Air Safety Institute Hangar Talk
Talking about those who can't
Are CFI jobs just stepping stones?
This month's hot topic
The next topic for discussion is the fear of flying often found in primary flight students (see Richard Hiner's article, "Don't Sweat It," in this issue). Have you found unique and effective ways to help new students understand and channel that anxiety, so that it enhances instruction rather than creating a barrier? Please keep your comments short and to the point, and include your name and the city and state where you instruct. E-mail your opinions or send them to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, "ASF Hangar Talk," 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701. Remember, there are more than 80,000 CFIs in this lounge. Make your insights stand out.
Arlynn McMahon's article, "Those Who Can't, Period" (March 2004 AOPA Flight Training), generated some of the most passionate responses to date. In all, more than 80 flight instructors from all parts of the country inundated our inbox with their views about the earnest young "Kathie" who interviewed for a CFI job.
The article related how Kathie's education at a "big name" flight school had qualified her to fly but left her woefully unprepared to be a flight instructor. In the article, McMahon, who is chief instructor at Lexington, Kentucky-based Aero-Tech, Inc., suggested that such large flight schools could do much more to help new CFIs qualify for flight instruction jobs, and she examined the perception that young, airline-bound pilots view instructing simply as a way to build hours.
"Arlynn, if you were the chef at a five-star restaurant, I would simply say, 'My compliments to the chef.' Your article is right on the money; I could not have said it better," CFI John T. Schmidt of Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, said as he entered ASF's Virtual Instructor Lounge.
From the other end of the lounge, Leigh Green, from Storrs, Connecticut, said, "I just read Arlynn McMahon's article [and]...wow. While Arlynn offers some great advice on value-added flight instruction, she chooses not to use any of her own advice to help Kathie develop professionally."
Most in the instructor lounge were surprised at the bias of the responses. The overwhelming majority -- over 80 percent -- agreed that Kathie was ill-prepared for the job and commended Arlynn for bringing the subject to light. Instructor Roger H. Crane, of Bluffton, South Carolina, said, "I commend your article...you are a brave woman to speak out against the status quo. I also think you hit the nail right on the head."
Chuck List, of Salt Lake City, Utah, said, "Thanks for the great article regarding CFIs who can't teach." He went on to talk about quality instruction, saying that the best advice he had ever received was to "get out there and fly and actually get experience, rather than a pay-for-training type of syllabus. The result, I believe, is a CFI who cares deeply for the education of his students and is dedicated to learning all he can about aviation and teaching aviation. "
Some of the most interesting comments came from the younger CFIs -- exactly the people in question. Matt Carner, of Memphis, Tennessee, wrote, "I agree completely. Although I have low instructor time, I take the job very seriously. How can students become good, competent pilots if they are not taught by a good, competent CFI?"
Andrew Olarte, of Newark, New Jersey, may not be a brand-new flight instructor, but he graduated from a "big name flight school" and agreed with McMahon. He said. "I enjoyed reading the article. I had Big Name Flight School training, and identified with the 'first officer' mindset when I just completed my CFI training.... It is perplexing that the CFI didn't know about carb ice, and failed your simple aeronautical knowledge pretest -- it really [tells about] an individual who was incredibly unprepared, lacked sense, and had a poor attitude, [saying] that training was not relevant. I cannot say that our training system is flawed -- our attitude is."
While the vocal majority agreed that Kathie was unqualified and needed to evaluate her attitude, there were CFIs who came to her rescue. Leigh Green said, "Arlynn seems unwilling to provide a realistic measurement of Kathie's teaching and flight knowledge -- giving questions from the FAA's knowledge test as a measure of teaching ability -- come on. Maybe if she treated Kathie like the professional she wished she would become, Kathie might have risen to the occasion, even if it was at someone else's flight school. And, like it or not, Kathie is the future of aviation. If her previous flight instructors failed her, the industry must pick up the slack. Unfortunately, Arlynn, that means you."
Alan Lawrence, of Manhattan, Kansas, agreed. "Is every brand-new CFI prepared to teach, and teach well? Clearly not. But the question that should be asked -- and the question that Arlynn seems not to have considered -- is whether the (arguably) mediocre performance of one person, on one day and in one interview, is sufficient basis upon which to malign the capabilities of an entire generation of CFIs."
Raymond Depouli, of Enumclaw, Washington, also looked at Kathie's experience. "I know of no young individual who does not need a helping hand to get started in his or her chosen profession. I couldn't help feel that you [Arlynn] squashed the passion that Kathie had when she arrived at your doorstep."
While this topic generated heated discussion (from both sides of the issue) and the views from the instructor community were extremely passionate, it proved to be a great discussion. Andrew Olarte summarized it best:
"To conclude -- it is strange that no matter how black or white Part 61 and the Practical Test Standards are, the majority of the CFI applicant community of airline-driven personalities will view the CFI job position as a stepping stone. It isn't until we actually crawl into that little space for hours upon hours that we begin to appreciate instructing and enjoy the development that is occurring just by teaching. This is where the next article should be directed -- hailing the CFI as the quintessential pilot, the standard in professionalism, the top of the pyramid. I wholeheartedly feel that you need to prove yourself as an instructor before you can prove yourself as an airline pilot. When I first got to the airline crew room and met with my instructor buddies who had gone before me and started their airline career, the same remarks are heard -- 'This job is easy!' It's an expected reaction from dedicated instructors who became airline pilots by challenging and proving themselves as CFIs."
David Wright is director of training for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. A former pilot for US Airways Express, he is a CFI with more than 2,000 hours.