Nope. This is not another piece on global warming. Meteorological climate change is certainly an important topic, one we address in various ways through this “Flying Green” issue of FAA Safety Briefing, but the topic on my mind is a different kind of climate change. Specifically, I want to address a type of climate change that requires a pretty significant degree of warming if general aviation is to survive, or even better, thrive. I’m talking about an environmental factor we can readily control – the climate we create for new and aspiring pilots.
It seems perfectly obvious that we should all want, and thus seek to create a warm environment that welcomes the new and nurtures the novice. Sadly, the enthusiasm of too many would-be pilots withers away in the cold and barren environment they encounter in far too many flight training facilities.
A Tale of Two Cities
As a comedian might say, I am not making this up. Two poignant personal experiences – separated by both time and distance – illustrate my point. I wrote about them in detail several months ago for the online Air Facts Journal‘s series on the declining pilot population, but here’s the short version.
It was not until the early 1990s that I found a way to assemble the time, opportunity and money (more or less) to pursue my lifelong interest in flight training. You could say I was a motivated potential pilot because I had completed ground school, passed the knowledge test, and acquired my combination medical/student pilot certificate before I went in search of flight training. Logically enough, I started with the school closest to my home. I found myself in a dark and dingy facility festooned with “pardon our dust” construction signs. No one at the counter seemed interested in helping me. When I politely inquired about flight training, one of the attendants off-handedly proffered a single sheet of crookedly-copied information on flight training packages. Since they showed so little interest in me, I quickly lost interest in them. I wanted flight training badly enough to keep searching, and I eventually found a school that wanted my business. But I have often wondered how many potential pilots were (are) frozen out by the first school’s icy climate.
Things were no better in a much warmer climate, at least warmer in the meteorological sense of the term. Three years ago, I decided to get an aircraft checkout in a city I visit often enough to make the exercise worthwhile. When I asked about checkout requirements, the counter attendant simply pointed to an instructor seated on the sofa behind me with an FBO fuel truck driver. The response was chilly. No one offered a handshake, an introduction, or even an invitation to sit down. Instead, I was subjected to an almost hostile interrogation on my qualifications and experience. The instructor’s description of the overlying Class B airspace seemed designed to intimidate and discourage me…hard to do, not only because I’m relentless when I want something, but also because the complexity of my home airspace is legendary. Again, I found another school, but I continue to wonder how the first one stays in business. I do not wonder why anyone in search of flight training might well opt for another hobby.
We Can Make a Difference
My own story had a happy ending in both cases – but it was not because someone invited me into the warmth of the aviation community. It took flinty determination and scout-style fire-building skills to overcome the cold reception that could have derailed my flying career before it ever started. In a way, though, the saddest part of telling my personal “tale of two cities” is the number of people who have similar – or even worse – stories to tell. It truly makes you wonder what the dickens we are doing to ourselves.
Just as the health of our planet depends on a combination of individual and collective efforts to protect it, the health of our avocation depends on our success in turning “ice” into “nice.” In both cases, let’s all resolve to do our part. (FAA Safety Briefing – MayJun 2013)