Boeing has forecast a need for 88,000 new commercial pilots in North America over the next two decades. The U.S. pilot population and annual piston flying hours have steadily declined since 1980. A first officer flying under FAR Part 121 rules must now possess an Airline Transport Pilot certificate with up to 1500 hours logged prior to employment. The regional airlines are already feeling the effects of limited pilot supply. Representatives from government and industry recently met for a Pilot Supply and Demand Summit at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
None of this is any surprise to anyone who has kept up with the trends. They beg the question: is learning to fly worth it anymore? Why would anyone spend $100,000 getting all of the licenses and ratings, work bottom-rung flying jobs to get the 1500 hours, and then seek a $22,000/year position at one of the regionals? It makes no economic sense. For better or worse, commercial aviation is not the glamor industry it used to be. For decades airlines relied on the glamor factor to keep the pilot pipeline full and it worked. That began to change when the airlines were deregulated. Another big part of the pilot supply and demand equation was the large number of highly-trained and experienced pilots leaving the military and joining the airlines. That too has changed in recent years as the ranks of military pilots have thinned. It will be interesting to see how all this sorts itself out.
So much for the airline career path, what about corporate flying? I am sure there are opportunities for enterprising individuals with the right ratings and connections. The pay ranges widely according to the type of equipment flown. Corporate pilots spend a lot of time on call and sitting around at airports, but they get to fly some pretty nice aircraft.
There is a fundamental difference between flying for a paycheck and not. A business owner may very well have a legitimate need to self-pilot an aircraft for business purposes. It does not take many airline trips connecting through a hub airport to realize it is often just as fast or even faster to go direct in a small plane. That is not to say the two are on equal footing. There are days when no one should be making the trip in a piston single.
However, the main difference between professional and non-professional flying is likely to be frequency of experience. There is no substitute for doing something repeatedly. It has been said the brain is more like a muscle than a computer. When a Blue Angels pilot was asked how the team attains to such a high level of proficiency, his answer was “practice, practice, practice.” They go on 120 training hops before doing their first show of the season. If it is true for the Blue Angels, it is certainly true for the rest of us.
I am always saddened to read about someone coming to grief because it was a case of too much airplane and not enough pilot. Simply put, if one does not have the time to acquire and maintain serious piloting skills, one should not be flying a serious airplane. The definition of “serious” depends on the background and experience of the pilot of course, but it must address things like retractable landing gear, number and type of engines, pressurization, and cruising speed.
All right, so maybe you don’t plan to fly for a living and you don’t own a business. What makes learning to fly worth all of the time, money, and trouble? Some people may want to obtain a private pilot license for the sake of the accomplishment. The same could be said of getting an instrument rating, which I personally found to be very challenging. The thrills come much faster in video games, but in the end they are just that: games. On the other hand, flying a plane is a real-world undertaking with real-world risks and rewards. Watching the earth roll by from a few thousand feet above it is an experience like no other. I am sure it pales in comparison to orbital flight, but how many of us have any chance of doing that?
Owning an aircraft only makes sense if there is a reason to use it on a regular basis. An older but simple airplane is ideal for someone who wants to fly locally on nice days, and it can be relatively inexpensive. Stepping up to cross-country capability really means instrument capability for both pilot and aircraft. This is a significantly larger commitment. There are recurring certifications required for the altimeter, transponder, and pitot-static system. Instrument flying proficiency is a highly perishable skill. It may take 20 or more hours per year of practice approaches to be ready for that couple of trips in actual IMC. Some parts of the country get much more instrument weather than others. An instrument rating affords the opportunity to go when others cannot. It also affords the opportunity to get into bigger trouble if risk is not properly managed.
My observation has been that people become pilots of one sort or another because they are either born with or else have acquired a passion for flying. It requires a high degree of commitment to participate at any level. That passion may eventually become just a job for some, but for me it has been worth it. Maybe that is why I chose not to fly for a living. My passion for flying remains to this day. In fact, I was recently speaking with a fellow long-time pilot who admitted to getting grumpy when he has not flown in a while.
