By Jim Pitman
Wayman Eddy Luy is vice president of Wayman Aviation Academy, a successful flight school with training bases at Fort Lauderdale’s North Perry Airport (KHWO) and the Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport (KOPF) in Florida. The flight school operates with 38 airplanes, 40 flight instructors, 120 full-time career track students, and about 100 part-time students who live and work in the local area.
“We’ve gone through a couple of fast growth spurts in the past several years,” Luy said. “Starting in 2010, we went from four to 14 airplanes in less than 18 months. It hasn’t been easy, but we are certainly grateful for the increased business.”
Like many schools that experience quick growth, Luy felt Wayman Aviation Academy was losing some of its personal touch with individual students. “My family has owned this business for over 30 years, and we have always focused on making a personal connection with each student. That has become more and more difficult as we’ve grown,” Luy said.
Luy and his team observed the common bell-curve related to student performance as they evaluated their growing student base. He stated, “We observed that about 20 percent of our students had exceptional performance, about 60 percent were the middle group doing fine, and about 20 percent were struggling at the bottom.
“When we were small, it was easy to identify and help the students who were experiencing specific challenges. The larger we grew, the more we felt like we were losing touch; and that was a serious concern. And it’s not just about the 20 percent at the bottom. The top 20 percent provide their own unique challenges. These students are so sharp that they often start spending their time and energy trying to figure out how to get around the system and do things differently. It can take just as much time and attention guiding the top 20 percent as it does helping the bottom 20 percent,” he said.
The solution started with bringing a new person on the team. “We created a new position called the student affairs manager and hired a gentleman named Christian to fill that important role. Over time, Christian used his expertise to find creative ways to solve these new challenges we were experiencing,” Luy said.
The next step was to put more focus on guiding the excelling students to leverage their talents/energy to help the struggling students. “The ah-ha moment was when we asked the simple question, ‘How can we get the top 20 percent of students to help the bottom 20 percent?’” Luy said. “The answers to that question have guided our journey to what we now call the Student Leader Program.”
Wayman Aviation Academy now has eight student leaders in the program. These students volunteered, were interviewed for the position, and were selected to serve in this role. They oversee formal and informal tutoring sessions, help conduct new student orientations, disseminate information to the student body, and perform needed errands and tasks.
“The student leaders are the additional layer of management we needed to get back to our roots of providing the personal interaction that is so important to us,” Luy said. “We treat it like an internship. We even make it competitive. Not everyone who wants to be a student leader is selected. They have to work hard and qualify for the position. The results have been amazing. We’ve seen the entire bell curve of student performance shift in a positive direction. We still have the curve, but everyone is performing better while enjoying the process and the improved comradery,” Luy said.
The students who desire to become student leaders are motivated by their own drive to excel and help others. They are the first to hear important information from management and are involved in some of the decision-making process (when appropriate). The company also provides a special letter of recommendation outlining their unique contributions to the flight school and their fellow students.
Graduating student leaders are actively involved in the process of selecting new student leaders before they leave. They do all of the heavy lifting, significantly lightening the load for school managers. “It’s been fun to see how the students are managing this program. They have a chief student leader, senior leaders, and trainees who hope to become a student leader,” Luy said.
Organized tutoring sessions are one of the most beneficial elements of this program. The student leaders put together a weekly schedule. Students can schedule a time to meet or just walk in. At least one student leader is always available at the school to help answer questions and provide tutoring.
The student leaders also help organize and conduct important monthly meetings. “We hold a Student Safety and Recognition meeting each month. Pizza is provided for everyone, and we keep the atmosphere light and fun. It’s a great opportunity to recognize people who are doing well, get input from the students and instructors, and address the challenges we are facing. Having the student leaders involved with these meetings has really helped us connect with the students and ensure we are getting the feedback we need,” Luy said.
The enhanced camraderie goes beyond the flight training environment. “After Hurricane Irma hit our area, the student leaders took it upon themselves to make phone calls and ensure every student was safe and accounted for. They also organize off-campus activities and recently completed a camping trip together,” Luy explained.
Luy and his team have recently started conducting formal leadership training as an additional benefit. “Most of these student leaders will be airline captains in a few short years. They have already proven they have the heart of a leader. We believe it’s worth the extra effort to start providing them with some of the tools and skills they will need to continue growing as effective leaders,” Luy said.
Would a student leader program like this help your flight school?
Learn more about Wayman Aviation Academy on the website.
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).