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Managing expectations is key for new studentsManaging expectations is key for new students

Most people who start flight primary training with you don’t know what they don’t know about how they will be taught to fly. Many larger schools that don’t typically cater to the avocational student population have admissions officers or an equivalent staff member who sets everything up, and makes sure that all of the administrative bits and pieces are accomplished before training day one arrives. In many of these schools, the admissions officer will also do a good job of setting expectations for students before they ever set foot in an airplane.

Just because your school may not be university-affiliated or a large Part 141 outfit, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be very thorough about setting expectations about what’s to come. Your school should have its process for setting expectations for a new flight student.

Consider these best practices for setting expectations when enrolling a new student:

  • Once they’ve agreed to start training, thoroughly review with them the syllabus that will be used for training toward a rating or program.
  • Discuss with them the concept of learning plateaus and how your school handles getting past them.
  • Make sure they understand the basic relationship between frequency of training, time to complete their rating or program, and overall cost for their program.
  • Double up lessons for weekend students. Many students can only train on a weekend. Flight schools often miss a big opportunity for these students. For weekend-only students, you should absolutely offer to double up their training schedule. For example, Jill can only train on Saturdays before 1 p.m. Instead of having her come in at 9 a.m. and wrap up at noon, have her come in at 7:30 a.m. and train until 1 p.m., covering two distinct lessons during this time period. Be sure to tell her that a 90 minute break will happen between the two lessons. If the break happens at a point B airport where breakfast is available, so much the better. Jill will also know how to get a $100 omelet. The main point is that you set the expectation with Jill that two training sessions happening on one weekend day is normal, and that’s your standard operating procedure for all weekend-only students. Many instructors and some schools believe that students aren’t capable of this kind of training schedule. I disagree, and can point to a number of schools that do this on a regular basis with a high level of success.
  • In many ways becoming a pilot can be a lot like becoming a parent. You don’t know what you don’t know. Endeavor to create a two page “quick start guide” that covers the non-regulatory basics for flight training at your school. Include things like what to wear during flight training, what students should expect of their instructors, the expectation of completing homework before a lesson, the school’s expectation for following a syllabus-based training program, and who they should contact in the school if things don’t go the way they expect them to go. Don’t make the focus of the guide about regulations or the PTS. Make it about them, and the concerns they might have when starting their rating or program with you.
  • Cover with them what kinds of tests they will need to take to achieve their desired rating. Clearly cover with them how you will get them prepared for these challenges, and your level of success as a school.
  • At the appropriate time early in training, discuss their upcoming trip to the AME, and what this means. I’ve seen many schools that have a basic sheet of do’s and don’ts for students that were about to get a medical. I realized that setting this expectation was necessary a number of years ago when I had a very new student share with me the fact that she had a prescription for (and regularly took) Xanax. Obviously, this student needed to visit with her primary care physician before she went to see the AME to get her student pilot certificate.

When it comes to getting and keeping students in your school, these kinds of non-regulatory things are very important and can go a long way toward making your customers happy and completely satisfied with your services. As an economically successful flight training provider, you must master so much more than what is in Part 61 or 141. For your students that don’t have any friends that are pilots, you may be the only source of what to expect during their journey.

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

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