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?
We all are curious what it really looks like out of the front of the airplane. Be it a 747 or Cessna, the curiosity really strikes almost anybody and everybody. Lately I have been very interested in making videos of flying. I don't know what my facisination about it is but its fun, and I love sharing them. If you really look at it, being a professional pilot or even a recreational one at the very least, is pretty secluded. What I mean by that, is your family, friends, or significant others can't really come and visit you at the office while you are at work. The only information that they can get is from your stories of what things are like. Believe it or not, this breaks my heart. Being so passionate and so loving towards aviation, I would love to show my parents, sister, and friends what I do for a living. Unfortunately they are the ones that get the brunt of my quick departure and vanishing act for a few days. Upon arrival back from my duties, they get to experience a cranky and tired Al. Even though I am gone doing my work, having an aviation career really boils down to always trying to be somewhere where you are not. I love it though, and why not share my experiences with the people who helped me get where I am today?
It has gotten easier than ever to share your experiences on the road. Its fun doing so, because its so easy. The single item that I believe has made it easier than ever is the cell phone. Now, I am an iPhone user. I love the camera on it, the quality is really up there. If you take a picture, the pictures are almost 2-3 MB. That's huge for a phone that came out in 2010 (iPhone 4). A lot of this can be done on the ipad but, the size makes it a little more difficult to get the shots you want and the camera isn't as good as the phone. Never the less, there are some great apps for the phone to enhance, take, edit and publish any pictures or video clips you may have taken. My favorite for videos is iMovie. Its just a few bucks in the app store. It allows you to combine and edit any video clips you may want to add. One of my favorite things about this is it allows you to add songs that are on your phone/ipod right to the movie. Two clicks and you have a professional looking video. The tricky part is the editing, a typical approach landing or takeoff can take 10 minutes. Non aviation people will get bored. You can edit all of your footage down, but try to keep video clips to 10 seconds or less. This will keep the video interesting for the viewer and they'll think its a lot cooler. Let's face it, 5 minutes of flying in the clouds with the camera just capturing a white mass and having Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody playing is boring. I'd rather be at the Queen concert than watch the video. If you have a Droid phone, the video quality is great but I am not sure on if there are any apps you can use to edit your videos or enhance your pictures. Finally the best feature about the cell phone is that you can publish your material to email, text message, facebook, or youtube right from your phone! No more transferring to your computer. Write a whimsical note, hit send, put it in your pocket and wait to get replies. Its great!
One last thing. You can see a definite difference between my video on the right and this other video on the left. My goal is to be able to do something like the one on the left. I found that a big part of that is having some kind of tripod or stabilizer to mount your camera in the cockpit. I was easily able to go onto ebay and find a suction cup tripod and iphone adapter for the tripod. Total I spent about $50 on the two pieces. Right now, I am playing with them to see how it improves the video quality. Check out both of these videos, the best part is picking out the sound track. My King Air video is still in progress. I need more footage but its half way done. Cheers! Al