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Flight instruction as the future of education

This blog originally appeared on the author’s personal website, and is presented here with minor editing.

When I am in discussions about education reform and education entrepreneurship, I often forget that I own a flight school, but then I see a pattern that I recognize and realize that “it’s already happening in pilot training!”

First, some statistics. At any given time there are about 100,000 people in the US who have a current student pilot certificate. This is a round number because the term for a student pilot certificate has just recently extended to 5 years for those under 40 from twoyears previously. Of those student pilots, about 25,000 students take the private pilot written exam every year and about 91 percent pass.

Becoming a pilot is actually pretty easy, but a very thorough and rigorous process. There is a ton of content and decision-making skills you have to master along with mastering the physical part of flying. However, the process is highly flexible, adaptable and personalized.

Multi-modal Instruction

A student has many options to learn to become a pilot. They can watch videos like King Schools, Sporty’s or even some free videos on Youtube. They can read various text books, FAA books, the FAA website or even various material on the internet. They can talk one on one with a flight instructor. They can take classes at a flight school or college. Or, they can even play video games on the computer, like Flight Simulator, or mobile device. Each of these usually includes some form of formative assessment – small quizzes that ensure that you comprehended, retained and can apply the material as you are learning it.

The great thing is that you can mix and match. I really enjoyed watching the King videos. They were corny but entertaining and they had quizzes at the end of each video to ensure you got the material. If you got something wrong, they would immediately take you back to the place in the video so you could re-watch the section and then take the quiz again. This loop would continue until you got it right or cancelled out. In contrast, my friend who was taking lessons at the same time really enjoyed reading the textbook. He read it cover to cover, over and over. I can’t do that!!!

At the same time, we would be training on the actual flying part with an instructor. Our instructor was quite good. He would be throwing questions at me in context to ensure I was getting through my material. Similarly, I was taking practice tests on my iPhone while I was sitting in boring meetings at work. With this much reinforcement, I knew exactly when I was ready to take the test.

There are many insights I gained from my flight school.

  1. Instruction should be de-linked from certification.
  2. However, instructors should be continuously using formative assessment to ensure the student is comprehending, retaining and able to apply the skills, knowledge and judgement you are instructing.
  3. Instructors should be measured by the success of their students.
  4. Instruction should move at the pace of the students motivation and abilities.
  5. Instruction should be provided in as many modes as feasible.
  6. The student should be free to chose the modality that works well for them.
  7. The student should be free to select an instructor that works well for them.

Of course, the biggest difference between flight training and traditional education is that the motivation to do it is completely student driven. However, I believe that students are born naturally curious and want to learn. They just want to learn what they see value in learning. So, why don’t we harness that natural curiosity and desire to learn and use it to provide a better education for each of our citizens. I learned meteorology, physics, biology, mathematics, geometry, passenger management and more, all driven by my desire to fly a plane. I had no real desire to study any of those subjects, but my desire to fly a plane drove me to learn quite a bit about each. Every person has a passion. Every person has interests. Can’t we discover those interests and use them as a platform to deliver the education they will need to be a positive, contributing member of society???!!!!

The biggest lesson is that the problem isn’t money! Learning to become a pilot easily has a school year’s worth of content in it and the total cost including gas and plane rental (the biggest expenses by far) was less than $10,000. That is less than we spend to put a kid through school for a year. Take out the plane rental and the gas and the cost was under $2,000. The instruction costs $45 per hour for 20-30 hours. The videos cost under $300. The equipment costs another $200-400. Learning to fly is expensive, but if you take the unusually high cost of the plane and gas out, it’s actually pretty cheap. Why isn’t all school this cheap?

I think I will continue to add to this article over time, as I continue to learn so much about teaching, learning, etc from my flight school.

