On the Record – Max Trescott … CFI, Entrepreneur

By Robert Mark on May 11th, 2008

imageAre you serious about a flying career? Then you’ve probably already heard someone speak to the value of a Flight Instructor rating because it offers an opportunity to build flight time until you get hired by the airlines or with a corporation. Almost without question though, if a pilot mentions teaching people to fly for a living, the laughter is bound to be loud. That’s because many of the folks who work hard for their CFI only make the effort because they want to fly, not teach.

With the severely reduced experience standards required at the regional airlines, there will be even fewer pilots choosing a flight instructor rating, especially of course, those who never wanted to teach in the first place. 

So first a disclaimer.

If you have absolutely no interest in learning why a career as a professional flight instructor is worth pursuing, stop reading now. If you’re not even remotely curious about why a great flight instructor needs to also think like a business owner/operator, click that little red “x” in the upper right corner of your screen now because I can guarantee you’re going to be bored.clip_image003

But, if you’re even the least bit snoopy about how one flight instructor I know – Max Trescott – has managed to make teaching people how to fly – and writing about teaching people to fly – a business he enjoys and is paid well for, read on. Who knows, you might just walk away with a fresh opinion about teaching.

And in answer to the question I know I’ll receive, why Max? Because being the 2008 National Flight Instructor of the Year counts for quite a bit in my book. Max is the fourth one I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and honestly, some of their enthusiasm is rubbing off on me. He’s also a NAFI-designated Master CFI.

Max Trescott and I have not known each other long. In fact, we’ve never met face to face, although we will at the upcoming aviation blogging conference we’re organizing at AirVenture 2008. Being a curious sort, Max and I connected first through Jetwhine when he e-mailed to say hi and ask a few questions about me and the blog. 

He mentioned he too was an author and pointed me at his blog … Max Trescott on GA. I was impressed right off the bat because Max has not only taken the time to learn all he can about teaching people to fly, but he’s gone out on a limb to express his opinions more than once, not an easy task these days.

An Opening

Essentially, Max created an opportunity when we began talking, the key word being opportunity since neither one of us knew precisely where that might lead the time we first connected. It was clear early on that Max had a head for business which as a CFI means you don’t simply wait for the right chance to pop up, you help create it. 

Your flying skills may open the door to an interview someday, but no matter how skilled you are as an aviator, it is your personality that is going to decide whether your career takes off or drags you under the waves like someone who once crossed Tony Soprano. 

Knowing Max for just a short time has opened my eyes to the fact that I truly miss teaching people how to fly myself. That’s something I’m in the process of fixing even as we speak as well as picking up the Master CFI designation. That means Max created value for me in our relationship early on. And that’s what a good instructor must do as well, not simply be the person to train people to yank and bank, but be the lead to how valuable learning to fly will be in someone’s life, a topic I mentioned here a few weeks back.

I began our chat wondering how long Max had been a pilot and instructor. I was quite surprised at his reply. “I’ve been flying recreationally all my life. I think I took my first demonstration flight when I was ten, started flying lessons at age 15, and picked up my instrument rating in 1988,” Trescott said. “I didn’t pick up my first instructor rating until 2001. In fact that’s a ride I can’t forget because I took it on September 10, 2001. My Instrument-Instructor ride came in 2002 and my Multi-Instructor in 2003. I began instructing part time on weekends and didn’t begin full time though until 2005.”

When I worked at my first Part 141 school in the 80s, I was expected to find my own students or at least convince the people who walked through the door that I was the guy they wanted to learn to fly with. I enjoyed the challenge. I also brought some aircraft sales experience to my job as a CFI.

Trescott said, “Me too. I worked in marketing at HP for many years and always knew I wanted to run a business of my own. Before I left HP, I think I also understood quite a bit about the service culture in which we live and the need to create value for the customer.” Everything didn’t work out perfectly for Trescott right out of the box however. “My first business after HP was not aviation related, and I terminated it after only a couple of months primarily because the customers in that industry were not nearly as enjoyable as the people I met teaching part-time. So I decided to make the independent instructor thing work full-time. One solid inspiration for me was Greg Brown’s book, “The Savvy Flight Instructor.”

“I wanted to run a business and realized I’d need to analyze the marketplace, figure out how to differentiate myself from the pack and then develop a strategy to go after that piece of the market,” Trescott says. He now specializes in teaching the glass airplanes like the Cirrus and the Cessna 400 (the former Columbia). “I’ve tried to set myself up as an expert in the niche and people refer business to me now. I also realize how important it is to refer people the other way, so as much as I like flying tail wheel airplanes, I send those folks to someone else. I think it’s critical that I, as an instructor, appear as the trusted aviation advisor rather than simply someone looking for all the business he can find.”

Part of owning a business means looking for potential customers. Trescott does that mostly through personal referrals and his web sites. He’s written one book, Max Trescott’s G1000 Glass Cockpit Handbook with WAAS and also sells CD-ROM courses including a WAAS and GPS CD ROM Course, and these also result in people seeking his services.

He admits too that blogging has made him a bit of an activist. Max is the incoming president of a regional airport support group which has put him right at the leading edge of controversy. Although he teaches primarily at the Palo Alto, CA airport, the adjacent Reid-Hillview Airport is a place some of the locals would like to shutdown. “CFIs shouldn’t simply look at themselves as pilots,” Trescott added. “CFIs should be advocates for aviation, consultants to their clients. I always encourage people to get involved with their industry and stay abreast of the issues that can affect their success.”

