June 15, 2008

Fighting the Decline of The Pilot Population

AOPA_Spreading_the_word.jpgThe Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has recently focused on two important issues to pilots. One is the ongoing fight against user fees, the other is fighting the decline in the pilot population. The organization recently reached out to the current pilot base through a survey, looking for creative ideas to get more adults to experience the fun and challenge of Flying.

The goal is to attract more adults from the age of 35 to 65 to stop dreaming about flying and to start learning to fly. There are many ways people are achieving the goal of inspiring others to fly. There are those who volunteer their time to fly Young Eagle flights to introduce children to aviation. There is a also growing population of bloggers and podcasters that are writing about their love affair with aviation and inspiring their readers to learn to fly or to fly more often. Additionally, there are those who share their passion for aviation through film like the like One Six Right or two films in the works, A Pilot's Story and a yet to be named film from the Director of One Six Right.

In addition to publishing my blog I attempt to grow interest in aviation by managing the Chicago Aviation Meetup Group. It is a group of more than 50 aviation enthusiasts. We get together every few months for activities like touring a control tower, checking out a flight school's flightline, or flying to a local airport for lunch.

When I learned that AOPA was holding a Pilot Town Meeting in Chicago and that there was going to be two sessions one for current pilots and one for prospective pilots I knew it would make for a great Aviation Meetup Group event. We had several of our members make it to the event and most exciting was that we had three that had not yet taken their first flight. At that meeting they were given a free voucher for an introductory flight as a gift from AOPA.

Phil Boyer, President of AOPA, commented in his President's Perspective about the Chicago Aviation Groups participation at the town meeting saying groups like ours "take hangar flying to a whole new level". I hope other aviation enthusiast will create aviation enthusiast groups like the Chicago Aviation Meetup Group to help foster an interest in general aviation in their own neck of the woods.

Posted by at June 15, 2008 10:58 PM

i just saw "16 right" a few days ago. i liked it but one aspect that was clear was that a lot of very wealthy people use VNY (van nuys airport). i would rather have seen a movie of "average people" flying. seeing sydney pollack and his jet was interesting but i would rather have seen a collection of people with aircraft and situations most people can hope to achieve. i happened to catch an aviation show on my tivo yesterday that covered "jumbolair", an "aviation estate". i think that many view aviation as limited to people with very high incomes. since i'm not in that community, i've been splitting xc flights with another new pilot. we're hoping that that increases the safety margin and we both gain experience watching each other fly. i think that that approach can reduce some of the costs of flying while still providing the experiences.
i've also found that it gives me the opportunity to actually look around and enjoy the flying while i'm in the right seat.

Posted by: Doug at June 16, 2008 9:19 AM | Reply

I'm currently a student pilot with 10 hours in the log. I think I fit the AOPA profile that they are looking to reach out to (35 years old; long time passion to fly; available $$$ to train). I've loved my training so far, but every single time I go to pay the bill after a lesson I get myself thinking if this is worth it. With avgas @ $5.50/g along with other rising costs it's the main deterrent to me joining the ranks of those with a Private Pilot certificate. I think that has to be a concern of AOPA. I have the drive/interest, but running the numbers and seeing how expensive it will be to even rent and fly 50 hours a year once I have my certificate makes me second guess my decision every day.

Posted by: Mike at June 16, 2008 11:37 AM | Reply

I am a 25 year old 25 hour student pilot who has also been questioning my decision. I love flying and airplanes and everything about aviation but the cost of has really been making me ask myself if this is worth it. I have the funds avaialble to pursue my PPL but I am asking myself if it is worth it. Realistically speaking, when will I really be able to use my license other than for a few joy flights in the nice weather. Also, it seems that a day doesn't go by that I hear about some GA fatality. Is it really worth pursuing such an expensive time hog as prices are going up and it doesn't to be getting any safer. I think so but I am questioning myself...

Posted by: AJS at June 18, 2008 12:29 PM | Reply

I think the economics of flying is going to be one of the biggest hurdles to expanding the pilot population.

But, I do think it is great that Mike and AJS are thinking of the financial implications of not just learning to fly but also to continue flying after you have earned your license. Many people budget for training but not for flying after training. I think it is great you are thinking about that in advance.

Posted by: Todd at June 18, 2008 3:37 PM | Reply

I began flying around 8 years ago but stopped after ~3 years, after I got my IFR. The only reason I stopped is not because I lost my passion for flying but because it is simply too expensive for both leisure and possible plans to become a commercial pilot.

For leisure one simply cannot fly too far from your home base. It is simply too expensive, plus flying close to home base gets boring after awhile. For plans to become a commercial pilot, the training is expensive but worst than that is the salary after you graduate. For some it is worth it but for me my family is more important.

I envy those that can continue to fly. Maybe one day I will be able to afford it.

Posted by: Ryan at July 3, 2008 8:36 AM | Reply

In the 50's and 60's, just about every male kid was enthralled with aviation. Not so now. They're more likely to have a picture of some ex-con who has made himself a millionaire in the rap scene on their walls.

Flying just doesn't seem sexy to the public anymore. But there are a couple of hobbies that exist today that weren't around two decades ago: RC and Flight Simming. Perhaps these groups represent a good source for future pilots.

Posted by: Russ Still at July 13, 2008 7:43 AM | Reply

I've been flying for 5 years am instrument rated and have 300 hours flying Cessna 172s. I "looove" flying--I can't get enough of it. Yet, I echo the sentiments of other pilots that find it hard to justify the expense. I can only afford training. I fly to local airports searching for IFR days to remain current. But I cannot afford to really go anywhere. Even a 1.3 hour trip to the beach is $300 round trip. If I stay overnight the FBO charges a 3 hour minimum overnight fee so a weekend costs $850. Add in a room and ground transportation and you're easily over $1000

The small pool of pilots willing to make an investment in a plane makes ownership a remote possibility and the one flying club in a $200 mile radius only has older planes and is 40 miles from me. I know that I'm probably going to be forced financially to give this up but I do enjoy it so. It is truly becoming a passion of the rich.

Posted by: Larry H at July 16, 2008 8:51 PM | Reply

Larry - Thanks for the comment. It is sad that your comments are echoed by so many others. I have seen several aviation blogs go silent or announce that they are giving up flying for the time being do to the economy or just rising costs of participating in general aviation.

Posted by: Todd at July 16, 2008 10:32 PM | Reply

A few years ago I purchased my own plane, a real nice 2002 OMF Symphony. Or as I like to call it- my flying bmw.

Even though my plane is one of the most fuel efficient and low insurance/maint planes on the market, I figure it costs me about $10,000 per year to fly averaging only 75 hours per year.

It makes no economic sense to fly long trips as the airlines are much cheaper. It is nice to fly around Wisconsin and Illinois, but it makes you wonder if almost $1,000 every month for the experience is worth it.

Heck, I could be driving a ferrari to work for less money, lol.

If I was to place blame on the high cost of flying, I would have to start with the lawyers and insurance companies- two sides of the same coin, both making money off of "us".

Next, It would be the oil companies like Exxonmobil who make billions every year in profit (breakupexxonmobil.com) - no matter what the economic conditions are for everyone else. So much for free market capitalism, which I conclude by now that it is a total scam.

Maybe in the end, things turn out to be what they are meant to be. Perhaps flying isn't meant to be for a lot of people. Only the very rich. And that is too bad.

Dono Moore
Lone Rock, Wisconsin

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