Friday, February 01, 2013

Fresh Tickets: A Pilot's Perseverance Overcomes His Lack of Funds

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

There are all sorts of reasons why people who want to learn to fly never earn their Private Pilot's license. For every student pilot that starts training but washes out and never finishes, there are a large number of aviation enthusiasts out there who simply cannot afford the cost of flight instruction, which easily can approach $10,000 or more these days.

But as you will learn in part three of my FRESH TICKETS series, not having a pile of cash to use for training doesn't have to be an obstacle to earning the legal freedom to fly. When you read about the road that John Weiser of Eagan, MN took to earn his fresh ticket, you will see that along with the normal challenges of learning to fly an airplane, he also had to get creative when a shortage of funds that stretched his training far longer than expected:
"I started taking lessons on July 5, 2010 at Inflight Pilot Training in Eden Prairie," Weiser said, "and earned my ticket on January 10, 2013. It took me 75 hours to earn my license spread out over two and a half years, and I would guess my total training cost was around $9,000. I'd always wanted to get my license but could never afford it. A local flight school offered free ground school so I decided to start with that and pay for lessons as I could afford them. The cost was prohibitive, and everyone I asked said I should wait until I could afford all of it, but I took a different approach. The way I saw it was that I knew it would take longer paying a little at a time, but I'd get to be in the air the whole time rather than waiting a few years saving money and have stay on the ground looking up at the sky."
Weiser knew that taking extended periods of time between each lesson was not ideal, but he had to work with the flying budget he had available. Along the way he developed techniques to minimize the possible backwards momentum caused by waiting weeks between each training flight, and he also got a bit creative:
"The main hurdle I had was trying to pay for it along the way," Weiser explained. "Sometimes I would go a month or two between lessons because of finances and when I could afford a lesson, sometimes work and weather didn't cooperate. One of the things I did to help mitigate the cost was to make sure I communicated with my instructor on what we were going to do for the next lesson. This way I was able to chair fly and study for the lesson so I was as prepared as possible. I also became involved in Civil Air Patrol, so as an observer in the front seat not flying, I was able to be in the air, work the radios, plan flights, etc. This helped me stay fresh and learn things to keep moving forward. And being around other pilots helped keep me going. I kept reading AOPA Flight Training Magazine, watching EAA Videos, and listening to aviation podcasts which helped keep me motivated to stay at it."
Weiser with his first passenger, wife Sara
Even though it took Weiser longer than most pilots to earn his ticket, the final outcome is that the training paid off and he can now look forward to many wonderful days in the air. "The day I passed my checkride and got my license, the winds at 3,000' MSL were 44 knots, which made every task difficult," Weiser said. "When I finished and found out I was a Private Pilot. I was extremely relieved. It didn't really sink in that I was a pilot until two weeks later when I took my wife up for her first flight as my first passenger. I realized that all the planning for the short flight really rested on my shoulders since I was not only responsible for my own safety, but that of others. My next goal is to get approved to fly the CAP planes. This will provide an affordable way to get more hours as well as leading to more endorsements and ratings. CAP has complex, retractable, high performance and G1000-equipped airplanes. There are two instrument instructors in my squadron that will instruct me for my instrument rating at no charge. This will be a huge savings for me in the future."

Now that Weiser has his ticket, he is qualified to give advise to others who wish to get theirs as he plans his future as a licensed pilot:
"I would say to start your flight training even if you can only afford a lesson now and then. Even though it took a few years for me, it was much better being in the air during that time than wishing I was. Going forward, I see the future of GA's pilot growth as stagnant if pilots don't get the word out and help others get into flying. My goal is to get my CFI so I can teach others to fly for free. I feel the biggest hurdle for people getting into flying is the cost and if I can do my part by giving them flying lessons for free that will significantly lower the cost of flying," he said.
One thing that Weiser sees as part of his future is a child's car seat firmly affixed to the right seat. "My mother got her pilot license when I was a little kid," Weiser says, "I was her first passenger and I still remember sitting in my car seat in the right seat. Now, I want to be clear that I'm grateful for the support my wife Sara gave me throughout my training...I could not have done it without her. And the main reason I picked now to earn the ticket was that she and I plan on having kids in the next couple of years so I figured it was now or never!"

Maybe his mother still has that old car seat lying around. Sounds like it could be called back into duty in a few years...sparking the aviation fires for the next generation of this Minnesota aviation family. Once that happens, on that special day when John Weiser buckles in his future son or daughter and makes the houses get smaller, this particular circle of aviation life will be complete.