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Wed, Nov 08, 2006

ANN's Daily Aero-Tips (11.08.06): Choosing Your CFI -- The Hours Myth

Aero-Tips!

A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of "there are no old, bold pilots.")

Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner, master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us -- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we might never have considered before, or something that didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for the practical test.

Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you through the Aero-News Network.

Aero-Tips 11.08.06

The right instructor will make learning to fly a challenge, but still a pleasure. He/she will play a big part in:

  • how quickly you'll reach your goal, and therefore
  • how much it'll cost to complete your training,
  • whether you'll finish at all, and most importantly
  • how safe you'll truly be when you finish.

It's fairly rare in most locations to have a choice of CFIs, but if you do have a choice there are ways to pick the best instructor for you. Sad to say, there are some times when it's better to avoid flying with the only choice available at all, and consider traveling somewhere else to take lessons. Further, when you are just learning to fly you have no frame of reference when forming a relationship with someone who has a huge impact on your future, and that of your family.

So…how can you choose a primary flight instructor?

The myth of hours

It's commonly accepted in flying circles that the more flight time a person has, the better pilot he or she is. Sure, we'd like all CFIs to be recently retired airline captains with thousands of hours just gushing to bring more pilots into the fold. The reality is that most primary CFIs are at the beginning of their career, just recently out of training themselves, and often very overworked from an unpredictable flying schedule and the frequent need to work nights in other industries to make ends meet. Instructing can be boring, repetitive work, and the luster of actually being paid (very little) to fly can wear off rapidly.

Countering the myth

Hours alone does not a good CFI make. Even that airline or military pilot can severely hamper your progress if he/she is not a teacher first and a pilot second. Knowing what to do does not mean you can see it in others, or coach them smoothly to correctness when they don't do things right the first (or the fortieth) time. Some of the very best CFIs are very low-time pilots…if they have a passion for teaching.

Interview your instructor

Here's a real novel idea: CFIs are working for you. Like you would any other prospective employee, you should interview instructors wanting to get the job. Ask your instructor not only how many hours he/she has in airplanes, but also:

  • How many hours of instruction have you logged?
  • What else have you taught besides flying? Have you been a tutor, a teacher, a corporate trainer?
  • What formal training have you received on instructional techniques?
  • If you got an airline or charter job tomorrow, would you want to keep instructing on the side?

Get references from pilots who have completed training with that instructor, and if possible, talk to persons who have flown with him/her but have not achieved their goal.

Aero-tip of the day: Go beyond flight hours, and interview for teaching ability and professionalism when picking a flight instructor.

FMI: Aero-Tips

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