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Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

Business basics

Are you driving away customers?

The most frequent grumble I hear about flight training is that it isn't conducted in a very businesslike fashion.

The people who tell me this are typically successful people. Chances are they reached this level of success by working in a businesslike atmosphere. They have become attracted to flying, and they are excited about it. Learning to fly will be one of the more expensive activities they have ever undertaken on their own money--and, in their mind, one of the most daring.

Then they--eagerly--call the flight school. Perhaps from the Yellow Pages (that's the way I did it, some 39 years ago), or perhaps on the recommendation of a friend.

Many of them tell me that it goes downhill from here.

Their first contact at the flight school--often their first contact with the world of general aviation--is the person who answers the phone, who is often less than excited to talk to them. Face it, if the person answering the phone has been around more than a couple of weeks he/she has learned--been trained, actually--to believe that a student is socially the low-ranking person at the airport. The prospective student is told, "You'll have to talk to a flight instructor."

Boy--talk about throwing cold water on a project!

The would-be pilot finally talks with a CFI, and again meets much less than the businesslike attitude she has learned to expect in her business dealings. She makes an appointment anyway and heads to the airport.

At the front desk she is again reminded of her unimportance, when informed that she will "have" to wait for the CFI, who is still "up flying." When said CFI does arrive he will often look more like a kid in a coffee shop than like a professional. The CFI will continue to grind down the enthusiasm of the would-be pilot by letting her know that this learning to fly stuff is pretty mundane--perhaps even boring.

The CFI has no business card and seems to have a rather lackadaisical attitude toward appointments. Sometimes said CFI is late or even cancels preset appointments.

At no point in the entire process does anyone at the school treat the would-be pilot as if they are the person who has just decided to spend thousands of dollars to purchase a highly technical degree.

The big question is, what can you, the CFI, do to improve this situation? Please send me an e-mail and let me know your thoughts on this subject (I've been working with CFIs on this for more than 30 years). Or write to tell me how wrong you think I am. Future columns will be based in part on what I hear from you.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying since 1971 and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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