Cessna Pilot Centers May be GA’s Last Hope for Reversing Pilot Population Decline

By Scott Spangler on May 22nd, 2008

CPC-logo Reversing the decline of the pilot population “is the most important thing we are addressing,” says Cessna Pilot Center Manager Julie Boatman.

“We have several things in development that I’m not quite ready to talk about yet,” but as part of those efforts Cessna is revitalizing its CPC network and “looking at every element of what we do and how that addresses the demographic we’d like to bring into flying.”

That demographic includes people that general aviation has not traditionally approached before, like professional women. One key to reaching these new audiences, Boatman says, will be to reach beyond the traditional motivations of aviation as a heroic adventure or an effective business tool (both still valid) and sell “flying as a path to personal growth and challenge.”

If anyone has a chance of success it’s Cessna. It has the knowledge, experience, and wherewithal to create and deliver a targeted nationwide effort to recruit new pilots. Equally important, with its nationwide network of nearly 300 CPCs, it can deliver on the promises made.

The personalities of flight schools and FBOs are as diverse as the independent businesses that offer training. CPCs are also independent businesses, but they sign a mutually beneficial agreement with Cessna, Boatman says. “Through that agreement we ask some things of them, and they get some things from us.”

What they get, among other things, are the nationwide marketing effort that recruits new students and a ready-made training curriculum that includes computer-based instruction, which includes general knowledge and flight lesson previews.

What CPCs give is a universal standard of customer service and training that delivers on the promises made by the marketing program. What sustains the relationship is the ability of either party to end it, with 30-days written notice, if one party feels the other is not living up to the terms of the agreement, Boatman says.

C162-rear Sport pilot is an important part of Cessna’s efforts, and CPCs will offer training for this certificate. “We’re in the process of developing a curriculum that will address that,” she says. This work, along with the recruiting efforts now in development, are working alongside the certification of the Cessna 162 Skycatcher, which is scheduled to earn approval as a Special Light-Sport Aircraft next year.

The CPC’s flying classroom for students seeking their sport pilot or private pilot certificate, the 162 also addresses another important factor: cost. “It lowers the cost of entry, both for our flight schools, which is critical, and for the customers by bringing down the rental and fuel costs.”

“We’ve been proving over the past 10 years that putting new aircraft on a flight school’s flight line will definitely help the business,” says Boatman. That help is bringing new people in the door, people “who may  not be familiar with aviation, who may not have the ability to get over certain barriers and preconceptions. We know that a 35-year-old trainer can be a perfectly safe and wonderful airplane, but to a newcomer it takes a leap of faith.” A new fuel-efficient aircraft, with modern technology “gives them a visual impression of greater safety and confidence and that [learning to fly] is a smart decision.”

For the sake of aviation’s future, let’s hope so. — Scott Spangler

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14 Responses to “Cessna Pilot Centers May be GA’s Last Hope for Reversing Pilot Population Decline”

  1. Will Says:

    Nothing like seeing General Avaition thriving. I would like to do anything I can to help promote and interest people in aviation. What a great pass time, family time, and relaxation time. Obviously cost of entry is one of the biggest hurdles.

    I looked at the new Cessna 400 last week at the Parade of Pistons, beautiful plane and fast, but $620,000 that’s more than 95% of people’s houses (excepting the east and west coast)

    LSA seems to be helping with that as well as the kit industry. Check out my site http://www.what2fly.com or my blog and look at some of the options.

  2. Bob Says:

    The decline of the pilot population can be traced to ONE factor ….This factor is the cost of flying ….I would like to know the annual cost of a license and owning a 172 today compared with 10 and 20 years ago …Then rate the annual cost against the percentage of a typical pilot’s annual salary

  3. Robert Mark Says:

    The cost is a factor no doubt Bob. But I also think too few kids are awed with flying. To many, it’s a lot like jumping on a train or getting in the car to head off for a vacation.

