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?
I dare you to ask a crew member. Everyone of them will have an answer and their answers will be scattered all over the country. Ask them this, "Where is your favorite breakfast burrito?" Its true, every crew member has one, if they say they don't they are lying to you. If you were to ask me, I would look you square in the eye and say with out hesitation "Mesa Verde, upper level in Terminal One at Denver International Airport, get the chorizzo burrito with a side of the cilantro sour cream. It'll make your day." I don't know what it is, but every single crew member craves these breakfast burritos while on the road. Its bizarre and pretty outrageously delicious.
Looking at this phenomenon I can see three different factors why Crewmembers are addicted to these pre-made tin foil wrapped, and mostly soggy burritos.
1) Power Packed Punch - Crew members are under constant pressure. At sacrifice under this pressure is getting a well balanced meal and a scheduled break. I mean, what is OSHA for? This pressure that is aggravated by hunger. What a great combination to be cranky, blow emergency slides, and kick you off a plane for playing words with friends. So in order to tame that pressure, why not have a breakfast burrito full of carbs and protein? Its very necessary. Its kinda eating for survival. I know you have seen those survival shows on the Discovery Channel. You need to eat high calorie meals because you never know when you may eat next. Thats exactly what crew members are doing, eating for survival. Not in the wild, but in the air conditioning, just like Mother Nature intended. You never know when you will eat next.
2) Everything Else Sucks - Are you really going to go to Panda Express in LaGuardia for Pancakes and Eggs at 6:30 am for breakfast? Exactly.
3) It's Cheap - Crew members are cheap. We are cheap not because we want to but because we have to. The economics of the breakfast burrito just make sense. If you don't believe us, just ask our wallets or look up per diem rates under our union contracts.
That is all.
Where is your favorite breakfast burrito?