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Is the quality of flight instruction eroding?Is the quality of flight instruction eroding?

Mary Schu has been a flight instructor since 1977 and a designated pilot examiner since 1999. The 2015 CFI of the Year teaches and flies in central Oregon. Whenever I get a chance to talk to a DPE who has been doing this for a while, I always ask what types of problems are cropping up among today’s private pilot applicants.

Schu didn’t hesitate: “What I’m seeing that really concerns me is the quality is deteriorating, in my opinion. I’m seeing that because of the huge turnover in flight instructors; they’re just disappearing off the planet overnight. There is no experience; there is no seniority.”

And because there’s not a lot of experience, there’s not a lot of consistency in training, she said. And “the stick-and-rudder basics are going downhill in my estimation. Not everywhere, but in general.”

Then there’s technology in the cockpit. Schu is not a Luddite. “I’m a big proponent, but I see people come to checkrides, and they don’t bring any books—they don’t bring the [practical test standards] or the [Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual]. And they expect to use the iPad for all of this, which they can’t open—so they have to go and buy a book. Even more concerning, I have them look up things, and then I find they can’t even use the book and find it. And these are instrument students; these are flight instructors.” She’s willing to cut private pilots some slack in this regard, “but when you get to be a flight instructor, come on. You’ll have credibility for 15 minutes if you can’t find [a regulation] somewhere and explain it to me.”

In the practical portion of the checkride, the same maneuvers are catching some pilots: the power-off 180 and eights on pylons for commercial applicants; the steep turn for private pilot applicants, Schu said. However, “more commercial and more private students are unsatisfactory because of cross-country diversions. When they don’t use the pink line on their phone, they can’t tell the size of the town by looking out the window to match it up on the chart—how big it should be. Or distance versus altitudes. [They] follow the pink line and that really concerns me. I had one commercial student tell me after he failed the second time, ‘I don’t need to find an airport; I’m going to fly for the airlines.’” (That pilot should do us all a favor and let us know where he ends up.)

There might not be much you can do to address the CFI revolving door that the industry is experiencing, but among Schu’s other observations there are some takeaways for any flight school:

  • Standardize your curriculum;
  • Emphasize the basics;
  • Don’t ignore pilotage and dead reckoning;
  • If students use iPads to hold their reading materials, make sure they know how to open, search, and ideally find documents.

Jill W. Tallman is editor of Flight School Business.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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