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5 business practices of savvy flight training operations

When it comes to flight training operations, not everyone does things the same.

Different scales of operational size and even seasonal weather considerations can affect how one business operates versus another. But that doesn’t mean different training operations can’t learn from each other, make modifications to their own business practices, and increase their profitability. This requires that flight training businesses share their operational secrets with each other. Now that’s something they don’t do well at all.

The good news is that I talk with a great number of training providers and can share some of the unique business practices I have seen in various places that others might consider adopting in their own business.

Here are five things I have seen recently that you may wish to incorporate into your business.

No rental of aircraft, only training/Instruction

Many flight schools also offer their aircraft for rental to customers for personal and business flight. It's a great service, but it comes at a cost. If a renter takes an aircraft for three hours of flying to a favorite island destination on a weekend for lunch and doesn’t return the aircraft for eight hours, the business is realizing only three-eighths of the potential billable flight time on that aircraft. Many operations employ daily minimum billable hours if a renter takes an aircraft, but typically these are less than overall potential billable time.

Some training operations are beginning to focus their operational allowances to only dual or flight training-related activities. This maximizes the use of the aircraft and minimizes any “sitting” time during which the aircraft may not be realizing the full billable potential.

The gist here is that if the aircraft isn’t being used in the furtherance of a rating or certificate the customer should look elsewhere to source an aircraft.

A training operation might choose to fully implement this with entire fleet or dedicate a few particular aircraft that could be rented for solo operations, while leaving the primary aircraft used in training dedicated to training and student solo operations.

Instrument training at night

Some larger scale training operations have begun to focus private and commercial training during daylight hours and instrument training activities on a “third shift” of students and instructors.

By some level of logic, private and commercial pilot training activities require the students and instructors to look outside for VFR maneuvers, while instrument pilot training does not. So, why do the instrument training when it is daylight?

It is a little unconventional, but in a high-density training environment when a training operation is working to maximize aircraft utilization in every 24-hour period, pushing instrument training to nighttime operations can increase daily utilization at a time when aircraft are typically sitting. In a couple of cases, I have seen this operational effort generate upwards of 17 flyable hours per day on an aircraft asset. More hours in the air means more billable time for the aircraft.

This does require the training operation to consider things like scheduling a cadre of instructors to be the third shift and make sure they don’t break their eight hours in a 24-hour FAA requirement for instructional time, but when it is done right, it can generate more training hours in a given 24-hour period than traditional training operations that mostly shut down at dark.

Training commercial pilots in the right seat

When students are expected to transition directly from commercial pilot training and certification into CFI training programs, a few savvy training operations have begun conducting the initial commercial pilot training with the students in the right seat.

This practice gets those students familiar with many of the same operations they will be performing on their CFI practical test from the seat in which they will be expected to do them. Before you say, “We can’t do this,” we have checked. Nothing in the FARs say you can’t fly your commercial pilot practical test from the right seat (assuming that obviously the aircraft is fully capable of being flown from the right seat and has the requisite controls).

It may seem a little unconventional, but I have seen it significantly reduce the in-aircraft proficiency transition time needed from a commercial to a CFI practical test. It doesn’t necessarily expedite any of the ground training, but it gives the applicants a leg up on the flying side of the CFI test.

Standardized fleet (aircraft and avionics)

I can’t tell you how many practical tests I have had to reschedule because the specific airplane the applicant flies was down for maintenance and other available aircraft were different makes and models or just had different avionics. I have failed applicants because they tried to take a practical test in an aircraft make and model they had minimally flown or as a result of lack of proficiency in a different avionics suite that tripped them up.

The airlines standardize their cockpits so pilots can switch between aircraft without sacrificing proficiency or safety. Do the same in your training fleet.

I am not telling you that you need to run out and buy a new fleet of aircraft tomorrow, but if you are buying new aircraft or upgrading your current fleet, put the same things in service. This will let applicants jump between aircraft when some are down for maintenance or booked with other customers.

If you have a mixed fleet of Cessna, Cirrus, Diamond, and Piper aircraft, start working toward having fewer unique manufacturers in the mix. If all your aircraft have Garmin panels, don’t do the next upgrade and install an Avidyne or vice versa. Stick with something and go with it as long as it serves your needs.

Setting up student study groups

The larger your training operation, the more students you likely have working on any individual rating or certificate. An adage in type rating training goes like this, “Study alone; fail alone.” Put students together to study.

Host a Thursday night pizza and study session every week at your FBO, the local coffee shop, a hangar, the beach, or wherever else you can get people together. It doesn’t even have to be people working on the same rating. Sure, it's great if a bunch of commercial pilot students get together, but wouldn’t it also be great if some CFI candidates showed up also? They could try teaching the commercial students and be a resource to those students, since they have already been through training.

No CFI can cover every single possible topic with a student unless that student spends a lot of money and time with a CFI. Study sessions greatly increase the sharing of information between students and drastically increase the pass rate on practical tests. The best part is that it costs a flight training provider very little—at most, a few dollars for some pizza and maybe paying a lead instructor for a couple of hours to facilitate. Where this has been implemented I have seen increases in passing rates, and the sessions generate more connectivity between the students even at other times. They start to help each other.

There are certainly more of these ideas that could be shared, and if you have some, please share them with us and the rest of the industry. Hopefully, these few have given you a few ideas of things you might be able to implement in your own operation.

Jason Blair is a National Association of Flight Instructors master flight instructor and a designated pilot examiner.
Jason Blair
Jason Blair is an active single- and multiengine instructor and an FAA designated pilot examiner with more than 6,000 hours total time, 3,000 hours of instruction given, and 3,000 hours in aircraft as a DPE. As examiner, he has issued more than 2,000 pilot certificates. He has worked for and continues to work with multiple aviation associations focusing on pilot training and testing. His experience as a pilot and instructor spans nearly 20 years and includes more than 100 makes and models of aircraft flown. Jason Blair has published works in many aviation publications with a focus on training and safety.

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