First Word: August 2011

Forget Checkouts, Now Its Training

Like Carl Sandburgs fog, progress sneaks up on you on little cat feet and before you know it, you cant see a damn thing. Thats the reaction I had when I immersed myself in the G1000 training programs were reporting on in this issue. What I was not seeing is how expensive it can be to be checked out on these things. Strike that; check out is the wrong word. You have to be trained.I can remember the first

time I was shown a Bendix/King KNS80. Whoaa…rho-theta navigation? How cool was that? Not that much, really. It was hardly revolutionary technology, but the important thing was that if it was in an airplane you intended to fly, it took about 15 minutes of instruction to understand it and another 15 minutes of practice to master it. In other words, it didnt have much impact on the cost of checking out in a new airplane.

Those days are long gone, however, perhaps for the better. But not if you want to fly on a budget. The impact of the G1000 on the cost of flying starts immediately at the checkout-I mean training-phase. An hour wont do it. Neither will two. In Googling around various flight schools, I find the cheapest rental rates for a Cessna 172 equipped with a G1000 to be around $140 an hour, but $160 isn’t unusual. Add in an instructor at $50 to $80 and youre looking at something like $225 an hour.

Never mind how much time it takes to really master the G1000, what do FBOs and flight schools require? It varies between three hours and 10 hours. The school where I flew to test the efficacy of the training programs charges $2295 for a VFR G1000 course that includes four ground lessons, four flights and an oral. At the very minimum, a basic three-hour checkout, which is barely enough unless youre sharp going in, will cost about $700.

I don’t begrudge the schools the money, to be honest. But Id never added it up myself and the totals were somewhat shocking. Im acutely aware of the care and feeding costs of the G1000 for owners, but I just never examined it in the context of rental and training. Small wonder that the cost of the $24.95 intro flight has ballooned to $200.

The $160 question (plus instruction) is whether this progress is worth it. What do you get for what you have to pay? And keep paying, since G1000 skills are as perishable as any high-level computer or technology knowledge. There’s no question that systems like the G1000 do far more than anything that preceded them. They provide better situational awareness and, especially, superb weather awareness. All of this should contribute to flight safety, but probably hasnt, given how persistently pilots make smoking holes whether the airplane has steam gauges or a lavish glass panel. This may change as glass makes more inroads but, I kinda doubt it.

So then whats the payoff for all the money and effort required for G1000 training? Is it a better flight experience? Yes, for IFR. With its in-depth FMS capability, the G1000 is clearly designed to render transparent the abstraction that is IFR flying, even if takes some effort to bring the picture into focus behind layers of screens and menus. Once these are understood-and its not that hard to do that-operation of the G1000 is slightly more automatic than it is distracting. But if you slight on the training and practice, the equation will go the other way and trust me, you’ll find yourself wishing for an old KX-170 with a mechanical tuner.

Any of the programs weve reviewed in this issue will get you to and keep you on that proficient edge. But not without an ongoing expenditure of time and money, and it will require a little more of each than you might imagine. If youre just breaking into this realm, the price tag on progress may be a little surprising. It certainly was for me.

Paul Bertorelli
Paul Bertorelli is Aviation Consumer’s Editor at Large. In addition to his valued contributions to Aviation Consumer, his in-depth video productions on sister publication AVweb cover a wide variety of topics that greatly contribute to safety, operation and aircraft ownership. When Paul isn’t writing or filming, he’s out flying his J3 Cub.