Top flight schools, CFIs honored

October 10, 2012

FT excellence winners
Presenting  the winners of the inaugural Flight Training Excellence Awards.  From left to right: Doris Gatewood, Aviation Adventures, Ray DeHaan, Aviation Adventures, Kevin Bradford, Outstanding CFI, Kelby Ferwerda, Rochester Aviation, Nohea Nichols, Rochester Aviation, Benjamin Paradis, The Flight School, Inc., Caro Maitland, The Flight School, Inc., Dr. John VanPaasschen, The Flight School, Inc., John Amundsen, Tailwheels Etc., Jerry Gergoire, Redbird Skyport, Craig Fuller, Rod Machado, Devan Shepherd, Outstanding CFI, Ben Walton, Summit Flight School, Stacey Deal, Aviation Adventures, Bob Hepp, Aviation Adventures.

Some of the top aviation training professionals in the industry were honored Oct. 10 during the AOPA Flight Training Summit in Palm Springs, Calif. AOPA’s inaugural Flight Training Excellence Awards were created to recognize flight schools and flight instructors who contribute to an optimal training experience and encourage best practices.

The new award program, announced in January, is part of AOPA’s Flight Training Initiative, designed to focus on improving the flight training experience and ensuring that more student pilots are able to earn their certificates. It is overseen by AOPA’s new Center to Advance the Pilot Community, created to arrest a decline in the pilot population.

The awards were created to recognize flight schools and independent training professionals who put best practices to work every day. They will be given annually to flight schools and independent flight training providers who exhibit the highest levels of success.

Flight school awards

Safety and community draw students to the East Hill Flying Club in Ithaca, N.Y. Chief CFI David St. George said the staff works hard to cultivate the group through social media and events. But the school isn’t all fun and games. St. George and others have toed the delicate line between a fun and easygoing atmosphere and an unwavering commitment to safety. Culture of safety >>

Redbird’s incubator school Skyport in San Marcos, Texas, is testing theories about the nature of the flight training business. The school has been running numerous experiments throughout its first year of operation to find ways to lower the number of training hours needed in an airplane. Test bed >>

When Rochester Aviation came to Skyhaven Airport in Rochester, N.H., a few years ago, there were more broken airplanes on the ramp than those that worked. Year-over-year growth of between 30 and 50 percent is changing that broken culture. Flight school growth >>

About 95 percent of Summit Aviation’s instructors used to be its students. The Montana school has a robust safety program, mentors its flight instructors and manages them closely, has great airplanes, and ensures all staff members are well versed in sales. Balanced, proactive business approach >>

A sign with the words “We can do it” hangs in the lobby of The Flight School in Cypress, Texas. And according to owner Benjamin Paradis, it’s not an empty promise. That positive attitude runs through everything the school does. Paradis says they have trained deaf and disabled pilots, most of whom other schools would probably turn away. Encouraging students >>

Aviation Adventures in Virginia has strict standards for its flight instructors and focuses on interpersonal skills to provide a better training experience for its students. Plus the school offers regular fly-outs to great destinations such as the Bahamas and the Hudson River corridor. Focus on instructors >>

Flight instructor awards

Kevin Bradford, Dubuque, Iowa. Bradford’s model to “keep it fun” includes dual cross-countries for his commercial students under Chicago’s busy Class B airspace and a tour of the skyline and Lake Michigan. Fun learning opportunities >>

Devan Shepherd, Shoreview, Minn. This software development company owner instructs part time to “encourage new pilots, support GA, ensure retention, and keep older pilots flying.” Helping GA >>

Tailwheels Etc., Lakeland, Fla. This school sees many “finish-up” students who have tried—and tried—to complete a pilot certificate elsewhere and come perilously close to dropping out. Tailwheels gets the job done—so well that the school has a number of repeat customers who return for additional ratings and certificates. Finish up >>

Timothy Miller, West Jordan, Utah. The CEO and adjunct professor instructs on weekends to decompress. His students rave that he is dedicated to their success as well as their safety. CEO puts on teacher’s hat >>