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Get prospects in the know before they goGet prospects in the know before they go

A common challenge for all businesses is getting customers through the door. For a shoe store on Main Street, this is hard enough. But for a flight school, it ranges from difficult to nearly impossible.

The first hurdle is getting people to understand that a local airport exists. Then you have to help them find it. Then they have to find your school. And finally, they have to get up the courage to walk through the door. This last step is harder than you might imagine. Aviation can be a closed society, with instructors in official uniforms milling about and students head-down in books before a lesson.

A flight school owner in California is trying to overcome some of these issues with technology. Trade Winds Aviation at the Reid-Hillview Airport (RHV) is using a virtual tour to help prospective students get comfortable with the school, learn the layout, and hopefully feel more confident about stopping in for a visit.

Owner Walter Gyger said he knows people research their buying decisions online. “It just felt to me like it was an excellent extension of what’s already there.” The tour is powered by Google’s Streetview Web application, and hosted by Trade Winds, so customers should be familiar with the operation. Users can pan, zoom, and move through the facilities quickly and easily. “The walk-through gives an impression of who we are and where we are. Lots of people on the website haven’t been to the airport or in a small airplane,” he said.

Instead of photographing the building and trying to code the tour in-house, Gyger paid a contractor a flat rate to deliver a complete and finished package. It took a month or two and cost less than buying an advertisement in a local publication.

At an airport with five other flight schools, every edge helps. By catering to the local technically savvy customer base, Trade Winds has been able to give potential students a unique look at what’s to come, while making them feel good about their upcoming investment.

It’s also one of many strategies Gyger uses to keep a steady flow walking through the front door. He believes that a range of strategies is the best policy, from their virtual tour to business mixers, pancake breakfasts, brochures, and videos. Each speaks to different audiences in different ways. For those who aren't brash enough to stumble in without so much as an address, Gyger and Trade Winds are trying to make it easier to know before they go.

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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