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As he walks around a Cessna trainer, eyeballing the little plane in the time-honored ritual of pre-flight inspection, Bill Hull talks about the practical reasons he is taking flying lessons.

The owner of the security company he works for has a light plane, Hull explains, and once he gets his private pilot's license, he can use it on business trips."Oh, just admit it, Bill," interjects instructor Robert Barnes, "you're a wild man."

Learning to fly has always boiled down to a quest for personal adventure, but these days, with the cost of obtaining a private pilot's license at about $3,000, few people can justify the indulgence on that basis alone.

That's both good and bad news for flying schools, buffeted in the 1980s by a nose dive throughout the general aviation industry.

Businessmen on the go, along with young people hoping to help fill the shortage of commercial pilots, are keeping flight schools that survived the shakeout alive. Meanwhile, the industry is struggling to rebuild the shattered market for recreational flying.

"Everybody likes something about the airplane," says Norman Knicley, owner of Peachtree-DeKalb Flight Academy Inc., the scene of Hull's recent training session.

"You go to an air show and 90 percent of the people there are not pilots. So the interest is definitely there," Knicley says. "What we have to do is get them to do something about it."

At one time that was not so hard. The number of student pilot certificates issued annually in the United States was above 100,000 during the 1970s - when a license could be had for under $2,000 - and peaked at nearly 140,000 in 1979.

By 1988, however, the number had plummeted to 80,300, and in 1989 it rose only to 86,193. Many factors were cited: the demise of government assistance for military veterans pursuing flying careers, soaring fuel and overhead costs for schools, increasingly complex airspace restrictions around big cities and the high cost of buying and operating a personal plane.

Through a task force set up by trade groups, the industry has spent more than $5 million on the General Aviation Market Expansion Plan - GAME Plan for short.

The campaign, now in its third year, includes media ads and a toll-free telephone number - 1-800-ICANFLY - that gives callers the names of nearby flight schools that contributed money to the effort.

"We decided to get outside the industry and talk to the public instead of just talking to ourselves," says Larry Burian, president of the National Air Transportation Association.

Opinions about the effects vary , but 60 percent of participating training centers reported a pickup in business after it began, Burian says.

The government also has tried to make flying more accessible, establishing a new license - the recreational pilot certificate. It is designed for people in small cities or rural areas who only want to fly simple planes in uncrowded airspace. But only 30 people have acquired the license since it was introduced last year.

Of course, flying lessons cost too much for most people. And the expense doesn't stop with lessons. Experts recommend at least 50 flying hours a year to maintain proficiency, which means renting or owning a plane.

"For the person who wants a fancy toy, and to some extent that's what airplanes were during the '60s and '70s, it's a heck of a lot easier to buy a BMW," concedes Henry Ogradzinski, a spokesman for the General Aircraft Manufacturers Association, a trade group.

Still, Burian and others think the market can be expanded on the strength of the late 1980s economic boom. Trends in general aviation historically have trailed the economy, leading industry boosters to believe that what Burian calls the "yuppie set" is full of potential customers.

Young people who aspire to be airline pilots are also a carefully cultivated source of new business.

The deregulation of airlines and the retirement of airline pilots trained during the Vietnam war era has created a shortage of commercial fliers. Military cutbacks mean more of the openings will be filled with civilian-trained pilots.

Later this year, government benefits for career flight training will be partially reinstated for veterans - the result of lobbying by the aviation industry.

A few schools with government-approved curriculums are already contracting with airlines to provide a steady stream of apprentice pilots, said Louis Smith, president of Future Aviation Professionals of America.

"The opportunities are there for young people to get started, get experience and end up with a job on a regional airline," says Clint Rodgers, chief pilot and manager of a flight school at DeKalb Peachtree Airport. "It's a long road and the pay's not great at that level, but it opens the door to the airlines."

Most flight instructors are on that road themselves, building experience after gaining a basic license and hoping to catch on with a commuter airline when they build up enough air time.

Barnes, for instance, ditched a career in data processing three years ago to take up flying. He now has almost 1,000 hours and adds more every day teaching what he has learned to businessmen such as Hull and other students pursuing their dreams.