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Sticking with itSticking with it

A pilot certificate represents more than a coveted privilege, it is also the fruit of a significant investment of money, time, and effort. You might be surprised how many of us set that aside, then return to aviation after a years-long absence.

Photo by Mike Fizer

Returning to proficiency after a long break from flying can certainly be daunting, but most of those who do so are pleasantly surprised by how quickly critical skills can be polished, and an instructor’s sign-off for a flight review earned.  Remember that a pilot certificate never expires, so if you find yourself sidelined by life but longing to return to the wild blue yonder (and more than 500,000 pilots fit this description), there is hope, and help, at hand.

AOPA has devoted considerable resources to the You Can Fly program (which is funded entirely by charitable donations to the AOPA Foundation), and the Rusty Pilots initiative is an important part of this effort, making a range of resources available to speed any pilot’s journey back to the left seat. 

“Rusty Pilots is a great way to get current, a chance to meet other rusty pilots who share your experiences, an opportunity to get connected to a local flight school and potentially a community of pilots based around that school,” said Elizabeth Tennyson, vice president of aviation program operations for AOPA’s You Can Fly program. “Rusty Pilots is also a good opportunity to reconnect with AOPA, which can offer support to help you keep flying.”

Tennyson said most pilots who depart the cockpit for an extended period cite some combination of limited time, money, or both when explaining their decision to let currency lapse, and digging deeper often reveals a more personal element. Some may feel guilty for taking pleasure in an activity that costs more than many hobbies, particularly if their spouse or children do not share the same joy. Others may find that the aircraft they thought they had access to are more expensive, or less available, than expected. Others worry that they simply can’t devote enough time to staying proficient, and venturing beyond a home airport to experience an aviation adventure can also be intimidating.

“It’s a good idea to remember that you can work with a CFI to increase your comfort level and skills, even if you’re already certificated,” Tennyson said. “You can always take a CFI along if you want to ‘test fly’ a trip that you later plan to take on your own, or with your family.”

After months and years of aviation inactivity accumulate, it can seem like a huge task to “start over” and “re-learn,” but the overwhelming majority of those who have done so report it was easier, and smoother, than they expected. There may be a few new rules or procedures to learn, but it’s not as difficult as you might think to get back up to speed. The average attendee at an AOPA Rusty Pilot seminar has been out of flying for eight years, and many have not flown in 30, or even 40 years, but nearly everyone who makes the attempt will succeed in returning to currency and active flight status.

In addition to the seminars, online briefing materials, and other support offered by AOPA through Rusty Pilots, there is a community of aviators waiting to welcome any fellow pilot back into the fold. That includes online communities, including the AOPA Hangar and Facebook groups. AOPA also helps pilots reduce the cost of flying through clubs, where aircraft are often less expensive (and, in many cases, more available) than trainers on the local flight line.

Given the numbers and the data, it’s likely that most pilots will go through some period of prolonged absence from aviation, but returning to the sky is easier than it ever has been.

The You Can Fly program and the Air Safety Institute are entirely funded by charitable donations to the AOPA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. To be a part of the solution, visit

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: You Can Fly, AOPA Products and Services, Pilots

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