Research on the Stinson 108-3 Flies Through Trees at CML2 Video

Ok, this is a Stinson 108-3, which like;y has a 165hp Franklin engine and a max gross weight of 2400 lbs with a factory empty weight of 1320lbs. Fuel capacity was 50 gallons. Being these aircraft are often heavily modified, its hard to tell how legit those numbers are.

The airport is CML2, which has a field elevation of 130ft MSL and its located just north of Victoria BC. The lone runway is 1800x75ft. Maximum recorded temperatures in the area are under 100F. On the day of this flight, the pilot said it was hot… so giving the benefit of a doubt, lets go with 100F and moderately humid at say 70%. Such would put density altitude at around 3300 ft which will increase the length of the take off roll.

The airplane has 3 souls on board, all of which are pilots, so lets assume each weighs 170 lbs. We don’t know the fuel loading, but since fuel was not available on the airport, the tanks cannot be full. Lets figure around 35 gallons, which works out to be around 210 lbs. Alas, even though its under max gross weight at ~2100 lbs (includes some additions like shoulder belts, avionics, dust/dirt, fabric, dope, etc over the years), it will not perform anywhere near as well as the idealized factory values.

On a positive note, the runway slops downhill, so even though it is an unimproved surface, take off roll will decrease, assuming winds are aligned with the runway.

As this is an older and potentially highly modified aircraft, online performance charts are lacking. Stinson states the take off roll under unknown conditions to be 980ft. Some pilots suggest fully loaded under unknown conditions it is 1500ft. Being the aircraft did achieve flight, despite improper pilot technique, a calculated take off roll under these conditions would likely fall somewhere between the two figures, lets say 1250 ft.

Bottom line, taking off on this 1800 ft runway under the above assumptions provides for a ~45% margin. (1800ft runway-1250ft takeoff roll)/1250ft takeoff roll.  As a result, its pretty unlikely that the other pilots on board questioned the pilot in command as to whether the flight was safe or not.

Alas, this presents an interesting question, one of which many of my students have asked over the years… what sort of margin should I add to my performance figures? In this case, 45% almost resulted in an accident. Being 30-50% is a pretty common answer I’ve gotten back from fight reviews over the years, such is a common buffer for a lot of private pilots, but is it really the right one?

I remember as a young CFI asking an old bush pilot this exact question, having had my own near miss at the end of a runway with too small a margin. His answer, and the one both he and I go with for personal flying… 100%!

More on this in an upcoming post.


Density Altitude Calculator

Humidity Dewpoint Calculator

Stinson 108-3 Specifications

CML2 Airfield Data from Skyvector

Commentary from the pilot in command in the above video

I really appreciate that the pilot in command provided some commentary on this. Its far too easy to sit an an armchair and quarterback this type of thing as a “this will never happen to me, I’m not stupid” that is, until it does. Bottom line, if NASA with all their safety checks and technical acumen can blow a units conversion and crash a satellite, who are we to think we are immune to calculation and/or judgment errors when it comes to aviating.

Aviation as a Public Good / Socialism

There is this meme going around of a super rich guy updating a 747 with nearly obscene amenities. I say, hey, if you want to throw money around like that, and you don’t mind the headaches and wastafe, good for you… alas, another point of view is that spending with abandon is morally inferior and as such taxes need to be increased to at least put the brakes on doing so. The thing is, there is a much bigger issue at stake, and that is the issue of socialism / the public good vs a fee for service model as a means of funding.

The nations aviation infrastructure, a socialistic driven system, was built on other peoples money via some pretty high taxes over many decades… but in todays world, socialism is considered a grave evil, unlike the era of decades past, where it was also considered a grave evil, but with an exception carved out for govt funding of specific things for the public good. Alas, the public good model is getting slammed in a huge way today, and not without good reason. A couple big issues.

