The declining pilot population–is there really a problem?

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of five articles called Mayday! The declining pilot population. You can read all the articles here.

Problem? What problem? We’ve been wildly successful in flight training. We’ve been successful despite ourselves. We’ve done a fantastic job of recruiting new customers and maintaining the pilot population at its current level, having essentially only one product to offer.

Pilot license
Is this all we’re selling? There is more to being a pilot than a piece of plastic.

The flight training industry has been offering a single product to consumers since the beginning of time; and not only does this product not speak or resonate with modern consumers, it has become, by necessity, complicated, time-consuming and expensive. I’m speaking of Private Pilot Flight Training.

Think of flight training as Baskin Robbins ice cream. Where would that company be, had it introduced plain vanilla ice cream in 1945 with very little change or innovation since? Instead, two ice cream enthusiasts developed a culture of innovation that led to the creation of more than a thousand ice cream flavors and a variety of other treats now sold in nearly 7,000 retail shops and 50 countries. In other words, the offerings evolved as consumer demand evolved.

The privileges available to a Private pilot, along with more complex airspace, regulations and equipment, have swelled actual training requirements to something far less manageable to most aviation prospects. Average time to obtain a Private Pilot Certificate is something north of 70 hours and 8+ months. This journey is fraught with complications and the potential for distractions and obstacles.

In addition, there is a school of thought suggesting that an instrument rating is required, or your Private Pilot certificate is dangerous. Moreover, there is a particularly vocal faction bringing a great deal of attention to “risk management” principles and to the “dangers” associated with flying airplanes, further discouraging an already risk-averse population.

While I favor an honest discussion regarding risk, and training that is aimed toward conducting consistent, safe operations, we must temper our expectations. We all accept a certain level of risk when we get out of bed in the morning, and there’s a limit to how safe we can make any activity. Remember, with each new mandate, we sacrifice a little more freedom and potentially, less appeal–which more often than not impacts those who were doing it right in the first place. I may regret saying it, but we very easily could achieve an airline level of safety in general aviation (GA) if we simply turned off the lights and went home–no more GA. We certainly don’t want that.

I understand that we’re not selling a product that will appeal to everyone; and I acknowledge that not everyone desires, nor has the aptitude, to pursue aviation. However,  I believe there is a massive, untapped market of potential aviators–individuals of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds who have the resources to invest in aviation. What we need is creativity, product innovation and messaging for the modern, savvy consumer.

We’ve “gotten by” in GA with a little luck, a government-sponsored consumer base following the War, and the romance of aviation. During an earlier time in our nation’s history, post-World War II when GA was booming, we had generation after generation with a personal connection to flight. These powerful, personal connections, accessible aircraft, and a clear understanding of what a pilot certificate can provide in terms of freedom, lifestyle, challenge and rewards, is why we’ve been this successful.

A growing general population with fewer and more distant connections to GA has exaggerated the declining pilot numbers–fewer people are captured by the allure, and bigger walls and fences are being built around our GA airports. Alternative and accessible forms of entertainment, a recent revolution in mass communication (e.g. email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and even advanced gaming options compete with our traditional product offering.

Couple these factors with a pilot profession suffering major image problems as a result of numerous, widely publicized blunders and a global, economic crisis leading to fierce competition for discretionary dollars, and you end up with an industry in its current state of decline. Let’s build an innovative product offering.

We must look at pilot training as a gateway. It’s not the training experience; it’s the pilot experience that offers appeal and utility. Informative statements like, “Pilot certificates don’t expire,” and “Aviation introduces you to a community of similarly-minded individuals with similar interests in challenge, adventure and freedom,” absolutely matter.

We must create a shorter tunnel and a more appealing, desirable product, while keeping in mind that nearly 70% seek flight training for recreational purposes. This is according to recent AOPA-sponsored research. Working within the confines of current regulations and certificate options issued by the FAA, pilot training can still be broken down into clear, manageable steps – steps that require less investment (time and money), provide highly accessible, short-term goals, and most importantly, yield instant gratification. We have the opportunity to package flights that may reside throughout an existing curriculum. We have the opportunity to create and market a track to first solo – a key step toward any certificate. Our own experience has shown that reaching the first solo milestone virtually eliminates the risk of a dropout.

We have opportunities for Sport or Recreational training options that legitimately can be accomplished in the traditional 40 hours that used to be quoted for Private pilot training. We even have the opportunity to offer just one lesson at a time. As silly as that may sound, keep in mind that given most busy schedules, people generally look for less commitment, not more. For those who may not wish to or be able to attain the first solo or a pilot certificate, there’s no limit on dual instructional flights. While that individual may not be the greatest customer and likely never will become the ace of the base, he or she may very well become the greatest GA advocate. Too often in this industry, I see more attempts to keep those not deemed worthy out than to open our doors and bring more people in.

