Where are the instructors?

No matter where in aviation you look, it seems the hot topic is making new pilots. Or that the pilot population is aging. We, as pilots, need to hurry up and make more before our airports all disappear.

I own a small flight school in Massachusetts called FCA Flight Center operating out of Fitchburg (KFIT). For us, the problem surely isn’t new students, it’s getting CFIs to train them. There seems to be a larger hole in CFI ranks than in students. I’ve searched high and low all over the Internet with no luck, including a website designated for CFIs to job search. We currently have six part-time instructors. Nonetheless, we do not have any working three days per week. The planes sit on the ground on beautiful flying days.

As far as I’ve researched, we’re the highest paying flight school in the area for CFIs. The camaraderie here is great. The competition is friendly. When the instructors aren’t flying with students, they fly together out for dinner or currency.

We also have a thriving active pilot’s association on the field with more than 120 members. The Fitchburg Pilots Association EAA chapter 1415 has monthly meetings with anywhere from 50 to 200 attendees. CFIs and pilots here have no trouble making friends.

Once the CFI issue has been solved and flight training is being provided properly, we have two items left I can see to bring GA over the top. First would be to provide help to all airports to have a thriving pilot’s association. We need leaders to bring them together. That’s when pilots fly more and fly safe. Next would be marketing. General aviation fails tremendously in this area. Just try telling someone not in aviation you’re going to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for a week in July and you’ll see what I mean. It’s the best kept secret in the world. Boats, motorcycles, and even gun clubs market themselves better than we do. It’s about time we ask our friends like Harrison Ford and Morgan Freeman to help us market GA to the general public.

Charley Valera, owner FCA Flight Center

Where are the instructors?

When we talk about flight training, we typically talk about how many people are trying to learn, earn certificates and ratings, or even how many “dropped out” and didn’t finish. We assume there will be enough flight instructors to train anyone who wants to learn. But this may not always be the case.

Jonathon Freyeand I recently co-authored a white-paper specifically discussing “Flight Training Capacity in the Context of Recent Legislation.” The goal was to provide an examination of the impacts of reduced training capacity and the declining rates of airmen certification. What we found worried us. I then spent some time last week at the Embry-Riddle University hosted National Training Aircraft Symposium in Daytona Beach, a two-day conference of aviation educators (mostly collegiate), training industry organizations, and airline representatives. I came home even more worried.

Our capacity to train pilots relative to the demand that is forecast is in question. It is even more troubling if we consider the potential of proposed rulemaking that the FAA has issued in response to law that was made by Congress requiring additional training, and a minimum of 1500 hours for those in professional pilot positions (airlines, charter, and fractional ownership aircraft operations). We have talked about pilot shortage possibilities for years, and it has been a “cry-wolf” kind of situation, but I think we are going to have some real pilot shortage problems in the near future. The propsed regulations will fundamentally change the types and quantity of training that universities, colleges, local FBOs, and academies, are going to need to provide to graduate or create a pilot qualified for a professional pilot job.

Continue reading