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