There were 16,802 Private Pilot Certificates for airplanes issued in 2011. Consider that dropout rates are estimated as high as 80%. Now, consider the profound effect on the pilot population if retention rates were raised to even 50%. We conceivably could double the number of new Private pilots. In other words, the prospects are likely there, but the channels for acceptance and completion may not be.

Learn to Fly Here! sign
We have to mean it when we advertise it.

As a flight school operator, I find it devastating, to say the least, to lose an individual who has stepped up and identified himself or herself as someone who desires to be part of the pilot community and has invested the time to come to an airport for training. As important as it is to have a product that appeals to modern consumers, it is equally important to be ready to accept the prospects and to have a supportive infrastructure in place with the same modern appeal.

Including a student’s support network (friends and family) in the pursuit of their goals is a strategy that can help. Any activity taking individuals away from their normal routines will require some level of support from their network. Consider policies, or even formal procedures, that will be inclusive and considerate of the powerful influence of a support network. This includes fine details such as a quiet place to read, comfortable chairs, and clean restrooms for those individuals who aren’t regular airport-goers.

Other forms of modern channel readiness include clear, concise communication vehicles and a robust social networking presence to help build community and maintain contact when away from the airport. This includes openness, honesty, and the ability to deliver support material in a variety of formats for accessibility. Appealing learning experiences must be customized and personal. This doesn’t mean creating a custom training program for each of your customers, but it does mean providing the feel of a custom experience. Step 1 of obtaining the custom feel simply is becoming an active listener and learning why your customer is there and how that customer defines success.

There is much to be learned from other professions and industries in terms of customer support. In order for our pilots to come back to the airport day after day, our product must have value. Much easier said than done, but key to that value proposition is, once again, the pilot experience and not so much the training experience. Let’s be creative in our avenues for sharing that pilot experience during the training process, as well as creating opportunities to learn about the pilot experience from other pilots.

It’s only natural for many of us, who are a regular part of aviation circles, to take for granted the motivations and desires of others to join. The unique qualification of pilot is certainly part of the appeal, but an industry whose population continues to decline can’t survive. My challenge to us all is to do something different. Be bold, be creative, be inviting.

About the author: It was his first airplane trip at age seven that made Eric decide to become a pilot. “While boarding the airplane, a flight attendant noticed my interest in the flight deck and urged me to go talk to the pilot. I give a lot of credit to that pilot for my career choice.” He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and went on to an airline career. Eric is now President of Sporty’s Academy, the educational arm of Sporty’s Pilot Shop. He also heads Sporty’s flight school and directs the University of Cincinnati’s Professional Pilot Training Program. In addition, Eric serves as a Captain in Sporty’s corporate flight department.

39 Comments

  • I appreciate your comments Eric, but your bio at the bottom says it all. Your notions of the state of the industry come from someone running a very successful school at Sporty’s as well as in a University environment. Look back through the reader comments from Part One & Two of this series. Very FEW cities have ANY flight schools at all, and some that do are not run well at all. MOST people that get the bug to fly, drive out to their local small town FBO, that doesn’t have a flight school, but rents planes to students of a few part time CFIs. Usually older retired CFIs who instruct for fun and to keep flying.

    The candidate is greeted (or not) by whoever happens to run the counter. And it might even be a lineman. At best they might just have some CFI business cards sitting on the counter and they will simply say “Call this guy”. So they call the guy’s home, and the wife says he is out fishing today and she will leave a message. And it just starts going downhill from there. THAT is the experience most potential candidates realize. If that CFI doesn’t call back in a couple days, the candidate may just never come back. Or if the CFI does call, but doesn’t sound excited or inspiring….

    Well, you get the picture. Flight schools like Sporty’s are not real world experiences, by any means.

    .

    • So why aren’t business people / entrepreneurs setting up “Sporty’s” Academy’s” all around America? Then your candidate is instead greeted warmly by people who care, nice facilities, brand new airplanes hanging from the ceiling…maybe it’s just that too many people with the capital to set up a new “Sporty’s” are too scared right now.. too scared about the uncertainties facing our nation and world. not to mention $7/gln avgas and all the airport regulations..
      ..maybe one day it will change

      • Not to mention the prospect of the airplanes you buy being grounded by an over-active EPA or the legal liability costs from an overly litigious society. There are so many strikes AGAINST general aviation that it takes passionate, wealthy aviator to consider it as a business today.

      • One of the problems is that flight instructing doesn’t pay well, and most students want to learn on nights and weekends. And if you pay CFIs more money, then the cost of flight instruction becomes even more unreachable for most folks.

    • Thank you for your kind words regarding the Sporty’s Academy Flight School. I’m certainly well aware of many of the challenges you point out which is why my goal was to perhaps inspire ideas or additional thought on how the training industry might improve.

      The first step in making any improvement is understanding there is a need to adapt and evolve. It won’t happen overnight, but a worthy and necessary discussion – thank you.

