Don’t ask, don’t tell

It’s no surprise to anyone in the aviation industry to hear that the pilot population is shrinking. Sure, it’s sad – but it’s not a surprise. We all know it’s shrinking. If only there were something we could do to reverse that trend.

Good news — there is. In fact that trend can be reversed relatively easily, and reasonably quickly, too. I know that’s true because it’s happening right here in my neighborhood. With a little nudge from you and your aviation-minded friends, it could happen in your neighborhood, too.

As regular readers of this column are aware, I tend toward an almost evangelical zeal when it comes to expressing my belief that aviation is beneficial to society, and to individuals. It came as something of a surprise to my daughter’s boyfriend, however. He is not a regular reader of this column, yet I continue to treat him well anyway. Go figure.

The boyfriend is a college student who has his sights set on becoming a lawyer. That aside, he’s a decent kid. So one day, recently, as he sat on the couch in my living room, and I stretched out across an overstuffed chair, I made this comment. “You know, you really should think about learning to fly.”

Understandably, he laughed. And why not? I’m a funny guy. For all he knew I was joking with him, the old man and the young turk. But no, I told him I was serious. He should at least consider it, and maybe even do it. And here’s why: One day in the not-so-distant future he is going to complete his college education. He will walk out of a large institution of higher learning with his Juris Doctor under his arm, and march directly to a law office where he will drop off a resume for consideration.

His resume, if all goes as currently planned, will be essentially indistinguishable from the hundreds of other resumes filling desk drawers and file folders in the office. That’s good, to an extent. At least it will have missed being remarkably common to hundreds of other resumes that never made it into a desk drawer or a filing cabinet. Those that fill the wastepaper baskets of America’s law offices come from job applicants who are just as eager and hopeful, even if they are less well credentialed for the position they seek.

And that’s the point. Credentials matter, especially early in your career when you have no track record to point to. That plain vanilla resume is unlikely to rise to the top of the pile and get someone motivated to call the boyfriend in for an interview – unless he can make it stand out somehow. Being able to include the word “pilot” on your resume tends to separate you from the crowd. It’s an accomplishment that not only has practical value, but it says something about the person who carries it. And what it says is overwhelmingly positive.

I only mention this because two days later my daughter casually mentioned that her boyfriend had asked her if she knew how much it cost to become a pilot. That’s right, the idea didn’t go in one ear and out the other. It hung around for a while. He considered it, and all on his own the boyfriend began to think that maybe there was some merit to the suggestion after all.

Now if that was happening in isolation I certainly wouldn’t waste your time telling you about it. However, this idea is becoming somewhat more popular among the population I spend time with. In fact I have at this very moment eight names written on a card that’s posted to a bulletin board in my office. Each name belongs to someone who expressed serious interest in forming a flying club so they can fly more often, less expensively, and in an aircraft they have confidence in.

That’s an important tidbit of information because of the eight names on the list, only two belong to pilots. The other half dozen potential club members do not fly. They want to. In fact several have wanted to fly for some time – but they didn’t know where they could get reliable information. Every single one of those people has made it clear that they have wanted to fly for years…but their own ignorance of the process, coupled with the slack customer service offered at many flight schools and FBOs, has left them without any clear path to follow to achieve that goal. So they stopped asking. And nobody went out of their way to tell these poor potential pilots about the various options available to them. Then I opened my big mouth, and their horizons are opening up again.

The pilot population is shrinking. But it doesn’t have to be shrinking. It could be growing, like it is in my small circle of influence. Imagine what might happen in your neighborhood if you started encouraging your friends and co-workers to at least consider the option. You might be surprised to find that you know at least a handful of people who would love to learn to fly, and become dedicated members of the general aviation community – if only someone would help them get started.

If only there was someone they knew and trusted who could help them get started. Hey, that sounds an awful lot like you, doesn’t it?

 

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.

 

People who read this article also read articles on airparks, airshow, airshows, avgas, aviation fuel, aviation news, aircraft owner, avionics, buy a plane, FAA, fly-in, flying, general aviation, learn to fly, pilots, Light-Sport Aircraft, LSA, and Sport Pilot.

Comments

  1. Sean,   is it the lack of pilot driving up the cost of flying? My answer is Yes! Purely from a buisness stand point if a flight school or FBO has a rental plane there are fixed costs involved that must be paid even if the plane never leaves the ground.

