Lately I have been seeing a lot of angst in the marketplace. Much of it aimed at the unconscionably high cost of flying, and the unattainably high cost of training to earn a pilot’s license.
Let me be honest here. I have all the same economic problems the average aviation nut has. I am not a Lotto winner. There are no DuPonts or Rockefelle’s in my family tree. At least not on a close enough branch that I can guilt them into footing the bill when I fly. So in that respect at least, you and I and that other guy sipping coffee at the FBO are all in pretty much the same boat.
Having established that as our reality, I will stand on rock-solid ground and acknowledge that flight instruction can be very expensive, and flying for pleasure can cost the average Joe Pilot a boatload in rental fees. But I’ll go out on a limb and say emphatically that neither of those things has to be true.
Yes, flying can be affordable. And your neighbor can learn to fly for a reasonably low total cost. Granted, it requires that we think and act somewhat differently than we have in the past, but it’s do-able. So let’s talk about it.
The high cost of pilot training is the result of a simple math problem. It can be expressed as the cost of the airplane per hour, plus the cost of the instructor per hour, times the number of hours required to become proficient. It looks like this: (COA + COI) X NOH = Cost of Flight Training.
Now most of us, myself included, got into this business by acting on an assumption that is not part of that equation. We assumed that it was necessary to rent an airplane in order to learn to fly an airplane. So we did.
For some of us that’s the most expedient way to go. But it’s not the least expensive, and it doesn’t guaranteed us a better, safer, more enjoyable experience. Considering those factors, it’s at least worth considering the possibility that for some of us renting isn’t the best option available to us.
Add to that assumption our second foray into poor consumerism. Most of us walked into a flight school, accepted the instructor assigned to us, and started writing checks to the school (s)he worked for. We didn’t go out and get references. We didn’t make any attempt to find an instructor we liked, or enjoyed working with, or even felt was competent and proficient as a teacher.
In retrospect, we might not have been the sharpest pencil in the box when we were seeking out training. So why do we persist in telling newbies that they should learn to fly the same way we learned to fly? It makes no sense. At least not for the full spectrum of flight students.
Let’s consider an alternative. What if the flight school didn’t require that all students rent the airplane? What if they cut one trainer from the herd and used it to sponsor a flying club? The school could establish a reasonable rate to buy into the club, something on the order of $2,500 or less. Less is better, frankly. They could establish flat rate club dues that cover maintenance, hangar, and administrative costs. $100 a month or less might cover that. The members of the club would then be free to use the airplane for a very low per-hour rate. And they would be able to either take instruction with any one of the approved instructors the flying club identifies, or fly on their own after earning their license.
This model would make flight training relatively inexpensive. It would also remove the existing barrier that flight students face when they complete their training. The big, “What now?” moment that each of them confront when they earn their license and realize they can’t afford to pay $150 an hour often enough to remain current.
Let’s assume 10 pilots are the limit to any one aircraft the club owns. If the club swells past that number, a new airplane could be purchased and the enrollment could grow accordingly. Now what do you suppose a T-Craft would cost to operate if it had 10 owners contributing to the pot? What about a C-150, a Piper Cherokee, a CT, or a Tecnam? Whether it was old an devalued, or new with the benefit of lower direct operating costs, both recreational flying and flight training would be cut down to size — in terms of cost in any case.
Best of all, the club members know that when the leave the club, if they leave the club, they will be refunded their original buy-in fee.
Now that turns the whole shebang on its head, doesn’t it? Flight training automatically gains a social aspect, because student pilots would meet fellow club members who are long-time aviators. Those students would remain regular fliers after earning their tickets, which would make them regular customers for fuel, headsets, charts, plotters, logbooks, T-shirts, cool looking lapel pins, and a slew of other products and services the FBO is selling. The restaurant on the field might see an uptick in business, too.
In all honesty making a shift to this model as an augmentation to the current model that so many of us came into aviation with would open the doors to a segment of the population who currently aren’t spending time at the airport – ever. It’s a step in the right direction, and one that doesn’t require anyone to stop doing what they are doing now. Although to be honest, with the right marketing, and the right customer support, this model might just become a real winner.
It’s at least worth a serious discussion, don’t you think?
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.