Project Flight School: The test subject

The process of business optimization is underway at Cirrus Aviation in Sarasota, Florida. Various best-practice tactics will be tried and their outcomes will be updated here on a regular basis.

Below is a short note from Nayda Cattin of Cirrus Aviation talking about how she sees her business and how she sees this opportunity to share her experiences through Project Flight School.

–Shannon Yeager, vice president, strategic initiatives of AOPA’s Center to Advance the Pilot Community


I would like to give everyone some insight as to where I stand currently, where I’ve been, and where I’d like to go.

Where I stand: I am on a teetering point on a daily basis of drowning in my business. I have many ideas I’d like to see come to fruition, and I have zero time to do so. I run a small business, and I wear almost every hat there is, except turning wrenches and flying planes. I am ultra-stressed, extremely spread thin, and heavily burdened by regulation. I know that fellow flight school owners feel the same pressure and stress. I know that fellow flight school owners are scared that their livelihoods can be dissolved in the split second of a grumpy inspector’s decision. I know that fellow flight school owners would love to implement marketing ideas if only they have the time and money. So I think represent this group well, in many ways.

Where I’ve been: We’ve been profitable–once. Once. We’ve been broke sometimes. We barely make it all of the time. We have seen the ups and downs of volume and had to change staffing to keep costs under control. We are seeing an increase in business now, and with a skeleton crew it is tough. We are trying to be true to our words and to our honor, and to give excellent service with half the resources that we need. We are scared to hire more because of the ups and downs. We just hired three more people. It is not enough.

We have had business consultants come into our business when we were profitable and we could afford it. We paid stupid amounts of money to have them tell us nothing. They wasted my time, crunching numbers over weeks, only to find the result that my mathematically genius husband spouted off the top of his head in the beginning. We had them give us Powerpoints, tell how great they were, tell us how great we were, teach us procedures for keeping track of our business financially, etc.

Where I’d like to go: I have several items on my mind that I would like to see come into practice. I need the expertise of someone outside of my realm to help me make these things happen. I am looking to the consultants for help on this. As we have begun this process they have given me so many things that I am honesty feeling overwhelmed. I also have some major items around the corner that I would like to market. They are extremely exciting and will really change some of our marketing strategies and some of our appeal as a flight school in the state, as well as the Southeast region.

So I will prioritize, get the business in the door, make sure I am compliant with the feds, make my customers smile, and implement some of these new ideas. While I am a swan gliding above water, my feet are kicking crazily underneath.

I think there are some valuable things that can come out of this project. I would like to see this work so that my entire industry can benefit! I am willing to put my time into it. I am the first person to be disgruntled and jaded by AOPA, Civil Air Patrol, and EAA. However, times are changing and I recognize they are changing. They are finally realizing what needs to happen in this industry for it to survive and I am honored to be a part of this project.

  • Jean Lewis

    I can relate. I wear alot of hats including instructing, doing payroll, accounting, ordering charts and supplies, and seeing that the proper aircraft maintenance gets done on time. It has been a rough 4 1/2 years but it seems business is finally picking up. I hope it stays that way.

    • Nayda Cattin

      Rough 4.5 years indeed! We are starting to see some pick up as well. Having the international students help – though we only have a few. Anyone know how to capture more of these guys?

  • Samuel

    I am curious if you could share what specific regulations are hampering your business. Is it the FAA, Airport, our local business regulations. I am glad that you are willing to share as I believe this is what willing help make the industry we love stronger.

    • Nayda Cattin

      TSA, FAA, SEVIS, CATS…I spent the last two months of my year in 2012 and the first part of Jan 2013 going through inspection after inspection, prepping for them with internal audits, corrections, babysitting while inspectors were there and REFILING our entire Student Visa program to top it off! It was a tremendous amount of stress, as well as a total show stopper on my productivity. There is redundancy and inefficiency in all of the govt bodies. Now that the FAA has stepped into the CATS realm, that is only getting worse as well. We are not increasing safety here, we bogging down the administrators and putting more expense on an industry that operated on VERY thin margins. Can we all just charge more? Will we have any students left standing if we do?

  • Hal Harris

    I can only concur with you on the gross over regulation of this industry! I work 80 – 100 hours weekly at my flight school. I learned to fly in 1974, and have been in this industry since the late 70’s. The government, especially the FAA, is like a cancer. They are going to kill their host! We need less government regulation and the ability to conduct our business without the undue burden of all the government’s red tape and other B.S. The redundancy and inefficiency of all the government red tape is a hindrance to business productivity. My impression is that the public has reached the limit financially of what they are willing to pay for flight training. The government is going to price us out of business!
    Furthermore, the more time pilots and flight instructors spend on worthless government paper work, the less time they spend flying and flight training. The less proficient the pilots and flight instructors become. Many times I and my flight instructors have put in long hours trying to productively fly and flight instruct, spend countless hours performing worthless paperwork tasks only to be exhausted flying the following day. This government is compromising safety and our lively hood. My conclusion, government is the least effective way of accomplishing anything! We need relief from the inept and incompetent government and their grossly over regulatory requirements and oversight. We should all begin complaining to our Congressmen and Representatives to reduce our government and their wasteful spending. We need fewer government agencies regulating our businesses. Put government on a starvation diet! (FAA, TSA, DOT, NTSB, IRS, OTC, DMV, State & local governments, airport authority, etc.. the list goes on and on…)