EAA Chief Laments Dwindling Pilot Population

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During the unveiling of the Cessna 162 SkyCatcher light sport aircraft Sunday at EAA AirVenture, EAA President Tom Poberezny sounded the alarm bell about low student starts and a declining pilot population. According to Poberezny, "Seven out of every 10 people who take flight lessons drop out before they get their private pilot certificate. There are two reasons for this -- lack of time and money." He said he pushed for the light sport aircraft rules exactly for this reason and said he has high hopes that Cessna's commitment to build an LSA will contribute to reversing the downward trend. The student starts over the past decade have remained steady at about 60,000 per year, far below that of the heydays of the 1980s. Meanwhile, the overall pilot population dipped last year to 597,190 pilots, also far below the highs of about 850,000 pilots in the 1980s. "Six-hundred thousand pilots is not enough to sustain the general aviation industry," warned Poberezny.

He said the industry must embrace technology to attract young people toward aviation. "I know one 16-year-old who has more than 1,000 hours," Poberezny said, before pausing shortly and adding, "on Microsoft flight simulator." He said this exemplifies the fact that young people are more tech-savvy, while noting that flight training must adapt to this new reality.