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A Million Pilots

By Ian Brown, Editor - Bits and Pieces, EAA 657159

August 12, 2014 - “Oshbash”, a panel discussion hosted by Airplanista blogger and aviation writer Dan Pimentel at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2014, explored how the aviation community could reverse the continuing decline in the pilot population. Once over 850,000 in the United States, the number of pilots has fallen to around a half-million. In 1992, the EAA Young Eagles program set a goal of giving flights to one million kids by 2003. Many thought that to be unachievable, but it was achieved. And today more than 1.8 million kids have taken a Young Eagles flight. Could a similar campaign be organized to create one million pilots?

Frank Ayers, chancellor of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott Campus, said ERAU had recently developed a free course called Aviation 101 that the general public can access. He also mentioned that ERAU was focusing on encouraging young women to enter the aviation field. Ayers mentioned Icon Aircraft’s idea of contacting anyone with a student pilot certificate who did not finish flight training and encouraging him to finish. Ayers added that we should be making a transition into the fleet of the future, leveraging technology such as the iPad and developing aircraft of the future as more reasonable transportation devices.

Peggy Chabrian, president of Women in Aviation International (WAI), suggested EAA chapters are excellent organizations to encourage interested youngsters in getting more involved in aviation. She also noted that setting up booths in malls might be a way to attract young ladies in particular. When asked what she thought was the next step for someone fresh out of aviation college, she recommended getting them out to an airport right away and to get involved. Chabrian noted that while there had been a 350 percent increase in women earning an ATP certificate at the GA level, there has been a rise from 6 percent to 12 percent. WAI memberships include pilots, mechanics, and others, and its 11,000 members divided almost exactly along decade age-groups with about 20 percent in each.

Dick Knapinski, EAA senior communications advisor, noted that the original Young Eagles target of 1 million kids by December 17, 2003, was achieved and surpassed and is close to doubling more than a decade later. He said, “We can do this, too,” regarding the aviation industry’s goal to create more pilots. Knapinski added that it comes down to each of us doing our part, and that a single flight is not enough.

Dan Johnson, president of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA), has flown nearly 400 different aircraft and has logged 6,000 commercial/multi/IFR hours. He said that although the number of pilots has fallen dramatically, light-sport aircraft (LSA) has saved many pilots who would have left forever. He also observed that today many people are going to start flying in LSA at a lower cost than in a 152. Most of his comments were about LSA, which does not apply for Canadians, but he thinks industry could do a better job of reaching out to the general public about LSA and the sport pilot certificate, adding that the FAR 23 changes were brought about chiefly because of LSA’s safety record. Dan suggested providing more scholarships for sport pilot certificates; equipping LSA so they are accessible to pilots with disabilities; exploring electric-powered LSA, which are the most likely category to be suitable; and getting all the various aviation groups to work together.

Kathryn Fraser, GAMA’s director of Safety & Outreach, thinks the reorganization of the U.S. FAR 23 regulations could make GA safer and more affordable. It should also reduce certification costs, which is a fundamental need for manufacturers. The FAR 23 revision may also ripple through to the financial outlay required to get involved in aviation in Canada. Fraser stressed that the industry should do whatever it can to get gender out of the equation. GAMA’s Aviation Design Challenge in collaboration with the X-Plane organization gets students involved in a six-week project to design a Glasair with four-passenger capability using X-Plane flight simulation materials. The prize is a two-week residential quick-build workshop.

Martha Phillips, president of the Ninety-Nines, reviewed her organization’s scholarships for advanced ratings and discovered the need to widen its scope. The Ninety-Nines is increasing its “Fly Now” scholarships to 25 this year. She also said, in response to a question about what the organization is doing to encourage women to get involved in aviation, that it needs to encourage schools and instructors that marketing is a valuable tool. Not all students learn the same way, and good CFIs know this. She also promoted the idea of getting youngsters into aviation organizations and suggested more flying-companion workshops, and she mentioned that the Ninety-Nines’ membership involves every member having a mentor. Phillips thought this would be a great principle for other organizations to adopt and that EAA chapters can do a great job as cheerleaders whenever one of their members has a success like a first solo or a long flight.

Brittney Miculka, AOPA director of Outreach, thought that we all needed to be working together, organizations and individuals, to make aviation more affordable and less intimidating. One concept she reviewed was AOPA’s “152 Reimagined” project and the idea that a completely refurbished older aircraft could be owned in either a joint ownership or a club, which would allow more pilots to get involved. She thought AOPA’s “big megaphone” can be used to bring power to all of the groups.

In closing, Dan Pimental raised the question of what happens next. How do we get the message out? How do we get the conversation started? How do we solve the problem of $10,000 to $15,000 for a private pilot certificate with a $5,000 LSA certificate? Maybe the airlines could be doing more.

As the meeting closed, it seemed that at least the participants on the panel had more exposure to the role that each could play in getting us to one million certificated pilots - a goal that would be more in keeping with the increase in population. Hopefully some of this is going to have an impact on Canadian aviation, too, and just like riveting an airframe, it’s one step at a time.

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