Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
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Being a Better Aviation Consumer

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most from Your Flight Training, July, 2007
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 |

Here's how the story starts:
  • I need instrument lessons...
  • My flight instructor got a better flying job now I'm stuck...
  • I don't even know what's happening from lesson to lesson...
Learning to fly or achieving the instrument rating are some of the most expensive hobbies possible.  When we purchase something online, we check the seller's reputation, we check opinions from any number of sources on the product, and then finally we find the best deal.  Do we do that with flight instruction?  Heck no.  We show up at the local FBO and accept whatever comes.

Tom writes, "The CFII that got me my Private is the same one working on my instrument with me. He taught me well how to be a fundamentally safe and sound private [pilot] but the problem is he is an "Old Timer" who has excellent flying skills but no real hand experience in the modern day IFR system. The choices are slim at the FBO....him!"  Now that aviation has picked up a little bit, flight instructors are being hired by regional airlines at 750 to 1000 hours.  That's about 6 to 10 months of experience as a CFI and then poof, they are gone for "better" flying.  If you take a look at the Articles section of my website you'll find articles on How to select a flight instructor and Advice to new student pilots and How to save money on your flight training and Getting the Most From Your Ground School.  Do people follow this advice?  Nope. 

Jennifer writes, "I sure wish I found your website before I tried to learn how to fly with 3 different instructors who milked me for hours, didn't teach me anything, and wasted my time."  Well Jennifer, shame on you for not establishing the ground rules with the instructors you fly with.  For one thing, never fly without a syllabus that is known to you and where you can follow your progress.  The beginnings of any syllabus is the Practical Test Standards for the rating you are seeking.  You can download them free from my website.  I am constantly amazed by folks who want to learn how to fly IFR but haven't even looked at the PTS.  That's only a start.

After you've looked at the PTS for the rating you are seeking, you should take a look at FAR Part 61 for the rating you are seeking.  It's easy for a pilot examiner to fail a student who doesn't even know the regulatory requirements for the rating he is seeking.  A good checkride review guide will give you a synopsis of the regulatory requirements for the rating you are seeking.  Is that everything?  Hardly.

Your next bit of research should be a syllabus for the rating you are seeking.  The flight instructor you work will can provide that to you.  If you're at a Part 141 school then the FAA requires the school to have and use that syllabus.  If you're at a Part 61 school, then your flight instructor determines what syllabus would be used.  As you progress or change flight instructors, you'll be able to decide what syllabus to use. 

Some flight instructors publish their own syllabus such as the ones I publish on my website: Syllabus: 7-day Instrument Rating Training and Instrument X/C.  Some flight instructors use a commercially available syllabus from Gleim, Jeppesen, and others.  One thing I can promise you, operating without a syllabus is a waste of your time and money.  Don't do it.

Other things to think about include your overall goals.  Do you want to fly seaplanes? Do you want to fly for the airlines?  Do you just want to fly a Cessna around the local airport for pattern work?  Your goals would lead you to select a specific path on your flight training endeavor.  For example, if you desire to fly seaplanes, I recommend you get an Airplane Single Engine Land pilot certificate at your local FBO and then go to one of the big schools that puts out seaplane students such as Jack Brown's in Florida.  If you're looking to do pattern work in a Cessna for the rest of your flying career, then certainly the local FBO has what you're looking for.

If you're airline bound, then my website has a wealth of material to assist you.  I pride myself on the number of airline and military pilots I've produced as a flight instructor.  As a believer in structured training, I can certainly recommend some of the larger, more organized flight schools which provide a specific result for a given amount of money.  Among the best include Delta Connections Academy and AllATPs.com.  I'm also a firm believer in getting your multi engine rating and doing your instrument rating in a twin.  Read the rationale for this on my website:  Why You Should do Your Instrument Rating in a Twin.

As a final word of advice on this subject, don't wait for your flight instructor to tell you or teach you.  Find out for yourself, do your homework, do your research.  Save that expensive ground instruction time for the stuff you didn't understand from your own learning.

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