Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
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Answerman:  Answers to Common Aviation Questions


I have a student showing aggression.  He becomes irritable during training.  What do I do?  Ryan D. Ft Lauderdale, FL

I have a student who is an older gentleman and he currently seeking an instrument rating. He owns his own airplane, and I've been working on getting him current with a BFR.   I've noticed that anytime I go to correct him or tell him he did something wrong, he becomes aggressive and has used profanity towards me. For example, yesterday we were doing pattern work, and he forgot to bring his flaps up as we were starting to takeoff again. I told him to abort the take off and clear the runway.  He became real irritable about it, and assured me he hadn't forgot when in fact he had. We were just about to rotate and his hands weren't anywhere near the flaps.  Then on another circuit, on base or final we got the stall light and aerodynamic ques that the aircraft was stalling.  His answer, "theres no way this airplane is stalling, we're at 92, this thing doesnt stall until 64."  While trying to re-educate him that its entirely possible the airplane CAN stall at 92, with flaps and gear down, in a descent, he became irritated and said, "I already know all that!"  Then he starts to totally block out what I'm saying.  What do I do?  Jim, Meridian MS.

I've got an unruly student.  When we started flying he proved to be rusty and was showing signs of agression and always trying to blame something else other than him.  After the second flight together he said that next flight we would do 3 touch and goes and I'd give him the endorsement for the BFR.  In my judgement, he wasn't anywhere close to being proficient.  When I told him that I would not agree to that, he became irate and stormed out of the FBO.  Harris G, Long Beach, CA


First, as a Flight Instructor, you are charged with the responsibility of challenging inadequate and/or unsafe flying.  You are on the hook for properly supervising the flight to be undertaken.

Second, the days of the "three trips around the pattern BFR" are long over.  The FAR is very clear as to what your responsibility is when issuing a BFR or training a student for a rating.  A pencil whipped BFR endorsement does not serve the pilot, the aircraft owner, or the general public. When a pilot violates those standards or becomes involved in an incident, the FAA is mandated to figure out what part of the system broke.  Eventually they will get back to that CFI who didn't do his job. 

Third, as a professional, you are the one on the hook for ensuring that the people that you come in contact with receive your best, professional training.  If you do your job, you will never have to face the widow of your former student in a courtroom. 

You are the decision maker when it comes to whether a student is proficient to be flying the IFR system, advancing to new rating, or first solo.  You are the one who carries the liability for the BFR you issue or the checkride signoff you give.  As such, you are required to train your students to proficiency according to the guidance given to you by the FAR/AIM, FAA Advisory Circulars, and the PTS.  The FAA is relying upon you as a gatekeeper in the system that qualified pilots are flying to the published standards. 

Your students must understand this process, accept it, and respect it.  It comes down to a choice whether they can cooperate and adapt to the process or find another instructor.  A student who is ready to learn, who is ready to listen, exhibits an attitude of being:
  • a partner in learning, a self driven professional who craves knowledge about aviation. 
  • precise in their flying, a passion for doing things correctly goes beyond using the checklist, its a way of life. 
  • safe, never taking unnecessary risks, and properly managing the risks of flight. 
  • prepared as a student, for each lesson, but even more important, a prepared pilot who plans each flight and seeks to know "all available information." 
  • the ultimate judge of their own performance, accepting responsibility for their setbacks and asking for help to improve their skills while not being too self-critical.
Fourth, there are times when a student and an instructor are just not a good match.  When a conflict arises, the resolution says a lot about both the instructor as well as the student.  Consider having an open discussion with your student about your concerns.  If you aren't the right instructor for the student, be upfront about it and offer to make a referral. 

Good debriefing openers:
  • "What could have been done better today?"  Include the good points of the flight lesson to leave the topic on a high note.
  • Offering correction: "it might work better if you tried..."
For more information on your duty as a flight instructor, read CFI Liability - a stark look at CFI professionalism

Safety Resources

IFR Risk Management
Things Your Flight Instructor Wish You Knew - or Helicopter
15 Things Pilots Must Learn - or Helicopter
Making Safe Choices
Flying Discipline

Things Your Flight Instructor Worries About
Aviation Safety Programs
Flight Profile Flying - how to improve safety flying the profile
Personal Minimums Checklist(download)
Introduction to Aeronautical Decision Making - Hazardous Attitudes
Information on the FAA Pilot Proficiency Program "Wings"
FAA Pilot Education Pamphlet Reprints
FAA Publications
Preventing Your Aircraft from Coming Apart in Flight
Characteristics of Successful Pilots
Ten Commandments for Safe Flight
What's Killing Pilots - What to do to save your life
Bending Metal - the most common causes of non-fatal accidents
Flight Profile Flying - how to improve safety flying the profile
Making Safe Choices

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