Safety Publications/Articles

Distributors Vs. Decoders

There are many ways to describe flight instructors - tall, short, serious, playful, neophyte, experienced. Some CFIs are gifted teachers who present information in ways that help you understand it. I call them decoders. Others just present information and leave you to arrange the pieces of the puzzle yourself. These are information distributors. Which one are you?

Years ago I attended an FAA safety seminar titled Understanding the Federal Aviation Regulations. Five minutes into it, I realized I was in trouble. Our presenter - a CFI - stood up and read from the book of regulations. That's right, he read to us! Throwing myself in front of an onrushing glacier would have offered a quicker, less-painful death than listening to someone read the regs. Yet this is essentially what an information distributor does, and it takes very little skill.

On the other hand, decoders present the facts in ways that make sense to their students. For instance, suppose I tell you that it's a good idea to use supplemental oxygen during the day above 10,000 feet msl and at night above 5,000 feet msl. If I don't help you understand why there's a difference, then I have only distributed, not decoded, the facts for you. I become a decoder when I explain that you experience the same degree of hypoxia day or night. The difference is that the resulting degradation in your vision is more noticeable at night. Thus, at night oxygen should be used at lower altitudes to help you maintain optimum vision.

A decoder gives meaning to the information presented. Take the case of visibility and cloud clearance requirements. These requirements increase in those areas where the threat of aircraft collision increases. The higher you go, the faster airplanes fly, decreasing the chance that pilots can see and avoid one another. Cloud clearance and visibility requirements increase with altitude to increase the chance of seeing and avoiding other airplanes. And where airplanes concentrate near the surface (around busy airports) the cloud clearance and visibility requirements increase to help pilots see and avoid one another. This makes more sense to students than just dumping a series of numbers into their laps.

Be an information decoder, not a distributor. Your students will love you for it. They'll also be less likely to ask you where they can find the nearest glacier.

By Rod Machado

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