Globe with the words Around the Pattern cured around the top half.

The Flight Training System – Part 1


On March 1st AIN (Aviation International News) released three articles clearly attempting to bolster the waning general aviation market. One article discussed the benefits realized from a strong aviation General Aviation Aircraft. infrastructure and touched on a possible world-wide pilot shortage. Another discussed the author’s opinion of what is necessary to turn the decline around and the third actually questioned whether the decline can even be reversed. The articles can be found at the AIN website by clicking on the ‘see all news’ link. I assume that they will eventually migrate to the General Aviation section.

All three of the articles lauded the efforts of EAA to increase the awareness about aviation among young people. The Young Eagles program has been a great success over the years and continues to bring aviation to kids who otherwise would remain locked outside our federally mandated airport security fences.

Hightower [Rod Hightower, President of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA)] attended an EAA Young Eagles meeting, where pilots took children for free airplane rides to encourage future aviation interest, and was pleasantly surprised when a 45-year-old man stood up at the meeting and explained how the Young Eagles program had stimulated his interest. He was able to take a ride, too, and 18 months later was a pilot and six months after that bought his first airplane. Hightower said that this person wasn’t concerned about cost, but was able to learn to fly because his kids were through college. “He had the time and money to pursue his passion,” he said. “I’m sure there are many more of them out there.”

While cost is an issue, Hightower isn’t sure that it is an overwhelming problem. “In terms of real dollars, it’s no more expensive today than when we were flying in the 1970s,” he said. “It’s about tradeoffs. It’s my belief that if you want to find a way, you can afford it.”


I mentioned the cost issue in one of my previous posts where I compared the costs to fly my plane when I first bought it to those I incur today. This backs up Hightower’s comment about costs, but there are other factors at work here.

They have other options.


Russell Munson, a professional pleasure flier whose name will be familiar to anyone who has read Flying magazine in the last 40 years or so, has some theories in this vein. “The attention span of many people today who have the money to fly means they want immediate gratification. If the choice is between buying a Porsche and spending six months learning to fly so they can use an airplane, they’ll buy the Porsche,” suggests Munson.

Today there are hundreds (being conservative) of other ways to spend our discretionary funds. Those are the funds that we have left over after our everyday financial obligations are met.

What do we look at when we get to that point in our lives where we have the funds to do one of those things on our bucket list? Do we pursue an idea that will take 9-12 months to bring to fruition or something that we can go out and do right now? Maybe we decide to go look into flying as an option and see if it will fit into our plans. What do we find?

What Does Aviation Offer?

First, we find that it’s quite often hard to locate a flight school, especially one that looks like it deserves our hard-earned income. When we walk in the door we’re often ignored rather than greeted. If we decide to take a chance on flight instruction, what do we get for our money? Often we find an instructor who barely has little real flight experience and who has even less training in being an educator. Teaching someone to fly is not a simple process.

“Safety problems are a significant factor in the decline of GA, according to Bob Miller, publisher of the monthly “Over the Airwaves” newsletter and owner of Bob Miller Flight Training in Buffalo, N.Y. “To put it in perspective,” he said, “learning to fly isn’t like learning to play golf. We still suffer about 300 fatal accidents a year, 80 percent of which are attributable to pilot error, because the teacher failed to teach. Well over 75 percent [of those pilot error accidents] can be traced back to faulty instruction.”

If an intelligent individual cannot find a way to spend his/her money in a way that will provide an identifiable return on the investment, they’ll go someplace else.

All you flight instructors out there are going to have to face the fact that you are not going to get that airline job any time soon. Whether there is a pilot shortage or not you’re going to have to have an ATP certificate in hand to land a job in one of those seats. So right now is the time to start viewing that instructing job as something more than a way to build time for a few months.

Flight Instruction Needs to Change

You’re going to start treating it as the profession that it is – who knows, you might really start to like it, generate a professional reputation and be able to make a living as a career instructor.

Yes, I know, that’s the other guy and the other school, but all of us can do a better job of both promoting aviation and treating it more professionally. I’m not saying we all have to were pilot shirts and ties when we instruct – but make sure that you look professional enough to be getting paid for what you do. Prepare for each lesson. Provide a good ground review of the previous instruction and a preview of the current lesson before the flight. Then conduct a comprehensive post-flight briefing and critique. Make sure the student knows how they did and what to expect in the next lesson. If your flight school won’t give you enough time to accomplish what is needed, then find one that will… or start your own. Paying students will flock to a professional operation that provides a quality product.

In the next article we’ll talk about what the rest of us can do to promote aviation.

Read part 2 of The Flight Training System.