Cessna CEO Jack Pelton has been necessarily concerned about a shortage of customers in the past 18 months but he's shifted his gaze to a new threat on the horizon and that's a shortage of pilots. Pelton told the Aero Club of Washington (PDF) this week that the FAA estimates the number of student pilots will hit a 10-year low this year. "This is a problem for all of us in aviation, and all of us should be part of the solution," Pelton said. "Fewer pilots equate to less business for all of us, and it threatens the strong, sustainable aviation system our nation counts on." He said the military no longer trains enough pilots to fill airline cockpits and GI Bill-type incentives are a thing of the past. GA groups have created numerous programs to try to stimulate growth in pilot numbers but Pelton said now it's time the government stepped up. "Congress should give serious consideration to permitting flight training under the Post 9/11 GI Bill," he said. "We need legislation that fosters and stimulates our industry."
Pelton reiterated his belief that the recovery of the industry will be long and slow but he said there are some hopeful signs. Used aircraft inventories are falling and flight hours are up. The perception of aviation as a wasteful perk for the ultra rich has been turned around and the legitimate use of aviation as a business tool has been embraced in the form of general aviation appreciation days across the country. He said changing the perception was largely the result of aviation groups getting together to get that message out. The Department of Transportation has also formed a blue chip committee on the future of aviation, of which Pelton is a member. "This cooperation we've experienced in GA must span all areas of aviation," he said.