Necessary “Tough Love” in Flight Training

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 8.23.50 AMThe most dangerous CFI is not necessarily the one you would expect! The person lacking skills or with a history of safety issues is usually obvious through reputation and avoided by serious pilots. The real sleeper is the popular CFI who is everyone’s friend and cannot say “no.” This CFI lacks the ability to set standards and firmly guide behavior with occasionally disappointing news. I know this sounds harsh but this person is too often giving away privileges that are not earned and compromising our whole safety culture. Being a professional necessitates some “tough love” and it’s usually uncomfortable to be the bearer of disappointing news (as a DPE these are my darkest days)! Sometimes hostility can occur no matter how gently you convey the need for “more training” but it is a necessary burden of the job and essential to aviation safety.

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 12.17.04 PMMany clients are (unfortunately) “shopping for a yes” or permission to get signed off for a test or to fly their shiny new plane. The “tough love” of necessary skill and knowledge can be a bitter pill keeping them from their goal. But every CFI conveys amazing power with each endorsement placed in a logbook and holds the keys. That privilege granted cannot be a gift but must be earned through demonstrated skill, knowledge and judgment.

Most new flight instructors start out with this tendency due to a need to please and to acquire new students. The “newbie CFI” will fly at any hour and endure all kinds of abuse from students (those who are chronically late and unprepared) to generate business. This usually leads to a chaotic co-dependency and the student training fails to progress. This new instructor will be very busy and popular but generates no progress in student skills. Safety can be seriously in question while this new CFI learns to calibrate their standards and gains confidence. This is one reason why CFI oversight or mentoring is so vital for new instructors.

SuperCessnaPanelThis same “need to please” can also happen with an entire flight school. Most often this is “the new guy on the block” with shiny equipment and an attractive new facility. This school can sometimes be desperate to attract new students and make money rather than create safe pilots with real skills. For the parents among our readers think “spoiled child” and the modern cultural meme of “everyone is above average” deserving of a trophy. Successful flight training requires a little “tough love” to be safe. Privileges must be earned not purchased.

Hopefully, as a new CFI (or school) grows and becomes more confident and knowledgeable, they realize the need to set real standards and emphasize the personal growth of skill, knowledge and judgment in their students. Unfortunately, I have also met the CFI that never gets the message and continues to massage everyone’s ego and promote “universal happiness” over true aviation safety and progress toward a rating.

SuperCessnaIf you are a client or student, watch out for the “pathological pleaser” who too easily gives away privileges you do not earn. There are no gifts in aviation and safe progress requires some serious work and discipline to earn achievement. If your CFI is overly helpful or continuously complimentary, seek a new coach on your way to your certificate or rating. And for your flight review find someone that makes you work, your personal safety hangs in the balance.

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Author: David St. George

Master CFI, 141Chief Instructor, FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE)

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