Al Marsh

Calling all kids…Hello?

November 30, 2009 by Alton K. Marsh, Senior Editor, AOPA Pilot

Ray Larner of Lapeer Pilot Center in Lapeer, Mich., just posed an interesting question on the phone. I promised I would put it in our blog and see what happens. How do we light a fire under kids ages five to 20? “We are really, really, letting future generations down,” Larner said. He got into aviation, and chose to enter the U.S. Air Force, because of Sky King, Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover, and all World War II aces. “It was a romantic time in aviation.” Now his granddaughter is determined to make it into the U.S. Air Force Academy. Why? Because Ray is around airplanes all the time, and her father encourages her to become a pilot. But what about the rest? I mentioned the EAA Young Eagles program which strikes at the heart of his question. The Young Eagles plan was to fly a million youngsters (they got 1.5 million and counting). He knows about that and thinks we need something more. What would that be? You can reach him through his Web site or just post something here and he will respond.


15 Responses to “Calling all kids…Hello?”

  1. Kathryn Creedy Says:

    Having been in aviation all my life, the fire was lit under me when I was 4. I am now trying to pass that along to my nephew who yearns to become a pilot. However, as we explore different options we are suffering severe sticker shock as we approach college. College is expensive enough but the flight training for most aviation colleges and universities is considerably more with one estimate given me at a recent job/college fair at $70K.

    Those that have the fire as I did are either put off by the math or the costs. So, what can we do about that?

  2. Steve Tupper Says:

    Take your kids to the airport.

    Audio version:

    It can be that simple.


  3. Laurie Probst Says:

    I have been working with kids in aviation, not only as a Young Eagles coordinator, but also by speaking with scout groups, robotics teams, teen aviation camp participants, kids at civil air patrol, etc. I am both an elementary school teacher and a commercial pilot, working towards a CFI. I have done aviation days, all-school assemblies, etc. There are many many ways to get kids into aviation!

  4. Patrick Flannigan Says:

    In response to Katrhyn’s comment, the math shouldn’t be a factor. Modern technology has done a lot to take the math out of the cockpit. As long as you can add and subtract, you ought to be fine.

    But I do agree that it is a problem. I remember telling people that I was going to be a pilot when I grew up. The response: Oh, you’d better be good at math! No, it didn’t phase me, but it just might be enough to turn away a kid with a bad case of mathophobia.

    Money is a huge problem, but aside from wider availability of scholarship funds, I just can’t imagine any way to bring the cost of flight training down. It’s very much fixed by the fuel and insurance companies.

    If you want to inspire kids, just give them access to aviation. There’s something romantic about flying that is inspiration in-and-of itself. Expose the right kids to pilots and airplanes and they’ll know what to do. Young Eagles does just that – and apparently so does Laurie Probst and hopefully many more educators.

  5. Mark Conway Says:

    I think mentoring kids and taking them flying with you on regular basis beyond Young Eagles would be a good step. When I go out to do IFR training I take along a friend’s son who is interested in becoming a pilot. I’d suggest we set up a website that allows young people who are interested in aviation to get matched up with folks that fly regularly so that whenever someone is flying for fun and has empty seats there is the opportunity to fill them with someone interested in an aviation future. Young Eagles is great but constant exposure and reinforcement of experience will probably have a more profound impact.

  6. David Stack Says:

    I passed ground school when I was 13, but that didn’t help me any because I didn’t live near an airport, was too young to drive and too young to fly anything, even a glider. So, I had the big lapse until getting my PP-SEL license in middle age.

    I presume there was a Civil Air Patrol in my city at the time, but I didn’t know of it and it too probably would have been too far away from my house.

    Introducing kids as youngsters is great, but we need a bridging mechanism through the late teen years.

  7. echomike Says:

    Give the kid’s a ride when you can. Ask them for a “little help” when pushing the plane into and out of the hangar”. Take them out to a different airport for a “look around” and a burger and shake at the restaurant. Ask if they’d like to earn some money sweeping out the hanger. I started out washing airplanes, waxing them and then fueling them. Soon I was chasing parts for the local A+P in a J-3 and a 7AC Champ. Then picking up from and delivering planes for maintenence for the same A+P. It can be done. Just encourage their curiosity.