–Vince Talbert, co-owner of Middle River Aviation and co-founder of Bill Me Later

Create a positive CFI culture

Recently I had an opportunity to visit with the NTSB. Normally any visit with the NTSB would be under circumstances that none of us would like to be in, but this was different. I was invited to the NTSB training center by a flight school owner and his instructors. We had just eaten pizza and I was sitting in the classroom when I really began to see some of the secret sauce of this successful flight training business.

This flight training business has a yearly full-day CFI standardization workshop, but they also bring the group together once a month. The monthly meetings do have the usual updates for standardization and ongoing issues, but they go quite a bit farther. They take the time to really share and celebrate successes in a way that makes it obvious the staff feels like they are part of something important and meaningful. It was such an upbeat and inspiring meeting, I secretly wanted to fill out a job application.

This particular monthly meeting included the NTSB meeting, which consisted of a full program of looking at actual evidence of training accidents and a tour of the NTSB training “laboratory.” The obvious effort involved in putting the evening on and having it go beyond the day-to-day logistics and issues of training operations was obvious. The investment of time and energy in the CFI as a person and whole aviator has resulted in such a positive and supportive CFI culture that it overflows into a positive and supportive customer experience at this school.

The CFI is the face of a flight school and the face of aviation as a whole for our new pilots in training. Efforts that show school leadership has an interest and values its CFIs are modeling the behavior we expect to be projected by the CFI to our customers.  As humans we tend to emulate behaviors that are modeled for us. So you may not have the NTSB training center with the pieced together remains of TWA flight 800 in your backyard, but there is always some type of experience you can make available for your staff to feed their own desires as a pilot and a person.

What do you do to create a positive CFI culture?

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

 

Soloing is overrated

I think most of us would agree that landing is probably the most difficult single task that we have to learn as aviators. The pressure of learning to solo was used by the military in WWII when we had to have an efficient system to weed out those that either didn’t have the commitment or “natural ability.”  It was then baked into tradition and it carried on as the former military pilots and instructors shaped the civilian training programs. So it goes today, the vast majority of would-be pilots have to demonstrate that they can do the most difficult thing first before we will show them the other two-thirds of training.

So I have to wonder, is solo-first the best way to make more pilots? Many say that they know a person will finish if they make it through solo. What about the students who dropped out before solo? Were they really incapable of flying? Maybe they began to think that all you do in flying is to go around in a circle and it’s not worth the money. Then they go to the Bahamas for a SCUBA diving trip. Did we need to lose all of these students?

From the standpoint of a recreational pilot in training beating up the pattern over and over again early in training can be quite demoralizing. Many of today’s potential pilots have never personally experienced what recreational aviation is prior to flight training because of things like airport fences and other exciting recreational options available to them. So without any context for what flying is like, the initial goal for these people is just taking off and getting in the air. We then put the most difficult challenge in the first third of training and if they are not a “natural” the difficulty of solo can easily eclipse the goal of just being above the ground–and they drop out.

Instead we could give them experiences of what flying after a certificate is like as they proceed through training by pushing the solo until two-thirds of the way through training. We can then keep the goal of finishing looking more and more attractive as the training becomes steadily more demanding. When the goal is bigger than the hurdle they will be more apt to stick it out and beat up the pattern later in training to earn their certificate because they have experienced the gold at the end of the rainbow.

There is nothing in the regulations that says that solo needs to be accomplished before moving on to navigation and other real world flying tasks. One thing I do know is that no one gets into flying to do laps around the airport. Part 61 says an applicant only needs 10 hours solo with some of that time required for cross-country and preparing for the checkride. Given that, we can definitely focus on landings a little later in the training process, smooth out the difficulty curve, and see more students become certificated pilots. Heck, there will be at least one landing to practice with every flight anyway.