    Cost yes. It’s also lousy industry marketing of the value of flying and the well, the joy of flying.

    Rob

  4. eric Says:

    The problem is that flying isn’t FUN. Cessna 172s are boring. Cessn1 152s are OLD and boring. Nobody really wants to learn to fly a pickup truck. The area that LSA is offering more options is fun – just park a 172 next to a Evektor SportStar or something like that. One looks like your mom’s station wagon; the other looks like a sportscar. Then go fly them… one is heavy, boring, and predictable, while the other is light, agile, and (hopefully) predictable.

  5. Patrick Says:

    Flying around in a 172 IS boring. I’m not so sure that getting bounced around in a little Chinese made Skycatcher is going to be that much more fun either.

    I always think about how I could use flying for business trips, but it rarely makes any sense. For trips within the range of a 172, by the time I go to the airport, park, pre-flight, taxi, wait for take-off clearance, get on course, get to the airport a few hundred miles away, land and then get a rental car – I could have been there in my car, in almost any weather, almost certain to be able to make the return trip, at a much lower cost and safer. So where’s the business case?

    Also, do we really need more pilots? There will always be a certain percentage of aviation nuts, the kind that are really into flying, and there will be some drawn by the prestige and salary of airline flying. As the pilot pool dries up, the salaries will go up and more of those types will be drawn.

    The last thing we need are a whole crop of fun seekers, the wind-surfer and jet-ski crowd, buzzing around in Skycatchers and SRSes.

    Like it or not, the rude, customer unfriendly nature of FBOs has served as a kind of filter to keep the less motivated folks away from the cockpit. Maybe there’s some good in that?

  6. Scott Says:

    Above are an interesting range of comments, a snapshot of the outlook of today’s aviators. To see what drives the fluctuations in the pilot population we should look in the mirror, because newcomers take their cues from what we say and do.

    If you were thinking about fulfilling the dream of becoming a pilot, how would you respond to comments such as Flying isn’t FUN, 172s are BORING, 152s are OLD, Flying is for business trips, and It costs too much. We don’t need more pilots making the sky more congested, only those who can afford it need apply.

    We established aviators are really a friendly, welcoming bunch, aren’t we. I was going to say that the last pilot flying should lock the hangar door before hanging up his wings, but on second thought it really doesn’t matter, does it?

  7. eric Says:

    Scott, I think that’s the point. Right now, people learn to fly DESPITE everything you’re counting as negative. They learn because they want to, not because it’s advertised or the next big thing or a way to save money.

    If you have a problem with me saying that 172s are boring and 152s are old, tough. I fly them at work, day in, day out, and it’s true. Newer 172s in particular have been rigged to feel ‘heavy'; just last night I took a private student up for her first flight in the 172 after 30 hours in a 152; she said it was “like driving [her] minivan instead of a subcompact”. If someone is comparing our primary training fleet to a minivan, it’s boring.

    When I’m not working, I fly a 1971 American AA-1A Yankee. It’s older, but it’s fun. It also burns 6 gph and goes 110 knots, a slightly hotter (stall/spin-wise) version of what I HOPE light sport aviation becomes… something challenging and invigorating.

    You asked, we answered.

  8. Scott Says:

    Eric, I don’t have a problem with you, or any other aviator, expressing their opinion. And as a member of the community I agree with you in many ways.

    But, giving the declining number of pilots and student starts, it seems that many people do have a problem with the malaise that permeates the communityas a whole. And they express their problems by walking away from aviation, or never getting started in it.

    My point is that with a negative pilot population growth, the laws of supply and demand dictate that aviation will grow ever more expensive for a dwindling pilot population, giving pilots still flying even more reason to grouse about the cost of flying.

    Like you, I hope that sport pilot takes hold because it is, perhaps, aviation’s last chance to reverse the declining population. What concerns me is the first impression these newcomers will get when they walk in the door.

