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Cessna Pilot Center program undergoes changesCessna Pilot Center program undergoes changes

Cessna Pilot Centers will see their aircraft requirements ease as part of a number of changes the venerable manufacturer unveiled recently. What has historically been a requirement to have a 2-year-old or newer Cessna on the flight line is being reduced to six years or newer.

The network of Cessna-affiliated flight schools has shrunk considerably in recent years. As schools struggle to make balance sheets a little more balanced in a down economy, the move to reduce the age requirement is no doubt an effort on Cessna’s part to make being a member of the program more palatable.

But not all the changes are being taken as positive from the schools’ standpoint. Among the benefits of being a CPC has been the opportunity to exclusively offer the Cessna-branded training course, produced by King Schools. The significant reduction in affiliated schools has meant a reduction in sales for King Schools as well. Under pressure from the course maker to recoup lost sales and development costs, Cessna is now allowing the course to be sold to students outside the CPC network.

Initial reactions to the changes have been mixed. One school owner who declined to be named said the loss of the exclusive right to sell the training program was enough to make him want to pull out of the program. Others have been more guarded. Steve Graham, owner of Sunstate Aviation in Kissimmee, Fla., said he doesn’t agree with the decision to sell courses outside the network, but that maybe it would bring new students to the Cessna brand and the CPC program.

Cessna’s Jodi Noah, the senior vice president of single-engine/propeller aircraft, said, “Expanding access to the Cessna Flight Training System simply expands the training experience to a broader audience and allows more new pilots access to learning the Cessna model. King Schools benefits from having access to a broader market, giving them the ability to invest in further innovations to meet changing customer demand.”

Other program changes include a CPC advisory group that will work with corporate leaders on behalf of affiliated schools, and a fund to help with down payments toward new aircraft.

There are also a number of new partners, including Openairplane, Flying High Coffee, and 10 others.

Regardless of the new developments, school owners seem to be encouraged that new life is being breathed into a program that has been largely unsupported the past few years. The network is now around 165 schools, down from more than 300. While a weak economy is partly to blame, the Skycatcher price increase, lack of manufacturer support, and corporate upheaval have no doubt played parts. Graham, whose school is in the top five in sales, said, “Anything would be an improvement at this point.”

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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