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Testimony of Phillip Poynor
2001 FAA/Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year Board Member—National Association of Flight Instructors Principal—Nassau Flyers, Inc., a flight school

My name is Phillip Poyner. I am a principal at Nassau Flyers, Inc., a large commercial flight school in Farmingdale, NY. I am also a Board member of the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) and a NAFI Master Flight Instructor. I present testimony today on behalf of NAFI.

Founded in 1967, NAFI is dedicated exclusively to "raising and maintaining the professional standing of the flight instructor in the aviation community." NAFI serves the full spectrum of the flight instructor community, from the independent instructor to those teaching at commercial flight schools and university programs. NAFI recognizes that flight instructors are truly "the teachers of flight" as well as the front line for quality control and safety in our national air transportation system. Through NAFI’s Master Flight Instructor credentialing program, the organization rewards instructors who have excelled in their profession through their own continuing education and development.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to testify before this committee and address the critical needs of flight instructors and the flight training institutions across the United States. These needs are, of course, occasioned by the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001.

The economic impact that resulted from the national security measures that kept flight instructors from teaching has put the survival of the entire industry is in serious doubt. This impact is exacerbated by the economic crisis flight training faced before September 11, the causes of which include a sudden, exponential increase in insurance costs and a growing shortage of full-time flight instructors and airframe and power plant mechanics.

General aviation flight training is a critical component of America’s aviation infrastructure. Anything that affects its educational capabilities has a short and long-term consequences not only on general aviation, but on everyone who uses the National Airspace System: General Aviation, Commercial Aviation, the Air Carriers, and, to some extent, the military.

Many people in government—and the public at large—see flight training as part of a recreational activity that is not particularly critical to the national interest. After all, flight instructors teach people to fly those "little planes."

In the land that gave powered flight to the world, recreational aviation is important to Americans, and the teachers of flight make it possible for Americans to pursue their aerial passions. This passion for flight inspires many recreational aviators to pursue aviation as a career, to fly for the airlines and military. These pilots are the backbone of America’s critical aviation infrastructure, and general aviation flight instructors teach them to fly, to operate in the National Airspace.

Please examine some of the significant and critical contributions flight instructors and flight training institutions make to the aviation as a whole:

1. Train Commercial, Corporate, and Airline Pilots

General aviation flight instructors teach to fly approximately 63 percent of pilots hired by America’s major, national, regional, and commuter airlines. These percentages are greater in corporate aviation and non-airline commercial operations like on-demand air taxi, all of which are part of general aviation—and where many future airline pilots get their post-training experience.

Without civilian-trained general aviation pilots, the airline industry could not possibly find, train, and hire the pilots it will need in the next six years and beyond. I have seen data that indicates that approximately 30 percent of all commercial airline pilots will retire by 2007.

Even with the difficult times the airline industry now faces, replacing their retiring pilots—and finding additional pilots the airlines need to make growth possible—is that industry’s long-term challenge. Meeting it will be impossible without civilian flight instructors and pilot training institutions.

2. Mandatory Flight Reviews

Through organizations such as Angel Flight, each year general aviation pilots provide free transportation to treatment centers for thousands of critically ill children. These flights would not be possible if not for the flight instructors who teach the pilots to fly and perform the FAA-required flight reviews.

To ensure all pilots maintain an adequate level of aviation knowledge and skills that are the keys to aviation safety, the Federal Aviation Regulations require certain training, checking, and reviews for every pilot. Airline pilots receive these things as part of their company training. Whether they fly for recreation or a Fortune 100 corporation, every two years a general aviation pilots must have a flight review with a flight in instructor (14CFR 61.56).

At the high end of the aviation industry pilots make these flight reviews in a full-motion simulators with a company instructor. General aviation pilots fly them in the airplanes they fly every day with their flight instructor. In either case, if an instructor does not give these reviews on the required schedule, pilots cannot fly.

3. Additional Training

A pilot’s education is a building-block affair, where he or she adds new knowledge and skills to those that flight instructors teach in every pilot’s initial (or primary) training. Before pilots can fly an airplane with an engine of more than 200 horsepower, or more than one engine, they must receive training from a flight instructor. Before pilots can fly an airplane certificated for flight above 25,000 feet, or an airplane with a tailwheel, they must receive training from a flight instructor.

