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Where Are The Students?

by John M. White |

When I learned to fly it was at the local FBO (Fixed Base Operator) in San Angelo, TX. I was in the U.S. Air Force and going to school for my job, and I wanted to learn to fly. But where were the student pilots trained? As it turned out, there was a flying club on base, so I joined the base flying club. As luck would have it, the base commander, a full Colonel, lost his medical, lost interest in the base flying club, and away it went. Having already been hooked on flying I trudged out to the local airfield and checked out the cost to continue my flying lessons. All Things Aviation Piper Colt PA-22-108 My first choice was the local Piper dealer, and I started out in a Piper Colt. After a few hours trying to figure out why the airplane would not flare, I gave up and moved across the way to the Cessna dealer. While more expensive, the Cessna 172 was a much easier, and more comfortable, airplane to fly. After a few hours I soloed, and before I left San Angelo for my duty station at Shemya, Alaska, I had my private pilot's license.

Where are the students learning today?

Today, however, FBOs have been disappearing faster than the ice in the Arctic. I recently went to one of our local satellite airports near Lansing, MI and, much to my surprise, found the airport more or less deserted. Some quick trips to other nearby airports revealed similar results - lots of empty ramp space, empty hangars and no operator to be found. Self serve fuel stations and a sign to call for services is all I could find. I keep reading that there will be a lot of retirements from the airlines soon, and that the military isn't producing enough pilots to fill all of the slots, so it seems someone needs to train pilots again. Given the bad press on the accident in Buffalo, and the perceived lack of experience of the crew, the public is demanding better trained pilots. While the public focuses on hours, the real test is the quality of the training. I recently read an interesting article on JetWhine called "Hope & Cynicism for EAA's Learn-to-Fly Day" which discusses this issue and how the EAA is trying to help. I also just finished working with the University of North Dakota regarding their flight training program, which is part of a much larger "School of Aerospace Sciences", and learned that they are operating over 100 aircraft and will fly more than 120,000 hours this year! This is great for those students who can qualify, and afford, to get a college education and pilot's license, at the same time. But what about those who don't qualify, or can't afford a 4-year degree at a major university? Is there still a place for small FBOs to train local youngsters to fly? I sure hope so, because if the sages are correct, we are going to need them in the near future. What do you think? Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 I cannot describe the delight, the wonder and intoxication, of this free diagonal movement onward and upward, or onward and downward....The birds have this sensation when they spread their wings and go tobogganing in curves and spirals through the sky. — Alberto Santos-Dumont, first dirigible flight.

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