Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
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Why People Quit Flying

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most from Your Flight Training, March, 2007
Smarter Student Series: Researching Flight Schools | Managing Your CFI | Annoying Students | You're in the Driver's Seat! | Why People Quit Flying | Being a Better Aviation Consumer | You Get What You Pay For | Performance Anxiety |

One of the aviation phrases I'll never forget reading was, "You never know when its your last flight."  I always thought that it meant be safe, enjoy life and other carpe diem type quips.  I can't imagine when that day comes for me.

I've been asking pilots who aren't flying anymore why they stopped.  The most common answer is "medical" but a close 2nd place is "I just got busy with life."  Rick, 42, writes, "I learned how to fly in college and then life happened.  I met a girl, got married, had kids, and now the first one is off to college. I've been thinking about it recently and found your website."

Airplane altimeter showing 31,800 feet.Bernie, 73 years old, has a medical condition that keeps him from flying.  He lost his medical years ago and only gets to fly when another pilot comes along and is willing to be PIC while Bernie gets to fly.  I met another gentleman who owns one of the most beautiful Comanche singles I've seen who no longer has a medical.  I used to fly with him, just to make sure the airplane flew and he got a chance to enjoy it once in a while.  Since getting to know these two sages of aviation, I've always made an offer that I was willing to fly with anyone in a similar situation.  The only condition I made was they had to buy lunch. 

I ran into a Southwest captain who is building an RV6.  He never gets to fly for fun.  He's either working on the 737 or working on the RV6.  Others stop as soon as they have soloed.  Or achieved their private pilot certificate.  I guess they just got bored with it as soon as they got what they were looking for.  I guess there's a sense of completion when you hit a milestone in learning how to fly.

I've been a firm believer that all flight training should include the practical uses for the rating.  For example, the first lesson with a private pilot should be a short cross country flight.  During that flight, the basic flight maneuvers can be emphasized and learned.  Suddenly you're at an airport that is 50 nm away.  You can get lunch there or simply demonstrate a touch & go.  Then on the return trip, the student can get more practice of the basic flight maneuvers with the instruments covered.  If the student never enjoys the practical side of the rating, then all he will ever know is the practice area.  Certainly all pilots get bored with that soon enough.

Some quit and they don't even realize they already quit.  They come across their logbook and open it and find that their last flight was 3 years ago.  Life just gets in the way sometimes.  For me, flying fills a hole that nothing else can quite fill.

I run into folks who actively participate in aviation but never fly.  I never imagined it, but their is a whole group of folks out there who keep their medical current, go to Sun-N-Fun, renew their EAA/AOPA memberships, and even drive to the fly-in breakfasts.  I guess the cost of flying keeps quite a few people out of the cockpit. 

Sometimes I see folks attend the Private Pilot Ground School and never take the FAA exam.  I have some quit as soon as they have paid for the $250 set of "no refunds given" books.  I guess people have stars in their eyes and the effort required puts an end to their dream rather quickly.  Sometimes it makes me wonder why I got as far in aviation as I did.  I'm not particularly bright or motivated and folks more likely to succeed than me didn't make it.

Do You Want to Get Back Into Flying?

A great first step is to attend the free, local safety seminars that the FAA puts on.  Checkout www.faasafety.gov for more information on that.  Once you've gotten the urge to fly, and you can face it, book a discovery flight with a local school.  You don't have to tell them you're already a certificated pilot. 

Consider taking a private pilot ground school at the local airport or community college.  For a syllabus of what to expect, see: Private Pilot Ground School.  In all cases, start and continue to read aviation materials.  You can check out the download section of my website for some FAA pubs that will go a long way to getting you back on track. 

Soon enough you'll want to renew your medical, get an airplane checkout in something you're comfortable with, and go flying.  Good luck, and please tell me how you're coming along...

Pilot Resources:
AOPA Online - Pilots' Guide to Getting Back Into Flying
AOPA ASF Pilot's Guide to the Flight Review (download)
The FAA has developed new flight review guidance for CFIs to conduct BFRs.
FAA Advisory Circular AC61-98A Conducting a flight review

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