Citing a 42 percent decrease in the US student pilot population, the decline in the number of active private pilots and the reduction of the number of US flight schools from 2400 to 1500 since 2001, FSANA president and CEO Robert Rockmaker described the current environment as the “low point” of aviation in the country. However, through partnerships and innovative marketing strategies, including those with his association and local communities, flight schools can rebuild the pilot population, he emphasized.

While airlines may or may not find themselves short of pilots in the future, “the real problem is getting more people into the air,” Rockmaker said. “That’s one of our goals, to get people out to the flight schools and into the air. We are creating marketing tools for the flight schools to bring these people out and increase profits and get results.”

Those tools include the two-week summer AeroCamp for youth ages 12-18 to learn the science of flight, basic flight instruction and to fly an aircraft with a certified flight instructor; an AeroParty for birthdays and other celebrations; and an AeroSolo program that provides the basis for continuing study leading to Sport, Recreation or Private Pilot certificates. FSANA will conduct a nationwide advertising program designed to reach 3.4 million people across the country this spring, with the goal of reaching the non-aviation public, Rockmaker explained.

Flight schools that become FSANA members can offer the new programs. At the conference, three flight school operators, Susie Amaro of California Airways, Inc., Lisa Campbell of Air-Mods Flight Center and Greg Hayes of North Coast Flight School described how initial versions of the AeroCamp and other programs have brought in new customers and increase their flight schools’ revenue.

Shannon Yeager, VP of Strategic Initiatives for the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA), outlined his organization’s efforts to help turn around the decline of licensed pilots through its new Center to Advance the Pilot Community initiative. A part of that effort is to develop flying clubs that will keep pilots active and connected, while other Center programs will work to provide support to flight schools.