An unintended consequence?
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An interesting email came into AOPA this week, and my thought was - if that's true, we never meant for that to happen.

The writer, an older pilot, likely retired, and not an aircraft owner, wanted us to know that he thought it was great to see so many young pilots being trained today, and likewise, the flight schools responding to the challenge. Sounds good so far…

Then, he went on to note that he was finding it more and more difficult to book flight time just to go up and enjoy flying. Presumably since the schools are so busy training (my words, not his).

I'd like to open the door to opinions and suggestions. Does anyone else see this happening? No? A lot? Sometimes? Rarely? If yes, is there an equitable way flight schools can mitigate this?

11 Replies
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1373 Posts

I've not seen any situation like this, and I've also not seen a flight school that wouldn't obtain more aircraft if they didn't have enough planes to meet demand.

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Yes, I believe this is a factor, especially in the case of one or more aircraft being down unexpectedly for maintenance.  In these situations I believe the school will often ‘bump’ a rental pilot in favor of a student flying with an instructor, in order to keep the instructors busy.  

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This article shows a significant increase in the student pilot population over the last 4 years: https://www.statista.com/statistics/909999/number-of-student-pilots-in-the-united-states/

According to IBISWorld, the number of flight schools has grown by 3.6% per year since 2017.

According to the FAA there were 129,652 piston, fixed-wing aircraft with 1 - 4+ seats in 2016 and 124,059 active in 2020 so there has also been a slight decline in the number of active fixed-wing aircraft available for training.

The GA aircraft fleet is also aging, which results in more maintenance down time.

The combination of increasing numbers of student pilots, decreasing numbers of available training aircraft and increasing maintenance down time would likely result in decreasing availability of rental aircraft for non-training use.

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It does feel busier to me.  I've been bumped once this year because students w/ instructors got priority, but a factor was that we've had a lot of bad weather lately that precluded people from flying.  Where it does feel difficult is that as an older instrument rating trainee I'm having a difficult time staying with one instructor.  Once an instructor gets enough hours they are hired by the airlines and I have to find a new instructor.  This has happened to me 5 times now.  

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When I flew a C172 around New Zealand's Southern Island in 2018, one flight training operation leased an aircraft from another flight training operation to deal with a temporary need. I don't know how many flight schools do that in the USA. Insurance might be an obstacle here. It seems like it would be a good way to provide both parties with income to meet short term needs. Having a local, regional or national aircraft availability website would certainly help make this type of sharing easier.

In central Tennessee, Nashville area, it is almost impossible to find a FBO or flight school that will rent an airplane to fly other than training. Trying to stay current is a very difficult proposition nowadays.

It is also impossible to find a hangar. This precludes me from even buying an airplane. Much different then it was in the past.