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Courting an alien invasionCourting an alien invasion

Virtually any flight school business can take heart in this economy. That may seem ironic, or even heretical, but there is an alien invasion occurring that can work to your advantage. In fact, there has been an alien invasion taking place for decades. Anyone who is involved in flight training, aircraft rentals, or selling pilot supplies can get involved in that invasion to the benefit of his or her bottom line. Well, almost anyone. As with all things aviation there are some government processes to consider.

In the good old days pretty much any CFI or flight school could instruct pretty much anyone from pretty much anywhere. As long as they had the strength to walk through your door, lift their checkbook, and pay the bill, they were good to go as flight students. All that changed in the twenty-first century, however. Now, when an alien (also known as a non-U.S. citizen) decides he or she wants to learn to fly, the potential student has a few hoops to jump through. And so does the CFI or the flight school the person wants to fly with.

Any potential student who is not a U.S. citizen has to register online with the TSA’s Alien Flight Student Program (AFSP). It’s a relatively straightforward procedure with the slight twist that completing the process is left entirely up to the student, not the flight training provider. When the TSA is satisfied the student is not a threat, the feds will contact the registered training provider the student indicated he or she would be flying with. And that’s the key for flight school businesses. You or your business has to be registered for the student to select your business as their training provider of choice.

Fortunately, registering to be a provider is relatively simple. Visit the TSA’s Alien Flight Student Program website and select “Provider Portal” from the menu in the upper center of the screen. Then simply click on “New Provider Account” and follow the steps to complete your registration.

Your local FSDO will be apprised of your application and will either accept or reject your application. That will trigger an email being sent to you that includes your login information for the TSA website, assuming you were approved.

That’s it. The process is quick, relatively easy, and opens the door to a whole slew of potential customers who are not available to flight instructors or schools that have not registered. Keep in mind, from the perspective of the FAA, an independent flight instructor who is working part-time is really a flight school with only one employee. The process for registering to be a provider for the Alien Flight Student Program is the same for the individual instructor as it is for a full-time 24 hour a day, seven days a week operation that employs dozens of instructors. The key is you have to actually register.

Now that you know how, why not get that ball rolling? It may be the simplest, quickest, and least complicated method available of opening the door to a world of new potential customers.

For more information on how to work effectively with non-U.S. citizens who are seeking flight training opportunities, see AOPA’s website for in-depth guidance, connections to valuable resources, and regulatory insight.

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