It seems that over the last several years we have seen a lot of discussion about the decreasing number of pilots flying in the U.S. I am sure if you spend any time at your local FBO you have noticed this too. So what’s the big deal? Why are people not flocking to flight schools for lessons? What has happened to that desire to fly like the birds?
Well, it depends on who you ask -- and be ready for a good story. The answer to the question usually touches on the economy, fuel prices, flight schools, and flight instructors. For the sake of this writing let us focus on flight schools and instructors. Now, we at Simple Flightcertainly believe that there are a lot successful flight schools and passionate flight instructors out there doing a fantastic job. A lot, yes; but not all flight schools are successful and not all flight instructors are doing a fantastic job. How, then, does every flight school and CFI, nationwide,crack-in to this secret code of success. I am not sure it is even a secret.
It seems like this day and age anyone who is not at the top of the game wants to believe the problem is caused by something beyond their control. It’s always someone else’s fault. What if, instead of blaming someone else, we all stepped back, took in a broader view, and tried to refocus on what is important and the tasks we can complete to reach not only our goals, but our customers goals? With student retention rate at an all-time low, our main focus should be the customer and providing them with the best value possible. I strongly feel that most of these issues are derived from within the source (flight school or instructor) itself and with a little guidance a complete shift of mentality could change flight training. If you see these issues in our industry as I do, you know the time to make a change is now!!
I am sure everyone has heard of the KISS or keep it simple silly (we will use silly instead of stupid) theory. Let's apply that idea within the flight training industry. Here is a list is to suggest how flight schools and CFIs (myself included) can refocus what we are doing. Basically, I’ve tried to use the basics of Business 101 to focus on retaining the customer and keeping him/her motivated to enthusiastically believe there is value to the service we are providing. If you want to build pilots, here we go!
CFI - Find the passion to help your students achieve their license in 40 hours not 80. Develop a syllabus personally for each student. It pays to keep them happy and flying or they may go buy that boat instead. What did that Fundamentals of Instructing book say? Oh, yes adjust to your students!
FBO/Flight School Owner/Management - Be a level 5 leader, plan for the future, and find the right people to put on the bus. If your employees see your passion and involvement in the program less motivation and management is needed for morale.
CFI - Learn to enjoy where you are right now and your clients will too! Yes we are all building time to move up the ladder, but don’t give that impression.
FBO/Flight School Owner/Management- First impressions are important! The dog pee stain on the carpet in the lobby, or the interior of your Cessna 152 falling apart because no one has the initiative to take action is not very inviting to new clients walking through your door (yes we have seen it).
CFI - Remember you also wear a sales hat. Help keep your work area (airplane & office) very inviting to customers. Hey, you never know the boss may notice too!
FBO/Flight School/Management - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at least a well thought out website with contact information can help prospective customers find you. Social Media has proven to be a huge marketing tool.
Simple changes of business strategy and finding the passion to help others is really the key to a successful operation. Now I agree there will always be outside forces that affect the business weather, maintenance, fuel costs to name a few. Work those hiccups into the business model. Simulator or ground instruction on weather days is one example. Think outside of the box and bring in fresh ideas from everyone that is associated within the organization. As you can see the list above which is fairly basic could go on and on. Maybe we need a gigantic suggestion box that we all could drop a note in to. Would anyone read them? What would yours say?
Over several days in north central Nebraska I had the opportunity to hear stories from fire fighters and local volunteers who battled 3 large fires through the scenic Niobrara River valley. During the hottest and driest summer for the US in many years, fire continues to be a major threat to many of us suffering from a drought.
The three major fires battled in North Central Nebraska were the Hall, Wentworth, and the largest being the Fairfield fire. All three fires burned approx. 70,000 acres of land, which put homes, livestock, property, and local’s way of life in danger. No one was seriously injured during the week long fires, and although several homes were lost many others were saved. Over 90 volunteer fire departments from Nebraska and South Central South Dakota assisted.
