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?
So to just solidify my case as being an overweight, nerd with too much time on my hands I thought I'd interject this: YouTube clips of old airline commercials. There are two types of commercials in my opinion.
1) The old clips. These clips instill a tremendous feeling of nostalgia. Enough where you want to eat a quart of Ben and Jerry's and cry your eyes out. Who am I kidding, we are pilots, we don't cry unless its the movie 16R....Shut up. Moving on, it does instill a huge sense of nostalgia. These are the Pan - Am glory days of de-regulation, nasty pilot strikes and suit spewing out of the old DC-9's filmed in the commercials. They are really special, it makes me want to fly all the airplanes in those commercials simply because I will never be able to fly them :( It is also funny to see all the retro color schemes in the cabins of the airplanes. They look like bowling shoes. You'll get to hear airlines brag about the newest member of the Jet Aged fleet and they'll explain to you their engines are the quitest around. Let me tell you, they are lying to you. The engines are louder than hell and sound like the end of the world. One of my favorite commercials is a United one when they first got DC-10's. They are giving a cabin tour of it and explaining how you can sit in the "Friendship Lounge" and enjoy Cocktails on your flight from Dulles to San Fransisco. I'll take a Tom Collins please.
2) The new clips. Inevitably you run into the modern day clips of airline commercials. I love it! I have to hand it to the airline with the animals on their tails with thinking outside of the box and personifying vertical stabilizers. Great work! On the otherhand Most of them make you want to just be a single jet setter all over the globe. How fun! They do a great job of making you want to "wrack" up miles after miles to join the highest elite tier loyalty program the airline has to offer. I would be crossing the pond every day if I could get tucked in by a Bond Girl flight attendant after clearing my martini from my first class seat. On the contrary, it makes me want to fly for their damn airline. Ahh if that was only the case, I'll take a Tom Collins please.
Do you have a favorite airline commercial?