Surveys have shown that cost isn’t the number one impediment that prevents folks from learning to fly. But it is a significant consideration for almost anyone who puts serious thought into getting their wings.
Other industries that sell high dollar products or services face similar challenges. And so they engage in something called exceptional customer service.
We in aviation might put some thought into that too, from the smallest FBO to the largest flight training providers. Customer service matters.
Imagine you’re a new flight student. Perhaps you’re in college, or working an entry-level job. Either way, your supply of cash is not abundant, even though your hopes are high. So you get bold, navigate the chain link, the barbed wire, the no trespassing signs, and make your way to the local FBO.If this FBO is like so many others, the employee they encounter is not particularly enthusiastic about being at work.
The new prospect may even have difficulty finding them if they’re hiding out in a back office watching videos on their phone. It happens. The odds are good that first employee isn’t a pilot.
The industry is not off to a good start.
The newbie is at the FBO for a reason. They’re thinking of taking flight lessons. They may not be entirely sure why they want to fly. Yes, their own true motivations may be a mystery. But the idea is intriguing, so they’re at the airport to learn as much as they can about the cost, the process, and the equipment they’ll need.
More often than not, the sales pitch is uninspired and goes little further than offering a rough price. That cost is arrived at by taking the cost per hour for airplane rental, plus the cost per hour of an instructor, then multiplying that by either the minimum number of hours to earn your certificate, or the average number of hours it takes others to earn their certificate.
Either way, the number is dangerously close to what the potential student paid for their car. They swallow hard and reconsider. Is this a good idea?
Maybe. Maybe not. It occurs to them that if they don’t succeed they’ve still taken on a significant amount of debt, or spent their life savings. For what?
This is where they start to seriously reconsider their desire to fly.
Now, considering that potential student is expressing an interest in spending $10,000 or more at this establishment over the next several months, perhaps it is worth at least thinking about treating them as if they’re of real importance. A VIP, as it were. Because they are, frankly.
Instead of leaving them to talk in generic terms with whomever happens to be at the counter, what if the FBO made it a practice to match that potential student with a CFI right off the bat, or at least an employee or tenant who flies.
Invite them to sit down in a comfortable chair. Offer them a coffee, or a bottle of water, or a soda. Treat them as if they’re a welcome guest arriving at your home.
Make it obvious to all concerned that this aviation enthusiast, this new prospective student, is worthy of the time and attention of those who are employed by or frequent the airport. Which of course, they are.
Now we’re in a much better position to discuss the benefits of flying. We might share our own story of how we got into this business and how much we enjoy it. We might offer to introduce them to other pilots on the field.
When the discussion turns to the cost of lessons, we can be honest and tell the prospective student that there are multiple paths they might follow to earn their certificate, and our job here at the Super-Duper FBO Flight School is to educate them about all their options and support them as best we can no matter which they choose to follow.
The student is suddenly charged up. They’ve found a partner. A person who really gets them and understands the challenges they’re going to face in flight training. The time, the money, the learning plateaus — all of it.
Now they’re not worrying that they might not be able to do this. Now they’re thinking, which path is right for me, and when can I start?
Maybe they rent the aircraft from the FBO and use the instructor assigned to them. Perhaps they would consider buying an airplane, which the FBO can maintain for them, and use an instructor from the flight school to teach them to fly in their own airplane.
They might like the idea of buying an airplane in partnership with someone else, or two, or three someone else’s, which can cut their cost even further while giving them access to an airplane they feel truly comfortable in.
They may appreciate the FBO directing them to the flying club on the field, which can provide an airplane at a reasonable cost, and offer a choice of flight instructors who are club members, or from the FBO’s flight school.
That potential student is now half-an-hour deep into a conversation with someone for whom they’re gaining real respect. They’ve got several options to consider, all of which have merit. They’re involved in the process right from the start, and their new partner, the FBO flight school, is well positioned to make a dollar or two off this new potential student no matter which option they choose.
A curious but cautious potential customer walked in through the FBO doorway. A satisfied, motivated customer just walked back out with a scheduled appointment to come back. That’s a win-win if ever there was one.
What’s this going to cost? We often think of that as a question the student pilot asks the flight school.
Perhaps it’s time for the industry as a whole to ask, “What’s this going to cost?” if that prospective new pilot leaves unimpressed, poorly served, still wishing he or she had answers to their questions.
We can do this starting right now, today. And we will all be better for it.