In the U.S., AOPA president Phil Boyer wants to know how to stop the pilot population from declining — it has fallen below 600,000, and is still heading downhill.
No surprise, really. Flying is a fuel- and land-intensive pastime, when both oil and real estate are expensive and in short supply.
In Canada, as of September 2007, there were 61,109 pilot licenses and permits in force, with an additional 7,683 student permits [Transport Canada]. If we had the same population as the U.S., that would be the equivalent of nearly 628,000 active pilot licenses. Granted, that’s licenses/permits and not pilots, and a few pilots will hold multiple licenses or permits (e.g. fixed-wing, helicopter, and glider), but it’s probably true that Canada has proportionally more pilots than the U.S. Furthermore, the number seems to be holding fairly steady — ten years ago, in 1998, there were 61,241 licensed pilots (excluding student pilots?) [Transport Canada].
Positive or negative vibes?
What’s the difference? After all, we’re paying slightly more for fuel than the Americans are. One thing might be the hysteria about security and terrorism in the U.S., which paints pilots and planes as, if not exactly potential terrorists, certainly high risks.
Why get involved in a pastime that will make people look at you suspiciously, where your state or city will try to run extra security checks on you, where you read in the news about small planes being intercepted in constantly-changing TFRs, where the less talented investigative reporters will sneak onto your little community airfield to see if your Cessna’s door is unlocked so that they can run a scare story on the news that evening?
That won’t turn everyone away from flying, of course, but it will make some difference — we’re all sensitive to what our friends and neighbours think. In Canada (and, I suspect, parts of the U.S., like Alaska), people still generally react positively when they hear that you’re a pilot, though they learn quickly not mention the weather as a topic of conversation.