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Training Tip: Instructors behaving badly

It’s awkward to mention, but some flight instructors don’t live up to their calling, as the NTSB reminded us in a safety recommendation demanding more FAA oversight.

Photo by Chris Rose.

That’s the government piece of the puzzle; how does a flight training consumer see and avoid?

It’s a murkier proposition for a student pilot to look past the dreams of flight and respond to a gut feeling that they picked a bad instructor. We address that problem in a detailed article, some of the insights based on our own brushes with the dark side.

I’ve had a few:

  • The meticulous, youthful instructor who helped me earn a private pilot certificate created the perfect first impression of general aviation. Imagine the letdown when the next guy—my rude introduction to instrument training—came along. He disliked his job; negativity permeated his “instructing.” The school lost me as a customer when he informed me that I was probably too inexperienced for instrument training and he was only instructing me at his employer’s insistence. Enough said; I let my easily passed instrument written test, in which I had invested much study, expire, resuming instrument training elsewhere (two years later).
  • While working for an FBO sometime later, my employer generously let me fly our complex single to a big-name flight school for advanced training. I lodged in cramped, uncomfortable trainee housing, but I didn’t mind. My instructor, a pilot eyeing loftier goals, drove me to the airport each day. Technically, he was off duty during commutes, but it set the day’s tone as he completely ignored me, instead listening to a trash-mouthed morning-drive radio show. His instructing seemed equally uninterested—and since we were getting nowhere fast, I packed my bags and bailed. Buyer beware: It took perseverance to get back the unspent balance of my prepaid account.
  • On that score, monitor instructional services you receive to ensure they are thorough without “churning” your account. Secure assurances that lessons will not be canceled for higher-revenue opportunities. Consider enlisting a trusted individual with more experience to help screen any questionable charges.
  • This event I recall as “the unteachable moment.” Sitting in a flight school lounge, I was surprised to hear two instructors offer a pilot an incorrect airspeed for flying a commercial maneuver—the airplane would have unintentionally stalled—and I was taken aback more by their defensive, even derisive, reactions to being questioned.
  • Cockpits and temper tantrums don’t mix. While taxiing a single-engine Cessna with a high-time but famously short-fused CFI seated alongside, I watched, mortified, as he provoked a shouting match over the radio with ground control over a runway-crossing clearance denied (there was traffic on final).

So be careful out there, but keep the faith! I didn’t let these setbacks deter me from becoming a CFI, and the bottom line is that recognizing the excellence of most instructors I have met would produce a much lengthier essay than this sampling of squawks.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Instructor, Situational Awareness, Student
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