Kennedy crash affecting flight schools
Some students quit, others seek advanced training
SANTA MONICA, California (CNN) -- Flight schools across the country are being affected by the crash of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s airplane. Some student pilots are reconsidering their decision to learn to fly, while others are determined to receive even more advanced training.
"We've had a couple of people drop out," said Glenn Barnum with Justice Aviation, the largest flight school at the Santa Monica Airport in Southern California. "But we've had a lot of increase in activity in people wanting to get their instrument rating."
The students at Justice Aviation, one of 2,000 flight schools in the United States, are not the only ones feeling the effects of the Kennedy tragedy.
"Family members and friends are expressing interest in whether or not they should continue with their training," flight instructor Jason Van Camp said.
The ranks of student pilots have steadily risen in recent years. Of the 616,000 pilots in the country, almost 96,000 are student aviators.
Those resolved to continue training include Therese Lee, who is one month away from an FAA "check ride" that will determine whether she earns her certification.
Friends call student pilot 'crazy'
Because of the Kennedy crash, some friends say she is "crazy" to fly. she said. But Lee, who has 11 months of training behind her, thinks future pilots can learn from such accidents.
"I read about plane crashes in newspapers and magazines all the time, just like I think every pilot does. And you always study it to see what went wrong, what mistakes the pilot made so you can learn from their experience," she said.
Negative publicity could hurt flight schools, which are also vulnerable to downturns in the economy. General aviation took off shortly after World War II and the number of licensed pilots peaked in the 1950s. But since the 1970s their ranks steadily declined.
In the early 1990s, they began to slowly rise, thanks to a strong economy that allowed more people to take up the expensive pastime. The cost can range from $3,000 to $6,500 for a student to obtain a license.
Some aviation officials have expressed concern over how people will view the Kennedy crash.
"It depends on whether the American public makes up its mind with facts or common knowledge, or what they decided three decades ago about the safety of small planes," said Drew Steketee of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
But general aviation has become safer, according to aviation experts. The fatal accident rate for small planes has improved in recent years. Of the 1,907 small plane accidents last year, 361 involved fatalities, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
According to Justice Aviation, the flight school has not suffered a single pilot injury after nine years and thousands of flights. Its owners bank on student enthusiasm to counter the fallout from the Kennedy accident.
"I find that people who really want to learn how to fly ... usually are not dissuaded by something like this," said Sharon Justice.
If more students opt for advanced training because of the fatal crash, flight instructors said, Kennedy's legacy may include safer skies for general aviation.
Correspondent Charles Feldman contributed to this report.
NTSB: JFK Jr.'s plane shows no in-flight break-up or fire
Federal Aviation Administration
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