A New England flight training business known for nurturing students in a professional environment and a Tar Heel flight instructor who was recognized for his patience and motivation were honored as the top winners of AOPA’s 2019 Flight Training Experience Awards.
AeroVenture Flight Center, of Mansfield Municipal Airport in Mansfield, Massachusetts, and MIL2ATP flight instructor Christopher Kreske, from Wayne Executive Jetport in Goldsboro, North Carolina, were recognized by AOPA for their achievements October 16 during the Redbird Migration Flight Training Conference at the Wings Over the Rockies Exploration of Flight museum in Englewood, Colorado.
Students complimented AeroVenture instructors for their dedicated and innovative approach to flight training. Clients also said the overall ambiance provided a “very positive, encouraging environment” while a “young fleet” of aircraft made learning attractive. Family members and school owners George (the president and CEO), Bill (the chief instructor and dad), and Debra Allen (the marketing vice president and mom) were recognized as “some of the finest people you will ever meet,” said one respondent. The school was previously named AOPA’s Best Flight School in 2015 when students said the family-run flight school’s relaxed atmosphere made them feel at home while they tackled new horizons in an environment that was friendly but structured.
Flight instructor Kreske founded MIL2ATP, a veteran-owned and -operated flight school, to help military pilots transition to the airlines. An approach to flight training that is rooted in military service instilled confidence in his students and pushed them to persevere, they said. He was cited time and again for keeping students focused and for believing in them. One student wrote that Kreske “clearly set high expectations” for performance, but displayed “uncanny patience and thoughtful criticism” when needed, with an “incredible knack” for recognizing a learning opportunity.
“Wow, that’s triply flattering,” said Kreske, who learned of his national and regional wins during a video conference by Chris Moser, AOPA senior director of flight training education. “It’s almost unfair. It’s really a labor of love,” said the retired F–15E pilot and airline pilot. “I can do this because I really enjoy doing it. I’ve been blessed with a job that I love and that’s how I look at it and how I view it,” he added. Kreske complimented a supportive staff “that makes me look good” and a solid customer base. “We have an incredible program that lends itself to being successful, so I’m flattered. I simply enjoy teaching and I enjoy seeing a light bulb come on” when students master a skill or a concept. “Having the best clients in the world makes it easy.”
The 2019 Flight Training Experience Survey received 7,585 complete responses. From that feedback, 972 flight schools and 1,876 flight instructors were reviewed by their customers. Awards were chosen for standout schools and for instructors with at least five independent reviews and consistently superior ratings.
Customers highlighted educational quality, customer service, information sharing, and community among the 51 distinguished flight schools and 53 distinguished instructors who comprised the top one-third of their region. A blind committee of industry experts awarded the top-scoring flight school and instructor in each of six regions—Eastern, Southern, Great Lakes, Central Southwest, Northwest Mountain, and Western Pacific. A seventh award was presented to the overall national award winner.
“Your students are the future of our community, and when you serve them well, you serve us all,” said AOPA You Can Fly Executive Director Elizabeth Tennyson. “Without great CFIs and flight schools, there would be no pilots. You teach, you motivate, you inspire. And for every would-be pilot who walks through the door, you make the difference between dreaming and doing.”
The awards help celebrate those who provide a customer experience that can elevate pilots of all levels, said Moser, who complimented the group of “amazing aviation educators.” The survey and accompanying awards are based on AOPA research that identified four characteristics that Moser said were critical to providing the best flight training experience: educational quality, customer focus, community, and information sharing. “While those areas may seem like common sense, it takes commitment and hard work to consistently deliver them to customers,” he said.
The list of distinguished flight schools and instructors included several regional finalists who previously received top AOPA national flight training awards. SkyTrek Alaska Flight Training’s Jamie Patterson-Simes was named the Best National Flight School in 2017. The Anchorage, Alaska, instructor’s teaching methods were also rewarded with an Outstanding Flight School designation in the 2016 Flight Training Excellence Awards.
Another regional finalist was Blue Skies Flying Services flight instructor Mike Biewenga from The Lake in the Hills Airport near Chicago. The Gold Seal Flight Instructor and former engineer realized that “flying was a lot more fun” than engineering. Biewenga’s contagious enthusiasm propelled him to be recognized as the nation’s best CFI in 2018.
The ceremony in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains paralleled the annual Redbird Migration two-day learning seminar for flight training industry professionals who participated in breakout sessions; special challenges; and other events that enlightened, invigorated, and recharged the aviation educators.
The You Can Fly program and the Air Safety Institute are funded by charitable donations to the AOPA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. To be a part of the solution, visit www.aopafoundation.org/donate.