Since AOPA launched its most ambitious pilot recruitment program in its 70-year history—Let’s Go Flying—flight schools have been doing more to capture the interest of anyone who has ever thought about learning to fly, engage them by providing information and resources, and get them out to the airport and into an airplane.
“Whatever it takes, we will do it,” said Carol Brinker, who partners with her husband, Joe, to operate SunQuest Aviation, founded in 1994.
For the past three years, the Brinkers have helped get people flying by taking the mom-and-pop approach at their flight school, located at North Palm Beach County General Aviation Airport in West Palm Beach, Florida. Whether it’s a pizza party on a Saturday followed by afternoon Cub rides, a breakfast club fly-out, a trip to the bowling alley, or an air traffic control tower tour, the Brinkers are determined to provide a more personalized, fun experience.
“We have a great relationship with our customers,” said Carol, acknowledging that people seek a sense of belonging—as do she and the rest of the SunQuest staff, who are so passionate about aviation.
Joe, an airline pilot, said a lot of people have helped him along the way. And while some flight schools could not survive the drop in business and rising costs of aviation, the Brinkers are still giving to get back. Sometimes people just need a reason or an excuse to go flying, which is why they have implemented the Birthday Club. Every customer receives a $25 gift certificate in the mail during their birthday month, redeemable for flight time.
Using a slightly different approach, Jim Nunally, in his second year as president of the Corona Pilots Association, initiated a scholarship program in collaboration with Fly Corona at Corona Municipal Airport, nestled between California’s Orange County and Inland Empire. Based on eligibility requirements, nine local students were chosen to receive the 2009 scholarship, which covers private pilot ground school, study materials, and a flight instructor.
“This scholarship will enable these students to get a jump on this while meeting other pilots who can help and mentor them through their training,”Nunally said, adding that they hope to make it a recurring annual program.
And a mentoring program is a big part of a new pilot’s success. Which is why Capt. Errol Stewart, CEO and director of operations for the Caribbean Aviation Training Center at the Tinson Pen Aerodrome in Kingston, Jamaica, requires that his graduating pilots “adopt” a future pilot to mentor throughout his or her flight training. The center is the only English-speaking flight school in the Caribbean, and has been in operation since February 2001. It is the third Cessna Pilot Center established outside the United States.
An aerial banner-tow airplane flying over the city and word of mouth helps attract potential pilots to the flight school. But Stewart likes to reach out to the community by visiting local schools to invite young boys and girls, ages 9 to 15, to attend a six-week summer course. Parents are invited to participate and go flying with their child and the instructor at the end of the course.
“By getting their attention early on, this creates a new generation of aviation enthusiasts when the whole family is involved,” said Stewart. “And when the kids get out there, talk about it, and then bring in another student, I reward them with a free hour of flight.”
A lot of people in the Caribbean travel, and there is a demand for more pilots. Stewart said about 70 student pilots will graduate on April 3, and 20 percent of them are female.
“People see it as a way of getting out there and being in command of something in their life,” said Stewart. “They enjoy doing something positive.”
What can you do? Make the first step by visiting the Let’s Go Flying Web site—and share it with a friend or two.