The looming pilot shortage first reached my awareness in 1968 and has remained right around the corner. But, like the boy crying wolf, it may actually happen. The graph behind this text shows the number of new Private Pilot licenses issued in the US. In 1978 a bit over 58,000 were issued with less than 15,000 in 2011. It doesn’t take a PhD in statistics to see where that trend leads.
There are only four reasons for pilots: military, function, transportation and fun. The military is largely independent, so we can ignore them. Function might include taking tourists up for a great view or it could mean flying miles of pipeline looking for oily, wet spots. Transportation is obvious: people and stuff need to get from all the Points A to all the Points B. Finally, fun is the reason we’re willing to spend thousands a year to go out to the airport on a nice Saturday and spend a couple hundred more to fly somewhere for a bad hamburger.
Functional flying will probably continue to be fed by the dedicated independents building time. In spite of continuous airline bankruptcies, there’s money in transportation. Enough money, probably, that the airlines could again grow their own pilots, just as airlines around the world have long done. Private transportation will have to compete for the few remaining independent pilots and perhaps those who’ve become disillusioned at the airlines, but they also could train to meet their needs.
Fun flying is optional and is the segment that will virtually disappear without new pilots. With no customers once-proud companies like Piper, Beech and Mooney will declare bankruptcy. Again, but for the final time. Garmin and others will focus on other products and drop aviation in less time than it takes a student to turn a passable approach into a botched landing.
Fun of course comes with the rest of it. But unless you sold a software company, finding the time and money to get a license just for fun is difficult. LSAs may help but can’t do it alone. Meanwhile, all other sides of aviation will
be able to continue without being fed by the recreational side.
I recently got a note from former IFR editor Paul Berge who remains an occasional contributor, providing our annual Stupid Pilot Tricks and other highly pertinent articles. Paul’s unique sense of humor helped set the edgy yet irreverent tone for this magazine that we still enjoy today. He’s so concerned about the declining pilot population’s inability to support the recreation he loves that he and some like-minded individuals pooled their considerable talents.
They made and are distributing a remarkable video for the purpose of trying to offer a vision of something above the ordinary for those who aren’t satisfied with, well, the ordinary. If this video doesn’t remind you how much fun flying is, how flying can really get your blood flowing, check yourself into the morgue. Meanwhile, please help expose others to the fun of flying before it disappears.
— Frank Bowlin