GA Problem Is GA Solution: Instructors

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Is a high accident rate due to substandard training a major drag on the growth of general aviation? The Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) thinks so and this week in Atlanta, they're trying to do something about it. More than 150 instructors, examiners, regulators and industry experts have convened the society's first symposium to explore ways that the industry might stimulate growth by driving down the accident rate and improving the quality of instruction. "We're in trouble in GA. The fatal accident rate has been flat for more than 10 years. Student starts are way down, student attrition is way up. The result of that is that sales are way down," says SAFE's chairman, Doug Stewart. The group believes that flight instruction quality, delivery and innovation is the fulcrum to change that. In an event-packed Wednesday, the group assembled five panels consisting of instructors and examiners exploring various aspects of flight training -- the good and the bad. In this podcast, SAFE's Stewart explained that the goal is to come away from the three-day symposium with a concrete list of recommendations that the training industry can act upon quickly to reduce the erosion in pilot starts.

And that will take some effort, according to AOPA's Jennifer Storm, who summarized the results of a recent study the association did of student starts and completions. Storm reported that in the 10-year period from 1990 to 2010, both student starts and completions have fallen dramatically, as much as 64 percent for completions. The study revealed a paradox: Even as students were dropping out, more than 90 percent reported a positive experience with instructors or with flight schools. Still, for various reasons, they become frustrated and give up their training.

That's no surprise to Jerry Gregoire, VP of Redbird Flight Simulations, who explained that flight training is still structured around the availability of CFIs, not the desires or schedule of the students. "This is just stupid," he said. In response to this, Redbird has partnered with Cessna and King Schools to develop a new simulator and computer-based system that will allow students to absorb flight training at a pace that suits them, rather than relying on a CFI who may cancel a lesson to fly a charter.

For its part, the FAA has committed to support community-based efforts to overhaul the flight instruction system without resorting to additional regulation. In this podcast, the FAA's Mel Cintron, head of the agency's general aviation and commercial division, says the agency has launched a five-year program to reduce the industry's fatal accident rate -- estimated to be about 1.2/100,000. In a brief luncheon address, he told the group that the agency will listen to support safety initiatives coming from the field. "Hold us accountable and let's work together on this," he said. "It's a serious, serious matter and we know that."

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