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Selecting a Flight Instructor

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most from Your Flight Training, October 2002

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How you choose your instructor is a very personal decision.  While no instructor can meet your every criterion, here are some general tips to help you choose. 

You will want:

  • your CFI has a passion for what he is doing… look for the evidence
  • to ensure your CFI’s credentials to be current.
  • to ensure your CFI to be honest with you about your flying problems and how to fix them.
  • to ensure your CFI to devise a training plan for you and share it with you.
  • to book a lesson with your potential CFI.  Pay particular attention to the preflight briefing, an in-flight lesson, and a post flight review.
  • to ensure your personalities are compatible.  Remember the cockpit is a small place:  habits of students and CFIs can clash.
  • to ensure your CFI has high standards: he will make sure learning has occurred and the skills developed to become a safe pilot BEFORE a sign-off.
  • to pay attention to the teaching style:
    • Does your instructor give you a proper preflight briefing to cover the lesson, or is he building flight time teaching you in the air what you can learn on the ground?
    • Does he have you do most of the flying, even on this first flight lesson, or are you paying to watch him fly?
    • Does he talk down to you? 
    • Is your instructor prepared for your lesson?
    • Packing a lesson with as many maneuvers as possible is not an effective teaching technique, does your instructor have a structured approach that introduces new skills as you are ready?
    • Do you have the feeling your CFI is honestly concerned with your progress (evidence of training plan, review of last lesson)?
    • Are you at ease with your instructor?

Things to ask your CFI:

  • Why are you a CFI?
  • What learning materials will be used?
  • What is the training plan/syllabus?
  • What is the CFI’s ultimate goal?   Even if the CFI is only a checkpoint on the path to an airline career, be wary of flight instructors who will waste your time.
  • What is your CFI’s background:  Experience, Ambition, Availability, Reliability
  • What does your CFI do when a student gets “stuck”?
  • Does your CFI take refresher courses, attend safety meetings, belong to professional organizations, or do other things that further his profession? 

Good Instructors:

  • are knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
  • anticipate student difficulties and discuss them before getting into the aircraft.
  • are organized, exacting and stimulating.
  • are honest in their opinion and evaluation.
  • chose the safest options and are always situationally aware.
  • provide a realistic flying experience in varied conditions.
  • know when to back off.
  • take time to prepare the student for the lesson.
  • take time to debrief the lesson afterwards.
  • will not frighten a student.
  • are safe pilots. 
  • never let themselves stagnate.
Common Mistakes CFIs Make

Many of these items are personal preference, however there are solid reasons why these are errors.

Pre Solo CFI Mistakes

  • Failure to give some IFR training
  • Failure to cover soft field landing
  • Failure to practice/teach stalls & airwork at least every other lesson.
  • Failure to practice/teach emergency procedures every other lesson.
  • Endorsing students for solo without a completed written (debatable).
  • General Mistakes in Training
  • Letting students talk on the radio before they can fly the airplane.  Remember: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.
  • Trying to put as many skills as possible into a flight lesson rather than let students build proficiency on the basics first.
  • Failure to teach pax briefings
  • Failure to teach emergency briefings
  • Failure to teach emergency procedures every other lesson.
  • Failure to de-brief students
  • Failure to follow a training syllabus
  • Failure to ensure requirements are met for the sought rating. Use rating worksheets:  private, instrument, & commercial.
  • Failure to provide ground training at least equal to flight training.
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