Flight School: Changing Instructors

Jacom Stephens

David St. George is a Part 141 chief instructor at East Hill Flying Club (ehfc.net) in upstate New York and a designated pilot examiner (fearlessflighttest.com). David has flown more than 10,000 hours of dual instruction and given more than 1,500 flight evaluations in 40 years of flying. David says:

"The easy answer is: 'when you know this professional relationship is no longer working.' Before you dismiss this as glib, let's understand some very important considerations that make this simple statement useful.

To start with, how did you hire your CFI? Did you meet casually, were you 'assigned' or did you 'shop' for a professional who meets your needs in terms of personal style, availability and experience? Many flight students erroneously believe they are not qualified to choose their flight instructor. But you should have been involved in this selection process since this adventure involves your safety and future success as a pilot! There are, unfortunately, many unqualified, undesirable and even scary flight instructors you should avoid (or ditch). Mirror sunglasses, big watches and big egos lead my list of undesirables.

Once you've made a careful choice, you need to commit to a fairly serious, but always professional, relationship to achieve progress toward your certificate. Short-term learning plateaus are common in flight training but perfectly natural. Though frustrating, this is not a reason or time to switch. This is, in fact, exactly when you need to stick tight with the CFI who knows your issues, provided your CFI is committed and talented enough to guide you through to success.

For the female flight candidate, there are unique dangers in this one-sided relationship that involves so much power in the hands of a usually male-dominated world. If your CFI is hitting on you or even hinting in that direction, get out of there now! As a regular presenter at Women in Aviation, I have heard way too many horror stories.

Ultimately, you should trust your own instincts and life experience when making the original CFI choice or deciding to switch. You know what is working and are entitled to a positive, empowering experience."

Bridgette Doremire is a Master CFI and owner of Silver Wings flight school (silverwings.aero) at the Van Nuys Airport (KVNY) in California. An instructor for more than 10 years, you can find her newest book, Instrument Instructor Notebook, among her other titles and GPS checklists at Qref Media (qref.com). Here's Bridgette's "top 10" list of signs that it's time to change instructors:

10. "What an incredible smell you've discovered." Good hygiene is essential in the close quarters of a light general aviation aircraft.
9. "Say again, Tower?" You can barely hear the controllers over the instructor screaming. Physical and verbal abuse is never appropriate in a flight instruction environment.
8. "Say what?" The instructor doesn't get it. You're talking but there's no communication. Instructors know they can't reach everyone. Good instructors will already have a referral in mind for you.
7. "I'll be there whenever." Your scheduled lessons get repeatedly canceled so the instructor can fly something bigger. Or the instructor is constantly late.
6. "Because I said so." The instructor is never wrong, despite FAA books and regulations to the contrary. This can also show as missing signatures on logbook entries and endorsements. When asked, the instructor dismisses or angrily negates questions. Stifling questions is a great way to stop learning.
5. "Watch this!" Maneuvers training consists entirely of trying to mimic the instructor's movements without benefit of ground time to discuss them. Worse is when the instructor is unable to clearly explain the maneuvers or how they're performed.
4. "Bang here!" The instructor expects you to accept broken parts without question or review of regulations.
3. "Like this, stupid!" The instructor belittles you for any perceived imperfection despite your learner status. You're made to feel like a complete idiot before the engine starts.
2. "Just one more flight … " And another, another, another, and still no solo, and you have no idea what you are doing wrong and do not know how to fix the problem. All you know is you are not soloing and money's running out.

And the No. 1 sign it's time to find another flight instructor:
1. "Don't do as I do." The instructor intentionally violates regulations without cause. You don't want this role model.


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