Time is Flight Training’s Critical Cost

By Scott Spangler on January 7th, 2013

In discussing a wide range of subjects starting with flight training, much has been said about the dilatory and disaffecting consequences of aviation’s financial requirements. But in order of importance, money must follow time, a finite resource that can never be renewed, only used efficiently.

If not effectively and efficiently guided by a well thought out curriculum designed for the student’s particular needs and acted upon by a teacher and student committed to its goals, learning to fly can squander vast amounts of both time and money if either member of this educational team is not prepared, on-time, and ready to work.

No matter how well designed and delivered a flight training program may be, preparation is key to mitigating the waste that can result when unplanned variables threaten a scheduled lesson. A proactive maintenance and inspection program reduces the chances of a mechanical cancellation, and another aircraft of short wait for a returning trainer can often salvage the already committed investment of time.

Dealing with Mother Nature isn’t so easy when she makes it clear that real airplane flying is not a safe educational pursuit. Canceling the lesson shouldn’t be seen as a waste of time when safety is at stake. The value gained or lost should be measured by how the teacher and school reinvest the time.

clip_image001Flying indoors with a simulator or flight training device, if the school is so equipped, can be a superior investment of training time, if specific “weather plans” are part of the overall curriculum. That is one of the goals at the Fox Valley Technical College where the aviation program at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is integrating two Redbird full-motion sims into all of its flight training programs.

Ground school and “chair flying” can be traditional foul-weather alternatives, if they focus on actual weaknesses of knowledge or skill rather than a topic the instructor snatches from thin air. The same assessment applies to sims, but this option can squander time’s value if the student’s flying skills are checkride ready and his or her knowledge of the regulations or other classroom subject are not.

Ultimately, the decision—and the value of time spent—lies with the teacher. “Supplemental training” is what Sporty’s Academy calls “alternatives to airplane flying during inclement weather,” said Eric Radtke, academy president and chief flight instructor, and “meticulous record keeping (all to Part 141 standards) avoids unnecessary or duplicate training tasks.”

Sporty’s has employed a Frasca 142 since 1992, and its new Frasca Mentor, with a 200-degree visual system and satellite imagery of the terrain within 150 miles of Ohio’s Clermont County Airport, went online in December 2011. Like Fox Valley Tech, Sporty’s is in the process of carefully integrating the device into all of its training programs to make learning more efficient and economical.

“Our staff has the authority to always conduct supplemental flights in the Frasca devices if they are performing tasks or lessons not specifically designated for the device,” said Radtke. “ We do require Chief Instructor approval anytime we are officially changing equipment to accomplish a lesson.”

Preprogramming specific lessons is another step Sporty’s and Frasca are taking to make all sim training more efficient. In most general aviation simulator training, the instructor must also run the sim, which distracts from his primary mission—teaching. Once complete, the teacher will start a programmed ground reference maneuver, emergency situation, or diversion scenario, and then focus all attention  on how the student performs or deals with the situation at hand.

But all work and no “play” can also have a deleterious effect on students. Foul weather can be like a snow day, an opportunity to learn about some intriguing aviation topic not included the training program’s curriculum. Equipped with a real Garmin G1000 system, Sporty’s has designed a number of Mentor flights that introduce students to cockpit glass. Certainly, there are many other options limited only by the teachers’ educational imagination. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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12 Responses to “Time is Flight Training’s Critical Cost”

  1. @williamAirways Says:

    Full motion Redbird isn’t cheap. And a FRASCA is about as expensive as a real airplane. Just how many flight schools can afford this level of hard asset investment and standardization of their instructors? Never mind the independent flight instructor which will never (99.9% I’m guessing) be able to afford this approach. Sounds good on paper, as most things. Try getting it implemented. There’s a reason why we don’t hear about Redbird going IPO. Not enough people are buying into it. And if I had to buy a FRASCA vs. a real airplane, I’ll but the real airplane and give real world training. Students can always chair fly for free and do something that they should be doing anyway: study the mountain of information that they’re expected to know, and practice written and oral exams.

  2. Pat Delaney Says:

    Finally! Someone (besides me) has reconized that time, and not just money, is a major impediment to students completing flight training. People are pulled in so many directions today for so many different reasons and in my experience as a CFI, its by far the largest obstacle for the average student. There is no shortage of people out there enthralled with aviation and flying a plane but there is a huge shortage of people with the time, and in many cases sufficient motivation, to complete all the steps necessary to actually get a pilot’s certificate.

