I found the next generation

I found the next generation of pilots. But depending on where you read this, you may or may not like it, and you may or may not understand it.

Of the 55,996 (as this was written) fans of our Facebook page, 55.6% are 34 years or younger. Include those 35-44 years and it jumps to 75.4%.


On Jan. 1, 2014, we had 26,715 page likes. Our fan count has more than doubled in 50 days.


I’ve heard from many current (read that: older) pilots that have no interest in Facebook or Twitter or anything online. “Why do I care what someone eats for breakfast?” they’ve remarked with snark.

I don’t believe it has anything to do with not being interested. It has everything to do with learning something new and — worse — admitting they don’t understand something.

The irony is completely lost on them. Nobody is born a pilot or a social media whiz. Both start out like everyone starts — with a first step.

So quit complaining about the next generation not being interested in learning to fly. You just aren’t looking in the right place.


  1. says

    OK then; attention would equal (ultimately) retention?
    “WANT means “ZIP” – commitment is everything!
    SELL me, please?
    “Buying “stats”?
    HOW much disposable income does the average “Internet surfer” have if that demographic is say 35-36, married with 2 kids. “Visits” to a web-sites, Facebook ,You Tube ARE “social” media vehicles – but do they “CLOSE” the sale. i.e. flight training, etc?

    But isn’t the OBJECTIVE not just bringing awareness – but producing “sales” – the end
    result here?

    • says

      From a salesperson point of view you may be right. However, I think that interest is interest and a certain percentage will ultimately learn to fly, buy/rent aircraft, etc. One is a short term view and the other is long term. It still inspires me that a new demographic is on-board! ~TC Freeman, WingsOfun.com

      • says

        “From a BUSINESS (sales) point of view, I KNOW I’m on track”- and not one business person would disagree with my premise. As a marketing sales/management professional. the “new” demographic is;
        1. the ONE who has the ability (financial) ability to buy “it”
        2. the ONE who has the greatest NEED (utility value) – not want for ‘”it”
        3. the pure “fun” ONLY sell isn’t cutting it – this is WHY so many “complain” about cost – the BENEFIT simply doesn’t justify the COST!

        ps I wonder if they’re is a “wings4business.com” – a possible “sister” affiliate?

        • says

          One important item that I think is overlooked is that someone that might not have resources today might have the resources tomorrow. On a personal note, if it wasn’t for the kind actions of key people to allow me to fly their aircraft as a teen I might not be in aviation today. From a business perspective this translates to many dollars spent on my training education. ~TC Freeman, WingsOfun.com

    • says

      Rod, I like you – you’re a numbers/results guy like me. I’ve been researching and compiling facts and figures for several years in my effort to launch a multiplatform TV channel about flight and space, because numbers are the way to get things done in business. AOPA probably has the best data out there and I can’t get hands on much of it, but consider this about the airshow audience:
      Average attendee Dwell Time: 5 1/2 hours.
      -41% HH income > $75K; 43% college or graduate degree.
      -69% age 18-49, 18-25 group growing.
      -Engage in other entertainment activities: 85% Movies, 59% Museums, 47% Concerts, 41% Theme Parks.
      The 10-12MM people that go to the events where aviation IS the attraction are affluent, educated and it’s likely a much larger percentage of them are capable of being ‘closed’ into of taking up flight. As I said in my previous post, however, it would take a cohesive, coordinated effort across all the industry stakeholders to accomplish that. Instead we have multiple organization and companies pursuing (20-30?) their own disparate “pilot recruitment” initiatives. As a TV guy, it drives me crazy to hear industry pundits squawking about how to reach out more, when I know that the *combined* “reach” of all these programs doesn’t touch the reach of a cable TV network with even a .1 average
      daily rating, not to mention it’s associated digital platforms. I was part of the team that started Golf Channel, and it’s a fact that channel contributed to the visibility, retention of participants and growth of that (not inexpensive) sport. I’d guess we all here agree there are plenty of inspiring and engaging aviation stories to tell to help captivate and close new customers for this industry. It’s all about content marketing and sales these days anyway.

      • says

        Hi Phil;
        And thanks -I was beginning to think I landed on Mars!
        Unfortunately, many here (readers with less business moxie?) would still like to believe that this “GA” thing (recreational) IS for everyone – WRONG – available TO – but NOT for – period! But then WHO is it REALLY for – the UTILITY buyer, regardless of “demographic” profile. Why: the “fun” ONLY just doesn’t provide adequate BENEFIT to justify the cost or expense. Still not buying – try this: WHY are co many airplanes “out of annual” or hardly not flying? Simple; the “owners” couldn’t justify the “cost” – not enough BENEFIT and the $100 hamburger run got old along with touch & go’s in the pattern? but WHAT IF the benefit of (travel/transportation) was SOLD from the onset rather than “hipping” the FUN aspect? Does the fun possibly wane – convince me it doesn’t. So when SELLING flight training, wouldn’t ‘ the “student/customer” be more MOTIVATED when presented with WHAT (where) they can go ONCE licensed – son’s college, beach, business, to mention a few?

