Jill Tallman

Black Friday: Is that an airplane in my mall?

November 24, 2009 by Jill W. Tallman, Associate Editor

It’s been a bad year for aviation, and I’ve seen more news items about flight schools going under than I’d care to share. But I’m also seeing some that are digging in and going out for customers.

One school, in Maryland, is negotiating with a mall to position an aircraft outside a large department store during the holiday shopping rush. They’ll staff the airplane in the hopes of attracting potential pilots among the throngs. Another FBO is doing the same thing at an upscale mall in Texas, and just today a news release crossed my inbox in which Air Orlando said it’s going to position a Remos GX inside the Florida Mall Wednesday night so that it’ll be sitting pretty in time for Black Friday shoppers. (With its folding wings, the Remos makes this kind of display setup pretty smooth.)

And a brand-new flight school owner is using a pricing scheme for flight instruction and aircraft rental that he says gives customers a “round number” so that they can more adequately budget their training expenses, just as they would for a fitness membership or a car payment. Tim Poole, who recently opened GT Aviation at Potomac Airfield in the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone, calls it a kind of a “club” format. A monthly fee purchases five hours per month, or one lesson per week; a higher fee bumps that up to 10 hours, or two lessons per week.

What do you think of these ideas? What else could flight schools be doing to attract customers?


20 Responses to “Black Friday: Is that an airplane in my mall?”

  1. Patrick Flannigan Says:

    Parking an airplane at the mall is bound to gather a lot of attention, and I’m sure they’ll pick up more than a few new students while putting the bug in enthusiast’s ears. I think it’s a great idea. In fact, I think it’s such a good idea that AOPA could learn a thing or two by taking the Project Pilot concept up to this level.

    On the flight school charging a flat monthly rate: It sounds great, but they risk alienating future pilots with sticker shock. My local airports charge $140/hour for a Cessna 172. Following the 5 hour per month scheme, members will be paying a whopping $700/month, and that doesn’t include a flight instructor! Best to go to the bank and work out loan programs for students. It’s just more manageable that way.

  2. Matt Says:

    AOPA should park that big new Caravan in front of some shopping malls.

  3. Phil DeRosier Says:

    I think GA will be about as close as it can be to a “final nail in the coffin” as it could possibly be if it does not traverse the challenges it faces in these times. Several converging “perfect storm” factors contribute to this–the cost of entry … invasive, burdensome, encroaching regulations … insurance costs … questionable future availability of 100LL … other competing technologies competing for your free time and money (i.e., cars, fancy cameras, big screen TVs) … etc.

    GA must repackage itself as more ‘user-friendly’, more accessible, and less threatening if it is to survive. Yes, that’s right: friendly. Think about it—from the warning signs at the airport’s entrance, to the presence of armed security, to some CFIs refusing to view student pilots as *customers*, and even short-tempered controllers – these all make the average weekend flyer candidate muse “… that Bayliner is looking pretty good right about now.”

    For example, if designs like the folding-wing, trailer-hauled REMOS GX fail to make a significant dent in this business—then GA is truly dead. GA MUST know by now that potential clients will not come out to the airport, therefore GA must come to where potential clients are—and arguably, it is the shopping mall. The ability for potential pilots to look, see and touch an airplane in this non-threatening environment is simply priceless.

    So what if the airplane ends up with spilled ice-cream on the wings … or baby Sue has an ‘accident’ in the cockpit? You’re more likely to make a sale here, rather than the airport’s crew room.

    GA must stop trying to bring customers to the airplane—it must bring the airplane to the customer. Moulton Taylor’s Aerocar was visionary in this respect. That it took over 50 years for GA to re-think this approach should be fodder for those emptying flight school crew rooms.

  4. Max Trescott Says:

    Hi Jill–we talked at AirVenture…hope you’re doing well. Your article addresses the #1 issue in aviation today.The average pilot age is over 50 and only 6% of them are women. Aviation needs to reach younger people and women and “The Mall” is one proven way to do it. A year and a half ago I wrote an article on my “Wish list for AOPA’s new President Craig Fuller” at http://www.maxtrescott.com/max_trescott_on_general_a/2008/06/wish-list-for-aopas-new-president.html
    #1 on the list was to “Establish a widespread, hard-hitting Aviation Outreach Program” and I mentioned “One flight school in southern California trucks a brand new Cessna 172 around to a different shopping mall every week and signs up several thousand people a year for demo flights.” This is a proven idea that more flight schools and associations should implement. We can no longer afford to just cater to people who find us at the airport–our industry needs to go out to where the people are and make it easy for them to get involved in aviation.

