The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.
By Cadet Benjamin W. Miller
/ Published May 11, 2020
One of the major problems that the aviation community is facing right now is a pilot shortage. In recent years, the number of pilots has slowly been declining, and now we have a major, global pilot shortage. Many people know about the shortage and are not doing anything about it. Many think it is not a big deal. However, it is actually a devastating problem. Nearly two years ago, I interviewed Jill Rutan Hoffman, the CEO of a startup company called Path 2 Flight, who wants to start “moving the dial” on the pilot shortage. Rutan Hoffman believes that the root of the shortage stems from our flight schools.1
As flight training stands right now, it costs about the same as a semester in college, about $11,000, and takes anywhere from 5–12 months to complete. Because it takes so long, many people give up before they earn their license. According to RSA Flight Training, my local flight school, the minimum requirements to obtain a private pilot certificate include the following: 40 hours total flight time; 20 hours dual instruction with an FAA-certified flight instructor; 10 hours solo time as the sole occupant of the aircraft; 3 hours of instruction with a flight instructor in “cross country” flight (flying to an airport 50 miles or more from your departure airport); 5 hours of solo cross-country flight; 3 hours of flight instruction at night; 3 hours of simulated instrument flying while accompanied by an instructor; and 3 hours of preparation for the private pilot check ride (flight training minimum requirements).2 It does not look like too much at first, but the costs add up. Consider it costs $55 per hour for training in the plane and about $110 per hour with your instructor in a simulator. With all these barriers, it is no wonder why there are not many student pilots. To combat this problem, Path 2 Flight is working to get flight schools to start using electric aircraft, which are more economical than conventional aircraft. Charging an aircraft is cheaper than buying gasoline, and electric motors do not need as much maintenance as a combustion motor. These two factors have the potential to drive the cost of renting the plane for lessons down by 80 percent, according to Rutan Hoffman.3
Bye Aerospace’s Sun Flyer, an all-electric training airplane is powered by a battery pack that EP Systems based on the one it built, with NASA funding and expertise, for the X-57 aircraft.
Photo By: NASA
(Photo courtesy of NASA)
Figure 1. Electric flight. Bye Aerospace’s Sun Flyer, an all-electric training airplane is powered by a battery pack that EP Systems based on the one it built, with NASA funding and expertise, for the X-57 aircraft.
Another Path 2 Flight initiative aimed at reducing flight training costs is the introduction of virtual reality, or VR, technology. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently requires pilots to go to the airport and physically get in a plane. However, VR could replace some of the required time and associated expense involved with a real aircraft. Students could fly from anywhere, and if lessons are already built into the software, they would not have to pay for an instructor for those hours. Some may say that VR will not count for actual flight hours, but there is precedent to the contrary. The FAA currently allows for full-motion flight simulators to be used by airlines for pilot proficiency training. Path 2 Flight is working to get FAA approval for VR time to replace some of the required hours in basic flight training.
With Path 2 Flight’s multipronged approach to flight training improvements, we can look forward to a very bright future in the world of flight. The pilot shortage will be a thing of the past. Students will be lining up at flight schools ready to fly beautiful electric aircraft and practice their different maneuvers on their personal VR flight simulators.
Cadet Benjamin W. Miller
Cadet Miller is a second-year cadet in West Virginia University’s Air Force ROTC (Detachment 915). He is a student pilot and wants to become a test pilot once he commissions into the Air Force. Outside of school, he enjoys backpacking, photography, and flying. He has also attended EAA AirVenture 16 times, during four of which he volunteered as a part of EAA’s photo department.
1 Jill Rutan Hoffman, interview by the author, 14 September 2018.
2 RSA Flight Training, “Pilot Training Price,” http://www.flyrsa.com/pricing/.
3 Rutan Hoffman interview.
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