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Flight Instruction | A Visiting Profession?

Posted 111 days ago ago by RandyRowles     0 Comments

The profession of the flight instructor is often viewed as a temporary solution to an aspiring aviator’s path to greater things in aviation. The reality is the flight instructor is the backbone of the aviation industry. The culture of each pilot is often sculpted by those first hours spent with their flight instructor. So, why is this profession viewed as a visiting profession and not desired as a career path?

As with any risk-based activity, the more experienced the participants the safer the expected risk-based activity will be. Aviation training is considered to carry a level of risk. The perception is the more experienced the flight instructor, the safer the training program will be. However, there is a perceivable scale to balance experience with training. Additionally, the tasking of a less experienced flight instructor may be different than a more seasoned flight instructor. The ability to limit maneuvers, environments, and techniques with regard to a flight instructor’s experience also reduces the overall risk model.  

There are many opinions on this topic, however the elephant in the room is often the expected low pay. In the U.S. aviation market, the flight instructor position will usually be the first opportunity as a commercial pilot. Although critical to the foundation of a pilot’s breadth of overall experience, the initial stages of pilot training rely heavily on book knowledge and the ability to safely operate the helicopter. 

When releasing a newly certified flight instructor, the experience metric requires much more than a basic understanding of simply operating the helicopter. The key component to being a safe flight instructor is the ability to stay engaged. To effectively transfer knowledge while maintaining a high and effective level of instructional intervention skill sets is critical to providing a safe instructional environment. When dealing with low-experienced flight instructors, this level of safety is only attainable by hands-on leadership and mentoring. 

In many other countries, the flight instructor model is much different than in the U.S. In many cases, flight instructors have years of experience combined with many hours of real-world practical experience. Additionally, some aviation regulators have determined different levels of flight instructor certification that dictate the type of flight instruction permissible based upon the experience of the individual flight instructor. Within this model, the flight instructor will often enjoy a more robust compensation package, however the expense to the student is often much higher and the total number of students trained is far less. 

Removing the business model from the equation, does the experience of the flight instructor alter the safety of flight training? Data doesn’t show that it does. In many cases, the instructor involved in a training accident is an experienced pilot with many hours as a flight instructor. Complacency and instructional boredom become problematic in many of these situations, and  a causal factor often cited is “Pilot Error.”

Being a flight instructor is not a visiting profession. It’s quite the opposite. Providing the foundation to a pilot’s overall career and the culture by which that career will be conducted is a critical piece within aviation safety. Whether you are beginning or ending your aviation career as a flight instructor, the product of your touchpoint to every student will be cemented in the core of their knowledge, skills, and abilities. 

The impact of a flight instructor on aviation safety isn’t measured by the total number of students taught. It’s the quality of the flight instructor with each individual student and the positive impact on that pilot as a safe and productive member within our aviation family.     

About Randy: Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is currently the owner of the Helicopter Institute.

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