Without flight instructors to give this required training, aerial operations from law enforcement and search-and-rescue to aerial application (crop dusting) and transportation services to the nation’s remote areas (bush flying) will suffer greatly.

Now that we have seen what flight instructors do, let us examine how recent actions have affected the flight training industry. Closing the National Airspace System in our national emergency suspended all flight operations, and we in the flight training industry understand—and supported—this necessity. I am located at an airport within sight of the World Trade Center (Republic Airport at Farmingdale, New York) and watched those buildings burn and fall not only on television—but out the window. On our own we suspended all flight operations immediately.

Just as it has on the rest of the nation, closing the National Airspace System caused an emotional and economic strain. Look at the results of this continuing closure of the airspace to flight training:

More than 120 Collegiate Aviation Flight Training Programs

Flight training at the nation’s colleges and universities came to a stop, interrupting the education of more than 10,000 college students at more than 120 institutions. Many of these students are training as professional pilots, and many have the goal of first going into the military service of their country. The economic impact of resuming flight training and making up for lost time so the interruption will not affect the students enrolled in next semester’s flight classes is incalculable. But they will survive because flight training is approximately half of their education efforts, and the classrooms remained in full operation.

Approximately 2,400 Flight Schools

Closing the National Airspace System to general aviation flight training effectively shut down approximately 2,400 commercial flight schools across the nation. Closed. Locked Up. During this time, in most cases, their income was zero. But they still had to pay their bills for rent, electricity, and insurance for their facilities—and airplanes. They had to meet their payroll, and if they couldn’t flight schools had no choice but to layoff their employees—their flight instructors.

At best, this industry is financially marginal. In speaking with many colleagues around the country, I have found that many have the financial resources to last one or two weeks. A number have already shut down. There is no telling how many will not recover from this, even though they can again train pilots.

Once Closed, Most Flight Schools Will Not Reopen

As marginal as this business is, it is also capital intensive. The financial returns are so small that once capital has left the flight training industry it is unlikely to return. This is the crisis we now face. I have spoken to a number of flight school operators like myself. The consensus is that we are not going to bleed to death; at some point in the near future we will begin the orderly shutdown of our businesses. This will bring about the dissolution of companies many of us have worked a lifetime to build.

I can only speak for myself, but I know there is strong sentiment that once the people are laid off, the doors closed, the windows shuttered, and the planes sold off, we are gone. We will not return to this industry. Once that capital is invested elsewhere, this industry will not re-attract it.

Flight Training Is the Heart and Blood of Commercial Aviation

In appealing to Congress for financial assistance the airlines have claimed to be the backbone of the economy. Assistance to them, they assert, is essential because it will help the national economy recover. We support that view.

But we must recognize that if the airlines are the backbone of the aviation industry, flight training is its lifeblood. Without a pilot, an airplane is fused to the ground, and general aviation’s flight training industry makes pilots.

If flight training as an industry withers and dies because of neglect and lack of support—it will not make any more pilots. Without pilots in the pipeline, the airlines and all other commercial aviation will run dry of pilots in relatively short order.

More importantly, without flight training and flight instructors, there will be no general aviation pilots. And without them, aviation will have absolutely no future, because pilots who fly for recreation are the ones who inspire those who will write the future—our children—to become pilots by taking them for a ride on a sunny afternoon. Where will our economy be without themè

Direct Employment Effects

This shutdown of flight training affected the employment of thousands of people. In my company I had to lay off 16 full-time flight instructors, four part-time mechanics, two office employees, and the two principals have taken 50-percent reductions in pay to try to hold on. Around the United States other flight schools are doing the same thing.

Best estimates show that while 80,931 pilots hold current flight instructor certificates, only 15,000 to 20,000 of them are actively engaged in flight instruction. Many of them teach part time, and this income is incidental to them. But thousands of flight instructors, like me, earn substantially all of their income from this profession. And given the lasting economic impact resulting from the inability to teach—and earn income—many may leave the profession out of the necessity to provide for their families.

