By Jim Pitman
On the surface, Air Fleet Training Systems looks like many flight schools around the country. It has a modern, well-maintained fleet; nice office space with updated interior; and friendly employees who are eager to help. But there’s something different that we can all model and benefit from. It’s an overall focus on convenience.
I recently had the opportunity to visit with Kyle Lacey, chief flight Instructor at Air Fleet, located at Essex County Airport (CDW) in Fairfield, New Jersey. Like most flight schools, Air Fleet has a variety of clients with various needs. Making everything in Air Fleet’s operation as convenient as possible is a top priority. This focus on convenience is reflected in everything from dispatch procedures to its maintenance operation.
I’ve often said that true and proper salesmanship is removing the obstacles that prevent people from doing what they already want to do. This definition can be extended to every aspect of flight training operations. A significant part of our job is to help remove the obstacles.
One of the first things that caught my attention is that Air Fleet offers 24-hour access to its airplanes and facilities. There’s online scheduling, but Air Fleet has taken it a step further.
“As Frank Sinatra said, New York is a city that never sleeps. We have several clients who like to fly at night or very early in the morning, so we implemented a keyless electronic access system for our office and developed dispatch procedures to accommodate,” Lacey said. Airplanes that are scheduled to fly after hours are dispatched at the end of each day. Clients and instructors utilize the keyless access system to come and go as needed, with full access to the classrooms and facilities.
When I asked about issues with security, Lacey said, “It’s never been a problem. The system keeps track of who is coming and going, and we have security cameras with remote access to help keep an eye on everything. We can even remotely let someone into the building if they are locked out. Our clients and instructors are a very tight-knit group. Everyone helps take care of the facility and keep an eye out for anything suspicious.” But it doesn’t stop there. In the rare case that there’s a maintenance issue at night, such as a nav light being out, the client or instructor can contact Lacey after hours so he can dispatch a different airplane remotely from home.
“It’s all about convenience,” Lacey said. “We want to do everything we can to cater to the varying schedules of our diverse clientele.”
Air Fleet has also taken action to make things more convenient for their foreign students. “About 40 percent of our current clients and the majority of our new clients are non-U.S. citizens. As you know, fingerprinting is one of the requirements of the Alien Flight Student Program (AFSP). We have myself and the flight school owner setup as authorized fingerprint collection agents. Not only does this make the process significantly more convenient for our clients, but it has also turned out to be a nice source of additional income,” Lacey said.
“We have a steady flow of foreign student applicants who come to us from the surrounding area to get their fingerprints collected. We’ve processed more than 250 fingerprints since we began the service in 2014. This has more than paid for the digital fingerprinting machine, so now it’s all profit,” Lacey said. Providing this service may or may not make sense for your flight school, but it is worth considering. More information can be found online. Even if you are not currently working with non-U.S. citizens, this could be a valuable service for others in your area. To see who is currently offering fingerprinting services in your state, search online.
Many of Air Fleet’s clients use public transportation to travel to and from the flight school. Lacey explained, “It’s great being so close to the city and associated public transit system, but the closest station is still about a mile from our flight school. We offer a free shuttle service to and from that station so our clients and instructors don’t have to walk it.” This is just one more example of Air Fleet’s commitment to convenience. Even though these circumstances are specific to Air Fleet, I encourage you to consider the transportation needs of your clients. Are there things you can do to help improve the convenience of their travel/transportation?
In-house maintenance is the final element I would like to discuss. While this is not a unique idea, I think it’s worth discussing from the perspective of client convenience. “Our decision to conduct our own maintenance operation is definitely motivated by our desire to keep things as convenient as possible for our clients,” Lacey said.
“When maintenance is outsourced, delays are inevitable. It’s not always perfect, but we like having the control of our maintenance operation. We stock needed parts and are often able to fix or defer minor squawks in just a few minutes,” Lacey said. A client rented an airplane for a short cross-country overnight trip. The client arrived at the airplane the following morning to discover the front tire was completely flat. “We were able to fly our mechanic and new tire over to the other airport and get it fixed quickly. Our client was very pleased with the service and was able to keep his other appointments that day, “Lacey explained. This is just one example of the benefits of having your own maintenance operation.
What should flight school owners consider if they are undecided about bringing their maintenance in-house? Lacey said, “Do you want to pay $75 per hour to someone else or $35 to $40 per hour to your own mechanic? That really adds up on all those 100-hour and annual inspections. The numbers make sense, and it’s a better experience for clients in the day-to-day operations.” If you have been considering bringing your maintenance in-house, I encourage you to make sure client convenience is included in your cost/benefit analysis.
Whether you are running a large established flight training center or a startup flight school, a focus on client convenience and removing obstacles will help to improve your entire operation. More information about Air Fleet Training Systems can be found online. Contact Lacey at [email protected] or 973-575-8220.
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 his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website.