Let’s be serious. When we fly on the airlines, we’re a captive audience. They can do pretty much whatever they’d like to us and we have to put up with it. But most of the time we also fly on the airlines because we must … for work, even for that much needed vacation. Sure we moan some, and in the end some of the airlines have actually learned a few things about how to treat their customers.
Not in flight training though. When people consider learning to fly, they can choose any place they’d like to train, or even whether they want to learn to fly at all. And thousands are saying no to flying.
Sitting at Chicago O’Hare yesterday, preparing to head to an NBAA conference in San Diego, I had an opportunity to catch up on a little back reading that I began over breakfast at Wolfgang Pucks in Terminal 3. I actually walked out of that place a few months back because the food was cold and the waitress surly. But I was hungry and the choices are few at ORD so I decided to give them another try while I read.
The publication in question – Mentor – is the voice of the National Flight Instructors Association (NAFI), a group of which I am a member. I also belong to the competing group Society of Flight Educators (SAFE). This particular issue focused on customer service as a flight-training business tool to solve the never ending problem of flight schools still being run like clubs, a major reason for the decline in people learning to fly. Customers treated poorly simply vote with their feet never to be seen again.
But there’s another reason flight training is sinking and it’s an issue no one seems to talk much about. It’s myopia. For the non-medical among you, myopia is a disease of the eye that forces the viewer’s focus to repeatedly narrow in on things right in front of their face to the exclusion of many important things around them. In this case, our industry is missing or ignoring the real role of flight instructors.
As true flight-training service providers CFIs are a customer of the company that employs them. But instructors are also a part of the problem because they either still don’t recognize, or don’t care about their role in the overall survival of this industry. Many believe the instructor’s needs as customers have never been heard, much less addressed. So if we treat our instructors like crap, should we be surprised that they don’t focus on the real paying customers as they walk through the door?
Instructors are the gatekeepers of knowledge. Without them, our flight training system doesn’t work. But flight instructors are also more than anything else, pilots. They always have and always will be, for the most part, men and women who would rather fly the aircraft themselves than watch a student stumble through turns about a point or short-field landings.
Most instructors don’t see themselves as teachers then, except for the very short term. The question is why?
The standard defense always ends with money, but it’s much more than that. Even if CFIs were paid $50 an hour they’d still leave eventually, because there is no career progression for young instructors who would like to move into more complex aircraft. Without some hope, without some well-focused career direction, CFIs will never view teaching as anything more than a stopping off point.
The real crime here is that few see this as their problem, not FAA, not the manufacturers, not even the airlines who need a steady stream of pilots as well.
We need to provide a reason for instructors to earn a CFI rating. That means alliances with large organizations, airlines and corporate flight departments for starters than can provide a few next steps in the career ladder for young pilots. In Europe and the Middle East, some airlines have already developed career programs for zero-time pilots because they see the value to all of a solid career progression plan.
We’re blessed here in the states with a GA system that offers our instructors many other options. But until we consider the needs of our customer/instructors, for the career progression they demand, we’re doomed to watch this spiral of lost instructors and more lost customers continue because the people we need the most, the flight training gatekeepers are not really in the loop.
But we’re clearly running out of time.
And BTW, my choice as a customer is to never going back to Wolfgang Pucks at ORD. The food was cold … again.
Read the complete post at http://www.jetwhine.com/2011/03/are-cfis-the-lynchpins-in-keeping-aviation-alive/
Mon, Mar 21 2011 1:45 PM
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Filed under: The Buzz, Airlines, Airports, FAA, Business Aviation, Flight Training, Aviation Marketing, General Aviation, NAFI, CFI’s, SAFE, Wolfgang Pucks