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

Project Flight School: An end and a beginning

When consultants Rod and Mike first met with Nayda and the folks at Cirrus Aviation, the plan was to spend a few month together going through the business from top to bottom. The consultants would suggest changes, and Cirrus Aviation would try those changes and report on their success. But the relationship didn’t last as long as expected. Nayda was trying to run a business and be attentive to the consultant’s needs, and the consultants believed things were happening fast enough. Here’s Nadya’s take on the situation:

So the consulting relationship has come to an end a little prematurely. Quite alright, as I have learned several valuable lessons from the experience. First let’s talk about what a good consulting relationship should be. This is my second time getting consulting from an outside company and I have learned each time what I don’’t want in a consulting relationship next time around–just like an ex-boyfriend. And staying in line with that, learning what I do want, as well. First and foremost is a two-way street of communication. I want a company to come in and assess my needs by listening to me, looking at our existing business model, and then applying their expertise into the equation. Both experiences I’ve had have been in reverse order. In hindsight, my insight and my expertise is very important in this equation. I think a successful consultant will do more listening than speaking, more input than output, particularly in the discovery phase.

Point two is something that Mike mentioned and that is never to reveal our pricing. This is something I have done in good faith with the highest ethical intentions in mind and it has only created an absolute nightmare. I have customers line iteming me to death, and getting lost in such minutia, that they lose the whole point of their training: proficiency and competency. I am taking the line item back out of our marketing materials and I’’m getting smart about it. Mike said sell the emotional side of things. He’’s absolutely right. I know it, I’’ve said it, and I’’ve even trained my staff to sell the sizzle not the steak. But I need to take it a step further, and I fully intend to.

Before they parted ways Rod and Mike gave Nayda a list of priorities they believed would help turn around the business. Much of this is an extension of issues the two sides had already discussed, but it helps illuminate their vision of how the consulting process went, and how Nayda should continue.

Continue reading

Project Flight School: Package pricing practice: Does it work?

This is Cirrus Aviation’s Nayda Cattin on the package pricing ideas that were presented last time.

In meeting with Rod and Mike we discussed in further detail the three program ideas that they presented to us last week. The first idea that we discussed was the “Try Your Wings Program.” I was very excited to hear about this and I think that it will be a great qualifier for our potential customers. The second idea we discussed was a type of package that would suit the businessman type. This program will be able to help businessmen get into their private planes, help them with any tax write-off’s and any other matters of that variety. Plus, we would also be available for any maintenance and help that they might need down the road. The third idea we discussed in the meeting was the “LSA Market Package.” While we were very excited about LSA when it first came about, I am now a little hesitant about it. Rod and Mike brought up very valid points in the meeting about using LSA from a marketing standpoint but I am still not convinced. We have seen from previous experiences a different clientele than expected from using LSA. I find that the clientele and their needs outweigh our profit in the situation for the amount of work that is required. Talking about this brought us to a great point where we realized that it is beneficial to use the LSA marketing as a tool for those people that we see get their medicals but don’t pursue getting their license. This tactic would be a great tool to help reconnect with these individuals to try to bring them back in and this is definitely something that we will revisit in the future.

Another thing that I have gotten out of the meeting is that it feels like Mike and Rod are still trying to convince me on their ideas. We have gone over them and I am on board and ready to get started. Time is playing a vital factor in this project and unfortunately we do not have a lot of it, so planning successfully is the key. I think that the ideas that we discussed will be very beneficial and I can’t wait to get started on them. I am ready for this project to move forward and with this these changes we have also discussed a marketing budget. To build this necessary budget we will increase our instructor rates by two dollars an hour, bringing it to $57. This will help us create a fund that we are able to dip into while we are getting everything going, including the website. With everything hashed out, next week we will look forward to dissecting the details even further and starting to implement some of these ideas. I want us to team up and be able to structure these packages and make them marketable.

To sum up what I have gotten out of this meeting is a lot of input but I’m not sure that it is necessarily tailored to my business. I feel as though they have done a great job researching what they can online and by talking with me a few times about what it is our business does and stands for. Still I am not sure if they know everything they need about Cirrus Aviation. At this point I am a little hesitant because I am not quite sure what my role is in this process. Do I listen to all of the ideas and jump on board with them immediately or do I intervene and add my opinions? I guess I am still feeling out our relationship as a client and an advisor to what suits our business the best.