  • As perhaps one of the “vocal” who consistently addresses the risk management side of aero-education, how do you suggest we address the very real risks without frightening away new pilots? Or by doing so are we in fact improving the safety record by turning off those who would have unacceptable risk management attitudes were they to earn a certificate?

    History shows that pilots are generally not taught risk management (ie, survival) skills in most personal aviation training. Maybe we NEED to stress risk evaluation and mitigation even more to “wash out” those who will not manage risk properly. In a strong culture of safety, would not personal aviation be stronger and more vibrant, and more acceptable to the public–and consequently less likely to face adverse regulation and environment that permits personal aviation to thrive?

    • I think there’s a balance between admitting the risks and emphasizing them. Flying is risky, but that doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. An honest discussion about this should be a part of any new student interview. But I’ve literally seen some flight schools who open the conversation by saying something like, “flying can kill you, and it does kills lots of people every year. Now, when would you like to fly.” I think that’s the wrong way to start a conversation with a potential new student, and I’m not convinced that improves safety.

    • I suggest that the best opportunity to foster a strong culture of safety is for all aviation educators to strive to be positive role models in aeronautical decision making. And offer CONSISTENT reinforcement of risk mitigation strategies and techniques. The most profound influence is certainly that of the primary flight instructor and attitudes are being formed beginning day 1 from even subtle observations.

      I do not believe this should involve a bullet list of “risks” on the front page of our brochures or while providing an airport tour as again, we all choose to accept various levels of risk daily. Put another way, I’m suggesting balance and appropriate timing.

      “Wash out” is a term that concerns me greatly as that is exactly what inspired this particular AirFacts series on a declining pilot population. Certainly this will occur – some for the good and some for bad, but I would encourage outreach and acceptance as well as respect for the powerful influence aviation educators provide.

  • Very good article. My experience with the aviation community is a bit mixed. I have been on many sides of the fraternity of aviation. Studen, pilot, FBO line worker, and passenger. The common aspect that made me want to stay engaged with aviation is “Friendliness”. From the FBO line worker side of aviation, this comment is mostly directed towards pilots and crews. Just because someone is fueling your aircraft ,or conducting a lav service does not exclude them from the level at aviation hierarchy that you are performing at that time. That line worker my be young or older but is just getting into the aviation community and how you treat that person may determine wiether or not that person continues to stay and help grow a healthy aviation community.
    As a student pilot most of us could not get enough of just about any thing aviation related. If an aircraft pulled up on a ramp you wanted to look in it. You wanted information. Now depending upon how you were treated if you approached the aircraft or the pilot / crew could sour you to aviation. Once again friendliness can go a long way.
    Now for instructors and flight schools. If these two entities do not come across as friendly then the aviation community is in very big trouble. At this time flying is an expensive privilege. If some one does nor feel welcome then they will most likely not continue to stay in the aviation community.
    In my experience being friendly and inviting is just the spark that will ignite the fuel of that will attract and keep people to the aviation community .
    Thank you again for the article .
    Billy Payne

  • I think that “thinking outside the box” could come in handy here. What I see all around me is young people skateboarding, motorcycling, driving ATVs, and boating, often on jetskis. What all these things have in common is that they’re accessible, they can be purchased without taking out a mortgage, and they can be operated with a lot less training and interaction with “the man.” How could this be applied to flying? What if entrepreneurs around the country built smallscale airports, brought in ultralights, STOL planes like the Zenith 7xx series, trikes, etc. and introduced them to the local community with TV ads, intro rides, and events to get people out to the airports? Aviation might even start to nudge motocross a little as a cool thing to do or watch! For that 70% mentioned above who seek flight for recreational purposes, this should be really appealing. I personally think it’s what the future looks like for recreational GA (if there is a future). And as far as risk training goes, sure it’s necessary, but why not let aspiring flyers do a few flights just for the pure joy of it and ease into the risk business along the way? Unless they’re morons, they know there’s risk involved, as there is with motocross, street riding, etc. But there is a danger of making it sound so dangerous and “serious” that it ceases to be fun, and if it’s not fun, why do it?

    • your line of thinking is interesting…”motorcyle in the sky” type of deal…I totally agree on the accessible emphasis. someone has to commit the time and money to build out these “smallscale airports” though…liability issues? But the main issue I see with this idea though is that (in my opinion) flying (LSA’s/ultralights) is still much more complex/unforgiving than motorcyle riding or jetskis etc. some might disagree….there’s just a lot to the activity of flying…would winds above 15mph shut the airport down? those winds won’t stop any of the other activities you mention…ironically it seems the complexity of flying makes it somewhat less accessible than other activites..

