By Jim Pitman
Avier Flight School is located at the Beverly Regional Airport in Beverly, Massachusetts (BVY). The company started in 2015 with just one airplane and co-owner/founder, Paul Beaulieu, as the only instructor. Avier now trains 95 clients with 8 planes and 7 instructors. The flight school has helped 70 clients complete checkrides (25 in the past year) with an average pass rate of just over 90 percent. Beaulieu and his team are also proud to report that their average flight time for private pilot training is close to the 40-hour FAA minimum.
How do they do it? “It comes down to two things that are at the heart of our philosophy,” Beaulieu explained. “Community and training. Our mission statement frames the first one. It is, ‘To ensure aviation safety while increasing the footprint of general aviation in the most welcoming learning environment possible.’ When the flight school is an environment that people want to be in as much as possible, learning is more effective and retention improves,” he said.
Many savvy business owners have discovered the value of creating a tight-knit community around their flight schools. (See “Flight School Spotlight: FL Aviation Center” for another great example.) Avier’s approach is somewhat unique.
“It all starts with creating the right atmosphere,” Beaulieu said. “Our flight school is more like the showroom for a high-end car dealership than a traditional flight school. Yes, it took some extra effort and money to do that, but it’s really more about making the decision and being intentional than just spending money needlessly. The quality, look, and feel of our facilities and airplanes set the tone for our overall company culture,” he said.
Avier’s focus on quality food is another integral part of its success. Beaulieu said, “If someone is going to spend $400 to $500 in a single visit, I want them to have something better to eat than vending machine snacks. Our school includes a full kitchen with prepared meals, a quality espresso machine, and delicious healthy snacks. Most days we have an informal communal lunch together where everyone’s invited. There’s something special about the way good food pleases people of every culture and social-economic level. It’s no wonder that our kitchen is often the hangout and gathering place to visit with fellow aviators.”
Where does Avier find these high-caliber clients? “Our marketing efforts are focused on people who lead big lives and have big jobs; high-end thinkers and doers,” Beaulieu said. “And we recognize that the flight school across the field is not our real competition. Our future clients are at the yacht club, the country club, and the golf club. We are working to grow general aviation by attracting new people who otherwise would never find us. They are out there. And I’m a firm believer that you find what you’re looking for,” Beaulieu said.
The FAA Airman Certification Standards and current designated pilot examiner training have helped checkrides become more scenario based, but it seems most flight schools and flight training curriculum are still focused on maneuver-based training. Successfully navigating this transition is the second area where Avier Flight School is excelling.
Beaulieu and his team have implemented some innovative training techniques that are proving to be effective. The Avier employee handbook describes an important guiding concept that is at the core of its training philosophy:
“Flying a plane is not that difficult; becoming a pilot is where the work is. Instead of sequential, repetitive traditional lesson plans that attack one maneuver at a time, we evolved to focus on a version of mission based training where each lesson encompasses all aspects of becoming a pilot who can fly a plane from point A to point B and back home again.
“We learned to focus more on the where, when, how, who, and why and less on the what. The result is a motivated, confident, and skilled pilot in training who is able to succeed at the appropriate tasks set before him. Everything is given a context by using missions as the medium for training.
“The next concept that is a major focus of the company became sending the client home with a list of things they can now do and understand rather than a list of things that they cannot and do not. If the tasks are appropriate, they will be met with success. If the client is not able to get close to success, then the task was not appropriate for that lesson. For this reason, ‘maneuvers’ are saved until there is an understanding and level of success with the aerodynamic principles of flight. The maneuvers are presented and performed as evidence of this success and understanding.”
Avier’s training techniques for landing practice and instrument approaches are examples of this unique training philosophy. Touch and goes are rarely, if ever, a part of lessons. Instead, instructors get the “down time” during each full-stop taxi-back to fully critique the previous landing and carefully prepare for the next trip around the pattern.
Rapid-fire instrument approaches are also discouraged. Instead, practice instrument approaches are part of an overall mission/scenario that ends with a landing and shutdown so that everything can be discussed before the next leg.
“We believe in the principle that learning to fly is best done on the ground,” Beaulieu said. “The time in the air is simply an opportunity to practice what has already been learned on the ground. Generous amounts of briefing time and simulator time are the primary ways we help our clients complete their training so close to FAA minimums,” he said.
Another example of Avier’s unique training philosophy is outlined in this article written by Beaulieu in 2018 titled, “Challenging Instrument Flight Training Models.”
What are one or two ideas you can borrow from Avier to improve your flight school today?
Connect with Paul Beaulieu via email: [email protected]
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 working as a freelance flight instructor and designated pilot examiner for the FAA. Connect with Jim at his website (FlywithJim.com).