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?
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.
Constantly I am harassed by my co-workers about going into beta but who cares. If you don't know what beta is that's okay. You just need to know what it sounds like. Its probably one of the coolest aviation sounds out there. Beta a.k.a. ground fine, has its very practical uses for operating aircraft. It kind of gives you that same feeling of wearing Carhart on the first snow fall of the year. Its a great feeling. By simply pulling back on your power levers you can almost wake up the entire neighborhood by creating an awesome sound. You can also almost stop on a dime by going into beta, but who cares about that? Wait....I kinda do. When the engines and propellers go into beta, the propellers slap the air in such a funny way that it creates the best sound ever. Its so distinct, so loud and its what I get harassed for doing by my co-workers. I just look at them and smile. To optimize the sound of beta you should be rolling. The faster you roll, the louder and more awesome the sound gets. To get the minimal amount for a quality sound, do your self a favor and taxi at the brisk walk or jogging pace. Put your hand on the power levers and lift those puppies up over the gate and shove them down into beta and enjoy!! - AL