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Annoying Students

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most from Your Flight Training, July, 2006
Smarter Student Series: Researching Flight Schools | Managing Your CFI | Annoying Students | You're in the Driver's Seat! | Why People Quit Flying | Being a Better Aviation Consumer | You Get What You Pay For | Performance Anxiety |

I knew that title would catch your attention.  I figured that I needed a hook to pull you into this story I want to share with you.  The real topic of this article is how to get the most out of your flight instructor.  I'm sure that you would agree that the better your relationship with a flight instructor, the faster and easier your training will go.  Faster and easier means you will spend less money.  And if there's one thing I like, its saving money and you probably feel the same way. 

I get a chance to talk with a lot of flight instructors and the most common topics include their pet peeves, how students are doing, and their career plans.  I've met all kinds from the permissive types who let their students get away with substandard performance to the exacting types who demand the very best from their students.  I've met ones that care about their students' progress as well as those who care, but are looking at doing some other kind of flying.  There's a lot that flight instructors as a group could do which would improve their performance, professionalism, and therefore their own career prospects.  Those tips are scattered through other articles on this website.

The focus of this article is on what students can do to obtain the maximum performance out of their flight instructor by how they pursue flight training.  All the names have been changed to protect the innocent so if you recognize a scenario, its purely coincidental.

On Time Performance

If you want to save money and maximize return on investment, show up on time or even early.  Late students have become such a problem that flight schools are taking notice and charging penalties.  After all, you scheduled the use of a very expensive asset and now its sitting there not making them money.  Without that money, maintenance and upgrades are harder to come by.  In addition, your CFI who has at least $50k invested into the training for his career sits there waiting for a student who didn't care enough to even show up on time.  Don't expect your CFI to do that for free.  He also needs to pay bills, mortgages, and feed children.  The CFI is not there to donate or volunteer time to you.  If you want a professional result, expect to pay for a professional.  Every minute from your scheduled start time to the time you say goodbye should be paid for.  Taking advantage of your CFI by trying to beat him out of ground training income will only set you up for a declining relationship much as decay sets into a tooth.  Expect to pay for the full block of time that you scheduled.  For example, a 2 hour block of time scheduled for you will result in 2 hours of instructor time charged in spite of flying only 1.1 hours.   If you are late or don't show up, expect to pay for that time your CFI waited on you up to the full block of time YOU scheduled.   Don't expect anything free, and pay for the services you requested and received.

Another tip to save money is show up early to preflight your aircraft before your CFI goes on the clock.  There's no bigger waste of money than a student paying a CFI to watch him preflight the aircraft (assuming you are already qualified to do so).  When your scheduled appointment begins, you'll have the equipment prepared for the lesson and a quick walk around and fuel quality check may be the only remaining items to do prior to jumping in.  For more money saving tips, see the related article: Saving Money on Flight Training.

Teaching Methods

Expect and allow your flight instructor to add teachable moments to your flight.  Thomas, a Florida CFI tried to illustrate a point about engines while walking with his student out to the aircraft.  As they passed the maintenance hanger, the CFI noticed a mechanic working on the magnetos of a Cessna 172.   Thomas went out of his way to provide his student a teachable moment by showing and explaining how they work.  The ungrateful student later complained that he had to pay for the 11 minutes they spent talking with the mechanic and learning about magnetos.  There's nothing that will turn a flight instructor against you faster than an argument about his teaching methods.  Remember that the CFI has put a lot of investment into his own education and has paid his dues.  He is the expert who holds the highest rating the FAA has so the professional CFI is the only defined path to becoming a pilot.  The flight instructor also has a professional duty to the student to provide a complete education to the student.  See CFI Liability to learn more about your flight instructor's responsibility in teaching you.


It seems like common sense but most flight instructors report that students don't come to the lesson with the enthusiasm and readiness to be taught.  The flight instructor puts his heart, mind, and soul into his profession and comes to every lesson ready to help you achieve your goals.  So the basis of this tip is to show up ready for the flight lesson.  Being ready includes having a mindset and attitude conducive to maximum learning which obviously saves money and minimizes duplicated effort in later flight lessons.  Being prepared for a flight lesson squarely falls upon the student.  Even the best instruction cannot fully compensate for lack of preparation. Become intimately familiar with your training materials and you'll save incredible amounts of money. Its much better for you to learn at home for free rather than while the aircraft engine is running.  See related article 17 Things Your Flight Instructor Wish You Knew for more money saving tips. 


Todd, a Missouri instructor finds complaints about the cost of flight lessons interfere with student success.  Students also try tactics to minimize cost by trying to eliminate ground instruction and pre-flight briefings.  Such training is considered essential for success - see related article on The Right Amount of Ground Instruction by Rod Machado.  As Todd puts it, "If you want to play, you've got to pay."  He hears constant complaining about the high cost of flight instruction and then students show up unprepared, late, or not at all.  Todd, a highly skilled senior flight instructor, has walked away from the profession to focus on a more lucrative business. 


Sometimes the stress of flight instruction can bring the worst out in students.  Pressure to perform maneuvers correctly, understand complicated processes, develop automatic reactions to emergency procedures, and all the personal pressures brought to the cockpit interfere with optimal learning.  Our reactions to stress are as individual as fingerprints and the flight instructor is the witness to it all.  Sometimes the flight instructor is called to perform such duties as therapist and confidant.  All of which adds to the total cost of flight training.  Ultimately, the success of each student is dependent upon his level of motivation, desire, ability to take responsibility, preparation, and maturity.

Managing Expectations

If you want to be successful in working with others, you must manage expectations.  This pearl of wisdom given to me by a former employer packs a lot of power into two words.  When you dig into the meaning of it, you realize it requires a lot of communication with those you depend upon for results.  I get more than a few emails from students who are unhappy with their current flight instructor and want advice.  My advice has always been, communicate your concerns clearly to your flight instructor.  After all, he's a professional, and most likely he's seen or heard it before.  Stumbling blocks in your flight training cost you money and silence frustrates the CFI as he wonders why you're not progressing.  Sometimes being honest with your limitations can be a real help to the instructor in providing you quality training in the way you're going to best receive it.  Want to be treated with respect?  Communicate your needs instead of sneaking out the back door and never coming back. 


Seek to be a partner in the learning process and get in the driver's seat so you control the outcome.  After all, you're paying good money so why get the most you can out of him.  These ideas should help you in your efforts.  If you have experiences that you're willing to share, please contact me, I'd love to hear from you.

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