        Yes, I personally feel UNLESS the non-career student/customer has a reason/purpose for obtaining a pilots license ULTIMATELY in mind, they’ll have a very short LTCV (Life Time Customer Value) , Can GA be saved before it “crashes and burns” – possibly?
        Lets hope some visionary GA business folks can see this coming!

        • says

          Business knowledge or no business knowledge if more people don’t start flying in general aviation, folks like AOPA are going to keep having a harder time explaining to congress why its a good idea to keep small municipal airports open. Once that happens a domino effect will occur. If you are someone who wants to get into General (Recreational) Aviation you most likely will start at a local flight school close to you. If that distance keeps getting greater between the flight school, then more things come into play. i.e. gas prices, time, etc…
          Somewhere in this great section of debate someone mentioned how cars/trucks are marketed, and how businesses like Cessna and Piper keep pricing people out of flying. I don’t know if they do that intentionally. Look at the airplane market vs the automobile market… If you wanted to go out and get a 6 cylinder camaro right now, it would cost you between 20 and 25 grand I believe. That car is considered a sports car with descent features. Whats that comparable to in an airplane? Well a base model Cessna new sky hawk is going to run you at least 100K… Why can’t they make a new airplane with glass panel features and nice interior at the 50K or 60k price point? Is the strict gov regulations? Do they need to make the planes more attractive? The camaro is a nicely designed car that looks fun, and drives fun. I’m asking these questions to some what seems to be well business savy folks as yourselves.

          • says

            Erick: quick answer(s) 1. very low volume –
            2. Supply and Demand
            3. “Economies of scale” do not apply
            Probably not the answers your looking for – but some REALITY!

          • says

            Erick, Rod’s answer on the economics challenge looks right to me. At any price point though, there’s a finite number of qualified buyers, be it a Camaro or a Cessna. Selling the benefits to buyers of either is part of the marketing and there are plenty of experts at that. Virgin Galactic has managed to close $80M+ in commitments for a 15 minute ride in a spacecraft still in testing. I submit that the industry’s recruitment efforts have fallen short in terms of delivering an effective marketing message to a broad enough base of prospective buyers – they need to cast a wider net, not fish deeper in the same spot.

          • says

            Thanks Guys. I’m sincerely concerned about this. Im 32 now working to finish up my private pilots license. I would just like to know that I will be able to enjoy this accomplishment for the next 20 or so years. I may not have a marketing plan, or the grand solution to spiking engagement, but with the websites I mentioned in my very first post below and talking with ever kid I see I’m trying to do my part. Hopefully with the govt releasing military aircraft to air shows again, it will start a trend. “Hopefully”

  2. says

    My partner and I (both in our 30’s) started a flying school a year and a half ago not really knowing what to expect in these unstable economic times but have been since inundated with a wonderful mix of students ranging from 13years right up to 80years old. It has been a very exciting journey so far but what is so rewarding about having the school is watching the passion and excitement of the young kids that learn to fly these days.
    This excitement and the longing to soar into the sky, explore the world and reach new heights with a freedom unsurpassed is contagious and is perhaps heightened by the ability to see more, read more and access more across the media and social media platforms. We have a 16year old student who has obsessed about flying since a very young age, has memorised nearly every youtube video relating to aviation, knows everything about anything to do with aviation and has such enthusiasm and passion for life you can’t help but get excited all over again about flying every time he comes to take a lesson. Not only that, but he appreciates everything and you could never get that smile off his face flying even if you tried. Not that you would want to. But we have plenty of young students who are similar, their passion is raw and infectious.
    There is certainly no lack of new pilots with new enthusiasm and a new digital revolution to share it with.

  3. says

    For those of us that have been in the industry for a while now should be encouraged that younger folks are interested in aviation. Many have asked, “where’s the new generation of pilots?” The answer is that they are exhausting all of the resources out of the internet. This is the first step in getting engaged in flying. Great News!~TC Freeman, WingsOfun.com

  4. Kent Misegades says

    It is said that young people started leaving Facebook as soon as their parents and grandparents started using it. My 83 year-old-mother is the heaviest user in our family – I still can’t figure it out, and I am sure not going to start Tweeting – just keeping up with emails is hard enough! Still, pilots have always been at the cutting edge of new means to communicate – Clyde Cessna used to drop handbills over towns to promote his lucrative joy-ride business. Sky-writing, banner towing, whatever works a pilot will use it.

    • ike says

      People will change their tune when taxi instructions, clearances and vectors are tweeted or texted to an avionics device(read ADS-B in)

  5. says

    Not quite sure but somehow crossed paths and saw your entry twitter I think.

