We asked our fans on Facebook to tell us what aviation topic they want our CEO, Captain Mat Petrenko to write a blog about.
So, here we have it!
Thank you Kay Wachtelborn for your question – Pay-to-fly programs, risky business or money maker?
Have a read of Mat’s response below. Feel free to leave a comment for more discussion topics!
Pay-to-Fly programs, risky business or money maker?
By Mat Petrenko
We all pay for flying lessons – one way or another. The young student at the local aero club – selling petrol or stacking shelves in the supermarket between lessons; or perhaps the university graduate, learning to fly via a sponsored airline program, first in small aircraft, then gradually larger ones, with the host airline – whose passengers ultimately pay for the fees; or the military officer at an academy, flying fees are donated by the tax payers of the state; yes, flying lessons are already paid for – by someone, somewhere. The question I believe Kay asked is; “Can flying lessons be continued, passed ab-initio, into the commercial airline industry; and can this proposition make money, continuously, without causing damage, disruption or financial ruin?”
My answer is yes: students can pay-to-fly, as part of their apprenticeship or continued education and professional development, without causing unnecessary difficulties for an airline and profits to a training organisation. I say this because we see it today: airlines and operators often send their employees to other airlines for training and exchange of ideas and experiences, the military do it too, more so in fact than their civilian colleagues – it’s even a prize to be won; but it’s the supermarket packer – the self-sponsored student – that is typically excluded from this form of advanced training. The question therefore becomes, “Can we extend this form of advanced training to the self-sponsored student?”
The answer lies in the motives of your training centre; do you want to make money, for the sake of making money, or do you want to genuinely teach students, making money in the process? If your motives lie in pure profit generation, then it is a risky endeavour, because the business model (like so many mass-student training organisations) focuses on volume, rather than quality, and this is not good for anybody. You may make some short term gains, but I don’t think it will last – you see, students are smart, airline training managers critical, and accountants ruthless; if the product is no good, if it is cheap and fast and lacks substance and depth of learning, in favour of mass enrolment and quick turn-around, then the students and airline managers will come to understand that the training is useless, and stop buying it. If the demand is not there, then the business will fail.
But if you genuinely want to help students, and airlines, and the industry, then you are more likely focused on the most important principle a training organisation can have; what’s best for the student? This question is a good place to start building your program, and if you get the syllabus right and deliver a good quality product, that works in industry, then you will attract students – and providing your expenses don’t exceed your income, you’ll have a sustainable business, sounds simple enough. The elements of a good training school are: students, instructors, aeroplanes, simulators and the demand for the skill the school sells. Looking in reverse order, IATA tells us that demand is there, growing in fact; simulators are readily available and affordable, airlines have plenty of aeroplanes – and the required share of instructors – all we need is students. Still sounds simple doesn’t it?
Well, let’s look closer at the training tools you propose to use, the jet airliner. Airliners are expensive to buy and operate, consequently, airlines (and their insurers) want professional, well-trained pilots to fly them. Airline pilots are largely a smart bunch of chaps, well trained, stable and mostly predictable in their behaviour – and this is what you want in a pilot. Military blokes are too, although more gung-ho; a necessary trait for war, but not so much airline flying. Now, imagine for a moment, owning an airline, or being responsible for ones safety, finances, business stability and growth and reputation – who do you want flying your aircraft – students?
As I mentioned earlier, airlines do accept student pilots from other airlines, or the military – but there are conditions to these agreements. The condition is usually related to the identity of the student, or more precisely, what experience he has and what qualifications has he earned? And this is a valid point, because airline pilots and military pilots are generally a known quantity. We know, by virtue that they have a position with an airline or squadron, that they have been screened, selected, stress tested and examined in all possible ways – and they have endured, struggled, survived, passed and succeeded. The supermarket packer is an unknown, and therefore a risk. I have taught hundreds of pilots how to fly, and many of them from the demographic I am talking about. Statistically, the self-sponsored commercial students are as good as the sponsored blokes, or the military chaps (I have taught these students too); in some cases they are better motivated and learn faster; but then, some of my students have been so bad I wouldn’t have let them park my car in an empty car park – one in particular I wouldn’t have let push a shopping trolley through a Coles supermarket without fear of crashing into a nice display of soup tins – so you see the dilemma; the self-sponsored student is an unknown, and too risky to put into a control seat of a commercial airliner. And this is how the manager of an airline will no doubt feel as well. It seems, the critical element of the business model, is the customer himself. Without certain guarantees of quality of flying skills and predictable behaviour of the student, the business is too risky.
To make it a ’money maker’ as you call it, then we need to address the concerns of the airline manager. The concerns of the manager are: who is the student, what skills does he have and what qualifications does he have? This means, we need to torture the poor student a bit. We need to screen him, stress test his decision making and evaluate his behaviour, we need to fail him, make him repeat lessons, and then build him up, teach him not only technical competencies, but humility and compassion for his fellow pilots – because then he will know what they too have gone through to earn the right to sit in the seat; we need to deliver what the airline wants – an airline pilot.
But this is still not enough. The host airline needs to believe in the product that you are delivering, they will need to evaluate your systems, syllabus and training techniques and trust them, before they allow any unknown person into the cockpit. So it is vital that the host airline be involved in the process of screening the potential students, and approve of it.
Back to the original question; Pay-to-Fly programs, risky business or money maker? If the product is designed for the benefit of the student, and the host airline, and the industry, and the concerns of the airline training manager addressed through screening and evaluation, then this will be a money maker. Because demand will exceed supply in the near future and existing sponsored pay-to-fly programs with the airlines and military, won’t be able to keep up. But, if the product is designed to place unknown student pilots into airline cockpits, for maximum profit with minimum control, it is a risky business – the airlines won’t risk it, and the flying public deserve better. Thanks for the question Kay, I hope this generates the debate you were looking for.