Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

High horsepower

Industry supports learn-to-fly efforts

Training trends

September 2004

Student pilot certificates are the number of student pilot certificate applications processed by the FAA during the month of September, and includes renewals as well as original issuances. Airline pilot hiring is all professional pilot hiring during September as reported by aviation career consulting firm AIR, Inc. and includes major, national, and regional airlines as well as fractional operators.

Student pilot certificates processed
2004 5,351
2003 5,679
2002 6,287

Airline pilot hiring
2004 712
2003 377
2002 429

When it comes to business aviation, the National Business Aviation Association convention is king of the hill. AOPA Expo is a class act, EAA's AirVenture in Oshkosh and Lakeland's Sun 'n Fun are fun. NBAA's convention is all business -- business with a flair, but business nevertheless. My first NBAA show was 1984, in Dallas. I was awed then, awed by the October 2004 convention, and awed at those in between.

In the first place, the NBAA show is huge. According to the local newspaper, it was -- with 30,000 expected attendees -- the biggest show in Las Vegas during the month of October. I didn't count the people but can confirm there were -- as we say back home -- a heap more folks than you could shake a stick at. According to my admittedly unsophisticated survey, 99 percent of those people were wearing suits. Eighty percent of those suits were blue and appeared to cost more than $1,000 each.

Exhibitors included Cessna, Bombardier, Gulfstream, Boeing, Airbus, and other aviation giants. Their exhibits alone cost more than most of the airplanes that you and I fly, and you can bet they were serious about doing business. Blue suits hovered politely at each exhibit. Good prospects were whisked upstairs into private rooms to discuss multimillion-dollar decisions without the distractions of the masses. (I'd like to see one of those inner sanctums. You reckon it would be worth buying a $1,000 suit?)

And people do buy at the convention. They actually do make deposits on those high-dollar aircraft. I love to wander around looking, watching, and trying to determine which people can afford to buy a jet that costs tens of millions of dollars.

The big support companies exhibit too. I was there to speak for ExxonMobil's Avitat network, which had just been named FBO chain of the year for the umpty-umpth time. Great group.

In the midst of all that big-business atmosphere, press conferences are held wherein the big boys and girls announce amazing new products. Supersonic Aerospace International announced the coming of a new supersonic bizjet that the company hopes will be available by 2012, will cruise at Mach 1.6, and set you back about 80 million big ones. Another exhibitor, Aerion, also has a supersonic bizjet in the offing based on laminar flow technology that it helped to develop. Development of such a jet will cost a few billion -- that's billion -- dollars.

So, what does all this have to do with flight training? Well, one of the more interesting press conferences was presented by Drew Steketee, president of Be A Pilot.

Think about that: In the midst of multimillion-dollar aircraft for which the interiors cost more than a training aircraft, Be A Pilot, a group devoted to one job -- increasing student starts -- held its own. Attendees included press folks from all over the world, and they paid attention. They asked questions, and they got answers.

Steketee announced that Clay Jones, chairman, president, and CEO of Rockwell Collins, and airshow superstar Patty Wagstaff are to be highlighted in Be A Pilot's new promotional campaign, "For Love and Money." I love that -- two of the big names in aviation teaming up to help produce new customers for CFIs!

If you want proof that flight training is important to the industry, consider this: Honeywell Bendix/King, Cessna Aircraft, and your own AOPA each donates more than $100,000 to Be A Pilot. Additional high-dollar contributors are Cirrus, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and others too numerous to list.

And it is working. Be A Pilot is paying off big time. I have followed this program since its inception and participated in a few learn-to-fly programs myself. Drew Steketee has made this one work, and my hat's off to him. All of us should thank Be A Pilot and Steketee.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying since 1971 and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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