By Jim Pitman
Aviation Adventures is headquartered at Manassas Regional Airport (HEF) in Manassas, Virgina. Starting from humble beginnings in 1989, it has grown into a successful Part 141 flight school with satellite locations at the Leesburg Executive (JYO), Warrenton-Fauquier (HWY), and Stafford Regional (RMN) airports.
Bob Hepp is the founder, owner, and chief flight instructor of Aviation Adventures. Hepp and his team started conducting a safety stand-down, also known as CFI University, in 2004 to help improve the quality of the school’s flight training. The positive effects of this annual event have been even greater than anticipated.
The CFI University/Safety Stand-down is organized into morning and afternoon sessions. All employees are required to attend the morning session; certain support staff are excused in the afternoon.
Mandatory TSA training is conducted in the morning session, ensuring that all employees stay current with TSA requirements. “Not only is it more cost-effective to conduct the annual TSA training with everyone together at once, but it also makes it much easier to track,” Hepp said. “We simply check attendance and complete the required documentation that day, so we know all of our people are legal for another year,” he said.
The morning session also includes a review of company policies, best practices, a general safety topic presentation, and a roundtable discussion with designated pilot examiners (DPEs) and FAA inspectors. Hepp said, “The roundtable is one of our favorite parts of the entire event. We have a great working relationship with several local DPEs and FSDO inspectors. They are all invited, and many participate with us each year. Our employees know that this is a safe place to talk and share concerns about real issues. We have frank discussions about regulations, expectations, and teaching techniques. It’s great for our employees and flight instructors to get to know these folks and see that they are real people that have important jobs to do.”
Lunch is provided by the company, giving everyone the opportunity to mingle and get to know each other better. The afternoon session is for flight instructors, FAA inspectors, and DPEs. This session includes a detailed review of all flight training procedures from private pilot through CFI. It’s a time to compare notes and ensure the instructors, DPEs, FAA, and school management are all on the same page.
This training is also effective for correcting deviations from set standards and procedures. Normalization of deviance, or what occurs when people within an organization become so accustomed to deviant behavior that they don’t consider it as deviant, is a real issue that must be actively managed.
“This annual training is a valuable opportunity for us to make needed course corrections,” Hepp said. “It gives our new employees the chance to learn from our most experienced team members, giving them the tools they need to make those corrections and be successful.”
Aviation Adventures has done the important work of creating standardized training procedures. “The ACS and other FAA publications leave a lot of room for different piloting techniques. We’ve created our own detailed, step-by-step procedures for every maneuver and flight task,” Hepp said.
“Our goal is to remove all ambiguity,” Hepp said. “The procedures ensure pilots are following ACS requirements while giving us the standardization we desire among our flight instructors. When one of our flight instructors is not available to meet with a certain client, any other instructor is able to step in and conduct the lesson in the same standardized manner. This provides significant benefits for our company while keeping our students progressing on schedule,” he said.
As part of the CFI University, flight instructor applicants are assigned to teach single-engine maneuver classes to the entire group. Hepp shared, “These CFI candidates have just recently learned these maneuvers in their commercial training, so it’s all fresh to them. This is a valuable opportunity for them to get out of their comfort zones and practice their teaching skills in front of everyone. It’s also advantageous that the DPE who will soon be giving their CFI checkride is probably in the audience, so this is kind of a sneak peek for them.”
Throughout the procedures training, Hepp and his team emphasize time-tested fundamentals that are important to pass on to the next generation of flight instructors. “Instructors need to be talking about what is going to happen before it happens so the students can put their eyes in the right place at the right time. We call these ‘trigger events.’ When pilots know the trigger events, where to look, and what to do when the triggers occur, they are able to stay ahead of the plane and anticipate what is coming next,” Hepp said.
When asked about specific challenges, Hepp shared, “We require our students to memorize a lot of procedures early in training. Most people are naturally resistant to memorizing stuff. The solution is to simply make it a requirement and stick to your guns. Our instructors conduct mandatory preflight briefings where they chair-fly to test students on the procedures they should have memorized. When an instructor discovers that the student is not prepared, the flight is cancelled and ground instruction is conducted instead. It only takes once or twice for our new students to learn that we are serious about our procedures.”
How standardized are the flight training maneuvers and procedures at your flight school? Would an annual training event like this be beneficial to your company? I encourage you to consider the answers to these important questions and put some positive changes into effect as needed.
Connect with Bob Hepp and learn more about Aviation Adventures at 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 working as a freelance flight instructor and Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) for the FAA. Connect with Jim at his website (FlywithJim.com).