Dwindling Pilot Population – The Fear

In the last post in this series I discussed some creative financing plans to help people reduce the high upfront cost of getting a pilot license. Now we will look at another deterrent, the fear many people have of flying.

There are many people that are interested in flying and have the money to do it, but they do not follow through because they are afraid. Some actually do start taking lessons, but then somewhere along the way they develop a fear that prevents them from continuing training.

Some of these people simply have a fear of heights, and will always be unwilling to face that fear by piloting an aircraft. It is up to those people to decide to no longer let their fear control them.

Some people believe it is by pure luck that any airplane manages to land safely. These people develop this belief by watching plane crashes on television and reading about them in the paper. They don’t notice that some of the crashes they read about in the paper happen three states away. They don’t think about the number of car crashes that happened that day between where the plane crashed and where they live. Since those car crashes aren’t covered, and the airplane crash is, that is what they focus on.

Even aviation magazines and blogs (this one included) help to push the airplanes are a death trap image by running articles about accidents. Pick up just about any aviation magazine, and you are sure to find at least one article discussing crashes. “Flying” magazine has a section “On the Record” that quickly highlights 4 accidents. The only reason I can figure this section exists is to make flying appear dangerous.

The section is simply a synopsis from the NTSB reports for the accidents. They don’t go into any detail about why it happened or how to prevent it. Just that it happened. Flying is a wonderful magazine in many ways, and I’m sure it is a good read for many non-pilots. Why they would include this section that serves no purpose other than to scare non pilots is beyond my comprehension.

There are also some common misconceptions about flying that many non pilots have. Most believe that if the engine quits, the airplane plummets from the sky, and everyone dies. Most also do not understand that when a pilot is talking about stalls, they mean the wings and not the engine.

Often when a pilot mentions they were practicing stalls, the non pilot thinking goes like this:
He is practicing killing the engine, and then as the airplane is falling out of the sky, he has to quickly get it restarted before crashing into the earth? Pilots must be insane, adrenaline junkies!

Sometimes people actually manage to start flying before they develop a fear of flying. Often these student pilots develop this fear while learning steep turns and stalls. After about an hour of these maneuvers they start to feel motion sick. A couple times of that and they stop dreaming about flying and instead start to look at it as something they dread doing.

Did you have any fears that you had to overcome before becoming a pilot? I still have an issue with heights sometimes. When I fly over 3,000′ AGL I start becoming uncomfortable. I rarely fly that high without a passenger. Having someone to talk to takes my mind off of how high I am and makes it better.

Path to Skydiving

When I was still in grade school, my dad went skydiving. Someone he worked with was a skydiver and talked my dad into giving it a try. I already dreamed of being able to fly, so watching my dad jump from an airplane and fly that parachute to the ground left quite the impression on me.

Even the fact that he broke his ankle landing never phased me. He jumped under the old style round parachute. Those bring you down fairly quickly so you have to roll when you hit the ground. Unfortunately for my dad, he landed on a slope and when he rolled his ankle broke.

That took place in 1987. Fast forward to 1996. I’m a 20 year old full time college student and full time factory worker. One morning as I was reading the newspaper I saw that a skydiver died at the same place my dad had gone skydiving.

The article mentioned that the skydiver’s parachute did not fully deploy. While trying to fix the parachute the experienced skydiver had apparently lost awareness of the fact that he was plummeting towards the ground. Instead of releasing the main chute and deploying the reserve, the unfortunate skydiver tried in futility to fix the main.

Later that day I searched the Internet for a phone number for the skydiving club that runs the operation at that airport. I figured now was my time to become a skydiver. The odds of someone dieing two weeks in a row at the same airport were incredibly remote, so this was the safest time of any.

On Monday I talked to the owner of the club, and I was put on the schedule to take lessons and make my first jump the following Saturday. After my training I loaded into the airplane with two other student skydivers making their first jumps.

I was to go second. I thought that would be a good thing since I would be able to see someone else do it first. My thinking was that watching someone else successfully jump would help calm my nerves before I had to climb out on that wing and jump myself.

Well watching the fear in that man’s face as he exited the airplane only made me more nervous. I was surprised at how easily I managed to force myself to swing my legs out of the door, grab the strut of the wing, and stand up on the landing gear.

I next worked my way up the strut of the wing until I was no longer able to touch the landing gear with my feet. I then looked over at my jump master, and when he gave me the thumbs up, I let go.

