Want to fix flight training? Have some fun.

The flight training system in this country is broken. That’s what a variety of sources tell us, from a detailed AOPA study to the experts at your local hangar flying session.

In particular, there is a lot of hand-wringing about the dropout rate: something like 75% of students who start flying lessons never go on to earn a license. No business can stay around with a failure rate that high, so it’s no surprise that flight schools are closing and the number of new pilots continues to decline.

What’s the solution? Unfortunately, it’s both easy and difficult.

Flight instruction
Was your flight instruction a good deal?

It’s easy because we all know the basic problem if we’re honest with ourselves. Put simply, learning to fly is often a bad deal, at least during initial training–what you get from some flight schools is not worth the investment you put in.

But the solution is difficult because no one can agree on the right fix. There is certainly no lack of ideas. Popular suggestions include accreditation of flight schools (where an outside company guarantees that some minimum standards are met), more experienced flight instructors (who are supposed to appear out of thin air apparently) and increasing the use of flight simulators (usually by buying expensive new equipment). In fact, there are probably too many ideas.

One way to simplify this long-running debate is to pick which part of the equation to focus on: the investment or the result. Up until now, much of the energy has surrounded the former, especially how to reduce the time and money it takes to earn a pilot’s license. That’s wrong.

Learning to fly certainly is expensive, and reducing the cost is a worthy cause. But it’s hardly the only issue. Consider: if just 10% of the people who could afford to fly actually did, flight schools would be swamped with customers. I’m not suggesting cost isn’t a factor–it is–but to focus on cost alone obscures some more solvable problems. Let’s admit how much learning to fly really costs, and be up front with prospective customers.

In any case, the often-ignored investment of time is just as important as money. While most things in life have become easier or faster to accomplish in the past 25 years (think of learning a foreign language), learning to fly is virtually unchanged at many airports. For busy people, finding the time to dedicate to 70+ hours of flight training is a tall order.

Again, there are ways to tackle both of these cost issues, but I think it’s time to focus on the result part of the equation instead. Just as Apple has proven that a great product will make customers forget about the price, flight training needs to emphasize the experience of being a pilot over the costs.

After all, a business transaction usually comes down to the product–what you’re selling. And as flight schools we’re selling the wrong thing. Instead of offering a fun and unique experience that is rewarding at every step, many flight schools are simply trading $10,000 for a piece of plastic that says Private Pilot.

Learn to fly here sign
This system is broken according to many.

There’s a major cultural mismatch here (among other issues). For better or for worse, the student pilot of 2012 is very different from the 1970s man who walked into the local Cessna Pilot Center. In particular, customers today are after meaningful experiences, not necessarily checking the box. “The aviation lifestyle” may sound like a catchphrase, but it’s what most student pilots are seeking.

And more than ever, we live in an instant gratification society. In a world of 24-hour cable news, 4G smartphones and instant video downloads, the long payoff of a private license after 9-12 months (or more) just seems out of place. Student pilots want to see some return on their investment right away.

This all points to the most basic element lacking in flight training today: fun. The studies consistently show that most people learn to fly for recreation, so they’re going to quit if it’s not enjoyable. That doesn’t mean every lesson has to be a walk in the park. But it’s time to start savoring the training experience and stop asking students to simply hang on until they earn a license.

How do we get past the boot camp mindset? There’s no miracle cure, but here are six ideas that don’t cost a lot of money:

  • Mix up the lessons. The standard training syllabus that banishes student pilots to the practice area for the first 20 hours is a recipe for boredom. A variety of lessons, incorporating airwork and landings, but also cross-country scenarios and even some flat-out fun, would keep students more interested.
  • Show new pilots the utility of flying. Take a student to a local airport restaurant for a $100 hamburger. It’s a unique place for a ground lesson, and it proves that airplanes can take you places. Or if a student is learning to fly with a mission in mind (trips to his vacation home, for example) fly that trip as a lesson.
  • Focus on more than just the 0.9 hours spent in the left seat. That means emphasizing the whole package of aviation events, from social programs to safety seminars. Being a member of the aviation community is often as important as the actual flying for recreational pilots.
  • Give them some instant gratification. No, that doesn’t mean they solo at 5 hours. One option is to use a modular approach to training that emphasizes intermediate accomplishments (first solo, first cross-country, Sport/Recreational license, etc.). In this method, the process of learning to fly is as important as the result.
  • Customize training to each student. Consumers today expect a personalized approach. So while everyone has to learn the same basic skills, the way in which they are taught and the areas of emphasis should be different for each student depending on their goals. If Amazon can personalize my book recommendations, an instructor in a one-on-one setting can surely tailor his instruction to his student. Good instructors do this instinctively.
  • Embrace student pilots. When most new students hang around the airport, they get the feeling that they haven’t earned their place yet. This is spectacularly successful at turning off our hottest prospects. Schools, pilots and FBOs should do everything possible to welcome new pilots.

Many flight schools could start by taking a cue from their local Starbucks. Their product isn’t exactly cheap. But they are successful because they focus on creating a unique experience that customers want, not just serving an expensive cup of coffee. That means they pay attention to little things like the music, the chairs and the WiFi. Flight schools could do much the same thing by considering the total product they’re offering, from weekend cookouts to customized training programs.

No, Starbucks doesn’t have all the answers. And yes, there’s plenty of blame to go around beyond flight schools. But ask yourself this: if your local flight school was run as well as your local coffee shop, wouldn’t the airport be a more enjoyable place to be?

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103 Comments

  • I think you may have missed an important point; the students in that 70% (of which I am one).
    The points you make are great for students looking to get into flying as well as retaining current students. But for those of us who fell victim to the high costs and comparable lack of quality training, the sting of bank statements showing the money gone is a high hurdle to clear no matter how fun it may be.
    In any business word-of-mouth is the best advertising. If 70% of those involved are making statements such as, “It was fun, but…” you will always have an up hill battle in changing the state of the industry.

    In my case, I went to an accredited flight school with every intention of earning an associates degree along with my ratings. What I ended up with was an inexperienced instructor (I was their very first student) a mound of student loans to pay off, and no certificate to speak of.
    Do I still want to peruse aviation? You bet. But no matter how much you sell the sizzle, that first slap in the face becomes a mountain to get over.

    Attracting new students and keeping current students is a great start – and a much needed improvement, but you also need to find a way to win back that 70%. I don’t believe that one strategy will effectively reach both camps.

  • I completely agree with your points regarding tailoring training to the individual student and the need to make the flight training experience enjoyable in order to retain students through to completion. I have tried to do this through many years of instructing, although I grew up in an aviation environment (yes, in the ’70s) that was rather indifferent to this idea. The flight school/instructor philosophy then went something like this: “We/I have what you so fervently desire, and this is the course of training, which is very, very difficult. Good luck.” While I agree that this approach doesn’t work today, I would argue that it often didn’t work all that well for some people the either. The attrition and dropout rate was very high then as well.

    Where I tend to disagree with your post is on the subject of simulator training. I’ve heard the argument for many years that simulator training entails the flight school having to “buy expensive equipment” in order to integrate synthetic flight instruction into their curriculum. Well, last I checked, a Cessna 172 was priced somewhere north of $150,000, and to ensure one for use in flight training costs more per year than I paid for the Aeronca Champ in which I began training lo those many years ago.

    You mentioned the broad advances in technology that have changed the lives and expectations of today’s prospective student. Yet flight schools that provide the initial training for new pilots have been slow or resistant to embrace advanced technology that would make learning to fly more enjoyable, safer and less expensive. The Cessna 172 is an old-technology and, when you think about it, very inefficient form factor for the delivery of pilot training.

    At the same time, I would not advocate turning private pilot training into the clinical, paint-by-numbers exercise that it is today for professional pilots. The objectives of the initial training situation and those of working professional pilots are widely divergent. There is no substitute for flying when learning to fly.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comments Randall. I’m definitely not against simulators. They work and they should be a part of any good flight school. No doubt. My point is that they are not a one-step fix. It’s only part of the equation, and I think some people are being a little naive if they think buying a sim will solve all the problems.
      You are 100% right about private pilot training and professional pilot training. When we make them the same, we serve neither customer.

      • I agree.

        One thing I should add is that, at least in my observations, not enough emphasis or energy has been spent on designing synthetic flight training simulators for initial pilot training. In fact mostly what we see are old fixed-base training devices with no motion and poor visual displays, designed to be cheap. While this technology is assumed to be very expensive, technology has advanced exponentially since the old-generation simulators were designed and built. Surely better solutions are within practical reach today.

  • I heartily agree with everything you present here. However, the other part of the equation is fixing lazy flight schools that don’t care for their students, that don’t follow up, that don’t keep track of student records well, etc.

    I think we need to start taking personal responsibility, accountability, for the lack of leadership in the flight training community at large. Even in the mentioned AOPA study, we need to ask and answer, why did the AOPA NOT discuss pilot retention with the world’s largest seller of pilot discovery flights (pilotjourney.com), because this company has an incredible amount of data on purchase habits, redemption rates, and gets digital feedback from every single purchaser.

    They also provided the flight schools with digital tools for follow up with the discovery pilots, and the flight schools RARELY used them.

    Just a thought.

    Thanks,
    Mark

    • Well said Mark. I am flying my Private Pilot Practical on Monday. It has been a long road dealing with everything from a flight school that had it’s aircraft repo’d to an instructor that was a drunk to an instructor that liked to milk me for money. (had me flying ILS approaches under the hood for hours) I finally found a retired 747 Captain to help me get this done. It should not be this hard to find competent instructors that are not going to cheat you. I was just about to quit whe I gave it one final chance. I am glad I did.

