A friend recently made a comment that has really gotten me thinking. His concept was simple enough. There are a lot of people in the world. Some are well along in their career and doing pretty good. Some are looking at the future with eyes the size of pie-plates wondering, “How am I ever going to reach my ultimate goal? It’s so far away and hard to afford.”
That’s probably true for lots of young people who have set their sights on a wide variety of professional aspirations. It’s certainly true for those who want to make a living in the cockpit.
The transition from being zero hour student pilot to an experienced ATP is long and expensive. And while we know the number of pilots has been shrinking in recent years, we have no idea how many people are standing on the sidelines wishing they could fly, but never make it through the FBO doors to inquire.
The odds are good that most young people who consider a career in aviation are turned away before they ever get started. On her first day in the sixth grade, one of my daughters was asked what career she was considering. She spoke up proudly, “I want to be an F-22 pilot.” That’s an ambitious dream, surely. But that doesn’t matter. She had a dream, unrealized as it was. It was still a dream.
Her teacher squashed that dream quickly, however. “That’s a man’s job, honey,” explained the female teacher. “You’ll have to pick something else.”
We’ve got to stop that. Diminishing the dreams and the potential of our youth is neither in our best interest, or theirs. And I don’t mean the collective “we” that refers to no one in particular. I’m talking about the specific we, you and me. We have to stop that.
Fortunately, we can, thanks to the concept my friend shared with me in that conversation I alluded to earlier.
The issue is this: We, the aviation community — you and I — have allowed others to reduce our industry to a caricature of itself. We’ve stood by impassively for the most part as others painted aviation as too hard, too expensive, and too dangerous for the average person to get involved with. We’ve provided tacit approval as fences intended to secure our airports mutated into nearly impenetrable walls that keep the curious at bay.
My friend’s comment was a good one. It went along these lines: Imagine the positive effect on aviation — and on communities as a whole — if every flying club, every Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) chapter, every pilot’s association, and every aeronautically oriented group worked independently to encourage and fund budding pilots who have the desire to fly, but lack the opportunity and the funding.
That sounds like a scholarship program to me. In fact, it sounds like thousands of potential scholarship programs, each one slightly different from the next. Some may be relatively passive, simply raising money and contributing it to existing scholarship programs in order to extend their impact. Others may be quite active, seeking out applicants, wading through letters of intent, and awarding scholarships based on need, or desire, or geographic considerations, or a combination of those variables and more.
Put another way: Can you imagine the impact it would have on aviation and our communities as a whole if you paid for just one hour of flight time? If it was just you, that would be a help. Then again, if you could find half a dozen others, your group could have quite an impact. Of course, if you rounded up 50 pilots on your field who were willing to pitch in, you’d have the power to create a pilot from scratch and change the future of one young person’s life forever, for the better.
Now consider what if the group of individuals you work with each committed themselves to buying one extra hour of flight time every year? Then, you could make your way into the local high school or college to share the news of your scholarship with students who have the desire, but not the insight, connections, or funding to pursue a career in the cockpit.
Now, imagine extending this dream scenario out a decade or two. You and your philanthropists would be creating a legacy. The history of your town, your airport, and your group would be altered for the better for decades to come. Professional pilots would be coming back to the high school and college they once attended to tell their story, to share how they once had a dream, but couldn’t find the means to realize it…until you stepped in and opened up such important opportunities.
You can be that person. You can blaze a trail that will pay dividends for generations yet unborn. Or you can join forces with the teacher who told my young daughter that her dreams weren’t realistic. You can encourage those same young men and women to aim low, accept less from life, to give up. It’s more likely you’ll do nothing. That’s what most people do.
So ask yourself this. In your last day on earth, would you be most proud of being in the first group that works to make a difference, the second group that dedicates itself to killing the dreams of others, or the third group that stands by disinterested? I know where I stand.
I hope you’ll join me in passing the hat, stoking the fire, and doing what we can to help deserving young men and women realize their dreams…at least we can get them over that first hurdle to their private pilot ticket. That’s something you can be proud of. Yes it is.