Thirty years ago, after wasting an inordinate amount of time and money at a series of local flight schools, I moved more than 1,000 miles away in my quest to become a professional pilot. In less time than I had already invested in getting my private pilot certificate, and for an amount of money that was fairly accurately quoted, I earned a series of certificates and ratings that put me on the road to where I am today.
A co-worker of mine recently added a rating in a similar manner. Although there are flight training providers near him, he chose to travel half-way across the country to work with a specific provider that has an excellent reputation for helping their customers achieve his exact goal. And they did.
When one is preparing to part with a significant quantity of cash in an effort to obtain a thing — and it doesn’t really matter what that thing is — the smart consumer will seek out high quality in products and services. An area where, I’m sorry to say, flight training doesn’t excel.
Industry wide the numbers are disturbing. While the market has grown across the globe, and with the advantage of hopeful foreign flight students flocking to American providers to earn their credentials, as many as 80% of flight students don’t achieve their goal. They quit. They leave the airport, go home, and don’t come back.
That’s not just a scenario that describes a crushed dream. It’s a scenario that describes providers offering erratic levels of customer service. Erratic enough that few flight schools even conduct exit interviews with students to find out what they found enjoyable about their training, what they found challenging, and why they terminated their training without achieving their original goal.
Every time a student walks away from the training facility dissatisfied — and with an 80% drop-out rate we have to acknowledge that happens more often than not — the provider is losing a customer forever. Not for the day, or the short-term, or until next Spring. They’ve lost that customer for good. It is very likely aviation has lost a potentially valuable asset too.
If aviation is really going to fulfill its promise, if the industry is going to train the crews that are needed to fill the seats that will pilot the aircraft of today and tomorrow, if we ever hope to serve our customers as they need to be treated in order to be successful, we’ve got to make a change.
We’ve got to learn a thing or two about how to run our flight training programs better. Because just as we tell our students that getting better is their goal, they’re telling us in a fairly emphatic way that flight training providers have to learn that same lesson.
Better is better.
If aviation is really going to fulfill its promise, if the industry is going to train the crews that are needed to fill the seats that will pilot the aircraft of today and tomorrow, we’ve got to make a change.”
Regardless of the endeavor, it’s unlikely that any of us will become the premier provider of any product or service by accident or random chance. If we want to be good, we’re going to have to work at it.
In recent years I’ve spent a great deal of time working on this specific issue, as well as several closely associated problems. Of course, I don’t work alone. Not by a long shot. There are four other ambassadors associated with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s You Can Fly initiative, as well as a slew of folks back at headquarters who work just as hard to find solutions to vexing problems. All talented folks. All dedicated to a similar goal.
I’m happy to say we’re making real progress. These are invigorating times.
We began our efforts with the now famous AOPA Rusty Pilot program, which has helped bring more than 6,000 pilots back to active status. That’s a big number, but it’s a first step, not the end game.
This September I’ll be part of a team that will present a first of its kind Customer Service Exellence Course at AOPA HQ in Frederick, Maryland. It’s my hope, and the hope of many others, that this will be a big first step in pushing that embarrassingly bad 80% drop-out rate down to a far less debilitating number.
This isn’t a finger-wagging, “you’re doing it wrong,” kind of a course. Not by a long shot. Scolding isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. Rather, it’s a step by step program that allows providers to see and understand methods of improving customer service in ways that are pertinent to their particular operation.
Believe me when I tell you, we’ve really got something. This could be a game-changer.
When a student walks away from a flight school, not only do they give up on their dream to fly, they take thousands of dollars off the flight school’s countertop, never to return it. Imagine what it could mean to even a small flight school to retain as few as two students a year. Two students who would have quit, but instead persevere and succeed. Two students who pay for their full fight training experience, not just the first dozen hours or so.
The student wins, the flight school wins, and aviation wins. Because better is better. Always.
If you want to know more, write me. I’ll fill you in. Or call AOPA’s main phone number and ask to talk to someone about the new Customer Service Excellence Course developed by the You Can Fly Academy. And, of course you can always just walk up and ask a You Can Fly team member during the upcoming fly-in scheduled for May 10-11, 2019, at KFDK.
There’s hope. There’s help. There’s a new, better day out there just over the horizon. Let’s go make it happen, shall we?