Ian Twombly

Are student pilots declining?

April 7, 2009 by Ian J. Twombly, Associate Editor

Student pilot numbers are down, and will continue to be if the FAA is correct. The agency released its annual aviation forecast recently, where it said that student pilot numbers peaked this century at 94,420 in 2001. As you might expect, they’ve been in decline ever since, with an estimated 80,989 this year.

That in and of itself is news, but the forecast was created to, well…forecast. The good folks at the FAA expect student pilot numbers to hit a low of 72,050 in 2010 before rebounding to a high of 86,600 in 2025. That’s some sobering, bad news. But there’s a silver lining, actually two silver linings. The first is that the forecast is notoriously wrong so we shouldn’t believe it. Although, now that I say that I remember that it’s usually overly optomistic. Ugh. The second silver lining is that sport pilots are expected to multiply like wildfire, from only 2,623 last year to more than 20,000 by 2025. Will it happen? Refer to the statement above.

So what does the future hold for GA? Will those of us who are left be flying more, thereby negating the negative economic and political impacts? Or will all the baby boomers give up their medicals and fly an LSA at four gallons an hour on the weekend?

Personally, I’m taking the head-in-the-sand approach and will continue on as if GA is doing great. Kids will always love airplanes, adults will always need a safe, expeditious way to get from point A to point B, and weekend warriors will always need a break from life for a few hours. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t be proactive. I cringe when I think of all the students who have fallen off the FAA roll, driven away by a lousy flight school or selfish CFI. Hopefully they (we) will wake up one day and realize we can’t take this great thing we have for granted.


3 Responses to “Are student pilots declining?”

  1. Randall Taylor Says:

    I understand fully about your comments regarding the problems with CFI’s. Now before I get blasted out of the sky, I know there are many excellent CFI’s out there that do a wonderful job day in and day out. I recently found not one but two excellent CFI’s and began my journey to get a Private Pilots Certificate. It only took me one and a half years to find an instructor that i could work with. No, I am not hard to get along with and dont demand much except that I get what I pay for. My problem was not having issues with CFI’s, It was finding one. I checked with local schools, and as wonderful as I am sure they are, I wanted to learn to fly, not watch my savings go away. Why would I pay $150/hr to learn to fly and thats just for the plane? Independent CFI’s, well, these are hard times and working their normal jobs takes first priority, as it should. So scheduling can be an issue there. Just like many people in these hard economic times, I have two part time jobs, not a full time one. So dont let anyone tell you that it cant be done on a shoe string budget. The key is finding the School or instructor you “click” with. Like i said earlier, I have been lucky enough to find two at the same school. Now my dream, (or mission) in life is to continue my education in flying, get my CFI and help others live their dreams of soaring with the eagles. Just my two cents worth.

  2. Fast Frankie Says:

    Lousy flight schools ? selfish instructors’ ? just where did you do your research, you didn’t note it in your blog. or is this sour grapes from from another disgruntled lazy pilot wanna be
    who expects to show up and have someone else take the responsibility for your progress.
    Stay oput of the cocokpit paly, its for poeple who make decisions for themselves.

  3. Eric Robertson Says:

    Boy Frankie, that is a bit harsh. I have no doubt that such conditions exist. However, I agree with you that the depiction is not holistic or completely accurate. I see two events occurring recently.

    First, students are afraid of taking advantage of pre-paid programs because FBOs are going belly up. For example, there is a flight school in Maryland that closed up shop but has not relinquished the records for its students back to the students so the students have an opportunity to move on. I am not sure of the motivation, especially since the FBO went under while still owing prepaid time to students.

    Second, people are being more conservative with their money. I pay for my flying lessons with music I make from my side business, playing music. Music revenues have gone down due to the economy so it has killed my flying budget. I have thought about quitting. However, I have worked really hard, aced my written exam and soloed several times. I love learning about flying, choosing reading books about flying and weather over anything else. If I do quit, it will not be due to laziness, that’s for sure.

    I have to space the lessons out. People argue that this costs more in the long run. However, I believe this is the wrong perspective. It makes it sound as if the cost of flying and learning goes down significantly once the certificate is earned. It may go down some, but not much more than soloing. To avoid frustration, I focus on the journey and not the certificate. Besides, flying is a never ending journey of learning and perfecting, so focusing on the journey is right thing to do.

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