I have been an airplane nut since childhood. It is true that aviation was more of a novelty “back in the day,” but there is more to it than that. It is worth it to skip the long lines at the TSA checkpoints. It is worth it to go directly where you want to go, as fast as you can go. (Yes, there are speed limits up there, but they start at 200 KIAS and are not all that limiting in terms of getting from A to B.) It is worth it to pass over the traffic jams and road construction. It is worth it to see sights which can be seen no other way. It is worth it to have a skill that less than 0.2% of the general population possesses. And that is in the United States. I expect the percentage is even lower elsewhere.
Let’s not forget that flying your own plane also means you get to choose your travelling companions. Sometimes that is priceless, to draw from those old credit card commercials. Concerning the comfort factor, I would say maybe even a Mooney has an edge over the average coach seat these days.
Using a light airplane for personal transportation has its risks, but it is not an impossible task. My mechanic (who is also a flight instructor) says there is no one thing about flying that is inherently difficult. There are just a lot of them to be done, and they must all be remembered. It does require a delicate balance of both confidence and judgment. That too is what has made learning to fly “worth it” for me.
How about you?
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This is an interesting question. I got my PPL about three years ago and I purchased a 1959 Piper Tripacer. So was the expense worth it? For any practical reasons it was not. Here in Texas the weather limits good flying days for my PA-22. When you get down it it, there’s usually nothing much worth the time and expense of getting to a destination and once one has reached that destination then local transportation is usually a problem. So when you get down to it flying a light aircraft in Texas is just not practical and it can’t be justified for practical reasons.
Having said that, I (usually) enjoy flying and I got a sense of accomplishment from getting my license. That’s really not very much but I don’t regret the time and money that it took me to do so. So ultimately I guess it comes down to being a personal question that each of us has to answer for ourselves.
For me, yes even though it’s not practical to fly I feel that it was worth it. Life is not a destination, it’s a road and I found that particular road to be an interesting, challenging and ultimately satisfying one.
I find the economic realities of flying to be really discouraging. I earned my commercial license through military flight training, and it’s doubtful that I would have been able to afford to do so on my own. 10 years later I find myself looking at taking a huge pay cut if I take a job as a pilot (coming off of O-3 officer’s pay), which is insulting to the profession at a minimum. I’d like to think that the burden will shift to employers to pay for training and offer better benefits as the ranks thin, but I doubt it. Instead airlines will look to automate first officer positions and streamline the force, so as not to have to make any concessions.
Solutions? Not sure. Pilots as a group have to start to market themselves as more valuable assets to show the airlines how they can’t be so easily replaced. Capt Sullenberger’s story was one such opportunity. We have to position ourselves as deeply knowledgeable craftsmen and professionals that can do what computers can’t.
For the question “is it worth it?” For those who are passionate about flying, yes. But don’t let yourself be deluded as to the economic reality of it.
Your question is both easy and hard to answer.
If you are talking about flying for a career, then you simply add up all the out-of-pocket training costs, add in the average salary of CFI, CFII, cargo dog, stc. in the right spots, then add in the average salary of 121 pilots at all levels of seniority and you have the answer.
If you are talking about flying for fun only, then it is worth it if your passion for it drives the actions needed (get money, dedicate to learning, making the time, etc.) to make it happen. If you aren’t willing to do the work, then it’s not worth it to you.
The question can be put to almost everything in life, so what’s so special about airplanes? Your new $30,000 car may be “worth it” to you, but I see my $1500 pickup and bicycle as a better deal. The $100,000 a kid will pay to become aviation employable is no worse than $100,000 spent for a Bachelor’s degree in Diversity Studies. Both will get you a job at Starbucks; the pilot has other options.
For most people, airplane ownership can be equated in value to motorcycles or boats. Nearly useless, but so what? We’re talking pure esoteric value here.
For me it’s about the dream… The (un reasonable) dream that I can fly myself to any business meeting, and as soon as I land back home, load up the wife and kids and go on a vacation that everyone will be excited about… But the reality is different… More then half of my travel is still on southwest, and my wife still prefers TSA over bumps at 9,000 feet…
But I will keep flying and I will keep dreaming, because freedom in this new, always connected world is hard to come by, and up there, it’s quiet, it’s beautiful, and it’s good for my soul.