  • My grandson hung in there despite a poor instructor, at least towards the end. Then, fortunately, at our airport was a retired military helicopter pilot just beginning his career as fixed wing instructor. He was very good with an 18 year old who was close to his ticket. My grandson had his lessons paid for and his grandparents made their 172 available to him. How many students are so fortunate financially? He is now at Embry-Riddle pursuing his dream. It was not easy; it was frustrating at times, the center line wandered, the weather was bad…things all of us have encountered in our quest for the certificate. Instructors need to learn to deal with teenagers. They need to communicate better. They need to follow a syllabus and be on time. Students must realize it is not easy to meet FAA guidelines, that the written is a convoluted reading test, a necessary evil. Prospective students need to be told the truth: it is difficult at times, it is expensive and finally, it IS worth it. Family support, in this case, was enormous. Support of a friendly pilot community would have been icing on the cake, but wasn’t available at our airport. A well run flying club is THE best fraternity. Good luck to everyone who aspires to fly. As I said to my grandson “if it was easy everyone would have a license to fly.” I am one proud grandmother, no longer an active pilot.

  • The one barrier to entry that trumps them all is the cost of earning a license and using it. For this reason I believe that one of the greatest impediments to reviving general aviation in the USA is the Byzantine interpretation of 14 CFR 61.113(b) by the FAA General Counsel known as the “Mangiamele Opinion”.

    If private pilots were allowed to receive reimbursement for the use of their private property for private benefit in connection to their business or employment in the same manner as they can for their privately owned automobiles, I think we would see an immediate and dramatic increase in GA activity nationwide.

    To that end, I am spearheading a US House of Representatives lobbying initiative for the 113th Congress to be seated January 3, 2013, to consider statutory language to revise 14 CFR 61.113 to read as follows:

    QUOTE
    14 CFR

    Sec. 61.113 Private pilot privileges and limitations: Pilot in command.

    (b) A private pilot may act as pilot in command of an aircraft in connection with any business or employment and be reimbursed for expenses directly related to the operation of an aircraft in connection with any business or employment, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees if:

    (1) The flight is only incidental to that business or employment; and

    (2) The private pilot shares a common purpose with passengers or property carried on the aircraft; and

    (3) The possession and exercise of the privileges of a private pilot license is not a condition of that business or employment for the private pilot; and

    (4) Consent to be carried by an aircraft operated by a private pilot is not a condition of that business or employment for the passengers or owners of property.

    UNQUOTE

    I encourage all aviation enthusiasts to contact your US House member and express your support for this initiative.

    If you would like to know more about the initiative or would like to be part of the solution, please feel free to contact me.

    Timothy F. McDonough, PhD
    Adjunct Professor
    SMU Department of Economics
    tmcdonough@smu.edu

    • Great! I would even be happy with a simple mileage rate for the occassional use of a private airplane for business. The GSA reimburses employees at $1.31per mile.

      That would work great for us C-150-172 users.

      • Funny you mention GSA, the DoD allows their travelers to expense their private aircraft uses for business travel up to the lowest competitive government commercial fare. For trips to cities not designated as hub airports, this can actually be a cost effective measure. The military Aeroclubs have many members do just that, no requirement for commercial license in that regard.

    • Here is the full proposal:

      Restoring the Freedom to Fly for Private Benefit
      Timothy F. McDonough, Ph.D.

      On December 17, 1903 on the windswept Bodie Island peninsula in the North Carolina Outer Banks, powered aviation was born. Over the next one hundred years the world’s most extensive air transportation infrastructure developed in accordance with the will of the people of the United States as expressed through the guidance of the United States Congress. It remains one of the crowning achievements of the most prosperous nation that has ever existed in human history.

      From the earliest days of flight, federal laws have been enacted to ensure the freedom of every citizen to exercise the right to use the airspace of the United States for the pursuit of private benefit. This doctrine is enshrined in the codified federal statutes:

      49 USC § 40103 – Sovereignty and use of airspace
      (a) Sovereignty and Public Right of Transit.—
      (2) A citizen of the United States has a public right of transit through the navigable airspace.

      In the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (as amended) the Federal Aviation Administration was created and given the mandate to promote civil aeronautics and to ensure the safety of air commerce:

      49 USC § 40104 – Promotion of civil aeronautics and safety of air commerce
      (a) Developing Civil Aeronautics and Safety of Air Commerce.— The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall encourage the development of civil aeronautics and safety of air commerce in and outside the United States.

      Federal Aviation Regulations (14 CFR) designed to ensure the safety of air commerce have been developed over many decades pursuant to the law that mandates their creation:

      49 USC § 44701 – General requirements
      (a) Promoting Safety.— The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall promote safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce by prescribing—
      (5) regulations and minimum standards for other practices, methods, and procedure the Administrator finds necessary for safety in air commerce and national security.

      Among these regulations are rules that govern the conduct of airmen in both commercial and private aviation operations. There is no statutory language that provides a clear demarcation between commercial and purely private operations and it has been left to the FAA to craft regulations to distinguish between the two and to prescribe privileges and limitations of airmen engaged in these operations. In doing so, a number of proxy characteristics have been defined in the regulations to provide a distinction between commercial and private operations because it is nearly universally agreed that such a distinction is in the public interest.

