Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pilot Training: Finish What You Started

What can be done to help student pilots complete their training?

CFIs Dedicated To Teaching

John Abraham originally wanted to be an airline pilot. Instead, he fell in love with instructing. "My whole family is teachers," he laughs. Abraham got together with a group of fellow pilots who enjoy instructing and created a loose company of freelance CFIs based in Tampa, Fla. "The problem is most CFIs want to build time and get out," explains Abraham. "But to make flight training better and keep students, the instructor has to be dedicated to their students." He adds that too many students quit because they're shuffled around at the flight school and deal with CFIs who aren't punctual and just don't seem to care. "Find an instructor who wants to be a teacher first," is Abraham's advice. "That CFI will be there for the student when the student needs them."

Setting Proper Expectations

CFI Mathew Glasser suggests that setting the proper expectation up front can help students finish their training when the going gets rough. Glasser flies for NetJets but loves instructing "for fun and to give back." He's been involved in aviation for 20 years, and instructs out of Atlanta, Ga. "People have the perception that flying is easy, says Glasser. "They figure they can drive a boat or a car so it'll be simple to learn how to fly. But they need to realistically know what to expect." Glasser suggests instructors emphasize that the student needs to set aside time and money to accomplish the goal, and what that goal will entail. "Students need to also push themselves," adds Glasser.

"The instructor's job is to keep the student involved and active," he says. "And the instructor should make the student understand what they need to do to make it happen. Glasser and others suggest added endorsements and training to spice up the more mundane flight-training modules. "Something as seemingly small as doing a seaplane rating can make the difference in them getting hired later on," explains Glasser. "But the main thing is they really have to love aviation and want it!"

Emphasize Basic Skills

Las Vegas pilots probably recognize Kathleen Snaper. She's based in Nevada, and has been instructing since 1977. Snaper instructs because she loves it, and she has no aspirations of working for an airline or corporate flight department. Snaper says focusing on stick-and-rudder skills would help students. "I sometimes get students who have had five or six or more instructors," says Snaper, "And the bad habits they have take a lot of time to get rid of." The key to this, suggests Snaper, is the instructor. "Experience is invaluable, and you should find instructors who want to teach and are not time builders. My students know I won't be leaving, and that does make a difference."

Both the SAFE and AOPA reports are optimistic, and offer ideas for improving the number of flight-training student completions. The reports were the result of focused discussions, live interchange and thoughtful collaboration from individuals in the aviation industry. Their proposed reforms are an interesting look into what could be the future of flight training.

In addition to the proposed reforms, the AOPA study and SAFE symposium revealed some interesting facts about today's flight students. First, they establish that recreational goals are the number-one driving factor behind learning to fly. They also show that the vast majority of students learn outside the Part 141 environment. Students come to the flight-training process through referrals, and place a premium on personal interaction with the aviation community. Finally, the reports show that the flight instructor's performance and personality are key factors in the whole process.

The industry will continue to invite suggestions from the aviation community. The goal to prevent students from quitting is both noble and difficult, and presents general aviation with one of the greatest challenges it has faced in recent decades. Both the SAFE and AOPA reports are available for download from and respectively.


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