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Professionally Speaking

Customer dissatisfaction

Flight schools must do better

Holy cow!

My May 2008 column lamented the unbusinesslike way in which flight training is often sold and conducted. I came down a bit hard on CFIs and invited comments. I had no idea what to expect but I did think that a few CFIs would write, calling me a no-account, ignorant jerk.

Boy, was I surprised. I was inundated with e-mail. Here's the big surprise--not a single one of those comments disagreed with my column. Not one. One student did say that he had found a professional, businesslike flight school--after careful research--on the first try. To that we say hallelujah! It's wonderful to know there are schools like that out there. I also got a letter--not an e-mail--from a flight school that is proud as punch of the job it is doing. I believe the correspondent. Interestingly, the school included the business cards of all its CFIs. Amazing--most CFIs don't even have business cards.

I got comments from successful businesspeople who were shocked by the lack of customer service and professionalism at flight schools. The comments covered all of the general complaints--airplanes and CFIs not available when scheduled rated high on the list, as did unprepared and evidently uninterested CFIs. Other staff people also caught their share of the flak. More than one person laid the problems--and the possibility of solutions--squarely on management. Why, they asked, would you expect the CFIs to be businesslike when management isn't?

One fellow said he was made to feel like he was at the bottom of the barrel when he walked in the door. Another said a flight school can make a person who has dreamed of flying all his life drop the idea on the spot.

But enough of this. It is obvious that we have a problem. And, to paraphrase Pogo, the most influential opossum in history, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

It is a fact that, in general, flight training is one of the most poorly marketed, sold, and delivered big-ticket recreational activities in this country. I said recreational activity to differentiate career-oriented flight training from recreational flight training paid for with money that could be spent on other activities. It is recreational customers that we serve most poorly. We don't even recognize that we are competing for dollars against motorcycling, skiing, and other adventure activities. This is an industry that is growing fast, and we are losing out.

I have a wonderful e-mail from a corporate vice president--obviously well informed on the basics of business--who suggests several steps we must take. My next column will explain and discuss those steps. (Hint: Make sure that your management sees this column, as most of the suggestions are for management.) Also, if you have your own suggestions, please send them to me.

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

By Ralph Hood

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