1, First, a few overly entitled wealthy individuals lobbied municipalities to build gold plated airports as a means of economic development. If said development activity came to light and was sustainable, ok, but far too often, its transient, leaving the local aviation community and taxpayers holding the bag for gold plating no one needs, often for decades. This often times puts aviation, which should be a public good in an evil place… which leads to…

2. No one wants to pay taxes anymore, even those who have built their enterprise often times with serious infrastructure support provided by uncle sam, at no, or very limited direct cost. The saying, I have mine, screw you rings very true in this. Many sacrifices were made by the greatest generation to get us to where we are today… and now that some have done very well, they no longer want to pay anywhere close to what the prior generations did to help them get there. There is a real push for fee for service, rather than socialism (ie aviation as a public good funded by fuel taxes as well as general revenue at the local, state, and fed levels as has been the case for many decades).

To add insult to injury Government has been complicit in this, throwing other peoples money around like it grows on trees… and being more than willing to gold plate things and/or offer govt guaranteed monopoly status for campaign donations.

As a pilot, a prior aviation business owner, and a user of Uncle Sams aviation services since the early 80’s, there is no way I could have accomplished anywhere near what I did had it not been for the aviation as a public good model. Such a model is one of the reasons why aviation is still somewhat viable in the US, as contrasted with much of the world which relies on the fee for service model.

Granted, one can argue that today’s world of global competition should obsolete the aviation as a public good model as its just too expensive. On the other hand, imagine what a few decades of fee for service could do to the substantial public investments we currently have… is trashing the investments of the greatest generation really worth the tax savings that might come about from doing so?

Would it not be better to surgically go in, and slash and burn the waste, the gold plating, and the monopolies? Such could save a boat load of money, and at the same time maintains very useful services… but this means campaign donors will squeal in a huge way.

I think some major squealing is a small price to pay, but then again I’m not running for office.

CRM Questioning the Senior Pilot

The crash of 2 Boeing 747’s in 1977 was cited by a NASA workshop which initiated CRM (Crew Resource Management). Skipping all the buzz words and hoopla, the big deal was crew coordination and to encourage questioning authority… ie, if a FE or copilot saw things going south, not to sit back and wait for fecal matter to hit the fan.

See a recreation of the disaster in this video.

As a result of the NASA study, United Airlines rolled out CRM training to their crews in 1981. While airline safety improved, CRM didnt really drop right into general aviation operations being most are single pilot ventures… It took a while, more buzzwords needed to be created, things needed to be tailored to fit, and lobbyists needed to be plaacted etc… but after 24 years or so, SRM entered the general aviation scene in 2005.

The thing is, most every chief flight instructor I worked for didn’t need an acronym and fancy FAA promo materials to utilize the human factors issues from CRM, ie situation awareness, workload management, automation management, and aeronautical decision making. Many adopted CRM as part of their 135 ops, and it was a natural thing that many of these concepts rolled into their 61 flight schools… but, the bit about crew coordination, questioning authority etc was for the most part left out for seemingly obvious reasons.

I think this was and is a mistake… The PPL likely wont be flying as SIC anytime soon, especially as most wont go on to 135 or airline careers. Otoh they will be flying with or even for other pilots…

I about bought the farm years ago as I didn’t bug the senior pilot…. with 14,000+ hours, combat experience, and 40+ years as a pilot in all types of aircraft, who was I, a 19 year old n00b to question him? That was a hard lesson, and its one thats stuck with me and something I try very hard to impress upon my students.

Another reason for including the crew aspect early on is despite decades of CRM, crew coordination is still a problem.

Consider the very sad story behind AF447 and TK1951.  Granted, there were other problems that started the  chain, but all along the way CRM weaknesses are popping up. While its easy to arm chair quarterback, had crew operations been included from the earliest days of flight training, one has to wonder if it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Test your own CRM with this scenario simulator from Transport Canada.


Evaluating Safety Management (PTS proposed changes) Part 1

“The goal of the airman certification process is to ensure the applicant is ready to safely manage the risks of flight as pilot-in-command, consistent with the privileges of the certificate or rating exercised.”

