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Get ready for winter Get ready for winter

Warm weather is here. Long days mean more billing hours; your flight instructors are busy and your fleet is hopping with activity. 

Summer stretches into fall—another great time for flying in many parts of the country, with crystal-clear skies and cooler temperatures that bring customers out to the airport.

We wish it could be like this always—but it won’t, unless your flight school is in the West. Now is the time to start planning for how you’ll bring in business during the notoriously slow weeks of winter and early spring.

I vividly recall several years ago when ice storms coated the Mid-Atlantic. Ten days passed before any type of flying weather returned to the area. During that time, CFIs at a local flight school sent each other photos of themselves in the dog food aisle of the grocery store. It was funny in a kind of bleak way.

Start now to plan how you’ll bring in new business during the lean times. Easy ways to do that include:

  • Reaching out to current clients (it’s never too soon to start working on that next rating or certificate).
  • Planning some weekend safety lectures, trivia contests, or FAA Wings seminars. Offer a discount on the simulator and book your available slots right then.
  • Keeping up on social media. Don’t let your Facebook presence slide during slow times. Remind your customers that you’re here, good weather is around the corner, and you’ll be ready for them when that happens.
  • Asking for testimonials from customers. These can go on your website and on your Facebook page.

Flight training professionals offered additional suggestions:

“I know places that shift to selling ‘Groupon’ type deals to raise money to support slow operations, and I personally make it a point to try to run multiple ground schools (private, IFR, technically advanced aircraft) to keep revenue up. But the biggest thing I could do is ‘save in the good times to have for when it’s lean.’”—Christopher Freeze

“I suggest you consider doubling your normal lesson time and quadrupling your ground instructor portion of the lesson to teach the student all about cold weather operations. Teach them everything they will need to know when they buy their own airplane if they end up basing it at a small airport with limited services. Also consider doubling up on safety seminars and ground school sessions because people have more time on their hands when the weather keeps them on the ground.”—Joseph J. Zubay

“We do keep our fixed, recurring monthly costs as low as possible, so that when flight times are slow our expenses are also lower. Eighty percent of our fixed costs are rent and insurance. We cover the rent by being a test center, which is independent of flight training so it remains busy year ‘round. We try to keep it so that if people aren’t flying, we don’t have much in the way of expenses.”—Faith D., Florida Flight Center

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is be realistic about market prospects. Consider the construction industry—one that, like the flight training industry, is affected by seasonal ups and downs as well as oil and gas prices, not to mention the shrinking and expansion of the global economy. “Closely watching these changes over time and aligning your asset management strategy will set you up well to take counter measures ahead of slow periods, such as disposing of surplus equipment, and to make the most of a boom season or year, like buying tactical additional pieces of equipment,” Franklin Langham recommends in “How to Operate Smarter during Lean Times,” which was published in Construction Business Owner.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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