Flight Students Need Protection

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The sky falls just about every day here at AVweb and, frankly, you get used to it. It doesn’t seem to take much. Adjust the regulations or the laws a little and the e-mail pours in.Sometimes the matter in question is so patently ridiculous that we jump on it. The inability of the FAA and the FCC to get together on the future of ELTs got that reaction from us but still we didn’t don our hardhats.The truth is folks tend to hit the panic button a little too easily in this Internet age so we at AVweb try to dig a little and make sure the hole is actually there before we get out the Kevlar.So, when some California flight schools sounded the alarm earlier this year about fees and inspections and extra paperwork, we dutifully took a look, ran a story and explained that flight schools are now expected to behave like any other private educational facility and provide some assurance that the student gets what he or she pays for.Stop, right now. Think about this for a second. Yes, aviation is different and yes we do things differently – but when was the last time you paid 100 percent up front for something that would take at least a year to deliver and was dependent on your own skills to achieve full value?Don’t get me wrong. We were on the bandwagon and suitably noisy about this “threat to aviation,” but then I chanced on a submission by the guy who keeps Jet University Sucks going and his was the lone voice in favor of the new law. As we reported in January, a tangled mess of alleged improprieties closed the Florida school, which was purportedly training kids for right seat jobs at regional. They’d paid up and are now out whatever they didn’t get in dollars vs. training.Jet U guy told the California hearings into the new law that he found $36 million in lost fees paid in good faith by people in California with the dream to fly for a living. That may be part of about $200 million lost by students who’d put their faith in Silver State Helicopters and were left without a place to turn when the chain of schools went under in 2007.What’s amazing is that a lot of the affected students are probably flipping burgers and, if they’re lucky, instructing or flying skydivers to build the money and time needed to meet the basic requirements of a job which often pays less than an entry level retail position.It’s not limited to the U.S. A school in London, Ontario, Canada has virtually abandoned 60 Chinese student pilots and those kids, who drew from families and friends for the $55,000 up front fee are now in danger of losing their apartments because the rent, which was supposed to be included in the tuition, isn’t being paid.Yes, the vast majority of schools and instructors are honorable and would never do this. However, since there doesn’t seem to be any self policing on the business practices of schools (we have oversight on curriculum and training standards out the Wazoo), what choice do governments have but to ensure there is some protection against the horrifying treatment some of these students are enduring in an industry that has paradoxically, demanded so much respect?The financial implications of California’s law amount to about 500 hours in an engine account. The security the law may provide could help direct students to California schools confident in the knowledge they will get the training they pay for or they’ll get their money back.If we’re trying to attract young people to aviation, the very least we should offer them is the assurance of honesty, integrity and values in training we will expect of them as pilots.