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How to Start a Flight School Business

Posted by on October 7, 2010 50 Comments Category : Flight Instructor Blog Tags :

Forward: My friend Howard Nock has started and operated several flight schools over the years. I asked him to write this article providing the general steps on starting your own flight school business. His experience and insight into the flight school industry is helpful for people thinking about starting their own flight school. If you are an instructor or operator, I welcome your comments at the end of this post.

Certification: Part 61 or 141

First you should think about where you want to go with this flight school. Is it just for fun in your spare time or will it be a full time endeavor? Either way, you want to operate your school in a professional manner whether you have two or two hundred students.

I think that most schools start out part 61 and evolve to become an FAA approved 141 operation. A good first step is to contact Jeppesen Sanderson at jeppesen.com or call 800-621-5377. Speak to someone in the education division and order one of the private pilot 141 kits. This kit contains all the information needed to complete a private course including a very good FAA approved syllabus which can easily be used at a later time for the 141 conversion. They also have other options such as online training which is good for the younger computer age individuals. You will find that Jepp also have the same kits for instrument/commercial when you are ready for that training.

Location:

This is a very critical step. The profit margins in the flight school business are very thin. You want to find an airport that is not offering flight instruction and is willing to offer adequate space for the opportunity to provide this service to their community. It is a good idea to sell yourself to the FBO with the notion that if you do well, their fuel and aircraft maintenance business will flourish with your success. Make sure that you have enough private space for your instructors and students. You will need an office for operations as well as at least one training room.

Aircraft:

I think it is imperative to start the school owning your first plane. I know that many aircraft owners are willing to lease back aircraft and that this opportunity is hard to pass up, but I highly recommend doing the lease back only if you have your own. Some owners become disenchanted when their airplane is flying too much or a plastic trim piece gets broken (and it will happen). In a very short time you can be out of business with a lease back situation. I found that a nice mix of ownership and lease works very well.

You need to be consistent with the aircraft you operate. That is to say, stick with the same type whether it is Cessna, Piper etc. If you mix and match too much it will create training difficulties for you students. As you grow, you want all your primary aircraft to be the same. It is good to have the advanced aircraft an easy fit for your students as they upgrade to instrument/commercial training or become renter pilots.

You want to keep it simple at first and not worry about fancy EIFS systems and keeping up with the electronic age. Pilots need to learn good airmanship first. Once mastered, the bells and whistles can be introduced. A good old C150 and C172 are a great place to start. They are reliable and comfortable to fly. Pick up a Trade-A-Plane and start the search.

Insurance:

The insurance companies and their lawyers pretty much dictate what we can and can not do in aviation. We talk about FAA regulations and Part 61 and 91 requirements, but the reality is that the insurance industry can be the most restrictive element. What they will let us do is what determines how we proceed. So, before you purchase that first training airplane you need to contact a reputable aviation insurance agent and look into a good commercial policy based upon the aircraft you are looking to purchase. As a matter of fact, maybe you should call the agent before you start looking and find out what the cost will be for what you think you want to buy. Either way, I have been using the Falcon Insurance Agency in Columbus, Ohio 888-405-1055 for many years for both flight school and corporate insurance. They will be very happy to speak to you regarding your needs.

Advertising:

We live in a computer age so a web site is probably a good place to start. Depending upon your location, a yellow page ad might be a good idea. Even just a listing under aircraft schools might help. Usually, there are not many listings in this category. The best advertising is probably the airport at which you are located. People will come to an airport to seek training and for that reason it is important to make sure that your office is always open with an instructor available to take a prospect for a demo flight. This demo flight is your best resource. Eventually, word of mouth will be your ultimate tool if you run a professional operation.

Instructors:

It is obviously best if you are an instructor pilot starting this business. If not, you need to hire dedicated individuals. There is nothing wrong with using flight instruction to build flight time. However, during this time the pilot instructor should conduct themselves in a professional manner and their students’ needs should come first. You need to have an instructor present at all times for when that potential customer comes through the door for that all important demo flight.

In most cases you can hire an instructor as an independent contractor as long as you are careful about how you use them. If they are being paid to watch the office and not instructing you may have an IRS issue. BE CAREFUL with this!!!!

