For Boomers, Rusty Pilot is Difficult Decision

By Scott Spangler on April 21st, 2014

Since I learned to fly in 1976, the vicissitudes of life have removed me from the cockpit and later returned me to the left seat. As a rusty pilot, I am again at a point where my return to the sky is possible, but deciding whether to take advantage of the opportunity isn’t as simple as it was 20 years ago.

At 40 I was halfway to my expected expiration date. When it came to planning for retirement and related concerns we’ll all face in the final chapter of life, it was easy to procrastinate. At 60 the proximity of what awaits me is clear enough to see without my glasses. I imagine many among the half-million rusty pilots AOPA identified in its research face a similar dilemma.

The heart tells me to go for it, but the head raises the cautionary index finger of logical pause to think things through. My most affordable flying option is the local flying club. In round numbers, for $500 a month I can pay my dues and fly for 2 hours. Consequently,  the $6,000 annual cost is roughly equal to the yearly premium for long-term care insurance, which relieved a lot of the stress of my parents’ final days.

Another question is how many flying days I have left. In good health now, I could pass a third-class medical exam. Self-certification through sport pilot isn’t an option because no one here rents a qualified airplane that safely fits me. On that front, my only hope is that the FAA trusts the good record sport pilots have accrued and extends self-certification to those of us who want to make day-VFR flights for fun in larger airplanes.

My decision is not yet made. I’m still working the numbers to see if there is a way I can continue to invest in making life’s final chapters as comfortable as possible for my wife and myself without sacrificing all of the other things we enjoy doing together. What makes this increasingly difficult are the unknowns of our future health and state of the economy. And there’s also the chance that our financial fortunes will improve, but I think the chances of that outcome are equal to the odds of winning the Powerball Lottery, so I’m stuck with the future I can safely predict. –Scott Spangler, Editor


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9 Responses to “For Boomers, Rusty Pilot is Difficult Decision”

  1. LS-P Says:

    Expat in France. I’m fortunate that my aeroclub dues are E138 per year with E75 for insurance. Everyone volunteers their time so the further cost is for fuel only. The insurance allows one to fly at any aeroclub in France. Our club has many younger students as it is financially possible and they can earn a PPL on site. This club has 3 instructors who are able to instruct in English. Most would have at least one such. Not the same structure as the US but serves well for here. LSP

  2. Philippe de Segovia Says:

    A very sensible post about a topic that concern a majority of private pilots today. It’s also a critical issue or this industry. Is General Aviation still attractive enough to keep the passion alive within rusty pilots?
    It’s a question for all of us.

  3. @williamAirways Says:

    Wait. Let me get this straight. $6000 for 24 hours of flight time at a flying club? I’m assuming you’re renting a Cirrus or the like? Might be cheaper just to rent from a local flight school or FBO, no? This is where that flying club model fails…when people continue to pay monthly dues while not flying. I’ve seen people pay dues for years without logging a single hour. They never show up to meetings, but keep mailing in their checks. I guess for them it’s paying into a “dream”. Makes no sense to me.

    I also think that the older you get, the more important that third class medical becomes. We all have to hang up the hat at some point.

  4. Bill Palmer Says:

    I suggest you look into transitioning to gliders to keep your fun-flying habit satisfied.
    The holder of a power pilot license won’t need to take the FAA written (again), and can acquire a private or commercial glider add-on rating in a few hours of instruction.
    I find it a great supplement to my airline career(and aeronautical knowledge and skills).

    It may not be a great way to get anywhere (though some glider pilots take remarkably long distance flights), but if the pure joy of flight is what you’re after, there’s no better way!

    The local gliderport may use either a winch launch (inexpensive, but you don’t get very high) or an aerotow (for me about $75 to 3000 AGL). After that the cost per hour can be very affordable. I often fly a single place glider for less than $25 per hour. A recent 3 hour flight cost me only $140.

    You’ll find soaring to be a great addition to your aviation abilities as it looks at a whole different perspective of flying, it is-afterall a whole different CATEGORY of aircraft! Emphasis on performance and weather on the small-scale make the most of your skills. Multi-seat gliders allow you to share your love.

    Like airplanes, there is a wide range of interest levels in soaring. These range from just flying bare-bones in the local area, to high performance long distance competitions with all the latest electronics, and from fabric covered gliders to sleek composite-construction high performance ones. Whatever your particular preference level – it’s available. Aerobatics? You bet!

    Visit and click on the “fly a sailplane” link to see where you can try it out. Then visit will get you all the books and materials you need for that rating, whether it’s learning to fly gliders from scratch or a transition from power. (Bob has a great series of easy-to-read books to help you get the most out of soaring).

    I’ll tell ya, there’s something about flying in the same thermal with a bald eagle that’s just hard to forget. (Caution, cheeks may hurt from smiling for long periods of time)

  5. Robert Mark Says:

    Flying gliders … now that’s something I honestly never gave a thought to Bill. Thanks for the idea.

  6. Kirk perry Says:

    I rent 2 or 4 seat Cessnas or Pipers for $95 to $140 an hour and fly every 2 to 4 weeks.
    Not bad, even while putting a kid through college. Looking forward to retirement in about 4 years.

  7. Peter Says:

    I have my private pilot license but currently inactive status primarily due to the cost etc.
    I seriously doubt will be current in the near future due to time constraints plus the cost of the Piper / Cessna aircraft.
    Mentally, I still taxi onto the active runway, get clearance and go…………..

  8. RIFlyer Says:

    Here’s how I did it. I learned to fly while in the USAF in 1973. Three months,42 hours, and $900 dollars later I had my private ticket. I stopped flying one year later with 140 total hours due to no interest from my friends. 35 years later I sat up in bed and said to my wife,”I think I’ll start flying again”. After 6 hours in a Cherokee I was signed off. Rented from the FBO for a while and found a local flying club at our airport with two 180 hp Cessna 172s. Flew them for a couple of years then bought a 79 Mooney 201 with a partner. It flys like a fighter and lands like a dream. I found the best way to keep the rust off is fly often. I do that with instrument training. When I retire next year I’m looking for a Cessna 170 to tour the country with my buddy Conrad (he has a Comanche). I now have 375 hours. Good luck to you all.

  9. RIFlyer Says:

    I forgot to say that at the through the fence FBO where the flying club is based I got a week-end job to finance my flying. I’m not allowed to use real job money, that’s for the family expenses. I admit I’m lucky but I love being a line boy. I’ve met and become friends with some real great people. This made me regret giving up flying for so long. I bet most of you will agree with me that when you’re flying all your earth bound troubles go away along with the associated stress.
    Blue skies

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