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Niche training markets to focus on for profitability

Sometimes, we want to be able to provide any training a customer might want. A Jack of all trades in effect. But it’s hard to provide every type of training and be the best at it. An adage on this topic goes something like, “You can be good at lots of things, but never great at them all.”

It’s hard, likely impossible, to be the provider of every type of flight training at the highest level, especially if your aircraft resources are limited.

If you don’t have a tailwheel aircraft, you won’t be providing tailwheel training. Without a multiengine aircraft in your fleet, multiengine ratings aren’t an option. No glass panel aircraft? Technically advanced aircraft (TAA) training is out then. Evaluating what training you are able to provide becomes a process of focusing on what you can do, and being really good at it, based on the resources you have available and customer demands that might make you choose to provide specific types of training.

This can be accomplished with some forethought for success and profitability.

If you target which aircraft you might choose to add to your training fleet or critically analyze what your resources are, you might find that some specialization—becoming truly great at certain types of training—can increase your profitability and focus your efforts.

Training for pre-collegiate aviation students

Many university and college aviation flight programs have backlogs of students and shortages of instructors to provide training. Aircraft assets also serve as a limiting factor for how many students can active in training at a given time. As a result, at some of the larger collegiate/university flight training programs students frequently are unable to fly in their freshman or even sophomore years. This can cause delays in their ability to start or complete training in these programs. For the highly motivated students, this delay may make them want to get a jump start.

Providing private pilot certificate training for students who are already at a college or university aviation program or for students who are going to go to one of these programs in the future can help students keep their training moving forward. This is a great target for high school seniors who want to get their private pilot certificate completed before going to college and can even help in their admissions process for some aviation programs.

Specializing on just the private training for this type of student focuses your marketing efforts and the training syllabus that your instructors use.

Avoid trying to push these students to continue their training to instrument ratings or commercial certificates in most cases. Doing so may nullify their ability to complete training under FAR 141 approved training (most of the time a private pilot certificate may be transferred in, but the instrument and commercial certificates must be completed within the FAR 141 curriculum) and negatively affect their ability to qualify for Restricted ATP minimums later.

TAA training or transition

Since the requirement for retractable gear aircraft experience was removed a few years ago from the commercial pilot certificate and for demonstration on CFI practical tests, the matrix of what aircraft need to be in your fleet may have changed. Many training providers got rid of their old retractable-gear airplanes.

But for the commercial certificate, there is still a requirement for an applicant to either have retractable gear or TAA training. Not all providers have an aircraft that meets one of these criteria. If you have a technically advanced aircraft in your operation or choose to add one, you might be able to specialize in helping students, or even other training providers complete this specific training requirement.

A technically advanced aircraft may also be used to create short transition courses for students or even potential aircraft owners to gain experience in specific avionics packages. Advertising the avionics systems you have, and that your instructors have proficiency in, can allow you to target customers seeking specific training in a particular system. Many will want to do this to transition from round-gauge systems to more modern avionics or even to learn about avionics that might be in an aircraft they are planning to purchase. Sell what you have and you might find a buyer for it.

Multiengine training

Many flight training providers don’t have multiengine aircraft in their fleets. They can be hard to source, expensive to purchase, and more costly to maintain. Some don’t have enough customer base to warrant having one in their operation. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have any need at all.

If you have one or more multiengine aircraft in your fleet, specializing in multiengine add-on ratings can be a niche you can serve that others cannot.

Developing a focused, lesson-based curriculum that can be effective at efficiently transitioning students through multiengine ratings can be a way to successfully focus your training offerings. Many times the training footprint of ratings such as these can be completed over a relatively short period of time, even just a few days.

This can allow you to work with not only local students but also draw in students from further away who might choose to travel to your operation and stay a few days to complete training. It means you can advertise to a broader area and even establish relationships with local hotels or bed and breakfast providers to set up a place for customers to stay to help the logistics for customers.

Another possibility is to create relationships with other training providers in your region who might not have multiengine aircraft and have them “outsource” that training function to you. It takes a little trust and some work to develop a relationship where they don’t think you are just trying to steal their students, but it can be a benefit to both parties when done correctly.

Initial CFI training

It takes some work, but putting together an initial CFI training curriculum and hiring experienced instructors who can focus on this can be highly lucrative. Working as a CFI remains the most common path pilots seeking eventual jobs as airline or corporate pilots take to gain the requisite experience to work in these positions. Someone has to train them.

Many training operations are weak on their initial CFI training efforts, or can’t get people through CFI training quickly. A few places around the United States have focused on this training, and people travel to them. In some cases, they are booked up months in advance.

Taking the time to get into this game and building a reputation for success can be a niche worth pursuing for those dedicated to putting in the work it will take.

Insurance required experience training

Insurance companies require make and model specific time for more advanced aircraft before an owner gets to act as pilot in command. It’s a bit less conventional, but either gaining experience to provide training in owner-operated aircraft, or even adding something unique to your own fleet that can be rented for training purposes can be an even more niche market that has high profitability potential when executed correctly.

Common owner flown advanced aircraft include a variety of twin-engine Cessnas, A36 Bonanzas, Piper Navajos, and a few others. Some of these are even aircraft that might make good Part 135 charter operation aircraft. In cases where a flight training provider is also a Part 135 charter certificate holder and operator, they might find use in downtime of those aircraft by building a training curriculum that could be used to transition owners into compliance with insurance required training.

This isn’t the kind of training you just jump into providing, but a good curriculum and dedicated instructors with make and model experience can make this niche last many years and around which a reputation can be developed. It can even result in becoming an “underwriter-recommended” provider of training when owners are given direction about what training they will need to be insurable.

Not all of these niches might be for you, but if one or more of them are, get specialized and leverage the resources you have for greater profitability. Finding the right mix for your situation will be up to you, but putting the time into developing a curriculum and stable training path for some specialized training markets has strong potential to draw in customers who are motivated and looking for focused and efficient training to accomplish a specific task in their pilot training progression. It might just be that you can charge a premium and make your hourly return on time spent with customers increase.

Jason Blair

Jason Blair is a National Association of Flight Instructors master flight instructor and a designated pilot examiner. 

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