The Bi-Weekly Journal for the Proficient Pilot
This is no way to run an airline:
Sorry to say this but much of our traditional flight training has gone the way of today’s airlines. That is, pack them in, sit them down, shut the door, hold them captive, land them late, lose their bags, and hope they’ll come back for another flight. Yeah, right!
Curiously, defenders of the current flight training system offer up the same lame excuses as airline managements. “It’s all a matter of costs,” they shout in unison. Flight training is too expensive to be offering students anything more than the basic essentials needed to pass the test.
Well, Virginia, it doesn’t have to be this way. It costs us nothing more to make a few fun landings on a funky grass strip, or to conduct necessary ground training over coffee, Coke, and a hamburger in an airport cafe, or to arrange rides for our students in high performance, home-built, or aerobatic airplanes hangared at our home or nearby airport. Visits to the tower or radar room are fun . . . but seldom done in traditional flight schools. Ever think of spending a few minutes at a destination aviation museum before departing for home?
Why is none of this stuff done?
Answer: Because none of this stuff is required in the private pilot PTS.
It costs us pennies to hand our students a complimentary bottle of cold water before boarding the aircraft. It only takes just a minute to wipe the bugs off the windscreen and to remove the cockpit debris left from the previous flight before climbing in. Hey, anybody ever thought of washing the training aircraft occasionally? Bring along a student or two to Sun ‘n Fun or AirVenture in Oshkosh? Perish the thought!
As for the training syllabus, leave it on the ground. Instead, fly to some neat destinations for breakfast (or lunch, or supper). Encourage students to bring along a friend. Make every training flight a new adventure.
“Well, duh, how are we supposed to cover the required training elements if we’re just joy riding around the continent,” asks the unimaginative flight school or CFI?
Answer: We sneak in a little slow flight, or navigation exercises, a couple of steep turns, diversionary or emergency landings on grass fields, even a stall or two enroute to breakfast. On the way back, we do some hands-free flying to hone trimming skills. We surreptitiously secure a pop-up IFR clearance to enable our students to experience “real” IFR flight instead of snapping an awkward hood over their heads.
As for the syllabus we left on the ground . . . check off the elements covered during the flight after the student leaves the building. Nobody likes to sit around while the CFI does his paperwork. Better yet, spend the end of the day in some “hangar talk” with students. Crack open your favorite beverage and simply “unwind” with a few future aviators.
Let’s not forget that our aim is to have the student learn rather than for us to teach. Learning IS fun; receiving instruction is a drag. Our failure to recognize this difference is why most of the 60% of all primary flight students quit before checkride.
In summary, we can find other things to blame for our deplorable new student drop-out rate, but our half-century old primary flight training methods are top on the list. Fix this problem and our pilot numbers will soar! If we don’t, the few remaining students that we do have will find other things to do with their discretionary income.
When that happens, GA will continue to fade away as a vestige of an earlier era.
Bob Miller, ATP, CFII_rjma@rjma.com_716-864-8100