  • Some good take-aways here. Indeed “The aviation lifestyle” is a big part of what many student pilots are seeking, and the reference to Starbucks is a good one. Some people (in fact, many, and certainly enough) are willing to pay a premium to be part of an “elite” lifestyle, be it upscale coffee or activities that simply everyone does not do. Aviation is one of those, but unless the industry delivers ROI (return on investment in terms of a great experience), it will fail to grow or even maintain a core customer base than can afford (time and money) to be a part of it. This is something I will explore further in an upcoming issue of Flight Training magazine.

    Having said that, flight training is more affordable than most think. The time commitment is significantly reduced with the Sport pilot track. So, a lot of the responsibility does fall with the individual flight schools to properly (and accurately) sell the value proposition. I wrote an article in Flight Training magazine explaining how to better to just that. It’s available at my web site, http://www.theRaviator.com…you need to sign up for it but it’s free.

    Indeed, there are some major issues that this industry needs to reconcile and new ideas that must be embraced. Yet, at the same time we should bask in the glory of what aviation once was, and bring back that aura: the magic of flight and the desire to be part of one of humanity’s greatest achievements.

  • Wonderful article. Important pieces that could help save even a few students from dropping out, following up with the student etc. I was just telling my husband (yesterday) basically everything you said in your article (explaining why schools close, drop out rate is horrendous etc).

  • Having done most of my flying in the UK I would like to put some ideas into the mix. All the flight schools I have been to in the US are just that flight schools. They seem to be like a rabbit in the headlights just waiting for the end (I am not saying every one is like that). When a student finishes his/her lesson that is that away they go until the next time they are due a lesson. Why is there no social activity? somewhere student pilots can get together and talk about their favorite subject to someone who will listen. A club possibly with a bar and some food. A place that would attract the non flying public at weekends offering pleasure flights trial flights etc.

    With a dropout rate of 70% whilst trying to stop the out-wood flow of students schools should be getting very proactive in bringing in fresh students. This is a subject I am quite passionate about and could go on for ages.
    Anyway comments appreciated.
    Michael

  • Part of the high cost of flight “school” is getting the ground school portion completed. A local community college can get you through the ground school portion of your training without the high cost associated with one-on-one training for that portion of your education. Many flight schools and their instructors depend on that income from ground school and it does raise the total cost of your flying education.

    If you are self-motivated, can learn from reading, and have the time do study at home at your own pace, you can save thousands of dollars studying the ground school material, get your endorsement to take the written, and pass the written, all before spending one hour in the cockpit of the aircraft. The benefit is saving those dollars you spend to have a flight instructor read to you, and using those same dollars to pay that same instructor to fly with you.

    This had two benefits. You front loaded the training with the classroom work (in the middle of winter in my case) and were able to enjoy the flight training part in the air. The result was the best part of the program was the flying and culmination of passing the flight exam in a compressed training period where much of the time was spent in the air. Quick time to solo, meant very real and instant gratification.

    Now…make the cost of everyday flying cheaper and you can keep me in the air…just sayin’.

    • I agree entirely. I came back to flying after 37 years off and knew I would need a lot of training. But the instructors I have met seem to like to spend something like 3:1 ratio of ground discussion to flying experience. I see their economic motive, but I have purchased and reviewed videos, taken on line courses, read four or five books again–but they still drone on about things I have reviewed and know and the meter runs. They never asked me a question about what I already know and do not test after they talk. I would have retaken ground school if they had recommended that and if they would accept that and shut up. After, I passed my BFR and decided to go for a tail wheel endorsement after getting my feel back for a trike. In the first 6 hours of ground instruction (and one hour of in the air) we spent 3 of them on weather briefing–when I had shown up for the lesson with a correctly completed one. I quit. The instructors here are chasing folks away. They are much more interested in their teaching (and their hourly rate) than our learning. I am going to find a new school, but fear this is common. I am sorry instructors find it hard to make a living, but I would have paid a fee to avoid the useless instruction.

  • Cost is probably the biggest factor and many flight schools tell you the MINIMUM costs to get your ticket and downplay the fact that many don’t get their license in the minimum amount of hours.

    Also, maybe there should be more mentors. Being an amateur radio operator, instructors are more like mentors (probably because we can’t charge for instruction.)

    Another thing is maybe some flight schools could have “open houses” to introduce people to the school, aircraft and instructors.

  • I think cost is a perceived factor more than a real one. No doubt it is expensive compared to many other activities and is the #1 reason given for dropping out, but most people find the money for the things they really, really want to do or really, really want to have. So, the industry has to do a better job of selling the value proposition, as well as living up to it in terms of delivering the experience. But I maintain that especially with the Sport license and a home computer based ground school program (as Dan mentioned above), less time and money is required than most people think. I found that my cost to “live my dream” was equivalent to about one year of a car payment. Not bad in the scheme of things. That is the basis of my article in Flight Training magazine that I referenced above (if interested, you can read it through my email list at my web site).

  • I don’t buy the scheduling difficulty argument that’s common these days. Flight training breaks up into nice little 1-2 hour pieces that you can do when time presents itself. Compare with the motorcycle safety classes and concealed carry classes that some states require. Those can be MUCH harder to schedule as they are typically 2 full days on the same weekend. That’s crazy hard to give up all that time on a single weekend. Near impossible really (hence why I still don’t have my motorcycle license and it took me 5 years to get my concealed carry!). In that same time I managed to easily get my Private Pilot ASEL and Instrument Airplane… Now, look at all the motorcycle riders out there… All those people managed to do something much more difficult. Why aren’t they flying?

  • – I got my certificate in 40 hours of flight time.
    – I got my certificate in 30 days.

    – I had all $$ pre-saved for the project.
    – I spent every daylight hour “after work” + “weekends” at the flight school.

    – Job done. Certificate in hand.

  • You make a lot of great points in this article. I like the point you make about Starbucks, because I think it really cuts to one of the central issues. I suppose the issue is best quantified as “value-proposition,” but basically, flight training tends to be too clinical and aircraft apparently too costly to represent a good value to the average student.

    I look at it like this, I got my certificate in the minimum amount of hours, in a couple of months, for between 7000 and 8000 dollars flying after work. I was happy to do it and had a great instructor, but I was completely reliant on him to keep me going, because honestly, there was nothing else screaming, “KEEP GOING!” Worse still, nobody shows you that a reasonable plane could be in your future for much less than you think. Instead, you are presented with Joe Millionaire and his brand-new Cirrus.

    I guess my poorly developed point is it’s like we’re putting foggles on these prospective pilots so they can’t see anything beyond the next check they write to the flight school and wondering why they aren’t making it. Until there is a systematic change in the industry that focuses on creating a more solid value, whether with BBQ or better access (e.g., plane ownership/rental options)

    • (oops, I cut off my comment…)

      Until there is a systematic change in the industry that focuses on creating a more solid value, whether with BBQ or better access (e.g., plane ownership/rental options), things are going to continue to decline.

      • Excellent comments Mark. If we could just figure out a way to pressure flight schools and or CFI’s into doing as you suggest. I don’t think as some have suggested that a College degree is needed. I am a retired Fire Chief/Paramedic. I have known a lot of “book smart” Paramedics that didn’t have the “street sense” to save their own lives. I lean more towards the idea of school accreditation to help…. maybe not solve the problems.

  • Honestly if you want more pilots you need to have programs that students at standard universities and trade schools can learn to fly utilizing standard financial aid. You will catch them when they have the passion, time, and most importantly few family requirements.

    Once they are addicted they will continue to fly 🙂 the key is catching them in that narrow time window when they have the money to do it and no family responsibilities that dissuade them.

    As a student I discovered many instructors have a hard time breaking outside of the “off the shelf” syllabus. If I have taken Low Speed aerodynamics and fluid-dynamics as part of an engineering degree I don’t need the basics of weight-lift-thrust-drag etc. They need to learn to flex how they teach based on the aptitude and background of the student. This goes to customizing the lessons to the student which will reduce costs, and frustration.

    As for simulators. If Instructors (and the faa) would stop thinking of desktop simulators as a bad thing or at most a toy they could be better utilized. Are you going to learn stick and rudder skills, no that isn’t what they excel at. However if the student uses even Microsoft flight simulator to practice following a checklist, navigation, instrument procedures they will be a much better pilot in the end. Especially those of us young enough to be in the video game generation. Many of my friends spend hours playing games and learn many “useless” skills. Used properly video games excel in enforcing memorization without boredom. Each student can have a useful home simulator for around $900 these days (computer, cheap controls, and software).

    I became interested in flying in middle school, I couldn’t afford it although the local flight school let me sit through their ground school. I started flying simulators because my high school had one in the technology lab that was funded by the lottery, and then on my home computer in college. Now that I’m out of college and can afford to fly life gets in the way.

    A group like the AOPA or King Schools should partner with x-plane and build a program around it.

    Also flight schools are antiquated, they need to learn to utilize technology. Set up a message board, build an online community with your students. Use online quizzes etc. Since its a self paced course in most instances students get disengaged, use technology to keep them engaged even if they are not flying with you at the moment.

