CURE FOR THE DECLINING PILOT POPULATION
Would you believe me if I stated I have a cure for the declining pilot population? And would you also believe me if I said YOU have the cure too?
It’s true. We have the power to manage this problem right now. It won’t take cheaper fuel, less government regulations, cheaper airplanes, more airports, or even a good economy. We have already demonstrated a lot more people can afford flying, but have just chosen to do other stuff.
The concept is so simple that I’m sure more than a few people will dismiss it and call me out mercilessly in the comments below. I don’t care. It’s what I believe and I think you will be believe it too by the end of this article.
You see it is regular folks like us that hold the keys to this puzzle. With all of the perceived, and real, barriers to entry, we have seen a steady decline in our ranks. It just makes sense – the harder you make it and the more competing priorities there are, the less new pilots we’ll have among us. It’s not rocket science.
Here’s where it gets interesting – and simple.
There are roughly 600,000* registered pilots in the United States. If just half of us aggressively pursued someone that has a little spark of interest in aviation and actively encouraged, assisted, or mentored them, imagine the outcome.
I know it sounds crazy? Getting large numbers of pilots to uniformly do anything has been the bane of regulators from the beginning. So let’s be less aggressive and just say 10%. If only 10% of us annually latched onto someone and got them into flying, how would this curtail the declining pilot population?
It’s actually simple, and you know this from your finance classes or watching your investments (if you are so lucky to have them). A 10% annualized rate of return has the effect of doubling your number in roughly 8 years. So using simple math, in less than a decade we could theoretically double the number of registered pilots in the United States. I know it still sounds crazy, but the EAA encouraged it’s roughly 180,000 members to fly almost a million kids each decade since it started in 1992 – not bad.
What if we cut that down to a more “reasonable” 2%? If we only mentored or added two percent to our ranks that is still 12,000 new pilots each year that we didn’t have before. Isn’t that worth doing?
Don’t get hung up on being a mentor. If you are low on experience then your role can lean more towards encouragement and camaraderie versus instructional. The outcome will be the same – a new pilot enters the system.
“Do we really need more pilots? I like being the only kid on the block with a license and an airplane, plus the airspace is less crowded and I have unlimited access to rental airplanes, instructors, etc.” This is obviously selfish and short-sighted. If our numbers continue to decline the infrastructure will decline along with it and the death spiral will begin (some say it’s already happening). Little airports and FBOs will continue to shut down. The number of manufactured airplanes will decline. The availability of technicians and parts will dewindle. All of this so you can be the coolest kid in your neighborhood? I think not!
AOPA tried to promote this concept by building a mentorship program where mentors and mentorees could sign up to find each other plus get a bunch of helpful media. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to get off the ground. Partially because most mentors don’t think of themselves being in that role. Conversely mentorees didn’t really know about it, unless someone told them.
Great idea, but I don’t think a formal program will work. It needs to be a more organic, grassroots effort. Above all, it needs to be simple. What can be more simple than encouraging someone who’s interested and making yourself available to help them as needed?
So push yourself away from the computer, go out and kick someone in the butt.
Honestly, I think you’ll find it easier than you think. If you just keep your eyes and ears open, you might find these folks will come to you. Family members, work acquaintances, friends and neighbors they are all potential candidates.
This cool old video is a little “over the top” but the point is valid. Sometimes a little persistence combined with leading by example is all it takes.
You don’t need to come across as a high pressure salesperson. The process can be very simple. If you talk about your flying and celebrate your passion with those around you, the ones that have an interest will bring it up to you. Once that happens, you need to seize the opportunity. Do one (or all) of these things: Take them up on a flight. Give them a tour of the airport. Take them to an air show or fly-in. Offer to sit down and explain how it all works.
Don’t overwhelm them with too much information up front, but timeliness is important. You need to strike while the iron is hot, but keep a balanced approach.
Each year, make it a resolution to take on a new apprentice.
After you have mentored a few people it’ll become second nature. The accolades for you go beyond helping to rebuild our industry. You will gain the satisfaction of sharing this amazing endeavor with others around you. This will in turn build, or strengthen, relationships and just make your experience more rewarding. It’s a total win-win!
You get to choose to be a part of the problem or part of the solution. It should be an easy decision Captain.
*based on FAA statistics of 610,576 registered and active pilots in the US for 2012
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