Answering the big questions

August 20th, 2013 by Jamie Beckett

It is a persistent misconception in the non-aviation world that a pilot, is a pilot, is a pilot. We who are involved in the industry, either as hobbyists or professionals, are well aware that an F-15 pilot, an A-320 pilot, and a C-172 pilot all share certain basic skills and insights, even though their day to day flying experiences differ significantly. We haven’t done a particularly good job of sharing that news with our friends and neighbors, however.

Perhaps it is this peculiarity of flight that makes answering the big questions so hard. Understand, when I refer to the big questions, I’m not talking about life and death questions that existential philosophers struggle with throughout their lives. I mean the common questions that become such debilitating stumbling blocks for so many who might potentially want to get in the game. The answers to these first curious queries can be so varied, or so unnecessarily dogmatic that a potential new convert may become overwhelmed or confused or frustrated and simply decide to go sailing, or buy an RV instead. From their perspective the other options are easier to get involved with. Heck, other forms of recreation have managed to sketch out how to get started on a simple three-fold brochure.

Why can’t aviation do that?

“How much does it cost to become a pilot?” That’s  probably the most common question I hear from non-pilots who might be day-dreaming about the possibility of learning to fly. The true answer is of course, “It depends.” Although for someone who has no understanding of why the cost of flight training can vary so widely, that simple, honest answer is insufficient to say the least.

Rather than overwhelm the newbie with long dissertations about the options of Sport Pilot, Recreational Pilot, Private Pilot, and then piling on with a spreadsheet explaining the costs and benefits of personal ownership, using the club model, fractional ownership, or renting…what if we all agreed this was a reasonable answer, “The cost really depends on how you decide to pursue your training. As a student you have a lot of control over the cost of learning to fly, and over the amount of time it takes.”

There’s nothing specific in that answer, but it covers the bases. It lets the newbie know they aren’t getting involved in a one-size-fits-all program they have to adapt to. Right out of the gate they know there are options. And those options can be tweaked to fit their work or vacation schedule. They can control costs by learning more about the various ways of accessing aircraft and picking the method that works best for them. In short, they find out right from the beginning that becoming a pilot is not something that they have to conform to, it’s simply a series of choices and challenges that vary with each individual person – depending on what they want to do with their pilot certificate in the long run.

The way we answer those big questions can have a profound effect on how large or small this pilot club gets. It’s a conversation we need to have. So be part of it, and bring your A game to the table. We could all make use of your best ideas.

Jamie Beckett

Jamie Beckett is a passionate promoter of all things aviation who focuses his attention on the positive more often than not. He is the former president of the Polk Aviation Alliance in central Florida. He is committed to working to build a growing pilot population as well as a greater appreciation for general aviation nationwide.

The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.

  • http://aopa Richard S. Taliaferro

    As a young USAF liaison officer to the US Army I quickly discovered that the answer to ALL aviation questions is, “That depends.”
    It drives non-aviators crazy, and they quickly run out of patience. It is, however, the nature of the beast.

  • http://www.peter-collins.org Peter L Collins

    “It Depends” comes under the general heading of “Cop Out”. A more helpful answer might be: “For a Microlight license you could be flying solo for as little as $2,000 but you would be limited to very small planes, in daylight only, and not yet authorised to carry passengers. Beyond that, it depends how far you want to go. Best is to work for an aviation company and have your employer subsidise your training. For example, to be trained in a 737, as an independent, as well as paying the instructor, you have to pay the cost of running the plane – whatever the charge is per hour, that’s what you pay, and you can imagine the charter fee for that!”
    It’s my view (down here in the deep south that we call New Zealand) that we have to be honest about the (a) the lower limit, and (b) the way our costs relate to the aims we plan to achieve.
    It is not the nature of the beast – it is the nature of being asked questions when you haven’t had a chance to prepare your answer beforehand!

  • http://401kts.com Barry Rickert

    The cost of your training is incidental to the cost of what you do next or what are you going to do with that license. Getting a license without having a need is why the drop out rate is so high (just my opinion). People tend to learn to fly because they WANT to and drop out because they don’t need to fly.

    I suggest that learning to fly be 25% want and 75% NEED. If you NEED to become a professional pilot to attain your career goal then that is good. If you NEED to become a pilot for flying your own plane on business that is a great reason. If you WANT to learn to fly to fulfill a dream or check off an item on your bucket list that is good as well but with no need you will drop out as life has ways of changing WANTS.

  • Jay

    The short and accurate answer is, “A lot, and then ownership is a lot more”, which is why no one gives a short and accurate answer.