What should a student do if an instructor asks him to do something that appears unsafe, against the regulations or otherwise ill-advised?
Jeff Edwards has been a flight instructor since 1982 and is a former FAA-designated pilot examiner. He has been a six-time designated Master Certificated Flight Instructor. In 2003, Jeff was selected as the National Flight Instructor of the Year. Jeff has more than 8,000 flight hours including nearly 2,000 as a bombardier/navigator in the A-6 Intruder.
Flight instructors are tasked by the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook to always set a good example for students. This includes following regulations and abiding by good, safe practices. Sometimes a student may feel that something the instructor does is not safe — such as practicing a stall or a spin, performing aerobatics or flying at a low altitude. The student should ask the instructor for an explanation of the hazards involved (potential loss of control, collision with the ground or an airframe failure), the instructor’s assessment of the risk (low, medium, high) and what the instructor is doing to mitigate the risk (starting the maneuver above the recommended altitude, staying within the aircraft’s limitations).
The student should also ask the instructor if the maneuver is permitted by FAA regulations and the aircraft’s flight manual or POH, and if there is any special advisory guidance material on the subject. The instructor should be able to explain the regulations (14 CFR 61 or 91) and advisory circulars pertaining to the subject. In the case of regulations, can you do a barrel roll in a Cessna 172 near an airway? Can the instructor explain the material within the advisory circular such as AC 61-67C stall spin awareness training? Does the instructor follow its recommendations?
If the instructor can explain that the training maneuver is proper using the above methods and document, then chalk it up to your lack of experience and a misunderstanding or miscommunication between you and the instructor. But if the instructor cannot explain the hazards and risks or is intentionally violating regulations or doing unsafe acts, then it is time to terminate the relationship and find another instructor. If the instructor is teaching in a flight school, speak to the chief instructor. You may even want to contact the Flight Standards District Office.
Roger Sharp holds a handful of ATP ratings and is a designated pilot examiner for airplanes (land and sea) and helicopters. He was a U.S. Air Force command pilot, Master Instructor and standards-and-evaluation pilot. He is currently the general manager for Flight Operations at Redbird Skyport and runs its FAA Part 141 flight school.
If you feel uncomfortable, silence is not an option. Fail to the most conservative crew member.
This is part of the crew briefing we give before each flight at the Redbird Skyport academy. You’re a required crew member on any instructional flight, and it’s your obligation to speak up if something is happening that you either don’t understand or don’t feel comfortable doing. Why? The NTSB accident reports are full of instances in which other crew members feel uncomfortable and remain silent, all too often permanently. If you believe your instructor is doing something, or asking you to do something, that’s unsafe or illegal, tell him to stop and that you want to return home and land. I suggest you don’t engage in any conversations about the incident in the airplane; the flight home requires both you and your instructor’s undivided attention.
On the ground, one of two things will happen. If it was inadvertent there won’t be much of a discussion, because your instructor will be busy apologizing profusely and thanking you for pointing out the mistake he or she was about to make. This type of inadvertent incident is more common than you might think because you, the learner, are a tremendous distraction to the instructors. They’re trying to do all the normal pilot duties and give you instruction, not to mention that you block a good a bit of their view outside the cockpit.
If the incident was deliberate, fire your instructor. You’re the customer and there’s no reason whatsoever for you to be flying with someone who would deliberately put you in jeopardy. If you’re worried that one-strike-and-you’re-out is too harsh, stop worrying! Whatever personality quirk your instructor has that causes this buffoonery is beyond your ability to fix. (For those instructors who think my suggestion is a bit harsh, be glad I’m not suggesting that students report the incident to the FAA.) Don’t worry, there are lots of really good instructors available for you and you will find one, but as Viper said to Maverick in Top Gun: “If you don’t, give me a call; I’ll fly with you.”