In other words… lets add a bunch of extra cost and time to pilot training in the interest of safety management. Evaluate it not only during a written exam, but also take critical time away from from the stick and rudder arena, and then somehow magically pilots will be safer.

In 1977, the FAA had this nifty illustration as concerns teaching in AC-60-14.

A pilot had a hinge on his head, and a CFI would take a pitcher of knowledge and pour it into the student, and then knowledge would come out of the students mouth. It was a comical example of how learning does not occur…. or perhaps better said, of how long term useful learning does not occur. Short term wise, the pitcher thing can sort of work.

There’s a whole subset of aviation instruction specifically built up to make money via leveraging short term memory for the written exam. Such courses have all the test questions, and they go through nearly every one over a 2-3 day period. While doing so, they also present memory tricks and such for a lot of questions which pretty much guarantees someone will pass the exam.

While cram and forget courses seem a questionable sort of practice, there is a need for them by some students. The complexity of the written exam is such that unless one is good with the paper side of things, and/or is a recent student, the written exam can be a barrier. More than a few times over the years I’ve a recommended a student who has difficulty to go to one of those weekend guaranteed to pass the exam courses over the years just to get it out of the way. The really important info we cover in flight and ground school, and does get checked again during the oral, just not as much in depth as the written. Consider how the exam would need to change if the test questions and answers were not published before hand?

And now the FAA is proposing adding more complexity to the oral and practical (and in time, no doubt the written)? Will it really make a difference in the safety domain? I sort of doubt it, but there will be money to be made in 141’s and a new industry of cram and forget oral and practical prep will come into being. Otoh, how many potential pilots will drop out due to increased complexity?

This is not to say Safety Management etc is a bad thing. The proverbial “A superior pilot is one who uses his superior judgment so as not to have to use his superior skill.” is all too true. The challenge is how do we get folks to the superior judgement arena?

Safety by example was promoted, ADM was promoted, FITS was promoted, a subset of airline CPM was promoted, and the accident rates don’t change very much. Peripheral matters like doubling the size of the PTS, and poking at means of evaluation at huge expense to our students is unlikely to make much of a dent in rates either.



Flight Reviews and Safety

The overall goal of a flight review is safety. Most assuredly such was in the minds of the legislators when 61.56 was written. The thing is, if one just looks to the regs, things dont work out too well, and in some cases, they can be counterproductive.

Safe operations are not guaranteed by the minimum 1 hour of dual and 1 hour of ground every couple years. Rather safety is a function of pilot skill and judgment on each and every flight. The flight review is an opportunity for a pilot to gain greater awareness as to how they might handle future flight ops safely. Most assuredly, even the best CFI in the world is not going to uncover every area of weakness, or hazardous attitude in a couple hours, or even 10 hours for that matter.

If a flight review was a CFI personally guaranteed signoff that one was good to go for the next two years, flight reviews would become very long, and very evil in short order. We’ve all heard of or experienced the checkride from a warm spot near the center of the earth. Ie, where in the pilot being evaluated is put in the pressure cooker, and is exposed to every possible emergency ever, all occurring at the same time, all the while being grilled on everything in the PTS, and every distraction known to man kind is then piled on top for good measure.

Granted, there are times and places where such may be appropriate. While a prep course for a 709 ride as a confidence builder comes to mind, such an approach to a flight review is counter productive. The reason being, is in almost any other case, going too hard core becomes a motivation killer, which then often leads to less recurrent training, which then leads to a less than safe pilot. The same can be said when it comes to sending students down rabbit trails for the part 91 portion of a flight review.

By the same token, an untailored 1 hour ground, 1 hour flight canned approach to a flight review is neither adequate nor appropriate. Sure, it might pick up a weak area here or there… but its like most anything. If you dont have a clue where a problem lies before you get started, its like searching for a needle in a haystack. You likely wont find it, and even if you do, it could well be the wrong one.

