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?
It dawned on me one evening. I remember it exactly, we were approaching Denver, the sun was pretty much set and the sky was turning beautiful colors for the second half of our flight from LAX to MKE. I had just used the lav for a potty break since there was no way my bladder could hold it for a 3.5 hour flight with "unlimited soda and water" to the crew. The flight attendants gave me a tray of warm chocolate cookies and milk to take into the cockpit for the captain and me to enjoy for the remainder of the flight. I sat back down in my chair and began to enjoy the warm cookies, cold milk not to mention the view.
It was really the cookie and pretty awesome ground speed in the high 500's knots that threw me over the edge. I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that the airplane delivering this experience was a machine. It was one of the first few times that I thought of the airplane as a machine. Its kinda strange to think about it this way. You may have your own airplane, or fly a fleet of airplanes but you get to know which is your favorite and least favorite. Each airplane even though the same model all fly incredibly different from the next. Its hard not to start thinking each airplane as its own person and having its own personality. Heck, in the EMB -170 a warning message that read " APM FAIL" - Corrective Action: "DO NOT TAKEOFF." I looked up what the "APM" was and by golly, it was called the airplane personality module. The airplane had a mother board in it giving it a personality! Holy smokes! Anyway, when push comes to shove, the airplane is a machine. It can take you across the country, keep you alive, allow you to use the washroom in it, keep a beverage hot or cold for you, bake a hot cookie, connect you to wifi, xm radio, or TV, cool you down or warm you up, all while keeping you on life support in the inhabitable conditions of lack of oxygen, extreme negative temperatures 6 miles above the earth all while hurling you along at 500-600 mph. If you think about it that way its pretty nuts. The airplane is a machine, but I'd like to think otherwise - Have you ever thought of your airplane as just a machine? - AL
Okay, so I have a bone to pick. This is against all $100 hamburger thrills but let's get real. Are airport restaurants legitimately good because of the food? I'd say most are not are not, in fact they are awful. Don't get me wrong, I love all airport fly-in restaurants just as much as the next guy but that doesn't mean they have good food. There is something very invigorating about pulling up to an eatery in your aircraft, hopping out, and drinking as much iced tea as you possibly can stand. Realizing you forgot you have to fly home and now your in a position where you have to pee every 15 minutes for the next few hours. The fly in airport restaurant is a dying breed. Its the excuse for many aviators to fly their airplane. Not many quality fly in restaurants exist any more. Being in Chicago, one of the country's food capitals, there are very few fly in restaurants. Its sad, incredibly sad. There are a few well known and popular places to fly in to and eat, but they are few and far between. Quite frankly, the aviator gets burnt out on going to the same place over and over again. How can we fix the business model, little do the restaurant owners know, they are an excuse, purpose, destination and hobby to fly in to. I think we need to continue to support these eateries, but it wouldn't hurt to have more options. Options that go beyond the frozen grilled hamburger patty, pickles, and iced tea. Maybe something a bit tastier, fresh food, fresh ingredients, new cuisine? I mean come on, we are pilots we are born to burn fossil fuel, and eat. I wouldn't be opposed if there was friendly competition in this important area of aviation. We'd get to see more destinations, have better excuses and eat more food. I am all for a new fly in restaurant, where is it at!?