      Among the distinguishing characteristics that are used to test whether an operation is commercial or purely private is the question of “holding out” to the public to provide air transport in a quid pro quo economic transaction in the free market. Other tests are designed to determine if such operations are incidental to a business activity of the airmen or whether it is an aviation related business activity itself. It is clearly in the public interest to ensure that commercial operations are conducted within a strict regulatory framework that is designed to maximize the safety of all involved in them as the public has no other way to acquire the necessary information needed to adequately assess the risk of the operations to their person or property.

      Code of Federal Regulations
      Title 14: Aeronautics and Space
      PART 1—DEFINITIONS AND ABBREVIATIONS
      § 1.1 General definitions.
      Commercial operator means a person who, for compensation or hire, engages in the carriage by aircraft in air commerce of persons or property, other than as an air carrier or foreign air carrier or under the authority of Part 375 of this title. Where it is doubtful that an operation is for “compensation or hire”, the test applied is whether the carriage by air is merely incidental to the person’s other business or is, in itself, a major enterprise for profit.
      Another example of where it is clearly necessary to distinguish between commercial and private operations is in the case of air transport that is a condition of employment (travel on business at the direction of an employer) or when the carriage of persons or property is a condition of doing business.

      In the current regulations, attempts to develop bright line tests have been devised by first defining commercial operations explicitly and prescribing rules to govern them, and secondly by constructing a perimeter of restrictive regulations around private pilot privileges to prevent excursions of private operations into the realm of commercial activity.

      It is the perimeter of restrictions on private pilot privileges that the author believes has missed the mark and the result is a Byzantine regulatory regime that unnecessarily infringes upon the citizens’ “public right of transit through the navigable airspace” as guaranteed by public law that is codified in 49 USC 40103 (a)(2). Such regulations are also contrary to the mandate of Congress to the FAA to “encourage the development of civil aeronautics” in accordance with 49 USC § 40104 (a).

      In the nation that is the birthplace of aviation it is truly an outrage, and clearly not in the public interest, nor certainly not in accordance with the public will as expressed by the intent of Congress in the public laws, to proscribe by regulation the explicit right of citizens to “transit through the navigable airspace” in privately owned conveyance for private benefit. Yet, this is precisely the state that has evolved under the current regulations and the administrative doctrines that have emanated from them in the form of legal opinion from the office of the FAA General Counsel.

      The fountainhead of these fetters is the proscription on private pilots enumerated in 14 CFR 61.113(b)(2):
      Code of Federal Regulations
      Title 14: Aeronautics and Space
      CHAPTER I: FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (CONTINUED)
      SUBCHAPTER D: AIRMEN
      PART 61: CERTIFICATION: PILOTS, FLIGHT INSTRUCTORS, AND GROUND INSTRUCTORS
      Subpart E: Private Pilots
      61.113 – Private pilot privileges and limitations: Pilot in command.
      (a) Except as provided in paragraphs (b) through (h) of this section, no person who holds a private pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire; nor may that person, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft.
      (b) A private pilot may, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft in connection with any business or employment if:
      (1) The flight is only incidental to that business or employment; and
      (2) The aircraft does not carry passengers or property for compensation or hire.

      A clue to how logically deficient is this regulation is the fact that it begins in paragraph (a) with an exception to a proscription that is again proscribed in (b)(2). The practical result is that private pilots who wish to use their private property for private benefit in operations that are incidental to their business or employment are denied the right of compensation for such use.

      Aside from the logical fallacy of this construction, there is a whole host of situations that can be easily conceived in which this restriction on the liberty of an airman is clearly arbitrary and capricious. A simple example is that a private pilot who uses their own airplane to travel on business cannot be reimbursed for use of their private property in an operation that is incidental to their business or employment if they are accompanied by a member of their own family!

      Another absurd and arbitrary aspect of this regulation is that the office of the FAA General Counsel has over the years developed a laundry list of items that constitute “compensation” including the acquisition of “good will” and the mere act of recording pilot in command time in the airman’s log book. Any private pilot who the FAA determines has earned “compensation” while carrying passengers is subject to fines and loss of license. It is a real and tangible example of the enforcement of “thought” crimes.

      Imagine if the IRS announced that no reimbursement for the use of a private vehicle would be allowed if the driver carried a passenger or some property on a road trip in which the use of the personally owned vehicle was incidental to the business at hand. And yet we in the general aviation community have accepted this very same absurdity to be imposed on our liberty to use our own private property for private benefit.

      There are more than 200,000 private pilots in the United States who have no desire whatsoever to operate commercially so why should we arbitrarily deny them the freedom to use their private property for private benefit?

      In contrast, imagine a situation where private pilots who own or rent airplanes, would be allowed reimbursement for expenses related to incidental use of their airplanes for private benefit in connection to business, in the same manner as all citizens are allowed reimbursement for the use of their privately owned land vehicles. Employers and small business owners across the nation would immediately and dramatically step up to the use of general aviation for private gain and this vast aviation infrastructure that our forebears have built over a century will finally be given a chance to realize its full economic potential for the benefit of the entire nation.

