Safety Publications/Articles

Meet AOPA's Project Pilot

Get ready to welcome some new students

There's no doubt that by now you've heard all about it--AOPA has expanded Project Pilot, its program that encourages members to identify potential new pilots and then mentor them through their flight training. But what does the program mean to you as a flight instructor?

AOPA Project Pilot will help to grow America's pilot population by providing student pilots with the support that they need to complete their flight training. The program draws on the strength of AOPA's membership--which now comprises more than 408,000 pilots and aircraft owners--calling on each of them to identify a strong candidate for flight training, help them get started, and support them as they work toward their certificates.

To support its members in their mentoring role, AOPA Project Pilot provides a new Web site that helps Mentors to keep in touch with their students and track progress while providing support, tips, and encouragement.

The Project Pilot Mentor is not the student's flight instructor and does not provide flight training. Instead, the Mentor's primary role is to help the student find a convenient flight school and then provide encouragement, motivation, and support throughout the training process, supplementing the instruction provided by the student's CFI. For example, you will teach the student how to make crosswind landings; if the student is frustrated or discouraged at his progress, the Mentor can explain, "They were frustrating to me, too, but after a couple of sessions practicing them, it all came together for me--it will for you, too."

Flight instructors should not sign up as Mentors to their students; the program is more effective when there is a different person in each role. However, AOPA-member CFIs are welcomed and encouraged to Mentor students for whom they are not providing flight training. Perhaps a college classmate wants to learn to fly, but lives across the country--it would be impractical for you to provide instruction, but e-mail and telephones make long-distance mentoring a snap.

AOPA Project Pilot was originally launched in 1994 and has provided support to tens of thousands of student pilots. Today's Project Pilot, which debuted June 3 at the AOPA Headquarters Fly-In and Open House, updates the successful aspects of the existing Project Pilot program with the best of today's technologies, including DVD and the latest Web innovations.

Erik Lindbergh--a pilot and CFI--has teamed with AOPA as the national spokesperson for AOPA Project Pilot. The grandson of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, he will use his time and his family legacy to help rebuild general aviation for the future. Lindbergh, 41, started to fly only because of the encouragement of a mentor. "I represent the third generation of Lindberghs in the cockpit, but it was a friend, not a family member, who got me into aviation," he said. And his experience is a common one; more people are inspired to become pilots because they know someone who flies--a friend or a family member--than by any other factor.

Why is AOPA investing in Project Pilot? Research shows that student pilots who have a Mentor to help them through flight training are three times more likely to earn their pilot certificates.

How it works

For students, the Web site provides them with information and resources to help reinforce what their flight instructors are teaching them, and it allows them to chart their progress and share their successes with their Mentors.

After nominating a potential student pilot, Project Pilot Mentors receive an information kit. AOPA then e-mails the prospective pilot an invitation to join the program. When they accept, they receive a kit that includes a personal welcome letter from AOPA President Phil Boyer, a copy of the newly created Invitation to Fly magazine, a DVD that outlines what they'll learn during flight training and even includes a section to help explain it all to family and friends, and a free six-month subscription to AOPA Flight Training magazine.

The program doesn't add anything to the CFI's workload, although it's possible you might be asked by the student's Mentor for a quick phone call when he or she is preparing to solo--we know of many instances when the Mentor, often with members of the student's family, have come to the airport to share in training milestones.

A renewed effort

AOPA Project Pilot does not replace any of AOPA's initiatives to support student pilots, CFIs, and the flight-training community.

Instructors are still encouraged to sign up new students and prospects for the free six-month AOPA Flight Training membership. This is a great tool for building relationships with your customers; your students and prospects will still receive a free six-month subscription to AOPA Flight Training, and you will receive periodic mailings from AOPA with marketing support.

For more information on AOPA Project Pilot, see the Web site.

Mike Collins is editor of AOPA Flight Training.

By Mike Collins

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