    There are a few other financial impacts that can be addressed. If fewer insurance, AD&D, and life insurance policies excluded GA that would be one less distraction. But Flying is expensive if you can’t afford to learn you probably can’t afford to fly unless you are going to get paid to do so.

    Also communicate, ask your student what areas you need to improve tell them where they need to practice, leave your ego in the car.

  • I got my initial training with a flying club in college. The instructor was the FBO owner at the local field, and he recognized the value of having a large group of student pilots around. Thus he made life fun, interesting, and very easy for us. No ground school, we did it on our own through small group meetings and club presentations. Unfortunately, the insurance companies prevent a lot of clubs today from accepting students as members.

  • The issues identified above notwithstanding, let me suggest that the mjority of the dropouts are people who would never make it anyway. They simply don’t have the passion for what it takes to become a pilot initially let along for the long term.

    We (the industry) are doing ourselves a diservice by playing down what it takes to fly. Yes, almost anyone can learn to fly in 30 days (I did), but that’s just the beginning. It’s a daily challenge for the rest of your life just to stay current. The trail to becoming a competent instrument piot takes years and a dogged determination to overcome all the obstacles. Let’s be honest, only the very passionate will make it.

    I have a friend who seemed like a perfect candidate. He had the money and the need. He took a job in another city and a private aircraft would be a perfect commute. But he was starting from scratch and he needed the solution today. There was no way GA was going to work for him for this job. It was also clear he did not have the motivation and passion to spend the next several years getting to a place where it might work.

    I also have a hangar mate that wanted to fly in conjunction with his business so he bought an SR22. I hope he makes it to a level of competency where the plane will serve his needs, but it’s taking a lot longer than he ever expected. There are days he wonders if he has what it takes.

    In my 50 years of flying (all private), I’ve seen improvements like GPS navigators, that make flying much easier easier in some aspects. However,it is still an inordinately difficult skill even to maintain let alone acquire. Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing materially in the forseeable future.

    Yes, lets work on fixing up flight schools, etc., but let’s also do a better job qualifing prospective pilots up front. Dropouts hurt us in ways we don’t appreciate. Initially, the number of pilots won’t increase, but the industry will be stronger training people who have good odds of succeeding.

    • Good point, but I think there’s a huge difference between a guy who wants to fly an SR22 cross-country IFR and a guy who wants to fly an LSA on a nice day. I’d like to see a more intentional split between the training programs for these two tracks.

    • Peter, I’m coming in “late in the game” – late November this year – your final paragraph sums it up in a nut shell.

      The flight school, non-career excluded, needs to get down to BUSINESS and a greater degree of professionalism. It has never been for the “masses”,and it never will be – focus on those(students) who have a NEED, not wan; those are the one’s that will go the(Private,etc) distance! Target market those individuals who have the ABILITY $$ and the NEED! – Business minded GA folks might find our blog and articles informative. Rod Beck – aviationbiz.us

  • Not all flight schools/CFIs have a 75% dropout rate. Some schools are much better, some much worse. I’d like to see the AOPA or another aviation organization rate these schools/CFIs by cost, first time check ride pass rate, hours to check ride, & dropout rate. Publish the numbers, and the market will weed out the bad schools/CFIs. Instant stat improvement.

    • You’re right, John. There are some fantastic flight schools out there with dropout rates under 25%. I think it’s a mindset more than anything. Flight schools are in the customer service business as much as the flying business.

  • The training can and should be great fun. This is why people want to learn to fly and why we absolutely have to keep students coming back. If a student is stuck or at a plateau then you need to change up the training, swap instructors for a while, change planes, just anything to mix it up. I sometimes take my primary students for a glider flight, a seaplane flight, or some tailwheel time, just to keep it interesting.

  • I trained in the early ’80s at a tiny, underfunded flight school run by WWII Air Corps vets. Despite their plaid shirts and well-worn equipment (2 ’60s Musketeers), they cared about their students becoming safe pilots. My instructor was a high school teacher and coach; taking his ground school convinced me he was the guy to fly with, and he was superb. Rob was systematic, patient, and thorough. The first lesson began with a radio call card, and I did it all. I was a slow student with a busy life but highly motivated to get my license. It was tough to get up early to fly at 0600 on a chilly morning, but I did it. It was not school to a yuppie standard, but I loved it– dammit, it was fun. HOWEVER: that was then, this is now; expectations are very different, and therein lies the problem. Flight schools do not make much money, so having the shiny new equipment, full-motion simulator, espresso machine, stylish music from the ceiling, cushy chairs, and a social media experience is not going to happen except in the busiest coastal schools. And at very high prices. We need real flying clubs as the center of GA flight. They could provide the social experiences and student support while trimming costs. See soaring clubs as examples.

  • There are, I think, a couple of areas left untended.

    First, how would GA’s dropout rate look compared to the military’s drop out rate? If you figure in the candidates screened out prior to ever getting into basic flight school, then add in those that do not make it out of the other end, how different are the two rates? IE: could the drop outs have ever been successful in the first place?

    My second concern is that flight instructors seem to have little to no training on how to instruct. PERFORMING flying skills, is different than TEACHING flying skills. Many CFI’s are not taught that difference. From observing them, I think they are taught to think that if they demonstrate with some rudimentary explanation, a student is supposed to pick up on it. We don’t teach math, English, or disarming a bomb that way, and we shouldn’t try teaching flying that way.

    Another part of the instruction scenario, a flight school, or independent CFI, should be using an established course syllabus. And, they should be relating actual flying back to the book, and relating the book to actual flying.

    • Well said. I agree Kayak Jack. CFI’s shouldn’t be CFI’s without a college degree. These guys/gals have NO clue of the learning process. High school diploma is not enough.

  • I am a student pilot past solo and moving on to cross countries and night flying, e.g., there’s light at the end of the tunnel insofar as getting my certificate is concerned. My flight training has been, so far, extremely positive. My flight school is professionally run and my instructor has held me to high standards. However, learning to fly has not been easy. I’ve had to work hard to get this far along in the process, but I see that as a positive and not a negative. One experience I had a few months ago shows the reason why adding “fun” to the equation is so important. Relatively early in my training I had several lessons in a row where almost all I did were steep turns, stalls, slow flight, etc. I understood the importance of these procedures and thus was more than willing to do them lesson after lesson until I was proficient. However, I have to admit that after several lessons of these procedures it was getting a bit boring. At my next lesson, my instructor said he wanted to change things up a bit … he wanted me to have a lesson where I would be flying as opposed to performing procedures. He suggested we follow one of Northern Virginia’s beautiful rivers for about 30 minutes. Off we went from Manassas to Fredericksburg by way of the Rappahannock River. This flight was just what I needed at that point in my training … a fun flight over spectacular scenery. Even though it was a “fun” flight, I was still learning. I was flying in unfamiliar areas and using what I had been learning — shallow, medium and steep turns — to follow the bends in the river. That particular lesson was a reset of sorts. After several lessons of procedures, my instructor changed things up just enough to keep me fresh and interested. It was the kind of flight I would want to do with a friend or family member after I get my license, so in many ways that particular lesson gave me a glimpse of the finish line.

    • Dear Charles – GOOD FOR YOU!. Sounds like your CFI does know his “stuff”. I am an old CFI who was taught to fly as a teenager in the 60’s when none of the simulators etc. existed. But my instructor was my father who firmly believed that EVERY flight should be a learning experience in some fashion. I came up when half the trainers were tailwheel and half were tricycle gear. My father would make me alternate back and forth (just to make it interesting). He was also chief pilot for an FBO and sometimes in the summer would let me go along on an appropriate charter to get
      the experience (and a bit more flying time). But it stood me in very good sted in later years. Oh yeah-in case you hadn’t guessed I’m also a girl pilot. But hang in there. It’s really worth the effort. But if you catch yourself bogging down-talk to your CFI. I had a couple of primary students that I had to graduate to Commercial type maneuvers to keep the challenge going. There is no hard and fast rule.

      Good Luck!

      • Ms. Light,

        Thanks for your very kind words. This coming Thursday will be my first for-real cross-country flight, e.g., a flight with serious planning. I am psyched.

        Charles

  • As a newly minted pilot, I think you have hit on some very important points…and I love how you end up discussing emotional branding. Right on target.

    IMO, our challenges are:
    1. Flying is more expensive than it has to be. My Honda Insight has more technology than my club’s 172. Similar to our issues with healthcare, we must address cost.
    2. Aviation lacks sense of community. I am lucky and live in an area where I have some access to the opportunity to hang out and learn from other pilots (AVL). Many people don’t. If your enjoyment in aviation is only measured by the hours in your log book (and you’re not independently wealthy), this may not be for you.
    3. The drop out rate may not be near as important and the enrollment numbers. If we address cost and community (and opportunity), this will help retention. But let’s not forget that flying does take a high level of commitment. Flying “nerds” tend to hang in there for a long time. This isn’t like learning to ride a mountain bicycle. There is more to aviation than just flying the airplane and going somewhere with your friends. The charts, figures, calculations, planning, research, learning….that is aviation.
    4. If the quality of instruction is an issue, you need to clone my flight instructor…he’s great. The gaps in my training were always related to my business schedule and money. If I had a bad instructor, I would simply get another instructor.
    5. Create more opportunity. I belong to a flying club. If it were not for this club, I would not be able to fly. I looked around for training for 5 years, but did not start to train because of lack of opportunity to rent aircraft in an affordable way that offered a reasonable level of utility. Flight schools don’t offer this (not their fault). Flying clubs (IMO) are a real asset to promoting aviation.
    6. As the author states, we must offer a unique experience, like Starbucks. That doesn’t mean fancy cups or advertising, but creating a unique and quality experience for the user. We need to create opportunities for new pilots and old pilots to come together and create the opportunity for community. After all, if your only enjoyment from flying comes from 4 to 6 hours of flying a month, how long will you stay committed to something that requires this level of commitment?

