Using an old concept with new twists to increase rentals

We’ve been working on a way to help pilots fly more, help flight schools and FBOs that rent aircraft book more revenue, and get more great rental customers. OpenAirplane will make it easy to find, book, fly, and pay for aircraft rental online or with a mobile device. Last week we started giving the world a peek at what our team has been quietly working on for eight months.

The team behind OpenAirplane started with the hypothesis that if together we reduced the hassle in renting airplanes, all our pilot certificates would become much more valuable. We imagined flying on the airlines from Chicago to Miami, easily booking the same make / model we fly at home, learning about local procedures on our own time, and then showing up to be handed the keys and clipboard to fly down to The Keys for lunch. We imagined renting an airplane like we rent cars. We imagined doing a checkout locally, then using that credential around the country without having to invest half a day and hundreds of dollars in checking out, yet again, every time.

Ninety-six percent of pilots we surveyed told us they would fly more when away from home, if the process was simpler. Fifty-one percent said it was the complicated checkout that kept them away. Twenty-eight percent said it was just too hard to find an airplane. How often would we rent cars if we were required to take the kid from behind the car rental counter around the parking lot three times before we got the keys? We see the hassle in renting airplanes today eroding everybody’s business.

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Where are the instructors?

When we talk about flight training, we typically talk about how many people are trying to learn, earn certificates and ratings, or even how many “dropped out” and didn’t finish. We assume there will be enough flight instructors to train anyone who wants to learn. But this may not always be the case.

Jonathon Freyeand I recently co-authored a white-paper specifically discussing “Flight Training Capacity in the Context of Recent Legislation.” The goal was to provide an examination of the impacts of reduced training capacity and the declining rates of airmen certification. What we found worried us. I then spent some time last week at the Embry-Riddle University hosted National Training Aircraft Symposium in Daytona Beach, a two-day conference of aviation educators (mostly collegiate), training industry organizations, and airline representatives. I came home even more worried.

Our capacity to train pilots relative to the demand that is forecast is in question. It is even more troubling if we consider the potential of proposed rulemaking that the FAA has issued in response to law that was made by Congress requiring additional training, and a minimum of 1500 hours for those in professional pilot positions (airlines, charter, and fractional ownership aircraft operations). We have talked about pilot shortage possibilities for years, and it has been a “cry-wolf” kind of situation, but I think we are going to have some real pilot shortage problems in the near future. The propsed regulations will fundamentally change the types and quantity of training that universities, colleges, local FBOs, and academies, are going to need to provide to graduate or create a pilot qualified for a professional pilot job.

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Sporty’s, Frasca partner to learn more about sim training

Sporty’s took delivery of a Frasca Mentor Advanced Aviation Training Device in December, as part of a collaboration with Frasca International, Inc., to develop training products that leverage the flight training expertise of Sporty’s and the flight simulation expertise of Frasca. The ultimate goal of the partnership will be to create training materials, course content, and programs to enhance the learning experience through the efficient integration of flight simulation in basic flight training.

Frasca’s research in the use of simulation in basic flight training goes back more than 40 years to studies conducted in cooperation with Purdue University in an effort to improve the flight training experience. Sporty’s use of Frasca simulation dates back more than 20 years, when the Frasca Model 142 was integrated into curriculum used as part of the University’s of Cincinnati’s Professional Pilot Training Program. The advancements in simulation technology and visual systems, along with the amazing capability of modern devices, have made it possible to renew our efforts at utilizing simulation to its maximum potential.

The first step in this partnership is for students at Sporty’s to begin utilizing the Frasca Mentor Cessna 172S Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD) flight simulator. The Mentor features a 200-degree visual system and Frasca’s TruVision technology.

TruVision provides worldwide visuals, including more than 20,000 runways, coastlines, rivers, roads, and more, allowing the pilot to fly anywhere in the world. In addition, the Mentor at Sporty’s comes with detailed satellite imagery within 150 miles of the Sporty’s/Clermont County Airport (I69). This visual enhancement allows for realistic, scenario-based training, meaningful VFR cross-country flying, and even ground-reference maneuvers. Continue reading

Anyone order sim training?

We at Holladay Aviation offer a unique service designed to help pilots throughout the Washington, D.C., area save time and money on initial and recurrent flight training. Our Mobile Flight Simulator (aka “The Sim-Mobile”) is an FAA-approved Elite PI-135 Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD) that we’ve installed in our Honda Odyssey minivan. Our unique system allows us to bring the benefits of flight simulation directly to the customer, anywhere, anytime.

With the economy continuing its slow-flight holding pattern at the start of 2011, my flight training hours were at all-time low since I began teaching in 2005. My husband, Dana Holladay, and I began to look for ways that we could diversify our services and better serve our customer base here in the Washington, D.C. area.

The inspiration for what would become the Sim-Mobile came from Dana’s travels around town for his full-time job in the restaurant business. Dana, who is also a CFI, noticed an increasing number and variety of mobile service providers: dog groomers, veterinarians, auto detailers, massage therapists, even dentists. He came home one day and asked me what I thought about creating a mobile flight simulator business, and it didn’t take us long to decide to go for it.

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Make your own great instructors

The thrill of explaining what makes an airplane fly, what the flight controls do, and going over a thorough preflight while your new student eagerly awaits their chance behind the controls is an honor. That excitement you feel from that forty-forth touchdown, when your student actually pulled the airplane into the proper flare with the nose aligned with the centerline, is hard to explain. The ecstatic energy you feel when your student, after his first solo, shuts down the airplane, opens the door, has a huge smile on his red face, and says, “That was awesome!” These are just the beginning of the fulfillment that comes with being a flight instructor.

Airline, corporate, and military pilots were all taught by someone. That someone that changed their lives forever was a flight instructor. The FAA knows the importance of a flight instructor. A person who wants to become a flight instructor has to pass two written exams and many go directly to the Flight Standards District Office for the practical checkride. These examiners at the FSDO aren’t playing around either. They expect the examinee to be a meteorologist, mechanic, physicist, psychologist, and teaching professional.

Left to right: Greenville-based instructor William Bowen, Spartanburg-based instructor Adam Lockamy, Director of Operations Michele Rash, Chief Flight Instructor Cyndy Hollman, and Shane Martin, operations and future CFI

As more people realize the importance of quality flight instruction, there is a growing demand for professional flight instructors. In the past some people may have thought, “I’m just a flight instructor.” But now really good flight instructors are sought out and paid top dollar for their contribution to aviation.

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Diversify through the hard times

Times are tough in the aviation sector. The proverbial road to success has become a little narrower as companies transform, trim their fat and consolidate their way to what we all hope is a brighter future. One way we at US Aviation hope to continue to grow is through diversification.

Six years ago we existed as only a flight training academy and small maintenance facility serving the north Texas region. In 2007 we received our first International students. These students knew other students who knew others and so on. Within six months we were in the throes of what is now called the “Indian Boom” with more than 60 students from south Asia working toward their commercial certificates. As with any boom this was short-lived as their home pilot labor markets started to saturate and the student levels dropped down to more sustainable levels. We were worried about the future and did not know if we could continue to grow, but we knew we had made contact with a growing list of industry partners around the world, many of which were former students. We reached out and found that with the right combination of incentive, proven success, and competitive rates students from all over the world were interested in training at US Aviation Academy. On a long wall in the central corridor of the Academy now hangs a map of the world pinned with the home locations of our pilot graduates, more than 35 countries so far. Some of these countries send us government or airline contract students, but our most successful marketing tool continues to be word of mouth. As with any business, when you put out a good product people recognize that and it enables you to grow even in difficult times.

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