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What does your flight school look like?

I live in a county of slightly more than half million people and that has two airports and nine flight schools. That’s a lot of competition and does not include the freelance instructors who operate “through the fence” and thus officially prohibited by airport minimum standards. Which begs this question: What do prospective students see when they look at your flight school? 

A flight school’s website and/or Facebook page often is the first place a potential customer visits when searching for a flight school. Keep in mind that the want-to-be private pilot has no idea what defines an excellent flight school. What makes your flight school the best place to earn a pilot certificate or rating? A website must define this.

In reviewing several websites, I found comments such as “We Make Better Plots” and “We provide quality flight training” and “You Fly for Less Here” and “We offer the best flight training.” All are bold statements but offer no explanation or evidence. That is not good enough.

Each of those websites lacked key information, such as a program syllabus and progress checks (known as stage checks in a FAR Part 141 approved course) to assure continuous and never-ending  pilot, instructor, and flight school improvement. Your website should brag about its high pass rate with FAA-designated examiners. You should brag about how many FAA certificates and ratings have been issued to your students. Brag about the qualifications of your instructional staff and about your senior instructor’s mentoring of junior instructors. Those are the attributes that set you apart from being just another flight school. 

I know from the experience of being a busy chief flight instructor and business manager that it’s easy not to look at your website regularly and ponder how you can improve it. A few years ago, while operating a busy flight school, a prospective student informed me that our website was out of date. Yes, it was. I had not looked at it for two years. I addressed that problem by tasking our chief dispatcher with updating its monthly with our latest statistics, events, and operating plans.

Current website information is particularly important if you are demonstrating your commitment to the local aviation community with FAA-approved safety meetings and special ground training classes.

During the COVID-19 pandemic your presentations can be conducted on Zoom. Check with your FSDO safety manager or FAASTeam representative. Here is an example of a problem: I visited a Facebook page of a flight school, and under “Events,” it stated “No events planned.” That’s definitely not impressive. I urge that you review your online marketing and ask yourself how you can make it stronger, and how your flight school will stand out from all the others that anyone can find on the internet. 

In the second part of this two-part series, we will consider what your prospective student will experience when they visit your facility at the airport.

Ed Helmick

Ed Helmick has been a flight instructor since 1988. He formerly managed a flight school in Spanish Fork, Utah, as well as schools in Scottsdale, Arizona; and Honolulu, Hawaii.

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