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Flight school spotlight: Tailwheels Etc.

Need more CFIs? Tailwheels trains its own—fast

At a time when most flight schools are struggling to find and keep quality instructors, a company in Florida has created a solution to quickly develop all the instructors it needs.

CFI Training Center, a division of Tailwheels Etc. in Lakeland, Florida, launched an accelerated CFI course in September 2015. Owner John Amundsen put me in touch with Project Coordinator Debbie Sparks to learn how they are successfully helping customers earn their initial CFI in three short weeks.

In the first year, 17 students completed the accelerated course, and 15 passed their FAA checkride on the first attempt. That’s an 88.2-percent pass rate, which is very impressive for the initial CFI.

This program is more than just a traditional course crammed into three weeks. Amundsen and his team have found a way to make it both fun and effective. Sparks said Amundsen is committed to hosting a free “hangar lunch” every Thursday for all customers and employees. Everyone pitches in, and Amundsen gives discounted flight time to employees who help with the cooking and cleanup. The weekly luncheon helps to build camaraderie and provides support to help keep everyone on track. The fun/family environment is an important part of the foundation that makes CFI Academy’s accelerated training so successful.

 “Never forget the fun factor,” Sparks said. “That’s what keeps them coming back.”

The training syllabus is similar to that of many other initial CFI programs; it’s just done at a much faster pace than most of us are used to. The first two weeks are ground instruction/practice, and the third week is mostly flying, followed immediately by the checkride.

Proper student preparation is the key to making this rapid pace work. Flight school administrators start working closely with each CFI applicant several weeks or even months before he/she starts the training program. “There’s an interview process that each student must complete to qualify for our accelerated program,” Sparks said. This interview is critical to ensure each applicant has prepared properly and is starting the program at the correct time. Students must have completed the knowledge tests, and the checkride is scheduled before training begins. CFI Academy also works closely with applicants to help them mentally prepare for the training by ensuring they understand what will be expected of them and what they can expect from the flight school.

Another important element of preparation is gaining experience flying from the right seat. CFI Training Center recommends its applicants fly at least five hours in the right seat before starting their CFI training. This can usually be accomplished as part of commercial pilot training or other flying. It’s worth noting that applicants who are working toward CFI training should consider conducting the entire commercial pilot training syllabus from the right seat. Most examiners won’t care which seat they use for the commercial checkride, so this is a great way to get a head start on the CFI training.

Benefits of CFI Training Center’s accelerated program include improved efficiency, higher student retention, and better completion rates. The improved efficiency is largely attributable to the laser focus that is required of each student to progress through the syllabus so rapidly. There’s simply no time to forget what they are learning. CFI Training Center also has the unique situation of having student housing available for rent on the second floor of the flight school. Most accelerated program students choose this option and spend much of their free time studying together, which helps them maintain focus. If your flight school doesn’t have a similar option, it is worth checking with local apartment complexes and extended-stay hotels to coordinate deals that could be equally beneficial.

Higher student retention and better completion rates are among the other benefits of this accelerated training program. The three-week schedule allows students to arrange their personal affairs so they can give complete attention to their training. “There are no questions about whether they will finish or how long it will take. Each student simply follows the program and gets it done,” Sparks said.

Since the accelerated program is highly structured and standardized, CFI Training Center is able to sell it as a package with a set price. This helps students plan their budget and reduces surprises, which greatly adds to customer satisfaction. CFI Training Center also provides a more traditional pay-as-you-go/at-your-own-pace CFI program.

By creating and running this program, CFI Training Center has been able to develop all of the new instructors it has needed in the past year. As Sparks said, “There’s no flight instructor shortage here!”

When I asked Sparks if she had any other advice for flight school managers, she said, “Reinvent yourself as often as possible by trying new programs” and “Other flight schools are not your competition.”

For more information about CFI Training Center, contact Debbie Sparks at 561-767-6826 or email ds[email protected]. More information is also available online.

Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating working his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at

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