Friday, March 20, 2009

End of a Flying Relationship

Since 2001 I have been renting aircraft from Sterling Flight Training. I fly nearly every week and spend thousands of dollars each year with this flight school at Craig Municipal Airport. That relationship is about to end and this makes me sad.

For several weeks I have had a Skyhawk reserved so I could fly to Tampa to take my new fiancee and her daughter to meet my family. This morning, I received a call from Sterling's chief instructor telling me that I couldn't have the plane because they wanted to use it for training. I would have to take their Diamond DA40, an aircraft that I have never flown. To do this, I would have to get a check ride at some point in the next 24 hours. Because of their last minute change, I did not have an option to rent an aircraft from North Florida Flight Training which is also at the same airport - their planes were already booked.

I called Irene Malone, a very nice lady and the wife of the school's owner to discuss the situation. She took my number and said Jay Lawrence, the new Chief Instructor would call. I told her that actions like this were going to lose her a customer. Jay and I discussed the situation and he finally agreed to let me take the plane for this weekend, but I would have to make alternative arrangements for the following weekend. This was acceptable because I had already arranged with North Florida to have a plane for the weekend.

About an hour later, Jay called me back and advised me that I couldn't have the plane because Scott Malone, Irene's dimwitted son, told him that he could not allow the plane to be gone this weekend regardless of reservations. Scott is a former US Airways Express pilot who quit the airline to fly charters at Malone Air. Although I have been flying with his family for 7 years, I seriously doubt that he has the faintest clue about who I am. He probably has no idea that I spend between $7,000 and $8,000 per year with Sterling Flight Training on aircraft rental. Heck, he's never even greeted me when I walked in the place. It is bonehead maneuvers like Scott's that will cost Sterling Flight Training their business. This weekend will be the last time I rent a plane from them.

The Diamond has a G1000 panel like the Skyhawk, but it lacks the autopilot and cargo capacity. It takes much longer to take off and to land. It is faster, but not fast enough to justify the $180 per hour (versus $150 - an increase from the $120 that had been the rate for the 'Hawk.)

I'm sure that the Diamond is a great plane, but the problem is that they let me reserve the plane for weeks and then dropped me from the schedule with less than 24 hours notice. That's a poor business practice. Combine that business practice with the stunts that some of their instructors have pulled (see prior entries) as well as the accident rate for their aircraft and I think this place is a recipe for disaster. So maybe I'm better off with a better aircraft provider. Perhaps North Florida will value my business more than Sterling does. I have referred numerous students and renters to Sterling over the years. It is unfortunate that I can no longer do so.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing. I imagine how you can feel as I had some trouble with a school where I did rent as well.

    I'm wondering if this problem is not related to the myth that a good pilot can be a good manager. Flying and management are different things and require different skills. Having a pilot managing the fleet or the school is not always a good solution.

    My two cents.