Safety Publications/Articles

Instructor Report

Setting Standards

There's an old saying that goes like this: Give a pig and a boy anything they want and you'll get a fat pig and a bad boy. As instructors, we sometimes feel pressured to give our students everything they want. In doing so, we may undermine our authority as aviation educators and simultaneously expose our students to unacceptable risk.

Many years ago a fellow instructor told me about a student pilot who had insisted on being allowed to fly solo at night. He wanted to drop by the FBO in the evening after work (at a time of year when it was good and dark) and practice touch-and-go landings. The instructor gave in to his student's demands, but only after giving him an hour of dual instruction at night. According to this instructor, the student managed to get lost one night while extending a downwind leg. Fortunately, the student solicited help and was guided back to the airport, resulting in only embarrassment to both student and instructor.

"Never again!" this instructor said. "I learned my lesson on that one and got off cheap. I'll never let myself get talked into doing something that doesn't feel right just because I want to please my student. From now on I'm sticking to my standards."

Most of us want to please our students and do what we can to make their aviation experience more fulfilling. There comes a time, however, when it's appropriate for instructors to just say "No." We should keep in mind that we are paid to be instructors because we know more than our students do. Though they may not think of it that way, students hire us to provide the judgment and knowledge they lack, and it is our professional obligation to do so. It is also our primary obligation, even higher on the list than pleasing the student client.

After his initial scare, this instructor refused to let his students fly solo at night - a wise standard to adopt. Often, someone with limited experience is just not able to cope with many of the strange events that can occur when the outside world goes dark. Whether or not you agree with the limitation is beside the point. The point is, if you don't think it's wise for a student to do something, then don't let him or her do it.

By Rod Machado

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