“If it were easy everybody would do it,” is generally the response I get when I ask why the drop out rate amongst pilots attending flight school is so high. From the outset the dream of becoming a pilot is a great one to have but you have to know that the dream comes with many tough roads, challenges and barriers. From the ‘get-go’ you have to realise what you are going to be putting yourself through.
“Depending on who you ask, the student pilot dropout rate in the United States is anywhere from 50% to 70%, one of the highest among all nations.”
Late Nights & Long Hours:
A good pilot is always learning, whether you are training recreationally or your end goal is to work for an airline, you are responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft. Everyday you step into that flight deck you are putting yourself and everyone on board at risk. The more knowledge you have the better pilot you will become. Many individuals who have a dream of flying may not be able to comprehend the vast amounts of studying you have to do when in training. It can make you sick to your stomach. You must know what you're getting yourself into. If you don’t like studying or you have a poor work ethic this industry may not be for you. You don’t have to be the smartest individual out there but you do have to put in the work.
Probably the largest contributor for the dropout rate being so high. Flight school can cost near $100,000. If you also add food, rent, insurance etc into the mix it's a hefty fee for learning. Furthermore, if you are training in the USA you need 1500 hours prior to working for an airline. However, by the end of your flight training you may have as low as 300 hours. In addition, upon joining an airline the pay varies, some starting as low as $50,000. Of course as you gain seniority salary substantially increases but you have to be in it for the long run. Ensure you have a cushion of capital just in case your financial estimates are wrong. You may have to spend more time on certain aspects of training than others. Obtain an estimate of how much the license(s) you are going for will cost and verify this with students already at the flight school.
In a previous post ‘Instructor/Mentor Selection’ I explained why your instructor is so vital to your training. . What I failed to mention was that you and your instructor must have good rapport. Don’t look for this exclusively, talk to other students in order to find out what the instructors at your flight school are like so you can gather a better picture in your head. It is important that you and your instructors personality 'gel.'
Ever been in a situation where you have been so enticed into buying a product online and you were left disappointed when it finally arrives. Flight schools resemble the above narrative. The pictures of a flawless fleet, brand new simulators and modern offices can make your mouth drool. Don’t take it at face value. Anyone can wash a car to make it look nice but if what's underneath doesn’t work it can leave you in a world of hurt. You need to ensure that the aircraft operated by the school are regularly maintained and kept clean. You can request the maintenance records to have a look. Furthermore schools that operate via a ‘pay as you go policy,’ are far more favourable than those which require a lump sum payment upfront. Purely because you may not know the schools finances, you don't want them to run away with your money. It's happened.
As I have mentioned before, during your training you are likely to be a victim of delays. The sheer amount of variables associated with your training may lead to your timeline being lengthened, costs rising and motivation deteriorating. Weather, aircraft availability, instructor availability and exam waiting lists are just some of the variables that can affect your training. Some individuals may not have the patience or the capital to deal with these delays. Emphasising planning and having a 'cushion of capital' is so important prior to beginning your flight training.
I hope this post has showcased some of the factors responsible for the high dropout rate amongst pilots in flight training. Truth is, no matter what your field is, there's always going to be challenges and obstacles preventing you from reaching a place where you dream of going to. Having a better knowledge bank and knowing what you are getting yourself into beforehand prepares you for the challenges you are likely to face. The toughest roads lead to the best destinations. Good Luck!