  8. oldsport Says:

    I love the idea of a database of kids who want to fly and have the permission of their parents. It could be set up by zip code so when I wanted to fly tomorrow I could send a text message to all kids in my area that I was going to fly locally for an hour or more and would be glad to take the first responder along. I don’t know who would manage this database but it should be well within the capabilities of EAA or AOPA. The first issue is getting the word out to the kids to sign up.

  9. Starship Says:

    I am building on “oldsport” and “echomike” comments

    I think all things should be local. Rather than a database, I would suggest the fids/parents sign up through the local FBO. Why:

    1. FBO wants to be good to the neighbors
    2. FBO wants to be inclusive, and get future customers
    3. FBO knows the local pilots and could have signups
    4. FBO could do a screening, maybe the 8 yr old on his first trip shouldnt go with the new 60 hr PPL, but can be directed to someone else.

    Sometimes I fly alone, and would be pleased to have local kids. I have invited some with their parents to climb in the cockpit.

    Sadly liability and insurance are also out there. Its hard to ask a parent to sign a “waiver” for their childs life with a stranger. Its also hard for a pilot to become liable for every potential for a favor towards a stranger.

  10. Stephen Says:

    Hello, I am 20 years old, work as a line tech at a busy GA airport (BFI), and currently working on my CFI so I feel like I can shed some light on this issue. I think this issue boils down to five main things: Money, job availability, money, a changing perspective of aviation, and money.

    Time and time again I’ve been close to dropping out of flight training, but since I love flying I just drive myself deeper into debt to try and finish. Since I fly 172s from the 80s I am one of the lucky ones who is just a little over $50,000 in debt (and currently applying for another $5,000 loan), yet best case scenario is still getting a job at a regional providing me with hobo change for a paycheck.

    To make matters worse, flight training is not a federally-recognized, legitimate form of higher education, so… there are no loans! At least none worth getting. I get away with it by taking out private student loans through my college then cashing the money myself and paying the flight school. Not the best way to do it but I do what I have to do to finish and I think it is ridiculous that I need to find a loophole like that to get a loan for something as seemingly common and familiar as pilot training. Basically what I am saying is the same thing everyone else does: Flight training is too expensive, the jobs are too few, and too low in pay; and there is no government money available for training (loans or grants).

    It seems to me that we are stagnating in a transition point. The days of the military supplying a full load of commercial pilots ended a while ago and now civilian flight training has taken over. Yet, instead of doing what needs to be done to get people to fly (i.e. better recognize civilian flight training), we are just riding it out on the remaining pilots we have who sure aren’t getting any younger.

    As far as the perspective of aviation from the public, I don’t know how constructive this is because I don’t know what we can do about it, but the “magic” of aviation seems pretty worn off. The older generation can remember things like deregulation and $2,000 flights from LA to NY. Flying was a luxury. Nowadays, airline flying is cheap cattle-herding and not many people want to spend years in school and $60,000 for training + college expenses to herd cattle/ drive a bus/ what have you.

    To be honest I think it is a whole lot more than showing kids airplanes (even though I think that is what can help break the idea of comparing airline flying to bus driving), I think it is about making civilian flight training a legitimate entity, with funding and proper job incentive.

  11. John Williams Says:

    I agree with Stephen, not even the VA acknowledges Private pilot flight lessons for loan purposes. After the Buffalo crash, the FAA needs to do something about regional pay. Aviation Universities are a joke and should be ashamed of themselves for charging the prices they do. One friend racked up $230,000 in loans from ERAU, now he flies for Pinnacle making $18,000. Do the math, he’s screwed for life.