There are almost as many reasons to earn a pilot’s license and fly as there are pilots, and very few of them are wrong (e.g., to be able to fly bales of marijuana from Mexico to the U.S.!). As others have pointed out on these pages, the economics of private flying, apart from business uses, never makes sense. As costs continually rise beyond the rate of inflation, the economic challenges of private aviation rise accordingly. I agree with the argument that cost is the most important of many factors driving personal flight’s decline. But for those of us who have the bug, the best course is not doing the arithmetic, and just enjoying the ride.
It’s never been about practicality for me. I started flying with my grandfather and today I own and fly his last airplane. I enjoy taking kids and people for rides and flying by myself, to get away and be totally on my own. I have 300+ Young Eagle rides given plus a bunch of 99s Dime-a-Pound flights, all very enjoyable. It is killing me financially. I should sell the ’52 Bonanza and get a J-3. But….
If I’d only do things that are worth it, I wouldn’t do much. Flying, even for 22,000 at a regional airline, is fun. If not, don’t do it!
It is definitely worth it to learn to fly, there is no doubt about it. Flying is a privilege (if not a right!) that is second to nothing, and watching the world go by beneath you is something that can’t be described. The problem with flying is simple economics: it costs way too much. You highlighted this in your article; spending over $100,000.00 to get all the ratings and meet all the requirements and then work for a salary that is at or below McDonalds just doesn’t sound fair, and it isn’t. But aviation is expensive. In some areas, flying the C172 is roughly $99 per hour, while in others its as high as $180.
The unfortunate truth is that passion alone can only get a few of us so far; affordable aircraft ownership is difficult as is, and even something as simple as a brand new Cessna 172 is at or around $300,000.00. In my opinion, it’s not fair, and it limits this privilege to a select few who either do it as a living or those who can afford to fly privately.
Flying is absolutely worth it… as long as you can afford it.
Mahmoud, there are many ways to reach one’s goal of flying. If you fly for pleasure, not for business or long-distance travel, a simple airplane will do the job. $35,000 will buy a nice, safe old C-172 or Cherokee 180– about the cost of a loaded Honda Accord. Divide that 2 or 3 ways with a partner or partners, divide up the hangar, insurance, and maintenance costs, and flying becomes a lot more affordable. Then there are the simple kit-built airplanes, brand-new and all yours when done. Stay with us, man!
Oh don’t you worry! I’ve loved flying and airplanes since I was able to have thoughts! Nothing can pry me away from aviation – nothing! It’s in my blood, it’s the air I breathe and it IS my life. I’ll always be here. The only thing that worries me is just the cost, overall. GA can become far more efficient if engine technology advances. I wouldn’t mind a DA-20 or even a DA-40 if it’s split maybe two or three ways. Finishing PPL and getting ready for the IFR and Commercial. I love this stuff!
Interesting read, definitely poses some tough questions for upcoming pilots. I just recently began my journey towards becoming a professional helicopter pilot, after leaving the military to presue this life-long dream. I’ve done my best to not turn a blind eye to the economic climate of professional aviation, but I’d be lying if I said this doesn’t worry me about my future. Even with having my training expenses covered.
KISS! Knowledge, achievement, enjoyment and curiosity.
My 25 years of flying has enriched the lives of me and my family immeasurably. We have seen and done things and been places we never could have enjoyed without an airplane, from the Arctic Ocean to the Amazon jungle to the African bush. Flying has given us freedom not available to people who are tied to the ground or smushed into commercial airliners. The exercising of responsibility necessary for safe flying and the mental habit of thinking through the consequences of your actions are disciplines that carry over to the way you live the rest of your life. Is learning to fly worth it? Absolutely.
I was very fortunate to start flying in the 60’s when the college flying club airplane was $5 per tach hour wet. My dreams of flying for the military were squelched when my eyesight became less than perfect, and back then the military was about the only route to the airlines. My profession became what I went to college for, and in retrospect, life was far better doing what I was trained for than chasing my dream to fly for a living. Even after some time off to raise a family and send the kids to college, I still enjoy the local flight to just get up in the air, fly to that destination with friends, enjoy the camaraderie of other club members, and explore the literally thousands of new airstrips around the country. Will I ever have my own plane? Probably not as there is no need or reason for one, and a club provides more than an airplane. If I started today, would I make the same journey? Probably because of my passion for flight.
