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Got syllabus?Got syllabus?

Of the many lessons that came from AOPA’s research report The Flight Training Experience, perhaps the most surprising gap between expectation and performance was in the use of a proper syllabus.

 This turns out to be a good news/bad news scenario. The bad news: Students are largely unaware of their own progress in the context of the entire flight training experience, there are implications that students feel ripped off, and there is a general lack of organization in flight training. The good news: Of all the problems and challenges, this is probably the easiest and cheapest to fix.

The research report was very clear on this subject. When respondents were asked which issue was most important, they ranked having a good syllabus and following it first--well ahead of cost, customer service, and professionalism of the flight instructor. That’s quite a powerful document. The message continued at the recent Society of Aviation and Flight Educators Inc. (SAFE) Symposium in Atlanta, where the flight instructors who gathered concluded that the industry doesn’t properly use syllabi in the curriculum.

As a result of these reports and recommendations, several companies now offer their syllabi for free to anyone who wants them. These documents include:

There’s little doubt as to the efficacy of a good syllabus. That’s why the FAA requires that a detailed one be put in place before granting a flight school Part 141 approval. But a lack of Part 141 approval shouldn’t be a reason for a Part 61 school to skip the syllabus. It can have many benefits, including:

  • Better standardization of both students and instructors. If an instructor has to cancel, another instructor can pick up the lesson and teach it without interruption if he knows where the student is in the program.
  • Lower costs for the student. Students are always looking to save money, and there’s nothing more annoying to them than feeling like they are spinning their wheels. With a syllabus, they can monitor their own progress and become more efficient as a result.
  • Transparency. Whether we like to admit it or not, there are definitely times when students believe they are being ripped off. A syllabus puts everyone on the same page and allows both instructors and students to defend their decisions. This is especially true when the syllabus has completion standards for each lesson.
  • Documentation. If the worst happens and the FAA comes calling, having a syllabus that details exactly what, when, where, and who will go a long way toward proving your school acted responsibly.

With these and many other benefits, there’s no reason not to take a free resource and put it in place. The argument that a syllabus is inflexible for variables such as weather delays and equipment failures is just not valid if the syllabus is properly developed.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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