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 know a pilot that likes to brag about how quick their aviation medical takes? If you don't you can use me as an example. The quick pee in a cup, memorized visual tests, the red line always goes through note number 4....and then you're good til your next medical. In a way, pilot medicals are awesome that way. 5 minutes and a $100 later we are done. I thought this was the way to go until I recently heard a concerned aviation medical doctor give a very informative what you should know speech.
After hearing this speech it made me realize that most pilots are one sided with two documents that are so essential to our passion. Our pilot certificate and our medical. They work hand in hand, you can't use one for the other and with out them together your wings are clipped. Think about that, how much time do you spend maintaining your pilot certificate? Now, think about how much time you spend maintaining your medical, which ever class it may be. I'd put money down that you spend 15 minutes a year on your medical and the rest on your pilot certificate. I was this way.
What if something happens to your health beyond your control? Who will you be able to call? Do you know what to do with your medical? Do you know how to get it reinstated? I don't. After hearing this AME speak, I realized my priorities are out of whack, way out of whack. I am young, and invincible, until I noticed a grey hair and my receding hairline. Growing old is a must, and with that come hurdles that may abruptly stop your living or passion in aviation. It is incredibly worth while to find an AME that is 100% willing to answer your phone calls, know how to navigate the airman medical qualification division of the FAA. This is so important especially if you make your living in aviation like me. The FAA is becoming more medically conservative than ever, pretty much any condition, prescription drug or blip on your medical record is a disqualification. Sooner or later we will hit a hurdle and we will need help with this. Ask yourself is your current AME the person who will give 110% to help get your medical back if you loose it? You better believe it will be your priority one if this happens. It should be your AME's priority too, he'll have more pull in helping you than you will. With out his signature and sign off, your goose is cooked.