There simply are not words for what it feels like to go skydiving. It is the most amazing feeling, and you get the highest of adrenaline rushes.

After my successful landing, I was walking back to the hangar and talking to the people I had jumped with. I ran into the trailing edge of the wing of the airplane we had jumped from and hit my head. It wasn’t until the blood started to trickle down my head that I realized that I had hurt myself on the wing. Now that is an adrenaline rush!

It was such a great experience that I made 7 more jumps before hanging up the parachute and earning my wings.

Dwindling Pilot Population – Creative Financing

In the previous part of this series I mentioned that the high up front cost of getting a pilot license is a deterrent for many people. Flying itself is comparable to other hobbies in cost, but many do not have high up front costs, or if they do you can get loans to lower the upfront investment.

In order to help lower the up front cost, perhaps we need to find a way for people to finance their flying. (For the rest of the post I am going to simplify things and say it costs $5,000 to get a pilot license, $100 to rent the airplane for an hour, and $35 for the instructor.)

Loans
One option is to allow the student pilot to open an account, and instead of paying as they go, set them up a loan. When they take their first flight, they take out a loan for $5,000 which is given directly to the FBO. If the student flies 3 hours in the first week instead of paying $405, they would pay around $160 for their monthly loan payment. The FBO would draw $405 from their account, so it would now have $4,595 in it.

If for some reason the student quit after that first week, they could withdrawal the money from the FBO, and use it to help pay off the loan. This would require the student to have good credit so that a bank would give them an unsecured loan. The FBO could work closely with a bank and get a kick back for sending the students to them.

If the student pilot did not qualify for an unsecured loan, perhaps the bank could work with them by securing the loan with a vehicle or some other possession of value.

While I personally think taking out a loan for a hobby is a terrible idea, most people think it is just how you do things. This would help lower the upfront cost for students, and the FBO would get the money right away so they can earn interest on the balance.

PrePay
Instead of having the student take out a loan, have them prepay for their training. Set the student up on a 3 year plan charging them $140 a month. After 3 years, the FBO would have the $5,000 cost of the pilot license. If the student takes longer to get the license, and it ends up costing more than $5,000, they would be responsible for the balance.

Sure the student pilot could do this themselves by opening up a separate savings account, but most people will not do that. This would provide them with a way of paying for their pilot license ahead of time and debt free so that they won’t have debt hanging over their head after earning the pilot license.

To help this sound more enticing, you could add another option where the student pays $150 and earns two free half hour rides in the airplane each year. Now at least they will feel like they are getting something for their $150 investment.

Those are the two alternate funding options that I came up with. What ideas do you have to help lower the upfront cost of getting a pilot license?

Nearly Blown Checkride

Many people let their fear of failing the checkride prevent them from completing their training. When this happens their fear causes exactly what they are afraid of… failure.

Instead of looking at a check-ride as a pass/fail, look at it as another learning experience. Hopefully you will pass, but if you fail, learn from it and try again.

When I had my checkride for my private pilot license, I almost blew it 5 minutes in. After completing the runup, my ” requested that I take off and perform a short field landing. I was extremely nervous, I was coming in way short of the runway, and I had to add a lot of power to salvage it.

After the landing, my “” had me stop right on the runway (there was no other traffic in the area), and we had a talk. I was sure he was going to have me taxi back to the ramp, and I was going to fly home a student pilot.

Instead after our talk he told me to taxi back around and try it again. I still thought I had failed the checkride and that he was just using the rest of the flight as training for me. All nervousness was now gone as it was replaced by the sheer anger I had at myself for failing my checkride so quickly.

My anger must have really focused me as I flew the rest of the checkride completely flawlessly. After taxiing back to the ramp when we were finished, he asked me to come inside with him.

When we were inside, he again mentioned how terrible my first attempt at the short field landing was. He then admitted he contemplated failing me at that time, but he decided that I was really nervous, so he would let me continue.

We talked again about that first landing, and how in that situation I should just have gone around and tried again rather than focusing on salvaging a landing from a terrible approach. He then said that having screwed up must have really focused me because I flew great after that.

At this time I was still really upset with myself. It seemed like he was just trying to cheer me up a little so I wouldn’t be afraid to come back and try it again. Then all of a sudden he said, “Congratulations, you are now a private pilot!”.

