If you’ve taken the leap and added technically advanced aircraft (TAA), or you’ve equipped older aircraft with glass panels, such as the Aspen Avionics Evolution system, make sure to account for the hidden expenses in your budget before they eat away at your profit and loss.
Presumably, when you are up-selling students to the new panels they are counting on having a CFI who can effectively teach them how to use the system. While new equipment is simple to account for on paper, research shows the majority of flight school managers aren’t able to provide the breakdown of costs associated with the training in relation to the new equipment. We carefully itemize cost of goods sold, wages, consumables, and equipment expense, so why shouldn’t we track the depletion of resources for training as well? Since these are all tax-deductible expenses, if you aren’t taking the time to track them you could be throwing away thousands of dollars on each tax return and greatly diminishing your net profit and income.
If fiscal incentives are only giving you a slight nudge toward tracking TAA training for CFIs, perhaps the prospect of public outcry regarding unprofessional or incompetent instruction will move you closer. While it’s been the norm for the chief CFI to check out new instructors in the Cessna 172 without the tedious chore of detailed formality, doing so with a TAA could ultimately wind-up costing you students. In a recent survey of CFIs, the majority described their training with their chief CFIs in TAAs as brief and insufficient. Some CFIs were simply loaned a G1000 book, for example, and told to go out and tinker around with it before spending a couple of hours in the air to get checked out.
While some claim to have been satisfied with their training, most admitted feeling inadequate and embarrassed upon finding themselves still fumbling around with the system during the course of teaching it to a student, resulting in students with ill-confidence in their abilities. Flight schools that provide the G1000 simulator software or the G1000 flight training devices (FTDs) as a fee service to students also fail to track actual training time of these resources by CFIs, though the overhead costs of purchase and maintenance are still a factor.
The fault doesn’t lie only with the schools. Some CFIs have even taken advantage of flight schools by merely accepting a job to receive the free TAA training in order to meet a hiring requirement elsewhere, and then resigning immediately upon completion of the required hours or proficiency. While we’ve all experienced and expect to be used as a bridge for CFIs to reach their professional goals, our financial survival shouldn’t be put at risk. Flight schools can operate with a positive cash flow while still providing this valuable stepping stone to CFIs by employing a training repayment agreement (TRA), which provides that CFIs will be obligated to repay training costs if they leave before their probationary period (usually 120 days). Most airline and corporate aviation departments routinely employ TRAs to protect themselves financially. Your legal advisor should first check with the local workforce office to ensure you adhere to any applicable restrictions of your state’s wage deduction laws.
Regardless of the direct fiscal impact on your operation, there is always the potential of indirect and unplanned financial hardship as a result of negative publicity and legal headaches should the FAA, NTSB, or an insurance carrier demand to review a pilot’s credentials and qualifications in a TAA; after all, while there is no official mandate yet for the training in a TAA. It wouldn’t be hard for the FAA to find that a CFI or student wasn’t properly trained. Besides, it only takes one student to tell a friend that their training was inadequate to start to hurt an operation.