At a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on December 15, 2021, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby testified that, “There has been a looming pilot shortage for the last decade in the United States,” and that “going through COVID, it became an actual pilot shortage.” Given the lack of available pilots, coupled with an anticipated resurgence in travel, flight schools – such as the four based at the Northeast Philadelphia Airport (PNE) – are poised to play an increasingly important role in the aviation industry.
Read on to learn more about whether becoming a pilot might be right for you.
Despite the current demand for pilots, it can take months to several years of ground and flight training to learn how to operate an aircraft and receive the required certifications, depending on the type of pilot you want to become and the aircraft you want to fly. However, one of the biggest challenges is not so much recruiting students but retaining them. Between 70 to 80 percent of those who take up flight training quit, according to Howard Cooper, who opened Tailwinds in 2018 as PNE’s newest flight school.
“Some people are caught up in a romantic notion of flying an airplane,” he said. “But as the work gets harder and more intense, commitment becomes a huge issue.”
Besides being focused, a good problem solver and mechanically inclined, having a patient and thorough instructor can make all the difference, explained Cooper, who promotes Tailwinds as a different kind of flight school, built around the principles of education. Unlike many flight schools, which tend to be run by pilots who became instructors, Cooper, who holds both flight instructor and advanced ground instructor certifications, spent the bulk of his career in education, earning a master’s degree in the field.
He said his training as a teacher enables him to bring those skills to learn what motivates students and keep them engaged as they learn to fly “safely and compliantly and have a good time in the process.”
For students interested in part-time training, Tailwinds has two airplanes and a state-of-the-art flight simulator. Its smaller size allows instructors to give each student individual attention. Students can take certificate and ground courses in preparation to become a private or commercial pilot or flight instructor, as well as instrument rating training. But the first step, regardless of how far a pilot intends to advance, is to earn a private pilot certificate, which permits flying a two- to four-seater airplane. This certificate opens the door to a variety of careers, from law enforcement aviation and parachute jumpers, to flying planes for tours, aerial photography, and advertising.
Cooper also brings to the school a background working with nonprofit organizations and a passion for helping young people gain access to opportunities they might not have, especially in the STEM field. So, when he was approached to help Frankford High School’s Frankford Aviation Academy get the students out of the classroom and into actual airplanes, he didn’t hesitate to step in. In 2019, he helped set up a program for these students at Tailwinds; while the pandemic has stalled the program, Cooper is optimistic that it will be successful – along with its future young pilots.