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Professionally Speaking

Sales versus flight instructing

Schools weigh in

We don't get cards and letters any more, but we do get—and appreciate—e-mails. In my last column I wondered if perhaps we should have professional salespeople selling flight instruction, leaving CFIs to teach. I requested comments, and we got them.

I asked if anyone knew of flight schools at which sales are handled by professionals. I found that such schools are out there and often doing very well. James "Jim" Mackay's e-mail mentioned San Diego Flight Training International as a prime example. I talked with Phil Thalheimer of that school. He said CFIs like it because it leaves them free to fly more. Thalheimer likes it because it gives him more control over the sales process and it does work.

Stan Ross of Wings Aviation Services in the Minneapolis area, says he and the chief pilot work together. The chief pilot answers technical questions about learning to fly. Ross explains pricing, packages, and programs. He says they are "extremely effective" at making the sale in one presentation.

Mike Camelin of SunState Aviation Flight School in Orlando, Florida, says when it comes to real flight school "salespeople, I guess I are one." Camelin is not the typical high-pressure salesperson type, but "more of a consultant." I was glad to hear that. I wrote in this column long ago that consultative selling is a great way to sell flight training. It must work; SunState, Camelin says, "is consistently in the top 10 in sales among Cessna Pilot Centers."

Ron Young, airline pilot and president of ProFlight Training Academy Inc. in Jackson, Michigan, says, "We have a marketing staff that goes out selling and advertising." "Our instructors do not sell. They do what they were hired for and that is to teach."

A very in-depth e-mail came from Shawn Pratt, vice president and chief flight instructor of Northwest Aviation Academy and Aviation Flight School in Washington state. Northwest has a marketing manager and CFIs are left to teach, but they do have customer service duties. Pratt stresses that the goal is to convert those "interested in flying" into students who complete flight training.

It should be noted that one CFI (who shall remain nameless lest his school take exception) works at a school that uses professional salespeople. This CFI says it "disgusts" him, because the salespeople seem untrained and inadequate.

He has a point. If we change to professional salespeople, there will be problems that must be handled. But we have problems now operating with CFIs who don't want to sell. It might well be easier to switch and train the sales force.

The e-mails were very informative. I do plan to drop in on some of these schools as my travels allow and will report back.

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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