What questions should you ask to assess the compatibility of a flight instructor, and how can you switch instructors gracefully if yours isn’t a good fit?
Max Trescott was selected as the 2008 National Flight Instructor of the Year. Based in Palo Alto, California, he publishes aviation books and software, including Max Trescott’s GPS and WAAS Instrument Flying Handbook and Max Trescott’s G1000 Glass Cockpit Handbook. He teaches in Cirrus and other glass cockpit aircraft and in Lake amphibians. He can be reached through www.g1000book.com. He says:
The most important questions to ask when choosing an instructor are not the ones you ask the instructor; they’re the ones you ask yourself after an introductory meeting or demo flight with a potential instructor. First ask “Will I enjoy spending time with this person?” It’s an important question that I should have taken seriously while pursuing one advanced rating. My instructor was insufferable. Yet I continued on with that CFI, thinking that if I were to change instructors I’d end up having to repeat things with a new instructor, costing more money.
What a mistake! Each lesson became agony, making it harder to learn. When you start learning to fly, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with that person shoulder-to-shoulder in cramped quarters. Liking that person and enjoying spending time with him or her is of primary importance.
Second, ask yourself “Do I trust this person?” We need to trust that our flight instructors will always keep us safe during the training. We also need to believe that they are knowledgeable and know what they are doing, something we can determine by questioning them and others. We also need to trust that they will always put our needs above their own self-interest.
If the answer to these first two questions is yes, you’ve probably already answered the last question, which is “Can I form a productive working relationship with this person?” If the answer to any of these three questions is no, find another instructor. By the way, a savvy instructor is also asking himself or herself these same questions about you!