The US Federal Aviation Administration has released final pilot statistics for 2006 showing a dip below 600,000.

There are now 597,109 pilots. It underscores the need to reverse the trend by introducing someone to the excitement and joy of flight. Sign up as a Mentor to a budding pilot through the US Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Project Pilot programme.

The average pilot is 45.6 years old. Meanwhile, the average age of new sport pilots is 52.9 years, or seven years older than the total pilot population. There were 939 sport pilots at the end of 2006, with numbers growing rapidly in the final months of 2006. There were only an average of 30 sport pilots certified per month during the first eight months of 2006, but the monthly average jumped to 134 for the last four months.

The youngest group is the student pilot category where the average age is 34.4 years old. Despite the perception that younger pilots populate the flight instructor ranks, the average age there is 45.2. There are 91,343 flight instructors.

The oldest ages are concentrated in the glider rating (37,837 pilots) and balloon rating (10,511 pilots) categories, where the age is 54 years old. Here is a breakdown of other categories: ATP, 144,681; commercial, 130,234; private, 236,147; recreational, 242; student, 84,866; and rotor rating, 41,306.