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Weekend courses could be a saviorWeekend courses could be a savior

Editor's Note (Jan. 2014): The Pinch Hitter materials are no longer available; however, there is an online course version (Flash plug-in required).

Want to drum-up new students and fill schedules? How about taking a stab at one of the hottest trends in business today and applying it to your own style of operation? All-inclusive weekend courses are attended by thousands each year, and in flight training a great example of this model is the Pinch Hitter course.

Chances are that pilots who rent aircraft from you aren’t flying alone, and your students won’t fly alone after getting a certificate either. What better way to increase safety and make the passengers feel involved and more in control of their surroundings than teaching them the basics of what’s going on? Take the recent example involving a woman who had to fly the aircraft when her 70-year-old pilot husband passed out from hypoxia at about 16,000 feet. Such stories are a perfect example of how someone can benefit from a Pinch Hitter course.

For years, the Air Safety Institute has been providing the Pinch Hitter course across the United States and at the yearly AOPA Aviation Summit. Take advantage of the Air Safety Institute’s expertise and offer a similar course in your local area. This can help your business stand out from the competition. Building your brand and reputation as a “safety provider” will certainly put you in a different and unique category that draws pilots to your flight school from surrounding airports.

Whether you choose to develop your own program or need help, the Air Safety Institute actively promotes this tremendously valuable safety course by making the Pinch Hitter materials, including DVDs, manuals, and instructor guides available from Sporty’s. Adapting an already proven syllabus by tailoring the fundamentals into your own may be the most economical way to start and certainly worth the investment. Though you need to market your course specific to your flight school since the “Pinch Hitter” name is a registered trademark of the Air Safety Institute, the term and reputation of the content has become iconic and recognizable to those in aviation. Typically, most programs run the course as a four-hour ground school coupled with four hours of actual flight training, which is usually broken down into four primary areas:

  • Controlling the airplane
  • Navigation
  • Radio navigation and emergency communications
  • Airport arrival and landing

One way to market the program and motivate renters is to offer them incentives when they are taking passengers along who have successfully completed the course, such as discounted rental rates. You can easily post this discount memo to your pricing list to generate continuous interest in your program. After all, knowing that your pilot’s passenger has had the training adds merit to your safety record and provides added assurance to the safe return of your aircraft.

Strategy is a vital component in building a successful program, as well as selecting the right instructors for the job. One flight school that is notoriously socked in on the West Coast until mid-morning utilizes that time each of the weekend days for the first two hours of ground school, then assigns return rotational slots for students to return for flight time throughout the afternoon when the fog has cleared; another uses simulators instead of actual aircraft for the flight training portion.

Cater to niche groups, such as corporate, or a girls weekend that is taught by a couple of very charming CFIs. Or tailor the course more to an experience, rather than safety. One such endeavor really paid off for a couple of admittedly goofball CFIs, who made a weekend summer event solely for kids of pilots. With a bit of creativity, humor, and marshmallow shooters (don’t ask!), the kids were riveted. And they reportedly exhibited better control of the aircraft during the flight lessons than most adult students. When word started spreading, the instructors had so many requests that they added additional weekends and even a summer camp to the schedule. 

If better safety isn’t enough of a benefit to consider offering the program, how about an overall increase in flight instruction and aircraft rentals? The fact is, about 45 percent of adult course takers have become new student pilots at one school, and it was reported that the majority of pilot’s kids who have taken the course became more involved in aviation, often becoming pilots themselves. Also, pilots reported that after the course, their passengers became less anxious and had more fun flying with them, which in turn, increased the aircraft rental frequency by up to 65 percent.

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