Finally, all your instructors need to follow the syllabus and program that you provide for them whether it is from Jeppesen or somewhere else. You don’t want any loose cannons doing their own thing. Any one of your instructors should be able to take over for another without the student noticing a difference. You want a seamless and consistent operation.

Operations:

I believe that flying should always be fun; however, you need to conduct a flight school as a business if you want to survive. Be careful not become to loose about the way you go about your business. You need to have a good lease agreement with you aircraft owners and even more important is to have a good rental agreement in place for your students and renter pilots. These documents don’t have to be 100 pages of legal jargon. Just a couple pages to make sure everyone is aware of the potential seriousness of this business and what your expectations are in matters such as insurance deductibles etc. Unfortunately, I don’t possess copies of these documents any longer; however, they are not rocket science either. Just some good guidelines established in advance of a potential problem. The insurance agent might be able to help with this information.

Final thoughts:

Building a flight school from scratch is a hard job. At first, to be successful, it will require working seven days a week with twelve to fourteen hours per day and at first, you will probably enjoy every minute of it. There comes a feeling of great satisfaction from starting a business from the ground up and watching it grow. I found that the amount of return from the school was equal to the time invested. At some point however, you will need to step back and take some time off. This operation will become your whole life if you let it and maybe that is a good thing if you don’t currently have a life. You will meet and make great friends with this type of business. Most of us however, do have family and friends outside the airport that we want spend time with and it is important to not become so absorbed that you miss out on that. At some point, you can afford to take a day off and maybe even cut a couple days down to eight hours.

Good luck and remember that flying should be fun.

50 Comments



  1. Rich Nasser on Oct 29, 2010

    Great article. Thanks for the info. Any insight into how big a city you need to be in? ARe rural areas less profitable than more developed cities?



  2. Paul Tocknell on Oct 29, 2010

    Your potential market for customers in big cities is obviously higher but so is your competition. Rural areas can be very successful if you are a passionate instructor & business owner who sells not just flying lessons but instills a love of aviation into each student. When people have a good experience at your rural airport, they will more likely tell their friends about you and your business. Make aviation viral in your small town!



  3. Roland A on Nov 04, 2010

    Great info Paul! Where can I find the FAA regs on starting a flight school? Is it contained within the fore-mentioned Part 141/61 starter kits? I’m doing a capstone course at Embry Riddle and looking for any help I can get with the matter. Thanks!



  4. Anton on Nov 09, 2010

    Some good advice there. However, what about the details regarding business type (LLC, S corporation, etc)?
    As an independent flight instructor looking to create my own flight school,I am looking for information on what type of company would be best to create.



  5. Justin Connell on Nov 20, 2010

    If anybody needs help starting a flight school in california let me know, I am currently finishing up my Airframe and Powerplant Licenses and have my CFI/CFII/MEI. Contact me at justconnell@yahoo.com or (714) 402-8678



  6. Desy Anggraini on Mar 17, 2011

    Dear Ask CFI,
    Is it necessary to register a part 61 flying school to TSA in order
    To be able to train foreign students?
    Is it possible to establish FAA approved flying school in Asia?
    Your comments are highly appreciated.
    Thank you in advance.

    Regards,

    Desy Anggraini.



  7. Mike Foster on Apr 21, 2011

    Great article! Financing……any recommendations as to who are the best lenders? What are normal interest rates and how manys years can training aircraft be financed for…mostly interested in helicopters. Thanks in advance!