  3. Ron Says:

    Why must “money follow time”? I’ve had students with plenty of time but no money. I’ve also had the exact opposite. Sometimes both are in short supply.

    Each individual is different and they bring varying backgrounds, talents, and limitations to the table. One of the instructor’s great challenges is to find way within that framework to help the student achieve their goal.

    To say money always follows time, however, doesn’t ring true in my experience.

    –Ron

  4. Tim Kern Says:

    Do you suppose that those who know they don’t have the money don’t get involved in the first place, and that those who don’t have the time, won’t find out until after they’ve tried for a while?

    Do you think that the self-reported answers are totally accurate? “I didn’t have the time/money” is considerably easier to say than, “I scared myself,” or “I realized this was too hard, for the enjoyment I planned to derive,” or “I’ll never learn all this stuff.”

  5. Larry Says:

    Another continuing effort by the AOPA propaganda machine to minimize the fact that dwindling finances and increasing costs are the NUMBER ONE reasons for our shrinking pilot population. Same for prospective pilots who are hit with sticker-shock when they find what it costs for the privilege of learning to fly in a smelly, vintage 1970′s plane with ripped carpets, seats that stopped adjusting years ago and knobs that refuse to stay on place.

    Sure it takes time commitment. I like to schedule my flights at night after my work day has (usually) ended. Time is flexible — if an activity cannot be done today or at a certain hour, it can be moved to another date and time. For most of us working-class stiffs, the money stream is fixed and does not get larger. Rather, it has decreased for many of us.

    I joined a flying club at an airport 45 minutes away to be able to scrape by financially and fly at an hourly rate that won’t backrupt me. Now I was just informed that our monthy dues are increasing, not enough to make me leave aviation but it illustrates how a thousand small bites to our wallets can drive many to simply give up and pursue better lifestyles for themselves and their families. The amount of flying I accomplish is about an hour every week or two, again due to finances and not because of time constraints. I do not consider this to be adequate for the level of skill I wish to maintain but I don’t have a printing press in my basement to churn out money the way our government does.

    We can go on ignoring the big white elephant in the room called “affordability” (or lack thereof), as we watch the aviation community languish into nothingness. Some have said we can even add “greed” to the mix. Go to an AOPA seminar when one comes to your area and count the number of participants without gray hair. You probably won’t need all ten fingers to keep track of the tally. We who know the joys of flying do whatever possible to stay in it. The pipeline of new, younger pilots is being squeezed shut when they see the expense of flying, then they run the other way before even trying it out.

  6. Robert Mark Says:

    I’m not sure I’m buying all this Larry. I seriously doubt that Scott was implying that cost is no longer an issue and that it’s only about time. Can’t it be some of both, plus a few more, like that fact that there are now a hundred other fun things people often find to do that don’t require a year of their life to learn.

    Our flying club went out and leased a SkyArrow which if you look at it on an hourly cost basis, is 30% less out my pocket every hour I fly. We can’t control everything, but we can work hard to control what we can … including the time spent learning to fly I think.

  7. Larry Says:

    I don’t care if you’re “buying all this”, Robert. And I’m totally fine that you have an opinion on the topic, even if it differs from mine in some respects. Nothing you just said is news to me. And I’d like you to indicate where I wrote that “Scott was implying that cost is no longer an issue and it’s only about time”. You and I seem to agree that this is a more complex problem than just that.

    A pattern I have noticed for some time is that whenever the issue of cost arises, and the AOPA is part of that discussion, they consistently present other reasons ahead of cost when proposing solutions to the drop in numbers of pilots. Of course affordability is not the only factor. I simply maintain that during the last decade or so, it has been the BIGGEST factor for the decline and should not be downplayed as AOPA has decided to do in this faltering economy.

    Thanks for your response to my post.

