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AOPA suggests best practices for flight schools during coronavirus pandemic

Editor's note: This article was updated March 31 with a link to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency's updated list of essential businesses, released March 28.

As the aviation industry grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, flight schools are wondering how to cope with state mandates, sanitary practices, and more.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

The coronavirus pandemic is hitting small businesses hard, and flight schools are no exception. While no one can predict exactly what the future holds, there are steps schools can take as they strive to protect their employees, students, and businesses.

AOPA is joining other aviation groups in asking for financial relief for the aviation industry. Some forms of relief will likely be made available, but when that will happen and what it will look like is far from certain. In the meantime, it’s critical for schools to put a crisis plan in place to help them weather the storm.

In any crisis, survival is the first priority. Unfortunately for flight schools, ensuring their survival can mean making some very difficult decisions.

In many states and communities, nonessential businesses have been ordered to close, taking that decision out of the hands of business owners. Although aviation-related businesses are included on the U.S. government’s general list of essential businesses, published by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, flight schools are not included in an updated coronavirus-specific list released March 28. The list provided by CISA is guidance, rather than a federal standard, so state and local officials may follow it or create their own list. It’s important to check your state and local directives to be sure, because flight schools might be among the nonessential enterprises that must close their doors.

Several states have issued restrictions on nonessential business operations, and more states are expected to follow. So, even if your state has not yet enacted such an order, it’s a good idea to get ready just in case.

In order to survive, many flight schools will be forced to lay off employees. While this is never a business owner’s first choice, states are stepping in to help protect workers who can no longer work. Many states have waived the normal waiting period for unemployment benefits and are offering other programs, such as enacting moratoriums on evictions and ensuring that essential services like water and electricity are available regardless of whether consumers can pay.

Cutting expenses is essential if your business is closed. If your aircraft aren’t flying, you may be able to save on insurance. While it’s never a good idea to cancel insurance on a valuable asset like an aircraft, some carriers will allow you to take aircraft out of service, even for a month or similarly short period. Contact your insurance carrier and consider taking aircraft offline for a period of time.

You may wish to pause any cleaning contracts you have with outside vendors, stop coffee delivery and other services, and cease any paid advertising. You may also be able to work with vendors to delay the fulfillment of other types of agreements, such as regular deliveries of office supplies, books, training materials, or headsets that you would normally have in stock for your school and students.

Once you’ve taken all the steps you can to ensure your business will survive, turn your attention to what you need to recover. Once the crisis passes, it will be important for you to be able to get your business moving again quickly—and that means having employees back on the job and customers who are ready to fly.

When everything is uncertain, communication is more important than ever, so take full advantage of your website, Facebook, Instagram, and any other social media channels available to help you stay in touch with your employees, clients, and investors.

It’s OK to tell them you don’t have the answers. Messages of support are valued in troubled times, and providing whatever information you have, even if it’s not much, shows that you haven’t forgotten those who have supported you.

Don’t let your customers forget about flying during this enforced hiatus. Where possible, provide regular doses of aviation inspiration and learning to keep them engaged and give them something to look forward to. Offer a virtual ground school, hold webinars, share fun and inspirational videos, give them ideas for using a home flight simulator to practice, or invite their ideas about fun events you can plan when flying resumes. Hold a contest of some kind to keep your school community active—the prize is less important than the fun of participating, so invite people to send in silly pictures, funny stories, or other lighthearted takes on flying. The AOPA Live and Air Safety Institute YouTube channels have hundreds of safety, training, and inspirational videos that can be easily shared. Send a new link every few days.

Strange as it may sound, consider offering gift cards for your school through your website. Many Americans are showing support for small businesses by purchasing gift cards, which amount to a no-interest loan to your school. This is not so much a revenue stream as it is a way for your customers to express their commitment to their goals and your school.

The events of this moment are far beyond the control of any individual, business, community, or nation. But planning for today and keeping an eye on the future can give you a small measure of control in a deeply uncertain world.

AOPA Publications staff
AOPA Publications Staff editors are pilots, flight instructors, and aircraft owners with more than 250 years of combined aviation experience.
Topics: COVID19, Flight School, FBO

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