  8. Robert Hadow on May 05, 2011

    Yes you can run a Part 61 flight school anywhere you want. Consider this, though: Who will be your examiner? DPEs have specific regions in which they can work.
    You will also need an FAA IA to do your hundred hour inspections.
    Robert



  9. SPENCER on Sep 01, 2011

    As a current flight school owner who started with myself and 1 airplane and built it to 8 airplanes and 10 instructors, I’ll pass on the hardest part of the business. You can run the best business/flight school and do everything right (regulation wise, paperwork, checkout, insurance) but when you hand the keys of an airplane to someone you have just handed them your business. It doesn’t matter how much the pilot is at fault, an accident can make you uninsurable when it is time to renew your policy. There are only 4 or 5 insurance companies that cover flight schools.
    One person asked about financing. Unfortunately, if you finance the business you will find that the bank ends up with the profit. The margins are small. Flying is expensive and people assume the owner or flight school is making all the money. When you run the numbers you may wonder how anyone stays in business. For one example, most people are shocked when they find out what the flight school insurance rates are. The rate can be 10 times more than what owning an airplane yourself would be. You will most likely be required to pay this up front for the year before you fly your first hour with no guarantees that you will fly enough hours to pay for it.
    This may sound negative but I guess I did it anyway. Just make sure you really research it before you start and are willing to put in the work.



  10. Paul Tocknell on Sep 01, 2011

    Spencer,

    Thank you for sharing your insight into the flight school business. Definitely sounds like a tough business and one where running planning and preparation is paramount to success (much like flying).

    Can I post your email so if others have questions, they can contact you?

    Thanks.

    Paul



  11. amos tsopotsa on Sep 20, 2011

    this is an interesting topic,all i did was to scratch my head,take a deep breath and have a smoke to calm my nerves,it drains all the energy and enthuasim you have at start,though by nature i never give up no matter how tough it may seem,Am currently in Africa and it seems there might be some few differences in flight school regulations,unfortunately i cant find an insuarance company that is ready to assist me even though i have the money to pay in advance.can you help me undestand how i can make my flight school get an international recognition even though am in Africa.i thank you Howard Nock for having all this time to shed more light on flight school.am also looking for companies and individuals who can help me get a better lease either a wet lease or dry lease will do.my email address is tsopotsa@gmail.com



  12. Joseph on Oct 24, 2011

    Do I need any school certification from the FAA to run a part 61 school?



  13. pratap on Nov 26, 2011

    it was apleasure learning from mr nock



  14. Gary on Dec 19, 2011

    Mr. Nock is so right about starting a running a flight school. I ran an FBO for 6 years in the late 90’s and had up to 4 planes of my own and at different times 12 lease backs. The lease backs were head aces to say the least. The sky rocketing insurance rates in 2001–2002 made me close the doors. The margins of profit does not make it a business but just a hobby. Then when the airports are loosing $$$ and wanting to raise your rent etc.– you have no choice but to close the doors. Since I love flying and enjoy teaching I have developed a way that works for me to teach and still not make much $$. I have a 2 place Grumman AA1. (best trainer for the $$$) I instruct my student to the solo point+++++. At that point the student should know if he/she is serious and wants to continue. I help them find and purchase a plane of there own. (Planes are half price from 5 years ago.) I finish them up in their own plane. It’s been working for me the last 8 years. This year 2011 has been the slowest since I started in 1967 and around 16,000 hr in the old log book. In my humble opinion I see General Aviation in the US having an acute illness and I don’t know if it will ever recover. It is so SAD.



  15. joseph on Jan 09, 2012

    Hi all,i am an instructor and am planning to start a flying school here in Kenya.I have identified private airfield that is ideal for the proposed business.I am looking for somebody to fund this idea and we agree on the terms because raising the capital for me is a big challenge.If interested please email me on ngetheka@yahoo.com



  16. Joseph Lunanga on Apr 29, 2012

    Hi all, I’m looking for dedicated Flight Instructors to start a new FAA school in Africa .
    If interested, please contact me .



  17. Simone Stewart on May 28, 2012

    Hi Joseph
    I am Janine’s sister from Australia. Please make contact by emailing Janine to let her know you are ok – janine3031@yahoo.com
    Thanks
    Simone



  18. Frank Hoepfner on Jun 04, 2012

    I offer Tax and Business Consulting Service for Flight Schools, FAA Part 135 Operators and for Airplane Owners.

    Do you want to start your own flight school and need professional advice in regards to legal formation, taxes, accounting, financing and more?

    Please contact me at fh@direct-business-llc.com for a free initial consultation.

