Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

'Only Until'

I 'm only instructing until I get on with the airlines."

Oh, I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard some version of that statement. The first time I heard it was more than 30 years ago, on my very first flight lesson. The most recent time I heard it was last week.

And I wish I had another dollar for every time I've heard the people who own and run flight schools give the flip side of that statement: "The problem with flight training is that CFIs aren't interested in the future of the business. They're only in it until they get on with the airlines."

I have never heard anyone suggest that this attitude of "only until" is costly for the CFIs themselves, but I think that it is. Forget the cost to the industry for a moment. I sincerely believe this is a very shortsighted attitude for CFIs, and it is often costly for them in the long run.

In the first place, some of the happiest people in aviation seem to be airline pilots who still participate in general aviation, including flight training. Barry Schiff certainly comes to mind, as do the active and retired airline pilots who were in the AOPA CFI revalidation session I spoke at recently. These people enjoy both ends of aviation, and they certainly get a large kick out of instructing. Some tell me that instructing is more fun now than when they were doing it because they had to. Indeed, many airline pilots never quit instructing, but they continue to do it for the pride, pleasure, and - yes - the extra money throughout their entire careers.

Even if you think you will never want to continue or return to instructing, it makes sense to keep that door open. There is an old saying that young people work like hell so they can move up and afford to do the things they hated doing when they were young. More than one heavy-iron driver has discovered a desire to return to instructing.

The way to keep that door open is to be the best CFI you can be; get the most out of your CFI job. Keep yourself, the students, and the boss excited about the job you're doing; and you can always come back if you want to.

The second reason to keep the CFI door open is that, while aviation career opportunities are as good as ever, the airline industry is still fickle - as evidenced by recent events. Many a young airline pilot who was never going to circle a pattern again has suddenly found himself laid off and hunting a job, at least for awhile. The first airline pilot I ever knew - way back in the 1950s - was laid off early in his career. Temporary jobs are hard to find, but the CFI with a good reputation can usually go to work tomorrow.

General aviation may be an industry you return to many times over the years for pleasure and profit. Someday you may want to teach your own kids, or even your grandchildren, to fly.

Perhaps the best reason to be an enthusiastic, gung-ho instructor is that it is just more fun. There is nothing more miserable than going through the motions in a job just because you have to; there's nothing more fun than a job you're doing as well as possible.

Besides, of all the pleasures of getting older - and yes, young folks, there are many such pleasures - perhaps the greatest is knowing that the people you worked with in your youth still think highly of you, are glad to hear from you, and still respect you.

By Ralph Hood

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