Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Light-Sport Chronicles: Where Everybody Knows Your Name, Part II

Even after tragedy and Global Econ 101, fun flying wins out

The fly-outs are particularly popular. "Sometimes they're ambitious, like flying to Oshkosh." Other fly-outs are of the $100-hamburger variety, win-win affairs for students and Skyraider alike. The planes earn rental fees, but the $40/hour instructor rate is waived, so students get valuable cockpit time with their mentors at a lower cost.

Running any aviation business is never a 24/7 cakewalk. One ongoing challenge has been overcoming light-sport misconceptions.

"People still think we can't legally fly beyond 50 miles—the recreational-license limitation! Or they believe LSA aren't real airplanes or have lawn-mower engines or are dangerous to fly," Dillis says. "There's still lots of misinformation, and much comes from conventional flight schools. Whether it's intentional or honest mistakes, I don't know. Some flight schools who operate LSA try to get all their students to go for the private. The students come to us because they've been pushed into flying the bigger planes at a higher cost."

Another lesson: discounted discovery flights. "Initially, we did a lot but weren't making any money," says Dillis. "It looked good on the books—lots of good hours—but no profits."

He concluded people who really want to learn to fly will pay for it. "We were attracting the one-time airplane-ride folks," explains Dillis. "That's just not good for business. Maybe it spreads the word, but it doesn't really help us sell flight lessons or airplanes."

Now, Skyraider offers demo flights at the regular hourly rate. "We saw a bit of a decline," admits Dillis, "but we're making money on every flight. The chances of the 'ride' folks coming back are not that great, and it ends up wasting time and effort. People know when they want to learn to fly. We show them what we have to offer: friendship, a club environment, fun, and we say, 'Please come back!'"

And come back they do. Although student completion rates are close to the industry average, Dillis says, "We have plenty of students, and there are always lots of starts."

Skyraider's demographic? Males around 55 from higher-income brackets who took lessons years ago, then put flying aside to raise families and build careers. "Now they want to get back into it, but in a simpler way. They're not dodging medical exams, they just want to fly as quickly and easily as possible."

When students ask him "How long to get my license?" Dillis asks them their age. He has seen that older pilots take longer to learn. "So if they say 50, I say, 'About 50 hours.' It tends to be pretty accurate." Dillis, maybe it's not age, but that thin Denver air!


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