The FAA preaches tailoring the flight review based upon an initial interview. Likewise, they suggest the time frames be what they may. Ie, short of an already very proficient pilot, the 1 hour ground/1 hour airwork aspect is too short a time slot. Some pilots on the other hand, often view any attempt to go beyond the minimums as a way to bilk them out of money and a total waste of time.

In the past, when one determined such on the initial interview, it was common practice to advocate for the Wings programs, rather than a flight review. Today, being Wings is proficiency based, rather than time, it still may be more aligned with a students expectations than a flight review, but it is critical to be upfront in that regard. There will always be some pilots who will squak, no matter how much you preach safety or the benefits of training to a given level of proficiency.

Shallow Fog METAR MIFG

Shallow fog is defined by the AMS as the following. “In weather-observing terminology, low-lying fog that does not obstruct horizontal visibility at a level 2 m (6 ft) or more above the surface of the earth. This is, almost invariably, a form of radiation fog.” It is encoded in a METAR via the symbols MIFG. Some great photos of it are available at Everything Looks Better from Above.

One a positive note, it often burns off pretty fast during the day. On a negative note, it can form incredibly fast at night… and worse, it can be really hard to identify at night. In some cases, it may not be apparent until you are in the landing flare, when all of a sudden, visibility goes from near perfect to almost zero, at the worst possible time. In other cases, it can change from shallow fog, to a thick fog bank in a flash.

On another negative note… automated instrument systems often due not detect it, and worse, it usually occurs either right when ATC is going home, or shortly there after. Its interesting to note AMOFSG places it in group D, where sensors are considered difficult, expensive, unproven, or unreliable to utilize. Apart from the technical aspect, their is a political and economic one as well when it comes to sensors. Airliners, corp jets, and many multis engine a/c do not suffer the same adverse affects from MIFG due to their elevated cockpits… ie eye level is almost always above 2 meters, where as the pilots of many ASEL craft are stuck right in the soup. Ultimately, the lack of automation and sensor capabilities, means that if a METAR includes MIFG… it was observed by a human on the field.

Another fun part about MIFG, is that its not very predictable, rather its an issue of probability. Ie, if the dewpoint/temperature spread is wide, its very windy, and the sky is overcast, it is unlikely that any type of radiation fog will form, much less shallow fog. On the other hand, if winds are below 5 knots, temperature/dewpoint spread is under 6 deg F, the sky is clear, and the sun has recently set… it is more likely fog will form, and in many cases, a thick layer of radiation fog is more likely than shallow fog.

To add further insult to injury, shallow fog often randomly forms in agricultural microclimates surrounding a rural airports far from any weather observers. Some crops have much greater moisture retention than others, some have significantly greater total emissivity than others. The net effect is that some airports experienced drastically different radiative cooling properties and others much less so. While such make an accurate prediction of shallow fog difficult, it also meant that if airport A was socked in, more than likely a nearby airport B is clear.

It should also be noted that some airport industrial parks also lend themselves to localized shallow fog development more so than others. Namely decreased dewpoint/temperature spreads due to cooling towers and the like, combined with large surface areas of high emissivity (vacant bituminous parking lots) sets the stage for its development.

With that much gloom and doom… whats a pilot to do?

First, if a METAR indicates MIFG at night, ie it was observed by a human at the field, landing at such a location in a small aircraft is likely to result in a go-around followed by proceeding to ones alternate. In fact, if temperature/dewpoint spread is that narrow, and the winds are light, the dangers of radiation fog forming are very real… and while an approach could be attempted with most MIFG occurrences, a thick fog bank would mean heading direct to ones alternate.

As one who has encountered MIFG at night many a time, the following was my basic procedure when conditions made its formation likely.

Check in with unicom, or any pilots in the area to see what the conditions currently are. Remember, AWOS does not detect it. Granted, often times it forms after everyone has left for the day.