    I am an RN but grew up on airports and all things airplanes. My dad ran airports, instructed, had mechanics license, inspector rating, quality control engineer, liked hang gliding, was in Civil air patrol in Colorado and Texas…well you get the picture.

    We ended up in Texas when I was 13 when an aviation company moved him (us) here. There are a group of tweeting pilots from Australia bush and I have found and many others who share pictures and stories on social media, great bunch of people from pilots to attendants and others in the industry. Nasa also has amazing sights on all things flights as well as the air force.

    I took lessons when 15-16yrs old but since dad forcing me to I tossed the log book when I flew the nest the day I turned 18. Sad, I just found it last week. I had done my cross country and much more. Now flying is my idea but not sure if it is feasible-we’ll see.

    What i originally wanted to share is I met a gentleman on another business venture that has started up flying programs in conjunction with several school districts bordering Dallas/Fort Worth. I don’t remember name of programs but they were getting significant interest and 90% of the kids that began the program finished. Another side note with the discipline, attention to detail and mentoring their other grades improved. I can find out more if anyone interested. What is interesting some of the districts chosen were not the elite or higher class. It opened the opportunity of flying, achieving success and trying something that financially would be beyond the reach of many of those kids.

    The young teen pilots that were empowered and mentored achieved success and were ready to further their flying career after graduation. Some going to military, and now flying offers many ventures from corporate to commercial, private and more.

    My father, a barnstormer, stunt pilot and crop duster among other things, taught my mom, and RN who was 4’10’ to fly by sitting her on pillows, duct taping 2×4 blocks to the pedals. Dad wanted us all to fly and his final years taught at Dallas Aerotech in addition to helping at the avionics company that brought us here 25 years before. I think they let him putter and he was considered a relic but it gave him pride and he went to the airport each day. When his corporation closed he would putter on his plane, do inspections on others or just sit in main lobby and shoot the breeze with other pilots or people that flew in. I remember him being thrilled and moving the bank account to a little town about 18 miles from town. It was called ‘Cow Pasture Fly In Bank” and he loved flying over, getting out of the plane, being greeted and doing his banking while us kids watched men sit and compare rifles in their 10 gallon hats and pointy boots. Having moved from Denver it was quite a shock and I thought at first surely this was all a movie set.

    My parents and the planes are gone but I am near the airport and it calls to me. I look at the ancient Cessna paperweight, all the aeronautic books and the old altimeter on my bookshelf and dream. I am a tweeter primarily and have stumbled over groups of tweeters putting aviation stuff out there. Sweet! Thanks for letting me leave rambling post.

    Strange note: adopted, I found my biological mother in CA after parents passed away. almost laughed, she was had an A&P Mechanics license and had worked at Bowing for 30+ years doing rivets inside airplanes.

    My father was respected and cast the ‘love of all things flying’ spell on my uncle, my mom’s cousin and others. He always said my mom was a good woman because she allowed his first love ever to be flying.

    Last note: a few of us middle agers were telling funny flight stories on twitter last night and many said their interest sparked and couldn’t help but ask about aviation experiences and wanted more stories. Ha what fun!

    When working as hospice RN flying in my car around communities of all kinds responding to crisis I found out who one of the biggest user groups of i pads. 60+ gen and many who are homebound caring for a spouse or due to disability. My 95 year old grandpa uses his for church, chess and Facebook. I would say half or more are on Facebook as a means of communication with family. Most in family/friend niches. It was simply by catching your content cross the feed that drew my interest to look further. Now will follow.

    Thanks all!!!! (I tweet with storm chasers too!
    @kamiyamay on twitter

  6. says

    I can totally see it. Aviation has gone high tech over the past decade. Even the lowly Skyhawk now sports a panel that looks like it was lifted out of a Star Trek film. We navigate via satellite, flight follow with internet sites like FlightAware, and capture our adventures with GoPros and iPhones. That probably makes flying more fun — and familiar — to the younger crowd, who take to it like a fish to water. The same plethora of computer screens and buttons that make some people run for the nearest Cub end up being a major selling point for the techies among us.

  7. trentsmill says

    “So quit complaining about the next generation not being interested in learning to fly. You just aren’t looking in the right place.”

    You, meaning us old pilots? The ones that are keeping airports open and planes flying? Really, “You” is a big group. Like we are somehow at fault for the declining pilot population, the lack of new and affordable aircraft? Give me a break!

    What do they say about stats? Numbers don’t lie but people do?

    For your information; FB likes are highly questionable. This is a common scam for SEO. Go to Fiverr.com and see how many likes you can buy for $5.

    Not suggesting for a moment that Ben or anyone hired or paid for likes. Just pointing out that internet data is just not reliable. YouTube views too by the way….