New Airstrips? Where?
Any airstrip not in my logbook is new to me.
Built in 2000, I would call that new…and I agree with Rich, if you haven’t been there it’s new to you :^)
A lifelong goal for me, and my wife was familiar with that weird dream of mine. After the grandkids and daughter moved away, wife told me it was time for me to take some of my retirement money and grab for that “gold ring.” Finally, fifteen days after my fifty-sixth birthday, accomplished that goal, with my PPL. (She hates anything to do with aviation.) Lucky enough to get a part time job, after leaving my full time job, that allowed me the luxury of flying just for fun. (Bosses owned a courier/freight service, over the road, as well as a few small Cessna’s they rented out, and I got to fly them for helping them work on them and the vehicles. Then, the hammer fell on them when the county closed the local airport, to move over to the big, now closed, USAF base. They had to move, and sold their planes. No flying for me now, as there are no local rentals or even local flight schools, without traveling a distance, and paying ferry fees, adding to the already exorbitant costs.
I miss my flying.
I like that many pilots say that the intangibles of flying are worth the investment. But I wonder how many young people look at piloting as a career, vs the cost of training. Does it offer good pay and benefits, and reasonable job security and longevity? I’d like to see a timeline of an average pilot career and how long it will take them to pay back their investment, assuming they pay for it on loans only.
When talking about flying with others mostly who do not, I repeat a comment that I truly believe, and that is “If you can drive a tractor or ride a motorcycle, you can fly an airplane”. There are degrees of course, but for the most part those coordination skills are about all you need to physically operate an airplane. Most folks are amazed, although the rest of it (operating radios, talking with ATC, knowing the FARs, understanding and dealing with weather, etc) are the complicated parts that discourages most people. There really has to be motivation for that.
Now comes the last couple of generations that demand and are use to instant gratification. Few people learn to water or snow ski, knee and snow boards are simply easier and the learning curve is faster. Learning to fly also qualifies as too hard or takes too much time and work. We have raised a couple of generations of lazy kids in many ways.
I have two bright and talented daughters who flew with me literally from the time they were newborns, but neither expressed the slightest desire to become pilots, even though they had perhaps the best and least expensive opportunities. They would rather play computer and iphone games and text with friends in their spare time. Life has become too easy and learning to fly too time consuming and hard. The economic reality is also very significant as others have attested herein.
I am proud that I own an airplane, can fly for pleasure and business purposes, and use it as a selling point to my customers. But I also think I am a dying breed in today’s world.
Quick answer: YES !!!
It is worth every penny to be a Pilot. The challenges, the experiences, the images from the air looking down at the world as well as up at other airplanes, watching the sunset as you chase it west, landing at OSHKOSH—-all these images and experiences are forever burned into my brain…..absolutely love flying…..
The long answer: YES !!! It is worth it to learn to be a Pilot. But you better be committed to the journey and expense and challenges. There are steps along the way both mentally and physically and financially that are not for the faint of heart. I am fortunate to have my wife flying with me, she sometimes in the left seat as Pilot in Command and sometimes in the right seat as Co-Pilot. We both trained together, bought the trainer airplane together, and actually have a reason to fly to get to and from a country home on the weekends. We fly in Bravo airspace every weekend and we went to Oshkosh 30 days after my wife’s checkride. It is not an easy adventure. It takes skill, patience, reflexes, and of course money. But flying has been one of the most rewarding challenges in our lives. You never stop learning. And the weather , traffic, ATC, ….. Always gives you a new challenge and experience to master. Flying is a choice. A fancy new pickup truck and high speed bass boat can cost more than an excellent high speed cross country (used) airplane. If you LOVE to fly, to meet new people at new airports, to learn every time you go up, then you will find a way to make it happen. Rental aircraft, partnerships, ….the choices are there to make it happen. But is flying “easy”? No way. Everyone needs to make the choice and the sacrafices necessary to achieve their goals. YES. IT IS WORTH IT.
I’m 53. I’ve always wanted to fly. I remember seeing SabreJets peel off one by one as the national anthem played as the networks television shut down for the night. I remember where I was when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I remember trying to fly the BD5 gas-powered, control line model airplane, on a cold Christmas morning.
