Aviate to recreate

AOPA‘s Aviation Summit is the end of our fly-in/event season. Phew. I’m glad we’ve wrapped for the year. Being last in our schedule, however, certainly doesn’t make Summit least. Not in my opinion anyway.

This year a Flight Training Summit kicked things off the day before opening day. A lot of data — enough to make the giddiest among us glossy-eyed — on WHY aviation is where it is was presented.

Chief among the numbers that stood out were: 80% and 65%. About 80% of student pilots washout prior to completion and 65% of those surveyed learned to (or wanted to) fly for recreation. (We have a Recreational Pilot certificate, don’t we? More on that in a moment.)

As you might imagine, this produced a fair amount of discussion on the Summit exhibit hall floor, and beyond. “Tell us something we don’t know,” and “Duh!” were two generalized responses I heard from many regarding the 80% washout stat.

The learning to fly for recreation stat (65%) was intriguing to me. Combined with the report that 35% of ICON Aircraft orders are to non-pilots connects a few more dots. ICON promotes the use of its aircraft to recreate.

So, after thinking on this a bit, I walked over to Sporty’s Pilot Shop booth for a chat. Sporty’s founder Hal Shevers is the most vocal Recreational Pilot Certificate advocate I’ve met. He’s also very opinionated, which always makes for great conversation.

“Hal, how many students did Sporty’s train last year?”

“About 150,” he noted, with Sporty’s Academy Vice President Eric Radke nodding in agreement.

“What was your washout rate?”

Hal looked to Eric for specific numbers. “31%”

Eric continued, “And we are hard on ourselves, in my opinion. We track all people who take discovery flights. If that person comes back for another flight, for any reason — first lesson, second discovery flight, whatever — the clock starts. If they drop before completion, we count them as a washout.”

Everyone who takes primary flight training at Sporty’s starts with Recreational Pilot training, not private pilot training. In fact, “anyone who wants to skip the Recreational ticket needs a waiver from either me or Eric,” stated Hal.


The Jeppesen press conference at Summit was interesting for the obvious (at least to me) shift in the company’s thinking/product offerings.

For years now, when I’ve thought of Jeppesen, I’ve thought of business/corporate aviation and airlines. Neither are our market.

But the product announcements Jeppesen introduced were intriguing:

  • NavData now available for Advanced Flight Systems avionics — targeting the LSA and experimental market.
  • Cessna 172 Total Training. Available for less than $100, it personalizes the typically generalized aircraft information in traditional flight training scenarios. By the way, the Cessna 172 is among the most prolific trainers in the fleet today, and can be operated as a Recreational Pilot.
  • A strategic partnership between Jeppesen and Flyvie, a startup that uses digital cameras or an iPhone to record a flight, and the Internet and Google Earth for debrief and/or entertainment. In this hyper-connected world, having access to shareable video/audio on a particular flight might be a game changer in the hands of the right influential people.

I spoke with Jeppesen’s Shelly Simi about my perception of the company coming downmarket (my term, not theirs). She said there has been a mind shift in the thinking at Jeppesen. Management realizes they need to cultivate products and partnerships that support future generations of pilots.

Besides, Bye Energy referenced a September 2010 Boeing quote in its press conference: “467,000 new commercial pilots are needed in the next 20 years.” In case you forgot, guess who has owned Jeppesen for 10 years now…Boeing.


It is with good reason Jeppesen is looking downmarket. Gone are the days when there were two sources of navigation charts… Jeppesen or the government.

While a great amount of raw data is still generated by the government, the ways in which you can access it has grown by an order of magnitude. Would you like that information in a traditional paper form, on your panel mount glass cockpit, from one of a rapidly growing number of apps for your iPhone/iPad, or somewhere else?

We have an iPad. My kids even let me touch it once in a while. At Summit, it felt like everyone had one. The market has exploded. Know why? There is nearly no barrier to entry.

Data is readily accessible. Programmers are available. Development tools are mature. And the cost is… dare I say… negligible. Now I am sure there are several developers who might argue that point, but overall, the cost to bring a navigation app to market as opposed to a Garmin 696 have to be significant.

And so, one of the largest barriers to entry is the FAR/AIM. The 2011 edition from Jeppesen tipped the bookshelf at more than 1,200 pages.

I have a 1965 edition of the FARs sent to my dad from Clarke Mahaffey. The note he included at the time reads: “In comparing my 1993 and 1992 FAR/AIM published by ASA, I note a substantial increase in content. By measurement, the 1993 increase is 5/32 inches more than the 1992 edition.

“By contrast, a 1965 publication of FARs, the 16th Edition by Merrell Aviation, covered FAR Parts 61, 91, 320, 67 and 1. The booklet also touched on nine additional subjects of interest and in addition included an FAA Q&A on Parts 61 and 91. Page total, a mere 84 pages, plus basic VFR minimums printed on the back cover.”

While Clarke didn’t say it explicitly, I think we would agree that a current FAR/AIM represents a significant barrier to becoming a pilot.

Feels good to get some of this off my chest. Jeez, I can’t wait for the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring in January.

Ben Sclair is Publisher of General Aviation News.


  1. The Doc says

    Dear Mr. Sclair:

    After reading your article above, permit me to share a bit of “aviation nomenclature” with you. The term “washout” refers to those who are “summarily thrown or tossed out” of a training program for their inability to learn what is necessary to stay in the program or their inability to adapt to the subject matter. This term began in military flight instruction programs in WWII, when students were advised by the flight instructor or Training Program Officer, that their training had been terminated, without the possibility of re-instatement. In the event that the individual “D.O.R.’s, (Drops Out On Request) the term is “dropout”. The difference is as huge as the Grand Canyon.
    In the venue of civil aviation, the term “washout” is rarely, if ever used. If someone does not return for continued training they are considered a “no-show” or “training drop-out”. The term I believe that is most appropriate, for your extensive article above, is “drop-out” or “discontinuation of training”, as the person engaged as a student, is the one who generally makes the decision to continue in the training. To use the term “washout”, in the context of civilian flight instruction, would be inappropriate 99.9% of the time. I have “washed out” a total of three students in my career as a flight instructor engaged in civilian flight training, because they weren’t capable to continue training for the rating they sought. In the military, I washed out dozens. I have trained over 2000 flight students, in my time as a flight instructor.

    PS: I chuckled at your description of Hal Shevers. I first met Hal at “Sunken Lunken” in the mid 60’s, when I regularly stopped there on cross country trips with students, while teaching, at a flight school in the mid-west. Yes, it’s easy to be opinionated, particularly when you know what your talking about and you have “lived-it” and really know what’s going on in aviation, as some of us “old guy’s” have.

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