Fixing Flight Training: the FT-IEP

By Scott Spangler on December 6th, 2010

Introduced in Fixing Flight Training: What You Can Do Now!, the flight training individual education plan, or FT-IEP, can be initiated by students, instructors, or flight schools. It has the potential to alleviate three of the four dropout motivators identified by the AOPA survey: poor educational quality, poor information sharing, and poor customer focus. A binding contract, it itemizes every aspect of training, from who’s responsible for what, and the consequences for falling short of those responsibilities.

iepFolderIt need not be a complicated document. Start with the educational goal: name the certificate and/or rating desired by the student. Then itemize how the team of student, teacher, and school will measure the achievement of that goal. The appropriate FAA Practical Test Standards seems appropriate.

The educational plan is the curriculum that plots the route to the goal. During the FT-IEP meeting, attended by the student, teacher, and school, go through every step of it from first flight to test prep to checkride. Ideally, progress should be proficiency based, so students will move to the next lesson once they have demonstrated consistent ability. Lesson plans include the methods and criteria used to make those measurements.

The lesson plans that build the curriculum should be specific, covering everything from homework to pre- and post-lesson briefings and the necessary resources such as ground school courses and materials, classrooms, training aids, simulators, and training aircraft. Somehow the FT-IEP should specify the consequences for any member of the educational team who comes unprepared. Because cost is an undeniable factor in learning to fly, this seems a good option.

At some point the team should discuss money: how much the teacher will be paid for the services he or she provides. Students aren’t stupid, so break down the instructor fee. How much goes to the instructor and how much goes to the school? Take the school’s portion to the next level, dividing out health benefits, taxes, workman’s comp, profit, 401(k), and overhead.

Do the same for aircraft rental, breaking out the costs for gas, oil, insurance, regular maintenance and equipment overhauls, and depreciation. Going through the costs of these things are in themselves an important lesson for aspiring pilots. Equally important, with understanding comes acceptance by all involved. And it will be, from my experience, a revelation to most flight schools, which rarely have a formula for setting prices. As most business leaders will confirm, picking a number out of the air rarely sustains a business.”

With these prices set and explained, the team should agree on consequences for any of them being unprepared. What those consequences are depends on the team. For a student who doesn’t do his or her homework it might be an additional “remedial” education fee and “in-school suspension” spent one-on-one with the instructor in a classroom. If the instructor isn’t prepared, specify how this is measured (like when the CFI asks the student, “Uh, what do you want to do today?”) and how much to reduce the instructor’s fee. Do the same for the unavailability of school resources such as sims and aircraft.

JetWhine_LTF-SignThis might seem draconian, but remember that the team discusses its individual responsibilities and the consequences for not meeting them before any training begins. And it should have realistic ways of dealing with the unforeseen, like weather, illness, unexpected maintenance problems, and departing instructors. For example, there is no consequence with 24 hours notice of the change. What’s important is to have a plan that all agree on.

Another important part of the FT-IEP discussion is lesson frequency. In today’s time-pressured environment, every second counts and students almost always want to know how long it will take them to achieve their aviation goal. As we all know, students get there much quicker if they fly twice a week instead of twice a month. If schools track such data (and they should) the school can show students the graph that shows how quickly training time and costs grow as time between lessons increases. And schools and instructors might consider reducing the profit portion of their fees to create a “frequent student” fee. Before you start complaining, remember this: a student who finishes training spends more money than one who drops out short of the goal.

And that’s the beauty of the FT-IEP. You, whether you are a student, instructor, or school, can initiate the discussion that leads to its creation, including the components that meet your needs and circumstances. It is something you can do now! And if any member of the team isn’t interested, remember that we live in a free market, so find someone who has the integrity and courage to share and discuss every detail of a serious undertaking—and then commit to realizing a shared goal. – Scott Spangler

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6 Responses to “Fixing Flight Training: the FT-IEP”

  1. AFP Says:

    Well done! This is thought out and very thorough. I would love to see something like this start popping up in flight training.

    There is already a misconception that flight is for the rich, and it only gets worse when people start training with invalid expectations.

    They think flying twice a month will get it done, and then realize they are spending a fortune because they aren’t catching on.

    They run out of money, drop out, tell their friends they couldn’t afford it, and the myth lives on.

    Anything that helps set realistic expectations is a good thing!

  2. Tracy Says:

    This is a good follow-on post to your previous article. The FT-IEP concept as you have described should be easily adaptable to a Part 141 school operation. The majority of the details should already be in place for the school to comply with the Part 141 certificate requirements.

    Adapting a Part 91 operation to this type of will require a major effort on the part of the school operator and its instructors in order to come to an agreement on the details of a standardized syllabus, training procedures and record-keeping. The schools I have worked with have been sorely lacking in those areas.

    Schools or instructors who see this as an opportunity to create a unique selling point will place themselves and their schools far ahead of their competition.

  3. @williamAirways Says:

    This is all pretty much what’s discussed in the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook, save the cost break down and “consequences” part. It is a nice summary of the First Steps of a flight training relationship. Good post!

    AFP – Flight is not cheap. Your comment “They run out of money, drop out, tell their friends they couldnt afford it…” is no myth. It happens. I’ve seen it, and continue to see it. Did you know that for $125/month, you can join a gym and go everyday? For the same amount of money (give or take), you can join a dojo and learn Aikido everyday. It’s still cheaper than renting an airplane for an hour, and we haven’t even accounted for the instructor fee, landing fee, or fuel surcharge…per hour. Unless, of course, you’re talking about people where money is no object… I’ve seen a lot of people hang up their hats in recent years because the cost of flight is substantial to them…and their spouse start to see more money spent on aviation than on them, their home, children, etc. My point is, people find more affordable things to do with their time and money…things that have a much higher ROI, intrinsic or monetary, or both.

  4. AFP Says:

    Flight training is not cheap, but it isn’t all that expensive either. If you go golfing a couple of times a week and get a cart you are close to one hour of flight.

    I know people that pay over $200 a month for a motorcycle loan. That is at least 2 flight hours.

    People blow through money on all kinds of things and it is no big deal. All most people need is a budget and they can afford to fly.

    Trust me, I do realize the cost of flying, I recently went through a 4 year span of not flying at all because of a financial situation I was going through.

    Flying isn’t cheap, but it definitely isn’t something only the rich can enjoy.

  5. Scott Spangler Says:

    My FT-IEP seems well received, for which I’m thankful. And the beauty of it is that each of us can make it “pop up,” as AFP hoped for. All we have to do is spread the word to CFIs and schools and prospective pilots we meet.

    At the next meeting of the Flying Foxes, the high school aviation club, it will be my primary topic of the “learning to fly” discussion I’ll lead. Certinly each of us has a similar opportunity to speread the word.

    Even better, if given the chance I’d accompany a prospective student to a school and partidipcate in the development of his or her FT-IEP.

    There is no denying that all of this requires “major effort,” but isn’t the future of aviation workt it? And isn’t the cause of our current situation decades of just doing enough to “get by,” the consequence of tradition unimpeded by progress.

  6. Air charters Says:

    They might be about air travel, or ATC, or airline flying or learning to fly.

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