Trust is the key. First-time passengers consider the pilot a custodian of their being. That’s why it’s important to act in a manner that develops trust.
When introducing someone to aviation (as a pilot or instructor), be sensitive to their needs. I’m not talking about the kind of sensitivity where someone feels they need to free all the slaved gyros. I’m talking about the common courtesy of recognizing what scares and intimidates the novitiate. Here’s how we might do this.
First, I always ask first-time passengers what they expect the experience will be like. From there I amend, modify or restructure their perception. This alleviates anxiety and helps avoid potential surprises for them.
Second, as a flight instructor, I always make the following statement before departure. I say, “Listen, I want you to enjoy your flight today. If you desire, I’d like you to get a feel for the airplane’s controls. No matter what you may do, I won’t let anything hurt you, me or the airplane. I say it with a sincere, slow and steady voice knowing that it has a direct affect on the trust placed in me. It’s the most important statement I make in the airplane. (And don’t make it unless you can fulfill its promise.)
It’s reasonable to say that we probably drive more people away from aviation than we attract. Sometimes we scare them with our maneuvers. Sometimes we exaggerate the difficulty in learning to fly (we’re often like Kamikaze pilots who did all their braggin’ ahead of time). In either case, we don’t develop the trust necessary to give the aviation ambitions of our charges a fighting chance at survival. While this isn’t the final solution to aviation’s growth problem, it’s a place where everyone—pilots and instructors—can contribute.