Every month or so I get a call that starts out with, “I used to fly, but I haven’t been active for quite a while. How hard would it be to get back into it?” No two coming-back pilots are the same, of course, but we always encourage them to give it a shot. Given the state of our industry, we need all the numbers we can get, and a former pilot sitting on the ground is a wasted resource we can’t afford to neglect.
Yesterday, the ancient pelican that showed up on our doorstep turned out to be in his early 70s, commercial/instrument/multi rated, with 500 hours or so logged twenty years ago. His attitude was commendable, and when we went out to fly he showed that there was still a pilot under the rust and scale.
Last month, I had a seeker show up who was in his 40s; although rated, he hadn’t flown since he started his family and career. But, he still had the dream of flying professionally. As I told him, if you want it bad enough, you can do it. Coming back as a pilot is relatively easy; moving on up the career ladder, however takes perseverance and a bit of luck. But, you won’t get there if you don’t fly.
Whether seeking personal fulfillment or restarting an interrupted profession, I would encourage anyone to resume their flying. To paraphrase the U.S. Marines, you’re never an ex-pilot; you’re a former pilot and, most importantly, you’re still a licensed PILOT, in the eyes of the FAA. The guvinment certainly has an interest in keeping the number of individuals it’s charged with supervising at a high level; bureaucracy needs a purpose.
So, here’s the checklist I usually pose to these pilots of yore:
- Can you still pass a medical, as far as you know? What meds are you on, what diagnoses have you had? If there’s any question, re-join AOPA and get the opinion of its medical assistance staff.
- Do you have your old license and logs? If you don’t have one of the new plastic licenses, you can get one by writing a letter to the FAA requesting a replacement for a lost certificate. It only costs $2.00; send it to Airmen Certification Branch, AFS-760, P.O. Box 25082, Oklahoma City, OK 73125-0082. Oh, sure, it can be done on-line.
- From the regulatory standpoint, you need to get a flight review signed off by a CFI. More practically speaking, you, and the owner and insurer of any aircraft you fly, have to be comfortable with your flying ability, and that’ll take some training. Do not rush the process, and do respect limitations until you’re fully up to speed.
The system may have changed a bit while you’ve been gone, but the sky is still the same. People still manage to prang airplanes for the same dumb reasons, even if we now call them by cutesy names like “CFIT” or “LOC”. If you’re willing to put in some effort to rebuild your skills, we’re certainly glad to have you back.
Keep the above advice in mind if you run across any used-to-be pilots with an interest. Our brothers and sisters who were once a part of aviation need us, and we need them.