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Your business culture and your product are everythingYour business culture and your product are everything

In the last article, we discussed some of the cultural and leadership problems plaguing instructor culture in flight schools today.

I think we can all agree that many of the variables affecting the role of instructors are fixed and largely unchangeable. Compensation for CFIs can’t increase dramatically without pricing yourself out of the market; the job (for many) is part time and often requires hours of unpaid activity for CFIs to get the billable hours they need. 

Many CFIs walk into your door knowing your school is just a stepping stone in their career. The real trick is getting them to be motivated and on board when it comes to providing excellent customer service and doing everything they can to increase retention when they are with you.

Let's take a look at some best practices.

1. You must ensure that the person to whom your CFIs answer is completely on board with your policies and principles when it comes to getting and keeping students. My sense is that this person in many schools is practically more a part of the instructor corps than the leadership team.

2. Address the “just passing through” mindset in your first interview with them. Agree that they’re likely just passing through. However, as a condition for their continued employment they have to play by your rules while they're in your employ. 

3. Endeavor to stratify your CFIs as A, B, or C players and review them on a regular basis to let them know where they stand. I think there are a lot of CFIs who think that as long as they show up for work, return the airplane in reusable form, and drag their customers along to a private certificate in 80 hours that they’re doing ok.

4. Offer voluntary, reoccurring unpaid training to your CFIs on how to be a better flight instructor. Two to five hours a month should be ample.

5. Insert staff other than CFIs into the quality control process on a regular basis. A quick phone call or a private 10-minute meeting with a customer at scheduled intervals during their training will ensure that the CFI is not solely in charge of customer satisfaction during the training process. It doesn’t take a CFI rating to know that a customer isn’t happy. Make sure that these times you spend with them are specifically set up and not just incidental to dispatch or undispatch.

6. Make your expectations for CFIs very clear when it comes to getting and keeping customers. Write them down and integrate these ideals into your company policy.

7. Make sure that your CFIs know that they are appreciated. It is often said that appreciation is the No. 1 emotional need that people have. “Hey, Sue you got Jim Smith done with his instrument rating on the first try. Good job. Thank You.” What if everyone in a leadership role within the school told Sue that before she went home for the day? You would stand a better chance of getting Sue to understand that her work today mattered, and that she’s not just simply passing through. If you are successful at making Sue and your other CFIs feel appreciated, this will transfer through to your customers.

Remember that sales is essentially a transference of feelings. And no sale is ever final (does our industry’s more than 70-percent attrition rate drive that idea home). Your CFIs have far more face time with your customers than anyone else in your school.

Here's an analogy to consider: If you owned a restaurant where patrons paid “by the bite” for their meal, and the vast majority of them got up and left the table before their meal was even half over, would you feel like you were doing something wrong?

Now let's talk some more about getting CFIs to play by your rules when it comes to living sales and marketing values. The elephant in the room when it comes to hiring and keeping CFIs is their frequent burning desire to move on to Part 121 airline operations or corporate aviation. If you can successfully balance their need to move on with your need to do right by your customers today, a winning arrangement can often be struck.

  • Address before hire their need for a positive work reference and letter of recommendation from you as a flight school, especially if moving on to the airlines.
  • Make it absolutely clear to them that ongoing customer service and retention are a big part of their job, and these will be a part of their ongoing performance evaluations. Make these expectations crystal clear, and put them in writing.
  • Offer to help them get ready for their airline interview. Assemble a quick prep course that will help them get to where they want to be, and let them know that this will be available to them when they’re ready to move on. Have your chief instructor conduct mock interviews. Execute the course in such a way that helps ensure you get the timely notice you need to successfully backfill their vacant slot when the time comes.
  • Finally, develop a comprehensive business-wide plan that addresses this issue so that a team effort is made to understand where each customer is in the training process.


Unless the current model for flight training and airline hiring is dramatically altered, the variables we see today will be in place for some time. If you ignore the elephant in the room, you're helping to enable a training culture that loses far more students than it graduates.

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

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