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Spring training: Marketing for the seasonSpring training: Marketing for the season

Springtime is the season when new life bursts forth for the year ahead. If you are a pilot, this is the time of year when your eyes turn skyward to the increasingly blue skies. For flight schools, spring is the season to reignite interest in aviation that has hibernated during the cold, gray winter months

Pilots who have previously flown with your flight school need to be recruited to get airborne again. Your school probably has a database of email addresses and telephone numbers. Old-fashioned telephone contact is a much more personal way of communicating, and your flight instructor staff can help you with this. Divide up a list of telephone numbers and then follow up with your staff on the status of the calls. Make each call as personable as it can possibly be. This work will pay off, and each phone call should close with an appointment at the flight school.

Spring flight training topics that need to be addressed are the standard pilot currency and aircraft qualification issues. This is a good time to suggest customers think about moving up to a more advanced airplane or to fly behind more advanced avionics for the new flying season. Or, suggest they think about adding a new certificate or rating.

A spring open house event would be very timely to bring people back out to the airport. In addition to the usual refreshments and socializing, the open house should have practical appeal. That event could include scheduled short seminars on special topics, or a movie or slideshow on the fun of flying, how to become a private pilot, the outlook for pilot jobs, and how to become a career pilot. On the knowledge and skill side of flying, short seminar topics could include a weather briefing and flight planning review, crosswind landing theory, an ATC communication or meet-the-tower discussion, or a review of glass panel avionics. The purpose is to bring people out to the flight school, help them feel comfortable that what they need to know is readily available at the flight school, and get them scheduled for some flight instruction.

As you are developing the event, let your airport manager know what you are planning. What you are doing here is not just a promotion for your business, but also a promotion for the airport and general aviation. For your event to be really big and successful, you will need cooperation and coordination with the airport management.

Add enough interesting features to your open house and it becomes a newsworthy topic. Think of yourself as doing a community service. After you put together your agenda, contact your local newspaper and television station (see “Marketing: Get your good news to the right people”). That kind of coverage is free advertising.

Another pilot population that needs attention in the springtime consists of pilots who have not flown for five years or more. This is where the AOPA Rusty Pilots Program can help you. This is a complete package that includes advertising, a PowerPoint presentation, and graduation certificate. If you sign up for the program AOPA will contact pilots within a specified range of your airport that have expired medical certificates. Plus you can do your own local advertising. See the website for more information.

A couple years ago when we were advertising an AOPA Rusty Pilots program, an 80-year-old man called to register. His background was interesting, and I asked if we could do a newspaper story on his desire to get back up in the air. A few weeks before the event, our elderly “once a pilot, always a pilot” came out to the airport to meet a newspaper reporter and a staff photographer. The story ran about a week before the Rusty Pilots event and added considerable interest to our event. Our pilot made a half-dozen flights with one of our instructors and was excited to be back at the controls of an airplane again.

In this article a number of thoughts have been presented to launch the 2016 spring flying season. Central to all of this is meeting the needs of your pilot or want-to-be pilot population in your community. Spring marketing is about helping people achieve their dreams—and then you can achieve your flight school success dreams as well.

Ed Helmick has been a flight instructor since 1988. He formerly managed a flight school in Spanish Fork, Utah, as well as schools in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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