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When should training start?

There are only two questions about someone who wants to learn to fly, and they apply to potential pilots of any age—but they’re especially important for 14- to 16-year-olds:

  1. Are they mature enough to handle the responsibility and risks?
  2. Do they really want to learn?

The federal aviation regulations don’t specify when someone can start taking lessons—only when they can solo. The regulations permit glider students to solo at age 14 while powered airplane students can solo at 16. Students can earn their private pilot certificates at age 16 for gliders and 17 for airplanes. However, we really need to look beyond the minimums at the realities and make the judgment accordingly.

When it comes to maturity, anyone who has raised more than one teenager will agree that individual teens mature at wildly different rates. In most families, siblings are often so different they might as well be from different species. For that reason alone, it’s impossible to say that a child will have developed the maturity to handle an airplane at a given age. It has to be done on a case-by-case basis and should ultimately be determined by a certificated flight instructor.

A number of programs have shown that exposure to aviation can stimulate a young person’s interest in math and science. But the potential for improved academic performance should never be the reason to nudge a young person into flying; it seems to work best as an incentive when peers are involved, and the youngsters have to want to do it.

Youth education

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has created an exciting and highly educational book especially for pilots and secondary school teachers. It’s called PATH to Aviation—Pilots and Teachers Handbook—and it effectively connects math, science, physics, history, and technology to the basics of general aviation.

Through tips and basic resource ideas, the handbook walks pilots through the planning and preparation needed to arrange a successful classroom visit or a field trip to a local airport. Teachers can take advantage of the wealth of information to bring basic topics straight into the classroom.

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