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Flight Schools Outlook Since September 11th

There are many contributing factors, but in Tallahassee, flight instructors say they have fared better than most.

The phones are still ringing at Tallahassee's Flight Center. More than 100 students are learning to fly here, but news that hundreds of other flight schools have been forced to shut down is no surprise.

"There's been a lot of turmoil in the general aviation industry, and there have been a lot of schools that have gone out of business, and some of the smaller ones have combined together to have a little more of a student base, but that really doesn't surprise me," says Bob Van Riper.

There are 69 flight schools operating in Florida right now, but neither the state nor the FAA could tell us how many were up and running before September 11. Flight instructors say there are a lot of reasons why flight schools are having trouble staying aloft; the feds are paying much closer attention to foreign students who fly. Commercial airlines aren't hiring, and that may be discouraging some would-be students. Insurance on a small plane has doubled in some cases, according to the aircraft owners and pilots association.

"The rates were already starting to go up before the World Trade Center crisis, so it aggravated it. Hopefully over the next two to three years we might see some of the rates go down, but right now it's still a pretty tough market," says Sam Miller.

Life at the Tallahassee flight school has definitely changed in the past two years. Security fences and badges abound, but the financial factors, which have clouded the future of some schools, have not grounded those in Tallahassee.

We may not have heard the last of flight school woes. Right now, background checks are not required for any student, foreign or domestic, learning to fly a small plane. Congress is considering changing that, and that could further impact enrollment.


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