I have a grandson who is a little under two years old and is coming along nicely as a prospective airplane nut. One of the first words he learned to say was airplane, or “apane” in his language. When we visit, it’s not long before he’s pointing at my computer, saying “apane,” which is the request for me to go to YouTube and find videos of planes landing somewhere. He really prefers takeoffs. “Off” is how that comes out. But since there are more landing videos than takeoff videos, we usually end up grading the landings we see.
I preach to him about the need for stabilized approaches and how they usually result in good landings. Boeing and Airbus are both in his vocabulary, even if he can’t identify which is which yet.
They live about a mile from Washington National airport, so when we get a chance, we go over and watch the planes. He occasionally will clap when one lands, while anxiously looking for the next one. With the number of regional jets landing there, we’re also having to work on him saying Embraer. I haven’t gotten brave enough to have him try Bombardier yet, but we talk about CRJs. We’re already making plans for Oshkosh in a couple of years. I’m pleased with his progress.
When I learned to fly, it was in Lubbock, Texas. The airport was maybe 20 minutes from where I lived and it was easy to get there. A new Cherokee rented for $14 an hour and the instructor was an additional $4.00. Of course, my salary from my part time work was $1.65 an hour, which was minimum wage, so it took a long time to save enough to afford an hour, but I persisted.
Obviously, you can add a zero to that $18 per hour wet rental rate today, but then minimum wage is a little more than $1.65. Airplane inflation has gone up more than wage inflation, but if my grandson wanted to learn to fly when he’s old enough, I suspect the money wouldn’t be an issue. The thing that has changed in his case—more than the money—is the logistics.
I mentioned they live close to DCA. Let’s assume he decides when he is 16 he wants to get his private license. The closest airport to where they live that he could train at is probably Manassas, Virginia (HEF), which is an hour’s drive each way, and that’s if there’s no traffic backup (which there usually is). There’s also Montgomery County (GAI), but it’s no closer. He could always go over to College Park, Maryland (CGS), which is probably closer but harder to get to, and it’s inside the restricted area around the capital, which presents challenges of its own. I’m not sure there is even a flight school there.
While the DC area is a unique place as far as traffic is concerned, it’s not the only one. A kid growing up in New York City or Boston would have the same challenge. While it’s a different issue, so would a kid growing up in the sparsely populated western states. There may be some airports, but when you have an area the size of some entire eastern seaboard states with populations that could fit inside a movie theatre, it’s unlikely there is going to be a flight school. And yes, there are some counties in the western part of Texas whose area would eclipse the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, or Rhode Island, with populations of less than 500. I’ll guarantee you there’s no convenient flight school. Even where I grew up in Texas, which is reasonably populated, the closest flight school is probably 80 miles away.
We obviously have a pilot shortage, which shows no sign of abating. Steps are being taken to address this, but I have seen no one address the issue of local flight training availability. Sure, when a kid leaves home, they can go to a college or large metropolitan airport and get their ratings, but is there some way we can make airports and training more accessible on a local level? How do you even foster an interest in aviation that would lead a young person to want to fly? I’m not giving a solution. Just raising the question. How many young people might be attracted to aviation if there were a flight school in a small town that would work with the local school system to at least teach ground school and give a ride? There might even be some older people who would fly if there was a convenient opportunity.
Of course, there is idealism and there is economic reality. A flight school has to make money and you don’t do that without volume. Most small town airports can’t even support a full time FBO, let alone a flight school.
I would love for my grandson to know the joy that aviation has given me, and some day, perhaps he will live in a place where flight training is available. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to watching lots more “apanes” on the computer, teaching him more important words like “Beechcraft,” “Cessna,” “Mooney,” “Piper,” and “Bellanca.” His parents are cooperating. They took him to the Air and Space Museum recently, and they do occasionally take him to DCA to watch the planes when I’m not there. He probably knows as much or more about what he’s seeing as they do, but at least they take him. The Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles will be next. We’ll keep working on this and maybe, in 14 years, there will be a convenient flight school available.
At least I hope so. And I hope it for all kids who grow up loving airplanes, not just my grandson.