When Do You Know It’s Time To Change CFIs?

If you are not learning, if the CFI is not getting through to you, it is time to make a change.

Here are a few smart tips to help you decide if you should change flight instructors. [File Photo: Shutterstock]

One of the most frequently asked questions at a flight school is, "Is it OK to change instructors?" The answer is yes. If you are not learning, if the CFI is not getting through to you, it is time to make a change. 

Red Flags for Change

Your Schedules Don't Match

You want to fly five days a week and your instructor is only available two days a week, or your CFI is only available in the mornings and it's better for you to fly in the evenings. Or perhaps the CFI has various slots here and there, and you want a specific time and day every week, or at least consistency. A change of instructor will facilitate this. 

Your Learning Style and the Instructor's Teaching Style Don't Match

Your instructor may be a good pilot and able to demonstrate the maneuvers, but he or she is not very good at explaining them. Or you may require a more detailed preflight or postflight briefing and your CFI rushes through them or skips them altogether.

You may be the kind of learner who needs instantaneous feedback—the instructor you have now is the type that doesn't talk much, other than the postflight debrief consisting only of: "You did pretty good." Or maybe it's the opposite—your CFI offers real-time feedback and you just want to go up and experiment and figure it out on your own. A change would benefit you in this case.

Your Instructor Seems More Interested in Building Hours

You're on your fourth lesson and you still haven't been taught how to access a weather briefing or anything about airspace because your CFI says it is “too early” to do ground instruction. The focus is on getting into the air. Perhaps the CFI ignores the syllabus in favor of cross-country flights before you have soloed. If a talk with the CFI—and perhaps the chief instructor, if there is one—about doing what is best for you (meaning following the syllabus) doesn't result in a change of behavior, a change is warranted.

Personality Conflict

You don't have to be friends with your instructor, but you do need to respect each other. If you dread your flight lessons and the CFI seems to be barely tolerating you, it is time to make a change. It's nothing personal; some people just don't click. If they can't reach you, they can't teach you. In these cases, the CFI has probably noticed the issue as well and will likely recommend and welcome the change. On the other side of the issue, if romantic feelings start to form, consider making a change immediately. The instructor holds the power in the educational relationship and the student-teacher relationship can be easily compromised to the detriment of both people involved.

You Learn Better with Another CFI

It is not unusual to fly with another CFI for a stage check or when your CFI is not available, and find a better fit. Maybe flying is more fun with the other CFI, and when flying is fun, you learn better. Or perhaps the other CFI gave you a ground lesson that created a breakthrough moment and you would like to continue with this momentum. Be upfront with the CFI you are saying goodbye to. Please don't ghost or no-show the CFI—how would you feel if they did that to you? And don't put it on the other CFI to do the deed. Chances are the CFI you are replacing noted the issues you were having, and they will be happy that learning is now taking place.

How About Multiple CFIs?

This question pops up all the time at flight schools and in the virtual world. Many people have strong opinions leaning toward “no,” because very often switching to another CFI means you will have to repeat training—this is particularly true under Part 61 where the CFI is responsible for you when you solo.

Additionally, multiple instructors can lead to learner confusion. One CFI may prefer not to deploy flaps in a turn while another does. One CFI likes to monitor the local approach frequency while working in the practice area while another prefers to be on the practice area frequency and self-announces over landmarks. Another CFI doesn't. If your CFI has a different approach to something, ask why they do it that way and insist on an explanation. Their response might be something like this: "I don't deploy flaps in a turn because asymmetrical flaps in a turn can be very dangerous, especially at low altitude, such as during a base-to-final turn." Or "I don't self-announce over landmarks because not everyone knows where they are." By the time someone is an instructor, their reasons should have evolved past, “I was taught that way,” and you should insist on a concrete reply.

When Multiple CFIs Is the Business Model

There are some schools that put a learner with CFIs based on availability. You never know who you are going to get until you show up. If this type of training works for you, go for it. If you are planning a career at the airlines, it will give you a chance to get used to the concept of a different copilot on each flight. 

Multiple CFIs are often used in Part 141 programs. If the previous CFI was employed at the same school where your current CFI is, there shouldn't be a need to repeat training if you can demonstrate the skills and knowledge. If you are pressured to repeat the training—even to start all over again—it may be because the new CFI wants the hours. Insist on a review consisting of a ground session and a flight, applying the objective performance metrics used in the syllabus and the airman certification standards. You can think of this as preparation for your checkride, and fine-tuning your instruction needs. This stage check should show where you meet the standards, and if you have soft spots, those will be identified as well—and with the help of your CFI, a plan can be crafted to bring you up to standards.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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