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CFI boot camp

Safety judgment is a critical component

Look at Judy; she's got that "I just soloed" grin. But this isn't her first solo. She began flight training at her local airport two years ago. She quit after being disenchanted with her instructor. She described him as "a great guy, but...."

Judy now drives more than 100 miles one-way on weekends to finish training at our flight school.

Here at Aero-Tech I hire a lot of instructors. The majority have never worked in aviation before. Some have never held any job before--ever. They don't know how to be a good employee. They have never had a suitable mentor or role model. They can do a great steep turn, but they can't properly shake hands. Most have never seen a panel-mount GPS, never taught in a flight-training device, or flown an extensive cross-country. Almost none can properly talk through a preflight briefing, and distressingly few know how to teach safety judgment.

Here we fix that with a mandatory CFI Boot Camp, which tears down erroneous concepts that many new-hire CFIs have about their job and retrains them to twinkle and sparkle so that Judy won't be disenchanted after traveling 100 miles each weekend to her lesson at our flight school.

Safety judgment is a key part of our CFI boot camp, taught in part with PowerPoint presentations, including "Save Your Butt Situational Awareness," "Funny Things People Do Under Stress," and "You Can't Just Teach Safety, You Have To Preach It."

Our boot camp teaches new instructors that flight training doesn't always require a decision about Part 61 or Part 141--we have only one way to do anything, and that way requires personal standards higher than FAA requirements. Our new hires learn that safety is not something we do; it's everything we do. There is no separate training module in the Aero-Tech CFI Boot Camp titled "Aviation Safety," but safety judgment is suffused throughout our written procedures, policies, and manuals. It's a core value throughout the entire organization. And, it's rewarded when demonstrated.

We use a commercially produced curriculum for training students; however, we add "Aero-Tech value," which combines cockpit technology, risk management, and single-pilot control with traditional Practical Test Standards (PTS) tasks. In fact, teaching PTS tasks is only about 80 percent of our lesson plan. In boot camp, our new instructors learn not only the curriculum, but also safety judgment skills that they can pass along to students.

The new instructor is taught safety judgment through real-life, practical scenarios: "You're here and this happens, what will you do?" Many of these situations have happened at our flight school. Each requires the new instructor to make decisions and allows him or her a mental rehearsal for an array of training situations involving safety judgment.

Later in boot camp, the instructor learns to teach students using the same technique, employing carefully scripted scenarios that require the student to make decisions. Our CFIs are taught to allow the student's safety decisions to snowball and affect the remainder of the scenario. Sometimes the best learning happens after a very bad decision.

Most new CFIs have no flying stories to tell and no pearls of wisdom to share. For some, their first scenario with a real student is a learning experience of significance equal to the student's.

Our boot camp tries to catch teaching mistakes while they're small, before they have a chance to grow. One way is with our "Master Switch Necklace," a not-so-proud award for CFIs who let a student leave the aircraft master switch on. A worn-out switch tied at the bottom of a string is a gentle peer-group reminder that the instructor didn't properly supervise the student in the cockpit. Nearly every instructor at Aero-Tech has worn it once--but seldom twice. It's a simple thing. Everyone who sees it recognizes the potential severity of such a small sin.

Our CFI boot camp works to teach safety awareness to new instructors, but I'm quite sure it's not the only way that works. If you've found another proven way, please submit it to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation for possible use in future Instructor Report articles (e-mail ASF).

Arlynn McMahon is the chief flight instructor for the Lexington, Kentucky-based Aero-Tech flight school.

By Arlynn McMahon

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