“No secret to it,” said Dan Dyer of San Carlos Flight Center, San Carlos, California. “We just ask [members] to rate the school and their favorite instructor.” San Carlos was named 2013 Best Flight School in the Flight Training Excellence Awards. The flight school, which operates on a club model, has about 350 members.
“We ask CFIs to ask their students to respond to the poll,” Dyer said. Additionally, SCFC announces the poll at every one of its FAA safety seminars, passes out flyers at its monthly barbecue, and talks up the poll at monthly meetings of SCFC-sponsored groups, such as its Student and New Pilot Support Group.
“Usually we explain it in terms of ‘This is an important poll and feedback is important. If you feel you have received quality instruction from one of our CFIs, we encourage you to vote for them so that they may receive recognition,’” Dyer said.
“How do we get the participation in the AOPA poll? We just asked,” said Chris Graessle of Take Flight Aviation in Montgomery, New York.
“I wrote up a letter that simply stated that if the client is happy with the experience they are having at Take Flight Aviation, we’d very much appreciate them sharing that with the public by taking the AOPA Flight Training Poll (and we added the link as well as how to Google it),” Graessle said. “If on the other hand, there was anything they weren’t happy about, to please let us know so that we could make things right. [We] posted the letter at the front desk and sent it via email to some clients who had earned their licenses but don’t come in all that often (moved away, purchased aircraft that are stored elsewhere, et cetera).”
Graessle said social media doesn’t play a big role in promoting the poll. “Word has spread through our client base via our emails and the letter at the desk,” he said.
Paragon Flight School in Fort Myers, Florida, hands out T-shirts emblazoned with the AOPA logo and the slogan “I voted.” A Star Wars storm trooper standup in Paragon’s lobby is wearing a T-shirt and holding a sign that tells customers how to participate in the poll. And a colorful chalkboard message reminds customers that the August 22 deadline is fast approaching. Paragon was named Best Flight School in the 2014 Flight Training Excellence Awards.
Paragon has handed out T-shirts in previous years. “We have invested about $1,000 total to the 2016 vote effort, which is significantly more than we have in the past,” said Christopher Schoensee. “Most of that cost is in the shirts because we picked up a higher quality product. If a school wanted to do something similar I think it could be achieved by as little as $500 and a little bit of time and effort to decorate and train staff on how to properly promote [the poll].”
“The feedback and marketing exposure we receive from the AOPA poll is invaluable, so the cost is insignificant,” Schoensee said. “Today we have a student from Luxembourg finishing an IPC and certificate validation who found us by doing research on schools. He found us on AOPA. He found us because of the AOPA Excellence Awards.”
AOPA’s poll includes some sweepstakes prizes as incentives to get pilots to participate, but at least one flight school has taken that a step further. “The AOPA incentives are very generous, but I don’t think to the already training student they are good enough,” said Trevor Rossini of Inflight Pilot Training, Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “I go beyond AOPA and offer our own incentive to our customers, because I genuinely want to help general aviation. This could be as simple as being entered to win a free flight hour in an airplane, or a year subscription to Garmin Pilot/ForeFlight paid for by our company.”
Rossini said he engages with customers daily, interacting with as many as he can. It may take the form of a “thanks for your business” or “how was your solo cross-country last week?”
“I then throw in, ‘Hey, AOPA is doing this really cool survey that helps out GA and helps others who come after you understand flight training.”
Instructor-student relationships are an important asset for getting customers to take the poll. “Our instructors forge strong relationships with each student they have,” Rossini said. “If they mention the flight training poll, there is a much higher chance of [customers] going and taking it.” Inflight scored a spot on the 2014 Flight Training Excellence Honor Roll.
You can spend a little, a lot, or nothing at all to promote the poll. But there’s not much time left—so go out there and get your feedback.
Jill W. Tallman is editor of Flight School Business.