    Best regards,

    Dipl.-Kfm. (FH) Frank Hoepfner



  19. Leonard Mweene on Jun 20, 2012

    I would like to order the following:
    1). A “Business Plan” to start a Flying School.
    2). The Jeppesen flight kits for up to PPL.
    3). A Flight Training Syllabus.
    Please someone help me. This is urgent!



  20. CFI Academy on Aug 31, 2012

    🙂



  21. Antonia on Sep 03, 2012

    I found your article very helpful. My plan is to open a Flight and Engineering Academy in Dubai. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience.



  22. Rod Beck on Oct 14, 2012

    To those who want to be in any “business” aspect of GA – check our blog/articles -aviationbiz.us; “profit first – then “passion”*- however, we frankly prefer NOT to use that in our vocabulary – tends to “cloud” logical rational business judgement/thinking!
    * There ARE ways to make $$ in GA – we welcome inquires!
    Mike Dempey and I have over 65+ yrs of aviation, auto, and real estate business experience.
    We offer FBO, flight school, etc “Market Demand Studies” – this will determine one’s “odds” for success given our demographics (scientific) analysis to an areas GA airport location. This is where it STARTS – NO DEMAND – NO NEED!
    An item of interest in order of Profit Center VS Risk/Return: (highest – lowest in decending order)
    1. Flight school 2. Fueling 3. Maintenance 4. Aircraft Sales 5. Storage



  23. talal on Oct 28, 2012

    hi all, im a commercial pilot in florida and im looking for anyone whos interested in business for a flight schools in any place. mainly in gulf or africa regions. but anywhere is fine.

    we could discuss for experienced instructors i know personally and for the capital and agreements.

    im not experienced in opening a flight school but im willing to work for and get things done.



  24. Rod Beck on Oct 30, 2012

    To Talal, If your SERIOUS about the BUSINESS of opening, starting or purchasing an existing flight school – kindly drop us a note. If you or your stockholders have less than $50-100K to get started with, you’ll be sorely under capilizezed. Rod Beck & Mike Dempsey – aviationbiz.us



  25. joseph lunanga on Oct 31, 2012

    Mr Talal,
    Please contact me at lunair@hotmail.it if you’re really serious about Flight school partnership in africa. My school we start operating in January 2013 . All things are ready !



  26. Joseph lunanga on Nov 03, 2012

    Hi Simone,
    Thanks for your message .
    I’ll send an email to janine as soon as I can.
    joseph



  27. karim on Jan 04, 2013

    My plan is to open a Flight and Engineering Academy in Bangladesh.because there is no such a good academy in aviation sector in Bangladesh.I’ve a stall airport near the capital.But my problem is, there are no such investor who want to invest in this project.because they need profit rapidly. But i want to give our student’s proper education in aviation sector. Where they can learn in cheap & i’ve also mro plan for light & medium aircraft.



  28. CPL in CANADA on Feb 02, 2013

    I have read a few good stuff here. visit for more info… http://www.bluebirdflightacademy.com



  29. Nora on Jun 13, 2013

    I am only 11 and when i grow up i SOOOOOOOOOOOO want to be a british airways boeing 777 or 747-400 pilot. my paents dont support me cuz i am a girl but i will keep on dreaming and i will become an airline pilot



  30. Mansuri on Aug 18, 2013

    I am planning to start a flying school business in Jakarta. Kindly let me know the choice of inexpensive training aircraft.



  31. Mohammed on Oct 02, 2013

    Hello Mansuri, Please contact me . I am in Malaysia. May be we can discuss for business cooperation. I own a pilot training school as well. You can contact me direct rsps7788@yahoo.com



  32. Rod Beck on Oct 21, 2013

    For must here in starting a flight school or a small FBO, investment capital ($$) is only going to be available to LOW risk, HIGH volume, and a healthy Return ON Investment ventures. There are just to many “alternative” investment opportunities available that are lower risk and high profitable returns than ANY aviation venture. Unfortunately, that IS the reality. Keep in mind this: FIRST you NEED a customer – NOT a “I think” I can make this work. Without realistic and obtainable DEMAND for whatever it is your pursuing – failure is most likely. Market research is the NUMBER one priority on the “to do” list!