    But there is hope, I think, because you and others answered the questions I posed. Silence is a sign of apathy, a sign that aviation is so unimportant to us it’s not worth a few minutes to submit a comment.

    Conversation is good because it makes each of us evaluate our thoughts and feelings, and we need to expand it by forwarding the link to this conversation to our flying friends and foes. In expanding this dialogue we can at least take stock of where we, as a community, are, and where we want to go.

  9. Will Says:

    Such well thought out responses.

    Bottom line, minivan or subcompact I really think the joy of flying is FREEDOM. Do kids or people now think of freedom or I wish I could fly like we did when we were kids? I mean when is the last time you went to the airport ate at the runway cafe and showed people how close you can get to planes and ‘aviation stuff’. Ahh the smell of jet fuel in the morning.

    Minivan or subcompact, you get to FLY, above the ground look down, see stuff you can’t see in the car does that sound cool at all?

    I think part of the boring is the we learn to fly, then we want to go faster then we get to the business of it and forget the pleasure and freedom. As the late, as of this week, Sydney Pollack said, I don’t fly for pleasure much anymore it is too much business climbing to altitude and getting there in my Citation X.

    The half full or half empty mentality really has to be thought out. If it is my glass hopefully it is half full, if it is my trash can hopefully it is half empty. So minivan or subcompact hopefully LSA will for a better operational price allow us to enjoy why we started flying and get others to enjoy it too.

    Go to the airport, its like the gym once you get there a few times you figure out there is some fun stuff going on. (I fall into the passionate nut mentioned in other posts)

    Hopefully I spelled everything correct… :)

  10. Mike Says:

    Excellent discussion we’ve got going on here everyone. I am currently a 19 year old student pilot in the north east and feel my comments should hold some value to the conversation.

    I am a full time University student majoring in education and decided this March it would be a good feather in my cap to go and pursue a pilot’s certificate. I knew I would enjoy flying, as it was something that I had a love for since I was small though I didn’t know I would LOVE it to the extent that I do now.

    After my first intro flight, and dumping 100% of my savings into a private pilot’s license, I found myself to be engulfed in this new found world of aviation and really sought a personal liking to developing that into something practicable. I am now training for a career as a pilot while also pursuing my degree in education.

    From this forum I get the sense of many experienced and educated aviators, jaded by the realities of the “business,” that goes along with aviation.

    For me as a student flying my 172, I have not controlled anything more maneuverable or less of a minivan, so I do not know any better. Regardless, and as Will stated, you get the chance to fly and all of the goodies that go along with it. For me, the fun of flying lies within my training, and moreover actually getting to experience flight itself. Speed and maneuverability of my aircraft play a very little factor in the fun column when I’ve got all that pretty scenery to look at outside the window.

    The news of the pilot population going down is actually good news to a younger generation of aviators like myself. More jobs openings and less qualified applicants mean a greater selection for me down the road. And though I know the road is long to a job with good pay and good hours, I am more than willing to work for peanuts on a crappy schedule in order to obtain a job with a well respected major or corporate airline.

    As for the negative comments surrounding aviation now-a-days, I have learned to take it with a grain of salt. If you’re willing to put in the necessary work, however long be it, then I firmly believe that there will be a reward for you at the end of that path. I do not mind taking my time and following the required rubric or criteria to becoming an airline pilot. Though the training IS in fact very expensive, it does cost significantly less than a private university degree, and generally will pay just as much if not more than the jobs dispensed by the degree’s given from universities.

    All in all, aviation for me, as I see it now, is like any other job market. The best jobs go to the most qualified people with the best attitudes and work ethic. I am willing to keep my hopes up despite the furloughs, mergers, and bankruptcies, and moreover, I am willing to work and earn my title as a pilot, whether that means living on Ramen noodles for the next 6 years of my life, that sits well with me because I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    Sometimes I know it helps to see things from the perspective of someone newer to the industry. My only newbie advice to all of you is to not stop looking out the window and to not forget what you are doing. The world is a much better place from a couple thousand feet in the air, and many of us here have the means to experience that either commercially or just as a hobby. You are FLYING, what is there to complain about?!