It is a tribute to my parents example of hard work, a great public school system, and the freedom granted to me by my country that I was able to work two jobs and put myself through flight training at a mom and pop FBO In the mid 1980s. A PA-38-112 Tomahawk went for $36 an hour wet, and the instructor was another $24.
I wanted to be part of the whole pageant of human striving ingenuity from Icarus to DaVinci to Lilienthal to the Wrights and Lindbergh and Yeager and Armstrong.
I decided to teach high school science instead of becoming a flight instructor, so I could be a better provider, husband and father. I never stopped looking upward at the sound of any piston prop or turbine all the while my kids grew up.
When my oldest moved away to college, I realized I’d only been partly right in laying my private license aside. I’d neglected to share that part of myself, that part of what so many before me had toiled to make possible… the impossibility of human flight.
So, I found a great instructor, a great flying club, and discovered the EAA and AOPA aviation alphabet groups.
That was about eight years ago.. right before the Great Recession. It hasn’t been cheap, and it hasn’t always been easy. And I occasionally have conversations with that inner realist who questions the financial tradeoffs I’ve made.
My wife is a very smart woman. When we were courting she sent me a book by Antoine St Exupery. No, not Wind, Sand, and Stars…. I’d discover that later, during flight training. No, she was a kindergarten special education teacher. She sent me a copy of St. Ex’s children’s book, The Little Prince. In the book the little prince learns that it is only with the heart that one sees clearly… not with the eyes.
Flying is one of the most thrilling, intellectually satisfying, beautiful accomplishments of my species. There is no way to explain to someone what it’s like to defy gravity and harness the winds, pushing enough molecules beneath you until you and your craft levitate above the Earth. That can’t really, accurately, and truly be explained. But it can be shared.
I have a friend that has flown thousands of Young Eagles Flights. He agreed to take a group of my high school students up. When the day came, he said,”These are your students… you ought to be the one to fly them.” He provided the plane and the fuel and I flew my first fifteen Young Eagles in five flights that morning. You can’t be around aviation very long until you experience some wild, extravagant kindness like this. And none of that makes sense financially, either. It’s beyond that.
So the latest bit of craziness, the most recent chapter in costs and benefits, began last July when I fulfilled a lifelong dream. A dream that steadily intensified since I dared to believe that anything the mind could conceive, hard work and determination could achieve… I became an aircraft owner.
It makes no sense financially. I don’t even have a partner. But whenever the ceiling and the wind speed are sharing a dance we like, we slip the surly bonds and soar where only birds or gods belong. Through the intelligence and skill of many, and with a little of my own, I take my place in the sky.
Part of the reason aviation is so expensive is because that experience is so priceless.
“Part of the reason aviation is so expensive is because that experience is so priceless.” – Rodger Baldwin.
Can I quote you on this? Seriously. Magnificent!
Absolutely, Mahmoud! I enjoyed reading your post! Keep you dreams alive, and nothing will deter you!
That was just beautiful… I am just starting my lessons. I was given a discovery flight for my 50th birthday by my sweetheart who is finishing his PPL. I was hooked. I have always loved planes and flying since I was very young. I just never thought about actually taking lessons. A lot of life stuff clouded my dreams. Then I realized that despite all the life stuff, I must truly live even with the costs and sacrifice. I can’t imagine a better way than learning to fly.
So happy for you Desiree! Your sweetheart is smart and lucky!! You two will have a lifetime of adventure together! Good luck with your training, stay positive throughout any difficulties that come, and never stop believing!
Fantastic message. Student pilot here with about 20 hours. So well captured. Thank you.
I got by PPL in 1969. I have been flying since and have not ever regretted it. I think the whole experience of interaction of Man and Machine, defying Gravity, and watching our World from above is an experience compared to none other.
A lot of folks start flying and face the high cost of getting their certificate without the intention of pursuing a flying career. Whenever I discuss the issue with any of they I always warn them about the cost of continuing to stay current. The cost of the PPL is minimal compared to what is required to stay current and be a good and safe pilot.
If I were to figure out how much I spent flying in the 46 years since I got my Certificate I would probably go mad…but I’ve enjoyed every minute and will continue to enjoy it until such time as my health or my walled force me to stop.
