I was leaning against the far end of the counter at our local airport FBO the other day. I just popped in to see what was going on. You know, the gossip. One of the young line guys was behind the counter doing something on the computer regarding someone’s fuel charges. Then, a flight instructor walked in and sat down. This is a tale of 2.1 flight instructors. Why 2.1? You’ll see in a second. The first CFI we’ll call Bob.
I had never met Bob in person, but I knew who he was. In this day of Facebook profiles and whatnot, you can learn quite a lot about folks. Things like, if they have a puppy, a peanut allergy, how they were wronged in the fast food drive-thru, and how little they understand economics and global trade. People in sales have long since learned how to utilize social media as a tool to understand their prospective clients well before any face to face meetings. Bob, on the other hand, had no idea who I was. After a bit of small talk, I introduced myself. More about that in a moment. First, a little background.
I’ve been looking for an instructor to wrap up my commercial pilot license and I’ve had some trouble finding one locally who is up on the particulars. I emailed Bob several months prior about this, followed by a phone conversation. We discussed my hours and what I thought I’d need to complete the training. At the end of the call he said, he’d work out his schedule but indicated we could get this done and he’d give me a call. Many months passed with no communication.
A Touch of Awkward
Now here I am in person. Yeah, the introduction was a little awkward. I’m a grown-ass man, I’ve been through stuff, so I really don’t care about a little bit of awkward. In fact, I find it kind of amusing. I reminded Bob of my training needs, just in case he had become overwhelmed, or simply forgot. I forget things. It happens. Perhaps that’s why he goes by ‘Bob.’ If he forgets how to spell, there’s a good chance he’ll still get his name right, or sign as Obb, Bbo, or Obo. He seemed open to the conversation and we discussed hours and background, as before. However, I noticed as I pressed specific dates and frequency of training, he began to get vague. So, I took the hint and just stopped engaging him. I leaned over the counter and began talking with the line guy again. That’s the gist of my experience with instructor Bob. However, he’ll make another appearance in a moment.
Now, let’s move on to Willy, our second instructor. Several months before I had the conversation with Bob, I had a similar encounter with instructor Willy. I emailed, he replied, and a phone conversation followed. After we got through the part about how he never checks his email, we discussed where I was and what I’d like to accomplish. That’s been far enough back, I can’t remember how we left things. I think he was booked up with students and I was supposed to contact him at some later date to see if he had room. However, I could sense a bit of hesitation from him. What I’ve been looking for is an overwhelmingly appropriate fit for this endeavor. Not something I have to force somebody into. Afterall, I’m already spending the money and allotting the time to study, test, and fly. This is in addition to my regular responsibilities outside aviation. Now that you have a basic understanding of my experience with Bob and Willy, let’s put them together and see if they purée or pirouette.
The Bob and Willy Tango
While I continued leaning against the end of the FBO counter, and instructor Bob meddled with his iPad, in walks instructor Willy. Without speaking to anyone else in the room, he sits down next to Bob and they exchange pleasantries, almost like a secret handshake. As with Bob, Willy doesn’t know I’m the person he’d spoken with on the phone several months ago. Here’s where the brew gets frothy. Instructor Willy says quietly to Bob, “are you taking any more students.” Instructor Bob replies, “no, I’m trying not to.” Now, perhaps Bob thinks I can’t hear them. My wife says I have absurdly good hearing.
Do I have some unsavory reputation, of which I’m unaware, I thought?
Then my face got a little hot.
Am I’m that guy everybody quietly talks about being a danger to himself and others, my mind raced?
Then I became quietly pissed. I have two gears of pissed off. A quiet gear and a break shit gear. Most of the time, like ninety-nine percent, it’s the quiet version. Thankfully! Why can’t they just plainly tell me, “I’m sorry, I’m booked up for the next 265 years.” “If you wait that long, I’ll have lived two and three-fourths lifetimes, within which I’ll have been reincarnated as a salamander and barred from the airport.” That salamander bit would have distracted me, and I would have wanted to know more about their thoughts on reincarnation. But no, there was simply weird non-communicative awkwardness. Like two anteaters arriving upon the last too small ant hill attempting to simultaneously probe. Let’s probe deeper on what this is really about.
Ambassadors for General Aviation
This isn’t about me, my goals, and being stymied. That’s personal and I can deal with it. The point is, General Aviation needs all the help it can get. As a flight instructor you’ve taken on the mantle of public relations for the industry. I know, you got into it because you love to fly. Well, with freedom comes great responsibility. Yes, you shoulder the responsibility of students in your care and in a way after they become pilots. What may not have been included in flight instructor ground school is the responsibility as face of the industry. In fact, we all are representatives of General Aviation. I don’t work in aviation, but I represent it as the president of a flying club and as a member of the community of people who call ourselves pilots. I realize the counter argument to all this is the paltry sum flight instructors earn versus a lot of up-front cost, time, and continuing education. However, creativity could help overcome this issue, not unlike in many other industries. Often, I encounter flight instructors who have video courses, public presentations, and seminars on certain niches of instruction. I’m talking multiple revenue streams here. However, the main point is public relations. Not convinced? Give me another shot.
Don’t Be This Ass-hat
I have a pilot friend I’ll call Ned. He and I trained for our pilot licenses at the same time. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well and have flow together may times over the years. A while back he shared with me an experience he had before becoming a pilot. His interest in flying was longstanding. So, his wife gave him a discovery flight certificate from our local airport. Unfortunately, the instructor who took him on the flight had a horrible attitude. Ned said he complained the entire flight and was just butt sore over having to do such a lowly task. This was Ned’s first intimate encounter with Aviation. It put him off so much, ten years would pass before he began flight training. What he told me made my blood boil. This is how bad it can be, but what about solutions?
Channel Your Inner Shawn D. Tucker
Perhaps some business soft skills and salesmanship are what is needed. It can’t hurt, especially coupled with forthrightness, energy, and creativity. Think, Sean D. Tucker. Have you ever seen him talk about flying? Holy crap! There’s a flight instructor from Dallas who gave a presentation at AirVenture. He had the gift of gab, a great personality, and a heap of experience. I wanted to run up and hug his neck and ask him how to find more woke people like him. By the way, in terms of earnings, you know, John and Martha King have a Falcon jet, right? That’s from flight instructing. Don’t give me any guff about how little flight instructors make. You make what you do, in part, according to the value you bring to the conversation. Bring more value, get more pay.
You In Front of the Mirror
By the way, if you’re an aspiring jet jockey, you may as well go ahead and learn people skills, because you’ll damn sure need them later. Go ahead and try it. Channel your inner Sean D. Tucker. Seriously, go to the bathroom mirror right now and begin practicing, “yeah baby!” At the very least, don’t be an ass.
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