Monday, May 23, 2011


Pilot starts and completion to private license are at an all time low. I keep hearing that it’s the cost involved to be a pilot that forces students to quit. I do believe that those with an interest to learn to fly don’t start flight lessons because of the related expense involved. I also believe that those who have made the decision to start flight lessons researched and know the cost involved to receive their ticket.

Those who can’t afford to take flight lessons at a younger age might take up flying later in life when their economic situation has changed. I have friends that have gotten their ticket in their late 50’s.

Of those who start taking flight lessons and quit, I believe they are discouraged by the situation they are in. They just aren’t enjoying the experience. This is where AOPA hit the bullseye. I was very lucky with the grey hair flight instructors that I had when starting out flying gliders and power. To this day I can still hear their voices in my head if I am about to do something stupid.

My instructors were ex military and they all had a passion about flying and were able to pass this passion on to their students. I can’t say this is true at the flight schools of today. People are not trying, or able, to make a living by teaching someone to fly. What I see today are young instructors who are building time to get on with the airlines. This is going to increase now that a minimum of 1500 hours is needed to fly for the airlines. Many of todays younger flight instructors have no real world practical experience. They received their ratings back to back to back. Most of their flight time is gaining experience to pass the oral and written tests for the next rating.

Students get discouraged when they pass the 40 hour mark and are told it might take them 80 hours to get their ticket. When I started flying most of us received our ticket in 40 hours or very close to that number. Are the flight schools prolonging the issue for more dollars? Are the instructors incompetent? Is it a combination of the two?

We have had a series of tragic accidents at one flight school in the Phoenix area over the past two years. The instructors have a rigid course they must follow, and when I look at the age of these instructors I wonder what they really know about flying?

I like to think that I am a really good pilot. I don’t know if I could be a good instructor. My safety over the years comes from reading and discussions with others involved in Aviation, including pilots and controllers. My current CFII is a check airman for a major airline. My past CFII was a controller for Phoenix TRACON. They both put me through the ringer, and I feel I am a safer pilot for it.

A major disappointment is that AOPA discontinued the Pilot Mentor Program. This program gave the student reinforcement when they became discouraged. It allowed the student to obtain advice on whether or not they have the right instructor and or flight school. Flight schools should line up past students to mentor new students so that the new student would have access to someone outside the flight school environment.

If I started flying today, I think I would like to have Rod Machado as an instructor. If I couldn’t make it as a pilot under Rod I could at least have enough material to play the comedy clubs. Seriously Rod’s picture would be in the dictionary under “flight instructor”. This is someone who teaches through the use of humor to get his point across. Rod’s methods aren’t for everyone but we need more instructors like him that have the knowledge and the ability to teach flying.

I am afraid that as things stand now General Aviation as we know it today will disappear in 10 to 15 years. AOPA won’t have 1/2 as many members as it does today. Our pilot population is dying off. Those who wish to fly for an occupation will continue, but casual flying will cease to exist.