    IMO

  • The “younger” entrepreneur instructors at my field “get it” and are already doing it:

    1. We are controlling costs with a $99 Remos GX light sport with glass cockpit. Our competitors teach in 30-year-old 172’s.

    2. We are pushing each student to earn a Sport or Recreational pilot certificate first, and add on a Private later if they need it, and once they have experience.

    3. Our lessons are all scenario based now…we “go places” from the 2nd or 3rd lesson, which keeps student interest higher. We’re focusing a lot less on maneuvers in the practice area and concentrating on getting those maneuvers in as part of going places.

    4. For instrument training, we are making heavy use of modern simulators, one with motion. This is a better training environment and cuts aircraft rental cost way down.

    5. We advertise. Our competitors don’t.

    Meanwhile, sure, there are still tons of flight schools who don’t “get it,” but they will disappear over time. (And small 141 schools will likely disappear as pre-airline candidates will now all go to university programs in order to be able to get hired/get an ATP with 1000 hrs. instead of 1500.)

  • I’m loving this discussion and I think we’re hitting all the major points. I’m instrument rated, have been working on my commercial, and I started late i life. I have to say that if I had not had that aforementioned passion that someone brought up, I would have quit. I had a new instructor whose confidence and teaching skills were poor and there was simply no support or connection to the flying community where I would have discovered that my struggles were either normal student issues or fixable by finding another instructor. I finally did that on my own, quickly finished my private and completed my instrument rating in the minimum time required. I own a 152 and put more 150 hours on it per year. I don’t think you can count on the type of stubborn persistence that I had and I was several times on the verge of quitting. We do need more oversight of instructors by someone at the school — proficiency does not equate to teaching skills — and I think we cannot overestimate the importance of a support network, either among students at the school or through a local pilots’ association, and the importance of the fun aspect. Never once did we simply do something for fun, or stop for a bite to eat on a cross country, with the first instructor. I paid a lot of money to feel incompetent after every single lesson. That is when it starts to feel like a LOT of money. You can’t make every lesson a personal triumph for every student, I am not suggesting that. But if there are other positives to balance a bad flying day, and that student gets to compare his/her progress with other pilots and realize that yep, he/she is getting there, lots of other new pilots struggled with crosswinds or steep turns or what have you, I think we’ll turn more students into pilots.

  • Yes, Mary, and others, “stubborn persistence” is a necessary part of learning to fly. And, frankly, everything else in your Life that is worthwhile having.
    My dad called it “damned bullheadedness”, but I’m sure he really meant stubborn persistence 🙂

    I started when I was 70, went through three instructors, ended when I was 73. I’m 74 now – the very same age I would have been had I given up three years ago. Difference is, I didn’t.

    In the final analysis, responsibility lies with the student, just like it does with the pilot. THAT – is a big dividing factor between pilots and non-pilots.

    Flying schools facilitate learning, but can’t make it happen. We can either take responsibility for our own Life, or not.

  • I am a 64 young student pilot about a month from my check ride. What would make the training more positive to me is a clearly laid-out program that I could follow to measure my progress, coupled with a self paced ground school. I completed my ground school and took my FAA written test prior to completing 15 hours of flight time. In retrospect, that was good and bad.

    I am now studying for my oral and it is surprising how much I remember, but also, how much I forgot.

    Yes, making it fun is good — be fun needs to be aligned with the Practical Test Standards and what is needed to be safe and pass the check ride.

    • David observes, ” What would make the training more positive to me is a clearly laid-out program that I could follow to measure my progress, coupled with a self paced ground school. ”

      BINGO! This is part of knowing how to teach both skill and knowledge. First, you have to define: “what behavioral changes do I want to see in the student after the course of instruction?”

      Then, break that down into learnable chunks. Then define how each one can be tested (in our case, FAA has done that.)

      Then sequence them into a meaningful flow. Define how deeply each element is to be learned (recognition, recall, performance, analysis, synthesis) and define a lesson plan to teach each element to the degree that it has to be learned.

      Teach it, monitor the student’s progress, evaluate and advise the student of where they are doing well and where they need to do better, encourage, scold, cheerlead, and keep them at it.

      Sounds a lot like raising a kid, doesn’t it?

      Frankly, if CFI’s and flight schools are ever taught any of this, it remains well hidden.

  • Cost will always be a factor for some, but it compares favaorably with golf club membership, boating, and other costly activities. Flying will never be affordable for everyone. More emphasis on the fun and adventure opportunities that a pilots license offers makes sense. Look at what Harley-Davidson dealers do to keep their customers involved. There is something going on almost every weekend at their dealerships. More airports need to try Sporty’s hot dog lunch or similar events to get people to the airport, hopefully with their spouses and kids. Since they are already there it would be a great time to take the family for a flight.

  • Learning to be an aviator is hard. I did not realize this when I started
    Training. If you don’t have the drive you wan’t make it nor should you
    make it. It is what it is. No instructor social life or amount of money can
    do it for you.

  • Yep, emphasizing the fun aspect is where it is at. Everybody that thinks they want to learn to fly is initially attracted to the potential fun/adventure aspect even if they ultimately have a business use. I co-founded a flying club while in college and we had a variety of planes from a Fly-baby to a Cherokee (well, as much variety as you can have between those two anyway)along with a wide variety of students. There was a very low drop out rate; almost all got their license. It was great fun and relatively little cost. And I’ve never flown so much since, even owning my own planes.

  • On Monday of this week a colleague sent me an email after he learned that I was learning to fly. This is my response copied straight from that note (wiith only some name changes):

    Very good questions! And there’s much more to it beyond just cost…..

    I’m training for a sport pilot certificate. This is a class of license that permits me to fly Light Sport Aircraft (LSA), a new class that was created by the FAA in 2004 and airplanes in that class are really only now becoming commonly available. I’m training at ******* Flight Center in ****** but they also have an office at LZU. They are good folks. The LSA I fly is the Cessna 162 Skycatcher and it rents for $109/hour. Instructor time is $59/hour. For LSA you need a minimum of 20 hours training before you’re allowed to solo but 30 hours is probably a more reasonable estimate. At solo, you’re probably half way to your FAA check ride.

    If you go for a private pilot certificate you’ll most likely fly the Cessna 172 Skyhawk (I’ve flown Skyhawks and to me they aren’t as much fun as the smaller Skycatcher) and they rent for about $165/hour. Skyhawk costs will vary with the cockpit equipment. The Skycatcher has only the Garmin G300 glass display.

    I have over 40 hours of flight time and I have soloed … and now I’m actually thinking of quitting.

    I’ve learned much from the experience. First, I now believe that it’s not really practical to think you can learn to fly only on weekends. My ability to fly depends on the weather (and there are wind constraints that have actually spoiled more days for me than rain), the availability of the aircraft to rent, the availability of my instructor, and interference from family obligations. The result is that since last July I have averaged 1:15 per week of flight time; and these are Hobbes hours (basically meaning the prop is spinning) so maybe 20 minutes of each day is taxiing. That means I’ve actually averaged less than an hour per week. The result is that I have not made as much progress as I had hoped. When I started I estimated I would have my certificate in about six months. If I continue I’m probably about 4 to 6 months away still (the next big hurdle is cross-country).

    Another challenge is the amount of study time required. Ground school is actually a bigger time challenge than flying. It’s all very enjoyable for someone like me who likes to learn but it’s still time consuming. There are lots on details that just have to be memorized … like a few dozen air speeds for different situations, many radio frequencies, a few hundred acronyms and memory aids, and something like 300 weather abbreviations (there are about a dozen different types of weather reports & forecasts and each may use a different abbreviation for the same phenomena). And that’s not to mention the airspace rules which raise confusion to a new height.

    Finally, and actually of most importance, I discovered that you can’t simply add flying to a busy life. And it’s not just the time. Flying demands mindshare. Many pilots are obsessed with flying because they have to be. To be a good pilot you have to be thinking about flying a lot. This is not necessarily a bad thing if that’s what you want to do. Otherwise, accept that you will have to sacrifice other parts of your life to make room for flying. After nearly 8 months of training I discovered that there were parts of my life that I didn’t want to give up.

    Despite all this I must add that flying is an absolute blast. I have had a ball every minute that I’ve been up in the air. I have fulfilled a life-long ambition. I’ve done all sorts of maneuvers and emergency procedures (power off landings, instrument failures (including one real one)) and cross-wind landings (which I really like!). Flying is more fun than anyone should be allowed to have. One reason I like the Skycatcher so much is that it really gets tossed around by the wind. You have to fly it every moment. To me there’s nothing more exciting than turning on a short final with a gusting crosswind where the aircraft is like a dry leaf on a windy day. I’m adrenalin junky; and flying is a rush.

    I now haven’t flown in three weeks. And I’ve been rather surprised that I haven’t gone into withdrawal! I’m beginning to suspect that although it was a wonderful experience I have gotten it out of my system. It was wonderful and I don’t regret a single minute; but I’m not sure I’ll go on.

