Recently, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting Japan on a premium tour. Japan’s an expensive country, so it was painful deciding to make the investment, but once committed we had a blast.
Afterward I thought, “Wow! For what people spend on cruises and travel tours, they could do some pretty cool stuff in the course of flight training.” We all know that vacation tours and cruises are very popular right now, and the cost for one couple to participate in one can approach or even exceed the cost of private pilot training.
That raises some interesting questions. First, are we adequately marketing flying’s travel potential to private pilot protects? For the cost of a single premium cruise, one can open the door to a lifetime of pilot travel adventure. We aviators know that, but do our prospects? I suspect the majority do not.
Secondly, are we adequately exploring, implementing, and promoting the adventure of flight training itself? Sure, we dangle carrots of what customers can do after earning their certificates, but are we investing enough energy into making the training itself fun?
An increasing number of flight schools offer optional “fly-out adventure flights.” Sure, students may only be halfway through training, but why not put three or four airplanes together and fly to AirVenture in Oshkosh? Or fly to a Class B airport and attend a major sports event? There are lots of fun things to do with airplanes, and we can help keep our customers motivated and enthused by exposing them to such adventures—assuming they’re comfortable making the investment. These too can be formalized into a marketable program.
Suppose you were a customer evaluating two flight training programs. The first is the primary training we’re all familiar with. The second costs 30 percent more but teaches all the necessary principles in the course of having fun. Which would you choose? Sure, budget-oriented prospects will select the traditional and most efficient program. But plenty of others will spring for the “adventure program.”
A few CFIs and flight schools already offer adventure-oriented pilot training. One that’s been around for decades is Morey’s West Coast Adventures, which originally offered instrument training integrated with a cross-country journey from Madison, Wisconsin, to the West Coast, and has subsequently expanded to include exciting routes throughout the Rockies and Alaska.
Our hypothetical top of the line “Pilot Adventure Syllabus” has lots of cool stuff in it. Yes, this costs more money, but doesn’t it sound like fun? Now we’re marketing a new premium product. Our customers will still graduate as pilots, but you see the marketing pitch: “The flight experience of a lifetime…while becoming a licensed pilot!” As with intro flights, we must be careful to craft any adventure training syllabus around legitimate training parameters and objectives to avoid any regulatory confusing about our primary mission.
If your flight school already organizes “fly-out” excursions, it may be as simple as integrating some of them into your “adventure” syllabus. But regardless of how it’s implemented, we need to 1. Ensure flight training is fun to improve our retention rate; and 2. Offer premium learning experiences to customers willing to invest in them.
Will adventure clients more likely finish their training than traditional customers? Are they more likely to continue piloting after certification thanks to increased exposure to the joys of piloting? All that remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: When it comes to overcoming challenges, fun changes everything.
Greg Brown is an aviation author, photographer, and former National Flight Instructor of the Year. The column is excerpted from his book, The Savvy Flight Instructor Second Edition, courtesy of the author and publisher ASA.