Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

Times Have Changed

Just a few years ago, the learn-to-fly segment of general aviation was in desperate straits. There was a steep decline in the number of students; flight schools closed right and left; and there was much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. AOPA's Project Pilot was born to help reverse the downward spiral. Among other efforts, we produced a video, Successful Strategies to Land and Retain New Students, in which I played the role of scriptwriter and narrator.

Today the sun shines more brightly on the world of flight training. Students seem to be coming out of the woodwork, and many schools currently bemoan what is seen as a shortage of CFIs. There seems to be no doubt that Project Pilot and other industry programs, such as Be A Pilot, have helped to create this brave new world. Everyone involved can take justifiable pride in reversing the trend.

Back in the bad old days, we urged CFIs and schools to aggressively seek out new students. So, what should you be doing these days? Does the relative boom mean that we can cancel all marketing efforts, revel in our newfound prosperity, and let the good times roll?

Not by a long shot. We should, indeed, keep on marketing. But we can do it in a much more enjoyable and profitable way.

When we didn't have students, we had to find them. We had to market and sell, shall we say, off of the airport. Now that we have students, we can work smarter, with less stress, and more profitably. We can help our current students replace themselves by helping them find more people just like themselves-people who want to fly.

Never forget that a current happy customer is the best way to find a new happy customer.

Give your current students every opportunity to bring in new student prospects. Give students intro-ride coupons to give to their friends. En-courage them to bring their girlfriends, boyfriends, and spouses to the airport. Tell them to bring a friend to ground school. Remind them that for just a few extra dollars they can take a lesson in a Cessna 172 instead of a Cessna 152, and take a friend along for the ride. (Use your head on this. Stall practice is not the experience to share with a prospective student trapped in the back seat.)

Throw an airport party, and let students bring friends. Ask your students if they know anyone who should be getting your learn-to-fly newsletter. Have an open house at the airport, and encourage students to pass out invitations to their friends.

You'll be amazed at the results. You may never have to sell to strangers again. The hardest thing about selling is gaining credibility-convincing people that you are worthy of their business. When your student recommends you to a friend, you don't have to establish credibility-you already have it. You can spend your time delivering a great product, and thus creating even more happy customers who will recommend even more new students. It is a wonderful spiral, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.

By Ralph Hood

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