AOPA unveiled another step in its Flight Training Student Retention Initiative, designed to stem the drop-out rate among student pilots and to expand the general aviation pilot population. The initiative was first announced in late 2010 when AOPA released a major research project that highlighted reasons why some students make it through the flight training process while as many as 80 percent drop out.
After sharing the research with the flight training industry, AOPA has taken numerous steps to help flight training professionals succeed in keeping students engaged. At a Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In press conference on March 30, AOPA President Craig Fuller announced the next step, which will be the creation of a center inside AOPA and headed by a yet-to-be-named vice president that will seek to further implement efforts to build the pilot population, create community among pilots, grow the organization's Let's Go Flying project, and support flying clubs.
Fuller said AOPA has received some 1,000 nominations for its Flight Training Excellence Awards, which will also be managed through the center. Flight schools, CFIs, and students can go to AOPA's website to nominate a flight school or CFI who is conducting flight training in a way that helps students succeed. Fuller first announced the awards in late January. Some nominees and winners will be showcased in AOPA media. Winners will be announced at AOPA Aviation Summit in Palm Springs in October.
The new center will also oversee AOPA's flight training scholarship program. At the press conference, Fuller announced three winners of this year's scholarships, which are sponsored by Jeppesen, the family of Erral Lea Plymate, and AOPA. Each recipient will receive $5,000 to be used for flight training.
Tyler Allen was the winner of the AOPA Flight Training scholarship. Allen is a 16-year-old high school junior who lives on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. He took his first flight in October 2009, and has logged more than 20 hours. He wants to bring his knowledge of general aviation to his hometown of Window Rock on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and wants to be the first Navajo pilot. His ultimate goal is to open a flight school in Window Rock to help others in his community share in the joy of aviation.
North Carolina firefighter Glen Wenzel took home the Erral Lea Plymate Memorial Flight Training scholarship. Wenzel inherited his late father's Cessna 150. His father had planned to teach Wenzel to fly, but was killed in a helicopter crash before he could accomplish that goal. Wenzel plans to restore the Cessna 150 and then to use the scholarship funds to complete his flight training and perhaps leverage it in his firefighting career.
Jeppesen officials presented Stacey Shrewsbury with her scholarship check. Shrewsbury is the assistant flight director at the Challenger Learning Center in central Illinois. Once she completes her training, she plans to help inspire students at the center, letting them know that if they set their mind to it, they can accomplish anything.