September 22, 2011
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association on Wednesday, September 21, 2011, hosted its second Flight Training Summit to help address the declining pilot population. Held the day before the AOPA Aviation Summit in Hartford, Conn. with nearly 100 fight training stakeholders in attendance, the Flight Training Summit covered lessons learned, steps taken, and future actions anticipated as a result of the working sessions at last year’s Summit and regional meetings held since then.
"We began the Flight Training Student Retention Initiative in 2010 because we realized there was a significant number of people taking the first step to becoming a pilot, but the majority of them never completed their training," said AOPA President and CEO Craig L. Fuller. "We commissioned an independent study to get a deeper, more objective view of the current flight training experience, but we knew that whatever we needed to improve, it would take the entire flight training community to address."
The 2010 research project modeled the optimal flight training experience for student pilots. This year, AOPA continued to get industry input when, between May and September 2011, the Association shared the results of that research with flight training providers and the rest of the general aviation community in twelve regional meetings. Two meetings were held in six cities – one in each corner of the continental United States and one each in the north-central and south-central parts of the country.
AOPA Director of Flight Training Initiatives Jennifer Storm, who led the regional meetings, presented highlights for the first time during Wednesday’s summit meeting. A final written report is expected by the end of October.
"Flight school owners and managers told us the underlying issue is a lack of small-business support that’s flight-school-specific," Storm said. "If we’re going to help student pilots succeed, we also need to support flight schools."
Acting on Actionable Information
Following Storm’s presentation, attendees broke into discussion groups to address five key areas critical to flight school business success: Finance and Accounting; Marketing and Advertising; Sales and Customer Service; Management and Leadership; and Safety/Risk Management and Insurance.
AOPA enlisted the support of partner associations to facilitate the discussion groups. Jason Blair, Executive Director of the National Association of Flight Instructors; Michael France, Manager of Regulatory Affairs for the National Air Transportation Association; Jens Hennig, Vice President of Operations for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, David Oord, Government and Advocacy Specialist for the Experimental Aircraft Association; and Doug Stewart, Chairman of the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators led each group. At the end of the summit, AOPA Chief Operating Officer Rob Moran moderated a panel of the facilitators to capture noteworthy points from the operator and the customer perspective. Several key themes emerged, including selling the experience rather than the certificate, the importance of instructor and staff professionalism, as well as recognizing outstanding employees, leading by example, and the value of delegation.
Steps to Help Student Pilots Now
Even as AOPA prepared for the regional meetings, the association recognized there were some things that could be done immediately to help student pilots directly.
One of the most ambitious is the MyFlightTraining program, an online personalized support system designed to help student pilots achieve their goal of earning a pilot certificate. During the summit, Storm unveiled a demo of MyFlightTraining, and announced that the association would be signing up student pilots to beta test the website at AOPA Aviation Summit.
MyFlightTraining breaks the training process into six milestones: introductory flight, first solo, student pilot certificate, solo cross-country, FAA knowledge test, and FAA practical test. As student pilots mark each milestone "complete," they are presented with information specific to the next phase of their flight training. Completing a milestone automatically enters the student in a sweepstakes that awards $1,000 for flight training – and $100 gift certificates for training products from ASA, Jeppesen, King Schools, and Sporty’s Pilot Shop – every month.
"We want to help student pilots over any hurdles they may encounter by providing timely, relevant information based on their training progress," said Storm. "And the sweepstakes is a nice added bonus to help defray some flight training expenses."
In order to support outstanding student pilots, AOPA launched the Flight Training Scholarship program, funding two $5,000 scholarships. Two of the leading producers of aviation training materials, ASA and Jeppessen, approached AOPA, each offering to fund an additional $5,000 scholarship. The four recipients of the scholarships will be announced during the Saturday keynote session on Sept. 24, 2011.
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