Those who have read the Air Safety Institute’s review of Accidents During Flight Instruction were likely startled by the high number of accidents that took place during make-and-model transition training. These accounted for nearly 20 percent of all accidents in which the pilot under instruction was already rated in the same category of aircraft, more than any other single category of advanced training. And those numbers don’t include cases in which the checkout was being conducted by a previous owner or friend who didn’t hold an instructor certificate, as the National Transportation Safety Board almost invariably classifies these accidents as “personal” flights.
A number of warning signs can alert the wary CFI (and the prudent flight school) to transitions that pose a particular risk for trouble. One, of course, is a lack of make-and-model experience on the part of the instructor. This shouldn’t require much explanation, but it’s still worth mentioning: However simple the aircraft might appear, scanning the checklists just in time to stay one step ahead of the student falls far short of providing good value for the money. Without a detailed knowledge of systems and procedures and plenty of first-hand experience handling the machine through the range of conditions an active pilot can expect to encounter in the wider world, an instructor risks sending a client off with a false sense of security—or allowing the aircraft to go out of control when it does something unanticipated. It’s better to refer that client to someone who knows the aircraft well enough to teach it.
Big jumps in design or capability—from Skyhawk to King Air, Boeing 737 to Carbon Cub, or Stearman to Lancair—present significant challenges, but these can be managed with sufficient hard work and patience on both sides. By far the greater problem is the student who is impatient or dismissive. A point to be made early, forcefully, and as often as needed is that learning to operate any unfamiliar aircraft should be approached as seriously as a type-rating course. Expecting to wrap it up as quickly as a rental check-out in a model you already fly is a recipe for mutual frustration, and cursory transition training serves no one’s interests. It’s the CFI’s duty to make sure the client understands all the different ways that particular machine may try to kill its pilot. The potential liability if an accident is traced to inadequate instruction is a secondary concern. First comes the ethical obligation to protect students and the public alike.
Calibrating student expectations is only one of the ways the Air Safety Institute can help. The institute’s new online course, Transitioning to Other Airplanes, debuted March 27. The course opens with a systematic exploration of the goals of transition training; how to conduct it effectively (including finding the right instructor); standards for assessing progress; and the tradeoffs imposed by different combinations of wing loading, drag, and inertia. (Apologies to helicopter pilots: This version is pretty specific to fixed-wing aircraft.) It concludes with a summary of general recommendations, stressing the need for patience and the importance of allowing adequate time throughout.
What happens in between, however, makes this course remarkable. Recognizing that distinct types of new-model transitions pose their own specific challenges, the course offers five different modules that address those specialized topics. There’s guidance for pilots who want to move up to larger, more complex airplanes; down to smaller, simpler ones; sideways to other models of comparable performance; into unfamiliar avionics suites; or from certified to amateur-built aircraft. Case studies provide insight into typical ways that each has been handled badly. Only one of the five must be completed to receive credit for the course—but all five are more than interesting enough to prove a good use of the necessary time, even for those who don’t envision making that particular transition anytime soon.
While the course is directed primarily at pilots seeking instruction, CFIs also should find it worth their while. It’s a good starting point from which to align their own assumptions with those of customers who’ve gotten the itch to fly something new. The next time the weather pokes holes in your instructors’ schedules, the Air Safety Institute’s transition course would be a fine way to fill a few of them back up.