  33. Jason on Mar 02, 2014

    Finding a good online schedule and aircraft management tool is important too. We used aircraftclubs.com and QuickBooks before. Last year we upgraded to http://www.flightcircle.com and it has been great! Does billing and maintenance reminders too. Super easy. $10/mo/aircraft!



  34. Tim on Mar 30, 2014

    Do I have to be a teacher or a pilot to run aviation school? or can I just hire? Thank you! 🙂



  35. Marc Peitler on Apr 18, 2014

    hello Paul,

    I am from Austria and hold a CPL-IFR and want to make an unrestricted US-Licence and CFI,CFII, MEI as well.
    After this Training, I would like to invest in a Flight School in united states.
    Now to my questions.
    Is it possible to open a Flight School in us, because I am from Austria and when yes, what things are to do??

    I am looking Forward to Hearing from you.
    Marc

    You can also write me an email : ars-figura@gmx.at



  36. abdulmukti on May 14, 2014

    Dear Mansuri and Anggraini

    I was an instructor pilot live in Jakarta
    If you both live in Jakarta, and interested in fl school bussines -which is very promising- let’s meet soon. There is a good opportunity to make your intention become reality.
    Thank’s



  37. Federico on Jun 30, 2014

    Hello…i’m the CFI and Training Manager of an Italian ATO planning to open a secondary base in California for FAA PPL and TB for US and European/Worlwide Students. We’ve found out a great airport with NO SCHOOLS but hangars, maintenance and FBO available. We intend to start with 2 C152 and 1/2 C172 and assist US and Non-US students with apartment and good connection with EASA ATPL and TYPE RATING course here in Europe.
    If anybody is interested to cooperate in this project…contact me via email.
    Regards
    Federico



  38. Andrey on Aug 31, 2014

    Hi! thanks for this article,but I see that legal issues is off this topic. I mean next questions:

    – if I have own plane and a couple CFI’s, secretary and office – do I need to register and get some certificate from FAA? Do I need have some company (ltd, llc or??)?

    – can I fly with passengers for discovery flight (non-instructional flights)?

    – can I give my planes for rent? Alone or with pilots?

    – can I fly with passengers from point A to point B?

    I quess, that my last operation require Operation Certificate according Part 135, but what about another option? What exactly I can do with my planes and hired pilots/CFI’s without certification as Operator?



  39. Gary on Nov 15, 2014

    Timon Mar 30, 2014

    Do I have to be a teacher or a pilot to run aviation school? or can I just hire? Thank you!

    Answer: Timon, flight schools are about as complicated of a business as there is. Highly technical. You need to be able to talk the lingo to even do an interview. How do you think you’ll be able to do a good job hiring if you don’t know anything about what it takes to be a mechanic or pilot? It would be like being a hospital administrator without being a doctor. But I do wish you good luck! – Gary



  40. Scott rumsey on Mar 25, 2015

    Just an enquiry I know a friend who’s got his own plane he is a pilot also I’m living in the Braintree area in essex just looking for some advice really etc potential earnings etc



  41. Joaquin Mendoza on Apr 29, 2015

    Thank you all for your comments. Don’t ever give up on your dreams. I haven’t.
    Anyone needing helicopter pilots for an exciting operation? Please let me know.
    Thank you. hlightgap@gmail.com

    Happy Flying everyone!



  42. Nelson Eton on Jun 01, 2015

    I’m very happy reading all these. I am interested in starting a flight school in Australia. Please who can give me full information on it? I’ve been contacting different agencies for months now online, but no one really gives me a reply. I can be reached on nelsonberryinc@icloud.com. .



  43. Marta on Aug 18, 2015

    Does anyone know if I wanted to start a business where I give rides in historical planes to customers, which would also include letting them fly as a “lesson” if I need a full commercial pilots license, or if a Flight Instructor License is enough. Thanks!



