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?
Another nerdy moment shines in me with trying to find the perfect flying sound track. There are so many different moods you can be while flying. Flying situations have their own moods too. Things can be relaxing, beautiful, stressful, scary, happy, sad, intense and everything in between. When I am flying, I think of what I am doing as a movie. Movies have sound tracks in them. The sound track is just as important to the movie as what you are seeing visually. There is a constant exciting struggle for me finding the perfect song to match my flying mood. When they are meshed together, no doubt, you'll get goosebumps! It's so awesome. One of my favorite memories flying was flying from New England to the Mid Atlantic. The person I was flying with and I had been working on hitting our take off roll exactly to a moment in a song so that the engines were producing max power just as the song started to explode. The result was unbelievable. Getting jammed back into your seat by powerful engines, an awesome song really kicking it and taking off on our last leg of our trip was something else. Climbing out over New England as the sun was setting, doing a merry go round climb over some of the busiest airspace in the world and adding the fact Christmas was 2 days away was the perfect collaboration of how we felt about flying at that very moment. After the song was over, I looked over at my partner and said "Wow, that gave me goose bumps!!" I am doing a very horrible job using my words to explain this. There were so many things going in those few minutes that were absolutely perfect. It could take a life time to write about every little detail. All I am going to continue to say is that this will always be a forefront memory in my flying career. Think about your favorite songs right now and match them with some of your favorite flying memories. You'll find that there is something comforting about it. You're love of flying will increase dramatically and your desire for more will be off the charts. Below is the song that I had matched up with my flying counterpart that day. We nailed the timing with having the engines push us back into our seats for take-off just as the song goes to "JUST LIVE YOUR LIFE!!" around 30-32 seconds into the song. The song is called "Just Live Your Life" By TI. What songs do you think are awesome for flying? If you can't think of any, you are lying. See this other video below too. I feel that the music in this familar tune, grabbed the exact mood of the flight that was being flown in the movie. Let me know what your favorite songs are and I'll try and incorporate them into a flying video for you. Please comment below! Enjoy! Al