    If the fixed costs are $3,750.00 a month then the airplane has to fly 50 hours a month at $75.00  hour to meet these fixed cost. Due the the shrinking pilot population  this airplane is only flying 40 hours a month. In order to cover the fixed cost associated with this airplane,  the the FBO has to raise the per hour rate to $92.50.

    This is done out of neccesity not greed. In this economy where most of the Pilot population has to live on a thight budget.The $150.00 you  budgeted  for two hours of rental time, only buys1.23 hours.  

    • Rod Beck says:

      Try this: Here’s the “typical” operating cost and rental income for a Cessna 172.
                    based on a monthly utilization of 50 hours.

                    Fixed Cost: (monthly)   Insurance (Hull/liability           $500.00
                          “       “           “           Tie-down/storage                       50.00
                    Varible Cost:(50 hrs/mo) Fuel $4.50/gal X 8.5 gph  1,912.50
                             “      “    (Reserve for 100 hr inspection)                600.00
                             ‘       “    (     “         “     MOH – conservative)          750.00
                    Misc/unexpected maint (avionics,tire,etc)                     250.00
                   
                    Total ALL operating expenses   (50 hrs)                -$4,062.50

                    Gross Rental Income $115.00  ( 50 hrs)                  $5,750.00
       
                    Gross Profit                                                                 $1,687.50

                    NOTE: This does NOT include debt service

                    Now deduct ANOTHER $30/hr* for “administrative” expenses, i.e.
                    rent, office staff, advertising, telephones, computer, postage of $1,500 
                    leaves a “profit” of $167.50! With a 5 plane fleet, this would give the
                    FBO/flight school a whopping $837.50 (x 12 mos)= $10,050.00. Of
                    course, now add for “dual” given (CFI/Owner) time @$35/hr x 700 hr
                    annually ($24,500) giving the “noble” FBO/flight school entrepreneurs
                    annual income of $34,050.00 – maybe a new Color TV this year?

                    * With a five (5) A/C fleet would = $7,500/mo or $90,000 annually.

                     Is this why there’s little motivation for ANYONE other then those
                     passionate about the GA “business” to do this who make a great
                     sacrifice in life style and financial security to provide for a low volume
                     and demand made by the recreational aviation consumer?

                     Perhaps the REALITY is NOT in the demand – but in OVER supply?
                    
                     Rod/Mike – aviationbiz.us

      • Rod  I can’t believe that you said over supply!  lets take the same scenario and fly that same Cessna  for 75 hours a month @ $85.00 per hour
         
         
        75 hours at $85  = $6,375 Gross rental income Minus    (4062.50) fixed cost = $2312.50  Overhead ($1500.00)=$1750.00 Monthly  with a 5 AC fleet = $8,750.00   x 12  = $105.000.00 annually
         
         
        Lets take the weekend when most GA pilots fly. Most of their flying is during daylight hours, Using   12   as the number of daylight  hours. There are 24 daylight hour per weekend. Using 4 weekends a month, that’s 96 rental hours available just on weekends.
         
        Name One FBO who would not want to see demand go up to these figures at these prices.  Over supply not likely!

        • Used wrong set of figures  $2312.50 (1500)= $812.50 X 5 = $4062.50 or  $48,750.00 annually.

          • There is only one FBO/ Flight School within 40 miles of where I live, that rents Aircraft, and  only to those who are students. If your not learing to fly or working
            on getting IFR (or some other) Rated you don’t rent from them.
              

  2. Rod Beck says:

    Bottom Line; If you choose to be in any aspect of aviation, excluding government or the military, be prepared to make a concession in life style and financial security – who said musicans and professional pilots have something in common – certainly not for the $money$!

  3. I’m 52, I have been wanting to fly since my one and only intro flight in a GA aircraft at age 17 (a 172 over burbank, 1977 from my cousin). Over the years I have endured cold shoulders from flight schools, stuck up pilots who run the other way the minute you say something as insulting as “boy that sure is a pretty airplane!” and the always popular “go away, this is our own private little club” attitude at Fly Ins I drove 4 hours to attend. The last pilot I talked to at a nearby airport, I gleefully explained I’m a student Pilot doing a John and Martha course and can’t wait to find a great school. His response ” Yeah, well I’m way past that” and he turned around headed back to his Cirrus…alone.

