Learn to Fly: Finding the Right Instructor

A good flight instructor guides your way while you learn to fly.

Cessna ttx
The right instructor for you will take into account your capabilities and goals.Courtesy Julie Boatman

Learning to fly an airplane requires you to work one-on-one with a professional pilot called a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI)—which refers to the FAA credentials that this person must hold. You may have worked closely with an instructor when you’ve learned to drive, or SCUBA dive, or ride a horse, or any number of similar activities, so you know that choosing the right instructor is critical to your success.

A flight instructor must go through a regimen of training that uses certain standards, but the quality of training that person received, and what he or she has done with that experience vary widely. You will find instructors that have gone through certification as relatively new pilots in order to advance towards a lifelong aviation career—or you may find older pilots who have taken on the role as instructor following thousands of hours flying as an airline or corporate pilot. You may also encounter a CFI who has made teaching their profession, one who has worked within a flight school or training organization for their career.

As a longtime instructor myself, I can assure you that each of these CFIs can give you a great “learn to fly” experience. Part of determining whether you have found a good instructor lies within your interaction with them, so I strongly recommend that you interview a few candidates before you get into the airplane with anyone.

You may hit it off with the first instructor you work with—but make sure that personality isn’t all that’s driving the relationship. Good instructors will demonstrate their attention to detail through use of a syllabus—or standard course of training—and through their preparation pre-flight, and feedback to you post-flight. One red flag: If an instructor takes you out to the airplane without any preflight discussion, or ends the lesson when the engine stops.

The best instructor does you no good if you cannot schedule time with them that fits your schedule. Some “high-demand” instructors fall into this category—and often they can recommend someone of similar quality who can give you the attention you deserve.

You may find that a good instructor charges more for their time, or that other instructors you interview promise not to charge you for ground training time. It’s a false economy to follow this route, as those instructors who value their time also tend to value yours—and feel compelled to produce excellent results in a shorter overall period of time. In the end, you may not only end up saving money, but you will get a fuller, richer training experience.

In a nutshell, here are my 5 key tips for choosing a great flight instructor:

  1. Interview several instructors on the ground before you fly. You will spend a lot of time with this person—you may not be best friends, but you should have a pleasant relationship. Talk with other clients, as well, to gain the full picture.
  2. Go beyond personality and check attention to detail: Do they use a syllabus and assign you study material? Are they prepared for every flight? Do they conduct pre-flight and post-flight briefings?
  3. Ensure your instructor stays available to train on your schedule—and be willing to try someone new who can deliver when you want to fly.
  4. Expect to pay for all of the time the instructor spends with you—ground and flight instruction—just like you would any other professional, like your attorney or doctor.
  5. Be open to an instructor who may not match your demographic, but lets their quality of training shine through.