How can busy flight schools make their students feel like they belong, that they’re one of the family?
Eric Radtke is an airline transport pilot, Gold Seal flight instructor, advanced ground instructor and NAFI-accredited Master Flight Instructor. Eric has been involved in aviation education since 1998 and currently serves as president and chief instructor of Sporty’s Academy — the educational arm of Sporty’s Pilot Shop. He says:
It’s impossible to estimate how many student pilots are lost because they feel like an intrusion into a flight school’s operations. As evidenced by the recent data from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Flight Training Student Retention Initiative on the abysmal retention rate the flight training industry has experienced, flight schools must welcome everyone coming to the airport into the aviation community.
Simple, creative, inexpensive excuses to bring people together at the airport — cookouts, coffee and donuts, corn roasts, etc. — create venues that allow student pilots to interact with other community members on an informal basis. Customers have the opportunity to meet others pursuing a pilot certificate so they quickly learn they’re not alone. A support network is a powerful force.
Other techniques for creating a sense of community include blogging or providing any other central location for free advice, dispersing information and sharing stories highlighting the fun in general aviation. Safety seminars and open houses are also popular events. Active participation in social media, including Facebook and Twitter, is a must because it keeps customers close to the airport at all times.
Sporty’s Academy also honors learn-to-fly milestones by presenting awards and plaques. Signage, newsletters and news releases about each student to the local media guarantee that the customers understand the importance of their accomplishments. The publicity doesn’t hurt either.
Being part of the community means honoring its traditions. That includes the cutting of the shirttail after the student solos. We go one step further by framing that shirttail so the student will have it as a memento forever. And we also sound an alert throughout the building after the first solo so we can have a crowd on hand to give the occasion its due celebration.
The best advice I can provide — try something new!