Monday, June 09, 2008

Club instruction operations

A reader wrote in a comment here about a frustrating club situation, and that our club's operation sounds a lot more productive for students. Here are some thoughts about what makes it work:
  1. Club's stated purpose is to train students to fly. Most people who join are either starting from scratch, or adding on to a power certificate. Few people who already have their PPG join just to have access to club gliders, though some do. (Many buy their own gliders after getting their cert, but many don't.) So if a PPG is on the field on a Saturday, they're often helping with student operations as well as flying themselves. Four of us are working on our commercial and instructor ratings.

  2. Multiple club gliders.
    • We have two Blanik trainers. Typically one is used by the instructor and student, and one is available for solo students or other pilots. If one is grounded for some reason, everyone pretty much accepts that the students have priority to use the one good one. When one Blanik got wrecked, our Board placed a high priority on buying another one ASAP.

    • We have one single-seat fiberglass PW5, which students can progress to after solo and before getting their PPG. Many don't, choosing to focus on the certificate first, but it is available. And most of the ground instruction (orientation) for the PW5 is conducted by PPG's, not instructors, 'cuz they're the most familiar with it. A CFIG has to sign off, but typically not much instructor time is used on these students.

    • We have a two-seat fiberglass Grob 103, which is the preferred ship for experienced PPG's to take pleasure flights and give passenger rides in. So when it's available, this keeps the Blaniks mostly available for students. Instructors have to train and sign off on this ship, so it does get student use. And if both Blaniks are down (rarely), the Grob becomes the trainer.

  3. Multiple towplanes (sometimes) provided by an FBO. We don't have a towplane, we pay Sailplane Enterprises for each launch. They will run two and even three towplanes when the demand is there. But sometimes they don't have enough pilots, and sometimes 3 to 4 glass private ships push out at once, and SE reserves the right to cut in line if they have paying rides (to 10,000' !) or students, and there's another club on the field, so there can be long delays sometimes. Usually it's no more than 30 minutes, but sometimes... Rarely is there a line more than 4 gliders long.

  4. Single instructor on Saturdays, but flexibility. When I started with the club, there were enough instructors that training was offered every Saturday and Sunday. We lost a few, so we cut back to only Saturdays. We have picked up more instructors, but I don't think they're willing to commit to twice as much work and resume a Sunday schedule. BUT... Sometimes two will come out on a Saturday. One of them is retired and instructs a couple of days during the week by appointment. One of them is a new instructor and comes out on Fridays. One of them is a commercial instructor and is able to make special arrangements. So... with our instructors' gracious flexibility, there's more instructing occuring than meets the Saturday student's eye. And as I mentioned, there are four CFIGs in the pipeline. If we all complete it, I bet we'll get back to Sunday instruction... or two instructors most Saturdays.

    Having the right student:instructor and student:glider ratio helps a lot. I suppose if there are just too many students, some will not get a chance to fly. I think we have about 8 active students, but not all show up every Saturday, so probably 5 or 6 need instructing, plus maybe a PPG checkride or something. If they all get through their turns, sometimes some will want to go again. So the instructor is busy from about 10:00 until 4 or 5:00... and they don't take long lunches or long breaks, 'cuz they want everyone to fly.

  5. Efficiency. Everyone who's on the field is expected to help push out, push back, run equipment around, and basically keep things moving. It's not a long push from the landing zone back to the line. Students sign up for 1-hour blocks, and if they move it along, they can get two pattern tows in an hour, three if it's early and there's no wait. Way back when, SE offered a discount for pattern tows before 11:00. That's gone, but the idea of getting started early persists. If students are needing pattern work, they plan to do it in the morning. If they're working on thermaling, they plan for the afternoon. And there's peer pressure to be ready to go when your turn is up... and to be flexible if someone needs to go next for some reason. Although they sign up for a specific time, it rarely works out that way, and people are pretty nice about it.
It sounds like the main problem at the reader's field is towplane capacity (1) and balance (20 private ships and 1 instructor). I think he meant that the towplane is owned by the club. Reading between the lines of his note, it sounds like the club does not place emphasis on instructing. If instructing is their priority, maybe they could consider letting instructional flights cut in front of private launches. But if that's not their culture, then students may very well have to find other situations to get training at a reasonable pace.

1 comment:

Deanne said...

You write very well.