U.S. Pilot Numbers Dip Below 600,000

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Despite aggressive action -- including a whole new certificate classification -- to attract more people to flying, the number of certificated pilots in the U.S. dropped to 597,109, according to year-end preliminary stats released by the FAA. Rather than attract new pilots, the new Sport Pilot certificate appears to be extending the flying activity of older pilots. The average age of pilots as a whole was 45.6 years while the average of the 939 sport pilot holders was 52.9 years. AOPAs mentorship program, Project Pilot, is reporting some success in encouraging people to learn to fly and there are plenty of instructors waiting. More than 90,000 pilots, almost one in six, are instructors. The stats also raise questions about the need or viability of the recreational certificate. Only 242 people have maintained those privileges. By far the biggest segment of pilots is private certificate holders (236,147) with ATP (144,681) and commercial (130,234) in second and third place. There are 84,866 student pilots and 41,306 with rotor ratings. A total of 37,837 pilots have glider ratings and 10,511 can fly balloons.