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Professionally Speaking

Customer service

Why aren't flying schools doing more?

In "Professionally Speaking: Business Basics" (May 2008 AOPA Flight Training), I cited some of the customer service problems found in many flight schools and asked for your comments. Interestingly, all of the respondents were students or former students who agreed with me.

I was saddened at their reports.

I worried that the unenthusiastic attitude displayed by many CFIs and flight schools is turning off potential students. They arrive excited and are met with ennui.

John Grammer said he had experienced everything I discussed at every contact with a flight school. He also pointed out that sport flying provides opportunities for new training, but said CFIs seem uninterested.

I've got to agree with Grammer on that one. Light sport aircraft (LSA) have indeed produced a lot of enthusiasm. As I was writing this, the annual Sun 'n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Florida, was producing excitement and interest with a growing area set aside for LSA. That has created new prospective students, but some report that when such prospects show up to inquire about LSA training, CFIs talk them out of it.

As a student, Jeff Bennett had so many complaints that he gave up and started his own flight school--before he even earned his private pilot certificate! The school was 82 days old when he wrote, and not only had Bennett earned his private, but the school had just soloed its first student, Jerry. A few of Bennett's problems when he was learning from others: He felt "like an alien" because he was not in the "club of pilots." His instructor seemed "bored with his job." No one would return his calls when he asked about instruction. The airplanes never seemed to be available.

When Bennett started his own flight school, the Cessna Pilot Center people asked him how he was going to find and keep students. "I am," Bennett said, "going to answer the phone."

Student pilot Virgil Kent wrote that I was "right on the money." He further said that--read carefully, now--"I own what I think could be called a successful business, and you are right. You pay a lot of money for training and consequently have certain realistic expectations. Most students who can afford flight training also have friends who can afford flight training. If students are happy with their instructor, they are going to refer the instructor to their friends and colleagues. I hear instructors complain they are not making enough money. Maybe they are not approaching it as a business."

These reports came from students. I hope some of you CFIs will write back with your side of the story.

My e-mail is ralph@ralphhood.com.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying since 1971 and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time.

By Ralph Hood

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