The real incentives young aviators need

Desire, passion and chances

I recently read an article written by Allison Leeward, another young author, about what it takes to involve new aviators in aviation. General Aviation News published the article about getting them interested through enormously expensive airplanes, performing aerobatics, and bonding with other young pilots. You can read the article here.

To me, any individual able to spend a solid part of their life restoring warbirds and flying 50 feet above their friends would enjoy it. I would also personally love to fly a Beaver on floats in my twenties. I must ask, however: is this the true nature of aviation, and is this any realistic way to grow the community?

Beaver on floats
Who wouldn’t want to fly one?

In my mind, there are much better ways to encourage our youth to become not just pilots, but mechanics, controllers, FBO managers, and members of the aviation community. It all starts with you.

If you have never read the book Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell, I highly recommend it. In his book, Gladwell argues that the true nature of success does not lie in a single person’s drive, but rather the lucky chances that they encounter along the way. These kind of lucky chances are exactly what we need to increase young membership in aviation. Aviation will always, always, be an expensive and elite way of life. But that is not to say that through friendships, and helping fellow aviators out, we can’t at least give them a head start.

As an example, this past semester I dropped out of an engineering university and quit my job at a major defense company in order to pursue aviation. The reason I made such a major change in my life is I had the chance from a very good friend to come work with him on his business of maintaining TBMs and light aircraft, training for my A&P along the way.

If it wasn’t for this chance, I would be stuck waiting for the funds to pursue aviation, just like many aspiring aviators today. As I know all too well, “The most dangerous risk of all—the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” Even once I obtained those funds I would only be a pilot with a license. I would be another airplane at an airshow, happy and content with my office job. I wouldn’t be immersed in aviation, learning trades developed a century ago, fighting for the future of aviation to be better than the past. It’s chances like these that make aviation work.

Our youth need guidance, support, friendship, and a drive to work for it and learn along the way. The chance to work in aviation, to live and breathe airplanes all day long, is something I could never do by myself with only money from a job I hated. But how many people in my generation are forced to work at a job they hate? How many people are stuck, wishing they could work in this industry, but have no idea where to start? How many of them are stuck in college classrooms and office cubicles wishing they could be at the airport? How many people never got the lucky chance I got? To shine more light on this issue, consider that when I started telling my engineering classmates I was undertaking this feat, the majority of them asked if they could join me…

Mechanic helping kid
Give a kid the chance to get his hands dirty.

We talk about a lack of craftsmanship in our youth, an obsession with technology, and an aging population of current aviation careers. The only way we are ever going to encourage our youth to take that first step away from this is if we give them that chance. If we teach them those tools of craftsmanship that only a handful of people know. If we show them just how exciting it is to direct airplane traffic at a delta tower on a CAVU day. If we show them what it feels like to fly in your own wake after a steep turn. If we get their hands covered in oil and make them realize how much more they can learn by working with an aircraft engine than what they will learn by staring at an engineering textbook. That is how we save aviation.

Aviation is not just about playing with your family’s toys and living out the thrills of flying every day. It’s about the friendships that are created in hangars, the sound of a Lycoming roaring to life after YOU replaced that cylinder, the old school feeling of grass under your landing gear, the controlling of numerous aircraft simultaneously, and the everlasting wonder of flight. The only thing that will keep these things happening is if people like you and I help out the new guys.

Try to find ways to reach into your local community to involve young people in flying. It can start with a Young Eagles flight, but it doesn’t have to. If you work at a shop, have you considered creating an apprenticeship for young, aspiring mechanics? If you work as a controller, do you ever give tours to young people? If you work on the ramp, have you ever shown a kid what it’s like to park a Citation X? My point here is that the entire aviation system is a beautiful work of art, not just hopping in the cockpit and blasting off into the sky. We need to help our youth grab the opportunity to become a part of that system. And if they want to work to become pilots along the way, then that can be the goal. However, the entire system needs help, and we have to start with our youth.

Involve your kids, your neighbor’s kids, your local high school, and maybe even your church youth group in aviation. Get them out there. Show them what aviation is about. Show them that what you learn in science class can be seen in real life at the airport. Show them that there is hope for the future of flying, and that all members of our community are important. Show them that they too can become mechanics, controllers, FBO managers, and pilots. All of these jobs are in demand, and all of them are interesting and rewarding careers.

Flying is only one part of the engaging aviation system. Let’s give our youth the mentorship they need to become a part of that system. Let’s open opportunities for them to become the creators, craftsmen, leaders, and lifetime members of the aviation community of tomorrow. We just can’t let another aviator fall through the cracks.

5 Comments

  • I agree completely! Great insight.

    It is worth remembering though that all jobs CAN eventually become just a job, even flying. Should this deter someone from following a dream? Not at all. What this realization should do is arm you with the resolve to NOT let familiarity breeds contempt. It’s as if you CHOOSE to like flying, warts and all.

  • Michael,
    Great post! I like the attitude of “put your money where your mouth is” in figuring out how to get more of our generation into aviation.

    I had a college friend who was working at a local seaplane operator right about when I was getting ready to graduate. He repeatedly told me they needed a bunch of summer help, so I applied for a job. I ended up working for this company for close to ten years, and finally started working on my private certificate about a year in. I’d been dreaming about doing it for years, but working around all the pilots and aircraft finally compelled me to accomplish it.

    You simply never know what you’ll impart into someone, when you give them that first opportunity.

    Keep up the great writing!

  • Michael, thanks for a provocative article. Clearly, as I read about young people who are involved in aviation, a majority had “lucky chances” to be born into families in which SOMEBODY had an airplane, or worked on them, or was an ATC. Pursuing a career in some phase of aviation came naturally to them. Extending beyond that to young people who have no personal knowledge of or contact with aviation is much more challenging, and has a low success rate. But as Paul Poberezny once said, he was “planting seeds.” I hope your article will stimulate others to start their own planting programs.

    • Valid point. Those are exactly the kind of young people that need the lucky chance from others not in their family in order to succeed. Thanks for your comment!

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