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Time for a Pinch Hitter program?

All over the news last week was a story about a person with no flying experience who successfully landed an airplane when the pilot in command became incapacitated. It’s the kind of aviation story that captures the imagination of nonpilots: Regular Joe or Jane is put in a precarious situation but emerges triumphant.

Of course it’s not that simple. A lot of people worked together to help the man, who was a passenger in a Cessna 208 on its way to Florida from the Bahamas when its pilot announced he was feeling faint and then collapsed against the controls. News accounts said the right-seater had to pull the airplane out of a dive before he could contact air traffic control for assistance.

Once he got in touch with ATC, controllers guided him to Palm Beach Airport, and a controller who is a CFI “offered clear, short directions on how to fly” while the team at Palm Beach tower cleared the airspace and summoned emergency responders. The CFI guided the passenger through the approach and landing, and even had to instruct him on how to stop the airplane.

Flying with a pilot who becomes incapacitated is truly the stuff of nightmares for nonpilots. And it doesn’t happen very often, but try telling that to an already nervous spouse or partner who needs no further reasons to stay out of an airplane. Cirrus Aircraft knows this, and the company has built an entire product line around aircraft with ballistic parachutes. That parachute is a huge safety feature—and a huge selling point.

But even if you’re not a Cirrus dealer, you can help your flight school customers prepare for this scenario, just as they learn how to prepare for engine failures, unusual attitudes, and other emergencies. Offer a Pinch Hitter program for nonpilots that includes a flight lesson or two. If you have a simulator, so much the better; the quieter, less expensive opportunity to “fly” an airplane will be a nice alternative.

AOPA’s Pinch Hitter curriculum can help you put together a modest program that can be offered to groups or individual clients, on demand or on a schedule. The curriculum also has tips for flight instructors on how to teach the program. For example, put the student in the right seat, and remember, they’re not there to work on an FAA certificate (yet). Make the experience fun and positive.

I would add a marketing observation: “Pinch Hitter” is a good, descriptive term to use to refer to a nonflying companion. “Pilot Wife” is not.

One consideration is that you may not necessarily be converting these Pinch Hitter clients into regular students. That’s OK! Especially if it means regular customers rent your airplanes more often—because now their flying partners won’t object.

Jill W. Tallman
Jill W. Tallman
AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who is part-owner of a Cessna 182Q.

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