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Professionally Speaking

Selling flight training

A new approach

Retired master Cessna Pilot Center manager Jim Hackman and I have discussed the business of flight training over many years. So far, we have not solved the problem. The industry itself has changed little over the years, which can be a heartbreak for those who believe flight training could be a thriving industry.

The problem seems to me to be a lack of customer service and salesmanship. Yes, there are flight schools that excel in these areas, but the industry itself does not.

Many people see the problem as being the relatively high cost of learning to fly. Yet other high-cost activities and products thrive. Perhaps we should just accept the fact that flying is an upscale activity and market it as such.

First, perhaps we should not let anyone sell flight instruction unless they want to sell flight instruction. Today, we leave marketing and sales to CFIs who often admit that they don't want to sell at all.Should we hire a sales force to sell and let CFIs do the teaching? Should we aim our marketing at higher-income people as Harley Davidson does? I think about this each time I pass the Harley Davidson products store in the airport. That store is obviously making a profit selling T-shirts and other motorcycle paraphernalia. Not only does it make a profit, but it acquires walking billboards for the real product: expensive motorcycles. Could this possibly work in aviation?

Our sales force would make its living selling flight instruction. They would spend their days giving professional sales presentations to flight training prospects. Everyone who called the flight school requesting info on learning to fly would be turned over to the sales pros.

Would this raise the price of training? Possibly, but not necessarily. It could be argued that more students would be acquired and that would lower the fixed cost--insurance, interest, building rent--of each student. The answer remains to be seen.

Interestingly, the sales force might improve the life of the CFI, who then could concentrate on instructing. The sales force would push to upgrade the appearance and cooperation of CFIs, who still would take prospective students on intro flights. Salespeople would quickly learn which CFIs brought back enthusiastic prospects and which didn't--developing a relationship between CFIs and salespeople.

Would all of this really work? It works well in other areas, both in and out of aviation. We cannot be sure, but it might be among the cheapest changes we could make. I think we should try it, big time.

Are any of you involved in such a marketing program? Or, do you know any school using such a system? I certainly would like to know how it's working.

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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