By Jim Pitman
Many flight schools advertise accelerated flight training programs, but it seems few are able to deliver on their promises. Wise business practices dictate that we should under-promise and over-deliver, ensuring we properly manage and consistently exceed customers’ expectations. There are many benefits to helping flight training clients through all of their training quickly. Efficiencies are increased, operating costs are reduced, new instructors are created more quickly, and your customers save valuable time and money; just to name a few. Of course, training fast without providing quality is a losing proposition.
Blue Line Aviation is a successful flight school at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) in Raleigh, North Carolina. Company founder and CEO Trey Walters and his team are proving accelerated training can be done right. In the past two years they have trained more than 30 students, of which 82 percent finished all their training in six months or less. Most of the remaining 18 percent took longer to finish because they were working full- or part-time jobs. Those are some impressive numbers.
Blue Line Aviation’s example shows that high-quality accelerated flight training requires three important elements for success:
The story of how Blue Line Aviation came to be is a testament to the company’s core values. Trey Walters is a decorated Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and former Raleigh police officer. He became frustrated when he started his own advanced flight training in 2011.
“The flight schools in my area were very disappointing. All I had to compare them to was my experiences with other types of businesses and my own made-up expectations,” he said. “I tried to make it work at several different flight schools, but just kept finding good-hearted people who didn’t seem to know how to run a successful business. The airplanes were old, there was very little structure or organization, and their physical facilities left a lot to be desired.
“I firmly believe that it’s better to take action than to just complain about things we don’t like. At the time, I was in transition with my law enforcement career, so my wife and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to start our own flight school in 2012. Our company name is a tribute to all types of law enforcement officers throughout the world,” Walters said.
When asked about Blue Line’s hiring process, Walters said, “We try to exclusively hire people who believe in our vision and share our values. On the CFI side, we exclusively hire our graduates. This gives us an opportunity to see who will be the best fit before we hire them.
“On the admin side, we have a team of people who love working here, who are 100 percent committed, and who want to see the company succeed,” Walters said. “We accomplish this through the interview process. It’s a bit easier for me since I used to be a police officer. I’m a good judge of character and can easily see through any insincerity. It's critical in business, especially in this business, that everyone on the team understands the vision and supports the vision. Every employee has to be working for the company, helping it succeed. I like to say that our priorities, in order, are safety, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, then profitability. You can’t get to the next priority in line if the first one isn’t met, and all of those priorities are critical.”
Phenomenal customer service is the second key for success. Everyone realizes that customer service is important and we all know how we like to be treated when we do business with others. “I work to focus on the ‘Why’ behind every interaction we have with our customers. It’s important to ask questions like, ‘Why are they excited?,’ ‘Why are they frustrated?’, ‘Why should we care?,’ and my favorite, ‘Why is this important to this person right now?’” Walters said. “When we pause for a moment to consider important questions like these, it allows us to focus on the other person and what they are feeling. That naturally leads to better results. Multiply that by hundreds of little customer interactions every day, and you see phenomenal customer service in action,” he said.
Effective systems and procedures are the third element of success. The Blue Line Aviation team built everything from the ground up to support its focus of conducting high-quality flight training within an accelerated program. This includes modern physical facilities, new glass-panel airplanes, structured flight training syllabi, professional billing processes, and an overall focus on safety. The flight school operates a Redbird FMX simulator and is acquiring a Diamond Aircraft simulator in the future. “The actual mechanics of getting someone through the entire flight training program in only six months is not complicated. Everything is outlined and scheduled right from the start. We also build in buffers for maintenance, illness, and weather. The real key is to have the resources to keep everything on track,” Walters said.
With six FAA checkrides to complete in only six months, avoiding checkride delays is an important part of the overall system. Blue Line Aviation has acquired FAA examining authority for its Part 141 certificate. “That has been an important piece of the puzzle,” Walters said. “It was quite a process to get there, but it has absolutely been worth the time and energy we put into it. Conducting training under Part 141 with examining authority has allowed us to trim the hours and control the checkride scheduling to keep everything on track,” he said.
It seems that many flight schools are hesitant or even fearful about pursuing Part 141 certification and/or examining authority. “If you’re already a high-quality school, it’s really just a matter of working through the process with your local FSDO. If you don’t have the time to do it, hire an outside person to help. I promise it will be worth it,” Walters said.
As for student financing, Walters said, “Financing is still a challenge, but there are options. Be careful and negotiate with the lenders. Their published terms and offers are not set in stone. It’s smart to adjust your pricing to cover any added risks and compensate for the securities you are required to provide.” Blue Line Aviation currently works with Meritize Lending and Climb Credit.
Connect with Trey Walters and learn more about Blue Line Aviation 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/Regional 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).