All that said, I cannot answer for what it is like to be a professional airline pilot these days. Having worked for the airlines in my early youth in the 60’s, and comparing it to the current state of affairs, I can imagine the problems that airline pilots must be going through.
Back then they were treated as professionals and their work was highly valued and respected by the airlines. Maybe because the original founders of all the legacy airlines were also pilots themselves. In today’s environment where airline CEO’s go though revolving doors and are all MBA’s or Attorneys without any interest in flying, it is obvious that pilots are not though of as anything more than a disposable commodity.
Today’s airlines CEOs and Boards run the airlines no different than if it was a kitchen appliance manufacturer or car assembly plant, where employees are one more cog in the assembly line.
A note on the photographs in the article. The two airline pilots have their heads aligned with their bodies in the direction of the turn – that’s the way I was taught to do it and I believe it is still the way it should be. In the photo of what is supposed to by a student pilot and his instructor, they both have their heads turn trying to stay perpendicular to the horizon. Minor detail but not good.
IF A MAJOR AIRLINE JOB IS YOUR GOAL, THE ONLY WAY TO GO TODAY, IF YOU CAN QUALIFY AND IF YOU CAN HACK IT, IS THE MILITARY. IT ENTAILS A SEVERAL YEAR PAYBACK COMMETMENT, BUT THE PAY IS GOOD AND THE EXPERIENCE AND CHALLENGE IS UNEQUALED IN ANYOTHER PATH. GO THE MULTI ENGINE ROUTE AND YOU’LL COME OUT WITH A GREAT CHANCE TO START WITH A MAJOR AIRLINE AND IF YOU PLAN RIGHT, YOU’LL HAVE REASONABLE SAVINGS TO CARRY YOU THROUGH THE FIRST COUPLE OF YEARS. NO PATH TO A MAJOR AIRLINE JOB IS QUICK OR EASY. AND REMEMBER, EVEN FLYING FOR A MAJOR IS A NOMADIC AND UNIQUE LIFESTYLE….NOT EVERYONE IS CUT OUT FOR IT AND NOT EVERYONE WILL BE HAPPY THERE. THE FUTURE OF THIS, THE PENICLE OF THE PROFESSION? WELL, THERE HAVE BEEN TWO PEAKS IN THE PROFESSION AND WE MIGHT JUST BE HEADING FOR THE THIRD IF THIS CRITICAL SHORTAGE OF PILOTS PANS OUT. IT’S A SIMPLE SUPPLY AND DEMAND MODEL AND IT WAS WITH THE OTHER TWO PEAKS IN PAY, BENEFITS AND PILOT LIFESTYLE. SUMMARY: IF YOU WANT IT ENOUGH, AND YOU’RE GOOD ENOUGH AND YOU FIT, YOU CAN HAVE A WONDERFUL CARRER.
A very interesting article. I always wanted to fly, but when I was young I didn’t have the money, and when my career took off although I now had the money, I didn’t have the time. I was first introduced to GA way back in 1970 in California where I was working at the time. A fellow engineer owned a Cessna and invited me for a Saturday morning flight. He even let me fly for a while, and, you guessed it, I was hooked. Time passed, first my job and then a family demanded all my time. By now I’d retired, and one day my wife pointed out to me an advertisement in the local paper offering introductory flights, and she suggested that I try one. I arranged to take a flight and went over to Larnaca airport. There’s quite a story to my introductory flight, but to cut the story short, I decided to get my PPL, and I soloed just prior to my 69th birthday. I’ve had my PPL now for 3 years, and, yes, for me at least it has been worth every penny. I entirely agree, as a practical means of transportation, particularly here in Europe it is simply a non-starter. But as a means of ‘slipping the surly bonds of earth’ there is nothing to beat it. It has frightened me, challenged me, and rewarded me, and I’m still coming back for more. So, that part of the answer is yes. At the flight centre where I fly, most of their business is with ‘hour-builders’ who come over from the UK to the almost daily VFR conditions here in Cyprus to build up the PIC time toward their CPL. I reflect somewhat sadly that the burden of cost and student loans they have saddled themselves with are going to take an awful long time to pay off, and I suspect that many will fall by the wayside because of poor ultimate job prospects. I agree with the many comments expressing the viewpoint that piloting skills seem to be unappreciated judging by the poor remuneration. I can only say that my university education as an electronic and mechanical engineer were much better appreciated, at least if salary is any measure. But at least for me I managed to achieve my dream…
Of course it’s worth it, if you love freedom. I started reading Air Facts in 1978. Didn’t keep count of all the “First Plane Rides” I gave – ages 2 days to 90 years! Many of the kids went on to careers in aviation. Lots of good memories.
