Is there hope for the future of GA?

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hope for the future of general aviationLast week our EAA chapter hosted a monthly meeting – nothing too noteworthy about that. It was at one of the local airports, which was cool because it meant I could fly in vs. taking the dreaded four-wheeled conveyance. The noteworthy part was the guest speakers and the venue itself. You see we were at a university airport using one of their hangars and they were the main presenters. 

It seems that there has been a lot of work going on in the background between the EAA Headquarters and some of the collegiate aviation programs. According to the presenter, the EAA wants to fill the gap between Young Eagles and actual new pilots, and the universities are obviously looking for new candidates for their programs. The idea is to join forces to some extent and try to work together to create a more seamless path for the future pilot. Sounds interesting…

So what is going on today? There are thousands of professional aviators out of work and the economy is still on the mend. Flight schools are scraping by to get folks to sign up for what is a very expensive proposition without a great return on investment. It’s an uphill battle that has gotten a ton of press over the last several years, and for good reason; we are rapidly shrinking as a group. The problem continues to get worse, not better. 

Fast-forward a decade or two. The demographic of the professional pilot is continuing to creep ever closer to retirement age due to the lack of new blood. Eventually, we WILL hit that “pilot shortage” that they have been talking about for 25 years (since the start of my professional career), if the back-fills aren’t there. With career pilot training costing six figures in many cases, who can afford it? Oh and don’t forget about the congressionally mandated ATP requirement for (FAR 121) first officers, which means the career path just got harder.

The plan, as explained, is for the university to get involved in Young Eagles activities to the extent possible. In fact, they have been at the last several of our rallies handing out brochures and putting airplanes on static display (the actual flying of the Young Eagles isn’t in the cards…yet). Also, the university, along with the EAA, will aggressively seek money to help offset the cost of a career pilot program, which might keep a new cadet from leaving college with $100,000 in student loans. And finally, they want to seek some type of dispensation from the ATP hourly requirement of 1500 hours for students using their approved program, which will help fast track future aviators. This is all conceptual at the moment and it will take all this AND MORE to move the needle, but I’m encouraged nonetheless. 

In fact, colleges have been at the forefront of supplying large quantities of airmen when the need arose in the past, mostly brought on by war. Because of that, the roots between our higher learning institutions and aviation run deep.  

Certainly with the talent involved, tackling this program is doable. I’m just glad they are finally setting their intention on getting it done.

Looking forward to a brighter future!

by Brent Owens 

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