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The other fleetThe other fleet

Is instructing in customer-owned aircraft profitable?

You are proud of your flight school’s training aircraft, and as a business person you always keep your eyes open for opportunities to expand or adjust your fleet to meet the needs of your clients.

That fleet may be neat, but it doesn’t bring in all the business from a flight school derives revenue. Aircraft owners require instructional services now and then—and whenever possible they like to train in their own aircraft, with an instructor who knows the ropes. Is your flight school positioned to meet this need?

At first glance, offering instruction in an owner’s aircraft may seem a less productive use of your business’s resources than training pilots while generating revenue from your own fleet. It may even feel like a loss leader—but the reverse could be true.

Teaching an owner in his or her aircraft can fill dreaded downtime for your flight instructors. Better still, the downtime can be filled on short notice without wreaking havoc on your own aircraft flight schedules. For example, an aircraft owner who can run down to her hangar, haul out the airplane, and log some actual instrument dual on a bad-weather day can turn a cancelled flight with a primary student into a revenue hour or two for a member of your teaching staff.

Flying an owner’s personal aircraft can keep some of your airport’s most experienced CFIs teaching—a real win-win for the aviation community. For example, if an aircraft owner holds a medical certificate and is able to act as pilot in command, a CFI on your call list who lacks a medical can provide needed instruction for missions such as a flight review or a basic practice session that doesn’t require the CFI to act as a required crewmember.

That scenario allows your flight school to serve as a customer and keep a possibly very experienced CFI in action while making your other instructors available for flight lessons with student pilots, giving introductory flights, or handling other duties that require a current medical. Also, your attentiveness gives the customer an incentive to use your business for other services such as fuel, aircraft maintenance, and other FBO amenities you provide.

Never forget that customers are mindful of value received for price paid. A hectic flight schedule notwithstanding, never assign a CFI who has little or no experience in a specific make or model aircraft to the customer’s cockpit if another staff member would be a better choice.

Obviously that policy assures a quality instructional service—but have you given some thought to the marketing edge your CFI’s experience can provide (or undermine)?

Here’s how that piece of the puzzle fits into place: Suppose the customer wants to practice crosswind landings with a qualified person sitting alongside, or desires the assistance of the CFI to work the radios and watch for traffic on a cross-country through busy airspace. Assign an instructor whose experience will exceed expectations, the result being that the customer returns from the day’s flying thinking, I learned something new today.

Getting what the customer paid for, and more, should guarantee a return engagement—and produce some invaluable word-of-mouth advertising for your flight school business.

Providing that level of customer care will be easier if you have assembled an instructional staff with experience in a wide variety of aircraft, and your dispatch team knows to match them with appropriate aircraft owners. A flight school that hires instructors based only on their ability to fly the company fleet could lose the competitive edge.

What about a longer-term relationship? An aircraft owner may decide to pursue a new certificate or rating, and ask you to provide the instruction. Does your standard hourly rate provide the margin necessary to make this longer commitment worthwhile? Is your staffing level capable of absorbing the extra demand without infringing other clients’ training?

Run the numbers, do the staffing analysis, and be ready to offer the most attractive package possible when the customer calls.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.

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