July 29, 2011
By Jill W. Tallman
Redbird Flight Simulations and King Schools announced July 29 a state-of-the-art aviation research and development laboratory with a working flight school that will open in November. The facility will study curricula, practices, recruitment of students, and all other aspects of flight training to gather measurable data about what’s working and what isn’t.
Currently under construction in San Marcos, Texas, Redbird Skyport will open Nov. 8 and will include a Part 141 flight school and fixed-base operator that will train students for the private, instrument, commercial, and CFI certificates. The students who progress through the flight school, called ProFlight Academy, will serve as “lab rats” for the laboratory, according to Redbird Chairman Jerry Gregoire.
Everyone in the aviation industry wants to remedy the growing problem of student pilot retention, and everyone has their own theory about what’s driving it, Gregoire said. “You can’t [fix] what you can’t measure,” he said, adding that the students who progress through ProFlight will give the laboratory measurable data.
Every aviation company and organization will be asked to feed projects to the lab, and the results will be shared with everyone in the industry, Gregoire said. “As a step toward fixing the problems with flight training, it’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start,” he said.
ProFlight Academy enrollees will undertake scenario-based training that utilizes Cessna’s online scenario-based training as well as utilization of Redbird simulators. Students grow frustrated when training time drags on and on because of weather delays, airplane mechanical issues, or other problems, said King Schools President John King. As they spend more money to complete training, they become even more disenchanted. “Can you imagine if, every time you scheduled a lesson, you did something—flew an airplane, a simulator, or did ground training …. If you incorporate a sim, you can have a predictable schedule, predictable costs for the customer, and predictable revenue for the flight school. How much of the frustration would that remove from the process?” he said.
King also pointed to the scenario-based training that ProFlight will utilize, saying that it will enhance safety. Students will be trained to be risk managers for each and every flight, he said.
AOPA President Craig Fuller praised the project as a whole as well as the use of simulators in the program, saying, “I’m excited to see some of the breakthrough thinking represented by Redbird.” Student pilots who participated in AOPA’s Flight Training Retention Initiative survey identified simulators as valuable tools that allow them to train more cost effectively. Redbird Skyport “will give all of us a chance to try the best ideas and see if they can make a difference,” he added.
The federal aviation regulations allow 2.5 hours of simulator time to be logged in pursuit of a private pilot certificate, but the ability to log additional simulator time isn’t the issue, said Martha King. The time spent in a simulator provides proficiency, she said. If students are taking 60 to 70 hours to finish, they’re still coming out ahead if they complete the 35 hours (for Part 141 schools) that the regulations call for plus another 15 hours in a simulator. “We need to have instructors who see their role in life as instructors, not to build time,” Martha King added, noting that CFIs can’t log the time students spend in a simulator.
Redbird Skyport is supported by AOPA, Avemco, Cessna, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and other industry partners, Redbird said. A grand opening is planned for Nov. 8 and will be open to the public. Following the opening, Skyport will host a flight training symposium to introduce the project to flight schools from around the world. The symposium will focus on solutions that flight schools could implement in the short term to help business, such as methods to reach the training market with a targeted message.
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.
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