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

The Flight Training System – Part 2


In my last article I talked about how those of us who are instructors need to provide a more professional product if we expect to attract and keep serious flight students. What can the rest of the aviation community do to build up aviation?Aviation Graduation

For one, we as pilots have to get it through our heads that we are not special – we’re just different. We’re different in that we got ‘the aviation bug’ at a point in our lives or were bitten hard enough that we made a commitment to start flight training. We’re different in that we pushed through the flight training gauntlet and were awarded the end prize of a pilot’s certificate. Yes, we are part of the very small percentage of the population who hold pilot certificates, but flying is not beyond the grasp of most people.  Douglas Bader flew in the Battle of Britain without legs, Jessica Cox is flying without arms and there is an association for deaf pilots.

We have to stop treating flying as an exclusive club. We need to stop talking in “aviation code” when we encounter another pilot in a social situation. Have you ever found yourself in a group of computer programmers or network administrators (or any other technical profession) and listened to them talking to each other? I bet that you felt lost in the conversation and like an outsider, huh ? That’s what the average non-flying person feels like when pilots get together.

Fly Professionally

If we are going to require that our instructors treat us and our training in a more professional manner, then we as pilots are going to have to do the same with our flying. Stop treating flying as if you’re driving to the store for groceries. A quote I used yesterday from an instructor in the Buffalo area referred to the fatal accident rate of general aviation and it’s relation to the general quality of instruction.

Bob Miller has been advocating for some time now both in print and through his podcast segment on ANN that the requirements for a Private Pilot certificate be raised and currency requirements be increased.

However, he [Miller] recognizes that FAA rule changes take a long time and cost a fortune, money that the agency is unlikely to allocate. And in any case, organizations like AOPA will work hard to block any such rule changes, he said. The better way is for flight schools to teach pilots to proficiency, not just to the minimum standards. All pilots should undergo annual flight reviews with high-quality instructors. And insurance companies should promote these ideas, just as the insurance industry helped drive corporate aviation (business jets and turboprops) accident rates to historic lows via stringent recurrent training requirements. “We’re trying to build a desire to become better pilots,” he said. “This will save your life.”

My reaction to his quote is why we, the training segment of aviation, are not training to proficiency already? Miller’s cry is that we aren’t training long enough for a pilot to be truly proficient in today’s aviation environment.

Yes, the accident numbers are there and unwavering. Why hasn’t the FAA done something about it? The Nall Report for the 2010 accident rate is not yet available, so I looked at the reports for 2008 and 2009.

The 2009 report stated that 50% of the accidents involved pilots with a Private Pilot certificate (36% of the pilot population). Another 12% of the accidents involved pilots with Student or Sport Pilot certificates or their rating was unknown or they didn’t have a certificate at all. That leaves 37% of the accidents involving pilots with a commercial license or better.

The 2008 report said that on their last medical application 71% of the private pilots claimed less than 500 hours of total experience while 15% claimed over 1000 hours experience.  Who knows how accurate the numbers are, but this implies that almost 30% of the private pilots have over 500 hours of flight time.

If you think about all these numbers a while you come to the conclusion that a large percentage of the accidents involve pilots who have been out of training for a considerable period of time. Increasing the time required for a license will not result in a change in these numbers unless the pilots treat their flying in a professional manner.

That means recurring training programs, professional flight reviews, online webinars, taking part in aviation associations and using simulator time when appropriate. At the very least, fly with people who are more experienced than you and honestly ask for their opinion of your abilities. Flying is not like riding a bike. You get rusty and you lose your ‘air sense’ if you stay out of the air.

The Bottom Line

We all, as a pilot group, have to start taking responsibility for our own actions. The general aviation industry is only going to turn around when we can show all the non-pilots out there that aviation has something to offer that is better than what they are doing and is worth their time, money and effort. Flying is a total mystery to most of the people out there. Invite them in, show them the benefits – and be professional about it.

the Flight training System, Part 1