The national tour of the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s fall 2017 safety seminar, Fly By Night, stopped at AOPA’s home base of Frederick, Maryland, last week, giving our staff the chance to see how all that preparation actually plays in front of an audience.
The short answer is that it played well: Attendees were not merely interested but involved, discussing the content with such vigor that a planned 90-minute presentation ran more than two hours—and hardly anyone walked out, or even seemed to mind. Indeed, some stayed afterward to continue the conversation and help clean up.
Some of that discussion did serve as a reminder that the myriad details we learned in preparation for knowledge tests and checkrides tend to grow fuzzy over time. How many definitions of “night” do the FARs contain? (Four, if you include one specific to ultralights that appears in Part 103.) Do night flights in helicopters require working landing lights, even if not operating for hire? (Not by regulation, but some manufacturers do require them in the “limitations” section of their rotorcraft flight manuals.) Is it legal to land in the dark without runway lighting? How about without runway or landing lights? (Yes in both cases—and while it carries additional risks, this may still be the best option in the event a total electrical failure also makes it impossible to trigger pilot-controlled lighting.)
Similar refreshers have been part of ASI’s seminars (and online courses, and safety films) for many years now. Pick any specialized topic—cross-country flight planning, single-pilot IFR, aerodynamics—and it’s easy to find pilots who no longer remember all the details they once made heroic efforts to master. The enthusiasm with which a certain segment of the population parses fine points of regulatory nuance also speaks to the complexity of the aviation environment and the consequent difficulty of keeping everything in focus all the time.
Which raises an interesting prospect. While ASI would like to boast that we own the pilot-seminar industry, of course we don’t (and really don’t want to). The FAA and NTSB are active players and generally draw good audiences, but the combined efforts of all three organizations fall well short of market saturation. Offered a close and convenient place to get together, share insights, and hear from someone who might know something they don’t, quite a few pilots will seize the opportunity to spend a couple of hours talking aircraft and operations. And the success of AOPA’s Rusty Pilots seminars, which have drawn more than 7,000 attendees in 2017 alone, shows that interest is by no means limited to active aviators. Many whose flying has been on hiatus—sometimes for years—just need a bit of encouragement and coaching to start rebuilding their skills.
While a full-scale seminar requires substantial preparation, odds are your current instructors have more than enough expertise to conduct periodic brush-up sessions. If you have the classroom space and enough slack in your CFIs’ schedules to block off, say, one evening a quarter, the offer of a couple of free hours of refresher training will likely pull in not only former customers but also people you’ve never seen before. Pick a subject area and a date—the FAASTeam rep at your flight standards district office can help publicize it via email blast and perhaps even approve the event for WINGS credit. Opening with a short quiz is a good way to remind people of how much they’ve forgotten; depending on the subject, it could be as simple as pulling a few items from your standard pre-solo test. Set up some chairs, brew some coffee or ice down some bottles of water, and let it roll.
The expense is minimal and the benefits potentially worthwhile. Besides reconnecting and re-engaging with past students who haven’t been in since their checkrides, you can begin to tap into the pool of pilots who haven’t flown recently. It’s estimated that more than one-third of those who have completed AOPA’s Rusty Pilots seminars have gone on to complete their flight reviews—and the number of lapsed pilots nationwide is on the order of half a million. There’s no knowing how many are just waiting for someone to invite them in the door.