Overfly the field above pattern altitude and look carefully at the runway lights… it they are not bright and clear, it is likely MIFG is present. Then again, I have had the fun of things changing from when I overflew the field to when I was in the landing flare.

If the landing lights appear even the slightest bit obscured or fuzzy, making a low pass is in order. First, such will serve to scare most animals off the runway… and secondly, the proximity to the runway, in addition to the landing light will make its detection easier.

Always assume if conditions are right, MIFG will form, and your visibility just before, or in the flare may go to near zero. Always, always be prepared for a go around and followed by proceding direct to ones alternate.

Ensure the runway lights are on full bright on base… you do not want to be in the flare, encouter MIFG, and at the same time have them shut down or return to low intensity.

The landing light, and strobes should be turned off on short final… there is nothing more disturbing than having the entire cockpit light up in flashing white lights, all the while you are trying to reconfigure the a/c for a go-around.

Blowing a Valve Over the Post Office

I was chatting with a fellow on twitter today who had a gear down problem, and made mention of the fact that sharing his experience could be a great learning tool for others. This got me thinking a bit, and I thought, wow, I should probably do the same… and with almost 30 years of flying I have quite a number of them, so here goes. (this is from 1985)

I knew the engine was slightly over TBO, but the compression figures were still looking good. We’d done a top overhaul about 350 hours previously, and were hoping to eek out another 200 or so, before tearing it done for a major overhaul in the fall. A student had come back in from a solo flight, and was crabbing about poor climb performance. Since the density altitude and humidity was pretty high that day, it would have been easy to leave it at that, but we decided it best to check things out before sending out the next student.

As such, I did a ground run up, and checked max rpm, and it was right on the money as far as history goes and such. There were no unusual noises, nor was there any roughness noticed at all. A pre-takeoff checklist also indicated no problems whatsoever.

I then proceeded to taxi out, and did a second pre-takeoff check at the pad, where everything checked out just fine. Tower clears me for immediate takeoff… there is a DC9 in position and hold on the intersecting runway. During the takeoff roll, everything seemed normal… acceleration was typical, as was the climb to about 100ft, and then things started to go south. My first thought was carb ice, being it was a humid day, and I’d often run into such before with this particular aircraft. Of course, by that time, I’d run out of runway, and was right on top of the post office… and upon hitting the carb heat, it was pretty obvious icing was not the problem this time.

Directly in front of me is a residential neighborhood with wires everywhere. To my left and somewhat behind is the remainder of the intersecting runway… too bad, the DC9 had already been cleared for takeoff, and no way was I going to risk a midair, to say nothing of wake turbulence. To my right and slightly behind, is a long street, with a fair amount of traffic, but no wires. Fortunately, since about day 2 of training, I could hear my primary instructor hollering in my ear, “you just lost your engine, where are you going to land”, so I at least knew before takeoff what my options were.

On a positive note, since the engine is still producing some power, I am still able to climb albeit exceedingly slowly. In addition, I’m also making a very shallow bank towards that road. I dont know when or if the engine is going to quit but I figure each foot of altitude gained is a positive. I also knew of a second option, namely that when the long road ended, if I continued the bank another 30 degrees, there was a second road without wires I could use.

As I rolled out of the bank over the road, at now an amazing 200 feet, I called up tower, and said I had engine trouble and needed to land asap. They saw I was in trouble, and cleared me to land any runway… sure, I’d like to use a runway too, but a road will do, turf would do even better, as long as its long and flat enough… but houses or wires would really suck. I also run through the emergency flow at this time to rule out any other problems.

Fortunately, I’m still climbing, and now I’ve changed my plan to the diagonal road without wires. It was looking to be a lot better choice than having to try and land between cars… and if I kept climbing, I might well be able to make it back to an intersecting runway. Then again, a road at a 30 degree angle, puts said intersecting runway at a near 120 degree turn… and no, I’d rather risk a near zero traffic road without wires, than a 120 degree steep turn at low altitude.

