A survey expert who recently earned his private pilot certificate says the industry isn't exploiting the cool factor of being a pilot to keep students in training. Mark Benson, CEO of APCO Insight, told a news conference at AOPA Summit in Long Beach that the whole sense of community and belonging that pilots feel among pilots could be an important promotional tool for the industry to retain student pilots. Jennifer Storm, who is heading up AOPA's Flight Training Student Retention Initiative, told AVweb in a podcast interview that the survey data provides important insight into what student pilots want from schools. "The research says that there's a huge element of the specialness of being a pilot that we're not especially tapping into," she said. Storm also noted that student pilots want value for the money and a sense that flight schools or independent instructors are actively trying to save them money rather than running up the bill.
Benson said the industry needs to attract committed and involved CFIs to ensure students remain engaged and that message came through clearly in the extensive research his firm did on the subject of student pilot retention for AOPA. He said instructors who are simply "building time" necessary to apply for pilot jobs are a major turn-off for students. "You would be amazed at how many people believe that the instructor didn't care whether they passed or failed," he said. "They were just building time." The information gleaned from the study was shared with CFIs and flight school owners who attended a pre-Summit event. The CFI boredom factor was discussed as was the need for flight schools to ensure that CFIs are properly paid and have the training materials they need. Although most student pilots, even those who quit, considered their training a positive experience, many commented on the lack of professionalism, organization and motivation of their instructors.