Four years after purchasing a flight school in upstate New York, Jeff Vandeyacht says the business is doing well and making money—but he freely admits that he’s in an enviable position. Vandeyacht, owner of True Course Flight School at Oswego County Airport in Fulton, New York, is the chief operating officer of a trade show exhibits company. He can put all profits from True Course Flight School back into the flight school. And he has.
“That’s why I was able to repaint and refinish and put in new glass and a new interior in the Cessna 150 and a new interior in the 172,” he says. “I’m able to do that because I can keep the money that we make in the business.”
“I really can’t complain,” Vandeyacht says. “Given our area and how economically challenged it is, I’m pretty happy with how we’re doing.” He credits Facebook and radio advertisements with bringing in leads. Those strategies and other marketing ideas that have worked for Vandeyacht will be discussed in an upcoming issue of Flight School Business.
True Course has two flight instructors who are independent contractors. Vandeyacht trained one from the instrument rating through the CFI—“built him in my lab, so to speak.” The second CFI is retired Air Force and has been flight instructing since the 1970s. Vandeyacht also hires local teenagers to clean airplanes and pays them an hourly rate on an account that they can put toward flight instruction. “That has its pluses and minuses,” he admits. “Mostly because none of them are very good at it. Sometimes it’s more than a charity than anything else, but I’m real open to that. I love it when kids come to us to learn how to fly.” These students have to be at least 16 years old; Vandeyacht says True Course doesn’t teach students younger than 14 years old.
The training fleet consists of the aforementioned 152 and 172, plus a Cessna 140 for tailwheel endorsements. There’s not much demand for tailwheel training, Vandeyacht says, but he gets free use of the airplane in exchange for hangar space. “It really doesn’t cost me anything,” he says. “I’ll do the occasional tailwheel endorsement myself, and [the owner] will do them for me and he doesn’t even charge me.”
True Course Flight School’s fleet is down by one aircraft—a Socata Trinidad that sustained a nosegear collapse on landing. It was on leaseback and was not insured. Vandeyacht would like to get a Piper Arrow or a Mooney for high-performance/complex endorsements and commercial training, and he’s interested in a leaseback or a partnership. “The Trinidad was the only complex aircraft within about 75 miles,” he says. “I only did maybe 100 or 120 hours a year of complex training. If I was doing 200 or 300 hours a year, I would buy one in a heartbeat.”
Given upstate New York’s cold winters, Vandeyacht bought a Redbird TD2 simulator, thinking clients would use it to stay current. “I would’ve bet anything that I would have had guys in there once a week just to stay current, but it’s been a total bust,” he says. He charges $40 an hour, but notes, “Everybody has their own flight simulator on their computer at home. Unless you need it to be loggable legally, why spend $40 an hour? But, I just thought for sure there would be more interest in it. I don’t think there’s been 20 hours put on it in the year and a half we’ve had it.” With winter fast approaching, however, Vandeyacht plans to put out a reminder to his clientele that the simulator is a good way to remain proficient when the snow is piling up.