  5. Tim Poole Says:

    Patrick — Actually, our 5 hour program is only $300 / mo for the aircraft, and when you add instructor and fuel it is still only roughly $600 per month. Definitely cheaper than the > $1k/mo estimates most students get these days. The DA-20 we use will save them close to $1k alone in fuel over the course of earning their Private certificate. $600/mo isn’t “cheap” sure, but it is within the abilities of the average person in our area.

    We have higher rate packages for those students that wish to fly more often (and some do) but this is working very well for us so far.


    Tim Poole
    GT Aviation, LLC

  6. Doyle Frost Says:

    This type of activity needs more attention. The overall cost to earn a pilots license, then maintain currency, in this present economy, makes it almost cost prohibitive for the average person to get into the air. Younger people are looking for the least expensive way to have fun, and flying is definitely not that.
    Unless there are incentives for these people to get into the air, and realistic ways to fund such efforts, GA is dead.
    How many people, average people, can afford $100,000.00 for an airplane? This is unrealistic. How come so expensive? Maybe because so many lawyers are involved, and unrealistic penalties imposed, on anything as simple as an aborted takeoff, with no injuries.
    We, as a society, have got to realize Mr. Joe Average is NOT going to earn 100 million dollars in his lifetime, so why should an aircraft manufacturer have to carry unrealistic insurance for just such an eventuallity?

  7. Bob Zajko Says:

    Flying is too expensive, period. Look at the price of a new piston single. On the low boring end you have a Cessna 172 for a quarter million dollars! Thats more than my HOUSE cost. If you’re more into high tech, a Columbia 400 will set you back more than TWICE that. Who can afford that kind of price? No one I know. Not even close. Even the LSA’s are super expensive. I don’t know anyone who can afford a $100,000 plane either. I am a big fan of the homebuilt category, where you get more bang for you buck in any kind of plane from small 2 seaters up to complex turboprops.

  8. Rob Martin Says:

    Tim, do you hear what you are saying? $600 per month!! That’s rent or a mortgage payment!! As a licensed pilot that has had to accept that I will never be able to afford to fly again….$600 bucks per month just re-affirms that fact. I certainly don’t know what the solution is, but flying is completely cost prohibitive to the majority of the population. I, as well as many of my pilot friends, just cannot afford to fly any more…period. That’s the REAL tradgedy here….that many, ALREADY licensed, good pilots are grounded by nothing but money.

  9. Robert Olms Says:

    Don’t forget flying Clubs or joint ownership can help reduce the cost. I agree it is expencive. I am a student pilot in need of money and mentors. I make slow progress because I can not take a loan to pay for it all at once, because it is not a family priority. I have a Wife and children.

    We need AOPA who we all are most likely members already to make a connection page like Facebook that we can all opt in with our information and geografic locations showing so we can post notes to our local pilots with our desires for flight pals with the bennifit to share pilot time and therefore expense on all types of trips. Making AOPA the biggest Flying Club of members. I also realy enjoy the thought of expanding avaiton by bringing the planes to the people. I think small private airports should be more freindly to guests even if it is seperate secure areas like a park and resteruant. My favorite thing as a kid was after winning a soccer game getting ice cream and going to watch planes land at the airport.(KLWM)

  10. Dave Robbins Says:

    One thing I think is being overlooked in discussing the cost of getting into flying is the older fleet that is still out there and airworthy. The LSAs are shiny and new and appealing and all that, but you can still buy a Cessna 150 for 15-20k and actually have a pretty good little plane. Get a buddy or two together to buy one and learn in it and your costs will be considerably lower than some of those mentioned above. I also agree with the guy who said airports are not particularly friendly environments sometimes these days. As a private pilot, I have walked into several airports, been ignored or stared at like “what are you doing here?” and thought to myself that if I were a nonpilot walking in off the street, this would be a turnoff! If I were a local flight school, I would be thinking about advertising and holding some get-togethers in local hotels or restaurant meeting rooms. In addition to discussing learning to fly, I would have Trade-a-Plane copies or other similar pubs lying around with ideas for obtaining planes for less than the cost of a new house, and provide info on what’s out there that might be affordable. One last word — I fly a 150 because it’swhat I can afford. Would I like a 182 or a Cirrus or something faster and more glamorous like that? Sure, but I couldn’t afford to fly if I had one of those. The 150 lets me do what I love, and that is get off the ground and experience flight. I still get that grin and feeling of satisfaction as I put that little plane away after a flight. But maybe that’s just me.

