Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Learning To Fly: All About Priorities


There’s a practical solution to every barrier in aviation


One of the most rewarding things I do as a pilot is to take people for their first airplane ride. Many of them have flown in airliners before but few, if any, have flown in small, general aviation airplanes.

I own a Great Lakes biplane, so the added thrill of an open cockpit leaves my first-time passengers with an experience they won't likely forget.

I can see the wonder in their bare-toothed smiles as I look over their shoulder from my perch in the rear seat. I often hear, "I can't believe you get to do this all the time!" through the intercom.

It would be great to tell you that all these people go on to become pilots, but that's not the case. I've had the invigorating experience of taking high-school students for their first rides, and had one of them begin to seriously pursue a pilot career as a result.

It wasn't my piloting that did it, it was that little strand of DNA that aviators seem to share that was waiting to be energized by the sound of a propeller and the wind flowing over flying wires.

In this student's case, she was hooked the minute the tires left the runway, as I was the first time I flew.

During a recent conversation with an aviation friend (a marketing manager for a major aviation manufacturer), we were lamenting the fact that fewer kids today want to learn to fly.

We agreed that aviation had lost its romance and allure, at least with the younger generation. Added to that was the cost of flying and, most interestingly, the attitude of many pilots toward newcomers. What came to light though is that there are ways around each barrier.

The sport-pilot certificate is an explosion of opportunity for those who couldn't afford flying before. With slews of flight schools advertising sport-pilot training for under $4,000, earning that certificate isn't a far-fetched financial goal anymore.

Related to that, light-sport aircraft (LSA) aircraft are renting in the $100/hour range at flight schools around the country. A decent used aircraft can be bought today for $20,000—the price of a modest car.

AOPA's recent push for the creation of flying clubs is a big step (I'd call it a giant leap) in the right direction. Flying clubs make flying truly affordable to everybody and have been overlooked since the free-wheeling economic decades of the past. But today, flying clubs and shared ownership are how many of us keep flying.

Browse through the AOPA flying club listing by state (aopa.org/CAPComm/flyingclubs/flyingclubfinder), and you'll discover scores of real-world aviation deals. Just a cursory search unearthed a flying club in Southern California (considered one of the most expensive states to fly in) offering a complete private pilot certificate (with 60 realistic training hours) for under $5,000! The sport-pilot certificate can be had for even less. The argument that "flying costs too much" is quickly becoming false.



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