Project Flight School: Package pricing

As turnaround specialists Mike Dempsy and Rod Beck began working with Cirrus Aviation’s Nayda Cattin, one of the first ideas to experiment with at the school centers around the concept of package pricing, selling value, and how to get over price objections on the phone. Below is the advice Dempsy and Beck gave Cattin.

The pricing below and the way to package it are suggestions. We have come up with a price that will build profitability into each program. Price is always going to be a part of the equation because everyone is after the most bang for the buck. The presentation and close are things most people don’t think about, yet are the most important parts of the business.

SPECIAL PROMOTIONAL PRICES

“Try Your Wings”

Plan 1 – Cessna Skycatcher 162: $795

Course includes: 4 hours flight instruction, 2 hours briefing/debriefing

Flight logbook and basic flight manual

 Plan 2 – Cessna 172S: $895

Course includes: 4 hours flight instruction, 2 hours briefing/debriefing

Flight logbook and basic flight manual

 

“Top Gun” Solo Course

 Plan 1 – Cessna Skycatcher 162: $3.495

 Course includes: 16 hours flight instruction, 8 hours briefing/debriefing

Flight logbook and basic flight manual

 Plan 2 – Cessna 172S: $3,795

Course includes: 16 hours flight instruction, 8 hours briefing/debriefing

Flight logbook and basic fight manual

NOTE: All programs are prepaid for special pricing

When offering packages they should be geared toward the goal of getting the prospect all the way to a certificate. This is an upsell approach that many flight schools do not use. But the opportunity is really there. So how do we deal with the common objection of, “The Top-Gun solo package is a lot more expensive than if I bought per flight hour.” The usual answer is to discount until the customer thinks the price is worth the package. A better strategy is to say, “We find our pilots save money by purchasing the package because they are more motivated to finish up quickly.” An alternative is to say, “Instead of us spending most of your time retraining the previous instruction, students who buy the package (at full price) are more apt to finish the course and reach their goals in a lot less time.”

Are the above statements accurate? I think that someone who flies more frequently picks up on the lessons quicker. The buyer wants the product that gives him the best chance of completing his training and realizing his goals.

We can also handle it in a context based on your actual experience with instructors. Do this by stressing the completion rate and the price savings. To the client it sounds like, “In our 18 years of experience training students, over time we see this program as being the most cost effective way of you achieving your goals.”  Then don’t forget to work on closing the deal by asking if they have time to come by the school today, when they want to start, when they want to get on the schedule, or when a flight instructor can call them back.

Make the proposition simple and interesting. They call and you outline the course for them. At that point, get them talking about the motivation for the course. Start at the top course involving the Garmin G1000-equipped Cessna Skyhawk and why this is really the way to go. If they balk because of cost or other reasons, start working down. Offer the Top Gun program. Say, “Most people who have wanted to learn how to fly actually get to solo an airplane and make the decision from there.” If that doesn’t work, go to the “Try your wings” course. A no response here is a rudder kicker! They may want to go a la carte, but at least you identified someone wanting to learn how to fly.

The real key with pricing and talking pricing on the phone is not doing too much on the phone or via e-mail. Get them to stop in to meet with a flight instructor or see the business.  Don’t spend a lot of time giving all the information on the phone. They’ll have no reason to sign up, and they control the purchase. Turning the questions around on them like, “Do you live in Sarasota?” And, “When would you like to stop in and see us?”

Appointments are the name of the game. You will be surprised by your success if you can get that action put into the thinking. Our Internet department went from a 11 percent lead to close, to a 41 percent lead to close by implementing this as the only thing you are doing. It works. And if you do one thing figure this out. Chances are, most of the time the person will purchase something other than they inquired about. They may think they want the 6-months to private course, and end up buying the LSA course. Either way, you win.

The next update of Project Flight School will Cirrus Aviation’s reaction and experience with implementing the course pricing practice.

