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Re-Upping the Ticket

The Value of CFI Refreshers

A fly on the wall in a room where flight instructors are participating in a conference might find itself in a tough spot. Even if it could dodge all the swatters, the criticism could be lethal.

Such a meeting might be bruising, but it's a good thing that CFIs occasionally gather-compulsorily or voluntarily-to share news and views. The debate can be lively and the questions of your colleagues can be challenging. It never hurts to review regulations and air-traffic procedures to make sure that you are up to speed on the latest edicts. These days, it does not take a long absence from instructing to leave one vulnerable to missing an important procedural change, new rule, or certification requirement.

When my turn came to re-up my flight instructor ticket, I took myself off the flight school schedule for the weekend, rose early, and made the two-hour pilgrimage to the spot where the faithful were set to gather. There were reunions, new acquaintanceships to make, and here and there, faces to match up with long-known names.

Long-time working pilots on hand to "keep up" their tickets rubbed elbows with enthusiastic newcomers who had not yet quit their day jobs. There were CFIs in their 20s and their 80s. They taught in rotorcraft, airplanes, and gliders.

By the lunch break on the first day, the 10 individuals who made up this group had gelled to a companionable unit as our host alternately jumped us through required regulatory hoops or threw down thought-provoking gauntlets.

Should pilots have to learn spins? What is the best way to conduct a flight review? How many approaches do the regs say a pilot needs to maintain instrument proficiency? Just what is an approach, anyway? (We spent quite a bit of time debating this particular term, coming to no firm conclusion as to what was and was not an approach, officially speaking.)

Our genial taskmaster posed questions that sent us burrowing into the practical test standards for answers. He divided us into teams and had each team pick a training subject on which to give a presentation.

In the biannual bow to the Federal Aviation Administration's romance with exactitude in paperwork, he painstakingly led us through the proper way to complete logbook endorsements and the application forms for certificate renewal. (If your birthday happens to be September 9, 1909, remember that the date must be filled out as 09/09/09, and not 9/9/9, or the application will bounce.)

There were videos depicting flights with crunchy endings and post-mortem discussions on how the participants could have lived happily ever after. Just as in real life, all too often a pilot in a hurry, or a pilot giving in to pressure from a passenger or some other external influence, got into trouble. Being unable to utter the word no and trying to outwit Mother Nature are other old standards that continue to cause problems.

What can CFIs do to alert pilots to these all-too-human failings? There's no easy answer, but it doesn't hurt to reconsider the question. (One of my old instructors used to quip to his students that they shouldn't bother to try to survive a thunderstorm encounter because he was going to kill them anyway when they got back.) How do you teach collision avoidance or scanning for traffic? Do you teach using landing lights in high-traffic areas? Yes, but this brought a wail of pain from the struggling FBO owner who buys the overpriced lightbulbs that burn out so quickly. We told him we felt his pain.

We talked about designated pilot examiners; yes, it is OK to avoid the ones whose methods match no known set of test standards. It is not all that hard to find out who they are.

There was a workshop on instructors' concerns. In this age of litigation and huge awards for seemingly small insults, it may come as no surprise that four of the 10 instructors present identified liability as a major professional concern they would like to see addressed in greater detail next time. More than one of our number admitted to restricting his instructional activities to circumstances in which legal exposure seemed to be minimized. This problem was solved for aircraft manufacturers a few years ago and the production lines began to roll again. So I had to wonder, what if CFIs weren't available to train all those new aircraft owners? Insurance not only needs to be available, you also have to be able to afford it. Going without is not a good option.

There was play as well as work. Those of us overnighting at the local hotel found our way to downtown Portland, Maine, on Saturday evening for a tasty seafood dinner on the wharf. And on Sunday afternoon, when the work was done, there were handshakes, a swapping of business cards, and invitations to fly up and sample the coffee at this and that home airport.

By Dan Namowitz

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