Clearing up Generational Misconceptions


Clearing up Generational Misconceptions- Paul Duty, (CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI) - Aviation Product Manager at Gleim Aviation

I recently read an article citing several challenges with teaching millennials to become pilots. Clearly the author is from another generation and assumed that growing up in a high-tech world did not jive with “old-school” aviation. Certainly, millennials differ from earlier generations, as do all generations with unique views and individuality. Rather than dismissing an entire generation, I determined to embrace them while taking a deeper look at my own values. What I discovered was a need to change some of my own processes to better reach them.

As flight instructors, it is not enough to just teach our students to fly safely. We need to foster a learning environment that encourages students to expand their horizons and spark a never-ending quest for knowledge. This approach ultimately creates safer, better-informed pilots. I’ve found that millennials are some of the most inquisitive learners—not because they don’t have or can’t find the easy answers, but because they are trying to positively influence an outcome using all available information. To me, this sounds a bit like a recipe for promoting risk management, aeronautical decision making, and judgment.

When inquiring minds want to understand, instead of spouting out facts and figures, challenge your students to do their own research to solve a problem you pose. Use scenario-based training to discuss alternatives that lead to a safe outcome when encountering a hazard. Here is where it really gets important: Try to refrain from restricting research or alternatives to the methods YOU are familiar with. Let your students find resources that speak their language. Let’s face it, we all learn differently and our world is full of information. Millennials in fact did grow up in a connected world where access to information is an assumed right. Not everyone is going to be as passionate as you are about the same things, and if they are, it might not be for the same reasons.

For example, I was recently talking with a freshly minted flight instructor who had never used the “blue lever” (referring to the propeller control). His training through commercial pilot was in a technically advanced aircraft with a FADEC, never needing to manage a constant speed propeller manually. It surprised me initially, but I realized it was a sign of innovation—and there’s nothing wrong with that! He knew his limitations and, more importantly, he wanted to learn more, so I challenged him to research the blue lever from the perspective of teaching others about it. Sometimes there’s no better way to learn than by teaching.

I’ve found that millennials have open minds and constantly seek new tools to work with. If we want to encourage our students (and pilots in general) to learn new tricks, shouldn’t we set an example? When I did my flight training two decades ago, I did NDB approaches and calculated wind triangles. When transitioning to glass, I found someone far more experienced with the equipment and took an online course. One of my best tutors was actually a sport pilot who knew the menus inside and out. He was a great teacher (and software developer). I recognized how his strength helped me in the areas where I was weak. As we flew together, we taught each other new techniques. My point – want to grow? Then surround yourself with people who are smarter and more experienced.


Millennials are often characterized as skeptical.  When a question comes up about a process you are teaching, rather than being dismissive, respond with a challenge. Encourage them to do their own research and consider alternative viewpoints. Most likely, you’ll also learn something new too. If you’re reluctant to embrace new knowledge, the flight deck will quickly become plagued with distrust. Millennials have a desire to learn—just realize that they may learn differently than you did. Ultimately, recognizing this will demonstrate your desire to support the team, which is a critical component of crew resource management.

People come from different backgrounds and experiences. Previous generations also faced opposition (you can probably think of some areas that frustrated you too). Take solace in the fact that Millennials will have their own struggles teaching Gen Z. Soon, we’ll have pilots whose first time burning any liquid fuel will be on the flight deck of a regional jet. Think about it. There is a future generation that will learn to drive in an all-electric vehicle and later learn to fly in an all-electric airplane. Four stroke cycle engines, a thing of the past???

Don’t write off an entire generation because someone doesn’t know how a carburetor works or has never changed their own oil—it doesn’t mean they will be any less safe than you are in the air. Embracing the differences in each other is a principle that we should all adhere to. This extends far beyond generational gaps. It applies to anyone with a different background, race, gender, etc. Regardless of whether you’re teaching millennials, or anyone else who isn’t exactly like you, work toward a greater purpose and work as a team. Inspire others by keeping an open mind. Welcome change and ask questions. Create a culture where others want to share their passion. Remember that a candle loses nothing when it ignites another.

Paul Duty (CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI), Chief Instructor and Aviation Product Manager at Gleim Aviation NAFI# 217736


About us: Since 1980, Gleim Aviation has helped aviators pass millions of FAA exams. Gleim publishes and distributes flight training courses, training books, online training, flight simulation training software, and flight simulator systems.

 (Featured Photos Courtesy of Paul Duty/Gleim Aviation)

Blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace independent, professional judgment. Statements of fact and opinions expressed are those of the author individually and, unless expressly stated to the contrary, are not the opinions or position of the National Association of Flight Instructors. NAFI does not endorse or approve, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy or completeness of the information presented. Readers should note content may appear in various media, including print, email, enews without further notice.
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