      It is truly an outrage that the most developed aviation infrastructure in the world, in this, the nation that gave birth to aviation, should be so monumentally squandered on the whim of unelected bureaucrats who have no sense of the history nor vision of the aviation pioneers who sacrificed so much to build it.
      As the FAA General Counsel has determined that 14 CFR 61.113(b)(2) is compliant with 49 USC 44701 (a)(5) and administrative law courts agree, there is no relief possible through the Notice of Proposed Rule Making process nor through litigation in the courts. Relief therefore must be sought through the legislative process directly.

      Safety is the root of the authority granted to the FAA by the FAA Act of 1958 to construct the regulations. In the case of a commercial conveyance the public is entitled to government assurance that any operators of that conveyance are scrutinized to a standard to which the public could not itself verify compliance. Whereas in the case of a private operation, the passengers and owners of property conveyed by a private pilot have the burden, and the means, to acquire whatever information they wish to gather to weigh the risks associated with the operation. The services of a private pilot are not, and would remain under the proposed legislation, inaccessible to the general public that is unknown to the private pilot and who do not share the common purpose of the pilot on the flight.

      The proposed legislation (draft bill at the end of this treatise) affirms the need for a clear distinction between commercial and private operations and strives to unambiguously bar private pilots from operating commercially while simultaneously providing protection of private property rights that have been unnecessarily trampled by a bureaucracy that seems incapable of rule making that accomplishes both goals.

      The proposed draft bill has five provisions in section two that incorporate all the elements of the firewall doctrines that the FAA has constructed between private and commercial operations.

      By restricting the compensation to reimbursement of expenses, paragraph (a) ensures that the flight is not the business, i.e., that it is not conducted by the private pilot for profit as an aviation business.

      Sub-paragraph (1) codifies the incidental doctrine that is well established in case law and there is no controversy surrounding its application:

      (1) The flight is only incidental to that business or employment; and

      Sub-paragraph (2) codifies in statute the common purpose doctrine that the FAA has developed on its own to plug the gap between the definition of operations that are quid pro quo transactions and flights in which the private pilot shares a bona fide common interest in the mission:

      (2) The private pilot shares a common purpose with passengers or property carried on the aircraft; and

      Sub-paragraph (3) ensures that the private pilot is not compelled to operate the flight as a condition of their employment or some other business compulsion. This is in stark contrast to a pilot employed in a commercial operation. It ultimately grants the private pilot the discretion to choose the mode of transportation, thus reinforcing the incidental doctrine.

      (3) The possession and exercise of the privileges of a private pilot license is not a condition of that business or employment for the private pilot; and

      Sub-paragraph (4) extends the same doctrine as (3) to the passengers and property carried by a private pilot:

      (4) Consent to be carried by an aircraft operated by a private pilot is not a condition of that business or employment for the passengers or owners of property.
      These five provisions incorporate all the doctrinal elements that are to be found in the regulations, legal opinions of the FAA General Counsel, and administrative law court decisions, that separate commercial operations from private, without all of the mental gymnastics and logical fallacies that have befuddled the entire community as a result of the poorly crafted regulations currently on the books.

      It would represent a win for both the commercial and private aviation communities and by extension to the economy at large. The commercial operators would be unambiguously protected from intrusion from private pilot operations and the private pilots would have their rights restored to receive just compensation for expenses related to the incidental use of their private property for private benefit.

      It is therefore proposed to Congress to enact the following bill to amend the FAA Act of 1958 to restore the right of all citizens to transit through the navigable airspace of the United States without unnecessary, arbitrary and capricious denial of private property rights.

      113TH CONGRESS
      1ST SESSION H. R. XXX
      To amend the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 to restore the right of private pilots to use private property for private benefit, and for other purposes.
      IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
      JANUARY xx, 2013
      Mr. XXX introduces the following bill;

      A BILL

      To amend the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 to restore the right of private pilots to use private property for private benefit, and for other purposes.

      Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

      SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
      This Act may be cited as the ‘Freedom to Fly for Private Benefit Act of 2013’.

      SEC. 2. PRIVATE PILOT PRIVILEGES AND LIMITATIONS: PILOT IN COMMAND.
      (a) A private pilot may act as pilot in command of an aircraft that carries passengers or property in connection with any business or employment and be reimbursed for expenses directly related to the operation of an aircraft that carries passengers or property in connection with any business or employment, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees if:
      (1) The flight is only incidental to that business or employment; and
      (2) The private pilot shares a common purpose with passengers or property carried on the aircraft; and
      (3) The possession and exercise of the privileges of a private pilot license is not a condition of that business or employment for the private pilot; and
      (4) Consent to be carried by an aircraft operated by a private pilot is not a condition of that business or employment for the passengers or owners of property.

