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Getting your students' better halves on boardGetting your students' better halves on board

Learning to fly takes time and money. That much is obvious. But it also takes a lot of support at home. For one half of a relationship to take a bigger share of that time or money, the student must have his or her spouse or significant other’s support. And as the business providing that training, it’s up to you to help.

There are dozens of ways your school can get involved with supporting the student’s family, and thus ease your student’s transition to the aviation community. Here are five:

1. Teach the student how to use the certificate. Go beyond stalls and steep turns and figure out creative ways to expose your students to the larger aviation community by treating them like a pilot while they’re still in training. That means making sure you visit lots of other airports to ease any hesitation about entering the traffic pattern, visiting the FBO, or getting a rental car. It also means exposing them to various regional destinations that are family oriented, whether that’s the beach, quick access to a city and its nightlife, or a great bed and breakfast near an airport. New pilots routinely stop flying after earning a certificate simply because they don’t know where to go. Make sure to help while you still have them in training.

2. Invite the spouse as a passenger. It can be a delicate method, but if done properly, exposing a spouse or significant other during training with a flight can be a great way to get him or her involved. Clearly you wouldn’t want to do this during power-on stall practice. And you might not even want to do it during cross-country practice. But if the weather is good and the day’s lesson is VOR or GPS navigation, make it to a nearby airport with a lunch spot and invite the student’s home support. As the flight school owner or manager, you can help standardize this a bit during CFI training, even going so far as to lay out some guidelines on distance, preparation, and proper lesson in the syllabus.

A word of caution about this method: There are myriad horror stories about spouses who have gone up on turbulent days with lots of maneuvering and never stepped foot in a small airplane again. In other words, there is real possibility of it backfiring.

3. Bring the spouse into the community. Your flight school should already have an associated community. Make sure to invite the spouses. Contests, social events, hot dog cookouts, movies at the school, and every other type of get-together should be open and welcoming to customers and their significant others. That may seem obvious, but it’s quite common to see 10 guys hovering over a gas grill eating hot dogs with not a family member in sight. Think more family picnic than poker night and you get the idea. And just like you would do with your students, make sure to introduce spouses you think will have common interests.

4. Offer classes to the better half. Generally, the more someone knows about something, the more likely the person is to reach a level of understanding and acceptance. Such is the case with a spouse learning how to fly. The Pinch Hitter course, which various schools have offered for decades, does this up to a point. But it comes at it from a safety perspective. The basic idea is that a spouse can learn how to control the airplane in case the pilot is unable to perform the flying duties for any reason. These courses are often quite popular, and they can be effective for bringing the student’s spouse or significant other into the fold. Their major flaw is that they are built on the assumption that flying is dangerous. It’s safety training.
San Carlos Flight Center, this year’s Best Flight School in AOPA’s Flight Training Excellence Awards, does things a bit differently. The school conducts two different types of events aimed at spouses. “So You’re Married to a Pilot” is open to pilots and their spouses. Owner Dan Dyer says it helps everybody who sits in the same airplane come to an understanding about their different experiences. The school’s right-seat workshop is only open to nonpilots as a way to, “improve the experience of the right-seater,” he said. It’s meant to address basic flying topics and create an opportunity for the spouses and frequent passengers to bond. Dyer says that their goal is to make a better environment for their pilots, which hopefully will lead to more flying.

5. Get him or her on a trip. Ask any longtime pilots how they got their spouses to fly with them, and the answer is almost always that they made the trip about their spouse. A flight around the pattern isn’t going to excite most nonpilots. But a trip to the beach, camping, skiing, or whatever else it is your spouse likes to do is. Help your students and new pilots through this with organized fly-out trips. By organizing group trips to great locations, you’re giving your students experience in a controlled environment and their spouses a great reason to go along. Many schools do this quite deftly. Seek them out and follow their lead.

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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