By Jim Pitman
Are your clients and instructors routinely flying to the same old practice areas? Maybe it’s time to get out of the box and go somewhere fun.
Carl May is chief flight instructor and business manager at Scottsdale Executive Flight Training at Scottsdale Airport (SDL) in Arizona. A unique part of the curriculum at Scottsdale Executive is called Destination Flight Training. The concept is simple, but the benefits are numerous. “Destination Flight Training is basically what the name implies. Instead of just doing circles in the practice area, we go places. We take our customers to fun destinations as part of the normal training syllabus,” May said.
“Our main purpose is to improve customer retention by making the training more fun and engaging. When the customers are able to actually experience going to places they have dreamed of early in their training, they stay excited and can clearly see the end goal they are training to achieve. We are also creating safer pilots by giving them the experience of flying to the places they plan to go after they earn their certificates,” May said.
This sounds like a good example of scenario-based training. “Yes indeed,” May responded. “The entire industry has been more focused on scenario-based instruction in recent years. It’s great to simulate real-world scenarios during training, but it’s even better to actually go somewhere real.”
Destination Flight Training is a relatively new technique for May and his team. They are still working to make it a consistent part of the training program, but they are already seeing extremely positive results. “We are working to implement this at every level and customize the destinations to meet the needs and desires of our customers,” May said. “Destination Flight Training is not just for initial training. It’s also great for flight reviews and IPCs. We like to ask experienced customers which airports they are not comfortable going to by themselves (usually in busy airspace) and then make that the destination. Going there makes the training much more educational and rewarding than simply drilling holes in the practice area and going to familiar airports,” he said.
Does this require longer flight lessons? “Yes, but we get more done and the customers enjoy it more,” May explained. “The key is for each instructor to be well-prepared with a plan to follow. This isn’t just about going places, it’s about completing the required lesson material on the way there and back. Fly this heading. Now track this radial. Slow flight. Steep turns. Now you have a simulated engine failure. Now simulate our destination is fogged in so we need to divert, et cetera. This should all be thoroughly planned and briefed before each flight so the customer knows exactly what to expect and where they are going, with simulated failures and diversions being a surprise when appropriate.”
Does this type of training cause any challenges with the schedule? May says no. “In fact, when it’s done properly, efficiency is greatly improved and we often complete two syllabus lessons in one flight. Traditionally, most instructors schedule the airplane for a two-hour block and fly one to 1.2 hours for a typical dual local lesson.
“It’s important to realize that a good 0.5 of each flight is spent taxiing, doing the runup, and traveling to and from the practice area,” May said. “That means that in a 1.2-hour flight, only about 0.7 is spent practicing the items that really need to be practiced. With Destination Flight Training we typically block the plane for three hours and do a two-plus-hour flight. In that time, though, the customer is getting in a solid 1.5 hours of practicing what they need to be practicing, and they progress through the syllabus much faster. This increased progression, along with the fun factor, really improves customer retention and training efficiency.”
Having flown most of my career in the Phoenix area, I suggested that there must also be safety benefits to getting out of the congested practice areas we have here. May agreed and replied, “There is a safety aspect, but also a related improvement in the effectiveness of the training. Often the practice areas are so busy that the chatter on frequency is nonstop, and it’s difficult for the instructor and customer to focus on what they need to be doing. It’s nice to just get away from the traffic and enjoy doing maneuvers and procedures out where there is little or no traffic. Again, the key is to practice needed items while traveling back and forth so that extra time is used effectively.”
Scottsdale Executive Flight Training also participates in organized fly-ins to enhance training and improve customer retention. “Occasionally, we get together with other flight schools and pick a destination to fly in to. This is an opportunity to get pilots and renters together and create a mission. These mission flights promote business and aviation,” May said.
“Our destinations include Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Mexico, Palm Springs, Payson, Sedona, Prescott, and other places in California. It’s a great opportunity for people who do not fly much to get with an instructor and continue the learning process,” May said. “Our Cirrus aircraft have the longer range, but sometimes we simply use the shorter-range planes and do our own fly-in to go to breakfast somewhere relatively close.”
Customers often feel alone and isolated when training at a smaller school, May said. These fly-ins bring people together to make connections and friendships. “I have seen people meet on flights like these and continue to rent and fly places together,” he said. “Simply advertising a fly-in on social media or email blast puts the school’s name out there and gets people excited about a fun place to fly.”
From increasing customer retention to improving safety and quality, there are many benefits to getting out of the local area and completing lessons while going to fun and interesting destinations.