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In 2011, Rainier Flight Service was a successful flight school in Seattle, WA with five aircraft and a staff of eight.   In their three years of operation, they had developed a powerful local reputation, leading to more business than they could handle.  But as they continued to grow, it became increasingly important to implement processes and workflows to maintain a high level of service, while ensuring regulatory compliance. 

Like most flight schools, they tried a variety of flight training and business tools to facilitate the many aspects of running their business, including online scheduling software, financial software, customer relationship tools, spreadsheets and even paper folders.  At the time, none of these systems integrated with each other; as the scale of the operation grew, so did the need for administrative management and auditing. 

Upon adopting NeedleNine, Rainier Flight Service reaped enormous efficiencies through automation of routine tasks, while improving the customer experience.  By 2020, Rainier Flight Services grew to thirty-eight aircraft and a staff of sixty-three, focused on growing a safe, profitable, and efficient flight school while becoming the largest in all of Washington State. 

“Our staff and clients couldn’t be happier with the simplicity and insights that NeedleNine bring to our day-to-day operations. From easy scheduling, actionable reporting to advanced course and aircraft management – you name it, they have it.” 

-Brad Donaldson: Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer 

Rainier Flight Service

An Appetite for Smoother Operations 

Rainier Flight Service did not set out to become the largest flight school in Washington State.  They began as a small operation with a few airplanes and desire to do better.  They had seen many flight schools come and go over the years and understood the importance of running the flight school as a business first.  As experienced instructors and airline pilots, they also felt strongly about developing their own training curriculum to bring flight training into the 21st century.  However, no single solution existed, so they settled on a variety of systems to manage the operation: 

Scheduling, Dispatching and Mx Tracking – Online Software: $350/mth 

Tracking Prospective Clients and Notes – Online CRM System: $50/mth 

Training Records – 10 hrs/week Chief Instructor auditing paper records: $1,500/mth 

Accounting – Full-Time admin for Invoicing, A/R, aircraft audit, etc.: $2,400/mth 

TSA Compliance – Custom Web System and Auditing: $200/mth 

Total: $4,500/mth 

As the flight school grew, so did the need for administrative management of the systems.  With more aircraft came more students, staff and overhead – all tracked by spreadsheets, because none of these systems integrated with each other.  Sound familiar? 

Inevitably, this led to errors, resulting in even more time spent auditing and fixing records.  It didn’t take long before the focus became managing the business instead of growing the business.  This method of conducting business was not scalable, so they set out to implement a solution that would provide the tools enabling staff to focus instead on customer experience. 

Strategic Operations Analysis 

To identify a solution that met everyone’s needs, they first needed to quantify the problems.  Looking at the different user groups, they found specific requirements for each: 

Prospective Clients 

Challenge – If prospective client has no prior aviation experience, the onboarding process (obtaining FAA/TSA approval, renter’s insurance, etc.) can seem daunting. It requires a lot of administrative assistance to comply with regulatory requirements.  Copies of documentation must be securely retained and audited. 


Challenge – Clients must provide sensitive personal information, including copies of their passport and medical certificate.  In the past, these have been typically saved in paper files, along with training records.  Clients also need a comprehensive training curriculum that integrates ground, simulator and flight training with clear expectations for preparation and completion standards. 


Challenge – Paid hourly so time management is critical.  Instructors want to easily manage their schedule, make changes and efficiently communicate with students on how to prepare for each lesson. 

Chief Flight Instructor 

Challenge – Instructors come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experience levels, from flying clubs to university aviation programs.  By nature, instructors teach the way they were taught (Law of Primacy), so curriculum delivery is critical to ensure standardization.  In addition, no operational or training analytics exist unless records are copied manually to a spreadsheet for derived reports. 


Challenge – Aircraft records are kept in paper logs and compromise a significant portion of aircraft value.  Instructors and clients need access to these records to prove airworthiness. This created conflicting interests: protecting the valuable records versus accessing the airworthiness information. 


Challenge – The FAA is required to ensure curriculum meets federal requirements for each flight school.  Paper copies of all course information must be reviewed and cross-referenced with regulations, prior to approval. 


Challenge – Staff utilize multiple systems to track client information, billing, CRM and scheduling.  These systems do not integrate, so significant time is spent copying records between systems which is not only inefficient but introduces substantial opportunity for error. 

Lower Costs and Increasing Efficiency 

NeedleNine was the only solution to meet these requirements, and more.  Once fully transitioned, they immediately began to experience the following benefits: 

Scheduling, Dispatching and Mx Tracking – NeedleNine: $0 

Tracking Prospective Clients and Notes – NeedleNine: $0 

Training Records – 1 hr/week Chief Instructor auditing reports: $150/mth 

Accounting – Admin following up on expired cards: $30/mth 

TSA Compliance – Checking TSA Audit report and follow-up: $30/mth 

Total $200/mth 

By transitioning to NeedleNine, Rainier Flight Service saved the equivalent of almost two full-time employees.  Instead of reducing the employee count, they re-tasked those employees to improve the Customer Experience and increase profit by: 

Client Conversion and Retention 

  • Tracking lead generation by creating Prospective Clients and capturing personal information.  Implement consistent workflow of following up with personalized service and converting leads to clients. 
  • Creating events, including seminars and workshops, to boost engagement with clients at multiple levels.  NeedleNine’s Events feature provides simple dissemination of event information and tracking RSVPs. 
  • Identifying and incentivizing inactive pilots to re-engage in their flying goals. 

Training Quality and Effectiveness 

  • Utilize training reports to proactively identify struggling clients, improving the training experience while greatly increasing retention. 
  • Develop lesson plans to ensure standardization and quality control for high turnover instructor staff. 
  • Implement safety reporting and tracking to proactively identify and mitigate costly incidents. 

Automating Workflows 

  • Clients manage their own accounts with automatic notifications for expiring or other action items. 
  • Save countless hours managing invoicing and payment collecting. Clients manage their own account without need for staff assistance, and NeedleNine seamlessly syncs with QuickBooks.
  • Gain operational insights through reports, detailing aircraft utilization by type of reservation, courses and instructor efficiency, and more.