“Is it wort it” is really relative. Ask a collector of anything, to them, their collection is priceless, while others see it as worthless. If you ask a passionate teacher, they will often say “There is that one student every year that makes it worth the low pay and long hours”. For those that say it isn’t worth it, they are often weeded out early in the process. Much like college. They quit and do something else and do what they feel is worth their time and effort.
The same goes for pilots, or student-pilots. Any potential pilot can go into aviation with any number of thoughts. Anyone that has started this endeavor, may want to be a pilot, understand the cost, and the real dedication of time. The wealthy absorb the cost easily, but may not have the time to dedicate to getting it done quickly. Someone with more time, may not have the money. No matter the case, it boils down to opportunity cost versus passion. Where do you want to put your time and money? Think too much about that and even a bike is a bad idea if you don’t love biking.
How much does love and passion cost? Depends on who you talk to. For those that can put a price on passion, learning to fly may cost too much. For those that look at the cost of flying against the impact on their schedules, it is too expensive in time. Those folks are weeded out early on. Those that go into it understanding the financial impact and dedication in time, they are “already pilots”. To those folks it is priceless and the it isn’t about having time to learn, its about what they will do before or after each lesson. They will plan the financial impact, and plan their life around the lessons. That is passion, and it is priceless, which is truly worth it.
As for what I hear about aviation being worth it, I’m a student-pilot and stopped listening to the negativity that tends to float around the FBO about costs and red tape. Unfortunately, the whiner-pilots are the folks that speak the loudest put the gloom over GA into the ear’s of the seekers. Is it worth it to whiner-pilots? I really wonder….
A private pilot merely for four years, I have been enjoying it on every occasion I could.
This training is most definitely worth it, for every possible aspect of it that pilots choose from.
To me, balancing between enough training to keep proficient, on one side, and fair shares of $100 burger (rather a €150 one in my local France) and weekend or day getaways on the other side, this is the airman’s (or airwoman’s) flightpath to making the most of having been awarded with a PPL : a license to learn.
I got my pilots license in 1991 and quickly learned that I couldn’t afford to be a private pilot and raise a family at the same time. In 1993 I started a 17 year break from aviation, but got my license active again in 2010. This year I started commercial fight school. I now have my CME and when I graduate in June I’ll have a CFII.
GA flying has survived because it is a passion for the people who do it. It’s sad to realize that it’s a passion that has become increasingly expensive and out of reach for the general public. It doesn’t have to be that way. We’re flying aircraft using 50 year old technology and safety equipment. A 1973 airplane is roughly equivalent to a 1973 car, but cars have come a long way in 42 years. If you want to see the kind of tech improvements cars have experienced, in aircraft design, you’ll pay a lot more than a 1/4 million. The iPad and associated apps have greatly improved the planning and situational awareness aspect of flying. What’s needed is a mass production, safe and efficient aircraft design for a reasonable cost. Until that happens GA will continue to be squeezed.
Don, unfortunately, as has been discussed ad infinitum in this and many other forums, there never will be “a mass production, safe and efficient…[airplane]…for a reasonable cost.” No GA airplane has ever been “mass produced,” certainly not in comparison to cars and trucks. There is no economy of scale in airplane production, materials and labor costs are high, legal liability and insurance costs can be killing, and so on and on. We can protest all we want, but reality bites: airplanes are and always have been expensive vs. average incomes. All that said, those who really want to own or have access to an airplane have some workable choices: old, simple airplanes; flying clubs; partnerships; and homebuilding. But an affordable new Skyhawk, much less a Bonanza, will never exist.