  11. Scott Says:

    Excellent observations, Mike, and remembering to look out the window and relish the magic of flight is something we all should remember.

    But I must disagree on the “benefits” of a declining pilot population for important economic reasons. Flying, whether for fun or a career, is no exempt from the laws of supply and demand, so fewer customers mean higher prices for goods and services.

    According to FAA statistics, roughly 60 percent of GA flight time is categorized as “personal,” which means these pilots are paying their own expenses. Those flying for business defray their costs through tax decuctions, and employers pay the bills for those flying for hire.

    In other words, those flying for fun are carrying the load, especially in GA, which is the where most pilots get their start. To see what the flying life would be like without a sizeable and growing GA pilot population, look at any nation where it does not exist. Personal flying is only for the rich, and flying careers are possible only through the airlines that select and train pilots (often in the US) on the military model, where only a handful of hopefuls can pursue their dreams of flight.

    To sustain our tradition of flight–and its opportunities–America needs a viable and growing pilot population.

  12. Alex Says:

    I agree with Eric, flying a 172 is boring. The only reason I stayed in aviation was so I could get to fly something more ‘creative/sexy’ like the Cirrus/Columbia etc and later aerobatic aircraft. ‘Killing’ 250 hrs in a Cessna 172 or 182 was like pulling teeth until I built up enough hours. I never will forget taking up a friend recently on his first flight in a new 172S. I flew 500 feet above the coast just so I could make the flight ‘interesting’ up to L.A.. On the way back we were at 4000 ft he said ‘is this as fast as we can go?’ I was somewhat ashamed to admit ‘YES!’. He after one hour confirmed what I had felt all along; GA is just down right boring. Cessna, who has whored out the same basic, antiquated designs since late 1950s would STILL be selling the same old tired designs if not for the creative companies like Cirrus, Columbia (now Cessna, who I think ‘cheated’ and bought into ‘cool’), Diamond, etc. Cessna, who has more sales than anyone in GA, just chose to not lift a finger to come up with anything new and unique during the last forty years. And they wonder why interest wained. Very similar to the American car industry who had their asses beat by the Japanese while they sat like fat cats saying ‘it’s good enough, relax, they have to buy our junk.’

    Sure gas is astronomical now, and insurance liability (again, good old American greed at work there) was a nasty culprit, but in my opinion Cessna is guilty of being lax and offering nothing new or creative to the market for way too many years. Milking the same old designs with aluminum and rivets assuming no one would complain. Their R&D budget for GA single engine aircraft must have been, oh, $20 a year since 1969? Ha! If it was more I sure would like to see what they came up with! If it wasnt for thinkers outside the box, like Cirrus, etc, we would STILL be stuck with primitive designed aircraft. Thank you Cirrus and others. You deserve all your success and thank you for leading GA out of the ‘dark ages’.

  13. Aerotrekking Back to Coffin Corner - Jetwhine: Aviation Buzz and Bold Opinion Says:

    [...] several past posts, Low CFI Birthrate & Graying Population Adding to Teacher Shortage and Cessna Pilot Centers May be GA’s Last Hope for Reversing Pilot Population Decline. Needless to say, it pitched me into a death-spiral of despair. In tough times we need to support [...]

  14. charles Says:

    The Sportstar is the most fun of all the enclosed cockpit a/c I’ve flown. It’s solid yet maneuverable, the ailerons and elevator are push rod activated, it’s got great range, visibility is superb. The only problem is finding one for rent and the other is that the cost is not low.

    One BIG factor that dimiinishes flying for me that I’ve not seen mentioned here is all of the rules and departure BS at major airports. Getting vectored all over creation is expensive and frustrating.

    Charles

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