    I’m not really trying to dissuade you from learning to fly but I wish somebody had given me this sort of information before I started. It may not have changed anything; after all, I’ve been dreaming of flying all of my life (I grew up on an Air Force base) but I might have had more realistic expectations from the beginning.

    Hope this helps!

  • Anyone coming to Sun ‘n Fun? I’ll be giving a presentation there called “How to Get More Flight Students.” Details at http://www.theRaviator.com.

    I discuss a lot of these issues, especially in terms of professionalism and community. I do think community is a big part of it, but it also has to be the right community. Unfortunately, the local aviation environment often isn’t attractive to the new generation of potential pilots, as it is deeply routed in nostalgia as opposed to showcasing the future. Nostalgia is cool for those of us that fly, but until we do, it excludes us.

    But managing expectations is also crucially important, and Brian’s post above demonstrates the issue well. First, Brian, from one sport pilot to another (nearly)
    sport pilot, keep going! You’ve come a long way and seem to still enjoy the experience, so why not continue at your pace and put a license in your pocket that no one will ever take away from you? It’s true, we should never tell anyone that it only takes 20 hours to get your SPL, or that “anyone” can do it (a major point of contention with me!). It took me about 40 hours, and I worked diligently. What we should tell them–and provide to them–is a great experience every time. Sure, there will be frustrating lessons, but every single one of them can and should offer a new experience, a lesson learned, and a sense of accomplishment toward the goal.

    Moreover, we should also be pointing out the many life skills gained through flight training that are not only more exciting when learned through aviation, but have a greater impact in terms of true learning. I once wrote in a Flight Training magazine article, “Imagine if learning to fly were a requirement to graduate high school. American education probably wouldn’t be falling behind on the world’s stage.”

  • I agree with so many of the thoughtful comments people have posted. In particular, SkyMachines 5 points.
    Number 3 – “Our lessons are all scenario based now…we “go places” from the 2nd or 3rd lesson, which keeps student interest higher. We’re focusing a lot less on maneuvers in the practice area and concentrating on getting those maneuvers in as part of going places.”

    This type of approach provides more real world experiences and makes if fun. Could you imagine that when learning how to ride a bike, all you could do is stay on the driveway??!!! Bike mfg’s would go out of business.

    In addition I would add that CFI’s take a more proactive approach with their students. If a student isn’t on the flight schedule enough, find out why. It’s a phone call.

    When maintenance issues become a major interruption in the training, the schools need to find a way to keep the student engaged, or have an alternate aircraft option. Far too often I took 2 steps forward and one step back due to lengthy unplanned maintenance. Granted, these are unplanned, but it also creates gaps and lags in training.

    Last but not least is mixing it up. Expose students to other instructors. I may burn in a fiery hell, but one instructor is not the end all be all of every bit of aviation knowledge. Where one lacks in an area or can’t get a point across, another instructor may excel.

    I’ll pay for an expensive cup of coffee if it feels like it’s worth it. I’m not rich, but I will do what it takes to achieve a dream. Money isn’t always the issue, but it can be when we feel our dream is cheated.

  • I live in Contra Costa County In California. I started flight training to get a Sport Pilot License.
    Which I understand only requires a current drivers license. However when I was getting close to soloing I was told I would have to get
    a third class medical certificate. I got the third class on 11/02/2011. It was good until 08/31/2011. In the meantime I changed flight
    schools and it expired before I soloed. The FAA said I could obtain a new Authorization by submitting a current status report on my Alc. I did this and on 10/17/2011 I received a letter asking for a typewritten letter from a cardioligist on my blood pressure control. The drug that was prescribed was for leg swelling not blood pressure. They further wanted my family medical history which my daughter got for me on the internet source. they also wanted a report from my eye specialist on the treatment for macular degeneration.From my regular eye doctor they wanted a bilateral visual field test. From my family doctor they wanted a report on my history of peripheral neuropathy. The medication that was prescribed was Gabapentin.I took it for the swelling of my for 4 months with no relief. I
    submitted all these reports and waited. On o2/29/2012 I received a request for a current
    bilateral visual field test luckily I had an
    appointment with my eye doctor for the next wednesday. I mailed this report on 03/09/2012.
    I wonder what there next request is going to be. This process started on 06/01/2011. In this
    time period there have been 3 doctors as head of the medical certification department. It is impossible to get a sport pilot certificate in the San Francisco Bay Area with just a valid drivers license.

    • Richard, this is quite a story, because under no circumstances that I know of are you required to get a medical for a Sport Pilot License (SPL). Given the hoops you are having to go through, if you have not yet been denied a medical (which would prevent you from getting your SPL), I would suggest you do not pursue the process until getting further advice from AOPA, medical service. If you are not an AOPA member, it would be a wise $45 investment–well worth it over and above the medical service advice. They are very knowledgeable and can advice you properly. Don’t take this lightly, because even if you think you will ultimately pass your medical, if you don’t, you will not be able to fly, period. So, one advantage of the Sport Pilot License is that you don’t have to risk that possibility as long as you are fit to drive. Hope that helps.

  • OK, this will g over like a lead balloon! I am a 92 hour student with lots of stops and starts due to a long military career filled with deployments, etc…enough whining from me already!

    Anyway: stall training is silly and a reason many students give up. A few CFI’s think they’re fun and students get frightened. I note a comment above about bike manufacturers…I like that analogy: imagine if bicycle trainnig consisted of actualy falling off the bike! We don;t put our cars into a spin on ice;l we train how to prevent it.

    Soooo, in flight training, in aircraft that have, for many years, been designed to AVOID stalls, we continue to get the crap scared out of us….all the while being told how not to stall.

    Maybe I am unusual, but all I need is “avoidance” training, not actual. Worked very well for me in the USAF.

    But for now, as I get some more cash and finish, I will have to follow the 40+ year old training methods whether they make sense or not.

    Best!

    • Spin training shouldn’t “scare the crap” out of you. If it does, something’s wrong. Either the instructor is not approaching it correctly or you have a fear of high angles of attack or something like that.

      Stall training is important because you have to get comfortable with your ability to fix one. If you don’t have faith in your ability to get out of a stall (and how could you if you’ve never done one??), then you’ll be apprehensive about phases of flight with high angles of attack (think: landing).

      Apprehension about high AOA flight will lead you to fly final approach at too high an airspeed. I see this all the time. It leads to excessive wear and tear on the airplane, porpoising, runway overruns, and loss-of-control accidents.

      There are a dozen other reasons why stall training is extremely important, and perhaps your instructor simply never explained any of them to you. Maybe he’s never thought about them himself. But take it from a long-time instructor who teaches aerobatics, spins, unusual attitude training, etc. There’s a world of difference between pilots who are comfortable with stalls and those who are not.

      Perhaps *I* will be the one saying something that’ll go over like a lead balloon, but I’d go in the opposite direction and state that we should require practical spin experience and training for all initial pilot certificate candidates and that initial pilot training is best done in a tailwheel aircraft.

      • Ron
        I could not agree more with you. When I was a CFI in the UK spin recovery by the student was mandatory. Yes I did lose a few students because of that. I always wanted to see if a student could recognize a situation then recover from it. Stick and rudder skills are definitely being lost!!

  • All Great comments above. A lot of questions and discussion about expectations. I didn’t start my flight training until i was 49 years old, and the first thing my CFI and I did was to sit down and talk about what we both expected. Since we both worked full time outside of aviation, and we both travelled for work, we didn’t set a time line for certain milestones, such as the written test, solo and checkride. I came away with am understanding of how much time, and money, i would have to put into training. I could have went 40 miles west to a larger airport with a flight school full of young guys adding time to thier logbooks, and have finished sooner, but that wasn’t for me. I believe that knowing what to expect, and what was expected of me, helped me finish and pass my checkride. For me, flight training was a great experience!!
    Bill

  • I am truly surprised that cost is discounted as the major factor in the dropout rate. If I were going into flight training today at the same school and same airplane I trained in, I’d never even take the first lesson and it’d be 100% due to cost.

    It’s ridiculously expensive to fly, and it’s the #1 reason given by people I’ve queried who used to fly and stopped. Which, come to think of it, is the same as a student dropping out. The end result is the same: we lose a pilot from our midst.

    It’s true that instructors can do a lot by looking things from the student’s perspective. But some of the ideas proffered can add significantly to the time and cost of obtaining the pilot certificate. “Going somewhere” on lessons makes it fun. It also probably does not contribute to getting that student to his checkride any faster.

    Each student is different. The successful instructors seem to be the ones who can read their students and provide the kind of training experience that will keep them engaged. There’s no way to teach that. It’s not something the FAA could examine on a CFI checkride. It’s a people skill, and in that regard much like teaching common sense to a student so they’ll make good aeronautical decisions once they’re on their own.

    –Ron

  • Hi,
    I am a 500+ hour private SEL pilot, but I hve more than 6,000 hrs flying in the baggage seat over wildland fires. I started to get a license in 1976 then moved where I moved to did not have a school within a three hour drive so I gave it up. Fast forward to 2004 and a life changing event on a fire and I decided to return to flight training. Found a good school, did not like the CFI and changed him.Got a CFI even more grumpy than me. I have the utmost respect for him, when I do my flight review I know he is not going cut me no slack. BUT!!!!!!!!!!!!! He will work with me till I get to the point I can do whatever wieerd thing it is I can’t do. Bottom line… The Spartans of Greece made being a Spartan so hard to do that no could do it.