      SEC. 3. OTHER DEFINITIONS.
      For purposes of this Act—
      (1) the term ‘aircraft’ has the meaning given such term in section 101(5) of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (49 U.S.C. 1301(5));

      SEC. 4. EFFECTIVE DATE; APPLICATION OF ACT.
      (a) EFFECTIVE DATE- This Act shall take effect on the date of the enactment of this Act.

    • Timothy McDonough, as an owner/operator of a flight training facility in the northwoods of Wisconsin (i.e., not Milwaukee-Madison or GreenBay), I read the same ideas about the training industry; be physically at the airport waiting for a customer to walk in, smile at the frightened new customer when they arrive at the airport, create a flying club, etc. All are good suggestions but won’t change the pilot decline; flying is expensive, flying does take time to learn, and if you are not part of a flying family or community then flying ends up last on the list of other social activities.

      However, changing 14 CFR Sec. 61.113 Private pilot privileges and limitations could provide a whole new purpose (and assistance in operating costs) for the general aviation pilot to remain active.

      Great idea! I see there are more comments to read … keep me posted.

  • Well one weak area I see is exactly what John pointed out. What do we do when the weather is not good enough to fly? Most of the time airports and FBO’s are ghost towns when the weather is poor. Why not have a simulator set up order some pizza and have some fun seeing who can survive landing a cub in a hurricane. We should take advantage of bad weather to build community and commraderie, after all when the weather is good everybody should be out flying not hanging out. Redbird makes a very fun and beneficial device in their xwind trainer and some of their other offerings. While not a perfect simulator it teaches a valuable skill set and is a lot of fun to watch and to fly. I agree with thinking outside the box.

    • Our FBO has a redbird. Rents at $85 per hour plus $50 for the instructor. Almost expensive as flying the real thing. The younger set will congregate at someone’s house, eat pizza, and pay zip for using Flight Sim on a computer, get to “fly” a warbird of some sort, do loops, rolls, fly formation with 2 joysticks, and quit when the cell rings, even if in midair.

      • As a business you are trying to depreciate the cost of the simulator due to (seemingly implied) obsolescence and initial acquisition costs. This would make it expensive If say you deduct it over 5 years. However, with the operating cost of the redbird being so low (in comparison to an aircraft), simulators are very cost effective revenue generators. I would therefore make an argument that the school should reduce prices to incite more hours and increase throughput. Use of simulators should be a selling point, not a detraction. The problems with the old flight school thought process is that we trying to fit technology into the model of operating a 172, or in other words ‘it don’t fit’. The younger generation (to which I still belong, albeit on the upper end), understands the benefits of sims, and they are attractive because a student can ask a question with out being distracted by an uncomfortable learning environment. Sims make a great transition from ground instruction to application. I wish our outfit had one!

  • my thing is cost having the funds i tryed to find geants and just did not know how to get them and now i am uninpoyled so that makes it hard too

  • I’ve said it a hundred times. The reason more people dont train is because it’s too expensive. I talk to students every week who want nothing more than to fly but simply cannot afford it.

    $6+ per gallon avgas and $4,000/year insurance bills for simple single engine airplanes being used for instruction and the high risk of loss make it a fools game to run a flight school (I know I am one).

    When I started flying about 15 years ago a Cessna 152 was $40/hour wet. At normal inflation that airplane should cost $60/hour today, instead it costs $80-100. Do you see a problem?

    Put a bullet in the head of 100LL, how many decades are we going to talk about potential alternatives? It’s absurd. Knock fuel prices down to $3/gallon and get some limited liability laws in place and collective purchasing agreements in place to cut the cost of commercial insurance in half… and see what happens to flight school and piston charter around the country… GA will grow rapidly.

  • I just started flying two years ago at the age of 54 utilizing VA benefits as a disabled retired (23 years, with some rotory) through a professional piloting program out of Jamestown NY Community College. I am now Inst, Commercial rated working on my CFI with 330 total hours. I want to teach new students, but make it more affordable, so here is my plan. I want to purchase 2 or 3 150’s, charge only for the fuel, no instructor fees and help student locate whatever funds to assist them with their training. Please don’t get me started regarding the cost of flight instructions, insurances, rental,let alone purchasing your own personal airplane for “fun and recreation”. Come on people the “savior” of general aviation the LSA’ @ $152,000, oh wait, let’s charge $185.00 an hour for a Glass Cockpit 172. Prices have to come down before we will see any type of pilot population. Nuff said!

    • Yes but the VA does not pay for your private pilots license, only INS and up….. That’s the problem I have right now. 6-12k is a little hard to come by on disability.

  • I agree with Russ. The $100 hamburger now costs $500-$600: gas, maintenance and engine reserves, hangar and tiedown rent (which is always going up despite the lack of demand for the spaces), insurance and training. It is also more difficult to obtain a medical certificate if you have any type of disqualifying condition, and today most every condition is disqualifying, requiring numerous hoops to jump through, including tests, doctors’ reports and an extended wait for the FAA Medical review decision. I have been flying long enough to recall my AME calling my treating physician, ask the physician about my condition, obtaining a positive response and issuing a medical certificate on the spot.

