A Rare Breed: Students Who Finish Training

By Scott Spangler on December 4th, 2009

To maintain my face-to-face social skills and keep my mind nimble I am a substitute teacher for the local school district. Getting an early morning call from the high school offers the added treat of hearing how its principal is progressing toward his private pilot certificate.

JetWhine_LTF Team He started training just before the 2008-2009 school year ended last June. Just before Thanksgiving he was halfway through his checkride; the weather turned nasty during the oral. He was hoping to fly over the weekend, and the weather was good, so I’m eagerly awaiting my next call so I can learn the outcome.

Little different from others I have talked to, his trials, tribulations, and well-earned joy at overcoming obstacles and surmounting learning plateaus are more poignant and riveting than any contrived TV reality show. Becoming a pilot might make a good reality show, but it would not inspire many to crash the airport party.

Like many students who learn to fly for fun, he’s not finishing his training with the CFI he started with. Most CFIs teach part time and support their families with “real jobs” because students are scarce and the pay low. When the job moves you to another part of the state, you go. At least his CFI gave him a lead on another one in the area.

FAA-PPL Then there were scheduling problems and last-minute cancellations on top of the inescapable challenges posed by Mother Nature and the learning process itself. Being a teacher he was better prepared than most for the latter, but through it all he never lost his enthusiasm for flight, for achieving the goal he’d set for himself—becoming a pilot.

Even more remarkable is that becoming an aircraft owner is his next goal, and I have no doubt that he will, eventually, achieve this as well. But this stalwart principal is the exception, not the rule. Anecdotal data suggests that more than half the students who start training never get beyond solo.

Most quit not only because of the inherent challenge of mastering a complex skill, but because of seemingly ceaseless disappointments that await part-time students. Students who finish their training are a rare breed, and we should nurture them at every opportunity, and do everything in our power to make their path to pilot hood smoother. – Scott Spangler


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5 Responses to “A Rare Breed: Students Who Finish Training”

  1. Stephen Ruby Says:

    When I was learning to fly, I experienced fortunate positive instructors who were all part of a family operation that really cared
    about what we learned.

    My instructor made sure I scanned and knew what the airplane was doing at all times without reference to instruments,and this is before I solo’ed. Marvelous!!..

    One reason pilot starts are now at a low point in some respects … there is a two-fold scenario here, where students are just as much disillusioned as the instructors ability to teach.

    I applaud you for directing attention to this aspect of aviation.

    My instructor left to pursue an airline career, like many do, but in his place was one who made sure I completed all necessary skills for the check ride. I did it in 1967.

    He was one of those rare individuals who could see personal traits in people and knew if you would make it in the pilot world. My path ended with a positive attitude towards flight instructors.

  2. Robert Mark Says:

    I think there are probably way more disillusioned students pilot than instructors Stephen. Lucky for you, you made your way through.

    Your and Scott’s point though raise some good issues. Everyone is focused on new starts. Almost no one is paying attention to how many pilots actually receive the license.

    Most of the responsibility for student quits are about the instructors I think, because most of them see teaching as a place to hang out until they can find a real job. Students are still customers and they can sense that as clearly as a new hat.

    The next level of responsibility rests with the schools who often charge a decent amount for instruction time, but turn little of it back to the instructor themselves. Instructors often work hard for little return which translates into the desire to run somewhere else for a real job.

    Instructor fees were never meant to function as a revenue source, but that’s what they’ve become. Just one more reason many good instructors head to a flying club. They can charge what they want and keep it all. The market makes the decision. If the fees too high and no one will fly. Set them correctly and everyone wins.

  3. Stephen Says:

    I was blessed with fantastic flight instructors, there was a different attitude in the 60’s as compared to now, however, that should not change things. I was checked out in every model of the PA-28 by the time I tested for PPL, then there were those few who took me flying in PA-30, Baron, and Aero Commander and asked where I got my skills, the answer was simple. I had a passion for aviation!!

  4. Individual Effort: Principal Key to New Pilots - Jetwhine: Aviation Buzz and Bold Opinion Says:

    […] who acted on his aviation interest and earned his private pilot certificate late last year. (See A Rare Breed: Students Who Finish Training.) He was standing next to a split-level AV cart, which displayed three R/C models, recruiting […]

  5. Neil Says:

    I am one of these statistics. I obtained my student in July 2008 before I started training and finally soloed after various fits and starts in April 2010. I haven’t flown in 3 or 4 months. I have nothing but good things to say about my particular flight school, however. They have been very helpful and understanding as I deal with personal (read: financial) hiccups that have necessarily slowed my down by breaking up my training. The economics can be challenging, particularly for someone who isn’t on a professional path. I have no doubt I’ll finish, but I have no idea how much longer that may take.

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