Editor’s Note: As part of Sporty’s Learn to Fly Month, Flight Training Central is pleased to offer this compilation of candid advice on choosing the right flight instructor from the Board of Directors of the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI). NAFI has supported the aviation teaching community since 1967 mentoring, educating, and advocating for those in the teaching profession. The NAFI Board represents more than 300 years of collective teaching experience.
Karen Kalishek, Chair
During a recent Sporty’s podcast (Flight training trends and wing walking) I was asked what a what a learner should be seeking in a flight instructor. This very important question deserves a thorough answer. Having a good CFI who is invested in the learner and really understands the learning process, cares about the relationship and his or her student’s success, is a vital component of successful flight training. Finding a CFI who excels at instructing provides lifetime benefits. The NAFI Board of Directors and CFI staff share their thoughts below:
George Allen, Director
Finding a good flight instructor is essential. Equally important but less discussed is how to be a good flight “instructee” (learner). Learning how to fly is a personally transformative experience. It is a marathon, not a sprint. To be a good learner it is key to be in a good place in life with the right mindset: patient, ready, and willing to learn. A good instructor can help stoke the flames of your passion for aviation but cannot give it to you. Take charge of your own learning. Do your homework. Be prepared for each session. Ask questions with assertive curiosity. Be cordially direct. A good instructor will appreciate your enthusiasm, curiosity, directness, and preparedness. He or she will empathize and encourage you as you reach the inevitable plateaus, provide you with a safe learning environment to learn through experimentation and mistakes, and inspire and challenge you to always fly your very best.
Aaron Dabney, Director
- They need to be able to concisely and clearly state why they teach. “Passion” is a lazy answer. What is it that they REALLY want to pass along? I have never seen “passion” save anyone’s life.
- Can they put into words the culture of their flight school?
- If they can’t show a syllabus for both flight and ground training, that’s a no-go.
- It is not a deal breaker if they’re a new CFI-somebody has to be your first student. But what kind of support and accountability is in place? Who is the leadership? What does their experience look like? How hands-on are they?
- Who maintains their airplanes? How long has that shop/mechanic been maintaining their airplanes?
- What kind of insurance coverage do they have?
JD DeBoskey, Secretary
Choose a good instructor…let’s take a look at the verb and the adjective in this question.
The verb, choose:
This implies the student pilot actually has a choice in CFIs, which may not be the case at some flight schools. New students don’t always have the background or experience to recognize that these assignments are less than ideal for their learning. The investment for flight training is a substantial one, so take some time to interview/research available training options. Important questions to ask would be:
- What is the background and experience of the CFI?
- What is the CFI’s weekly availability for my lessons?
- If I plan to fly 3-4 days per week, are aircraft and CFI staff available?
- If the CFI and I do not “click”…what happens?
- How many training aircraft are there of the same type?
- Is your maintenance staff on the airport? What is their experience level?
- What is the school policy in case of an accident/incident?
- Is mentoring available to me with folks in different AVIATION career tracks?
Questions like these would help the student to CHOOSE the flight school that works for them.
The adjective, good:
What makes a good flight instructor? Being a good teacher, a good pilot, and a good listener.
Good Teacher: Knowing how to relate and share topics for each individual. A good teacher can relay information to students of different shapes, sizes, intellect, ability, and desire to learn.
Good Pilot: A good pilot can proficiently demonstrate all the maneuvers outlined in the applicable Airman Certification Standards. Being able to both “show and tell” a student the right way to fly is part of the bed rock of a good flight instructor.
Good Listener: A good CFI pays attention to both words and actions. Sometimes students do not know how to ask questions and a good CFI will be able to discern what is needed by ‘listening’ through observation.
Tom Dorl, Director
Something that I have used teaching instructors and looking for desirable qualities for a CFI are binned in three large buckets –those are Humble, Approachable and Credible. Considering asking the following:
- How do you provide constructive criticism and feedback to improve my learning experience?