    One day, I realized the fault was mine. It’s not my fault GA is riddled with ego-centric Sean Meyers. But it is my fault if I let them have any influence over my love for flying. Screw them.

    I found a great school, Aviation Adventures at HWY, where the coffee is always on, everyone has time for at least a quick hello. And the Chief Flight Instructor hires CFIs that have real stick time, and want to teach, not build hours. My flight instructor is a CFI, CFII, MEI and ATP. She is top notch, challenges me and keeps it fun. She took my wife up just to help her get a feel for what it would be like when I fly her around…my wife loved it and that was the deciding factor in my decision to drop my bucks at this school. They care, are on time and I do my part.

    GA is in the bind it’s in because our numbers are 200,000 less than they were in our heyday a couple of decades ago. Ask Craig Fuller, he knows and he’s doing something about it. The Sean Meyers of GA pay more and more each year because there are less and less of us.

    My school is on the right track, making good money and turning out great pilots. To all the pilots who do their best to shut out bright-eyed wannabes like me over the decades, your day is over. To all the rest who encourage us, teach and mentor us and set the highest example, thank you. You are the real key to GA growth, and I for one, am very grateful to you. For the rest of my life, I will always have time for a bright-eyed wannabe.

    • Sean Meyer says:

      John-

      You really vilified me here. Looking
      back on my comment, I can see why to the casual aviator or non-pilot
      looking to earn their wings, I may come off as a complete jerk.
      However, I bet many of those pilots who earn their paychecks flying,
      as I do, would completely agree with my statement. At this time there
      are just too many desperate commercial pilots who are willing to get
      paid peanuts to fly. I bet you’d agree that there’s something wrong
      with this industry when the guy marshaling a jet earns more than the
      guy flying the plane. Heck, one of the big pilot jobs boards out
      there is a website called willflyforfood-dotcom. I accept that this
      is the reality of commercial aviation at this time. That said,
      everyone who knows me, knows that I am a complete wing-nut.

      I really enjoy reading Jamie’s posts
      here but one of the biggest fallacies I see in this article is that
      most of the pilots I know can’t shut up about their love of all
      things aviation. I know I’m that way. My wife is constantly asking at
      parties if we could switch off the topic of aviation. I jump at every
      opportunity I have to help a fellow pilot or pilot-to-be. I own a
      Cessna 310 and I hardly ever have an empty seat when I’m out flying
      it for fun. Earlier this week I walked a fellow pilot’s resume to my
      boss and she’s got an interview next Wednesday. So I certainly don’t
      feel selfish or ego-centric.

      Is it a lack of pilots that’s driving
      up the cost of flying? I think not. It’s got a lot more to do with
      the cost of a barrel of crude oil and FAA over-regulation. Not to
      mention Obama’s proposed $100 per flight user-fees. It’s not a lack
      of pilots that caused Hawker-Beechcraft to go bankrupt. I don’t know
      many pilots that could afford a brand new G36 Bonanza not to mention
      a Hawker 4000. Now is a great time to buy a used plane however. I got
      a sweet deal on my 310.

      My two young children love to go flying
      with daddy and I can’t resist buying them a toy airplane whenever I
      see one. When they’re older I’m sure I’ll encourage them to earn
      their wings. But I’m equally as sure that I would not encourage them
      to pursue a career as a pilot.

  4. Sounds like a good idea to me, however I’ve been wanting to learn how to fly for the past 16 years and always hit a glass ceiling (or whatever) and am denied, whether its because there’s no money available or I don’t understand what/how to learn.  Don’t get me wrong, but I am captivated when I see an aircraft fly by, and I think, “I’d love to do that, fly that ____(aircraft) for work or pleasure! And with that ability, I could to anywhere! .” But as I attempt a new venture in aviation, I have always got the proverbial, “NO!” in some way or another. …depressing

  5. Sean Meyer says:

    As a professional pilot, why should I want the pilot population to grow? When this so called pilot shortage actually hits I should be in a much better position to get an even better, higher paying job.

    • Glad to see there’s at least one selfish person out there!

    • We need GA pilots says:

       Sean, as a recently retired professional pilot, I fail to understand people who are like the Sean you present here. You have found something wonderful and have chosen to try to prevent others from experiencing the wonder. Your short-sightedness and self-centeredness do not strike me as characteristics of someone I want in the cockpit with me or taking care of my passengers. Even assuming that the pilot population grows, that does not mean that all, or even the majority of those new pilots have any interest in preventing you from getting your dream job. (If it is you dream job–Why would you not encourage your children to pursue an aviation career?) The vast majority just want to fly. Why poison the well?