I was so surprised I nearly fell out of my seat! I had spent the past hour absolutely certain that I had failed, so I wasn’t quite sure how to react to hearing I had passed. What moments before was one of the worst days of my life instantly became one of the best.

So don’t be afraid of the checkride. They aren’t looking for perfection. In my case they basically erased that first landing and had me start over from the beginning. If you mess up, they can let you try again, and if you do fail, at least you will know what to expect for the next time.

Did any of you have any scares on your checkride?

Dwindling Pilot Population – The Costs

In the last post in this series I discussed some inspirational methods to help inspire people to become interested in flying and hopefully to become pilots. Now we will look at another deterrent, the costs associated with flying.

Many people do not give flying as a hobby a second thought because they are afraid of how expensive it is. I’m not going to mislead you by saying flying is not expensive because it is, but so what? Yes flying is expensive, but so are other hobbies.

Avid golfers can easily drop over $50 a week golfing. Where I fly $50 will get you half an hour in a Cessna 172. Golfers also shell out big bucks on expensive golf clubs, club memberships, golf balls, and golf clothing. By the time you add up all of those extra costs, your weekly golfing costs will just about rent that Cessna 172 for an hour.

Many people will gladly sign up to pay $300 a month or more on a loan for a Harley Davidson motorcycle that they can only ride in good weather. While VFR pilots can only fly in good weather, they can at least fly year round. In most parts of the U.S., motorcycles sit idle for nearly half the year. That same $300 a month they are paying for that loan will buy me 3 hours in a Cessna 172, and I can use those hours any time of the year. In addition buying the Harley is only the first expense. Once you have it, there are many accessories to purchase, and those costs add up quickly.

Fishing is another hobby where the expense doesn’t deter people. Many fisherman spend big bucks for boats. It isn’t uncommon for people to have at least a $300 a month payment on their fishing boat. They are more than happy to spend an arm and a leg for the latest fishing gear. Some of them even joke about the fish costing $50 or even $100 a pound. I could get a lot of flying time for what many fishermen shell out every year on their hobby.

As I said, flying is expensive, but once you have the license you can help cut the costs. You can share the costs of owning an airplane. Partnerships, flying clubs, and fractional shares are a few of the ways you can reduce your hourly cost. You can also carry passengers and split the costs with them. In my example of the Cessna 172, if I bring just one passenger, my cost is down to $50 an hour.

So if other hobbies are expensive as well, why do people not hesitate to enjoy them like they do flying? That my friend is the million dollar question. One answer is that while the costs are similar they work out differently. To get a pilot license you will need around $5,000 over the course of a few months. To get a bass boat, you will need $15,000 over the course of a few years. While it is more overall, the up front costs are less.

It is easy to get loans that help pay for motorcycles, boats, muscle cars, etc. It isn’t so easy to get a loan to get a pilot license you intend to use only as a hobby. Perhaps we need some creative financing options for flight schools, FBO’s and independent instructors.

How do you feel the costs of flying compares to other hobbies?

Choosing the Right Airport

I’ve previously written about shopping around for the right airport.  I would like to revisit that topic by listing some things to look for when choosing an airport.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will provide you with some things to think about before choosing which airport to fly from.

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Costs

  • Aircraft rental
  • Hangar rental
  • Fuel

Convenience

  • Distance from you
  • Accessibility of aircraft

Pilot Community

  • Available to meet
  • Willing to give advice
  • Willing to share experiences

Availability

  • Aircraft rental
  • Hangar rental
  • Fuel

Runways

  • Size
  • Obstructions
  • Upkeep
  • Approaches
  • Lights

Obviously not all of the above will apply to you.  If you do not own an airplane, hangar rental and fuel can be ignored.  Likeweise, if you own an airplane, and have no intentions of renting one, the price of the rental will not be a factor.

If you are a student pilot or looking to become a student pilot, you should also add the flight instructor as criteria.  The person that you are learning from is quite possibly the most important factor in making your training successful, and helping you to become a pilot.

Hopefully this list will help you to choose an airport that will provide you with the type of flying you wish to do.  I wish I would have used this list instead of just flying out of the most convenient airport.  If I had, I would have switched to my current airport long ago.