- Please describe your background as a pilot and an instructor
- What is your personal motivation to be a teacher and flight instructor?
- Describe your teaching philosophy to me as a private pilot, instrument student, commercial, etc.
- Why should I pay you to teach me how to fly when there are others at this FBO, flight school, location? Or why should I choose you?
- What are your scheduling procedures—how far out should we schedule ground and flights?
- How do you as a CFI approach teaching on the ground and in the air?
- Describe how you can provide a favorable learning environment
- Describe or provide an example of your teaching techniques, procedures, and actions.
- Years being a CFI and what is your availability to fly and do ground training?
- Are you a Gold Seal instructor?
- How do you keep current and up to date on latest flight training issues, information, and industry changes?
- Are you a member of AOPA, NAFI, other GA support organizations?
- Do you have a code of ethics you follow as a CFI?
Greg Feith, Director
Learning to fly is an exhilarating experience! Being a pilot is an honor and a privilege, not a right! Thus, a student, regardless of certificate or rating level, must be “all-in” and passionate about flying. Just going through the motions may enable you in the long run to “fly” an aircraft, but you will not possess the foundational skills, abilities, knowledge and understanding necessary to be a safe, professional, competent pilot. Thus, when selecting a flight school and instructor, the student should:
1) Visit several schools and just observe the interaction of flight school staff with students, instructors, etc. You can learn a lot about the level of professionalism, the quality and character of individual instructors, and the commitment the school has to its customers
2) Determine what learning style you (the student) prefer that will enable you to learn efficiently and effectively. Take a Discovery Flight with several instructors at one or more flight schools to experience the methods that the respective instructor employs and choose the person who fits your style
3) Conduct a brief interview with the instructor before selecting to see what their goal/aspirations are in the immediate future. All too often, a student starts with one instructor only to have that person leave and the student “gets passed around” to other instructors which results in a loss of interest in continuing instruction or even flying
4) Talk to other students who are currently flying to see if they have a recommendation about a particular instructor
5) Flying should not feel like “a job” but rather an activity the student looks forward to because they know they are going to have fun and a great learning experience with their flight instructor. It is all about sharing the passion of flight!
John Gagliano, Director
A good flight instructor is someone you, the student, can learn from and admire. Someone who looks sharp, is warm, friendly, smart, relatable, and reliable. . . whatever those words mean to you, the student. Because everyone learns differently, some good instructors are not good for some students. The truly best instructors quickly identify how a student learns and gear lessons to fit the student’s learning style. Although having a primary instructor is important, flying with different instructors along the way is equally important because each instructor’s technique and experiences are different. A student pilot needs to develop his or her own safe and effective flying techniques – being exposed to a diversity of experiences from more than one instructor is a key part of that process.
Adam Magee, Treasurer
- Get a feel for instructor availability, or in place of your main instructor, who can also provide instruction and their availability.
- Logbooks, Syllabus, and record keeping – how do they ensure that your training will progress and flow to avoid excessive redundancy and cost, especially given instructor availability and different instructors.
- Will the instructor actually give comprehensive ground instruction and complete pre-flight and post-flight instruction in the classroom, or are they only interested in flying?
Bob Meder, Chair Emeritus
In interviewing potential instructors, and by extension, their affiliated flight school, try to determine whose interests they have at heart. The best instructors I have met and have tried to emulate are those who revel in their students’ successes and show genuine concern about the difficulties that their students may be having. Further, an excellent flight instructor will never shy from the truth about their students’ performance, whether good or bad, while ensuring any critique is positive and presented in a way that the student will accept it. Finally, the instructor must at all times be willing to accept legitimate critique from their students, while never lowering their standards. All in all, the best instructors are those who display the characteristics of a good coach, a thoughtful mentor, a reasonable authority figure, and an empathetic partner in the student’s success.