Decision time is now coming up again… the engine is still producing power, I’m at roughly 300 feet, and my ability to land on the road will be questionable shortly as it takes an abrupt right turn. On the other hand, at this point, even if the engine quits I can make the airport boundary, and put the plane down on turf even though it will make for an interesting crosswind landing.

Knowing that the airport boundary and turf is assured, I now start a shallow bank to line up with one of the runways. I leave the power setting alone, and continue to try and climb. In fact, I kept power on until I was assured of making the runway. The landing was uneventful, as was the taxi back to the hanger.

ImageI got in, and after shut down, including a shut down mag check, I pulled the prop through to confirm my suspicions. One cylinder had no compression… and based upon the air rushing through the exhaust system, I figured an exhaust value was toast. After pulling the heads off, it turned out the valve itself wasnt massacred like the one in this photo, but the poor valve seat was a goner in a huge way. It was interesting, when we did the major… short of mandatory replacements, and the heads, the rest of the components were well within spec. Its even more interesting that the top overhaul failed at a mere 350 hours, when it should have lasted close to twice that long.

So, what did I learn…

  1. Expedited takeoffs while a nicety can serve to massively limit ones options should one run into trouble. I was in the habit of accepting them automatically.
  2. Its critical to know ones airfield, and have a number of game plans in the event of trouble. Granted, scoping out the area for wires and suitable roads is not always possible. In such an occurrence, it is often best to take the first reasonable choice, rather than making a turn only to find out the 2nd option is loads worse than the first.
  3. Being I knew the glide ratio of my a/c with the power off, and the prop windmilling, I had a reasonably decent idea of how far I could travel subject to my altitude. It should also be noted, that once one is in ground effect, if the surface is flat, the glide ratio often substantially increases. On the other hand, there were multiple embankments, and drainage ditches, expecting to use ground effect would be a bad deal in this instance.
  4. In the back of my mind, I knew I was likely causing more damage to the engine, but figured better it, than the airframe, or worse me. Valve guides are dirt cheap compared to an ER visit, even back then.

The High Cost of Flight Training

Its interesting to note folks views on the cost of flight training. On the one hand, some hold the view that the cost will be high, and its ok if it goes higher, and its ok if the pilot population shrinks. Others hold to the view that aviation is too expensive, and that if the costs could be reigned in, the pilot population is likely to grow. Both points of view are correct, within the confines of their respective market demographic.

Most assuredly if Walmart entered the flight training arena, and made it possible for eighteen year olds with minimum wage jobs to once again earn a pilots certificate the pilot population would grow. Whenever something heads towards commodity status, everything, and anything is on the chopping block if it doesnt contribute to the bottom line. It may mean an exceedingly spartan flight school, 50 year old aircraft, and few if any amenities, unless such are free, or very close to being free. It may mean their may not be very many rental aircraft available for full weekend trips, as a/c utilization must be very high in order to keep the fixed costs to a minimum.

By the same token, if folks want the latest and greatest gold plated experiences, and can afford to pay whatever the going price is, they are a lot less concerned with price, than they are the experience provided. Its likely such folks would the values provided by the latest and greatest avionics, the newest airplanes, the highest tech wx terminals both in air and on the ground of great value. Obviously, such individuals are unlikely to find much value should they encounter a flight school decorated with 1950’s vintage furniture, paint that hasnt been touched since that era, and the scents of an equally vintage cigar chomping pilot population flying the hanger. in addition, such folks would likely find a minimum charge of 8 hours hobbs as a minimum full day rental fee anathama.

Ultimately the issue is this… there are a multitude of markets, and one size/approach doesnt fit all. The lower end market is one that no one seemingly wants to touch anymore… but it was where money was made years ago. Yes, the allure of gold plate is there, and it can be easier to make substantial cash if the market is large enough to demand such, and most business schools focus on that aspect. On the other hand, when one looks at the churn of Boutique retail vs Big Box discounters and compares it to aviation, it does make one wonder.