If you have anything that should be considered, leave a comment below. Read the rest of this entry »

Dwindling Pilot Population – Inspirational Methods

** This is part 3 of a 10 part series on the dwindling pilot population.

Prior in Series: The Waning Interest

In the last post in this series I mentioned that one reason for the dwindling pilot population is waning interest. So now we will look at some ways to inspire people to keep that interest building.

One big thing pilots can do is donate to their public and school libraries. Buy some aviation books or some training videos, and donate them. I’ve been doing just this at some of my local libraries. Most children in school are not going to read about becoming or being a pilot if the book is not in either their school library or their local public library.

I personally hate Microsoft, but that doesn’t stop me from buying people Microsoft Flight Simulator. As a kid I used to love playing combat simulators that had me flying different fighters from WWII. Computer games are a great way to get people interested in aviation.

Purchase RC airplanes as gifts. The price of remote controlled airplanes has dropped dramatically since I was a kid. Now there is really no excuse for not buying them as gifts for nieces, nephews, your own children, or even your friends’ children. Just clear it with the parents first. If you aren’t sure if they would like that as a gift, buy yourself one and fly it around them sometime to see if they are interested.

Take people to airshows or pylon races. Even some smaller airports put on great airshows throughout the year. use to find out when one will be in your area and get as many people to go as you can. Watching pilots get the maximum performance out of their aircraft is sure to inspire many people to be more interested in flying.

While all of the above are great ways to help inspire people to want to become a pilot, nothing works as well as taking them flying. There is one more pilot in this world exactly because I took him flying. There could be more since I don’t regularly talk to many people I have taken flying, but I have had one person come up to me and tell me they are a pilot because I took them flying.

See if you can get your local newspaper to follow a student pilot all the way through their training. I think many people would find that interesting, and surely a few people will be inspired enough to start training as well.

If you have the resources, create a documentary. You won’t get rich off of it, but creating a documentary of getting a pilot license would be sure to attract the attention of many people thinking about getting a pilot license, but who just are not sure what it is all about.

Those are some of my ideas for inspiring people to get a pilot license. Many people already have a fascination about flight. All we need to do is help feed that fascination so they are more likely to take the next step and start their training.

What are your thoughts for inspiring people to become pilots?

Selling my Cessna 150 – It Was Like Losing a Family Member

When people tell me that their pets are like part of the family, it takes everything I have not to scoff at them.  I have had numerous pets, mostly cats and dogs, in my life, and I have never had such an attachment as to consider them part of the family.  As strange as it may sound, after having sold my airplane I think I now know how they feel.

Watching someone else take off and fly away in my airplane was enough to bring a tear to my eye.  I wanted to run after it while it was taxiing prior to takeoff.  I contemplated running onto the runway, jumping, and grabbing the landing gear just as it took off.  Luckily common sense prevailed, so I’m still alive today and with my freedom as well.

Selling my Cessna 150 was definitely the right thing to do.  My wife and I were starting a family, paying off student loans, remodeling a house, and saving for a new house.  We were at a time in our lives where we had to really buckle down, and that meant selling the airplane and severely cutting back on expenses… even flying.

Two children and a span of 4 years without flying later we definitely made the right decision.  Not only did the money from the sale and extra cash flow help, but as a family of 4, the 150 just wasn’t going to be big enough.

From time to time I look up its N-Number just to make sure it is still safe.  The last time I checked, it was living in Kentucky.  Since that isn’t too far I contemplated calling the new owner to see if I could fly down and see it one more time.  Alas, the pain of our separation is still too great.  I decided I didn’t want to have to relive the pain of leaving “my” airplane behind when it was time to leave.

One of the things that has always helped me deal with the loss of a pet, and probably the biggest reason I don’t consider them part of the family, is that after they are gone, they are replaced.  Sure my long time companion might be gone when fido passes away, but that sadness is replaced by the joy of a new puppy.

Not only was I not able to replace my airplane after selling it, but I don’t see a new airplane in my near future.  We are still remodeling the current house and saving for a new one.  Maybe in another 5 years when we hope to buy or build our new house, we’ll be able to review our budget and save for a replacement airplane.  That is my hope for now at least.

In the meantime, I’ll continue renting a Cessna 172, and dreaming of the day we can welcome a new (to us) airplane into our family.

Dwindling Pilot Population – The Waning Interest

** This is part 2 of a 10 part series on the dwindling pilot population.

Prior in Series: The Series

When I was a young child in the late 70′s and early 80′s I started dreaming about flying. Of course at that time, it was difficult not to. There were so many cartoons and TV shows where the characters were flying.

