Coast Flight Training is a Part 141 school based at Montgomery Field Airport (MYF), San Diego, California. Students learn in some of the most challenging and congested airspace in the United States. Fewer than 10 nautical miles northeast from San Diego International Airport (SAN) and five nautical miles south from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Coast Flight students navigate the busy Class B and surrounding Southern California airspace as an enriched learning environment.
Coast Flight’s main focus is training pilots for a future in professional aviation, but the academy also accepts students pursuing a private pilot certificate purely for the enjoyment of flying.
Every day is different. From rapidly changing weather conditions (VFR to marine layer) to complying with difficult ATC instructions, students learn the basics through scenario-based training. Will Dryden, founder of Coast, and his team Bryan Simmons and Kevin Slatnick, said they have achieved high student success rates. They recently agreed to share some learning points.
The training footprint for each student is laid out from day one, allowing student pilots to plan ahead and prepare. Early in training, the staff establishes a culture of clear expectations. Dryden and his team personally interview each student. During the interview, Simmons stresses that student’s need to dedicate a large portion of his or her time and energy to flight training. The individual who must commute an hour or has family distractions isn’t necessarily the ideal candidate. It’s unrealistic to mislead candidates into thinking that training doesn’t require the commitment of a full-time job.
One personal lesson that Dryden admits he realized late and stresses to other schools: Operating a flight school is the realization of his dream, but still a business.
The most difficult and best choice Coast Flight’s leadership team ever made was “stepping away from the dollar,” Simmons said. “If enrolling a student would potentially set them up for failure or disappointment as in inadequate dedication to the syllabus, then we turn them away.” The toughest part of this job is telling someone a flying career is not the best fit. Students with high ambitions fail to realize that professional aviation is “80 percent academics and 20 percent skill set,” Dryden said.
Setting standards and expectations early in the process removes disillusionment and disappointment. Both are the basis for how Coast Flight functions. Expectation management nets positive results for both the flight school and the students. Some students thought that they would train occasionally. After meeting with the interview panel, they are surprised to learn the amount of focus that is required. Afterward the students are appreciative and start training toward their goal with vigor. Dryden, Slatnick, and Simmons agreed that it’s a disservice to allow clients to find out that a career in aviation is not for them—especially after they have taken out thousands of dollars in loans.
Coast Flight Academy has established its reputation as a business that takes its role seriously. Students graduate with high quality training that’s comparable to a military environment. They walk away knowing that they have the training that enables them to safely and effectively address situations as they arise.
Matthew Bauman is a fixed-wing and rotorcraft pilot who flies in the military.