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

Four tips to increase student retention

Ever since I began flight training in 2008, the same question regularly comes up around the airport. “Why aren’t more people coming out to learn to fly?” Given that I was still early in my lessons when first confronted with this industry-wide dilemma, I was baffled–learning to fly was simply the greatest life experience (and investment) possible. I was living my dream for what amounted to the cost of a short-term car payment (more on that later). So, why didn’t others feel the same way?

I started digging into this issue when soon enough my own “plight of flight” set in. Weather started hampering my schedule, and with a three-hour round-trip drive to the airport only to find upon arrival that crosswinds now exceeded the Thorpedo’s limitations, the process quickly grew old. If it were not for the great relationship with my CFI and genuine enjoyment drawn from every lesson (even those on the ground), Mother Nature combined with what soon became one mechanical obstacle after another surely would have shooed me away.

Now, five years later with close to 100 aviation lectures under my belt, I realize that cost itself is not the barrier, but rather, value determines commitment. “How much am I willing to pay to live my dream?” In other words, if it costs me $6,000 to get my sport pilot certificate (and that is what I paid), it is only expensive if I am having a lousy time. If the experience is great, it’s a bargain.

So, what are some things the flight training industry (and pilot community in general) can do to stop losing eight of every 10 students? Here are four ideas:

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