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Selling the soloSelling the solo

The flight training community is obsessed with selling private pilot certificates. That may make sense in some cases, but for most students, getting to a minimum of 40 hours and completing three tests can be pretty daunting. The answer is to break the training into easily manageable chunks for the student, starting with solo.

Sporty’s Academy in Batavia, Ohio, has mastered this strategy. Traditionally students were steered to a recreational certificate as a means to gain confidence, get valuable pilot-in-command experience, and reach their goal faster. Recently Chief Instructor Eric Radtke and his staff have taken the approach to its logical extension and focused only on the first solo. “Our TCO [training course outline] is the same for private, recreational, and sport pilot,” he said. So the transition has been seamless.

Radtke said they found through analysis of their customer base that if the student made it to first solo, they generally stuck around. And since the school has implemented this plan, they’ve had phenomenal success. “We haven’t lost a client post-solo in 18 months,” he said. From there the majority of students will make the quick transition to a certificated recreational pilot, and then on to private pilot if they so choose.

Sporty’s is having success with a technique that experts say is tried and true. To have success at a big goal, such as flight training, break it down into smaller and more achievable goals. A key to that strategy is celebrating a milestone when it is reached, as Sporty’s does with the first solo. Doing otherwise is a wasted opportunity at motivating the student, instructor, and other pre-solo students.

The key to selling the approach is to keep it fluid, Radtke says. “People are looking for a personalized experience at this investment level,” That means if customers comes in and are savvy about the flight training process, Radtke recommends not forcing them to go one route over another. Instead, find out what they want and give it to them. But if a prospect is still undecided or a little less educated on the process, selling a 15-hour flight package that leads to a first solo flight is a powerful tool.

By focusing on shorter-term goals your school has the opportunity to increase motivation, celebrate additional milestones, increase retention, and diversify your product offerings. And all of it can be put in place with some staff training and a fresh look at the curriculum.

It’s not too often that an idea presents such a win for the school and a win for the student. �

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

"Flight Training" Editor
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.

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