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The Core of General Aviation’s Sickness

By Radek Wyrzykowski

May 2017 - I wrote about the issues in pilot training years ago, but my hopes for a change did not materialize. That is why I decided to write about it once more. Sometimes persistence is needed.

Success can be measured in many ways, but when we try to address general aviation issues via meetings and conferences, I confess to having mixed feelings about what is being accomplished.

I do need to start with a sincere thank-you to all the organizers, volunteers, and organizations of all the safety and proficiency programs. By any measure, making those events happen is an impressive accomplishment and a giant step in the right direction. It also initiates a discussion that was long overdue, but it is addressing a tiny segment of the pilot population.

For a few years now, statistics have shown a dropping number of new pilots. This, together with a poor quality of education, is cause for concern. In my belief, they still call for a full-blown alarm and a declaration of an emergency.

The question, however, is do all the meetings and programs accomplish what is needed?

Some people are overwhelmed by the euphoria of moving in the right direction, or the success of the single event or program itself, and may consider what I am about to say as aviation heresy. But I hope they will understand that any progress and productive outcomes in history have always been characterized by vigorous debate.

One could say that first the problem has to be identified, and then we can look for a solution. But what is the problem? There is no argument that many possible causes for the problems in GA training were already clearly identified by many of us. But, in my opinion, the core of general aviation’s sickness still lies much deeper than we are willing to admit.

The problem is that our system of developing young professional pilots forces them to do something many of them aren’t interested in doing — being instructors. To accomplish their goals, they have to suffer until their time-building sentence is over.

It has resulted in a large group of instructors who simply don’t want to teach but who, through no fault of their own, were put in that position by a flawed system. No release or change of syllabus will make flight instructors use it. No FAA advisory circular or change to airman certification standards is going to create professionalism among them, especially those who have no desire to be aviation educators.

But as long as the system forces young pilots to become CFIs to build hours, there are distinct steps we can take to make that system more effective. No one can or should change a young person’s desires and dreams. But we can shape their behavior and attitudes through better supervision, coaching, and mentoring.

Short-term fixes may relieve us of short-term symptoms. Only a long-term solution based on an assessment of the big picture makes, in my opinion, any sense. It is not going to yield immediate results, but the real fix lies in the results that may show up in five or even 10 years into the future.

There is only one way this objective can be accomplished. We need to institutionalize the role of career instructor. In the words of the former FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt at the Pilot Training Reform Symposium in 2011, “Education helps develop professionalism … we can make rules to require certain professional behavior, but professionalism is a lot more than rule-driven behaviors. It’s a mindset. It’s an attitude that drives you to do the right thing — every time, all the time.”

The creation of a group of career instructors that will be available for years to come is our only salvation. So how do we create this group?

Once more, I propose the creation of a National Flight Instructor Academy. The academy should be established by a council of industry and aviation education leaders and composed of independently approved participating flight instructors and aviation schools across the nation. Instructors and schools would become academy members by adopting a training syllabus developed by that council and set to the highest practice standards. The academy would focus on producing true aviation educators.

Our long-term future is in our hands and does not require any regulatory change. It is up to us to guide, mentor, and demand the higher standard. 

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