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Release date:
February 2022
FlyBy CEO Alex Alvarez on running Spain’s largest flight school
FlyBy CEO Alex Alvarez on running Spain’s largest flight school, his no nonsense business model and why effective communication with partners such as Air bp is key to his success 


You started out as an industrial engineer, who or what drove your move to a career in aviation?

Having graduated as an industrial engineer with an executive MBA from the Instituto de Empresa (IE) Business School in Madrid I took a job as a product manager in a US-based engineering and construction company. After three years of living in Buffalo, New York I relocated with my family to Milton Keynes in the UK. It was there that I got my first taste of flying an aircraft when my wife gifted me a discovery flight from Cranfield Airport for my 40th birthday. Then, following the global financial crisis of 2007 which had a huge impact on the construction industry, I made the decision to return to Spain. With my background in project management, I was offered the opportunity to run a start-up flight school in Madrid. 


When did you join FlyBy?

There was huge potential in the model we had created for the start-up school and I had secured investment to take it to the next level. However, I couldn’t see eye-to-eye with the owners on how to structure the financial model of the business so when the opportunity to take over FlyBy arose, I jumped at the chance. That was in 2015 and FlyBy was on the brink of bankruptcy. In addition to an injection of cash I also brought an outsider’s perspective and a different approach to running the business, which helped turn it around. 


How did you transform FlyBy into Spain’s largest flight school?

I’m proud of everything we have achieved to be named Spain’s largest flight school by Spanish airport operator, Aena. Last year we registered more operations than any other pilot training provider in the country and we are still growing.

One of the first changes I instigated when I joined FlyBy was to relocate the flight school from Bilbao to León. It’s a more convenient location in terms of costs and logistics. Given pilot training is very expensive, finding ways of keeping costs under control and competitive has been key to our success. Our model is straightforward – we have eliminated all the hidden costs and include everything in one €69,300 package. From the training to the class one medical, accommodation, food, exam fees, laptops, headphones and even uniforms, it’s all included in the price.

We’ve taken on the responsibility of ensuring the volume to drive the costs down. It’s not rocket science and I’m surprised this model isn’t more widely adopted. We also offer six courses throughout the year, which means students can join every two months and its more cost effective in terms of managing instructor and marketing budgets. I’m a big believer in adopting a C&I (copy and improve) approach, rather than investing in R&D (research and development). Take something that works, then improve it. That’s my motto! 


Where do your students originate from?

Our students come from across the globe. We have 74 different countries represented in the school currently, including Tanzania and Brunei. Around 50% of our intake is from Europe (20% of which is from Spain), and the other 50% is from elsewhere around the world (approximately 20% of which is from the Gulf states). Social media has been key in terms of reaching a wider audience and targeting our advertising for specific regions. Word of mouth recommendations have also been a powerful marketing tool for us. 


What is your message to aspiring young pilots?

Be resilient. The aviation industry will always have its ups and downs, so resilience is key. Also think beyond the salary. Becoming a pilot requires commitment, hard work (the training is ongoing) and the ability to work as part of a team. The pay is good for qualified pilots, however a career as a pilot will take its toll on your personal life - the travel is exciting, but it also comes with jetlag and time away from home. It’s a brilliant and rewarding career but don’t do it just for the money. 


What does your aircraft fleet look like?

We have 21 aircraft in our fleet, comprising 18 single-engine and three multi-engine state-of-the-art glass cockpit Tecnam P2002JF aircraft. We also have five simulators including an MCC certified Airbus A320 and a Tecnam 2006T simulator. It’s my duty to always be looking ahead of the curve, so ensuring we have a fuel-efficient fleet is one of my priorities. The fuel consumption of the newer aircraft in our fleet is half that of the older aircraft. So, we will be looking to retire the older models in our fleet, such as the Cessna 172s and Piper PA28 in due course. 


How do you benefit from your relationship with Air bp?

We’ve been working closely alongside Air bp for many years, especially in supporting our push for the supply of Unleaded Avgas (UL91). It is the only unleaded aviation fuel recognised and we look forward to being able to implement it in the near future, hopefully in 2022. Effective communication underpins our collaboration, it’s about helping each other. We also benefit hugely from having access to Air bp’s expertise and a reliable fuel supply. 


What does 2022 hold for FlyBy?

We have forecasted growth of 15 to 20% over the next 12 months and by the end of this year we hope to have opened another flight school, ideally outside of Spain. I’d also like to explore the opportunity of expanding our training model to cover air traffic control and aircraft maintenance and engineering. There is so much potential with what we can offer, especially when you look at the emerging markets in Africa, Asia and South America. 


Do you ever wonder what your life would have looked like if you’d stayed in industrial engineering?

I thoroughly enjoyed working within the engineering and construction sector and living in different countries, experiencing different cultures. However, it’s not something I want to go back to. I can’t guarantee I will spend the rest of my working life in aviation but there are still so many areas of this industry and new challenges I haven’t yet explored I can’t see myself leaving it any time soon. Plus, I still need to complete my PPL so I’m definitely staying put for the time being!  


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