A Busy Pilot Training Sector – What FAA Checkride Volume May Indicate During COVID Effects – Updated Data

Involved in flight training in the United States and feel like it has been a super busy summer? You aren’t alone.

This year has felt very busy for many flight training providers, instructors, and pilot examiners around the country.

There is a reason for that. It’s because it has been very busy. For those of you who know me and read my blog, I like to find data points that help us give indicators about what is happening in our industry. One of those data points is the volume of FAA practical tests that has been given over time for pilot certification.

In some recent data shared with me, I have been able to continue the comparison of this year in 15-day increments compared with last year.

While one might initially think 2020 would have a reduced number of FAA pilot certification events with the effects of COVID-19 in the United States, what we are seeing is actually certification activity that over the period of time is largely on par with 2019 events.

In the following table, we can see an initial decrease in certification events during April and May, but from that point, events have actually been increased compared with the previous year.

What we see from this data is that on a year-to-year basis for this period we are actually only down 3.87% for total pilot certification events.

This means that after initial COVID-19 shutdowns or slowdowns in the provision of pilot training in many locations, the return to training has actually been at a higher volume over a period of time which is likely what makes most of us in the training industry feel like we have been extra busy over the past couple of months.

What’s even more amazing, it is likely this is happening with a significantly reduced volume of training being completed for non-U.S. citizens who normally travel here for their training.

With international travel restrictions limiting incoming foreign nationals, new batches of training candidates who normally train here and then return to their home countries for final training and service in airlines around the world. Typically, this represents approximately 45% of pilot training in the United States. While some students were already here before travel restrictions were in place, many of those students have completed their training or will do so soon and return to their home countries while replacement batches of students are unable to come here. This may result in a reduction of student base for many training providers traditionally dependant on international students for their business base.

I have written in the past about the importance of international students in the U.S. training sector and experience building efforts for many U.S. instructors using the flight time gained with those students toward their own pilot experience needs for career progression. How long reductions in the intake of international students last and if there are any more permanent reductions is something we should monitor as an industry.

For now, the data shows an interesting surge in training to make up for reductions that took place in the first couple of months of COVID-19 effects in the United States. It has been a busy time for many training providers, and fellow DPEs of mine over the past few months. While commercial aviation has experienced a significant downturn in passenger volume, flight training volume seems to have not had the same effect. Yet. Hopefully, it won’t.

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About Jason Blair

Jason Blair is an active single- and multi-engine instructor and a FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with over 5,000 hours total time and over 3,000 hours instruction given, and he has flown over 100 different makes and models of general aviation aircraft. In his role as Examiner, over 1000 pilot certificates have been issued. He works and has worked for multiple aviation associations that promote training and general aviation. He also consults on aviation training and regulatory efforts for the general aviation industry.Jason Blair is an active single- and multi-engine instructor and a FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with over 5,000 hours total time and over 3,000 hours instruction given, and he has flown nearly 100 different makes and models of general aviation aircraft. In his role as Examiner, over 1000 pilot certificates have been issued. He works and has worked for multiple aviation associations that promote training and general aviation. He also consults on aviation training and regulatory efforts for the general aviation industry.

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