Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
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Argument in the Cockpit, Who's right?

QUESTION:  I recently got into an argument with my flight instructor during a flight about LAX airspace.  Well, we were flying at the time and things got quite heated.  I was sure that I was right and he wouldn't have any part of it.  I'm still upset, what should I do?  I haven't been back for a lesson since.  -- Jeff D

ANSWER:  Hi Jeff thanks for your question.  Disagreements between a student and his flight instructor are common.  And there's nothing wrong with a healthy dialogue with your instructor to help you clarify your understanding.   I'd caution you about  letting emotions get out of control while actually flying as it can affect the safety of the flight, especially while flying in busy Class B airspace. 

The bottom line is that your flight instructor is respsonsible for the flight whether you are a new student pilot or a seasoned pilot with hundreds of hours.  The best response you can have in such a situation is to comply with the instruction or of there is an area of disagreement, explore it on the ground.  If something happens during the flight, the FAA is going to fault the CFI for not properly supervising the student.
When you get on the ground, its a completely different story.  Remember, your relationship with your instructor is important so do your best to disagree politely and if you think you are right, stick to your guns.  Your flight instructor should be able to provide evidence of his claim through a variety of means:
  • FAR/AIM, or
  • FAA Training Materials, or
  • Industry Training Materials, or
  • The catch-all:  his personal experience.

I'll point out that your instructor has been through quite a bit of training to get his qualifications.  He is probably right.  Does that mean he's always right?  NO.  Does it mean that the two of you can't negotiate a clearer understanding between you?  NO. 

A good flight instructor is (as a student is) always seeking to improve his knowledge and understanding.  Most flight instructors learn as much from the mistakes of their students as they learned in their training to become a CFI.  Keeping a CFI honest means keeping him on his toes.  The bulk of material a CFI must constantly have at the tip of his tongue is tremendous.  And the learning doesn't stop when a CFI has gotten his ticket, nor does it stop when you've gotten yours.

If the problem doesn't get solved between the two of you, there are several options:

  • Just do what he says (usually not a good idea)
  • Think about it more (always a good idea)
  • Agree to disagree until you can resolve it on your own.
  • Go somewhere else.
Remember, the relationship is the most important.  If its damaged, your training will be less effective and ultimately it costs you more.  If you are able, call your instructor and invite him to discuss it further over a Grape Shasta.  Then go fly.

I hope this helps Jeff.

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