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Rochester AviationRochester Aviation

Owner Kelby Ferwerda’s proper formula for the success of Rochester Aviation contains experience obtained in previous work in business and marketing. When the school came to Skyhaven Airport in Rochester, N.H., a few years ago, Ferwerda said there were more broken airplanes on the ramp than those that worked. Year-over-year growth of between 30 and 50 percent is changing that broken culture.

According to Ferwerda, the key to success is a combination of many factors, including a sense of community, creating a positive atmosphere, offering value to students, and engaging students in events. “If I’m not instructing or doing paperwork, I’m coming up with things to get my students involved,” he said.

A recent example was an “air race” the school held in August. The premise is simple and inviting. Participants got one month to go to five destinations. Even stopping there would have been a great way to drive business and give people a reason to fly. But Ferwerda took it beyond a simple task to something much more. Participants were required to buy a T-shirt. The first one to photograph him- or herself at each airport with the T-shirt won. At the end of the month there was a big barbecue where the winner got a flight bag full of stuff. Lots more got prizes, and the profits from the shirts, were given out as a scholarship to the person who wrote the best essay on what general aviation and learning to fly means to him or her.

Although Ferwerda admits the “race” did increase aircraft utilization, the real secret is that it gave participants five great destinations to take family and friends that were all within 100 miles. Each had a restaurant or another attraction. The barbecue was an opportunity for students to meet each other, and the school got some goodwill with a scholarship.

The result of efforts such as this? Ferwerda claims one student out of 50 has dropped out between first solo and the checkride.

Training takeaway: Events such as Rochester Aviation’s air race bring students together. See a marketing flier.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

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

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