  • look at the statistics for the number of folks who would be flying if they felt they could get a medical! or those of us who are grounded because of the FAA CAMI dolts who want a never-ending return of further tests and further analyses and only to then possibly give out an SI…too many hoops to jump through! get the FAA to DROP the 3rd class medical!

  • General aviation airplane costs
    $350,000 to buy
    $99 / hr to operate
    License ($6,000-$12,000)

    Car costs (much more advanced techology)
    $16,000 to buy
    $7.50 / hr to operate
    License (free in high school)

    If the one cost the other, I don’t think you would see a traffic jam in your lifetime.

  • I hear those that say “if the love of flying is there, you’ll make it work at any cost” …but at some point, you just can’t justify it or even feel good about spending insane amounts of $, despite the love/satisfaction of being up there. I was renting 152’s in 1987 for $35 wet. Now that SAME plane (25 years older) rents for $130 wet. if my math is right, that’s 6% per year inflation. I haven’t had a raise in 7 years… We’ve pounded it into the ground, but it is cost.

    • John is right. For all those who say “If they want it bad enough, they’ll find the money”, I say, those guys are already flying. Those guys have always “found a way” and guess what? The number of pilots is still declining. There just aren’t enough die-hards to go around. GA has to find ways to attract people that think it’s cool, but aren’t willing to make it their life’s passion. It’s got to find a way for ‘weekend warriors’ to get involved at a reasonable cost in both time and money.

      • Keith,

        At the risk of repeating myself (see my post above) I really pick up on your statement “GA has to find ways to attract people that think it’s cool, but aren’t willing to make it their life’s passion. It’s got to find a way for ‘weekend warriors’ to get involved at a reasonable cost in both time and money.”

        That sounds to me like ultralights, trikes, homebuilts, whatever works. John made a good point about the practicality of getting smallscale airports built, but no meaningful solution is going to happen overnight. It just seems to me that if people really want to fly, the low and slow experience can be just as much fun and excitement (if not more) than being sealed into a Cirrus or Corvalis at 20,000 ft looking down at an earth that looks like a misty map. I’m not knocking Cirruses or Corvalises, but it’s all flying, and it’s all good, in my opinion.

  • The aviation industry doesn’t understand how to advertise. How often do you see flight school ads away form an aviation event. We should be running advertisements in video game magazines. We should go to car shows and town/country fairs. We need to do a better job with social media. Sure you should advertise where your customer is, but the people buying flying magazines and going to air shows is already eventually going to talk to a flight school and maybe take an intro flight. What about high school programs.

    Most people that look at aviation as a career see the regional pilots making less than truck drivers and that is the end to that career choice. Aviation buffs hit many walls with the tallest being cost and time. Many would be pilots never really think of aviation as a hobby, this demographic needs to be targeted and you do this by advertising in new media and non aviation related events and media.

    Risk aversion can be mitigated by actually allowing technology to progress. New engines, cleaner airframes, safety features, crash tests, whole craft parachutes. With proper risk management and technological advancements GA could be safer than driving (its not, commercial is), I think you could even make it safer or as safe as commercial.

    I enjoy the antiquated NAV aids but I bet most students don’t, why not expedite ads-a/b and better embrace GPS, navigation in today’s world in an airplane could be easier than in a car. Heck you could even program the GPS enabled flat panel to interface with your fuel flow and fuel levels add real time weather and it could go a long way to prevent fuel exhaustion (use flow in and flow out gauges not float gauges).

    The simple reason is as mentioned before “fear of being sued”, where it should be my GPS/gauges said I had enough fuel.. did you look in your tank before take off.. no.. case dismissed.

  • No doubt it’s the cost, everyone seems to agree. But please spare a thought for those less fortunate than yourselves, my dear American friends. Try $235/hr solo for a 152 and $322 dual. 270/357 for a 172. And that’s AUD so add 2 or 3% at the moment for USD. (Oh, take off $5 if you’ll go from the S model to the 1966 172G.) Plus about $20 just for the privilege of using the taxiways and making one landing. Add all the extra annual fees and charges and it’s amazing some of us still fly. Most of us don’t so often anymore. We Australians pioneered the “user pays” system and if you think your GA is suffering, look twice… maybe you should fly now while it’s still “cheap”!

  • Unscrupulous flight schools. I have seen instructors bleed students for money requiring many hours more than needed to complete training. Most students give up because of frustration and cost.

  • I am in the process of looking for a good school in my area. Most of the time it’s either passive aggressive responses or not wanting to help at all. To make matters worse, most programs for disabled veterans are almost non-existent.

    If things don’t turn around and people being more interested in helping others, I won’t waste my time even starting. If I am beyond frustrated now and haven’t started, how will it be when(if) I do.

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