  • I’m not sure that a college degree is an accurate qualification. I’ve met too many clueless college graduates! But in actuality, when I speak at the universities one of the common themes that students tell me is that their program has taken the fun out of flying. I bring this up going back to the title of this article. The universities are teaching students how to function within airline operations, for the most part. So, their education isn’t necessarily going to improve their ability to teach, especially in a GA environment. What might be smart though, especially with the new first officer ATP requirements which will force more college grads into teaching for longer periods just to gain hours, is for the universities to have CFI training course curriculum, not as a major, but just as part of a professional degree program. They have business and management courses, but I’m not familiar with any existing teacher training style offerings. Having said that, it is a tough sell because no college graduate after 100k+ of tuition (and college debt) see’s a $10-$25 per hour job as a step in the right direction (some make even less…grad students teaching at universities just to get their hours, for example). CFI pay has to increase in order for qualification requirements to increase, and then there we ago again with the overall cost of flight training! Teaching is as much a social skill as it is anything else, and the irony of social media is that it diminishes the kind of social skills required for this–I’ll bet that there are many young CFIs spending the majority of their off-time facebooking rather than hanging around airports!

  • Perhaps we got sidetracked a bit? I’m sure that Brice’s comment about a college degree was meant with the best of intentions. Education is to teach us how to learn and how to think – I’ve no problem with that.

    But, I’m not at all sure a college degree should be a requirement for a CFI. Learning how to set up a course of instruction is a set of knowledge components and an array of skills. It’s likely a bit easier than learning how to fly, so a college degree may not contribute to that end.

    There are some good syllabi out there, flight schools and CFI’s should adopt one and use it. My observation (limited to only two) of slight schools is the honcho has good stick and rudder skills, minimal business skills, and a varying desire to succeed.

    Knowing how to cook is not the sole qualification for running a restaurant – neither is knowing how to fly a sole qualification for instructing flying or running a flying school.

    An instructor “setting the stage” by discussing expectations, making it fun, relating training to real life situations, etc. etc. are all sub-components of knowing how to teach flying. Letting the student know how they’re doing – both good and bad – is another sub-component.

    Frankly, FAA should receive a grade of no better than D on having set up proper training for CFI’s. The same D would be a gift if we were rating how well they monitor flying schools.

    FAA needs to get off of dead center and take an initiative here. Failing that, which I would fully expect to occur, AOPA, EAA, and other responsible organizations should take the initiative.

    AOPA has surveyed and gathered information. Now, it is time to stop analyzing it and put that information to work. Several questions need to be answered:

    1. Where are we now?
    A. What are ALL the things that are wrong with what we are doing?
    B. What are ALL the things that are right?

    2. Where do we want to be?
    A. What would “success” look like?
    B. what objectives need to be accomplished to achieve that?
    C. What would the numbers look like?

    3. How do we get there from here?
    A. What’s first?
    B. What’s next?

    As this process is fleshed out and started, whoever is doing it (probably not FAA) needs to constantly evaluate the process itself for mid-course corrections. It’s not unlike navigating by pilotage.

  • As I new (read inexperienced) CFI, I struggle w/this problem myself.
    It really comes down to student motivation in my opinion. The students who want to fly and earn their ticket do fine. The ones who are expecting to be spoon-fed, not so much.

    My retention techniques are to be straight-forward, always available, and not to nickel and dime my students to death. I do want them coming back, ya know?

    And yes, the fun quotient is huge as well. My students can pick their destinations, bring along a friend for the flight, and choose what to work on. Of course I put my 2 cents in, but when they plan the flight, they are already assessing what they need to improve, and choosing tasks they enjoy, which makes the flight fun for them.I also remind them to enjoy the fact they are in the air, to push their skills while a CFI is present, and enjoy that x-wind landing that they thought was beyond their skill level.

    Most of all I stay positive and have fun myself because I LOVE my job.

    • I like what you said, but have some inner squinches (not yet a scientific term) when you mention a student bringing along a guest. Liability seems heightened – unnecessarily. And potential for distraction is heightened – again unnecessarily.

      Just a suggestion, but I’d rescind that policy, if I were you.

  • I see that this blog is old. Odd, it just got to my email box. Anyway, after reading all the posts the problem can be defined in two words, “Professional Instructor”. You see, a professional instructor doesn’t have to be a pilot, or a baker or a whatever. A professional instructor knows how people learn. He knows whether they are visual learners or if he has to use adult learning teaching techniques on the student. If you start there, you can build a staff around this idea, add a few simulators, get a 141 certification and blam….You have a school that laughs at the dropout rate. Now you’re asking, what makes a professional instructor? The answer is simple, training in the instruction arts. All the knowledge in the world about aircraft can be tucked into your little brain but if you can’t relay the information to an identified audience, in a manner that will allow said audience to devour the information and ask for more, you have failed. This is the real problem with aviation training. Side note…..I am on hour 47, have failed my first checkride and now on my second instructor. Right about now I should close with some adage like “You can lead a horse to water”….. But you know the rest.

  • Great articles, and replies. Firstly, my reason for not flying is related to the following in order:
    1. High cost involved.
    2. Unavailability of rental aircraft for x-country.
    3. No known flying clubs in my area, Birmingham, Alabama.
    4. Failure of the FAA to respond to AOPA/EAA intitative.

    I am instrument rated, single engine pilot, but due to costs and the lack of finding utility in available aircraft I quit flying. I’d like to start back, but recreational flying around the pattern is not what I would call utility. People can say what they want, but until costs come down, and someone addresses the needs of the majority of people instead of corporate needs this industry is destined to fail. It is ridiculous to think that after a Light sport rating is offered not one company can come up with an airplane worth flying for less than $125000. Glass panels are nice, but adding $30000 for an item that shouldn’t cost over $5000 per airplane? Come on the markup is stupendouly stupid and demonstrates corporate greed to the extreme. Has no one noticed we have been in a severe recession? And yet costs continue going up. The aviation industry is on a self destruction path that will only recover when prices for everything come down; not up, and up, and up. And you’re still using Hobbs meters to rip people off. I have to laugh at the greed and stupidity of people in this industry. From FBO’s to the manufacturers I say cut your prices in half and remember volume is the way to success not price gouging. Success in real estate is; Location, location, location. For a meaningful turn around in aviation, it means getting more people to fly by providing availabity of aircraft for cross country flying; not pattern work. What good is it to learn to fly if you never get to go anywhere? And Aviation as it stands can look forward to another 20 years of declining pilot population unless it turns these things around.

    • Chuck, maybe you should open an FBO and make some money with lower prices? Even if you aren’t a mechanic, you can hire them, I suppose.

      Business opportunities like this don’t come along all that often.

      • Heh, heh, lol… I’d love to open an FBO and undercut all my competitors, but unfortunately I’d be as unable to do that as to afford flying again.

    • Chuck, I think the problem is that nobody is making any money on these $125,000 LSAs. Cessna may lose money on Skycatchers. That’s the problem.

      • Indeed. I’m not an expert on the economics of aircraft manufacturing, but I believe that the certification process is very expensive, even under the “consensus” certification that applies to LSAs. Given that LSAs are not yet produced in large quantities, that must be a major factor in driving high prices with small margins. Furthermore, it’s much harder to sell a prospective student on anything that has the word “experimental” in it, making those less expensive versions a riskier investment for flight schools.

    • I don’t necessarily agree that corporate greed is the causal factor in high pricing (competitors are free to offer lower-priced products), but COST IS a big factor in why people don’t fly. It’s not poor instructors; There are simply too many great ones out there.

      I want the FBOs, aircraft manufacturers, suppliers to all make profit…a profitable business is what keeps innovation and quality going. But what other factors are contributing to the high costs? Lawsuits are touted as a major factor….how much does this play into the costs of flying?

      There is nothing high tech about a Cessna 172. So shy does it cost $25K to replace and engine? Is it because the production volume is so low that the manufacturers have higher-than-normal overhead? Or, does the the cost of liability insurance jack up the costs to these levels?

      Until the aviation community really looks at why our costs are so high, I believe Chuck is correct, we are heading down a bad path.

    • “COST” – contrary to most, is NOT the problem! The industry has a hard time “admitting” that flying is not for the masses; it’s for those WHO can afford it and have a NEED(utility value)=COST/BENEFIT!

      • Recreational flying is definitely quite a business (at least for plane manufacturers) but not that much… and.. for CLUBS. For me it comes down to the mission, operating costs, hours flown each year. I own an airplane that I fly over 100 hours each year. It’s hangared, insured and maintained by an A&P. It burns 4 gallons per hour ( Aeronca). My total operating costs each year per hour range from $49 to $61 (fuel costs and hours flown each year being the variables). Now the plane only flys at 91MPH so that can be a problem for some and it it’s only a two place, again a problem for some. But, in my case, ownership is less expensive than a club. If I ever drop down to flying hours that drive the per hour rate to something around $100.00 I may have to rethink my position.

  • Yup, as I was saying, Why would anyone spend that much on a high tech wonder if all they can effectively do is to fly around the pattern? You can only fly these things safely on windless days. There is no utility in buying one. So they get less than 5 gallons per hour fuel burn; nice, but if you must fly an extra 250 miles around weather to get to your destination or have to spend a night or two in a motel awaiting weather to pass what good are they. Seems to me they are just toys; not real airplanes with any true functionality. I flew one recently, and wasn’t that impressed, and certainly wasn’t impressed with the costs involved. So you have an older pilot population that has stopped flying, a younger population that can’t afford to get into aviation; both groups wanting very much to fly and no one in corporate America that is able to come up with a solution. I wish I were smart enough to see a fix, but I do not.

