By Jim Pitman
Pilot Flight Training Courses is Joe Standley’s school at the Lake in The Hills Airport (3CK) near Chicago, Illinois. In addition to providing a variety of traditional flight training courses, Standley offers a 10-day, full-immersion instrument rating course. While accelerated training is certainly nothing new, Standley has an approach that may shed a new light on this type of training.
Standley said accelerated training programs are frequently misunderstood, and the flight schools that offer them are often criticized by others in the industry.
“The primary complaints and stereotypes are related to items that involve cutting corners with the training and working with certain designated pilot examiners that make it possible to simply train for the checkride rather than producing a safe and competent instrument rated pilot,” Standley said. “These concerns are valid, and I’ve seen the schools and instructors that give us this unfortunate stereotype, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done right. I wanted to do it right.”
The goal of Pilot Flight Training Courses’ 10-day instrument course is to help each client become a safe, knowledgeable, and proficient instrument pilot—not simply to send them to a checkride after 10 days “while crossing our fingers and hoping they will pass,” Standley said. “They go for their checkride when they are ready and not before.”
The concept is simple, he said: “Do everything we do in the traditional course, but do it much faster.” Standley said he designed the course from the ground up to incorporate the requirements of the Airman Certification Standards and his years of experience into a common-sense flow. “I give detailed instruction and comparisons to real-world experiences and teach at a deeper level than most.”
A client’s success depends on several factors. He or she must have completed the knowledge test as well as most of the cross-country requirements. The client must purchase and study the appropriate books and charts, and show up ready to work hard for 10 days, Standley said.
The most important factor for success is to properly manage client expectations, Standley said. “Most of the pilots who contact me about the 10-day instrument course are looking for a quick fix. They are typically busy professionals who have plenty of money, but no time,” he said. “Often they have completed some or most of their instrument training somewhere else, but got frustrated and stopped for one reason or another. And some of them have pilot friends who have completed one of those ‘quick and dirty/cut corners any way possible’ type of courses somewhere else.
“I make it very clear right on my website that my 10-day course is no cakewalk,” Standley said. “I want my potential clients to know up front that I am going to help them become a safe and proficient instrument pilot, but we are both going to work very hard to get it done in 10 days.”
He’s not worried that this type of candid message on the website will scare away potential clients.
“Actually, I hope it does,” Standley said. “I can see in my website analytics that the 10-day course generates a lot of interest and hits, but a relatively small percentage of people contact me for more information. And that’s OK. It sorts out the people that may not be quite ready for an accelerated program from the people that may have a better chance of completing it.”
An open and honest approach is the best way to properly set expectations, Standley said. “It’s better than having an unhappy student later saying that I was misleading in some way. Excellent customer service comes down to two things: being honest about expectations and giving the student your best. People are only disappointed when they get something less than they expected. It’s the adage of under-promise and over-deliver.”
Do most people complete the course in 10 days? “Right from our first conversation, I listen to each person's needs and desires then continue to explain the high level of commitment and work it will take to complete his/her training in 10 days or less, depending on previous experience,” Standley said. “I simply outline the program and then give them the option to extend the timeline if it seems like their reactions dictate that it may be a better choice for them. I’ve found that most everyone chooses to create a custom program that takes more than 10 days, but allows them to complete the requirements within a less strenuous timeframe. Each client is different, but it usually takes more than 10 days and less than 30,” he said.
Standley isn’t bothered that few clients complete the course in 10 days, because it’s still an accelerated course—customized to each client’s needs. “People aren’t taking the 10-day course and not completing it,” he said. “They are choosing to extend the course by longer than 10 days when they realize how much work is going to be involved and how difficult it will be. The 10-day course is still intact and very doable. We simply adjust it as desired by the client, which helps them feel that I am listening and they are part of the planning process right from the beginning.”
Given that most clients choose to create a customized course that takes more than 10 days, I asked Standley whether advertising the 10-day course is a hook to get people’s attention on his website.
“I wouldn’t call it a hook,” he said. “I am just offering a service that people want, being honest about what I have to offer, and giving the customers what is ultimately best for them and their individual circumstances,” he said.
If Standley doesn’t believe someone is ready for a 10-day course, he won’t push it on them. “There’s nothing wrong with advertising what is possible as long as you are careful to manage expectations as we discussed,” he said. “That’s really the best advice I have for any other flight schools that are thinking of doing this type of accelerated training. Go ahead and advertise it, but be honest with the prospective clients and don’t force a sale on someone that may not be a good candidate for an accelerated course because you will just set them up for failure.”
The 10-day instrument course will only be completed successfully by the most prepared applicants who have solid basic piloting skills and the ability to work hard for 10 to 12 hours or more per day, Standley said. What’s more, they must be willing to devote each night to studying for all 10 days.
“As long as the weather cooperates and the flight school is able to do their part with the instructor, airplane, and examiner, the 10-day instrument is very doable,” Standley said.
Learn more about Joe Standley and his 10-day instrument course online.
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 currently flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website (FlywithJim.com).