      In your response to John, you attribute the shrinking pilot population to high costs. Flying has never been cheap but flying has never-the-less grown in spite of expense. Also, costs generally drop with the size of the market, at least until production limit are neared. We are nowhere near production limits. More pilots will incrementally reduce costs and give us better chances of fighting bad regulations. We need more general aviation pilots.

      Attitude is a key factor in whether someone learns to fly. You make one particularly valid point: most pilots “…can’t shut up about their love of all things aviation.” You then go on to tell of you evangelism. That’s good, but consider what effect your underlying feelings of “What’s in it for me?” might have on the impressions you leave with potential (non-competitive) private pilots.

  6. Mitch Latting says:

    Inspire the love of flight to your neighbors and within your community.  Each one of us can help in our own backyard, as Jamie states.  Imagine the snowball affect we can have.   Share the Passion! Mooney Ambassadors http://www.mooneyambassadors.com

  7. Kent Misegades says:

    Hey Jamie, maybe the boy will discover that flying is fun and exciting and will think twice about a career in law!   BTW – to survive your daughter’s choice in a future son-in-law, remember the old saying “Don’t worry, whomever your daughter chooses, you won’t like him. Unless he’s a pilot, of course.”

    One thing about the shrinking pilot population – we need to discount the bubbles of pilots created in all wars since WWII, or the thousands of pilots who used GI Bill (taxpayer-funded) benefits to pay for licenses.   With a shrinking military and more UAVs being used these days, not many pilots in the future will come from the military.  How many pilots would we have today if none had received free taxpayer-funded training from the government since 1940?   That’s the baseline we need to consider looking forward.  I’d bet things do not look as bad if we did this.

  8. Kent Misegades says:

    Hey Jamie, maybe the boy will discover that flying is fun and exciting and will think twice about a career in law!   BTW – to survive your daughter’s choice in a future son-in-law, remember the old saying “Don’t worry, whomever your daughter chooses, you won’t like him. Unless he’s a pilot, of course.”

    One thing about the shrinking pilot population – we need to discount the bubbles of pilots created in all wars since WWII, or the thousands of pilots who used GI Bill (taxpayer-funded) benefits to pay for licenses.   With a shrinking military and more UAVs being used these days, not many pilots in the future will come from the military.  How many pilots would we have today if none had received free taxpayer-funded training from the government since 1940?   That’s the baseline we need to consider looking forward.  I’d bet things do not look as bad if we did this.

  9. Rod Beck says:

    Len: Sounds like an excellent marketing concept – we just NEED sales and business minded GA folks to implement it – numbers, numbers, numbers! Rod  – aviationbiz.us

  10. If every active pilot did this -spoke to a few friends encouraging then to get involved in aviation, and if one of each of those people actually did it, we’d double the pilot population overnight.

    Or if every guest who rolled through the gates at Oshkosh were given a card good for a cheap intro flight lesson at their local airport and a fraction if them actually did it, we’d seriously boost the population of pilots.

    And then, if we took every set of 8 people who wanted to join a club and instead put them in a brand new LSA actively managed by my company, then they would see how inexpensive fractional/shared ownership and efficient mogas burning LSAs really are.

    If those 8 people would all be based at the same airport, have them contact us. I can get them in a new LSA, get them trained to sport pilot level, and manage their plane for under $20k initial investment and a monthly maintenance fee. No per hour charges.

    Yes, we can grow the pilot population and yes that create economies of scale to benefit us all!
    Info@aviationaccessproject.com

    • Kent Misegades says:

       Good ideas Len.   Flying clubs are the reason that European sport aviation is so vibrant.   We Americans prefer spending a fortune on an airplane then fly it 25 hours a year, that’s nuts.

      • Vanzeemee says:

         You are absolutely right, Ken.  I have a love-hate relationship with my airplane.  I love the ownership aspect of it, but it really IS NOT cost effective, especially when the aviation gas is $6 – $10 per gallon.

    • Kent Misegades says:

       Good ideas Len.   Flying clubs are the reason that European sport aviation is so vibrant.   We Americans prefer spending a fortune on an airplane then fly it 25 hours a year, that’s nuts.

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