Ramblings about flying for fun and profit.

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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

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.

Your Flying Stories for 17 Dec 2010

I find aviation-oriented articles on the Internet every day that I think some of you might be interested in reading. I decided to make a list as I go through the week and then pass them on to you on Fridays so that you can have an easy reference for places to go online if you find yourself stuck in your tie-down spot.

An article from Flying Magazine.
This is an article by Martha Lunken, published on December 8th on the Flying Magazine website. It recounts stories of her flying over the Christmas holidays and a tradition of hers concerning a particular flying story.

Airline profits generated more from fees than ticket prices.
This is a short article describing the shift in airline profits from ticket prices to the myriad of extra fees that travelers face. It seems that the airlines still are unable to come up with a ticket price that reflects how much it costs to fly a passenger to their destination.

A possible Christmas gift?
This is actually a press release for a company in Nashville, TN, but it is a very good idea for a Christmas gift for any of your friends/relatives who have expressed any kind of interest in aviation. Check the AOPA Learn To Fly website and you can search for a flight school near you. You will also find a link to sign up for a 6-month subscription to Flight Training Magazine (FREE) and access to AOPA’s suite of flight training aids/information – items mentioned in the press release.

A Look at the Models in the Boeing Aircraft Company Archives (Pt 2)
This is an article from the Airline Reporter blog in which the author (David Parker Brown) describes his tour of the Boeing Aircraft archives in Bellevue, WA. He took over 40 photos of the aircraft models stored in the archives and will be posting an article covering his interview of Boeing Historian Michael Lombardi.
This is a link to part 1 of the article – it does not yet link to part 2 Boeing Aircraft Archives, Part 1
And here is a link to the AirlineReporter Flickr account where you can find all 44 of the archives photos. AirlineReporter archive photos

In Case You Needed a Reason to Go Flying
This is a Dec 13th blog entry by Steve on the A Mile of Runway Will Take You Anywhere blog. The article refers to an entry by Lynol Amero on the skywriting forum of Oshkosh365. Amero planned out and flew a GPS track appropriate for the season. (It was easier to link to Steve’s article than to try and direct you far enough down the Oshkosh365 forum page to get to the original article.) Link to Oshkosh365 skywriting forum If you haven’t seen this already you aren’t visiting enough aviation sites.

Flight Training Bill Clears Congress

Quoting the AOPA article:

Legislation providing veterans with new financial aid for flight training was on its way to President Barack Obama for signing following an overwhelming vote of approval Dec. 17 in the House of Representatives.

The Best and Worst in Flight training for 2010

This is another article from AOPA, this time their Flight Training Blog, where they recount their opinion of the best and worst items that appeared in the AOPA ePilot Flight Training edition.

Fighter Pilot’s Brains

This is a press release concerning a study conducted by the University College of London. They came to the conclusion that fighter pilot’s brains are wired differently from us ‘normal’ people. That’s pretty obvious after a couple of hours in a bar with one of them. We now apparently have medical evidence.

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