AOPA President Craig Fuller (Still) Seeking a New Training Paradigm

You would think that the AOPA would have the answer by now to the question…”How are we going to grow the pilot population?” Yet in the November issue of AOPA Pilot they are still asking the same question.

The AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to general aviation, was incorporated on May 15, 1939. That means they have had 71 years to figure it out…right? Wrong!

Let me save Mr. Fuller a lot of time and money by giving him a list of things that prohibit the growth of the pilot population.

Aircraft Purchase/Rental Costs

Cessna 172 (New) – $269,500 (Should I live in a house or an airplane?)
Cessna Skycatcher (New) – $112,250 (This is an affordable entry aircraft?)

Cessna 172 (Rental in Western NY) – $110.00 WET Hobbs
Cessna 172 (Flying Club Rental in Western NY) – $69.00 WET Tach

Instructors – $25 to $45 per hour.

Your mileage can and will vary by state and airport.

Training Facilities

Classrooms are pretty rare, informal training areas are the most common; however some have neither a classroom nor a dedicated spot for instruction.

Part 61 or 141

Part 141 schools are audited by the FAA and must have detailed, FAA-approved course outlines and meet student pilot performance rates. Training under Part 61 rules doesn’t have the same structure and paperwork requirements. The keyword here is “structure”.

Since I have taken part in both types of flight schools let me say that structure is GOOD and most Part 61 offerings are seldom structured and therefore there is little accountability.

Accountability is GOOD because poor instructors can get the boot! We also we might have statistics as to which flight training locations are good or BAD both in personnel and equipment, so that negative experiences can be reduced. Right now this doesn’t happen!

I would recommend that we have just one standard that formalizes ground and flight training so that we are all working from the same playbook, or better yet…”process”…so that no matter where you are located in the United States you have a similar experience.


Aviation is going through a technology shift. Industry is putting out aircraft that have high tech glass displays and instrumentation that would have made an F-14 pilot in 1985 green with envy. The old pilots aren’t too keen in learning this stuff (cause they don’t need to) yet the 30 something prospective pilot might be faced with adopting this type of aircraft.

Can a student pilot off the street learn a glass paneled Cirrus SR22 quicker than a Cessna 172 steam gauge plane? You tell me. My guess this that it’s going to take a lot more time (and money) to be proficient. How many average flight instructors have enough training to even train in Cirrus aircraft?

In a glass cockpit you manage systems and somehow still fly the plane. I just took a Garmin G1000 FITS class and know that glass is NOT the same animal. I have my certificate for the FITS class, but what I learned the most is that I don’t know much after 6 hours in class. Thankfully the class was free since I am a member of the Civil Air Patrol. This class is required in order to start training in the glass Cessna 182.


Growing in number but not by leaps and bounds are female pilots. However, many local GA airports are not female friendly in their approach in welcoming women interested in aviation. This is changing, but I would say that a 30 to 1 male to female ratio in the pilot world would be a generous ratio. I was lucky enough to have a woman ground instructor who also did flight training with me for a short while. From that experience I was able to see how important it was to have classroom instruction and was inspired to earn my Advanced Ground Instructor certificate so that I could teach some day.

Airport Environment

It’s a new world. Airports are guarded, gated communities…and then after 9/11 it got even worse. Look at things today! I can’t sit and watch commercial planes take off and land at KROC without getting questioned by police. And I am not even on airport property when I get questioned. I am on private property on the opposite site of a road, far from the fence near the field that spans a quarter mile from the fence to the threshold, and still get questioned. What the hell?

Fuel Costs

Need I say more?

Hanger Fees

Need I say more?


Pilots are an interesting group. Thanks to twitter I am finding younger ones that I can strike up a conversation with, without having to pay for the advice. But if you take away twitter you won’t find much interaction at the airport. Most pilots are Lone Ranger types who don’t want to hang around much let alone share any passion about flying with others.

Another problem I see are planes rotting…literally…at the airport from lack of use. Absentee pilot’s who kind of got their ticket, a plane and then just kind of let things go are nowhere to be found. I’ve put out feelers to see if they want a partner, or want a second set of eyes so they could fly…nothing! It seems that a plane in a hanger or tied down, not used by its owner or anyone else is fashionable. My question is….why don’t you just sell it and rent as needed?

Mentoring and Support

Whether you are a student or a pilot it’s good to have a mentor….or at least a flying buddy. We need to push for this not just for students, but for all pilots. Expecting a flight instructor to do everything is not fair to them. We as pilots needs to step up and promote our industry and see that the next pilot can climb higher, quicker and have a good experience.

I am at a crossroads now trying to decide if I should go for my Instrument Rating. Since my private pilot instruction never included IFR (or flying through anything that looked like a cloud), I don’t know what to expect. It would be nice to find a competent person who could take me safely into the clouds so as to make my decision a bit easier. This would require some technology infrastructure to allow the matching of interested parties.


Yes, I saved the best for last! Perhaps the biggest spoiler (no pun intended) is the concern about getting sued because you were kind enough to take a person up only to have the engine quit with a serious injury or worse as the unintended outcome. No good deed goes unpunished!

I don’t have the data but my assumption is that if something goes wrong, everyone gets sued…and in the proper order to collect the most money. This is probably the biggest reason why I will never be a CFI. How much protection any of us really have against getting taken to the cleaners is not known and I don’t think there ever will be protection from getting sued regardless of how much of the accident was our fault.


So there you have it Mr. Fuller, a quick list of things that keep student pilots from coming on board and a few items that keep pilots being more inviting and helping others. I am sure we all have our own stories we could tell!

For me the bottom line is and always will be money. I combat this problem by trying to make every flight count for something. For me each flight needs some ROI and this year I earned the following:

Complex Endorsement
High Performance Endorsement
Advanced Ground Instructor Certificate

I fly to keep my 90-day currency and when I can I will do some night flying since night currency is not a requirement.

My goals for 2011 will be to earn my Instrument rating and completing a form 5 in a CAP G1000 equipped Cessna 182. Will this happen? Who knows! But it won’t be because I’m not trying, or  I don’t want to fly or that I don’t love aviation.

Mr. Fuller I will be saving my money for flying. I won’t be giving to a PAC fund, joining a wine club or buying Christmas (Holiday) cards. Don’t take that the wrong way…I know GA needs my support and the best way I can support it is by flying at my local airport and becoming a friendly, giving pilot who shares the joy of flight with others.

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