Eventually Federal firefighting crews were called to assist local volunteer fire departments. The most talked about subject of the fire was the “hot shots” or extreme fire professionals if you will. These guys would load up the gear and take off down into the bottom of the canyon where the fire was for hours. Engaging in highly trained fire suppression tactics they try and contain the fire or assist in moving it where it can be contained. These hot shots are incredible fit since they could be battling the fires for hours without much support. Some individuals said they would do pushups and sit ups once they crawled out of the river valley. Another told a story of a mountain lion which was distraught because of the fire and was considering taking his revenge on a hotshot. The hotshot simply used his torch to create a ring of fire around himself and the large cat ran off. I will let you decide if you want to believe these tall tales, I do.
Along with the feds came the aircraft. Helicopters spotted and dumped water on hot spots they got from local ponds or the Niobrara River. Spotter aircraft circled high above to direct efforts most effectively. Even large twin engine beasts dumped fire retardant near homes being threatened by the blaze. These made the journey from Rapid City, South Dakota a 40 minute one way trip. The Nebraska National Guard also assisted with Blackhawk Helicopters transporting water to carefully planned locations. I did not have the opportunity to see this airshow in action but I can imagine it was an amazing sight. Imagine for a minute an area that is fairly accustomed to aircraft flying aloft at several thousand feet but now helicopters are gathering water out of your small farm pond and a large fixed wing Aircraft just dumped an orange fire retardant to protect your house from the fire. What a sense of relief that must have been. Also consider the skill and expertise it would take to pilot these aircraft. Although they are pure professionals and to them it is just another day consider the turbulence above an extremely hot wildfire. Very intense I am sure, and then to precisely drop water where it is needed, awesome. Like my friend and coworker Al Waterloo says great people doing great things in aviation. This statement is very true here. (Forgive me for not naming aircraft by the time I had arrived most officials/aircraft had went home, I only got close to the Nebraska National Guard Blackhawks).
Now with keeping with the aviation story. I was asked to assist in charity flights for local volunteer firefighters to see an aerial shot of what they had experienced the previous week. A very small task compared to the firefighting pilots and firefighters who had been working all week. However, I had several days available so I hurried home excited to share my passion with those in my community affected by the devastation. By this time the fires were mostly contained and only a small amount of smoke remained. The flights were created for volunteer firemen and a free will donation from community members who wanted to view, with the proceeds going back to the local volunteer fire departments. The Piper Cherokee 180 and fuel was donated by Mr. Jim Jackman, (aircraft based at KANW) and scheduling which went flawlessly by Mrs. Andrea Walz, and Ms. Ashley Emerson. Over a period of 2 and a half days operating out of KRBE and KANW we flew 20 hours with over 100 passengers, and raised close to $2000 for local volunteer fire departments. For some the flight was a first and others a first in a long time flying in a “4 seater”. The stories these folks told and pointed where the fire started, the names of creeks and canyons below they sat for days keeping the fire contained, and where the infamous Long Pine fire truck was lost was just as exciting to me as flying was for them. The town of Norden was also a flyover point since part of the tiny town was lost due to fire but the large dance hall had been saved. One gentleman explained how a 500 gallon propane tank had black burn marks on the side but had not ignited in Norden. During those two extremely busy days we saw a lot of smiles from community flyers who had not spent much time doing so the previous week. This is to me is what aviation is all about being able to share flight with others especially during a tragedy such as this. In the grand scheme of things it would have been great to spend more time sharing this adventure, and the money that was raised will not cover a fraction of the fuel costs accumulated by fire trucks. However we do see a common good in a community when devastation strikes. Especially in this case many people pulled together to support our firemen using a tank full of water in the back of a personal truck, delivering food to the front lines, or moving cattle and other livestock from danger. This is just one short story. I know there is a bunch more.
If any readers have any more stories I would love to hear them. Email me at email@example.com
Do you remember the last time you finished writing something and something was over? I do. Like my last English final that was a 4 essay hand written final that stood between me and graduating college. How about signing a credit card reciept? At that point dinner is over and you are looking for those incredible after dinner mints that kinda melt in your mouth like powder.
Well I had the pleasure of writing a sentimental airport in somebody's logbook for the last time before the airport is closed by the city. BOOOOO!!! Where is the Dislike button?
Anyway, it was a lot of fun flying with well known aviation blogger Todd McClamroch creator and writer at MyFlightBlog.com. We had a mission to make one last trip around the pattern at the airport Todd learned to fly out of - The Blue Ash Airport (KISZ) in Cincinnati Ohio. It is always sad to see airports close, but this one is more especially hard to see go.
