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Help your customers navigate the CFI revolving doorHelp your customers navigate the CFI revolving door

Hire a new flight instructor. Get him acclimated to your school’s environment and customers. Help him grow his roster of students. Wave goodbye as he departs for another flying job.

It’s nothing a seasoned aviation professional hasn’t encountered, but it can have a devastating impact on the students left behind.

Weather, aircraft down for maintenance, money—all of these factors can impede a customer’s training progress. The promise that an airplane will soon be back on the line or good weather is on its way can provide encouragement. If an instructor leaves, however, the customer may see that as the final straw—his or her dream of flight wasn’t meant to be.

“I had four instructors and it was one of the reasons why I didn’t finish my training,” said Darryl Jordan of Madison, Wis.

Even if you promptly set up your customer with another instructor, will they work well together?

“It was never the same,” said Karmen Krueger of Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. She enjoyed working with her initial CFI, a young, confident pilot with a safety-conscious attitude. When he took another job, she began flying with another instructor who was “technically proficient” but had an awkward, “Mr. Bean” personality that she found off-putting. She stopped taking flight lessons. “I didn’t want it as much.”

And then there’s the additional expense your customer will incur as he or she gets up to speed with another flight instructor. You know and the new CFI knows that this is a necessary part of the process; the flight instructor has to gauge the student’s skills and knowledge. Your customer, however, might view it as another attempt to get money out of him—particularly if he has to change instructors more than once. And that could cause the client to take his business elsewhere.

What can you do? Tim Busch, owner and manager of Iowa Flight Training in Cedar Rapids, says he keeps turnover low by “pay[ing] them well compared to the industry standard,” and by hiring individuals who love to teach and already have a non-aviation career, “so they aren’t going anywhere.”

He does employ young, career-minded flight instructors who trained at the flight school, but there are stipulations. “I make a two-year contract with them where they learn to teach and build time, but we plan the transition when they leave” so that no student is left high and dry.

Busch’s approach may not be feasible for everyone, but there are other measures that can help.

  • Syllabus. If Part 61, does your school use one? There may be no more effective way to track a student’s progress. King Schools offers a free syllabus for both the private pilot certificate and instrument rating.
  • Records.What kind of records do you keep on your students? A copy of a syllabus detailing the student’s progress would be a boon to the flight instructor who inherits the customer. Expanding on this, you could note whether the student has flown with any other CFI or other useful information.
  • Communication. New students generally aren’t aware of the fact that flight instructors come and go. When they hire someone to do a job, they expect that person to be around for the finish. Ask your flight instructors to be candid with customers if there’s a job change on the horizon. Don’t let your customer be the last one to know.
  • Transition. Work with your instructors to set up a plan for when it’s time to leave. Identify other CFIs who can step in. The departing CFI might encourage his student to fly with a possible replacement so as to give them an opportunity to work together. Ensure the departing flight instructor has fully briefed his replacement on the student’s progress, learning style, personality, and any other tidbits that will ease the process.
Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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