  44. Ryan on Sep 01, 2015

    Marta, in order to qualify for a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) rating, you must first hold a Commercial Pilot’s License as a prerequisite. A CFI rating is one the most difficult aviation credentials to obtain because CFIs are, more or less, the Gatekeepers in the aviation community. Unless you’re teaching Sport Pilots (Sport Pilot Instructors do not require a CPL or CFI), you must absolutely have your CFI rating completed first. Going from zero flight hours to CFI/CFII will take a year or more of full time study with a reputable stand alone flight academy. If you attend a university with a flight program and concurrently earn a degree while working on your ratings (I really do recommend this route if possible) then it will take longer, probably between 18-24 months. This training is also expensive. You will have to intelligently finance your training. Create a plan and stick to it. Don’t be discouraged though! While these ratings are not easy to obtain (provide your training institution is not a ‘pilot mill’), many pilots before you have done it. Like any other profession, having vision, discipline and dedication are absolutely key. You will have to work and study hard. Good luck on your endeavors!



  45. Captbala on Nov 19, 2015

    Hi friends,
    Have read all your blogs here, it is good actually to open a flying school. but you need a good financial back up to operate school initially, but later on it is not required.

    We were operating our flying school since 2009, My partner just left of the business and i plan to sell the school . If some one interested plz mail me . orbionaviation@gmail.com

    Capt.Bala



  46. Tahir Al Hashimi on Mar 06, 2016

    Hello,
    My name is Tahir. Al-Hashimi. I’m planning to start a flying training school for beginners in my country here in the Sultanate of Oman. We have all the means necessary, Airfeild, Government Support, Finance Support, Legal Facilities, to start propose business. Sultanate of Oman is the country with great potentials for setting a flying training school for the beginners. I’m looking for a professional to help me to set a business plans from A TO Z business study feasibility to start a flying training school for the beginners, perhaps possibility to as future partner. If you’re interested please email me your profile, and your proposal for the above mentioned.

    Please contact me to discuss further more details.
    My: Email: taheralhashimi@gmail.com
    Mobile #: +968-94040483 or +968-95757745

    Skype: tahir.s.h

    I’m looking forward to hearing you.
    Thank you
    Kind Regards.
    Tahir Al-Hashimi



  47. M Amin on May 16, 2016

    Wow what a great article. I am glad that I have found this forum .
    We own a smal educational institute offering variety of courses in Europe ( Central Europe ) and we are offered the opportunity to become the agent for an existing flying school to market their 1 month accelerated ppl courses in Middle Eastern countries !
    I wonder what country or which part of the word would be offering the most affordable accelerated PPl course ? where can I compare ppl courses fees internationally so we could complete our feasibility study? My second concern sounds very naive but is there any restrictions or bans on Muslims or Arabs to become private pilots in Europe and USA ?
    Thank you
    2)



  48. John D Collins on May 17, 2016

    My second concern sounds very naive but is there any restrictions or bans on Muslims or Arabs to become private pilots in Europe and USA ?

    There are no bans on Muslims or Arabs to become a private pilot in the USA. However, because of the actions of the Muslim terrorists on their 9/11 attack on the US, scrutiny was added by the newly formed TSA that requires prior approval of the US government before any non US citizen can receive certain flight training from a US certified flight instructor or flight school. A security check is mandated before any such training may commence and explicit approval must be obtained from the TSA to begin and perform the training.



  49. Mohammed Basu on May 21, 2016

    Hello guys
    thank you so much for the helpful articles, though it’s been years but it helps a lot.

    i am a flight dispatcher planning to open a flight school in the Middle East, currently i am working on gathering the information and building up the feasibility study to present it to one of the business man in the region who’s willing the fund, looking to find a good articles showing how to make an eye-attracted feasibility study and get some deep information on opening this business, partnerships is considered, and the A/C dry/wet leasing is needed for the second-phase of the plan, working slowly but intensively to have it done, any comments, information, partnership is most welcome, please do contact me on the below email we can take further from there.

    mohammed.omarr@gmail.com

    thanks and bless you all.
    Mohammed



  50. Jack Carleson on Sep 13, 2016

    I was pulling out my hair trying to schedule flights and keep track of billing as a new school owner. I found that there are online tools that can manage all the paper stuff and that most schools use flight schedule pro. I’ve been really happy with it – saves a ton of time. If you’re interested I think they still have a free trial http://www.flightschedulepro.com

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