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Professionally Speaking

A fix for flight schools

Management must be involved

In my last two columns I lamented the lack of customer service and marketing at the typical flight school, and invited comments. I anticipated being attacked from all sides, and waited nervously for students, CFIs, and flight schools to berate me.

The results were amazing. Students and CFIs did respond in large numbers, and those who did agreed with the column. A few did say that their school was great, but the norm was truly sad. We originally had ideas of printing most of the comments, but there were just too many.

Your comments changed my mind about one thing. I may get my head lopped off for saying this, but those of you who wrote convinced me that the real solution lies not with CFIs, but with flight school management. Even those who said they did have a good flight school credited good management as a large part of the reason. Many readers pointed out that they visited several bad schools before they found one good school.

It makes sense. We know that management is an important part of success in every other business. Why would it be different in flight training?

Over the decades, how many FBOs have I seen at which fuel, charter, and aircraft sales took place in a spit-and-polish building with charming service people catering to the every need of the customer, while the flight training was exactly the opposite--perhaps even in another building?

We received comments from CFIs who said that they were hired, given no training by the school--not even an orientation tour--and told that their first student was scheduled for that day. I remember trying to teach customer service and marketing to CFIs decades ago. It has finally dawned on me that we got results only when management was involved and backing up the program.

Piper had excellent learn-to-fly programs back in the 1970s, and my job was to introduce them to flight schools. Half the job was convincing management and CFIs that these programs were best for their students--which they were. Years later I worked with AOPA's Project Pilot program. I had better support from management, and got better results.

We're talking simple but very powerful ways to attract customers and keep them excited about learning to fly. Give them a tour of your facilities. Wear a very basic uniform--maybe khaki pants and blue shirts--because it looks so much better and because it lets customers know who works at the school.

Every flight school should have customer service as its primary goal. We are--here I go again--now competing with people who are doing it right: skiing, motorcycling, boating, scuba diving, and a million other alternatives that make it fun and exciting to join up and stay involved. We, too, have to do our best.

How many times lately have you seen a group of motorcycles cruising together? You can bet your last dollar that the motorcycle dealer treats them like what they are--good customers.

Get management involved. Explain that you want to provide the very best training and need management's help and support. You might be surprised.

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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