Four tips to increase student retention

Ever since I began flight training in 2008, the same question regularly comes up around the airport. “Why aren’t more people coming out to learn to fly?” Given that I was still early in my lessons when first confronted with this industry-wide dilemma, I was baffled–learning to fly was simply the greatest life experience (and investment) possible. I was living my dream for what amounted to the cost of a short-term car payment (more on that later). So, why didn’t others feel the same way?

I started digging into this issue when soon enough my own “plight of flight” set in. Weather started hampering my schedule, and with a three-hour round-trip drive to the airport only to find upon arrival that crosswinds now exceeded the Thorpedo’s limitations, the process quickly grew old. If it were not for the great relationship with my CFI and genuine enjoyment drawn from every lesson (even those on the ground), Mother Nature combined with what soon became one mechanical obstacle after another surely would have shooed me away.

Now, five years later with close to 100 aviation lectures under my belt, I realize that cost itself is not the barrier, but rather, value determines commitment. “How much am I willing to pay to live my dream?” In other words, if it costs me $6,000 to get my sport pilot certificate (and that is what I paid), it is only expensive if I am having a lousy time. If the experience is great, it’s a bargain.

So, what are some things the flight training industry (and pilot community in general) can do to stop losing eight of every 10 students? Here are four ideas:

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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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