 

 

 

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.

Project Flight School: An introduction and perspective

The Center to Advance the Pilot Community would like to introduce Project Flight School. The Center has arranged to have business consultants work directly with a flight school. Our goal is to discover if applied business principles can make a difference in the success of a flight school, and we are putting that concept to the test in the real world. No matter the outcome we will gain actionable insight through the process.. So look for video, blogs and articles about Project Flight School in Flight School Business, the Flight School Business Facebook page, and the FSB Learning Curve blog. We invite members of the flight school community to follow, weigh in, and make suggestions during this project as it unfolds over the next eight months. In other words, there will be plenty of opportunity to become a part of the dialogue.

The main players for our first Project Flight School will be Mike Dempsey, Rod Beck, and Nayda Cattin. Mike and Rob are businessmen who have seen success both outside and inside aviation and believe that flight schools can be profitable. They will be introducing themselves through blog posts during this project. Additionally you can look at their company’s blog to get a feel of their perspective. Nayda Cattin is the co-owner and business manager of Cirrus Aviation flight school in Sarasota Florida. She has been in business for 18 years and we will be posting a video introduction to her flight school, maintenance, and pilot shop operations.

Why is the Center to Advance the Pilot Community involved with the business of flight schools? Here is my perspective sitting in the copilot’s seat next to Adam Smith as we line up on the centerline and push in the throttle. I am feeling both humble before the complexity of the flight in front of us and confident that we will be successful on this mission. We have goals to assist all along the pilot continuum from reengaging certificate holders to bolstering the number of pilots in training. I agree with many who have said the CFI is at the center of the largest opportunity we have to make an impact on sustaining the pilot community. We will be contributing directly to CFIs in a number of ways. What my background in business, education, and instructing lifestyle pursuits SCUBA Diving and Skydiving has also shown me is that the experience of customers is often impacted by other things in the overall training environment. So to this end it is in the best interest of the current and future pilot community that we have both successful CFIs and successful flight schools.

In talking to flight schools, some define success a little differently than  I always had in business. Many told me they were successful because they were still in business. While that sentiment seems to be widespread among aviation businesses, to those of us  from other industries success is being profitable. People have shown there is money to be made in aviation. From the Center’s perspective, if your business is in a better financial situation you will be in a position to offer a better value experience to aviation’s newest pilots and keep the current pilots engaged through improved facilities, selectivity/matching of instructors, aircraft, and more attention available to devote to customer and flying community experiences. The value of the pilot experience is what will get pilots to complete training and stay active, especially as we compete with other value experiences such as riding motorcycles and boating. Just because we love aviation doesn’t mean we can’t show the value in our environment and services, which can make our businesses profitable.

–Shannon Yeager, vice president of strategic initiatives

Energize the base – Part 2

This is part 2 of a two-part series from Bob Hepp, the owner of Aviation Adventures, winner of a 2012 Flight Training Excellence Award, and the 2012 Student’s Choice Award.

The flight training industry is starting to catch on to a concept the recreational Scuba diving industry has known for years–organizing and executing group fly-outs can be big for business, both in terms of immediate and long-term business. These are all trips we have done in the past, and continue to do now:

Hudson River Excursion – We depart our Washington, D.C., Metro airports to meet at Monmouth Executive Airport (KBLM) for a pilot prebrief. We depart Monmouth in single file, 1100’, and 110 KIAS for Apple intersection. No matter how many times you make this trip, it never fails to amaze all on board. Sights include Flushing Bay, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governor’s Island, the East River, the USS Intrepid with the Concorde and the Space Shuttle, the incomparable Manhattan skyline now complete with the Freedom Tower, Central Park, LaGuardia Airport, Newark Airport, and the George Washington Bridge…all from 1,100 feet! Some recommendations: Be sure all pilots complete the NYC Exclusion Zone course at www.faasafety.gov, check NOTAMs for sporting events and other events that establish TFRs in the Exclusion Zone, ensure there is a New York Terminal Area chart in each aircraft, as instructions and reporting points for the Hudson River trip are on the back side.