For cartoons we had “The Transformers”, “MASK”, “G.I. Joe”, “The Jetsons”, and “Under Dog”. For movies we had “Superman” and “Star Wars”. For TV shows we had the flying car in “The Dukes of Hazzard”, as well as actual flight in “The A-Team”, “AirWolf”, and “The Greatest American Hero”.

As I grew up that influence lessoned since there just wasn’t as much flying on TV. Cartoons, movies, and TV shows all became much more planted on terra firma.

When I was in school, I became very interested in reading. There wasn’t much inspiration to be found there either. While there were plenty of books on just about any other topic, trying to find a book on flying was quite difficult. Even today, try searching your public library or your school library for books on flying. If you find even one, I will be quite impressed.

I think most children are naturally intrigued by flight. Most kids still at one time or another spread their arms and pretend to fly. Most kids still look up at the airplane flying overhead and wonder what it would be like to be flying up there.

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much to help inspire kids to keep them interested in flying. As they grow up they are influenced less and less. Even toy airplanes are severely lacking. About the only airplane toys I see kids have these days are made by Lego’s. Those can be fun to build, but they aren’t exactly sturdy for playing with.

Almost every kid owns a remote control car at some point in their lives. How many do you know that own a remote control airplane? My guess is zero. Sure it takes more space to fly an RC airplane than drive an RC car, but even most cities still have parks.

To make matters worse, most parents crush their children’s’ dreams by telling them it is much too expensive to become a pilot. They make it sound like only the rich can fly, and since we are all average people, we are all destined to keep our feet on the ground.

My parents never crushed my dream of becoming a pilot. In fact it was my Dad going skydiving that put me squarely on the path to becoming a pilot.

How about you? Did you have anyone help you develop your dream into a reality? Do you agree that there isn’t much in print, on the radio, or on TV to inspire children to become pilots?

Next time we will look at some inspirational methods to help turn the tide.

Jump Plane Pilot

** While this blog is not geared towards the commercial pilot, it is geared towards prospective and student pilots.  Since some of those prospective and student pilots will go on to be commercial pilots, I occasionally feature commercial piloting jobs.  This way prospective and student pilots will know what types of jobs are available in aviation. **

Becoming a jump plane pilot is a great way to build flying time to help you land a better paying flying gig.  It is also a good way to earn a little extra side income.  I would like to get a commercial certificate one day so I can fly jump planes for the skydiving club where I went skydiving.

Flying skydivers presents some unique challenges that other flying jobs don’t have.  The most obvious is the shifting cargo.  While you are in the air, the skydivers will either be moving from the back of the plane to the front before exiting, or from the front to the back.  The direction of travel will depend on the type of airplane being flown.

For the Cessnas that I jumped out of, we moved from the back of the plane to the front.  As each skydiver exited the airplane, the rest of us would move forward to help with the weight and balance, but the pilot is constantly having to adjust as the balance shifts.

For us student jumpers using the static line method in Cessnas, we would climb out of the airplane while holding on to the strut of the wing.  We would then slide our hands up the strut towards the wing until our feet were no longer on the step over the wheel.  While we would do this one at a time, this has to create a ton of drag that the pilot is having to battle.

When the student jumps, that drag is instantly removed so the pilot once again has to work to level the wings.  Often at the same time the pilot is working to level the wings, the other skydivers are moving forward so the balance is shifting again as well.

The other challenge isn’t exactly unique to jump plane pilots, but it is much more of a focus than other aviation jobs, and that is fuel management.  While flying a jump plane, it is critical to manage the fuel correctly.

When flying jump planes this means flying a consistent pattern to altitude.  If you fly a wider pattern, you will burn up more fuel which will not only cost the jump club money, but possibly lives when you run out of fuel on your third run instead of having plenty of reserve left over.

This also means getting down as quickly as you can.  You don’t want to be taking your time landing since this also will burn more of that precious fuel.

In addition to providing some unique challenges, flying a jump plane also provides some unique rewards.  What other job gives you the opportunity to watch people plummet from an airplane and get saved by some fabric and strings?

When flying a jump plane the flying is challenging, the people are interesting, and the atmosphere at the airport is always fun.  What more could you ask for?