Building a Market
Finding students, setting rates, and securing instructors are among flight school challenges
BY Monica L. Rausch, Associate Editor
OSHKOSH, WI - Behind the anonymity of an online name, Internet browsers interested in flying are relating their flight training woes to Greg Brown, author of The Savvy Flight Instructor and host of an America Online forum on aviation careers and training.
In the emails he
has received, three main problems for the flight training industry stand
out, according to Brown.
1. "Our local people in our local communities don't know that they can come four miles to our airport and learn to fly."
2. "We're still fighting these perceptions that if you wear glasses and you're older than 19, you don't have the hair-trigger reflexes that are required (to fly)."
3. Potential customers are confused by the rates and options offered by flight schools, and in their confusion, they fear they are being "ripped off."
Brown, an instructor himself and contributing editor to Flight Training Magazine, and Warren Smith, VP of operations for Flightstar Corporation of Savoy, IL, shared insights on how to address these problems with attendees of the Flight Training Business Success Seminar organized jointly by the National Air Transporation Association (NATA), the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics, and the Wisconsin Aviation Trades Association.
Smith and Brown offered marketing strategies and rate-setting techniques, and touched on how to deal with another industry headache, a shortage of flight instructors.
Flight school managers should keep in mind that when they are competing for the target group of potential pilots — typically males, ages 25 to 50, earning enough to have plenty of disposable income — they are competing with yacht clubs, snowmobile purchases, or other "entertainment" expenses, says Brown.
"This particular group of people is looking for fun and adventure, and the dollars are going to go to some fun and adventure activity, so if we don't look like fun and adventure, we're going to lose this competition, and it's not going to be because the outfit across the field is $75 less than the quote."
Brown says the question is not which company will they learn to fly with, but rather, will they learn to fly at all. Adds Smith, "Flight training companies are not competing for market share; they're attempting to create a market."
Besides advertising, Brown says there are other ways to increase a flight school's visibility and make people aware a school exists in their area.
1. Print up colorful,
eye-catching business cards for instructors; he says 1,000 full-color
cards cost about $135.
2. Sell hats, lapel pins, or T-shirts to instructors and students who will then wear them in the community.
3. Send "Thank you" cards to those who have done introductory flights; sign them up for Flight Training Magazine, so it comes every month to remind them of training.
4. Send press releases to the local paper about prominent members of the community who soloed for the first time or earned a certificate.
5. Frame solo certificates, so they may be placed in students' offices or homes where others will see them; have a monthly ceremony, which family and friends attend, to award certificates.
Managers shouldn't ignore children as possible customers; ground school or aviation activities designed for children can be profitable, says Brown. "Numerically, this is a very large market...There's no law that you can't make money without an engine running."
Flight schools can also offer glider programs in which children can solo at age 14. Ultralights and gliders, paired with recreational licenses, can be stepping stones to flight training in powered aircraft for customers of all ages, notes Brown.
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