    Almost anyone can see the problems are costs, over regulation, and corporate greed, but unfortunately most of us can’t see a solution in sight. I really don’t think bad instruction is the problem. Even back when I learned to fly in 1966 it was the love of flying, the passion involved that kept me going until I got my instrument ticket. And then, the gruelsome reality began to sink in, which was that it was a rich man’s hobby, and sorry but I wasn’t rich. I quit back in 1985 or so, and was amazed at the way costs of everyting increased. About double on everything. Good luck to all that can continue flying I wish you well.

  • I got to go through the learning process twice. Once in the 70’s when I first got my private and, after 37 years of not flying, to be recently re-trained. I somehow endured and enjoyed the first time, but this last time has been a real horror show. Maybe my flying club is different than others, but it is not difficult to see why folks would not feel compelled to finish training there. There are probably good CFI’s there, but the folks I have seen and met seem to be true grouches and preposterously condescending. I studied very hard to “get up to speed” on all the changes in the AIM, took several on line courses, but my first CFI never asked me a question, nor let me ask the ones I had…he just spent an hour or two of each session with his model airplane and rubber runway explaining stuff I knew. In the air, he talked non stop about everything I was doing imperfectly, never an encouraging word, and seemed to be more desperate to make another $45 per hour than see me progress. We went over and over and over the same ground and air instructions till I stopped him once and asked him if he would mind if I finished his sentences for him. I finally gave him up. Got with a bit better fit instructor and have since passed a BFR and feel competent again. But I nearly gave up many times because the CFI’s seem desperate to hack out a living in a dying business. Students sense this. Flight schools should do what other businesses do and get feedback on CFI’s on a regular basis and share it with the staff (keep students anonymous) like other businesses. Keep track of graduations rates and student satisfaction rates (it works for doctors where I was employed–improved their bedside manner incredibly to have patient feedback published). Teaching flying is a separate art from being a good pilot. I have flown with a big number of good pilots, but only a couple great teachers. CFI’s need feedback and scorecards. It might not have mattered in the old days–but customer standards have increased along with the costs.

    • Ray sez, ” Teaching flying is a separate art from being a good pilot. I have flown with a big number of good pilots, but only a couple great teachers. CFI’s need feedback and scorecards. ”

      BINGO! If CFIs were results-oriented, many would have spun, crashed, and burned long ago. I hope FAA realizes how vastly different the two areas – flying, and TEACHING flying – really are.

      In my experience and opinion, trying to fix flight training by “having fun” is like trying to fix cancer with Ben Gay. The first thing I’d approach to fix flight training is the flight training process itself, and all that goes with it.

    • Ray sez, ” Teaching flying is a separate art from being a good pilot. I have flown with a big number of good pilots, but only a couple great teachers. CFI’s need feedback and scorecards. ”

      BINGO! If CFIs were results-oriented, many would have spun, crashed, and burned long ago. I hope FAA realizes how vastly different the two areas – flying, and TEACHING flying – really are.

      In my experience and opinion, trying to fix flight training by “having fun” is like trying to fix cancer with Ben Gay. The first thing I’d approach to fix flight training is the flight training process itself, and all that goes with it.

      In every operation and endeavor, the most critical ingredient is the people. The right people will find ways to make things work; the wrong people will muddle through and find ways to extend the job. Weeding out some misfits will increase the quality of our CFI force, and send signals to the industry. Teaching them how to teach will further improve the situation.

  • Here are suggestions for CFI’s and Flight Schools:
    1. Listen and ask questions of your students (ask them about what the white arc means, don’t just tell them, ask them about the sectional icons, don’t just tell them) 10 times more than you talk. If you cannot describe the skill and knowledge pluses and deficits of your student, after the first hour of working with them you are failing as an instructor.
    2. I know you are hungry and you need to book those $45 teaching hours, but your student will know when you are bilking him/her and will either quit you or flying altogether. Neither result benefits you or your school. At $150-$200 an hour, students are very aware of wasted time and unperceptive, and unfocused CFI’s. Your job is to make a competent pilot, not just teach for an hour. Focus on your job.
    3. Find multiple positives to say about every student in every lesson. Positives are much more motivating than simply correcting when something is done wrong. Most students know when something was wrong and are beating themselves up–don’t pile on with more criticism–find something good and make a suggestion to improve next time. Students are putting their egos (and money) on the line.
    4. Have a customized lesson plan and share it with your student. I know you cannot always depend on the wind and weather, but telling a student what you are going to do next time allows them to read, think about and get their heads around their learning process.
    5. Brief and debrief every flight. Talk about what they want to accomplish and tell them what you see needs to be done–learning is a partnership between learner and teacher. Be as specific as possible about outcomes you want to see. Be encouraging when the student is down. This happens to everyone and how you handle it could mean the difference between retaining a student or having him/her join the 70%. Debrief (briefly) every flight: Ask student FIRST what they learned, then offer your observations and encouragement.
    6. Acknowledge and shorten a day if the student is not ready to tackle something difficult. Learning regulations, aerodynamics, radio procedures, aircraft controls and radios can combine to be overwhelming to a new person or someone coming back into the business as I was. My instructor once suggested that I seemed a bit overwhelmed and that maybe we should just take a short cross country jaunt rather than perfect those short field landing roll outs.

    Just some ideas. I am sure folks have others. The main message is that training has be learner focused, not content focused. In my experience, a lot of CFI’s don’t get it and it is hurting GA.

  • I agree with Matt E. No one talks about the very real possibility of investing in a very affordable used trainer these days. I am a student pilot and the only way I could afford it is the 381.00 per moth 5 year loan on a 1974 PA28-151. An excellent trainer and cross country little airplane. Let’s see 2400.00 rental or 381.00 each month: No brainer. Plus I am truly invested in my training and flying career now. Not to mention the ownership responsibilities. If you are all in, you will be successful. Just make sure you understand what you’re getting into. I could not have done this without AOPA, just near impossible without them.

    Buying a used trainer to carry you through the first two or three years has many benefits but is not without pitfalls, do the the research. It’s not for everyone. However, it turned out the be the smartest move I ever made. I never knew, in all the years I spent dreaming to fly, that owning while training could be so reasonable and such a relief in the training costs. Not to mention the motivation through investment to carry you through on those tough days. Not for everyone but certainly very rarely ever seriously considered and that is sad. There is a glut of little trainers on the market that can be had for a song, for the smart buyer.

    My 2 cents of course 🙂

  • I (partially) agree with you, John. I did the same thing. But costs of ownership end up equaling cost of rental.

    Hangaring, maintenance, annual inspections, “improving” the bird, etc. can sneak into our pocket books. An airplane is a hole in the air into which we throw money. 🙂

    I think the pride of owning our own aircraft, and the commitment to flying are the two things that really helped me get over the hump.

    • Kayak Jack: I know what you mean, that is why I caution that one look into what they are getting into. However, I meant to suggest that JUST FOR TRAINING it was more cost effective. My operating costs per hour with instructor and including all op/maint cost assuming 3000.00 annual (total cost ) is 2410.00 per month. It costs me 2400 per month just to rent a wet aircraft. I’m including everything like insurance, taxes etc.

      If I did not own, the training cost would be 2916.00 based on my rate of 3 lessons per week.

      Pros:
      Assuming 12 hours per month, At the end of training you fly for the op
      cost of 1655.00 per month, as opposed to 2280 per month renting wet.

      You get to keep the plane after 5 yrs of payments

      If you own, you will fly more (usually) and get better faster

      You fly when you want, conditions permitting.

      You have complete control over the airplane and it’s history

      In five years the aircraft is mine so the monthly payments did not go down the drain as rental would have.

      Cons:
      You are completely responsible for the maintenance of the aircraft
      You are completely responsible for FAA compliance
      Property tax can kill you – Free in my state/county
      If something goes badly with the aircraft, you don’t fly until it’s fixed or you rent.

      It’s an age old question and I do agree with your assessment. You mentioned pride of ownership. As a student that is a key factor in everything I do now with respect to flying. It’s hard to quantify but was the deciding factor for me as well as the reduced cost up front for training. Finally, it was the investment that is carrying me through when I have an off day, which at my school, is very rare.

      It just felt that ownership of a used plane is not considered as much as it should be prior to serious training. It is something to consider. I had good advice and, for me, it has worked out wonderfully.

      I would highly advice a student today to at least consider the option. $190.00 and hour to rent a plan wet is nuts. (IMHO)

      John

  • Lots of comments,lots of them the same story, I would like to report our flight school has a low drop out rate. From the story’s and comments,I just read I can see why.
    We are a small school in a small market, but we treat our students with respect, We are always working to improve ourselves, becoming master instructors. Reading all the training material we can find, we do tons of AOPA and FAASteam on line courses and working through all the levels of the new wings program. We are FAASteam lead reps. doing presentations for local groups and EAA at OSH.
    Saying that, the things we do that work for us .
    1. we do a two day ground school to get students through the written test. we lost lots of students who self studied or did online or dvd courses. we get them done in a weekend. ( one thing that would help flight training would be to clean up the material and test questions for the written , get rid of old outdated questions. a third of the material is old and useless )
    2. We do accelerated flight training ,average 4 to 6 hours a lesson
    3. Not all students learn the same way. get to know your student,and
    what works for them, not the instructor.
    4. Keep on task, We have our own syllabus that works for us.
    5. We have on line scheduling, students can schedule a lesson when it works for them if they aren’t on the accelerated course.
    Bottom line, the student is the reason you go to work as a flight
    instructor. treat them like your job depends on them.