    To suggest that us old guys do not inspire younger people is just not factual. Flying is too expensive as a sport, it is too hard and expensive to get a paid job unless you wish to move to China. When it takes $2,000 to fill up your tanks, it makes you think twice about the trip.

    No, spending more time on FB and Twitter is not going to bring more pilots to the airport. Sorry…

    • says

      @trentsmill – I completely respect your take on this. I hope you don’t mind if butt in here :) I have been struggling to finish my PPL since I was 16 and am 32 now. I totally agree with you that cost is a factor and was so in my struggle. But… as I look back it really wasn’t and here is why. I was 16 and wanted a car, take my girlfriend out on a date, nice clothes, etc… Aviation was something that didn’t take priority. Had I made it a priority, or had a group of people my age that were also interested, or even instructors who weren’t just looking to gain hours so they could get their commercial certificate I would have been much farther than still trying to complete what I started when I was 16.
      I also agree with you that internet stats and SEO can be unreliable… But I think if you only pick out the stats part of Ben’s post, you probably missed the point. Matter of fact take the stats out all together and just look at the trend. More people age 34 and younger liked this Facebook page. I contribute that to more people 34 and younger are probably using Facebook than say over 34…
      This is general true in most publications you read about the internet and social media. So If you are going to get a younger generation to be interested in flying, would it not be reasonable to target technology and social media?
      I am already seeing this as I mentioned in my first post below. Droves of pilots/student pilots are using the internet to connect and share their experiences of flying, which in turn is getting more people in that magical age range interested.
      Lastly, pilots in the other age group referenced are the bedrock of aviation. I love reading the stories of the early aviators and the courage they had! I also love to learn from my instructor is not 34 or under and is just as enthusiastic as I am about flying.
      I think if anyone reads the post above and takes it as older pilots are the problem (regardless of what Ben intended) then you are not apart of the solution of keeping aviation growing.

      Of Course thats my opinion, I could be wrong – Dennis Miller

  8. says

    Thanks for mentioning our site, Erick… and Ben, thank you for checking it out. The idea behind ShareAviation.com is very simple–give anyone who has a passion for aviation/flight a place to let their voice be heard. The YouTube aviation community was a great place to start, so we began there. To date, the site is growing so rapidly that we almost cannot keep up with it… young people especially are so hungry to share their passion for flight by any means possible. We currently have “Contributors” (pilots who have signed up to be a part of the community and share their stories) on every continent, more than 15 countries, and nearly every state. We couldn’t agree more with the premise of your blog, Ben… the “social” generation is a true force to be reckoned with, and we are excited about what that means for general aviation both now and in the future.

  9. says

    Those are amazing stats! It certainly tells a story. If we don’t move into the 21st century, we’ll never even get a crack at capturing the younger crowd. So many aviation businesses have websites that look like they were built with a Commodore 64 (that should date me). The quicker we get on board, the better off we’ll be.
    I tweet daily and no one knows what I eat…


  10. says

    It’s also ironic that those people probably haven’t bothered to wonder why all the TV shows they watch and print they read now have hashtags in them. Social and second/third screens are now part of the mass media, especially for the next gen. I had a recent conversation revealing that the newly-launched AllThingsAero site has similar (younger) demos. They’re out there, everywhere – it’s an intrinsic fascination. We just have to figure out how to aggregate and engage them – in meaningful numbers – in an increasingly fragmented environment.

  11. says

    Two things. First…right on for finding 50% of your facebook fans (or are they friend? Followers?) are 34 or younger. Not surprised given national demo for Facebook. But DAMN, how’d you double your fans in 50 days?

  12. says

    I agree completely, Ben. Here in central Florida I routinely run into young people, middle aged people, men and women who want to learn to fly. At the very least they want to find out about what it takes to fly, or what it feels like to be at the controls of an aircraft. So I help them. I invite them to the airport for coffee, or a soft-drink, or a burger, and we watch the airplanes and helicopters move around while we chat. I walk them out onto the ramp for a closer look. If possible I let them sit in an airplane, touch the controls, and get a sense of what it might feel like to be in control of these amazing machines. More often than not they post to Facebook or Twitter about the experience. That magnifies the benefit of the tour I give them.

    You’re spot on with this piece. Let’s keep on looking in the same old places, but add a few more tools to our search. We can expand the reach of aviation far beyond what most consider possible – and it won’t even be expensive.

    Well done, Ben. As usual, well done.

  13. says

    Hi Ben, In relation to this article I thought you would also be interested in a new group of pilots/student pilots out there utilizing GoPro cameras. There is a website called ShareAviation.com that was started by 4 or 5 younger pilots that have combined all of the great YouTube videos of pilots filming themselves in flight. In addition there are several websites like mine AviationAttitudes.com that are being started by these same pilots. I think this activity that is surging in General Aviation is going to be the goose/golden egg for a surge of new pilots that is lacking in general aviation!

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