Who Do We Serve?

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5 minute read ·
Possible Hero Graphic - I Quit

Who Do We Serve?

Learning to Aviate with Rich Stowell


Flight training is a business.  AOPA found that two-thirds of our customers“ initially sought training for recreational purposes.”[1]  Our customers also expect “effective training from professional instructors who are dedicated to[their]success.”[2] Yet“the quality of instruction is a persistent issue and a weak link in the chain.”[3]


Graphic 1 - Educational Quality Pie Chart


Sixty percent of those who get a student pilot certificate don’t earn a higher pilot certificate. Many more drop out before even getting their student pilot certificate. That pushes the dropout rate to 70–80percent.[4] Of those who persevere, close to half fail their initial private pilot checkride.[5]


Imagine how much worse these numbers would be without those who are delivering superb training and customer service.


Mixed Messages

We talk about competency-based training and authentic assessment. At the same time, we say that Part 61 students can become private pilots in as little as 40 hours. The national average, though, is around 75 hours.[6]


According to the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook, the goal of flight training is to produce pilots who are “competent, efficient, safe.” We know the average flight time it takes our most determined customers to eventually pass the private checkride. We don’t know how many hours it takes to train them to competency.


We encourage instructors to adhere to a code of conduct. Recommended practices include:[7]


- Approaching flight instruction with seriousness and diligence, recognizing that your life and the lives of your students, their passengers, and others depend on you.

- Adhering to the highest ethical principles in all aviation dealings, including business practices.


Graphic 2 - Model Code of Conduct


We say instructors are professionals. That they are committed “to continuous, lifelong learning and professional development through study, service, and membership in professional organizations.”[8]


At the same time, “our system of developing [airline] pilots forces them to do something many of them aren’t interested in doing—being instructors.”[9] So, we tolerate instructors who are apathetic. Incompetent. Unprofessional.


These mixed messages lead to legitimate concerns by our customers. For example, given the high probability I’ll quit before becoming a private pilot, why should I even start? Why can’t you teach me to become a private pilot in the minimum hours? Why does it take almost double the minimum?


And after spending 75 hours being trained “to competency” by you, why is it still a coin flip whether I’ll pass the checkride? How many instructors will I have to go through along the way?


Graphic 3 - Incompatible Goals


Beating the Odds

The stories of those who persisted are familiar. The pilot who spent $60,000 before finding the instructor who made flying all that she dreamt it would be. The pilot who had to find yet another instructor because the previous five left for the airlines. The pilot who is afraid of stalls because the instructor was afraid of them.


We then tell new private pilots that they’ve earned a license to learn. Given what they went through to get this far, what incentive do they have to go through that again? Why should they do anything other than the minimum requirements of a flight review?


Of course, some will keep searching for good training. They’ll take part in the Wings program. They’ll get new ratings. Some will find excellent instructors, even if it means traveling across the country. They’ll get their questions answered. Their fears addressed. Their skills improved.


What about the rest? Shouldn’t we be cultivating an environment where most pilots view ongoing training as “normal and necessary”? That can’t happen until we fix educational quality and customer focus. If we won’t address the instructor issue, perhaps more discerning customers will do it for us.


Graphic 4 - A Place to Start


Back to Business

Dave Kovar says, “[t]he only way to do good business is to do good business.”[10] The mindset for instructors during every lesson must be that your students are one step closer to continuing or quitting. You are the deciding factor.


What we do matters. Why we do it matters even more.” – Unknown


Even if you only care about building time, instructing is about your students. Their hopes and dreams and even their lives are at stake.  Heck, YOUR life is at stake.  Be professional. Keep learning.  Find a mentor.  Strive to get better.


For consumers of flight training services, don’t settle. Take charge of your education. Do your research. Ask questions. Demand better.


Despite the dropout rate, “the unique experience of learning to fly is inherently rewarding.”[11] Customers seek us out. They want to join our aviation community. Learning to fly is hard enough. Let’s stop chasing customers away with poor instruction.


Instead, let’s learn from model schools and instructors. Empower our instructors to teach and our customers to learn to fly. Aim for a dropout rate of 10 to 20 percent. That starts by remembering who we serve.


[1] AOPA, The Flight Training Experience, October 2010, 8.

[2] Ibid., 45.

[3] Ibid., 16.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] David St. George, “Test Failures and ‘Shopping for a Santa Clause!’” SAFE Blog, December 24, 2022, , accessed May 3, 2024.

[6] FAA, Frequently Asked Questions, accessed May 3, 2024.

[7] “Flight Instructors Model Code of Conduct,” Aviators Code Initiative, accessed May 4, 2024.

[8] FAA, “Aviation Instructor’s Handbook,” FAA-H-8083-9B, 2020, 8-7.

[9] Radek Wyrzykowski, “GA Sickness Lies Much Deeper Than We Care To Admit,” Aero-News, May 27, 2011, accessed May 3, 2024.

[10] Dave Kovar, The Martial Arts Instructor’s Toolbox, 2012, 14.

[11] AOPA, 11.


>> This post was written by a human <<

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