Oshkosh – The mecca of general aviation. This is the eighth year we have made the pilgrimage. The past four years we have joined with a group of Israeli pilots who rent our airplanes and hire our instructors for the trip. The trip departs the Washington, D.C., area on Sunday morning and proceeds to Dayton, Ohio, where the group tours the Air Force Museum. Monday morning we depart early, stop for fuel, then fly up the Chicago shoreline beneath the Bravo airspace to rendezvous at Dodge County Airport (KUNU). There we check the OSH ATIS and do a final brief before departing in line for the Oshkosh arrival procedure. The remainder of Mon, Tues and Wed are spent experiencing the greatest aviation event on earth. Thursday morning brings an early launch, back down the Chicago shoreline, then across the southern shore of Lake Erie to a few turns around Niagara Falls and an overnight in Niagara, New York. Friday morning we head south and do the Hudson River Tour on the way back home.

Tangier Island – One of the local gems in the Washington, D.C., area is Tangier Island (KTGI). Tangier is the southernmost Virginia island in the Chesapeake Bay. From spring through fall it has a population of about 900 and is an active crabbing island. Early inhabitants of the island were British sailors wounded in the attack on Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. Tangier Island is the only place on earth that Elizabethan English is still spoken, and most of the island residents still bear one of the four last names from the wounded sailors. Hilda Crocket’s Chesapeake House will serve you a memorable family-style meal of local fare. Tangier is small enough that you can walk the entire island in about 45 minutes. A trip to Tangier Island is like leaving the country without needing your passport.

Ski Trips – Once a year, usually in January, we do a fly-out trip to a local ski area with a nearby airport. The Wisp Ski Resort and the Garrett County Airport (4G4) in western Maryland have been our choices for the past several years. An early morning departure and a mid-afternoon return give us about four to five hours on the slopes. The Garrett County Transit system will shuttle your group to and from the slopes in a 15-passenger van for a few dollars a rider. Every inauguration day most government employees are off, so we depart Washington before the airspace closure, ski all day, and return after the airspace re-opens.

Fly and Float – The summer-time flying adventure is flying to an airport close to a canoe livery. We use the Front Royal Airport (KFRR) and the Shenandoah Canoe Company gladly picks us up, outfits us with canoes, kayaks, or rafts and drops us upriver into the beautifully placid Shenandoah River. After a lunch stop at the Shenandoah Canoe company snack trailer, we are back on the river for a few more hours of relaxation before being met at a takeout point and returned to the airport.

Amusement Park Trip – It is no small secret that most pilots are adrenalin junkies. No better way to feed that craving than a visit to Cedar Point, Ohio, the roller-coaster capital of the world. The Sandusky Airport is unfortunately scheduled to close this winter, but the Port Clinton Airport (KPCW) is about the same distance from the park. Be sure to experience the Top Fuel Dragster–zero to your hair straight back in milliseconds, then straight up, straight down with a 270 degree twist and done in less than 18 seconds.

Motorcycle Ride – We discovered that a great number of pilots are also bikers. We have heard that is because there are two types of people, those that enjoy operating in three dimensions and those that don’t. An organized ride to a good restaurant along a good route is always fun. We have done these rides together with a fly-out to a restaurant near an airfield.

Does your school do similar trips? Share them in the comments section.

Energize the base – Part 1

This is part 1 of a two-part series from Bob Hepp, the owner of Aviation Adventures, winner of a 2012 Flight Training Excellence Award, and the 2012 Student’s Choice Award.

All flight school and flying club operators are interested in increasing the flying activity at their organization. There are many ways to do that. The most difficult and expensive way is to spend precious marketing dollars on advertising, or spend time and dollars to participate in local open houses and airshows. The easiest and most effective way is to energize your base.

