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Making up for missed opportunitiesMaking up for missed opportunities

One great irony of the aviation industry is the frequency of the complaint that pilot starts are down, when contrasted with the reality that most flight training businesses do nothing at all to market their services to half the population.

Women make up roughly 51 percent of the population, yet they make up only a small fraction of the general aviation market. Their small numbers in the field are not a function of their unwillingness to accept risk, or their inability to obtain the financial means to get into aviation. In fact, women aged 50 and older are the most healthy, active, and prosperous representatives of their age and gender in history. Collectively they have a net worth of something on the order of $19 trillion. They own or control more than three quarters of the country’s financial wealth, too.

This might be a good time to look around your flight school business and ask yourself a serious question. How female friendly are we?

Consider this. After all the college bills have been paid and the kids have flown the coop, women over 50 see an enormous jump in their purchasing power. In fact, women who fit this description spend two and a half times what the average person spends. Interestingly enough, these women, who have historically been ignored by the general aviation industry, are the ones who make the primary decisions when purchasing computers, cars, financial services, and other high-cost items and services.

Add to that the reality that the number of wealthy women in the United States is rising faster than the number of wealthy men, and it at least suggests that making your aviation business more female friendly might be more than just a display of good manners. It might be good business, too.

Getting girlie successfully means doing some homework, however. You cannot successfully attract women clients by simply painting the front door pink and throwing a doily or two around the office. Not only is that approach unsophisticated, it can be seen as almost worse than doing nothing at all. If you're going to attract the right type of clients to your cash register, male or female, you need to know how to appeal to them on an individual level, not as a faceless mass of protoplasm and estrogen you market to based on rumors and misconceptions.

Women are, by and large, not motived by the same things men are. So your first step may be to change your approach to teaching students to fly, even if every other aspect of your training program remains unchanged. Women tend to prefer working in teams that offer stability, recognition, and reward. This suggests that urging your female students to work hard individually to become the best they can be, may be counter-productive. Conversely, encouraging women to study in groups, or to work with their instructor as if they were a member of a unit, may yield better results.

It also makes good sense to do the obvious and hire a good female CFI. You could employ the best flight instructor in the world, but some people will only feel comfortable flying with someone from the same gender, not to mention their spouse’s feelings. That’s completely understandable, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to accommodate that request.

With 51 percent of the public awaiting your business on the other side of this decision, you may want to seriously consider how you can market your aviation business in a way that is more attractive to female clients. When you take into account that the inward-looking exercise that will result in a more broad appeal in general, you’ll have 100 percent of your clients feeling good.

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