There is a common denominator to flight training that presents an almost universal barrier to prospective students: financing. Few have a disposable income sizable enough to afford the cost of learning to fly. Many more potential students would like to learn, but have neither the liquid funds nor the access to capital that would make it possible for them to pursue their dream of flight.
As the operator of a flight school it makes good business sense to be familiar with and have available a method, or better yet, multiple methods of conquering the major problem with which so many of your prospective customers wrestle. Much like a car dealership, it’s one thing to get the customer interested in the product. It’s another thing entirely to help them make it possible to complete the purchase.
Pilot Finance, Incorporated of Bannockburn, Illinois, has pioneered a solution to the problem. In business for 15 years now, and with 1,300 flight school businesses working with them to help their customers reach their goals, Pilot Finance has tremendous presence in the marketplace. But their services are somewhat misunderstood, even today.
“We started quite small,” company president Jim Knollenberg says, “not sure if it would work or not. And it did work.”
Fifteen years after opening the doors to Pilot Finance their success can be attributed to many things, but Knollenberg singles one out in particular: “We attribute that [success] to sticking to our niche, which is personal and recreational training.”
Pilot Finance provides an amazingly welcome amount of information about its focus on its website. Whether you are a student, a flight instructor, a flight school operator, or just a curious tire-kicker, the website includes a number of informative FAQs that provide real insight into the program. The tag words on the bottom of the page are comforting and attractive. Affordable. Easy. Flexible. Fast. Secure.
Just as flight training is a highly regulated industry with very specific rules and procedures, so is the finance industry. As Knollenberg explains, &ldquot;We are not a loan company. We purchase transactions from flight schools.” And while that explanation may leave some scratching their heads struggling to understand the nuances, it is certainly no more confusing than the question, “Do you want to enroll in a Part 61 training course or a Part 141 program?”
Brett Crowley and Tara Chestnut have been working with Pilot Finance to help students overcome monetary hurdles and train at Wingnuts Aviation in Palmer, Alaska. “We’ve got two [students] who are using it,” says Crowley. “The process is fairly simple.” As Crowley explains it, the student has the option of applying through the flight school or directly to Pilot Finance, Inc. After paying an initial deposit of $250 the student is responsible for making fixed monthly payments for a pre-determined number of months. Invoicing for training time and payments are handled between the school and Pilot Finance.
“Pilot Finance sends us a packet for the student,” Crowley says. The school is responsible for breaking down the cost of flight and ground instruction, estimating the cost of completion, and entering into a contract with Pilot Finance, Inc. Crowley stresses the process is not nearly as daunting as it might seem to the casual observer. He describes working with Pilot Finance as being “straightforward and simple.”
If options are what customers need, and all evidence seems to support that contention, then it is worth becoming familiar with this non-traditional financial opportunity that just might allow a new student to walk through your doors, or a prior student to expand their potential by adding a rating. Effective use of the program does require some effort and insight from the flight school side of the arrangement. But if it brings in a handful of new customers each year, that extra effort may very well turn out to be time well spent.