AOPA recently released the findings of its extensive study of why the vast majority of student pilots never become full-fledged pilots. While the sheer futility of the numbers are alarming, the study is just the first step in finding ways for flight schools to develop programs designed to keep students from walking off the ramp never to return.
AOPA commissioned a research firm, APCO Insight, to conduct the research, and what they found sounds familiar to all of us in general aviation while at the same time providing some key distinctions between conventional wisdom on the subject and the objective facts, as reported by more than 1,000 students and instructors on the factors that helped determine if student pilots would stick with the program or not. The results will be used to create a series of programs designed to provide flight schools real solutions to keeping students enrolled and flying. The programs will begin soon, with their launch spread out through 2011. The programs are driven by the surprising results of the study.
It found, perhaps most interestingly, that the cost of learning to fly, while important, wasn't the most important factor in student retention by a long shot. The perceived value of that training, on the other hand, was crucial to the equation, as was the quality of the instruction, the sense of community offered the students and the relationship between the student and the instructor. AOPA plans this year to conduct a dozen meetings in six different U.S. cities to share the results of the study. The organization also plans to relaunch its newsletter, Flight School Business, which will communicate strategy for retaining pilots to flight schools and instructors. It also plans later this year to launch a series of online tools to spread the word and provide tools to student pilots and their instructors.