By Jim Pitman
Galvin Flying has been operating as a successful flight school at Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle, Washington, since 1930. Eric Lynn, director of operations and former chief flight instructor, recently shared some of the innovative things the flight school is doing with simulator training to enhance its customer experience.
We highlighted a few of the benefits of increased simulator training in the Feb. 4, 2019, Flight School Spotlight on Latitude Aviation. This is something that Galvin Flying was already working on. “The FAA does not count much simulator time for primary training, but we didn’t let that stop us. The current president of Galvin Flying and I both have airline experience and know the benefits of using simulators in training,” Lynn said.
Lynn and his team have taken simulator training further than most by changing the flight school’s curriculum. “Several months ago we decided to rewrite our syllabi to incorporate more simulator use. We basically started with a blank white board and did our best to forget old ideas of what a flight syllabus should be. The new ACS made it easy,” Lynn said. “We basically used it as our guide and created lessons that make sense. Each step of the way we asked, ‘Which of these tasks should be introduced in the sim first?’ The results have been exciting.”
Even for private pilot training, “we found that there are significant benefits to introducing almost everything in the sim before doing it in the airplane. Our philosophy is now, ‘Learn it on the ground, practice it in the airplane,’” Lynn said.
Galvin operates five FAA-approved training devices from one-G, Redbird, Frasca, and Diamond. “Our fleet of 20 airplanes is made up of a variety from Cessna, Diamond, Cirrus, and Mooney. We like having a variety of sims to match. Our two one-G Foundations and Redbird FMX get most of the use, and the Frasca Mentor and Diamond Simulation devices fill in nicely when needed,” Lynn said
It appears to be working. Galvin Flying’s total simulator utilization was up 55 percent in January 2019 compared to January 2018. “We are very pleased with the results,” Lynn said. “Before the syllabus rewrite, our typical private pilot completion time was 60 to 65 hours in the airplane, with a client occasionally finishing with just 50 hours. Our first group on the new program is just about to their checkrides. The total times are looking about the same, but 10 to 15 hours of that is now in the sim,” Lynn said. With a cost savings of $75 to $100 per hour (depending on the sim being used), that is a cost savings of $750 to $1,500 per customer.
“The quality and effectiveness of training has also improved,” Lynn said. “I was recently in the sim with one of my own clients and we decided to work on the ‘impossible turn,’ practicing engine failures at different altitudes immediately after takeoff. The exercise was a real eye-opener for my client. It’s one thing to practice this up at altitude, but when you see those trees coming at you—even in the simulator—it really gets your attention.” This is just one example of the many maneuvers that can be safely and realistically performed in the sim, but never in an airplane.
Galvin Flying’s new training curriculum isn’t just saving customers money. The numbers Lynn shared equate to an average of 20 percent fewer airplane hours per private pilot client. That means fewer 50- and 100-hour inspections for the maintenance department. Flying airplanes less might seem like a strange thing to get excited about, but with the thriving flight training market we are currently experiencing, moving those hours to the higher profit-margin simulators is smart business.
Flight instructor acquisition and retention is a significant challenge for most flight schools now and will be for the foreseeable future. With most instructors anxious to meet ATP minimums, convincing them to spend time in the sim instead of the airplane can take some extra effort.
Lynn agrees. “We found that our more senior instructors that are not working toward an airline career have been much more receptive to the increased sim time. It’s not just about the flight time though. A lot of the reluctance from the newer instructors also stems from their lack of familiarity with the sims. Most of them had minimal simulator experience in their own flight training, so that is all they know. It has taken extra effort to get them onboard with this new training philosophy,” he said.
Lynn said other flight schools will likely have reluctant instructors. “Know that it’s going to take some extra work, but the effort is worth it. We simply made the sim training a required part of our curriculum, which is enough to get the job done. But we also knew we needed our instructors to really be on board for the training to be effective. Here at Galvin Flying we have created a long-standing culture of open communication and putting the customers’ needs before our own. Maximizing simulator use at all levels of training leads to decreased cost and increased efficiency. That’s just good customer service. Our current chief flight instructor and I work hard to help our instructors understand the value of continuously putting the customers’ needs above the instructors’ desire for flight time.”
There are also creative ways to divide duties for different types of instructors. Remember that flight training clients don’t need to complete every lesson with the same instructor. If you have a variety of instructors, consider selecting one or more of your senior (non-time-building) instructors to specialize in conducting the sim lessons. This will require a certain level of standardization among your instructors.
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).