Approach-Avoidance Conflict and Flight Training

I was reading @SusanCain’s blog where she writes about approach-avoidance conflict in the public speaking arena, but also a bit more generally as concerns introverts. She presents a short quiz using the terms stop/go which can help folks understand themselves, and how such ties into their decision making process.

Taking this into the flight training arena, someone who scores high on both sections of the quiz looks to be an accident statistic in the making. Ie high scores within the go characteristic often lead to the FAA Hazardous Attitudes Scale factors of Anti-authority, Impulsiveness, Invulnerability, and Macho. High scores within the stop characterization, often lead to the factors of Resignation, and Worry/Anxiety.

In other words, high scores in both arenas would seemingly connect the links of an accident chain; get-home-itis, and impulsivity, often lead to trouble, only to be followed up by worry/anxiety/resignation which pretty much pounds a nail into ones coffin. Whats useful of course, is if a pilot is aware of such, they can be extra vigilant to keep one or more links out of the picture as part of their decision making process.

As we know, self evaluation of HAS factors is a tricky deal. Students don’t like the terms, and say, well gee, thats not how I am, and just blow it off as a bunch of FAA nonsense. The stop/go quiz, being so neutral, might help them think, hmmm, I could see myself slipping into that role/factor, rather than just merely self identifying.

One other statement in the public speaking post that I found of issue was the following:

5. Everyone has both a Stop System and a Go System. But many introverts seem to have extra-strength Stop systems that tend to act up as they contemplate doing scary things like speech-giving.

I’ve often noticed that folks who are more introverted often times have more of a challenge with stalls and or engine out practice, than the go-go-go types. The normal approach to such is to redirect their focus to the end goal, in some cases going so far as to go off syllabi for a bit to re-bolster motivation.

What I had not considered was how introversion / extroversion traits have the potential to link up with HAS. In part this is due to the fact that most hazardous attitude attributes usually don’t show up until much later in flight training. It’s also true, that as a CFI, I consider each and every student unique… One size fits all will invariably result in missing something critical, and one will get burned. On the other hand, bringing some of this to light early on, may well exercise the law of primacy, and get better, and more tailored decision making rolling from the get go, a very good thing indeed.

The Web is not a Panacea

While there is some truth in this statement…. “Most people that look for something on the Internet use search engines like Google or Yahoo. If your site is one of the first that pops up when they enter “flight instruction salt lake city,” for example, you’re more likely to have the person visit your website, and give you a call if they like what they see.” The same could be said years ago for naming yourself AAA flight instruction to be first in the phone book, or having a large phone book ad etc…

A form of marketing such as the above is better than just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, or someone to walk in the door… but only a tiny tiny bit better. Its the same deal with having a twitter or a facebook page, its just a tiny bit better than doing nothing, even though social media gurus likely would suggest otherwise.

Marketing takes work, short cuts dont cut it, no matter how new, or how well they are sold. Marketing also takes risk. Folks fail to see the risk of sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, the door to open, the facebook to get commented, or to be retweeted. Sitting around is perhaps the biggest risk, and one of the biggest reason flight schools dont have students… and also why aviation is so darn expensive.

This is not to say a flight instructor should not be available at the flight school, nor that one shouldnt use social media, nor have an entry in the phone book… but that simply doing the absolute minimum possible, and going back to sitting around and expecting results doesnt work out too well. I’ll go a bit further and say one should not dilute their efforts too much either. I’ve seen twitter profiles with 50 tweets abandoned, facebook pages with a month of entries, and no more, and blogs with 5 entries from 2 years ago. Such ends up a lot like that 4″ 2 column yellow pages ad… Its better than nothing, but its not going to bring in a ton of new customers either.

Consistent effort over the long haul is the answer, albeit testing and followup to see what works is critical. Just as one would not run 5 years of tv ads if they dont bring in business, neither should one pursue other marketing approaches if they cost more in time and effort than the customers they bring in the door.

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