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Is passion enough?Is passion enough?

Most flight school owners are passionate pilots. They started the school because they wanted to give back, and spend their days at the airport doing what they love. This might be a good reason to start a business, but passion isn’t a tactic that leads to a living wage. For that, your school needs a profit.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reigns.” Introducing a bit of reason to your school without losing the passion is the key to success.

To do this, first identify why it is you started the school and what it is you are most passionate about. This may seem obvious, but it’s likely one specific aspect of flight training that you are most interested in. It could be one-on-one teaching, general flying, the community of aviation, mentoring, or any number of other reasons. Once you’ve come to the core of why it is you love this business, the next step is exploiting it.

The culture of a company always flows down from the top. Your passion should permeate from you down through everyone in the building, including new students. It should come across in marketing materials and events. In other words, it is your brand. A reporter from your local paper should be able to walk in and ask anyone standing around what your business offers, and the answer should be the same, and it should be obvious—the passion for training, community, mentoring, or whatever the case may be.

One of the keys of making sure your passion works for you is to keep it fresh. We’re often bogged down by mundane tasks and the drudgery of the day-to-day. Don’t let your passion slip this way. Make sure you indulge it often. If one-on-one teaching is your passion, make sure to stop running to business long enough to get in the cockpit with a student on a regular basis. If it’s mentoring, take on a student or volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol. And if it’s just flying in general, get out there and enjoy the sky for a bit now and then.

Finally, people with a passion for aviation often feel a certain obligation to give back to the community. While some of that is possible when you’re trying to run a business, it’s important not to give so much that you ultimately give away the business. This can happen through actual giving, or simply through unsustainable pricing.

Participating in community events and hosting aviation meetings is important and good for schools. It can show the school’s commitment to the community, and offer a great networking opportunity. But they quickly eat in to any profit margin, so they must be carefully considered. If you want to give back you can establish a scholarship fund or help young students earn hours through work.

The other side of that losing equation is not bringing in enough revenue. Often schools are too timid in their pricing structure, thinking that raising the prices only a little will drive away business. Talk to those owners who have raised prices to a level in which the assets are making money, however, and you’ll find they are glad they did. In most cases few if any customers go away, and the appropriate prices mean you’ll have better equipment, a staff with better pay, and a customer base that hopefully values what they are paying for.

While passion can certainly get you out of bed in the morning, it won’t pay the bills once you get to work. But if you put it to use working for you, the benefits can come.

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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