot of positive work to foster the curiosity for aviation. At the conception of Boeing's 787 program, the company launched a website that gave us a step-by-step view of the development. They even held a worldwide vote online to choose the name of the plane! NASA has hosted dozens of "tweet-ups" for fans. Participants have been invited to attend everything from Shuttle launches, to budget meetings around the country.
It's hard to tell if Chris just hasn't been exposed to these awesome things, but for the love of Orville & Wilbur, the passion for aviation is most assuredly growing as availability of news and access to unique events increases. If being called a geek is really the stumbling block here, I'd suggest you don't really love aviation at all.
Top image: AvGeeks pose with a GE-90-115B engine on a Boeing 777 at AvGeek Fest 2014. [Boeing / AirlineReporter]