Located at Dekalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK) in Atlanta, Georgia, Centennial Aviation Academy’s growth has taken the mom-and-pop operation to a flight school so popular it has a six-month waiting list.
“It’s difficult to go from something like a mom-and-pop shop to something bigger,” said Delanie McDonald, an office coordinator at Centennial Aviation Academy. She offers unique insight into the flight school’s operations, as both an employee and a student—earning a private pilot certificate in 2021 and currently working toward an instrument rating. Part of the flight school’s growth was the organization’s decision to hire office coordinators, like McDonald, to help develop the operational side of flight training.
“We’ve had to learn how to focus on office things,” McDonald said. “Finding stuff that can grow with us has been a super big emphasis for us.” As a Part 61 school with 100 students, it was important for Centennial to ensure it built scheduling, billing, and software to work as efficiently as possible for staff and students.
The school’s renewed operational focus was an effort to pull up that side of the business to the same high quality level as its flight training. McDonald also highlighted the organization’s efforts to revamp the flight training structure by implementing more mobility in the school’s management. “When you’re growing so much and you have more instructors coming on, guaranteeing a certain level of instruction also becomes a little bit more difficult because you need more oversight,” she said.
Part of this oversight is making sure instructors are well taken care of, despite high demand for constant instruction. Instructor burnout is a real concern for owners and chief flight instructors Rohan Bhatia and Spencer Clark. “We try to maintain a healthy culture with our instructors,” said McDonald, citing decisions to slow down student intake and mandating days off and lunch breaks for their instructors. “We mandate those things so they’re not burnt out. Because our instructors will run themselves ragged to make sure the students are learning and well taken care of.”
These efforts appear to maintain the quality of instruction and good culture at Centennial Aviation Academy, with the growing student waitlist currently extending to July. Aspiring pilots interested in training with the flight school are putting down deposits and willing to wait for the chance to train with Atlanta’s best. And instructors and staff at Centennial notice the difference in students who commit to waiting. “The best part is, the students that are starting with us, really care about their training,” said McDonald, noting that entering students have had time to prepare financially and educationally, so their focus is just on flight when they arrive at lessons. “We’re really not in the business of taking people’s money or drawing out their training if it’s not necessary.”