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Flight School Spotlight: Westwind School of Aeronautics Flight School Spotlight: Westwind School of Aeronautics

The benefits of longer lessons

By Jim Pitman

As I look back through my first few logbooks, I notice the typical flight time for dual local lessons was between 1.0 and 1.4 hours, and I think this is representative across our industry.

In the United States, we use the FAA definition found in FAR 1.1, which states that flight time is: “Pilot time that commences when an aircraft moves under its own power for the purpose of flight and ends when the aircraft comes to rest after landing.” Since the propeller turning counts as the aircraft moving, flight time is basically time the engine is running, as long as the purpose of starting the engine is to go fly (not just to relocate the airplane on the ground).

In 2001, I was chief flight instructor at Westwind School of Aeronautics, a professional training academy at Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (DVT) in Phoenix, Arizona. We were experiencing a high growth period and found ourselves short on both flight instructors and airplanes. It was a good problem to have, but still a challenge to be solved.

As the school owner, other managers, and I discussed possible solutions, we began to evaluate the duration of the typical flight lesson. We found that the average flight time for a dual local lesson was about 1.3 hours. Some flights were only 0.9 and others were 1.5 or 1.6, but the average was a solid 1.3. We then estimated that the engine start, taxi, and runup were typically 0.3 to 0.4 hours. Then there’s another 0.2 or 0.3 hours for travel to and from the practice area. This meant that during the typical 1.3-hour dual local flight, only 0.6 to 0.8 hours was spent introducing and practicing the material included in each new flight lesson.

While engine-start, taxi, runup, and travel to and from the practice area are valuable skills that need to be learned and practiced, we agreed that most pilots don’t really need extra practice on those items. We knew that if we could complete more effective training on the syllabus items each time the airplane left the chocks, we could significantly improve efficiency.

The solution was to increase flight lesson times. We found that going from a 1.3-hour flight to a 2.3-hour flight provided a 125 percent increase in effective training time. Watch this video for a deeper explanation of this analysis.

We also found that implementing longer lessons takes effort, planning, and training. The first thing to realize is that this is not for everyone. Two hours and 20 minutes of training maneuvers and flying the pattern is a lot of hard work. Preparing for a flight like that takes mental and physical effort. Simply making lessons longer and aimlessly drilling holes in the sky won’t cut it. Both the instructor and the pilot in training must show up well-rested, well-fed, and ready to work hard.

When we made these changes at Westwind School of Aeronautics, we immediately went from averaging 65 hours to averaging 55 hours of total flight time for the private pilot certificate. The duration of each dual local lesson was increased, significantly improving efficiency, which resulted in a significant decrease in the total number of flights (and total flight time) needed to complete the training. This increase in training efficiency immediately solved the instructor and airplane shortage we were experiencing at the time, while saving our customers significant time and money.

We further found that it’s not always necessary to go all the way to 2.3-hour flights. Significant improvements in efficiency are also found by conducting dual local flights that average 1.6 to 2.0 hours. This is another important training topic for the flight instructors. To fully benefit from these procedures, flight instructors need to use their evaluation skills to determine which customers have the stamina and are properly prepared for the longer flight lessons. Even the best of pilots may have a down day. When it’s been 1.5 hours and the instructor can see the client is tired and not performing well, call it a day. Continuing with the lesson just because the airplane is scheduled longer doesn’t help anyone.

After gaining some experience with this, I also suggest implementing this philosophy into your marketing materials. Be up front about it with your potential customers. For example, “If you average AA flight hours per lesson we expect that you will complete your training in $ZZ,ZZZ dollars. But if you can average BB hours per flight, we expect that you will complete your training in only $Y,YYY dollars.” Of course, there are other important factors such as frequency of training and study habits, but I think duration of flight is an important topic to add to this conversation.

While much has changed at Westwind School of Aeronautics in the past 17 years, this philosophy of longer flight lessons is still ingrained in their training culture. The current chief flight instructor, Jon Micetic, stated, “We now have a system that allows our instructors to schedule ground and flight times to the precise number of minutes needed for each lesson. Looking at the data, it's clear that the philosophy for longer flight lessons established years ago continues to flow through our entire organization.

“Typical dual training flights to practice maneuvers are currently averaging 1.6 to 2.0 hours of flight time. Both our students and our instructors benefit from the improved efficiencies that come from these longer than traditional flights that reduce the total number of flights required for each certificate and rating,” he said.

So what’s the average flight time for dual local flights at your school? If it’s anything less than 1.8 hours, I believe you have an opportunity to make some quick improvements. I encourage you to do your own experiment and validate or disprove all of this for yourself. If you agree with our findings, please share this with other flight training professionals you know. Together we can help make significant improvements to flight training everywhere.

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).

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