AOPA President Phil Boyer mentored his wife, Lois, throughout her flight training.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job — sitting in the left seat of AOPA for all these years — is hearing from members like you.
Our 411,000 (and counting) members are incredibly passionate about, and involved with, general aviation. There are a lot of ways to describe AOPA members, but "shy" isn't one of them. I just have to glance at my e-mail inbox to get a quick and accurate gauge of what's on our members' minds.
A few weeks ago I was flooded with a passionate outpouring from many of you, enraged about a story that appeared in The New York Times. The reporter, Matt Wald, is someone we know very well and someone with whom we have a good relationship. The article was titled "Up, Up and...Never Mind." Befitting that distinguished paper, the story was well researched and technically quite accurate — something we don't often see in GA coverage — but it was definitely written with a "the glass is half-empty" point of view. A couple of the things Wald covered were the high cost of learning to fly and the fact that far fewer people are getting into GA today than some years ago, in part because of the risks involved.
I spent about three hours with Wald as he researched the story and discussed a range of subjects. Subsequently, I was disappointed by the pessimistic tone that I thought most people would take away from the story. Because — like you — I clearly see that GA's glass is half-full. And much of the proof of that is in the Times' story. It just needs interpretation.
The story opened with a quote from a student who described flying as "fun" and "exhilarating." But he had to put his lessons aside early in his training because he was getting married and had to start saving for a new house. But, most important, he was still "dreaming that it might get done."
Many times I have had to put my love of flying "on hold" for various financial, family, or job reasons. I haven't flown my biplane since January, primarily because of a heavy workload related to the FAA funding debate. But dreams are meant to be realized; they usually just need a little nudge. Didn't someone help you get into flying with some friendly encouragement along the way? He or she gave you priceless advice and support at critical times — such as your first solo or learning about stalls. He or she walked you through the to/from of VOR tracking and many other challenges — and the thrill of passing the checkride and getting your ticket.
The benefits of that support are the key principles behind our AOPA Project Pilot program — where you, an experienced pilot, help a dreamer find his or her reality and become a pilot. The Times' story mentions the cost of learning to fly, describing it as "expensive." What a future pilot needs to know — and didn't read in the Times' story — is what you already well know: You don't have to plunk down thousands of dollars at once to learn to fly. You can go at it as your budget allows. And is flying all that expensive compared with golf, boating, skiing, or any other recreational activity?
The Times' story also mentions that there aren't many women coming into GA today. A chief flight instructor from Smoketown, Pennsylvania (you remember the two infamous pilots from there who attempted to transit the Washington, D.C. ADIZ), was quoted as saying that the flight-training system has "not adapted itself to women" and that "women learn differently from men." (Who, says this instructor, can "scream and shout" and then go drink a beer. If you yell at a woman, he says, "she'd start crying and never come back.") Unfortunately the pilot population isn't fifty-fifty male-female, but it could be because flight training is more enlightened today. As part of AOPA Project Pilot we've held public Invitation to Fly sessions adjacent to my Pilot Town Meetings. I'm happy to tell you that more than 30 percent of the people attending those introductory sessions are women. They're seeing for themselves that flying is something they can do. Our survey work on those who would like to learn to fly indicates a high percentage of women in the "very interested" category.
Last, the story also suggests that the youth of today aren't inspired to fly, that kids are different today. But as you well know, so are the airplanes. With GPS and glass cockpits and light sport aircraft, it's a whole new, and really exciting, ball game, one that's making learning to fly easier and safer than ever.
Now just imagine the many benefits if you could have set this story straight with everyone who read that article. If you could have told every reader that flying isn't a huge, one-time investment; that it is for women; that there's a whole new generation of aviation and avionics for a new generation of technology-savvy future pilots.
Well, you can't reach everyone. But if every AOPA member could reach out to just one person and help him or her become a new pilot, the face of GA would be changed forever. GA would be bigger, stronger, more effective, and more efficient. You can make this difference by becoming an AOPA Project Pilot Mentor. I urge you to visit the Web site for more information. Then find someone with the dream. And help him or her make it a reality.
Is GA's glass half-empty or half-full? It's overflowing! Pour it on — as an AOPA Project Pilot Mentor.
See " AOPA Project Pilot: A Community of Flying," page 108.