Eye of Experience #4:

AVweb columnist Howard Fried raises an interesting question, why does flight training have such a substantially higher drop out rate than almost any other education endeavor? Howard, says some types of drop outs are understandable, but others beg for an explanation. Why do some complete all their training, but then never actually finish by getting their pilot's certificate? Do you know?


Eye Of ExperienceFlight schools have always experienced a substantially higherdrop out rate than almost any other educational endeavor. Thisproblem has plagued the entire aviation community for as longas I can remember, and, believe me, that’s one very long time.We can speculate as to the causes for this phenomenon foreverwithout reaching any firm conclusions. Basically, there are twokinds of dropouts, those which are understandable and those whichare not. With respect to the first kind, what follows seems tomake sense to me.

We know that there are very specific points in the primary curriculumat which the dropouts occur. The first of these is prior to thetime the student solos. This one is fairly easy to understand.The student may either be overwhelmed with the tremendous amountof material that must be learned and simply give up, or he orshe may be terrified of the fact that the instructor will oneday soon ask him or her to go fly the airplane alone.

Also, at some FBO flight schools, if the instructor meets hisstudent on the same day as the student is scheduled, he thinkshe’s on time. This may well cause the high-powered professionalor businessman student to quit in disgust. After all, he’s usedto keeping his appointments on time and he can’t see why the CFIdoes not do so as well. Of course, this one may not quit trainingaltogether. He or she might very well just move to another facilityfor the training.

At my flight school when we were just starting out, we scheduledone hour blocks of time for pre-solo training, and when we discoveredthat wasn’t working we went to one and one-half hour periods,and ultimately to two hours, during which, if we were lucky wewould get in an hour of dual instruction.

Quitting after solo

Then there is the large group which quits training right aftersolo. These are, I believe, people who have undertaken flighttraining as a challenge. They have set a goal for themselves andthis goal is to fly an airplane all by themselves. When this goalis met, it’s all over for them. He or she has met the challenge,has accomplished what he set out to do and that’s the end of it.

The motivation for the next group is similar. This is the bunchthat drops out right after acquiring the Private PilotCertificate. Every FBO and Flight School is familiar with thesepeople. They work hard, go all the way through training, meetall the requirements, pass the final checkride, and never againfly an airplane. My own wife was one of these. She looked on aviationas an efficient means of transportation, but derived no pleasurefrom manipulating an airplane around the sky. She got fed up withher friends razzing her about the fact that her husband runs aflight school and she’s not a pilot. So she undertook flight trainingand acquired a Private Pilot Certificate. She never again renewedher medical or flew an airplane alone. (Of course when we traveledtogether, I made her push the pedals and twist the yoke.)

All of these are stages in the training process at which groupsof students quit, but of course there are isolated individualcases which can occur at other times. For example, financial ortime constraints can cause an individual to quit at any time.All of these people who quit flight training do so for more orless understandable reasons.

Incomprehensible reasons

There are others who give up for reasons that I find absolutelyincomprehensible. I am referring to those who quit at the completionof training without ever acquiring the certificate. We had twoat our school who completed training, took and failed the finalpractical test, and were so disgusted with themselves (or theexaminer or the system) that they never returned for the recheck.This is particularly difficult to understand. However, if thesepeople are so emotionally upset over busting the checkride thatthey quit flying altogether, perhaps those of us who occupy theairspace are better off without having to share it with them.One was a private applicant who was absolutely hopeless. He simplygave up.

The other who dropped out after busting a checkride was a consultingengineer by profession who had completed the training for theinstrument rating to be added to his private pilot certificate.He took the checkride with an examiner (not me) who busted himfor failing to do something that was not required by the PracticalTest Standards. The failed applicant wrote letters to the localFlight Standards District Office, to the regional office of theFAA, and to the National Flight Standards Office in Washingtoncomplaining about this, and although the Designated Pilot Examinerwho had busted him was counseled, the outcome of the checkridewas, of course, not changed. This whole matter so upset the applicantthat he gave up flying altogether. He was just completely turnedoff by the FAA and aviation in general. He said the system isso disgusting that he wants nothing more to do with it. So faras I know, he has never flown since, even to the extent of exercisinghis private privileges VFR.

However, the situation that I find defies any rational explanationis the case of the student who completes all the training, meetsall the requirements for the certificate or rating for which heor she trained, is recommended by his instructor, and the failsto take the practical test and finish with the certificate orrating for which he has worked so hard and sacrificed so much.At my flight school I have observed this phenomenon on two separateoccasions.

Complete, Except for the Checkride

The first of these was the case of a young man who trained forthe single engine sea add-on to his private pilot certificate.At that time we were using a leased Piper PA-18 Super Cub on floatsfor training. Our deal with the owner included the fact that whenhe wanted to fly his own airplane he would schedule it at ouroffice just like any student or renter pilot. After completinghis training and being recommended by his instructor, the applicantscheduled his practical test with me. He showed up at the appointedtime and we went through the oral quizzing portion of the practicaltest. We then drove out to the nearby lake where the Super Cubwas normally docked to do the flight portion of the checkride,only to discover that the airplane was not there. It seems thatthe owner had flown it away for the week-end and neglected totell us he was taking it. Although he had given me quite an acceptableoral, this so upset the applicant that he never came back andcompleted the test. This happened many years ago, and to thisvery day that pilot does not have the seaplane rating, althoughat that time he was fully qualified. I just don’t understand whatwas going on in his head. Do you?

What a Waste

The other occasion when a fully qualified applicant refused totake the final step and acquire the certificate for which shehad trained was even stranger. In this case a husband and wifewere simultaneously training for Private Pilot Certificates atour flight school. The wife was a much better student than thehusband and had progressed much faster and farther than he had.Just about the time that the husband was ready for solo cross-countrywork, the wife finished her training. Her instructor recommendedher for certification and she made an appointment with me forher checkride.

On the appointed day and at the appointed time she showed up andannounced that she couldn’t take her checkride that day becausethe stars weren’t lined up just right and her biorhythms wereslightly off! Now, I’m not one to ridicule anyone’s beliefs, butshe not only would not make another appointment at that time fora future date, but she never did take that final step. And, bythe bye, her husband dropped out of flight training at that sametime. In this case, I suspect that there was another, hidden,motive. Although it was never verbalized, I suspect there wasa rivalry between that husband and wife, and she refused to acquirethe private pilot certificate before her husband for fear thathe would feel that it was a put-down.

Just think, after all the time, energy, and emotion, not to mentionthe money that these two people expended, and then they walkedaway from taking the final step. Perhaps you can understand it,but as I said, it is absolutely incomprehensible to me.

In most cases, someone else has already gained the experienceyou need the hard way-keep an eye out!