I spent my Saturday productively, standing at the front of the Eickhoff Conference Room at SUN ‘n FUN, leading a donut and coffee fueled group of Rusty Pilots back through the intricacies of airspace, weather reports, and right of way rules. It was great. We spent three hours together laughing, learning, and sharing a few personal stories that gave context to the art and science of flying in the general aviation environment.
Near the end of the formal presentation, a very attentive fellow near the back of the room asked a great question. “Do we know why so many people have fallen away from flying?” he asked.
In a space full of Rusty Pilots, the answer to his question was of great interest. So we discussed that concern for a bit, but as I so often do, I took an unexpected turn onto a less traveled intellectual dirt road.
And while I won’t quote the entire conversation as it took place, I’ll share the high points with you. Points that were well received, I’m happy to say.
While it is interesting to delve into the reasons why pilots fall out of currency, sometimes for decades, knowing the answer to that question is not particularly productive to the average man or woman in the street.
Because there are as many reasons as there are pilots who are no longer current. For some it comes down to family obligations. That happened to me when my children were small. It was frustrating initially, but family is more important than anything else at times. So like many others, I fell out of flying and got a bit rusty. It took a few years to find my way back.
For others the challenge is financial. That’s a common complaint, and one I can understand. It may be a health issue that knocks someone out of the cockpit. Or perhaps an active general aviation pilot is offered the career opportunity of a lifetime — a thousand miles away from home. They take the job and throw themselves into it. They may intend to get current soon, but they don’t know anyone in town, and they’ve got no idea which airport is their best choice or which FBO or flying club would be the best fit for their kind of flying, and so they drift away from currency little by little. Then one day they turn around and realize they haven’t flown in years.
That happens too.
An acquaintance from my flight school days did very well in aviation. After graduation she instructed for the school we attended, then went on to the airlines. Her career was on an undeniable upward trajectory. Today she’s a full-time housewife with four young children in the house. She longs to get back into the cockpit and enjoy general aviation again. For her, and for so many others, why she fell away from currency is of little importance. Her concern is the more productive question: How does she get current again?
The Rusty Pilot seminars are one great starting point. There’s no judgement or booby prize for being the rustiest pilot in the room. Nobody cares about that. Frankly, we can all learn from each other, and that’s the exact point of the process. We spend three hours together, the seminar attendees and I, and by the time we saunter out of that room, they’re on their way back to being a current pilot and I’m feeling pretty darned good about how I spent my morning.
Of course I’m not the only one conducting Rusty Pilot seminars. Kay Sundaram is doing them in Southern California. Mark Grady does a bang-up job of presenting them every time I see him, and I’ve seen him put on quite a show at fly-ins near and far. He’s funny, packs the time full of entertaining anecdotes, and still leaves his audience with solid information they can really use in the cockpit, as well as during the planning stage of their in-flight adventures.
The magic of the Rusty Pilot presentation isn’t all about the presenter, however. As amazing as we all are (and yes, we’re pretty darned amazing) the attendees can be just as interesting. They might even have a direct impact on how you get back into the cockpit more quickly, and cost-effectively.
As I completed a Rusty Pilot seminar in Gainesville, Florida, at University Air Center, one of the attendees raised his hand and announced to those in the room that he’d like to enter into a partnership and become part owner of an airplane. He invited anyone who was interested to get with him after the class wrapped up.
I love that kind of initiative.
This past Saturday one of the young women in the room confided that she was a bit frustrated that she was having so much trouble getting current again. “There just aren’t any airplanes to rent at ___________,” she said [airport name intentionally omitted to prevent undue embarrassment to an airport manager who is undoubtedly trying to attract a good flight school to the field].
“Well,” I replied. “Have you ever considered joining a flying club?”
“There isn’t one,” she shrugged.
“Would you be interested in starting one?” I asked. “I’d be happy to help you if you want to go that route.”
He eyes brightened up a bit and a smile crept across her face. The conversation continues.
Sometimes, it’s best to forget the why, so you can focus on the how. That’s where progress can often be found.