Flight Training Shortcomings, Strengths Discussed at Summit
By Max Trescott
November 12, 2010 — The clock is ticking. The United States pilot population has declined 25 percent in the past 30 years. If the slide continues unchecked, in the not too distant future general aviation in the U.S. could resemble GA in Europe - expensive and virtually nonexistent.
That harsh reality prompted AOPA to undertake a major market research project to understand the high dropout rate among student pilots taking flight training.
The initial results were presented Wednesday, the day before AOPA Summit 2010 began in Long Beach, to 103 representatives from government, flight schools, independent CFIs, and flight training courseware companies.
Past industry programs to grow the pilot population have focused on attracting more people to begin flight training. The new initiative is focused on decreasing the percentage of people who drop out of flight training. “Any process that has a 20 percent success rate isn't a success,” said EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower, who attended the summit along with Sport Aviation technology columnist and Master CFI Max Trescott.
Mark Benson, of the market research firm APCO Insight, presented the results of a survey of 1,000 people who had taken flight training. On the positive side, even students who dropped out enjoyed flight training; fully 92 percent rated their flight training experience as strongly positive. “That finding alone is of huge importance because it gives us something we can build on,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “It means that students want to like the experience.”
Using regression analysis, APCO Insight identified 11 factors, grouped into four broader categories or themes that the industry should focus on to improve flight training. Five of the factors were related to educational quality. These included better instructor effectiveness; better organized lesson plans; more flight school support of instructors; directing students to outside training resources; and providing better checkride preparation.
Three factors were related to customer focus: quality aircraft; better scheduling; and increase value. Benson noted that value didn’t mean just the cost of flight training, but whether a flight school had a culture of providing recommendations to help students structure training in a cost effective way.
Aviation community and recognition were two strongly motivational factors. Student pilots want to feel like they’re part of something special, that they are welcome in the aviation community. They’re also motivated by public recognition for achieving milestones like first solo flights.
The final factor was informational sharing. As Benson explained, there’s an asymmetrical relationship between flight schools and students; flight schools have most of the information and student pilots are desperately in need of it. For example, students need a realistic estimate of the time and cost required for a pilot certificate.
The next step said Jennifer Storm, AOPA director of public relations, is to hold a series of regional meetings to share the results with smaller flight schools and to validate whether they have the same issues. Long term, AOPA plans to work with the industry to roll out solutions addressing each of the flight training issues identified.