Too many Flight Schools are failing. The effect of this will eventually hurt us all.
In the past ten years it has been distressing to see five flight schools come, and go at my home airport at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport (KSUS.) There have been a variety of reasons for their independent demise; none so it appears was due to a lack of willing students.
According to a web-search that I performed while composing this article, I found that there are approximately 1,500 flight schools currently in operation in the U.S.A. This number is declining. The total ‘pilot population’ has also been in a similar decline, at a rate of almost 4% per annum.
So why is the decline in the number of flight schools so important to us?
Without flight schools there won’t be student pilots. Without student pilots, eventually there won’t be enough General Aviation activity to support the excise tax system that supports the Federal Aviation Administration and it’s National Air Traffic System. The airlines won’t pay for it, even though they pretend that they do in the carefully drafted propaganda that they pay to distribute to the public in the national media.
Without sufficient take-offs and landings at the 5,202 public use airports around the country, federal funding will be slashed. This is because the annual traffic statistics (take-offs and landings) at a public use airport is the most significant piece of data that the government uses to apportion it’s funding out to all of these airports.
The U.S.A. is still the greatest entrepreneurial power on this planet, due mostly to its freedom of mobility that it affords its citizens. As I mentioned before there are over 5,000 public use airports in operation here. These are supplemented by more than 14,000 other airports, heliports, balloon-ports, etc. This statistic is great for you and me; unfortunately however, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) views all non-military airports as a downside because of the massive perceived risk to national security that they appear to pose to the country, instead of understanding how vital all of these airports are to the entrepreneurial spirit of this nation. A diminishing pilot population further dilutes our argument against the draconian movement that is creeping in upon us from the DHS.
General Aviation here in the U.S.A. sets the standard benchmark that all other countries can only hope to emulate. There is no alternative model for us to follow as a road-map for change. I can say this because the statistics conclusively support this assertion. There are approximately 274,000 aircraft in operation in the world. 200,000 of these are based here in North America. Less than 40,000 are in Europe, less than 20,000 are in Latin America, about 12,000 are in Asia and the Pacific, 6,000 in Africa, while the Middle East comes dead last with less than 1,000 aircraft in total.
Until the Patriot Act was introduced after the fall of the World Trade Centre Towers, the U.S.A. was the ‘Flight school’ destination of choice for the World’s pilot population. With taxation, lack of aviation infrastructure and a low volume of consumption; learning to fly, hour building, and advanced ratings cost two or even four times as much in most countries, compared to what it cost here. Thousands of foreign student pilots were processed through our effective flight school system every year. Bringing with them a massive, positive economic impact realised in Federal Excise Taxes; Hotel and Apartment Rentals; Airline, Train, Bus and Automobile fares/rentals; Grocery store and Restaurant purchases; and other retail sectors. The Patriot Act, the prospect of the Large Aircraft Security Program, the Economic Downturn, and the ever-increasing arrogance of the European Economic Union’s Aviation Safety Agency in making it harder for foreign students to convert their FAA certificates for use back home, are all significant burdens that our Flight Schools have been trying to bear-up against. Many of them, including some that have been in operation for sixty decades or more, are reaching critical mass, and are now choosing to close their doors instead of continuing the increasingly ugly fight that is necessary for them to survive. This loss through attrition must stop. Because if it is allowed to continue, the future of General Aviation will be placed into dire straits, the repercussions from which, shall be felt everywhere around the globe.
How can you help? Talk to the owner of your local flight school, tell him/her that you know how important they are to our industry, tell them to hold on a little while longer and explain that help is on its way. Talk to your airport manager/director to get a copy of your airport business directory. Ask about and fully understand what the movement statistics are for your home airport, and the surrounding airports. Once you are armed with this information you can now organize and form together a strong and informed local lobby group that welcomes all local airmen, aircraft owners, aviation businesses, etc. Now take your new-found and immensely powerful General Aviation message to all of your Provincial, City, and State Elected Officials, and demand that they stop listening to the bad-news propaganda that is in-vogue now, demand that the Patriot Act be either demolished or radically amended, demand that the LASP be scrapped, demand that the economic impact of General Aviation be recognized by Congress and the Senate and then demand that they all stand-up and fight for easement and recognition for one of this country’s main entrepreneurial engines; the General Aviation Flight School.