I was shocked and a little saddened by that drawer of lonely logbooks, representing perhaps 40 to 50 people who would never become pilots. My precious logbooks are kept in the safe when not in use, right along with my college diploma and my children’s birth certificates. It blew my mind that someone would make the time commitment and financial investment in flight training, then just walk away with nothing.
My first thought, as first thoughts often are, was not my finest. If these people don’t care enough to see their rating through or at least come pick up their logbook in case they decide to try aviation again in the future, then we don’t want them in our ranks. Aviation requires dedication and a constant commitment to proficiency. How safe would those quitters actually be if they did come back out and get their ticket? And that’s when the still small voice in my head reminded me that I was very close to being lumped in that drawer once upon a time.
When I took my first introductory flight, I knew I loved it and could be happy flying airplanes forever, but the overwhelming task of securing financing and rearranging my schedule for flight lessons had me paralyzed. I can’t say with certainty that I would have taken the steps to pursue aviation had that flight instructor not given me a call a few weeks later to say, “Hey, just checking on you. When are you coming back for another lesson?” I’ll never know what his motivation was. Maybe he was broke and needed another student. Or maybe he knew I just needed a little push. Whatever the reason, I’ll always be grateful he picked up the phone one more time.
Yesterday, I did a checkride for a man who took more than three years to finish his commercial certificate. He moved to Florida with the intention of pursuing aviation and plugged along nicely, earning his private certificate quickly. But then his instructor got hired at the airlines, and he was passed around like the leftover fruitcake that nobody wants after the holidays. Unfortunately, his story is a common one. Many people cite their reason for leaving aviation as an instructor or flight school’s unprofessional and unfriendly treatment. This guy didn’t let it deter him, though. After the constant ping-pong of instructors, he depleted his flight training funds (another common reason for quitting). So, he looked elsewhere for funding, eventually securing a scholarship and finding a flight school that at last felt like home. He earned his commercial certificate there after having to relearn a few things, and yesterday, I handed him his certificated flight instructor certificate. He had every reason in the world to walk away, but he kept at it, and he will now get to make a living doing what he loves.
Stories like his make me wonder: What is the difference between people who doggedly pursue their dreams and people who end up in the drawer of lonely logbooks? I am writing this piece in January for publication in the April issue of AOPA Pilot. January is the time of resolutions (mine is to write 5,000 words a week). So, I’m sending a message through time to April, that we will be motivated by the commitment of our January selves. Let’s make this the year we don’t let any excuse derail us from our big plans.
For all of you who have picked up aviation and then put it back down, maybe you need to keep hunting for the right flight school so you can finally earn your private pilot certificate. If money is an issue, look for scholarships or loans, sell your left arm if you have to, but don’t let that be the reason you give up on a promise you made to yourself. Or maybe you’ve been a private pilot for years, but life is busy and now you have three kids and two jobs. It’s time to get intentional about your schedule so you can finally take those instrument lessons you’ve been putting off. I know that for me, the only time that can be sacrificed is time formerly spent sleeping. The alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. now so I can steal an hour every day to write before the joyful chaos of three small children ends the silence of the wee hours.
I’d also like to encourage all of you who know someone whose life would be better with a little air time in it. I know I’ll personally be going through that drawer of logbooks, reaching out with an invitation back to the airport. I might even call them a second time or a third. Sometimes all people need is a little push.