Flight schools or certificated flight instructors with a minimum of five poll respondents will receive a personalized report card with valuable tips for future improvement. Recognition as an AOPA Flight Training Poll winner signals to students that they are in an environment that values honesty, feedback, and leadership, and is often a “game changer,” said one winner.
Take Flight Aviation’s Ryan Mayo and Chris Graessle said building participation in the AOPA Flight Training Poll was easy: “We just asked.”
They sent an email to students asking them to share their experience by completing the poll; if there was anything students weren't happy about, they were directed “to please let us know so we could make things right.”
The letter was displayed on the school’s front desk and sent to clients who didn't come in because they’d either moved away or obtained their pilot’s certificate and operated elsewhere.
Graessle said Take Flight is using three main points and a systematic approach to continue building engagement for its two-year-old Orange County, New York, flight school. “Culture, organization (as in having a very clearly defined Part 61 training program), and updating the fleet,” have helped the newcomers grow, they wrote.
Inflight Pilot Training owner Trever Rossini, a Gold Seal flight instructor, said, “The key piece to success is relating well to the millennial crowd.” Rossini uses social media with the emphasis on social as the cornerstone of a business plan for the Eden Prairie, Minnesota, flight school because it helps build excitement among the 26-and-under crowd.
Facebook is a major factor for his victory and Rossini counts 7,000 likes among his hard-won achievements. “If you don't have a Facebook account you're already way behind,” he said.
He embraces the online social forum meetup.com to connect with students outside of the airport environment and to maintain excitement and a community feel. The meetups “encourage conversation and a personal connection” where students talk about their talents and interests, make new friends, and share ideas for future flight destinations.
Incentives with prizes engage students during friendly contests while updated photo galleries and videos on Inflight’s home page complete the package.
“We are doing things unconventionally and breaking barriers in this industry,” said Rossini. He also places a priority on honesty and value.
San Carlos Flight Center owner Dan Dyer said there’s “no secret to it, we just ask them to rate the school and their favorite instructor.”
Dyer’s website this year begins with a message to “Vote for San Carlos Flight Center for Best Flight School 2016” and a direct online link to the 2016 AOPA Flight Training Poll is provided.
The California flight school also gets the voting word out in a variety of formats.
Dyer said instructors ask their students to respond to the poll, flyers are distributed at monthly barbecues, and the poll is announced “at every one of our FAA Safety Seminars.”
The 2016 AOPA Flight Training Poll is also mentioned at the club's twice-monthly high school aviation club, and at “our monthly Student and New Pilot Support Group.”
“Usually we explain it in terms of, ‘This is an important poll and feedback is important. If you feel you have received quality instruction from one of our CFIs, we encourage you to vote for them so that they may receive recognition.’”
San Carlos is an active club with 350 members and regularly invites other pilots to share their camaraderie.
“Each year about 2,300 pilots attend one of our seminars or participate in one of our events,” said Dyer.
San Carlos has remained low-key since the flight school’s 2013 win. Dyer said he “continued to push forward in excellence in flight training, and this year I chose to seek the recognition that another win would provide.”
Paragon Flight Chief Executive Officer Christopher Schoensee, operating in Fort Myers, Florida, said reinvesting funds to “promote the vote” has scored the school big dividends. He purchased $1,000 worth of red, white, and blue “I voted” T-shirts for giveaways and then displayed them in the school’s lobby and atop an eye-catching six-foot tall Star Wars storm trooper.
The 2014 AOPA Flight Training Poll winner for best school also posted an aviation-themed chalk board message that urges students to “Vote Today” because, “We need you!”
“The feedback and marketing exposure we receive from the AOPA poll is invaluable so the cost is insignificant,” said Schoensee. He recalled that a flight student even traveled from Luxembourg to Florida for an instrument proficiency check “because of the AOPA Excellence awards.”
Winners of the 2016 AOPA Flight Training Poll are recognized as industry leaders. They will be announced in the fall and honored online through AOPA’s Flight Training Excellence Awards page.