Ensuring aviation’s future by encouraging more people to fly has been attempted by many programs in the past. Despite their good intentions, their collective results are ultimately measured by the ever shrinking pilot population. But several events at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh are chipping away at my skepticism. They are tangible, visible signs that the necessary stars are aligning, perhaps the best chance ever for success.
I saw the first star at the National Association of Flight Instructors Meet the Master’s Breakfast on Thursday, July 30. New FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt was there to present the Jack J. Eggspuehler Award to the Jeppesen Aviation Training Solutions Team for its enduring and “significant contribution to flight instructors, flight instruction, and aviation education.”
Before presenting the award, Babbitt mentioned that he started his career in general aviation and was a flight instructor. Hmm, that’s something I’ve never heard from an FAA administrator. But what he did next really got my attention.
Instead of bolting from the tent immediately after making the presentation, as administrators typically do, Babbitt loaded up a plate at the buffet, sat down at a picnic table, and listened to Airbus A380 test pilot Terry Lutz talk about how training that’s too standardized can impede critical, creative thinking. Even more unusual, Babbitt stayed to talk with NAFI Chairman Phil Poyner, Executive Director Jason Blair (in photo), and the other pilots. Before long his hands were flying in conversation.
Having an FAA administrator who is a pilot–and likes being with them–can’t be a bad thing, especially when he got his start in GA.
I saw the other stars falling into place in EAA’s Learn to Fly Discovery Center, just up from AeroShell Square, where earlier in the week EAA and AOPA signed a historic memorandum of cooperation. Right there, next to the Remos GX on display was the AOPA Flight Training magazine kiosk, working like everyone else in the tent to encourage people to act on their dreams of flight.
In the Learn to Fly Center, EAA, NAFI, and AOPA, joined by sponsors Sporty’s Pilot Shop and Remos, a German LSA manufacturer, announced that the inaugural Learn to Fly Day will be held on May 15, 2010. Its primary goal is to get people interested in flying out to the airport no matter where they live. While the details are still in gestation, overall it’s a collaborative effort that involves governments, associations, and industry working toward a common goal. It’s about time they realized that fighting for a larger piece of a shrinking pie is counterproductive when making the pie bigger offers greater rewards.
I have no doubt that International Learn to Fly day will get people out to the airport. My larger concern is turning these prospects into student pilots; putting people in cockpits as happy student pilots is something that most flight schools don’t do well because they are run by people trained to fly, not to market a product or service–and make the sale.
The last star in the growing alignment is Gary Bradshaw of PilotJourney.com. Another resident of the Learn to Fly Center, he excels at finding qualified prospects, and he has the stats to show that one in four who take Pilot Journey Discovery Flight sign up for training. (I’ll cover Gary’s innovative ways in an upcoming post.) So, it seems that all that’s necessary to give aviation a future are getting into place. All we need now is time and persistence. — Scott Spangler