Economic Impact on Manufacturing

Already we have seen the effect on manufacturing of a mere 20-percent schedule reduction at the major airlines. Boeing announced the layoff of 31,000 skilled aerospace workers. This will undoubtedly have significant ripple effects on the economy at large. The effect on general aviation and the total economy could be even more devastating.

Largely on the fringe of the radar screens at this time, the fractional aircraft ownership industry is becoming a large player in the air transportation picture. From 1999 to 2000, the number of companies and individuals using fractional ownership has grown by more than 40 percent, from 2,591 to 3,694. Currently, the top three fractional providers operate approximately 370 aircraft.

The number of companies operating business aircraft in the United States has grown more than 40 percent from 6,584 in 1991 to 9,317 in 2000. The worldwide jet fleet as of the end of 2000 was 11,101 aircraft. The jet fleet has more than doubled since 1980. In fact, steady growth has occurred in each of the last 20 years. Since 1980, the worldwide turboprop fleet has grown, reaching 9,453 aircraft by the end of 2000.

Cessna, Raytheon, and Bombardier led all manufacturers in turbine-powered business aircraft sales during 2000, accounting for approximately 70 percent of all new-aircraft transactions worldwide. (Source: NBAA Factbook; National Business Aircraft Association)

Without pilots, fractional and corporate aircraft operations cannot grow and will not need new aircraft. Cessna, Raytheon and Bombardier and the hundreds of American suppliers of components, assemblies, engines, etc. will be severely affected.

If Boeing is laying off 31,000, it is easy to imagine the general aviation manufacturers being affect to at least the same degree. The pilots to fly these aircraft come from U.S. flight training institutions, if they survive. We are the lifeblood of this industry and that blood is draining quickly away.

The Flight Training Community’s Role in Aviation Security

Security is and has been an ongoing concern in the flight training industry. Flight training provides security to people in the air and on the ground by teaching pilots to fly safely and responsibly. Well trained pilots exercise "control" of their flight activities through compliance with the Federal Aviation Regulations. These regulations stipulate all flight activities, including those activities commonly referred to as "uncontrolled," or VFR (visual flight rules) flying.

A common misunderstanding is that skills learned in initial flight training would be transferable to those exercised by terrorists controlling transport category aircraft. The vast majority of initial and recurrent flight training in the country is conducted in small, piston-powered, single engine aircraft. The skills derived from this training are not directly transferable to transport category aircraft without considerable, additional training. Therefore, it should be understood that the vast majority of flight training has no relevance to the flight activities of terrorists on September 11th.

NAFI would support discussions of additional security responsibilities on companies that provide advanced flight training for complex and heavy aircraft. However, providing security in a broader sense, to a nation, is largely beyond flight training’s scope and capabilities; this is a form of security better left to government law enforcement agencies with the knowledge, skills, and resources to provide it thoroughly, fairly, and completely.

Conclusion and Recommendation

Even before the events of September 11, 2001 the flight training industry was in crisis, and since September 11 that crisis has gotten worse.

Our industry, like the airlines, needs financial help. In my case, some has been forthcoming from state government. Some operators report that discussions have begun with FEMA. But that only affects those of us in the immediate area that may qualify under those programs. It is imperative, that as an industry, we need to be included in discussions concerning the airline industry financial assistance package.

The National Association of Flight Instructors is convening a Blue Ribbon Panel that will assess the current plight of the flight training industry. This Panel’s members will represent all facets of aerial education, from aviation universities to the independent instructor. The Panel’s focus will be to derive recommendations to improve the flight training industry’s financial stability and productivity, as well as, instructors and instructional institutions role in national security. The outcome of these deliberations will be shared fully with both the House and Senate Aviation Subcommittees as well as appropriate Executive Branch agencies.

NAFI appreciates the opportunity to appear before the Committee today on issues of vital concern on the economic well-being of the flight instruction community. We stand ready to respond to any specific questions at this time, or to provide additional documentation and input to the Committee in deliberations related to aviation security and general aviation and flight instruction community vitality.