John Niehaus, Director of Program Development
I think asking an instructor to describe their teaching style is extremely important. The follow up question is how does the instructor’s style change based on the needs of the students?
Having taught a multitude of students who learn differently, it is so important to know that an instructor is not a one-size-fits-all, lecture/verbal teacher. While that can work, sometimes it does not and even more, sometimes it is the slowest way to the finish line.
Paul Preidecker, President
Interview type questions such as the following can be used:
- As an instructor, please describe what my success at becoming a pilot looks like to you
- What is your students’ first-time pass rate on FAA practical examinations?
- Are you a member of a professional flight instructor association?
- Have you had any accidents or incidents? If so, what did you learn?
- I have a busy schedule. What is your recommendation on days per week or days per month I should be scheduling lessons?
- What are your fees for ground and flight time?
- Please describe what the footprint of a typical lesson is.
- I see that you are one of several instructors at this airport. If you are not available when I am, can I schedule one of the others?
- Why are you an instructor?
- Can I see your maintenance department?
- Where is the nearest FAA examiner (or DPE) located?
- My young daughter is really excited about airplanes. Can she come along on a lesson?
- Does your school do ground school first, and then flight training. Or is it integrated?
Gus Putsche, Director
When you are looking for a flight instructor, here are a few things that will help both you and the potential CFI know what to expect:
- What are your goals and aspirations? This tells the instructor what you expect to achieve.
- If you have a timeline or other concerns regarding training
- What other interests do you have such as hobbies or activities? This helps the instructor find ways to relate
- Have you worked with any other instructors or schools?
- What did you take away from that experience – positives and negatives?
- How much time do you have to devote to this process? Weekly / Monthly
- Your answer affects how long / expensive your training will be which will help to manage your expectations
- How does the instructor determine that you are ready for a check ride?
- Do you expect to be able to take the check ride as soon as you reach the hours required in the regs or does the instructor expect your performance, in addition to the hours, determines when you can take the check ride?
Diligence and hard work make achieving your goals personally satisfying. You have accomplished something only a small percentage of the population can understand.
Brian Schiff, Director
When choosing a flight instructor many learners need to realize how much say they have. After all, they are paying. It is important that anyone receiving flight instruction feels comfortable with their CFI. They don’t need to know WHY the two may or may not “click”–just THAT they do. Otherwise, they should seek a different instructor. Too many pilots drop out of flight training thinking that they are not cut out to fly, not realizing that it is because of their lackluster relationship with the CFI. Learning to fly should be a fun and comfortable experience. If you’re not having both, then change CFIs until you are.
Victor Vogel, Director
The Aviation Instructor’s Handbook gives students great advice about choosing an instructor. They should evaluate these instructor behaviors and characteristics:
An instructor should motivate learners. More can be gained from wanting to learn than from being forced to learn. When instructors can show the benefits and purpose of the lesson or course, the learner’s enjoyment and their efforts increase.
We must keep learners informed. Instructors can minimize feelings of insecurity by telling learners what is expected of them and what they can expect in return. Instructors keep learners posted on their progress, and give them adequate notice of examinations, assignments, or other requirements.
We instructors must always approach learners as individuals. Each learner has his/her own personality that stems from the characteristics and interactions of its members.
A good instructor will give credit when due. Praise or credit from the instructor is usually ample reward and provides an incentive to do even better.
We must criticize constructively. If a learner has made an earnest effort but is told that the work is unsatisfactory, with no other explanation, frustration occurs. On the other hand, if the learner is briefed on the errors and is told how to correct them, progress can be made.
We instructors must be consistent. If the same thing is acceptable one day and unacceptable the next, the learner becomes confused. The instructor’s philosophy and actions need to be consistent.
Finally, we need to admit our errors when they occur. The instructor can win the respect of learners by honestly acknowledging mistakes. If the instructor tries to cover up or bluff, learners sense it quickly. If in doubt about something, the instructor should admit it.
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