My first recollections of flight is when my Dad strapped my sister and I in his Luscombe(we were both small in one seat) and proceeded to do some aerobatics. On a loop I remember , at the top some dirt and debris falling into my face( he was probably a bit slow). We were probably 4or 5 years old. That expierence and many more thereafter really sparked my interest in airplanes and flying. In my teens I built and flew many control line and free flight models. I got my PPL when I was 20 and except for a 15 year period when I was building my business, I have been flying ever since. I have owned 7 airplanes over the years and I am just as enthusiastic as I was when I got my license. Was it worth it.You bet. To me there is nothing more exiting and satisfying than flying. I cannot justify the cost, but there are many other activities that cost just as much,and to me the thrill and satisfaction would not compare with flying your own plane.When I wake in the morning with a trip, or even a fly in breakfast planned I jump out of bed energiszed. That’s living
Amen brother! I share your sentiments. As far as owning the 7 airplanes I am a bit envious, but keep getting stumped on what provides a better value than the bird I already have.
I like that you point out that one of the benefits of learning to fly is that you then take your own plane out and make some really good memories. I can see why some people might consider getting their license just for recreation. I think that a lot of people think that getting all the certifications could be way too expensive. But, if you research around a bit, you might find that there is a cost you could afford.
I believe anyone who spends the time, money, and effort to get a PPL can find some sort of long term flying arrangement. That is why I wrote “Taking the Plunge” (http://airfactsjournal.com/2015/09/aircraft-ownership-taking-plunge/).
Direct ownership is just one alternative. Partnerships and flying clubs can be good options also. If you are mechanically inclined you may even want to consider building a plane!
The “Glamour Factor” rationalization is also applied to A&P training. I used to work for a community college. The local aviation director and senior HR director from a major airline met with a team of us to discuss the idea of starting an A&P program. They offered us no support of any kind (no airframes, engines, facilities, funding– NOTHING) but still wanted us to begin a program. We did our due diligence and realized it was going to cost us over 2 million dollars to start a program. We were also concerned that starting salaries for A&P’s are low with minimal salary advances. We were told salaries top out at 60k. We tried to explain that students could go into a number of technical programs at the college and earn greater salaries both initially and over the long term without the time commitment required for an A&P certificate and suggested that they would need to offer more competitive salaries (eventually) if they wantd to remain competitive with other industries. The director looked at us with a straight face and said aviation is glamourous and there are always people who will want to enter the industry. With that I mentally checked out of the conversation and realized the industry is in deep trouble. Of course we didn’t develop an A&P program. We went back to focusing on the companies that really want to develop their workforce.
Since I was a child I have flown a lot. Growing up in Alaska, Don Sheldon would take me flying out of Talkeetna, I could barely see over the dash of the Cub. I moved to the lower 48 in my teenage years. Found a friend who got his license at 16, We would fly a C-150 and do some stupid things, Joined the Army and went to jump school at ft. Benning, GA. Made many jumps from C-130’s, a few from an C-141 Starlifter. It was great to be a paratrooper, got out after my tours, went into Civilian job with much more pay. As a civilian I was able to be a spotter for missions, spent a lot of time in surveillance missions in a Fairchild C-26. Always wanted to get my PPL, but life got in the way. I probably had 250 hours actually flying planes but never took a course, I was allowed to take off and land many times ( in Cessna’s, not the Fairchild). . I read many books on aeronautical principles, aircraft design and construction, very enjoyable educating myself. My nephew owns and operates a Hughes 500 C model and he was working contracts in my area, I allowed him to live at my house and park the helicopter on my property in exchange for flying lessons. So over the course of two summers, I learned how to fly a turbine helicopter with enough proficiency to take off, fly and land. Now retired, Have been thinking about actually getting my PPL, however the cost is a deterrent. I wonder if it is worth it now at my age. We will see.
Thanks to all for the many thoughtful comments on this topic. Looks like just about everything that could get written did get written. I think we can agree that anything worthwhile in life takes effort. We each get to decide for ourselves what is worthwhile.
Chuck Yeager ends his autobiography with his philosophy on life: Do you what you enjoy doing for as long as you are able to do it.
That is a good point that flying in the real world comes with real risks and rewards. Maybe it is time to put down the video games and learn how to fly sometime. Then I could have real thrills from flying.