Flight Instructors: Finding One That Soars

What should you ask, and how do you switch if your flight instructor isn't working out?

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 the flight instructor 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!

There are dozens of reasons why particular CFIs may not be a good fit for you. You don’t need to give them a reason; just tell them that you think you have found a better fit at this time and that you’ll let them know if that turns out not to be the case.

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._

Finding a certified flight instructor (CFI) that is a good fit for your training needs is important for your flying success — both short-term and long-term. Research indicates almost 80 percent of all starting students fail to finish — many due to instructor issues.

Speaking of research, it is important that you do your homework in selecting a CFI. A good place to start is the Web. SAFE (safepilots.org) and NAFI (nafinet.org) — the two prominent flight instructor associations — have CFI programs that list the best of the best flight instructors across the country. You might also check the FAA’s FSDO website for your area and contact a designated pilot examiner for an instructor referral — after all, they see the results.

If you are considering a flight school, interview several flight instructors who work there. Ask for a copy of their resumes. Are they new instructors starting out, or have they been at it for a while? What is their primary training focus? New students or warbird instruction? Ask how many of their students started and went on to finish.

Ask for a copy of the instructor’s training syllabus if the flight instructor is teaching under Part 61, or the flight school syllabus if Part 141 rules are used. Ask the instructor for a list of referrals. Follow up with those former students. If the instructor is younger, you might inquire as to his or her career goals. If there are airline aspirations, you might find yourself without an instructor when he or she gets hired. That’s fine if there is a transition plan to get you to a new instructor.

What will you do if you don’t click with your flight instructor? That’s OK. Not everyone gets along together. If you are at a flight school, address it with the chief flight instructor. If you are training outside of a school, give one of the other instructors you interviewed a call and get together for a lesson. Safe flying!


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