It’s a call-to-action the aviation community has been repeating to itself for years now: We must attract new students to keep the pilot ranks from dwindling further. And more specifically, we need to appeal to the younger demographic.
I don’t disagree with that approach. As someone who learned to fly when I was 16, I can attest to the fact that those early interactions were important in solidifying my passion for aviation.16 years later, I’m an aircraft owner and flight instructor that’s as active as possible with a family.
But there’s a deeper issue at play, and that’s a lack of dedication and follow-through in society. The allure of instant gratification — such as purchasing a new motorcycle instead of taking flying lessons — is a real thing.
There’s no mistaking that learning to fly, staying proficient, and even becoming a proud aircraft owner all take focus. Aviators often forgo shiny new cars, huge houses, and other “luxury” items to meet their goals and fund their passion.
Unfortunately, that’s just not how a large portion of our world is wired today. It feels better (temporarily) to run out and buy the latest iPad instead of paying for four or five hours of flight training with that same money. After all, the iPad gives us instant access to Facebook, Twitter, and other tools, and doesn’t require any written tests, ground school time, or honing of flight skills.
As a CFI, I’ve seen plenty of students start their training, enamored with the newness of it all. But as learning plateaus develop, written tests loom, and other life hurdles materialize, flying takes a backseat. It’s not that all of these students wouldn’t rather complete their training (some genuinely hate having to quit), but a certain percentage /are/ giving up too soon.
And it’s not just student pilots who bail on aviation. Many long-time pilots and aircraft owners get fatigued by medical requirements (even if they are a bit easier with BasicMed), ongoing costs, proficiency requirements, and looming industry battles such as ATC privatization. There’s no doubt that aviation tests even dedicated members of the community on a near-daily basis.
What’s the Solution?
I’ll be honest. I don’t have one. I will say there are glimmers of hope if you look hard enough. Young people are taking ownership of vintage aircraft and high school students are building aircraft, then learning to fly in that same aircraft. Kyle Fosso’s Cessna 170 restoration comes to mind.
Yes, there is hope.
We need to find ways to reach that potential pilot who has always dreamed of the sky, but has always heard it’s just “too expensive.” Indeed, it’s not cheap, but neither is boating or nearly any other hobby. We need to bust that myth once and for all.
Or the former pilot who quit flying because they started a family and flying took a backseat. How do we sell them on the idea of using aviation’s many lessons and experiences to raise that same family?
How do you change the desire for instant gratification — or willingness to give up easily — in today’s world? If we can find answers to those questions and sell the value of spending time and money on aviation, I think we may just have something.
Unfortunately, it many cases, it just doesn’t seem like it’s enough anymore to just let a young person fly the plane for a few minutes and hope for a lifetime of passion.