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Student starts his own schoolStudent starts his own school

It wasn’t that Daniel Clark needed a second job when he became president of Executive Flight Training at Harnett Regional Jetport south of Raleigh, North Carolina. His day job was fulltime active duty with the rank of captain in the U.S. Army. Today he is a major and continues to serve as a marketing manager for the Army, making sure the public image is clear and unified.

Clark, a 34-year-old instrument-rated private pilot, trained for his private certificate at a school that wasn’t very welcoming. (He does not fly for the Army.) He and a few friends thought they could do better at attracting and keeping students, so they formed Executive Flight Training. He knew where the focus needed to be. In this digital age, the key is the younger generation, he said, but that generation likes video games more than reality.

“The job is to convince them it is more fun to be a pilot than to play at it.” He talked with Gene Conard, David Williams, and Graham Moore, and together they formed the school in 2011.

For him, it was an extension of his Army job—at the time he was commanding a multifunction logistics company for the Army by day and running his school at night and on weekends. Marketing skills were picked up later out of necessity. A good example of that skill is this article. At an AOPA fly-in at Spokane, Washington, he cornered anyone with an AOPA staff badge to talk about what he was doing in North Carolina. First he found our photographer, and then he cornered the video editor. They passed messages to our editorial staff. We called and discovered he might have good advice for other schools. He was in Washington because he has been reassigned to a base near Puyallup, Washington, and has stepped down as president of the flight school but retains the title of marketing director.

Clark was not trained in marketing, but acquired the skill in his new job of community relations officer. One need not be a trained marketer to work the phones, talk up the school, and make sure the students are happy. “We market through our website, social media (Facebook ads), direct mail, and magazine ads,” he said in an e-mail. “We highlight discovery flights in our ads to get people in the door. Then our outstanding instruction keeps them there. We have tried a couple of times to break into radio or television but the cost is currently prohibitive based on our mission of keeping costs down.”

He was trained in law enforcement in college and started out in the Army as a military policeman. His school has several experienced instructors with thousands of flying hours between them who are dedicated to instructing. All have different instructing styles. The school interviews each student and matches the student to the instructor with the best style for that individual. There have been some notable successes.

You can read on his website about Meghan Worell, who came to the school with a $5,000 flight training scholarship in her hand. It was determined that a recreational certificate would fit the budget, and she soloed in seven days after 14.6 hours. She passed her recreational flight exam in 26 days with 34.0 hours and remained within her budget. The school also may have launched a new career for North Carolina state trooper Bryan Barbour, who plans to use his new private pilot certificate to enter the North Carolina State Patrol Aviation Program.

He has also arranged a financing program with Pilot Finance for flight training. As an example, for an $8,000 private pilot certificate in a total of 50 hours, flying three times a week, a student would make a $250 down payment and pay $228 a month. The certificate would be completed in three months.

If you think you haven’t got time to do marketing, consider this: For this interview, he called from aboard a bouncing bus in Indonesia where he was on temporary assignment to publicize the role of locally based American troops.

Although Clark is a low-time pilot, he won’t be low-time for long. When he comes back to the United States in a few weeks, he’ll jump into his Beech Bonanza F33 based at Pierce County Thun Field Airport near his home and continue a dream that started with a childhood airplane ride.

Alton Marsh

Alton K. Marsh

Freelance journalist
Alton K. Marsh is a former senior editor of AOPA Pilot and is now a freelance journalist specializing in aviation topics.

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