Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
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Managing Your CFI

by Darren Smith
Getting the Most from Your Flight Training, November 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 |

Flight training is a considerable investment.  A large component of this investment is the cost of flight instruction.  You can't reach your goal without the services of a flight instructor.  There is much advice on selecting a flight instructor, including these articles:  Selecting a Flight Instructor and Advice to New Student Pilots.  Once you find that individual who is the essential piece of your puzzle, there are a few things you'll want to know to help you manage that relationship. 

A Few Facts...

Flight instructors don't make a lot of money.  After investing $60-70k in their training, they graduate able to make $15/hour as a flight instructor at the local airport (the flight school takes the rest of that $50/hour).  The average flight instructor gets
100 hours a month for a monthly salary of $1065 after taxes. That's not a lot of money is it.  In fact its a really hard life in today's economy.  The last thing your flight instructor wants to hear is complaints from his students on how much flight instruction costs.  Especially since most students make a whole heck of a lot more than the flight instructor providing the service.  Forget all of your preconceived notions, he's the least paid employee at the airport.  What's the difference between a PEPPERONI PIZZA and a CFI?  Answer:  One feeds a family of four. (Joke Author Unknown)  Remember:  You Get What You Pay For.

This kind of work is difficult.  Flight instructors face seven challenges in their daily work: student performance, safety, low income, professional growth, keeping it all together, accidents, and personal excellence.  Its a lot of stuff to think about. 

It's hard on the student too.  Students go through the whole range of emotions, from big goofy grins to tears and heartbreak.  Every weakness as a human being is amplified in the cockpit and its all out in the open for your flight instructor to witness.  Pete, a minister and flight instructor tells me that he often does both while trying to teach.  When you face challenges, talk with your flight instructor.  No doubt he's seen it before and is able to help you get past the temporary setback you're experiencing.

Being a Good Student

Showing up prepared for your lesson shows you take your flight training seriously.  Obviously your flight instructor takes it seriously because he's devoted his life and occupational choice to it.  Show him that you value him and his profession by being on time (or early so you can preflight), being prepared, and reviewing your progress with him at the end of every flight lesson. 

Flight instructors care about how good of a pilot you become.  When they give you an instruction, follow it. They know the quickest way to get your training completed.  If you don't understand what they are telling you, ask for a demonstration or explanation.  Steve, an instructor on the East Coast of Florida told me the story of the foreign student he was trying to teach basic helicopter hovering skills to.  He kept telling his student to make a certain kind of correction and 5 times the student failed.  When the instructor asked why the student wasn't making the correction needed to maintain control, the student became defensive and denied there was a problem.  A perfect opportunity for the student to make a breakthrough was lost. Both the flight instructor and student share that responsibility and the blame.

For more help making the most of your flight instruction, see:
Annoying Students, Training CRM, Things Your Flight Instructor Wish You Knew, 15 Things Pilots Must Learn, Things Your Flight Instructor Worries About, Characteristics of Successful Pilots


I've heard from flight instructors around the country that tell me that the general lack of respect that our society's members show each other has now reached aviation.  Unfortunately, the self-absorbed, inconsiderate, and demanding behavior has no place in aviation.  Todd, a helicopter instructor tells me that students are late, argumentative, irresponsible, or inconsiderate.  Pete, a California instructor says it perfectly, "Students fail to recognize their place in the process."  Flight instructors are professionals with a federal certification for what they do.  They've struggled hard to achieve it and paid a lot of money to earn their place in a profession which is demanding, exacting, and at times exhausting.  All to help you reach your goals.  One instructor told me that his students are likely to show more respect to the police officer who would give him a $134 ticket yet a single flight lesson costs way more.  I replied, "and the student fails to realize his life is on the line when it comes to aviation."


Want to get optimum performance from your flight instructor?  Find out what motivates him and try to give it to him. 
  • Is it recognition?  Provide praise for well deserved effort and consider writing a public testimonial or a personal letter to the school owner. 
  • Is your flight instructor socially motivated?  Consider buying your instructor lunch on a frequent basis.  Not only will you get to know your instructor, you'll no doubt be learning as the aviation talk will probably continue during lunch. 
  • Is money a motivator?  Offer your instructor off-site teaching opportunities for cash, at his regular rate.  Also consider offering a bonus for milestones in your training.
  • Is it some kind of hobby?  When I was working on one of my add-on ratings, I had a flight instructor who loved renovating homes.  He was currently renovating his own.  After my checkride, I gave him a home depot gift certificate in the thank you card.  Another flight instructor I had loved fine dining so I gave him a bottle of wine that I had hand carried from a Winery visit in Napa Valley, California. 
  • Is it fun?  Find a way to make flight training fun for the flight instructor as well.  Instead of the typical boring cross country, consider one to a place with something interesting.  Then spend an hour (off the clock) with your CFI seeing it or having lunch, if he is willing.  

I worked with a gentleman who taught me a lot about motivation.  Chris gave me this simple phrase: Every dollar you'll ever make is because of a relationship.  Take care of your flight instructor and I bet he would bend over backwards to help you achieve your goals.  Little things matter... buy him an occasional Coke, say thanks, call if you're going to be late, smile, be courteous, respect the cancellation policy and his time.

When there are problems, show that you value the other person by discussing the challenges and problems you face.  Jim, an Orlando flight instructor told me of the student who he had worked with on his private. When it came to his instrument rating, the student had disappeared.  Jim later learned the student was working with a colleague and was pleased that the student had continued his training.  He then recalled the student's promise to come back and work with Jim on the instrument ticket.  Jim later met his former student at a local aviation event where the student complained about his current instructor.  The student then asked to set an appointment with Jim to take a flight.  Jim recommended his former student communicate his problems to the current instructor and find a way to work it out.  That was the last they ever spoke.   A lost chance at friendship for both of them.

“The folks you help won’t remember it and the folks you hurt won’t ever forget it.” — Bill Clayton

What You Said

Fri, 8 Dec 2006 12:34:50    Name = Doc
Comments = Good points.  The CFI is working for the student.  I see them bumped at the last minute regularly, sylabus not followed.  Many students are significantly older than their instructors.  Respect works both ways.  Instructors don't make much money, neither do teachers,  we both chose our professions.  Just because we don't make much money doesn't mean flight instruction isn't expensive.  It is.  Great website.  Doc.

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