Experienced pilots stop flying for the same reasons students do

by | Grow the Pilot Population

A poster on a popular aviation forum recently asked ‘what factors led to your decision to stop flying?’ Halfway through the sixteen-page thread a summary identified the following:

  • 1. Mental/intellectual decline
  • 2. Physical decline
  • 3. Loss of meaningful flying mission
  • 4. Financial considerations
  • 5. Nobody to fly with…spouse won’t fly, etc
  • 6. Flying scare causing loss of piloting confidence
  • 7. Just don’t like flying anymore
  • 8. Unable to find the time to stay proficient.

We tend to assume that students stop flying because it’s too expensive. But the reality is it’s just not that simple. This list shows that many pilots stop flying for reasons other than cost. This is good news because it also means there’s a lot more we can do to get students to complete their training.

Let’s take a closer look at that list to see what we can do to increase pilot retention in training. Because few people are likely to start training when they are in mental or physical decline, we will ignore the first two reasons listed.

Loss of meaningful flying mission

Because experienced pilots stop flying if they no longer have a meaningful flying mission, it should be obvious that many people quit their training if they can’t find a reason to fly. Our research shows that for many people a life-long desire to fly is satisfied after the intro flight or first solo. To graduate more pilots, we need to provide them with a meaningful flying mission beyond the checkride. Without a clear purpose both students and experienced pilots alike will hang up their headsets. Fortunately aviation is filled with flying opportunities and most people will find a mission that works for them when they’ve been presented with suitable options.

Financial considerations

The cost of flying is usually cited as the primary reason people give up on learning to fly. The cost of flying is a description that encompasses a broad spectrum of meanings and is different for each individual.

For clarity I prefer to say that people quit because they can no longer find value in flying. We have an opportunity (and an obligation) to help students find value in flying, whether it’s introducing them towards a meaningful mission or helping them find ways that reduce the cost of flying such as flying clubs, aircraft partnerships, or leasebacks.

Nobody to fly with

Our research has shown that getting buy-in from the rest of the family is critical to a pilot’s success in completing their training. We consider non-flying family members to be the most important client relationship to nurture and the one that is most frequently ignored through the training process.

Without support from partners and spouses, even the most passionate student will give up their training. Nurture family relationships by bringing spouses and family members together at the airport and actively involving them in the local airport community.

Flying scare causing loss of piloting confidence

While pilots in training are getting used to the sensations of flight they are vulnerable to feeling scared in situations that more experienced pilots would consider normal. For this reason it is important that students and instructors are well-matched and can trust and depend on each other. Some schools recognize the importance of matching instructors and clients and take the time to make sure they are compatible.

Just don’t like flying anymore

There’s not much we can do if people are no longer interested. But how likely is it that their lack of interest is a result of one of the other items listed? Perhaps its time to dig deeper to find out!

Unable to find the time to stay proficient

Most people are busy. With so many demands competing for our attention its hard to fit in another activity. Airplane owners frequently describe their aircraft as time-machines. By teaching pilots during training how they can use their aircraft as a tool to help them increase efficiency, rather than an activity that adds additional requirements to their hectic schedule we increase the importance that general aviation plays in their lives and the reasons for them to continue training.

There are many reasons pilots quit flying, but those reasons are the same whether the pilot has ten hours or ten thousand hours in their logbooks. By understanding why pilots hang up their headsets we can do a better job increasing student retention and graduating more pilots.

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