Blue Ash is a faded flagship of great airports. Its a stick and rudder airport. Places like PWK and TEB are great airports but, they are flashy airports, fun places to hang out, but they have shinny jets and air conditioning. Blue Ash, was a little different. A type of aviation still exsisted here that you RARELY see any more. I call it stick and rudder aviation. Regular people, flying regular airplanes for the heck of it. Grease monkey's, war heroes, young aspiring aviators pumping gas to pay for flying lessons, all sitting around and enjoying the sights, faces, and sounds of a perfect little airport. The funny thing is, this airport had heavy turbine equipment sitting on the ramp. Blue Ash is settled on a bluff in a heavy hitter industrial park. Near by are tons of manufacturing businesses all the way from Ma & Pa places up to General Electric Aircraft Engine manufacturing plant. Its location is so valuable to aviation, business aviation that is as well as the private aviators that fly out of Blue Ash.
General Aviation is broken. I have been trying to figure it out, and it is a lot of things. Blue Ash opened my eyes to another reason why. General Aviation currently is a luxury item. Municipalities see that too. General Aviation isn't being held to its highest and best use. It is a tool, a tool for the economy. The Airport Authorities have gotten lazy and not promoted the best asset of their airport to its highest and best use. Blue Ash will be a airport full of memories to be bulldozed for land development. Great, the property tax income for the new development wont do much. Maybe some slick looking buildings will stand tall in the shadows of the airport? :(
The airport is a tool for the economy, its for the other businesses to grow their businesses using aviation. Its just sad to see that the current best and highest value for the Blue Ash airport is land development, when it really can be so much more. Is it kinda weird that I shed a tear while writing this knowing a great piece of aviation history is about to finish writing its story? (Once again, I am proving that I am a nerd, but an aviation one with a heart). Once Blue Ash is done writing, it'll be all over.
RIP Blue Ash! If anybody else finds an airport where you can taxi like a zig zag through the woods, please let me know.
Finally, the longer days and warmer weather of spring are slowly approaching. The winter weather for most of the US was at historic highs, and you won’t hear this Midwesterner complain about that. I have heard many say it is all the hot air coming out of Washington. Although true, we will leave that discussion to another blogger.
For me and many others this time of the year brings back that spark to find something new, definitely challenging and as a pilot what great things we can discover. Many great aviation festivities spring to life with the coming of the “warm months”. For example, the Oshkosh fly in will kickoff this summer, July 23rd-29th. Too many Oshkosh is the granddaddy of all fly ins and will play host to more things than you can shake a stick at. Aviation vendors, speakers, music concerts, aircraft manufacturers, food (very important to pilots), and a daily airshow are just small sample of the entire show. I hope to make this year my first of many at the Airventure sensation. For those flying in for the event do not forget the NOTAM that explains important arrival and departure information. For more info and schedule of events at Airventure take a look at http://www.airventure.org/.
If the craziness of Oshkosh is too much for you to handle consider a smaller local fly in. Many airports host much smaller events that local pilots attend for the pancakes, aircraft viewing, or the tall tales of pilot conversation. Some states also hold an annual state fly in where state representatives may stop by or even the local FSDO to show their support. These fly ins allow general aviation supporter’s young and old a place to gather and share experiences and updates on general aviation current events. For more ideas on fly in adventures in your area check out http://www.flyins.com/index.po.
A fly in adventure is only one example. There are many ways to challenge ourselves as pilots this spring and summer. Just to give you some ideas:
Tail wheel Training
Class B Airspace
During this period of ever changing weather don’t forget your trusty CFI!!! If you find yourself a little rusty and that long cross country flight needed to arrive at your destination makes you a little nervous, give him or her a shout. Your experienced CFI will have no problem getting you back up to speed and confident to make the trek. Also, remember that a new destination requires thorough preflight planning. Check weather, aircraft performance, airport information and all other essential info to make your go no-go decision. Finally, by doing something different you are challenging yourself and keeping your piloting skills sharp.
For those pilots interested in a multiple aircraft flying adventure check back on simpleflight.net soon.
Enjoy your adventure and fly safe.