Did I mention that Max Trescott is paid pretty well as an instructor? He charges $80 per hour based upon his experience. But then, he runs the business and sets the rates.

At those regional airline jobs everyone wants … they pay about $20-22 an hour for first officers expanding to almost $38 after five years. At American Eagle, a captain would need to work 14 years to approach the pay rates of Trescott as a professional CFI.

So how do you define professional pilot?

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11 Responses to “On the Record – Max Trescott … CFI, Entrepreneur”

  1. Jeffrey Sigmon Says:

    I’m glad to hear about professional flight instructors. I don’t see “too many” in this day and age, with Regionals hiring with as little as 300 hours. Great post!

  2. Robert Mark Says:

    That’s why I thought this would be a great piece to show everyone. Thanks for your thought Jeffrey,

    Too many CFIs don’t stay because they say there is no money in it for them. But many don’t understand what it takes to be a true professional teacher.

    If they did, they might not be quite so ready to run for the right seat of a turbo-prop or RJ.

    This is a start in that direction.

  3. Ron Says:

    I am much like Max, a professional instructor. My specialties are tailwheels, high performance competitive aerobatics, and IFR flying in the new composite glass panel ships like the aforementioned Cirrus and Columbia.

    There is definitely money out there to be made, and if you’re good, word of mouth will drum up all the business you can handle. I could work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week if I wanted to.

    –Ron

  4. Bill Palmer Says:

    I’d like to share a similar story about my glider flight instructor, Bob Wander.

    I came to Bob as a commercial airline pilot wanting to explore the world of motorless flight. Bob was a true inspiration to fly with, and worked to develop the insight and shear joy of soaring, concentrating both on fun (the whole point of soaring) and safety.

    Like Max, Bob came from other industries and was bitten by the flying bug. He soon started his own commercial glider operation (flight school), which unlike an airplane operation also means having a tow plane and skilled tow pilot always available.

    Bob didn’t just become a local glider instructor, there are lots of those, but is now probably thee top selling soaring book author in the world. He has written a series of books on soaring and contracted other soaring experts to pen another series of books which Bob edited. All are self published, available on his website (http://www.bobwander.com, Sporty’s, and through the SSA (Soaring Society of America).

    Like Max, Bob is an avid promoter of general aviation, and soaring in particular being a top recruiter for several years. Bob wrote numerous chapters for the recently released FAA Glider Flying Handbook. He has served as an aviation consultant to the FAA, the NTSB, the Soaring Safety Foundation, the Soaring Society of America, Sporty’s Pilot Shop, and Jeppesen-Sanderson Publications.

    In 1993 the Soaring Society of America presented Bob with the National Exceptional Achievement Award in recognition of his devotion to the sport and success in promoting it.

    This all might look like a shameless plug, but it’s only because Bob is also another true hero of General Aviation.

  5. Arnie Quast Says:

    I just finished a trip with a captain that loves flying as much as I do. He has a small plane, and lives out in Poplar Grove on the airfield. When you work with someone like this,
    it is amazing how the legs go by, and how the professionalism of our career really shines through in every way possible.

    He too keeps his CFI and A&P licenses current. We talked of this very topic on our trip.
    Where I fly out at Galt, they currently do not have any instructors available because they can’t hold anyone long enough before they move
    on.

    I offered my services on a limited basis if they were needed. They should hopefully have their C 172 up and running shortly.

    I knew of
    several people from various walks of life that started but did not finish their flight training because of the loss of the instructor at the FBO. These people were really good folks who in some cases were fairly affluent, and would seek and I’m sure pay well for a good
    instructor to see them through.

    If thought of properly, I’m sure this could be a neat fallback.

  6. Bo Henriksson Says:

    Great and inspiring story!
    However the whole dynamics of the flight instruction business is now changing since airlines (major and regional) abruptly stopped hiring in the last few weeks. Unless oil prices drastically retreat soon we may indeed see thousands of furloughed pilots looking for new employment.
    Some of them as instructors.

    http://www.bohenriksson.com

  7. Ryan Says:

    I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and corresponding with Max on two or three occasions, and I would honestly rank him as tied for the top instructor I’ve come across during my time flying. His encyclopedic knowledge of aviation combined with his talent and passion for teaching are an inspirational combination.

  8. Low CFI Birthrate & Graying Population Adding to Teacher Shortage - Jetwhine: Aviation Buzz and Bold Opinion Says:

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  9. jeff Says:

    What a great story. We need more instructors like Max to ensure the survival of accessible and affordable aviation in our country. I keep my CFI current, but haven’t instructed in almost 10 years. I have been pursuing an aviation career that included the usual steps – instructing, charter, regional airline, fractional, and now corporate aviation. I find myself more and more wanting to get back into instructing. I miss the shear joy of flying small aircraft and sharing that with others through teaching. It’s inspriring to see someone who is making a good living doing what they love.

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    […] Max Trescott, a guy we’ve talked to before, a man who embarasses the heck out of me because he runs such a successful independent flight instruction business, received the CFI of the Year award at AirVenture 2008. […]

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