Although I have absolutely no scientific data to support the claim, it’s my belief that folks who want to learn to fly are by and large not afraid to get airborne. Nervous, maybe. Anxious about the overall experience, but excited, too.
Not scared, though. That’s a different emotion entirely.
This suspicion stems from thousands of conversations with a staggering number of pilots of all skill levels and age brackets. Never have I met a pilot who claimed to have been terrified to fly prior to their first lesson. That pilot is out there, I’m sure of it. But I haven’t met him or her yet.
The fearful folks I have met, and I meet them a lot, are adults who are doing their best to protect their children, their students, their neighbor’s kid, and whomever they can find that might be thinking of risking life and limb in an aircraft.
Apparently, there is nobility in this fear. The belief that something horrible will happen in the immediate future seems to bring a sense of peaceful justification to a disquieting percentage of the wider population.
“I don’t know anything about aviation, but it certainly looks dangerous, so it must be dangerous, because…did I mention that I don’t know how any of this works? But to make that thing go way up in the air…obviously it’s risky.”
That quote is attributed to nobody because nobody I know actually said it. But there’s no evidence Mark Twain ever uttered or wrote the words, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Whether Twain said it or not doesn’t really matter. The sentiment is timeless and absolutely valid.
Arguing against something you know little about, or nothing about, is a sure way to get into trouble.
And so after several decades of well-intentioned adults trying to save kids from death and destruction in an aircraft, myself included, we’ve got a pilot shortage.
The ultimate irony of this perspective is, of course, air travel is booming. Most of those folks who try to dissuade ambitious young folks from taking flight lessons have no problem motoring off to the international airport for a vacation jaunt to pretty much anywhere in the world you could possibly want to go — and they do it in an airplane.
Incidentally, these anti-aeronautical do-gooders don’t just put their efforts into saving the young, they will make an impassioned argument to virtually anyone who dares to dare. Age is no factor. Fear is the beast they’re waging a war against.
In their minds it seems risk must be avoided at all cost. For while aviation accident rates are not skyrocketing as they fear, they know full well that they could, under the right circumstances, probably, just like they saw that horrible crash in that movie with the zombies and some superhero who saved the day.
Here’s the rub. Without risk there is no reward. Not in any endeavor. Not in any time. Not on any continent. If you want to achieve a level of success at anything, you’re going to have to address the risks associated with that undertaking.
Where aviation differs from most other ventures is in the persistent effort by so many to reduce the risks that can be found in flight. Risk mitigation is the industry’s mantra. Training is ongoing throughout the career of a pilot, or mechanic, or engineer, or tower controller, and pretty much any other job that puts humans in contact with aircraft.
Risk mitigation is a fancy way of saying that we’re fighting the fear factor. Aviation takes great pains to remove the boogeyman from the equation by illuminating each issue with the light of knowledge. And when that knowledge proves to be less than completely accurate, or not quite as beneficial as it might be, we shift. We adapt. We develop new tools, new attitudes, and new training methods.
The cockpit of today doesn’t just look different than it did 50 years ago, it is different than it was 50 years ago. GPS and ADS-B are incredible advances that have improved situational awareness to a degree that was unimaginable just a few decades ago.
That’s true of CRM training, too — or whichever acronym your training program is using these days. The idea that a single pilot, alone, at night, in a single-engine, single-point-of-failure aircraft isn’t really alone is an earth-shattering change in thinking. The push of a button will put that pilot in touch with folks who can answer questions, provide insight, offer advice, and provide tremendous comfort when things start to get a bit iffy, should that ever happen.
This week I’ll be interacting with a considerable number of adults who have influence over high school kids. The odds are good that at least some of those kids have a real interest in some form of aviation or aeronautical employment. So I’ll do what I can to assuage the fears of those nervous Neal’s and Nellie’s who think nothing but the worst can befall any of their students who might pursue a life at altitude.
With luck, I’ll be able to provide some comfort to those folks. Perhaps I can share a bit of insight into how aviation really works, for the diminutive Piper Cub as well as for the Airbus or Boeing transport category behemoth.
Fear is not the answer to any problem, ever. Knowledge is where the light is. So I’ll keep telling my story, comforting the afflicted, and making it clear that aviation isn’t about accepting risk and hoping for the best. It’s about alleviating risk through training, awareness, use of available resources, and the ability to make good decisions using the best information available at any given time.
It’s time-consuming work, yes. But for every teacher or school administrator we can talk off the anti-aviation ledge, imagine how many students their newfound awareness might affect in a positive way.
The possibilities are mind-boggling.