Texas Aviation Academy has successfully implemented a unique flight training program that is getting the attention of industry experts. I’m calling it the “team teaching approach.”
Each flight-training customer is assigned a lead instructor who is responsible for his or her overall training, but the day-to-day training is conducted by a variety of different instructors. This method is not new in the military or airline worlds, but it is unique to general aviation flight training in the United States.
And it’s working well for Texas Aviation Academy. Formed from the remnants of a prior flight school, Texas Aviation Academy has been operating in New Braunfels, Texas, since 2013. The school currently has 10 flight instructors (five full time) flying a fleet of seven airplanes, 300 to 400 hours per month. Eighty-five percent of private pilot customers pass the checkride on the first attempt at an average of 55 flight hours. Furthermore, when approached with a few unique customers who were on a tight schedule, Texas Aviation Academy was able to use this team approach to get those customers from zero to private pilot in as few as nine days and 40 flight hours.
How does this team approach work? Texas Aviation Academy CEO Brent Jolly said standardization is a key element to the success of the team teaching approach. Since day 1, Jolly said he has standardized not only the use of flight-training syllabi, but even the specific maneuvers and procedures that are traditionally left to individual instructor technique. Each instructor is provided online access to detailed company checklists, maneuvers guides, flight syllabi, and standard operating procedures. Whether it’s power settings on downwind or when to add flaps for an approach to land stall, everything is standardized.
Team teaching provides several benefits. Customers enjoy increased scheduling flexibility and associated cost savings. Customers also gain additional experience from flying with a variety of flight instructors. Even though the procedures and techniques are standardized, each instructor brings his or her unique personality and level of experience to the training. This also helps when it’s time for the checkride and the student pilot is already comfortable flying with different people.
Improved flexibility and efficiency are also big benefits for the flight school. A centralized scheduling system allows dispatchers to easily pair available airplanes and instructors with customers who are ready to fly. This is where the team approach really adds value. One or more instructors are ill, out of town, or dealing with a family emergency? No problem! The customers keep flying. At a time when most flight schools are struggling to find an ample number of quality flight instructors, this flexibility really pays off.
The team approach has helps new instructors get up to speed in the training environment, Jolly said. With the traditional approach of pairing one instructor with one customer, that instructor is responsible for every lesson from start to finish. With the team-teaching approach, the company is able to select the best lessons for the new instructors to start with.
The team-teaching approach may not be for everyone. Certain things need to be in place to avoid significant challenges, Jolly said. Think of these as the foundation that must be built before attempting to implement the team teaching approach at your flight school. In addition to the standardization, excellent communication and proper mindset are also key factors to the success of this approach. It’s important that each instructor properly records notes related to the customer’s performance after each training event. Texas Aviation Academy uses a centralized record-keeping system that is accessible by every instructor. This communication is vital to the customer’s success as he or she trains with different instructors each lesson.
According to Jolly, instructors must understand that they are part of a unified team that is working together to help all of the flight-training customers succeed. Many instructors (and pilots in general) tend to be competitive and feel the need to prove themselves by comparing their performance to others. For the team-teaching approach to work well, egos must be set aside and the mindset needs to be one of unity and cooperation. Jolly looks for these attributes when he is interviewing flight instructors. Properly managing expectations (both with customers and team members) also is a vital element of the communication process. Clear company policies and thorough briefings go a long way toward eliminating unnecessary surprises for everyone.
Texas Aviation Academy does something else that is rare in the flight training industry: The flight school pays CFIs their normal training rate to do paperwork. This idea will make most flight school owners/managers groan, but it’s important to realize the value. Those daily notes related to customer performance are so important to the success of this approach. By putting his money where his standards are, Jolly clearly communicates to his team that detailed record-keeping and proper documentation are part of the job and they get paid for it.
So how well has this all been working? Texas Aviation Academy has been utilizing the team-teaching approach since day 1, so there really isn’t any before-and-after data to compare. Jolly explained, however, that the academy has helped several customers who came to them from other flight schools. Many of the customers were struggling and had many hours in their logbooks, but were not progressing. After engaging in the team-teaching approach, these customers quickly excelled and completed their training. Jolly credits their success to the standardization, schedule flexibility, and benefits of flying with various instructors.
The team-teaching approach works. It saves money, increases efficiency, and improves the quality of training. To be successful, however, it’s important to first set the solid foundation of standardization, excellent communication, and a team mindset.
Flight school owners and managers who want to learn more about Texas Aviation Academy’s team-teaching approach are welcome to call Assistant Chief Flight Instructor Chad Tanner at 830-629-2110.--Jim Pitman
Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating working his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at FlywithJim.com.