6 entries from February, 2011

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.

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. (more…)