This month has been a whirlwind of great posts during “Blogging in Formation‘s” 5th month, and our theme is “If I had One Wish for Aviation” (or “If I were in charge”).
Please check out the other Formation Bloggers as well:
Sept 1: House of Rapp – Ron Rapp
Sept 2: iFlyBlog – Brent Owens
Sept 3: Adventures of Cap’n Aux – Eric Auxier
Sept 4: Flight to Success – Karlene Petitt
Sept 5: Smart Flight Training – Andrew Hartley
Sept 6: Airplanista – Dan Pimentel
So with that out of the way – let’s discuss what I would like to see change about the aviation industry…
There are just SO MANY things to pick from. As an industry, aviation is as imperfect as it gets. That said, I don’t really know of another industry that commands so much passion and interest from both its members and its non-members alike!
So I’m going to come at this from the perspective I know best: that of a flight student and a flight instructor.
I have flown with hoards of people (more every day); from those just wanting to scratch “fly in a little airplane” off their bucket list, to others who are committed to getting their pilot certificate and flying professionally, and everything in between (including engineers and doctors who own their own plane and are getting current – some after 2 years, some after 30 years, some fly regularly and just need that check mark checked in their logbook).
And I always thought that most people – at least those who know they want to commit to getting their pilot license – come to aviation through a family member or friend who flies. But what I have found (and my experience may not be typical) is that many of these people don’t know anyone who flies. They just thought it sounded interesting and fun (which, as we know, it is), and they thought they would like to do it.
These people astound and humble me. And here’s why:
Flight schools are generally NOT customer friendly. For such a social industry, I’m always a little amazed at the suspicion in which we hold people who don’t fly (yet). I imagine my students walking into a flight school or airport, knowing no one, knowing nothing about the industry or flight training at all, not really knowing what it is going to take to become a pilot, and not getting any help or greeting from the person at the “front desk.” They just get completely ignored.
And yet, they push through and get out of their comfort zone and ASK. Someone. Anyone. And at some point, they get to the right person, who sets them up with an instructor. And then the instructor meets them… maybe cordially, maybe not, and so it goes.
I’m beginning to think that aviation self-selects people who are decision-makers and risk-takers not because flying requires it (it does), but because people who do not have these qualities won’t make it past the front door! I know that I wouldn’t have, if I had not already had an aviation background.
But I’m disturbed and saddened by the HUGE number of people who possibly just need that one bit of information – the right person to talk to at the airport – to get into the left seat of a small plane and start the process of learning to fly. If they could just get that far… just take that ONE EXTRA LITTLE STEP and ask the question, this entire aviation world of wonder would open up for them! But they might be too shy or too afraid to step out of their comfort zone that one little extra bit. And it’s AVIATION’S loss, not just their own.
I was recently in San Diego for my “normal life” job, and the office I was in has a view of both San Diego Brown Field and of the Tijuana International Airport. So I’m not sure how much work I actually accomplished. But I DID go to Brown Field more than once after the work day was over, and the situation I described above was EXACTLY the scenario. I walked in to a completely silent terminal building (other than the jukebox in the airport bar at the end of the hall), and there was no indication of where to go if I wanted to talk to an instructor; no signs, no flyers, no balloons, not even little airplane stickies on the floor to mark my path to the person or place where I can ask about learning to fly. Aviation (especially flight training) needs a good shot of customer service and marketing.
Which leads me to my “King for a Day” declaration – newbies and strangers to aviation should be celebrated, not shunned. Maybe that’s too harsh – there are great programs out there to get people interested, like EAA’s Young Eagles program which introduces children to flight. As I write this, I am sitting at an airport in northern Alabama, looking at a local program called “Fantastic Flight” which is an elementary school program using kids’ natural interest in flight and outer space. I have no idea if it is still active, but it sounds fantastic (as the name would suggest).
I know that AOPA and NBAA and EAA and all the other alphabet groups are hemming and hawing over the declining interest in learning to fly. And they are pushing flight clubs and experimental homebuilt aircraft and alternative fuels and efficiency and numerous other ideas to bring the cost of flying down, in the hopes that that alone will revitalize the industry (even our own Formation Bloggers Ron and Brent discuss the cost issue in this very series!). And certainly cost is a factor.
But people spend exorbitant amounts of money on things that they want – even if none of these items will ever pay them back a penny in any way. That boat won’t make you money – it will cost you for the entire time you own it. That big screen TV won’t, either… it will, in fact, cost you time you could be spending enjoying the world. At least your boat makes you happy – when you have time to use it after you have worked the extra hours to pay the bank and the registration and the dock fees and on and on and on.
Becoming a pilot, on the other hand, will cost money, yes. But it will actually pay you back in so many ways. You will have done something that less than one-half of one percent (0.005) of the population of the world has ever done – become a pilot. So it pays you back in pride.
You can save more time than you ever thought possible… try going from Columbus, Ohio to Fort Payne, Alabama and back (including several hours of productive work on the ground in Alabama) in one day by car. Not gonna happen. If you value your time, aviation may have the best return on investment of any other business expense you could make.
You might even get paid back in money. Yes! Show me the Benjamins! Become a commercial pilot or flight instructor yourself and the money you spend on this journey will, indeed, come trickling back into your pocket (albeit slowly).
So let’s get on it, aviation industry! As your King for the Day, I command you – get creative; get serious; and get customer service-y! Make it EASY for people to start learning to fly, and make it fun, and the entire aviation industry will reap the rewards!
Thanks for reading the Smart Flight Training blog – I am truly honored and humbled that you are spending YOUR TIME to read this blog. Please leave your comments telling us what you would decree if you were King of Aviation for the day! Tailwinds, and have a great week!
Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor and commercial pilot in Columbus, Ohio.