During every election cycle we hear we hear more and more about the political parties energizing their bases in support of their slate of candidates. That is the process of reaching out to their established supporters – the base – to contribute money and time to effectively influence the undecided voters. Every flight school and club has a similar base of pilots and students flying with them. Students are usually singularly focused on completing their next rating. Most of the other pilots are looking for something to do with their pilot certificate, or are in search of the next aviation challenge. Offering classes, seminars and fly-out trips fills that need for your base. It costs a school next to nothing to reach out to their base via e-mail to promote these activities. Classes are pure profit for the school and the instructor. Below is a list of classes, seminars and trips that have proven very popular at our school.

Rusty Pilot Seminar – Our first Rusty Pilot Seminar quickly filled to capacity. The 4-hour session focuses on weather, FARs, airspace, and aeromedical subjects. Attendees are given credit for the oral portion of a flight review. They are also encouraged to schedule the flight portion of their flight review that afternoon or soon after. Attendees include pilots who have been away from flying for a while, flying pilots looking to brush up on certain areas or prep for a flight review, and private students preparing for an upcoming checkride. We are discussing bringing in a medical examiner to conduct on-site medical exams to make it truly one stop shopping for rusty pilots getting back in the air.

Meet the Examiners Seminar – This idea came from AOPA’s study into the ideal flight training experience and has been off-the-scale popular. We bring in all of the local designated pilot examiners to offer pilots with upcoming checkrides the opportunity to meet all of the local examiners and ask them any question in a non-pressure environment. The examiners take about 10 minutes each to give a small presentation on a relevant topic of their choice, then field questions from the audience. The last half of the evening is a wide open forum for questions from the audience. This gives pilot applicants the opportunity to interview the available examiners and come away with tips and recommendations for a successful checkride.  It also gives the examiners the opportunity to distribute their contact information. Our examiners have arranged for Wings credit through the FAAST program. Attendees include pilots preparing for checkrides, pilots interested in pursuing professional development and Wings credit, and even examiners from other districts interested in establishing a similar program. There is no fee for this seminar and some of the local flight schools have provided light refreshments.

Right Seat Class – This class is for the non-flying significant other. There are three objectives to this class: 1. Present sufficient aerodynamic theory, system redundancy information, and ATC communication information to calm the nervous passenger, 2.Provide an overview of what the pilot is doing during different phases of flight and what the right seater could do to help out, and 3. Emergency action training so the non-pilot can get the airplane safely on the ground in the case of pilot medical incapacitation. Attendees with a particular interested in further emergency training are encouraged to schedule time with an instructor to practice tuning radios, making a specialized Mayday call, and guiding the plane to a safe approach and landing.

High Altitude Class – This class covers the topics identified in FAR 61.31(g)(1) and a few more. Attendees receive an endorsement for the ground portion of the high altitude endorsement. If your school has access to an aircraft certified for a flight above FL250, a quick out and back hop to altitude with a discussion of normal and emergency pressurization operations will complete the entire endorsement. If you have an altitude chamber locally, you may be able to arrange a “ride” in the chamber.

Specialty Aircraft Classes – These classes provide your base with an option to get up to speed on a new aircraft or system and are less expensive than one-on-one instruction. Examples include Garmin G1000, complex and high performance, multiengine, tailwheel, or any of the high flying single engine aircraft. Each aircraft manufacturer has a training program for flight instructors that provide them with excellent training materials. We encourage pilots to have some fun on their next flight review and get a tailwheel, high performance or complex endorsement, a Cessna Corvalis TT checkout, or add a multiengine rating.

Knowledge Exam Prep Seminar – From time to time we have a cluster of students who have completed the computer-based instruction course for the Private, Instrument or Commercial Knowledge Exam and need a little polish and a confidence boost to take the test. This is a lower cost option for them than one-on-one instruction and is the push they need to get the knowledge exam behind them.

Next time I’ll cover the absolute best thing you can do to show your students the joy of flying – fly-out trips.

-Bob Hepp, owner of Aviation Adventures