  • Oh my gosh, that program sounds AMAZING. Had I been involved in a program such as that I probably would not have joined the 80%. My training experience was really no different than the way it was done in the 1920s. No syllabus — I never knew what material was going to be covered when I showed up for a lesson. My CFI didn’t like to fly for more than about an hour; so in 8 months I accumlated only about 40 Hobbs hours; ground school was just the Cessna/King online with rather poor response time and mediocre material & presentation. I would have LOVED to have had a four hour lesson!

    • Brian, you ow have the outline for what it should be. Copy it off, and go find a CFI who can and will do it that way. Sic’em!

  • You have to want it. You have to want to fly more than any other less exacting activity. Flying is expensive, demanding, scary and risky, but to those under its spell, it is intoxicating.
    The 25% who don’t drop out accept, with few reservations, the caveats of this activity. The 75% who decide not to continue down this path do not have, no matter how the training syllabus is rearranged to accommodate them, the psychic wherewithal to fly.
    Don’t push the unwilling 75 per-centers into aviating simply for business interests. General aviation has always been a dicey way to make a living and always will be. It used to be that only 20% went on to achieve a pilots certificate, so things have picked up somewhat. Be grateful.

  • You have to want it. You have to want to fly more than any other less exacting activity. Flying is expensive, demanding, scary and risky, but to those under its spell, it is intoxicating.
    The 25% who don’t drop out accept, with few reservations, the caveats of this activity. The 75% who decide not to continue down this path do not have, no matter how the training syllabus is rearranged to accommodate them, the psychic wherewithal to fly.
    Don’t push the unwilling 75 per-centers into aviating simply for business interests. General aviation has always been a dicey way to make a living and always will be. It used to be that only 20% went on to achieve a pilots certificate, so things have picked up somewhat. Be grateful.

  • I have a few comments to add here:

    1>As a community we need to stop the attitude of weening the ranks because they couldn’t ‘cut’ it. that’s complete nonsense. Why? Because when you look at the top reasons why people drop out it’s never due to lack of skill set. It’s always related to the experience at the FBO. That’s all been discussed, but one point can be made, it’s difficult to ween out bad CFI’s because they don’t get paid very much. Anytime you have someone working for close to nothing, it’s difficult to enforce a performance standard. If the CFI worked for themselves, they would soon be out of business due to word of mouth about their performance.

    My FBO was sold to new management. They were a few guys that got their licenses through the school and flew a few years. It was a good school, but was falling behind on the equipment side. The new guys also felt the business could be run better. One of the things they did was improve the standards and wages for the CFI’s. Result? Better training experience. They also started a pilot club that meets for lectures and group flights for lunch/dinner. They improved the equipment, adding Garmins to the line. But they kept their basic rates reasonable given all the improvements. They increased the value of training/renting.

    2>There doesn’t seem to be much talk about why it has become so expensive. Biggest reason has been the increase in low lead gas. Here are some basic economics where I fly: Airplane Wet $129 (basic trainer), CFI $55 — $184 / hr before landing fees and such.

    When I started, the wet rates for the exact same trainer that is still on the line was $98 / hr wet. The fuel rate is now $7.36 / gallon, 9 gallon burn rate comes out to $66 / hr in the wet costs.

    So 51% of the airplane costs now come from the cost of fuel.

    Now, some of it is related to where I fly. Sheltair charges a lot where I’m at. I’ve seen some adds at small fields where you can get fuel much cheaper

    So when you add up fuel for total hours needed to complete Private, a good deal goes into fuel.

    One solution is to train in the newer LSA’s that have low fuel burn rates. Another option is to fly out of a field with cheaper fuel rates. However, as a total system, we need to deal with this low lead issue and the fact it has doubled over the last 5 years and the fact it runs at rates much higher than regular gas at the pumps. Resolving the low lead issue not only cleans up the environment, and also removes the fouled plugs issue, it would also get us off the independence of a specialized fuel that increases our costs.

    3>We need to increase the sense of community. Before some of the improvements at the FBO, I had seen many people walk in, obviously wanting to talk about flight lessons, and nobody paying much attention to them. If someone did speak to them at the desk, it wasn’t always the most warm and welcoming.

    The front desk does all of the Q&A for people walking in. Not the CFI’s nor the owners. So if the front desk is busy, there’s nobody to simply say “hi” and “let me tell you about flying.” What’s crazy, it doesn’t matter how many other pilots are standing around about the front desk. Nobody says anything. Why? Well, it’s somebody’s business at the desk. Not a club, per say. But, if anyone is walking to the airplane and someone asks about flying through the fence, everyone would normally be happy to talk up aviation.

    We need more of that chat through the fence mentality. It would go a long way for welcoming everyone in, and would also improve relations when talking to people in the community about the value of aviation and airports in their area.

    -ChrisP from NY

    • Concerning the “person at the desk – if the CSR doesn’t know the differience between a J-3 and a G-5, you have a problem! The CSR is NOT the ideal person here. A “sales”,yes sales person, not an instructor – if the “receptionist” doesn’t have all thr”WRIGHT”answers – well there goes $10K and who knows (aircraft purchase,etc) out the door! More on this at our site: “Marketing,Advertising and Sales”, this month(for the small FBO/flight school)Part III – Sales coming up soon – appropriate to handling the telephone or walk-in inquiry – check us out – THANKS!

  • I had some great training from a very hard-nosed German instructor who
    didn’t give me any slack! The one thing I would like to comment on is
    that I think there should be 4-5 hours under the hood or foggles instead of the 1 hour that I had. However that hour and what that German fellow taught me saved my ‘bacon’ when he drilled into me that “if the instruments were working before you get in a fog they will be working in the fog.” That is exactly what happened to me by the bluffs near Lacrosse, WI by the Mississippi River. I believed my instruments only a few seconds before I would have had contact with earth! At the time I only had 82 hours of flying time but thanks to that hard-nosed instructor I am still here today after lots of years of successful flight in so many different conditions. His great instruction saved me from disaster but many are not that fortunate. I had my own plane so got my private in 8 weeks minus 2 days with ground school in the evenings – all done in the Minneapolis area airports. I am very grateful for tough instructors and have had a
    few of those as I progressed through instrument, commercial for land
    and seaplane plus Part 135 instructors and examiners who gave me no
    slack. I may not have been so grateful at the time of all the exams
    but in looking back, they are part of the reason I am still here…!!

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  • I agree with the importance of having both structure and variety in a training program. These are great tips.

    On the topic of student drop outs, I like to compare flight majors against other students. If we, as an industry, are graduating 25% of flight students in four years or less, this is below the national college level of 40%, but a relative success compared to the graduation rates at some schools, in some demographic groups, etc. I will mention this in my new blog post. I am also adding Air Facts to my reading list!

  • Becoming a licensed pilot is not for the lazy or timid. It requires perseverance, a good work ethic, and a love of flying. It also requires being able to read,study,and think. Thinking is hard work for the average person, they’re minds are lazy, a product of our public school and college educational systems in the US. Most young people are not willing to work that hard. They aren’t really interested in sacrificing their cell phones, their late model cars, their social time for a flight certificate. They want you to give them something with little or no effort on their part. They are whiners and children.Surely some CFI s are not that great but you as an ADULT have to make that determination and find another like any other 1000s of decisions you’ll have to make in life. All I’ve heard in these posts are about making it easier, making it enjoyable, making it more affordable, cuddling the student more, no stalls, no spins, ridiculous. They come up with more excuses than a kid in kindergarten . IF A Person REALLY wants to fly they will find a way. Don’t blame ” greedy corporations” , incompetent instructors, profit making fbo s . Do you really want to do it? Do you have what it takes? Many don’t. Are you willing to sacrifice money, time, assets, and a lot of effort? If you can’t pass the written off a $50 Internet study program it’s probably not an endeavor you should make because their will be a lot more to study after you get your certificate that could kill you afterwards if you can’t understand the material. Seek out a good instructor recommended by the DFE that is not in career bldg. mode. Find you an old 152 or 172 to do your training in $15 to $20k. Do you have a car worth that, sell it and get a beater or get a loan. Put some money aside every hour you fly to cover maintenance. When you’re done keep the plane or sell
    it for the same price or more. Take a second job, Sell some crap you don’t need anymore. Cut out or reduce some of your monthly expenses. Do you really want it now? Not easy enough eh. I thought so.

    • For all who read this, Bill here landed gear up at at a local airport in North Texas a couple of years ago because he was too busy pontificating to his 2 students in the back seat about what a great pilot he was……after having his licenses revoked, he is now a greeter at Walmart.

  • This was great! The real world viewpoint and the intelligent humor made for a good read. I agree that there are many problems with flight schools and the cost is a major factor for most. Once you have made up your mind as to making the time and doing the courses, the next step is which flight school to attend? My personal experience with http://www.flyhaa.com/en/page/helicopter_flight_training_courses was excellent! The instructors were knowledgeable and made it fun for me. The fact it is in Oregon which is no sales tax state made it easier on my bank account as well!

  • I have always wanted to get a pilots license. Not that I have the money, I am going to take some flying lessons. It would be great to have a fun experience when doing it.

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