  11. Pete Dougherty Says:


    There is something like you are looking for already going. Check it out at:


    I share rides all the time with guys at my home field. Great way to get in the air at a reduced cost.

  12. David A. Kruger Says:

    At the Vista Ridge Mall show sponsored by US Aviation and the Aircraft Partnership Association, we are emphasizing cost–at it’s working great. Vista Ridge is on Lake Lewisville and there are 7 major boat dealers within a 10 mile radius.

    Our theme is simple: “You can afford to fly!” and we back that up by providing them fully loaded (purchase, fuel, oil, maintenance, hangar/dock costs) compared to the average boat, motor, and trailer purchased in the local market. See http://theapa.com/st/can_i_afford/

    We also hand out a custom brochure developed by AMPT Associates that walks them through the process of interest, training, planes, purchasing, and direct them all to AOPA and EAA.

    It works. Aviators and non-aviators alike get that owning an airplane in partnerships is actually costs than the typical boat, motor, and trailer actually being purchased in the local market. Every day, we repeatedly here “I’ve always been interested in flying, but I never thought I could afford it!” We are showing them that they can and giving them a clear path forward.

    Other sponsors of the show include AMPT Associates, Advocate Consulting, AirFleet Capital, LetsFly.org, and Dynon Avionics. These firms all understand what we at the APA understand: If we solve every issue GA has except the high price problem, the pilot population and new non-ATP track student starts will continue declining.

  13. David A. Kruger Says:

    At the Vista Ridge Mall show sponsored by US Aviation and the Aircraft Partnership Association, we are emphasizing cost–and it’s working great. Vista Ridge is on Lake Lewisville, Texas. There are 7 major boat dealers within a 10 mile radius.

    Our theme is simple: “You can afford to fly!” and we back that up by providing visitors a cost comparison to the average boat, motor, and trailer purchased in the local market. This is not marketing hype; costs are fully loaded (purchase, fuel, oil, maintenance, hangar/dock, etc.) See http://theapa.com/st/can_i_afford

    We also hand out a custom brochure that walks them through the process of interest, training, planes, purchasing, and ends by directing them to the AOPA and EAA.

    It works. Aviators and non-aviators alike get that owning an airplane in partnerships actually costs less than the typical boat many of them already own. We repeatedly hear “I’ve always been interested in flying, but I never thought I could afford it!” We are showing them that they can afford to fly and giving them a clear path forward to getting their certificate and buying a plane.

  14. Deshawn Foret Says:

    I just lately made a post about this same thing! To be truthful though I believe I liked your article better.

  15. [email protected] Says:

    I do internet advertising for flying clubs/flight schools (ok, well just for one flight school so far).

    One of the quickest and least expensive things I have found to do is to join Meetup.com and create an Aviation group. Every day you will have people joining that are interested in aviation or just saw you there and never had given it much thought but are interested. Also you can advertise joint meetups with larger more established groups, you could be bringing in 10 to 20 new people to your flight school/club every month.

    Using meetup.com I scheduled a breakfast fly out & flying lesson. The flight school had 5 instructors, every plaen was filled, every instructor was up in the air. Total cost of advertising was $20 and everyone paid a fee so costs of instructors and planes were covered.

    Using the Internet there is no reason not to have plenty of customers. Another example I ran a contest on the local papers website (San Diego Union Tribune), the cost was $500 and gave away a free flying lesson. I was able to get about 400 names, email addresses, and physical addresses. I emailed to those people about the ground school starting up, the ground school was so full not everyone could fit into the classroom. Cost of the advertising was immediately earned back and still have that list of names to email to.

    People want to learn how to fly, sure it is not free or cheap but neither is going Snowboarding, Boating, etc. People who can’t afford it, can’t, that is life you just have to cast your net to find those who can and want to. Often they never even think about it due to ineffective or non-existent marketing.

  16. Louisa Pizzaro Says:

    Hey just wondering how you went aout setting up your site etc. I’m fairly new to the whole internet thing, Was blogengine easy to design

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  18. Darren Hook Says:

    In Lewisville, TX – the same thing was done through Nov – Dec with a Remos in a mall. I’m happy to say that I signed up for Sport Pilot as well as my 18 year old son. It is almost March 2010 and we are at the end, DPE is next on both of us. Without the reaching out with an advertisement, we would not have known the costs and how where to begin.

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