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Why a flight school might not accept a customer

A significant amount of flight training is required to become a skilled and certificated pilot. And that training comes from providers who are usually as equally invested in providing services to the customer as the customer is in seeking them from the flight training provider. However, prospective students must understand that flight training providers have criteria and standards that determine their acceptance of customers. They also have limited resources when it comes to aircraft, instructors, and time. In a highly demanding and competitive pilot training market, sometimes a training provider might have to have a hard conversation with a customer or a potential one and tell them, “We can’t help you.”

It may be disheartening to be turned down, but there are many valid reasons why this can occur. Some are also in the best interest of the customer. A good business maxim is that it is always better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and fail to deliver service at an expected level.

Availability and capacity

Flight schools have limited resources, including instructors, aircraft, and training facilities. To provide an optimal learning experience, they need to maintain an appropriate student-to-instructor-to-aircraft ratio and ensure the availability of necessary equipment. When the demand exceeds the capacity, flight training providers might have to prioritize certain customers, which can result in turning down others temporarily until resources become available.

There are only so many hours in a day an airplane can fly, only so many airplanes that can fit at one airport, and a limited number of CFIs to provide training. Good scheduling efforts can maximize this process, but there are limits. You should not be considering continuous operation of all your equipment and staff. Airplanes need maintenance and CFIs burn out. Give both of them the required down time and schedule only as many customers as you can adequately serve. Other potential customers may have to be put on a waitlist.

Financial considerations

Flight training is a significant financial investment, and flight schools must carefully evaluate their customers' ability to meet those financial obligations. Running a flight training program involves substantial costs, including aircraft maintenance, fuel, instructor fees, and administrative expenses. Therefore, flight training providers may turn down customers who demonstrate a lack of financial capability to complete the training or fulfill the payment obligations.

Starting training for students who are unable to complete the training because of financial constraints eats up your resources and fails to maximize their potential to produce pilot certificate holders. This can be a very hard conversation, and you don’t have to get into people’s personal finances, but clear, up-front descriptions of expected training costs can help customers make sound decisions. Access to outside funding can help offer customers alternative financing options that might help them source adequate funding for their desired training.

In some cases, realistic expectations of costs can help you build a training plan that meets a student’s monthly, weekly, or even daily financial ability. Or, you might suggest a customer save up and schedule them into a training sequence after they have gained sufficient funds to proceed.

Aptitude and competence

Aviation demands a high level of skill, discipline, and aptitude. This doesn’t mean you have to be a genius, but it does mean that customers need to put in the time and effort in their studies to continue progressing. When a flight training provider encounters a customer who isn’t progressing, it may be an aptitude and competence concern that needs to be addressed.

One method to evaluate the student’s progress is to have the customer schedule a check-up lesson or a stage check with a senior instructor.

Many flight training programs have set benchmarks along the training footprints—gates in essence—that customers must pass through to be able to continue. When these progress marks are not achieved, the training provider might choose whether to continue training or pause it for a customer.

Reasons for not progressing can vary. It might be a challenge in a personal life; it might be that the student isn’t studying or doesn’t really know how to study well. Sometimes it might be that the material isn’t being presented in a manner that helps the customer learn well. Before a training provider pauses or even terminates training for a customer, it is worth trying to ascertain if the roadblock can be cleared. If the student isn’t putting in the work, it might be time to replace them with a new customer until such a time that they become more dedicated.

Poor attitude and professionalism

Flight training places great importance on an individual’s attitude and professionalism. Aspiring pilots are expected to demonstrate a high level of discipline, responsibility, and respect for the learning process. Students who consistently display a poor attitude, lack of commitment, or unprofessional conduct in previous training experiences may not be suitable candidates. Flight schools are justified in seeking individuals who are dedicated, willing to learn, and capable of working collaboratively in a team environment.

Certainly, you should expect the same professional and positive attitude of your staff working with your customers also.

Safety considerations and regulatory compliance

Aviation is an industry where even the slightest oversight can have catastrophic consequences; therefore, the primary concern for any flight training provider must be safety. Unsafe operations negatively affect any flight training business model. In order for flight schools to prioritize the well-being of their students, instructors, and the general public, they must be willing to turn down customers who exhibit behaviors or characteristics that could potentially compromise safety, and your business.

Any incidents such as intentional violations of airspace restrictions, failure to maintain required documentation, or previous disciplinary actions taken by aviation authorities due to regulatory noncompliance would give a training provider pause before agreeing to start any future training. A training provider might even choose to have a basic questionnaire that a customer would fill out prior to starting training that would ask if they had previous accidents/incidents, certificate revocations, or disciplinary action from authorities. If the answer to these or other similar questions is yes, a mediation discussion might be appropriate to determine whether to proceed with training.

Reckless flying, unauthorized maneuvers, or failure to follow instructions from instructors should be a red flag. To ensure the safety of all participants, flight training providers may choose to deny individuals with a record of unsafe conduct.

While it can be disappointing for prospective customers to be turned down by flight training providers, it is essential to recognize that these decisions are based on valid reasons. Safety considerations, regulatory compliance, financial viability, aptitude, and availability all play crucial roles in determining customer acceptance. By upholding these standards, flight training providers maintain the highest level of safety, competence, and professionalism within the aviation industry.

Some remedies for customers when a flight school is unable to accommodate a student might be having a wait list, helping them get going on ground training on their own so they are ready when your resources are available, or even having relationships with other local training providers. A customer who is well served helping meet their goals, even if it isn’t at your operation, is less likely to have a negative opinion of your business.

Being a quality training provider may include screening your candidates to some degree. You don’t have to be the provider to every potential pilot who walks through the door. Hold your standards, know what level of service you can provide, and do it well. The best restaurants in the world take reservations and can’t serve all who want dinner every night. It is OK that a flight training provider operates under the same operational mindset.

Jason Blair
Jason Blair is an active single- and multiengine instructor and an FAA designated pilot examiner with more than 6,000 hours total time, 3,000 hours of instruction given, and 3,000 hours in aircraft as a DPE. As examiner, he has issued more than 2,000 pilot certificates. He has worked for and continues to work with multiple aviation associations focusing on pilot training and testing. His experience as a pilot and instructor spans nearly 20 years and includes more than 100 makes and models of aircraft flown. Jason Blair has published works in many aviation publications with a focus on training and safety.
Topics: Training and Safety, Flight School

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