  12. John Zimmerman Says:

    Check out the Next Step program with EAA–it addresses exactly this problem. It offers a year-round, systematic way for kids to stay engaged in aviation after a Young Eagles flight. There’s a free flight training course, a logbook and a variety of EAA benefits that show how fun and exciting flying can be. It’s one of the most exciting youth programs to come around since YE started.

  13. Ryan Keough Says:

    Though I am certainly 100% in favor of mentoring via fellow pilots and organizations, I think there is still a huge gap out there in developing PASSION for aviation. I am certainly a product of mentors and airport folks helping me along, but honestly, if it wasn’t for a summer program opportunity offered by my elementary school, I may never have found aviation. For many kids, the drive to the local airport is the challenge. When you have parents who work or believe that aviation is an expensive activity… or don’t feel it’s a good future (i.e.: career pilot), then they become the hurdle in developing that passion. Honestly, I would love to see more middle and high school programs that incorporate aviation into their activities… certainly science classes are great starting points, but history/social studies, and technology/engineering programs are also great places. VoTech extensions should also start treating aviation like they have treated auto mechanic classes and the like for decades (are you listening NY BOCES?).

    I think the other change that needs to happen is much more of a paradigm shift… and that is taking away the emphasis of flying as part of a career path and making it much more of a ‘rite of passage’. Think about it, at the age of 16, the first place a kid wants to go is the DMV to get the learners permit… a clear and understood rite of passage and the key to freedom in the eyes of the teen. Though teenagers are far more likely to be injured in an auto accident than in an airplane accident, parents generally allow their kids to drive yet say “flying is too dangerous and risky” when that question comes up. To truly build the American GENERAL AVIATION industry again, we need to develop a generation of citizens who view air travel by private plane as form of basic transportation… something that’s faster and generally more efficient than driving. It doesn’t need to be a career path… it can merely be a choice for fun and effective travel. If and when that generational shift comes around, then we’ll start seeing more ‘wingnuts’ to match the ‘gear heads’ and the passion for aviation beyond the paycheck becomes a reality.

  14. Name (required) Says:

    So, I’m in my early 20s. I’ve wanted to fly since I was a small child. Since there is no money in professional aviation, and airline pilots are interchangeable union cogs, I found myself drawn to other careers where one can differentiate oneself (i.e. not a union job). I had a good job in undergrad and it paid for my PPL. Now, I’m in grad school and the “low cost” flying club (really a front for a for-profit LLC) wants $85 an hour for a 2-seater. That’s more expensive than a week’s worth of fast food lunches.

    I went to a local EAA meeting and was treated like a nuisance who was to be seen and not heard.

    So, maybe I’ll fly again in 4 years or so. By then, I’ll be able to afford a ~$15,000 C150. Maybe I will be a big enough big boy to be worth of the EAA club by that time too. It’s a pity too. In a past life I worked for a ‘spook’ contractor so I could have helped some of the oldsters wire up their avionics. If I’m worthy…

    General aviation is fun, but it costs me $8/hr to operate my $20,000 automobile (at 60 mph) and $85/hr to rent an airplane. Unless that airplane can carry me about 10X faster than my automobile, the car is more efficient. I’ve had friends ask me to fly them places. I’ve told them that an airline ticket would be cheaper and faster. Maybe if I had a $100,000 airplane, the faster part would be incorrect. So, unless your time is very valuable, or your airplane is very fast (and thus very expensive), the car is cheaper.

    You’ve gotta attract the older people with money to burn. Those of us who are young either cannot afford it or have no time. Even if you add us to your network (i.e. don’t be like the local EAA chapter), we’re not going to be able to sustain an investment in aviation. So, yes there is value in charming young children with the lure of aviation, but life will intervene and lead them astray before they can afford it. You’ve gotta attract the folks who buy motorcycles and $150,000 motor homes. You can also go after young lawyers, engineers, and accountants looking for an escape from their desks.

  15. Name (required) Says:

    By all means, plant the seed in the mind of a young child. It certainly was planted in my mind.

    But, invest at least as much time and effort into getting those who are looking for weekend excitement and have the dollars to burn.

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