Let’s face it. Flight Instruction can be a daunting task, and few instructors are actually good at both connecting with people and also imparting aviaion wisdom and knowledge to their flock of followers. Add to that the other external pressures brought about by economics, cost of proficiency, and the mounting legal knowledge and liability coverage required just to step onto an airport and it’s easy to see why there are fewer and fewer instructors in the current market. As with all commodities, the Flight Instructor is one of the pre-requisites of the aviation career. The airline industry is snatching up commercially rated pilots when they reach the minimums of usually about 1500 hours or if they are in a program that qualifies as little as 700+ hours. This leaves an enormous void for pilots who have zero interest in both people and teaching, and as we observed in the 1990’s will force them into a position they don’t really fit into, but must in order to build the time needed to make it both a lifestyle and a career that is rewarding and wins for them as they progress in life. The key component to assuring another decade of safety and proficient training is found in both mentorship and a solid continuing education program which the industry has attempted but has yet to actually inspire.
If you are a normal sky seeking earth-dweller you most likely view airplanes in either an awestruck bewildered mentality, or you could simply do without them. If you are the bewildered hopelessly addicted to airplane spotting kind of person, this is for you. Many of us started aviation during the years that aviation simply was not kind, there was limited employment and the odds were stacked against us gaining a solid job in the industry that offered anything remotely reminiscent of success. Now that picture has changed enormously. The airlines are so desperate for pilots they are offering many student pilots positions as first officers upon completion of their flight time, a few are even paying for students to contractually build time as an instructor through an approved program to obligate them to fly as an FO for at least a year with their company. The angles and programs are becoming as confusin as they are endless in availability. The 1500 hour rule that was implemented as a response to the reckless, or perhaps careless behavior of a pilot at Colgan Air in the big crash in Buffalo, NY and has had a mixed effect. If you are an instructor and reading this you can definitely relate to the complexity that the new regulations have added to your career plans.
Flight Instructors are required to pass a litany of exams, and the checkride consists of “everything is an open field” when it comes to the practical test. Sometimes the checkride oral can last 2-4 hours, and in past years it was not uncommon to exceed 8 -14 hours. Truly testing our determination and will to succeed in the business. Once we pass all these hurdles, we go take a flight as our practical exam and bang, now we are ready to go discover that everything we learned sounded great until a zero to hero student shows up and does nothing we were prepared to expect on that first instructional flight.
Now, the next segment is strictly for independent flight instructors.
In the new world of flight instruction we as instructors really need to equip ourselves for the new world of aviation that is evolving. In one arena we will label as business essentials we need to cultivate skills that will yield greater profits while building the value our new clients will receive as result of our services. I will briefly list these areas that I observe consistently :
There are definitely more areas and skills to add to the aviation instructors marketplace, however these are the areas that continually show a need for us as instructors to do better. To quickly summarize these points Timeliness: the simple act of being in a place one says they will be in at the time they agreed to be there. When I instructed full time as an entrepreneural aviation consultant, I set times and had a schedule that each client (student) was required to utilize. The rule was simple, if you showed up more than 15 minutes late without notification, you were charged a fee and I wouldn’t be at the airport anymore. If I didn’t show you received a credit on your account. Yet, instructor pilot after instructor pilot would show up and explain to me why they just can’t make it in this business, namely they didn’t have a fee structure or operate as a real business. If you find yourself in this world, it is my suggestion to go find a large flight school and join the ranks of instructors that give up $40-$60/ hr to the school to manage this area for you. If you find yourself in this arena and are struggling to get people to show on time, this is an excellent way to prove your customers and assure both of you get the maximum value out of the relationship. My motto has and always will be, “A dollar paid for a dollar earned, nothing less and nothing more”. Timeliness is the key to the business relationship and keeping us as instructors involved in the game, and also help assure we can afford to be at our best for students and pilots alike.
The Tools we use are our modifications to materials for the geography we instruct in, combined with techniques and multiple tools we can offer students (our clients) as they work fervently to attain this addiction we call flying. Simple tools such as Logbook audit forms, time logging instructions, reference sheets for rules, or sticking with an online syllabus with small questionnaires to engage the students mind on the materials they are assigned to review, and the post flight home study when they reflect on the flight that day.