  8. @williamAirways Says:

    Larry, I wholeheartedly agree with you that AOPA has been down playing the whole cost factor. When they came out with that bull crap research on the decline in the pilot population, they have the balls to say cost was not a factor. The bigger kick in the balls was when they said that CFIs were to be blamed for lack of customer service. Just for that, I’d like to take Craig Fuller into a back alley and dissect his bowels with my bare hands. In addition to the wasteful spending and the outrageous compensation packages that their upper management receives, blaming the CFIs for the pilot decline was the last straw for me; and I left AOPA, and I will never go back to them. I don’t even encourage my students to join AOPA. If they do, great, if not, all the better.

    Any CFI knows that cost is a factor. When students don’t study, and the training gets dragged out because their “disuse” kicks in, the costs go up. And when students look at their bank account and see that it’s going to cost more than what they were given as an estimate, most of them bail. By the way, the estimated cost we give to students do NOT include inconsistent, sporadic, haphazard studying habits. Most people have no idea how much work there is to become a pilot. And when they come in thinking it’s like signing up for yoga, they quickly realize they’ve bitten more than they can chew, and bail. Disgustingly, AOPA will take these start-stops as viable statistics in order to mold their conclusions to their advantage.

    >> Why did you quit?
    “My instructor sucked.”

    Translation: Student didn’t study, it was too much work.

    AOPA Conclusion: CFI lacked customer service. Blame CFI for 80% drop out.

    Good times.

    I’ve come up with an acronym for what it takes for students to succeed:

    STEM

    S – Study
    T – Time
    E – Effort
    M – Money

    If a student is lacking in any one of these, at any time, their chances of pilot certification is severely in doubt.

  9. Larry Says:

    While I certainly don’t advocate any form of physical punishment of the president of AOPA, I hear the pain in your post, @williamAirways. Guys like you are on the front lines dealing with these problems every day. Numerous CFI’s have told me the same things you did in your post, although most did not lay it out so concisely. They ALL said the number one reason for losing new or existing students was lack of money. Typical students-to-be walk in asking for information, hear the hourly cost of a plane + the hourly instructional fee, and questions end right at that moment as they position themselves for the exit. One CFI said that a guy who drives up to the FBO in a minivan asking about flying lessons obviously has a family to support and will never return. Doesn’t sound like we need a lot of analysis to figure this out.

  10. Rob Mark Says:

    First let me comment on the post from @williamairways. You had me for the most part right up to the part about Craig.

    I don’t happen to think you can blame Craig personally for AOPA research efforts because you disagree with the results, anymore than you can blame Obama for the entire healthcare crisis …

    Of course cost is an issue, so I’ll make sure to choose my words more carefully before I hit send.

    Cost was an issue though 30 years ago when people told me “no” about learning to fly because they couldn’t imagine spending $2500-$3000 to learn to fly. Now it’s four times that much.

    You can say whatever you want, but to me cost is a misnomer.

    We should be talking about the value of learning to fly. If people who have the resources value learning to fly over something else, they’ll learn to fly.

    To one point, a CFI is a major factor in that value proposition I think … but of course, they are not the ONLY factor.

    Take that CFI’s attitude for instance. Some of them really do suck because they really want nothing more than to fly airliners where they can lock the door and not have to interact with people.

    But not all CFI’s are the problem. But some certainly are. Is that a cost issue or is that a value issue? Depends on your point of view I guess.

    Flying old airplanes gives students a lousy impression of what we offer. Is that a cost issue? Guess it certainly could be if the school says they use old airplanes cause new ones are too expensive.

    More to it than that I think.

    While I must admit it has been awhile since I’ve looked at the AOPA research in detail, I guess I think claiming there is only ONE reason people don’t learn to fly is just simplistic … and like everything in our lives these days, the issue is more complicated than that.

    But I think we need to give AOPA … and the other alphabet groups — NBAA, EAA, GAMA — some credit for making the effort to TRY and identify the causes and the fixes.

    Of course even identifying them doesn’t mean people will take action, does it?

  11. @williamAirways Says:

    Hi Rob!

