New students and their completions isn’t the only answer to the dropping activity levels we have seen in aviation over recent years. Over the past two years, much has been highlighted about instructors need to “do a better job” at any number of things to help students improve their completion rate in training. Numbers being cited indicate that there is something near a 70% non-completion rate for pilot training. I agree, this is something that we as instructors should and can work to help improve. We can try to improve our training process, the service we provide, and give good clear paths for our students to follow to success. But once we have done that, the aviation industry needs to help find something for these pilots to do once they have completed their certificates.
Retention of pilots after they get their certificate is something that our industry needs to look at also. I can personally think of at least a handful of names of people I have trained personally who learned, flew for a little while, then moved on to other activities, leaving flying behind. Once an instructor has worked with a student to complete their training, the motivating factor that was there, the accomplishment, is gone and a new one is needed. And there are only so many times that the new pilot can go fly around the same pattern or the local lake before they get bored, and move on to other hobbies. Many pilots just don’t have anything to do with their certificate that engages them.
Selling aviation as a means of travel for a “family vacation” or to “get to work” doesn’t always work either. Instructors can train people to fly, but without a community atmosphere where pilots will feel like going out to the local airport on a Saturday will be enjoyable and engaging, they don’t have a reason to go flying.
I don’t really have an answer for what we can tell people to do with their certificate. And that bothers me. To be honest, I even find it hard myself to convince myself that flying is useful other than when I need to travel or I am providing instruction or conducting checkrides. If I think like an instructor, one of my common answers to what they can do is, continue training, but that isn’t for everyone. Sure, advancing skills is always a good idea, but it isn’t always necessary and it can certainly be expensive. We tell people that when they get their private or sport pilot certificates it will open all kinds of doors to them that they never could walk through before, but in many cases, the practical application is that all it lets them do is fly around in their local area. I am not sure what we need to do to remedy this, but if we are going to keep pilots active, better answers to “what can I do with my pilot certificate” need to be developed.
Keeping pilots actively engaged and using their certificates is one of the strongest things we can to do keep aviation vibrant. Active pilots will help get new people into the industry. An active pilot will take their family, neighbors, and friends with them, exposing them to aviation. Additionally, they will keep their local airports and the businesses at them strong.
I challenge the entire aviation community to help find ways to keep certificated pilots active and engaged. A part of this is a challenge to the instructor community to do all that it can to improve and help the completion rate of students. That is our job. Instructors bear a heavy load already, but we can’t bear it all. We can be the providers of good training, but we need help from the community to give our students something to do after. If we don’t, it is unlikely that the activity level in general aviation will increase. The step after a pilot becomes certified is critical to whether they will remain active and help us bring more people into our community.