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A different approach: Bringing in female training prospectsA different approach: Bringing in female training prospects

Amelia Earhart. Jackie Cochran. Marjorie Stinson. Evelyn Bryan Johnson. Patty Wagstaff. These are just a few of the women who made aviation history in the first century of flight.

With all of these icons in mind, there's nothing new about women making great achievements in aviation. While flight training may still be viewed by some as a macho pursuit, this seems to be more of a perception than a reality.

Why, then, don't more flight schools specifically reach out to female flight training candidates?

Let's quickly review the basic demographics of everyone who can start flight training with you:

  • Desire and willingness to learn
  • Basic medical eligibility
  • Age 16 to 86-plus
  • Adequate financial resources
  • Time bandwidth to complete training in a reasonable amount of time
  • U.S. citizen or approved foreign national

Of course, these are not hard and fast rules. But I think you'll agree this list pretty much represents the majority of who trains with you.

Every time I discuss these variables with a flight school operator, I am reminded of what a blessing and a curse this demographic slice represents. Who can start is really a huge segment of the general population. Who will start has historically been a lot smaller segment. Many might ask, “Why add a filter and eliminate half of the available prospective population?”

In most non-academy schools, less than one fourth of the customer base is female. Here in the United States, females make up almost exactly half of the total population; they also represent nearly half of the educated, skilled workforce, and they have access to at least half of the wealth.

I don’t see building an ongoing campaign to bring in more female students as a demographic filter, but rather as a smart process that endeavors to reach out to a group that has been somewhat underserved in the flight training industry. It’s not so much that flight school operators don’t want more female customers.

For many, the problem is more of a general industry attitude toward all new customers: The “If you build it, they will come” attitude manifests itself in aviation with, “I have a nice school, nice airplanes, and good instructors. People who want flight training will just come to me. Those that don’t aren’t a good fit anyway.”

The changes necessary to bring in more female customers doesn’t require a reboot for your school. Most of them are simple, affordable, and involve some strategic thinking.

  1. Reach out to professional organizations and networking groups that are specifically for women. Offer to be a guest speaker, and attend a meeting once a month or quarter.
  2. I think prospective female customers are far less likely to engage in flight training at a school where they are treated with ambivalence, or in a rude and condescending way. From the market research I’ve done, I know that male prospective customers are treated this way quite often. If you want more female customers, you must not let this happen in your school.
  3. If you haven’t already, make it a point to hire a female a flight instructor or instructors. Seek the best qualified and most capable female flight instructor(s) you can find. Hire her. Not all female students will prefer to work with a female instructor. Many will. You need to be ready for the ones who want a female instructor.
  4. Bring your business pitch to the prospective female customers with the right kind of financial momentum for what they are already buying. A flight school here in my home town makes it a point to have a booth in the home show each year.
  5. Reach out to your local chapter of The Ninety-Nines or Whirly Girls. Become actively involved with them in any way you can.

As a flight school business, you compete with other pursuits and avocations way more than you compete with other flight schools. The local Harley dealership only needs you to come in once to earn your business. The same is true for a luxury vacation to someplace like Fiji or Patagonia. Just one trip and the money is spent. Flight training requires you to keep coming back and to keep spending. These other outside businesses are often very savvy when it comes to enticing and keeping female customers. If you want to compete with them on level ground, reaching out to female customers in a way that is smart is something that you must not overlook.

P. Jerry Lee is president and founder of aviation marketing and sales training firm Mach1 Consultants.

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