By Jim Pitman
How can we attract more qualified flight training clients? Are there new and innovative marketing techniques no one else is doing? Is there an untapped market just waiting to be discovered? The executives at Ventura Flight Training are asking these questions.
I visited with CEO Nick Tarascio and was inspired by our conversation. Tarascio is actively pursuing a study of entrepreneurship. Through the many books he reads, his interactions with other successful business executives, and his personal experience, Tarascio is uncovering the secrets to success for flight training in an ever-changing marketplace.
Tarascio and his team at Ventura Flight Training, located at Republic Airport (FRG) in Farmingdale, New York, have been exploring creative ways to connect with successful entrepreneurs and business owners in the community. This is not a new idea. Flight school owners and managers have always loved the idea of attracting more clients who have significant discretionary income. What’s refreshing is the approach Ventura Flight Training is taking.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time taking people to lunch and dinner, asking questions, and listening carefully. What we’re learning is simple and profound,” Tarascio said. “Every community has a group of successful entrepreneurs and business people who have solved the money challenges of life and are now dealing with different challenges. They are looking for new opportunities that will provide personal satisfaction and meaning in their lives,” he said.
Those who have started flight training at Ventura are finding exactly that. The problem is that most of these successful people don’t realize that becoming a pilot is exactly what they are looking for. “As we’ve talked with these flight training clients, it’s become clear that becoming a pilot was not a lifelong dream for most of them,” Tarascio said. “Most of them fly as passengers on the airlines and charter aircraft all the time, but the thought of them being a pilot never even entered their minds. It was usually the invitation of a close pilot friend, or completely by chance that they started their own flight training. But once they did, it was immediately clear that this new adventure was exactly what they’ve been looking for,” he said.
For years flight school marketing professionals have operated with the understanding that we are advertising to the masses while looking for the small percentage of the population who want to learn to fly. My epiphany is that these marketing efforts are based on what I now believe to be the false assumption that the people in this minority know who they are. The truth is, they don’t!
Yes, there will always be the few who have the lifelong dream to become a pilot. That’s not the group we’re talking about. Tarascio and his team have identified a much larger population of successful business professionals who have not yet even thought of becoming a pilot—but learning to fly is exactly the type of new challenge and adventure they are looking for.
“We all assume that people know what they want in life, but that’s just not the case. We need to start a different conversation,” Tarascio said.
We will never effectively connect with this group with traditional “Learn to fly” or “Become a pilot” campaigns. Tarascio explained, “It really goes back to the marketing principle that someone looking to buy a drill doesn’t really want a drill; what they want is a hole.” Look at your own marketing efforts. Are you trying to sell the drill or the hole?
So what are these successful professionals looking for? “Yes, they are looking for new challenges and adventures, but even more importantly, they are looking for community. We need to find innovative ways to create a community around our flight schools that naturally invites non-aviators to join in and participate,” Tarascio said. “Our research shows that community is even more important than having the newest or most advanced airplanes. A nice taxi driver is better than a nice car.”
And how do we attract these successful business professionals? Ventura Flying Services is trying some innovative approaches. As part of Ventura’s overall Community Development Program, the flight school invites local business professionals to a new speaker series. The most recent event featured former U.S. Navy SEAL Brandon Webb, who discussed “taking action in the face of fear (from the battlefield to the boardroom, or in the cockpit).”
“The event was well attended, and I was pleasantly surprised that we had more non-aviation business people in attendance than we did aviation professionals. It’s too soon to tell what specific business will come from it, but the event was definitely a success and the feedback has been extremely positive,” Tarascio said. This is just one example of ways to create an audience that includes this target market.
Tarascio and his team would like to connect with other flight school owners and managers around the country who share this vision. “We believe we’re onto something big. We have a lot of great ideas, but we don’t have all of the answers. I would very much like to personally connect with flight school managers in other regions who see what we see so that we can share our experiences and work together to grow the pilot population,” Tarascio said. If you are this flight school owner/manager, email [email protected]. Flight schools everywhere can benefit from the opportunity to connect with successful business professionals and help more of them discover the value and satisfaction of learning to fly. Our entire industry benefits as we work together to share ideas and collaborate our efforts.
Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website.