Professionalism is the essence of leadership in the pilot world, in fact the business world at large. Sure, dressing well shows some professionalism, but timeliness, prompt attention to opportunities and challenges the student pilot may have, and remaining current in our knowledge and technologies is a very large factor in the professionalism equation as well. Bad mouthing other flight schools, other people on the airport, or even as I had been guilty of, getting T-d off at ATC when they are taking too long or giving perhaps what we perceive as erroneous instructions. These all play a factor in the student pilots view of aviation and have a direct correlation I on our success as professionals in our industry. Exhude professionalism in the way we walk, talk, in our command presence, and our ability to communicate to those in our industry. Find a mentor who has instructed successfully and pick their brains, imitate their success.
Liability Protection Unfortunately, we live in a litigious world, especially flying aircraft which do in most cases exceed the value of a ground pounding vehicle we leave in our driveways. If we are remaining professional, charging a fee that is parallel to the value of our service we can eliminate a lot of issues right way. But even then, we need top find protection for both our licenses, our Medical’s as well as against any mistakes that may occur whether our fault or not. To operate as an instructor without adequate insurance is unwise and unlike the old days where accidents were often just considered accidents, everything now has a reason, a purpose and a cause so be prepared. There are a lot of protections available, however to start your research some of the best starting points to review are : Legal Coverage, Flight Instructors coverage, non-owned aircraft coverage (if not covered under an Instruction policy), and loss of license coverage (especially if you don’t have any short & long term disability) and of cousrse life insurance and any other areas that your counsel could advise. I am in no way qualified to tell pilots what coverage to take or advice on any of this, these are mere suggestions to discuss with your insurance provider and or counsel. Though i have to disclose that I am in no way able to advise you on specifics of coverage and cannot and will not offer any advice in that area , I am able to strongly suggest to seek gaining adequate insurance coverage to protect you, your family and your career, and really the aviation community at large. Do take a minute and research all the coverages available to you and discuss them with your financial planner, attorney, or whatever counsel you utilize. Do not use this article as the basis for your research, we only hope to spark your interest in finding and obtaining adequate protection.
Aircraft Access: To flight instruct, you have to fly an aircraft, and if like many of us you can’t afford one at the moment, then we have to find suitable rental aircraft we can recommend to the students. Don’t just jump into an aircraft because its cheap rental and your student is excited about the aircraft make or model. There are some hurdles to jump through first. Do you want to pay tax on aircraft rental? Do you want to charge tax and then have to deal with filing quarterly to pay the state what is their due? Are you interested in covering insurance and deal with the pitfalls of maintenance, downed aircraft for months, and lose students in the process? These are all good questions. A great source of help for this is www.aopa.org. You are most likely familiar, but to add a little salty wisdom to this, don’t be shy about demanding to see the insurance documents and having them send you documentation on maintenance and insurance. The last thing you want to do is be in an aircraft that isn’t insured, blow a tire and go swerving off a runway into a hangar and discover that it’s you who is now responsible for the damage. Welcome, you just got your new job... paying a debt you don’t own. A great place to look is flying clubs, aircraft owners who are forming clubs, and other venues where you can refer a student pilot to both pay the rent, and keep them engaged long after you are gone its’a win win. So, aircraft access is of paramount importance and then quantifying what you are dealing with is of even greater importance.
Business Policy: We won’t waist a lot of time here, however your business policy will encompass all of the previously described areas. Without a solid business policy you are doomed to find something else to do for your day job. A solid business policy will describe who is responsible for scheduling, a solid fee schedule, disclosures to file irate opinion from fact, refer vs. recommendation, insurance requirements, insurance you carry, and anything else you deem appropriate to your business practices. It is important to have them in writing preferably on a website and to assure when they change, that it is communicated via that same form of documentation. There is simply no substitute for finding good counsel so some great places to begin looking at business policy is once again aopa.org, NBAA, and even a cursory glance at other businesses to see any areas you might have missed or pertain to your locality.
As with any informational blog, this all opinion derived from experiences we have had in the aviation/ flight instructor business world, however you should seek your own counsel and legal help to establish the policy that best suites you. This article is in no way a substitute for legal counsel and in no way holds out to the public as an expert in the field of business, insurance, liability coverage and is an opinion only article intended to enhance the interest of flight instructors in becoming more successful in their careers and in their communities.