“CFI Seasoning” Beyond the Academy!

A truly professional aviation educator should be progressively getting out of the training aircraft one step at a time from flight lesson #1. To be successful as educators, every CFI must willingly become superfluous in every area of operation by flight test time – totally empowering their pilot to be fully “in command.” Obviously, there will always be more to teach and learn, but ultimately our goal should be set every new pilot totally free – NOT create dependence! This “letting go” (think of successful parenting) is not easy for the human ego because every human wants to be needed and valued. Many CFIs secretly foster dependence in their pilots during training (helicopter parenting). Though this creates a strong business bond that works great for the wallet and building hours, it creates really bad – dependent and unconfident – pilots.

And the strange and unfortunate truth is we actually teach this harmful micromanaging behavior to every aviation educator during their initial  CFI training; we build a fatal defect into every new CFI. The most common method for educating a new CFI is to create a “CFI lesson plan binder” full of rote lesson plans tracking the usual pilot pathway. And as we do this, the future CFI applicant is encourated to talk, talk, talk and fly, fly, fly – patterning each maneuver from the right seat and “simultaneously instructing and flying.” And though this is a necessary step in learning to teach aviation, we never finish the job and progress all the way to real educational excellence through supervision and seasoning (STOP talking and let your student fly). We get them “barely competent” and turn them lose in the aviation system.

The FAA system allows for perfunctory CFI preparation – 10-day courses are pretty standard with an 85% pass rates. And there is no “student teaching” or “seasoning” included to build excellence in the field after certification. Consequently, many new CFIs never learn to personalize their instruction to creatively tailor their presentation to suit each unique pilot in training (burn that binder!). It can take years for new CFIs to become creative and effective without mentoring. It takes time to learn the necessary balance of freedom and control to provide students the space to grow and learn. Unfortunately, most just continue the rote, assembly-line instruction from their CFI binder rather than embracing “client-centered education.” They never relinquish the radio, the flight controls or PIC authority and instead smother their eager learners with overbearing micromanagment and excessive erudition; we have created a monster. To become a successful educator, only mentoring and seasoning will grow the CFI create excellence. It takes more time and guidance to create a truly competent aviation educator.

The Canadian aviation system requires every new aviation educator to teach under supervision and and grow further as a CFI before teaching independently. Only after supervised “student teaching” in the field under a master instructor are Canadian CFIs upgraded to teach independently. But this is not the FAA system. After only a perfunctory 10 day “CFI academy” a new FAA CFI could be in the field with very limited preparation. And this is exactly why SAFE created the mentoring program from day one and is now creating the SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshops. These tools bridge the “CFI gap” between good and great. They also encourage the mentoring and networking that creates the necessary “growth mindset” every educator must embrace. Excellent educators must continue to grow if we want to be successful and effective. Fly safely (and often) and please check out the SAFE CFI-PRO™ workshops. We need your support to fight mediocrity and make this new initiative the new standard of excellence in our industry. As every aviation educator improves, we reach and improve every pilot.


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Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI, 141Chief Instructor, FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently flying 135 charter (again)

4 thoughts on ““CFI Seasoning” Beyond the Academy!”

  1. Great article. I think a lot of times that students are just being taught to pass the checkride. I have noticed that when I give stage checks that a lot of the students will quiz me about what a particular examiner will ask. My standard answer is ” it’s in the ACS”.

    1. Agreed. All good evaluators adhere to a standard…there should be no “personal test standards.” For all certificates, the FAA only >requires< mediocre (but everyone should strive for excellence).

  2. Absolutely spot on, David. When I was at the University, I told my young CFIs that if I heard a CFI’s voice on the radio, that CFI should be able to explain why the student wasn’t doing the communicating. Those instructor’s instructors had done most of the comm work, so they were following suit. While that seems like a small thing, it’s reflective of a bigger issue. Communicating is a huge part of aviating, and students need as much practice as possible. Coach them, help them, but don’t take over unless it’s really necessary. Same on controls.

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