    When AOPA announced the results of their research during an AOPA Live broadcast, they blamed the flight instructor as the number one reason for the high drop out rate; alluding to poor customer service. BUT, if you look at page 16 of the AOPA report, it outlines the following as “Negative Aspects In Their Words”, as in the outgoing students’ words when questioned with “And what was the most negative aspect of your flight training experience?”:

    20% – Cost/Expense/Finances/Money
    17% – Poor or Unclear Instructions/Training
    8% – Bad weather
    8% – Difficulty Learning How to Fly
    7% – Scheduling/Time Conflicts/Instructor Availability
    6% – Long Hours/Time Commitment
    5% – Old Equipment/Poor Aircraft Quality
    4% – Too Many Different Instructors
    3% – Ground School/Bookwork
    2% – FAA Regulations/Air Traffic Control
    2% – Didn’t Finish
    16% – Nothing
    9% – Other
    1% – Don’t Know

    With the following bullet points:

    • Costs are a dominant concern (20% of respondents)
    • However, the quality of instruction is a persistent issue and a weak link in the chain (17% of respondents)
    • Scheduling issues and other delays also were common concerns

    Clearly, cost is listed as a “dominant concern”, but during that AOPA Live broadcast, AOPA specifically stated that cost is not a factor. Now why is that? I suppose Craig doesn’t know what his own organization is publishing. You can see that point 2 specifically attacks flight instructors, yet, another 17% (Nothing + Don’t Know) represents a group that had nothing bad to say about their training experience. How come nobody is talking about that other 17%? I guess it doesn’t sell newspapers when you say, “the other major group representing 17% of drop outs had no remarkably negative thing to say about their flight training experience.” So why attack CFIs? Oh right, AOPA has to blame somebody for these drop outs. Can’t blame the students. Nobody likes that. Oh! Let’s blame the…instructors! They’re low pay scum and easy targets for public lashings and humiliation. Meanwhile, let’s pretend 20% of the respondents crying about money don’t exists. Nobody likes them.

    And you are right, it doesn’t mean people will take action. I recall SAFE came out of that summit with guns blazing saying they will develop solutions to the problem. At the end of the day, all they did was give out some free training syllabi with Sporty’s following suit. And those guns were quietly holstered, not a word to be said thereafter. So I guess the solution to the pilot drop out is a bunch of syllabi. #sarcasm

    I agree with you that cost is not the only causal factor. But it’s a major player. There is no denying that an individual with little to no money will very likely never achieve pilot certification, never mind the upkeep costs associated with currency and proficiency. I recall my Private Pilot days watching the King School CD-ROM (remember those things?) and on the introduction to aerodynamics, John King asks, “What makes an airplane fly?” while a video of a Harrier jet is demonstrating vertical takeoff. He quickly responded, “money!” Now, why would he joke about that if it isn’t the truth?

    I also agree with you that cost is perhaps a misnomer, depending on your use of the word. So let’s reflect on the words “money” and “value”. Could it be that your John Q. Public sees very little value in obtaining a pilot certificate for the amount of STE-M(oney) it demands? Is that even at all a possibility in the world of AOPA? Consider a welfare recipient. Chances of becoming a pilot and maintain a life time of flying activities? 0.00001%. Those who have STEM, incidentally, are rather close to that famed 1% of the U.S. population; maybe less than 10 percent? We know that less than 1% of the total U.S. population are pilots. Coincidence? Or could it be that money actually plays a whole lot bigger role than AOPA care to admit? Anyone can (S)tudy. Everyone has (T)ime. With motivation, an individual will put in the (E)ffort. But not everyone has (M)oney; sufficient amount of money to dispose to pilot certification, currency, proficiency, etc. As Steve Martin said in the movie ‘The Three Amigos’, “No dough, no show.”

    No money, no fly. Simple.

    But go ahead AOPA, keep blaming the CFIs. It’s not like we’re ultimately training and growing the pilot population or anything.

  12. Pat Delaney Says:

    The time and money thing are definitely related because what it really comes down to one’s priorities. If something is a top priority for someone, and they have a decent income and some motivation, they WILL find a way to pay for it and do it. That could be a new boat, foreign vacation, new truck, home or….learning to fly! And if other priorities take over someone’s direction in life, it’s easy to justify it by saying “I couldn’t afford it”. Seems like everyone else has had many students with roadblocks of cost but for the majority of drop-out students I have had, its been mostly about time and the flying just not turning out to be the top priority. Also seems like the average younger person has less passion for most any endeavor these days. Probably less disposable income too but noticably less commitment to things that take some time and effort. Not many kids hanging around the airport these days, guess they’re all off with their play stations and big screens. Interesting that the AOPA research only showed cost as a major factor and the other reasons were so fragmanted. Makes it very hard to plan a solution.

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