Flight Training: Why Do 80% Of New Students Drop Out?

flight school student with CFI

80% of student pilots drop out before earning their license

For many years efforts to attract future pilots to flight training or pilot training programs included efforts such as the now-defunct Be a Pilot program. However, this technique has not proven to be successful and has done little to combat the 80% drop out rate among new student pilots at flight schools. Be a Pilot efforts including a television campaign, direct marketing and financial marketing assistance to flight schools did not produce the desired results.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association set out to understand why so many student pilots were dropping out of training, with the goal to create new systems to retain student pilots once they begin flight training programs. Even if the 80% dropout rate is reduced by 10% it could have a big impact on flight training programs and increase the pool of trained pilots.
AOPA commissioned a study to find out why students were dropping out of flight schools and what motivated students to stay once in training programs. While cost turned out to be a factor for students dropping out of flight programs, it didn’t play as big a role as originally estimated by most in the training industry.

The results of the study showed that students want more productive, well organized, helpful and respectful interactions with their flight instructors, something they say they’re not getting enough of now. Students also want lessons of high value that they perceive are helping them to achieve their aviation goals and to have certain milestones available as their training proceeds. Finally, the report indicates student pilots want to be a part of a community and have more flexible schedules for training.

According to AOPA’s study, cost is not the overriding factor in students’ decisions to drop out, a welcome finding for those in the flight training industry since the costs of attending flight schools or other flight training facilities is not likely to go down. Students simply want more out of their training and instructors, issues that could be easier to correct.

Retaining high quality instructors has been another issue flight training programs have had to deal with over the years. Many flight schools pay low salaries and wages to instructors to keep costs as low as possible for students. Could the AOPA report be the tipping point for some schools to embrace high-quality instructors and the higher pay that goes along with that change? Only time will tell.

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