If yours is the only school at your airport, you likely find that the lack of competition works to your benefit. (Free-market economic theorists might claim that more direct competitive pressures would drive your operations toward greater efficiency and improve customer value, but even they would have a hard time arguing that this would bring more students through your doors.) Theoretical virtues of competition notwithstanding, though, having other schools based at the same field does provide one advantage that’s hard to replicate elsewhere: that many more eyes keeping tabs on your aircraft.
A friend who teaches at a busy nontowered field with a single runway and airspace constraints provided an example. His is one of three schools based there. He and a student were in the run-up area when they saw a piston single land long and fast with a 10-knot tailwind—against the flow of traffic on a typically frantic day. That airplane barely made the last turnoff, and as it taxied past our friend recognized the N number as belonging to another school’s fleet. Putting himself in that owner’s shoes, he didn’t take long to decide that if someone was using one of his aircraft that way, he’d want to know about it. This led to a phone call—not to the FAA, but to a rival who was, after all, also a neighbor.
The intense competition for students shouldn’t get in the way of cooperating on matters of mutual interest, not least of which is establishing channels for reporting renters, students, or even instructors who violate the school’s policies (or worse, the FARs). The United States and the Soviet Union managed to negotiate arms-control agreements during the Cold War. This should be easy by comparison.
Other areas in which communication and cooperation could work to everyone’s advantage include agreement on egress and ingress procedures, avoidance of noise-sensitive areas, adopting an informal air-to-air advisory frequency for position reports in the practice area, and establishing pattern directions and altitudes that separate fixed-wing from helicopter traffic. As a general rule, any voluntary arrangements that promote order and improve safety benefit the entire airport community. After all, irritated residents won’t know and may not care which school’s aircraft keep flying over their houses, and while midairs are obviously bad for everyone, all accidents tend to depress business. They increase the jitters of prospective students, heighten the fears of nervous parents or spouses, and give ammunition to those locals who see flight training—and maybe the airport itself—as more of a problem than an opportunity.
Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying that, “We must all hang together, or we will most assuredly hang separately.” However much you might want or need that student who just walked into a competitor’s office, you also share an urgent interest in looking out for one another. Questionable behavior in one of their aircraft threatens your operation almost as much as if those shenanigans had taken place in one of yours, elevating the rule of treating others as you’d like to be treated to the level of enlightened self-interest.
By the same logic, all sides benefit when the contacts between your rival staffs are characterized by clear communication, courtesy, and mutual respect. While it’s a bit of a paradox, it’s true nevertheless: Even as we struggle for survival of the fittest, we’re all in this together.