Rob, I agree with your premise. As a Navy pilot and civilian CFI, I think that recurrent training is one of the keys to safe flying - training well beyond the required minimums. I try to hold myself to 3 hours of flight training a month - one hour under the hood with a proficient instructor in the right seat, one hour of night flying, and one hour of emergency procedures with a safety pilot. Nobody likes to admit their own weaknesses, and there is no better way to discover them than regular flight training with a variety of instructors.
Certainly, holding pattern entries are important, but more important is simple stick-and-rudder proficiency flying in IMC. I simulate this using a hood - not because I like to. To the contrary, I really DONT' like to fly with a hood on. But no other training gives me the confidence necessary to fly with my wife in my Mooney in IMC.
What has kept me safe? Sucking it up and flying with random instructors who put me through the ringer - who hold me to PTS standards in maneuvers such as simulated engine failures, even though I would prefer not to put my plane through the stress of EPs.
One final though - it isn't cheap flying with instructors. But hey - it's only my life on the line! Two hours every two years for a flight review is insufficient to maintain safety and proficiency.
Every flight should be a "training" flight of some type, even if the pilot is alone.
As a flight instructor for 40+ years (Navy, CFI, ATP) and semi-annual student (airline recurrent), I couldn't disagree more strongly with your opening premise. You state: "A CFI who is concerned with details like holding pattern entries .... is unlikely to be able to get the big picture."
While I do agree that reducing risk (no one can eliminate it in flying) is of paramount importance, I do not agree that a CFI who cares about doing the little things correctly is, by definition, unlikely to "get the big picture". Such an baseless and generalized assertion obscures the good thinking and logic that follows in your column.
Well, it's not baseless, because I've personally had a dozen such instructors over the years. It might be an overgeneralization.
But let me tell you about the two-hour sim lesson (at full retail) I had with an instructor that covered nothing but flying holds. It was a lesson in how an instructor can waste time and lose focus, and it underscored Rhodes' assertion that under such circumstances, the only thing the student is interested in the instructor's signature in the logbook.
Nicely said, Sean. Proficiency is key. But an hour on the guages in the soup, but for pilots who train with an IFR instructor once a year, using that time to shoot back courses and talking hold entries is, in my opinion, time that could have been better spent. I think there are pilots and instructors out there who delight in the minuntiae of the craft, and I appreciate that. But some of those pilots miss the larger points and don't learn (or teach) where the risk is and how to avoid it are doing themselves and their students a disservice.