A recent flight training accident has again focused public attention on the potential dangers of the selfish “hour-builder” behavior demonstrated by some new CFIs. Though most new CFIs are trying hard to be responsible educators, alarming accidents like this one highlight some known deficiencies in our CFI training system we need to fix. These are partly “FAA training problems” for sure, but also illustrate a larger human problem in all education. Every effective educator needs emotional intelligence; patience, compassion, and caring.
If you are unfamiliar with this particular accident, this well-written opinion piece in the digital Flying Magazine provides a good overview. In summary, a very impatient and uncaring CFI bullied his learner through an arduous night cross-country flight into dangerous weather resulting in both their deaths. The CFI was posting continuously on social media revealing his impatience and frustration with his “young Forest Gump.”
The common CFI cram course does not – and cannot – make new FAA CFIs into effective educators in such a short time. These new CFIs are clearly still “student teachers” building their skills. The hope is that with time and adequate supervision – both increasingly rare – these new CFIs will mature into effective educators. The problems, of course, are that a) they have to want to improve, and b) by the time this happens, they are off to their airline career anyway.
Regardless of these challenges, the primary issue revealed by this accident is that the FAA does not teach, or even mention, emotional intelligence (EI) as a component of effective education. The FAA test does not filter candidates for any level of compassion and caring, the essential attributes of an effective educator (yes there are tests). But EI is the “secret sauce” in every effective educator in any field. Teaching requires patience, caring, and compassion. An educator must develop a caring relationship with every learner, beyond the usual “who are you and what are we doing today” approach we see at too many flight schools (and demonstrated in this accident).
People new to aviation are going to fly terribly. By definition, they know nothing about this environment or handling a plane! They are going to be pokey and slow and occasionally frustrating (you signed up for this job?!) New learners do lots of things wrong, and that should be expected. Frustration is common with new instructors because we are all pilots taught to be precise and fast at everything; that does not happen with “learners.” The CFI certificate is a totally new piece of FAA plastic and a totally new skill set. CFIs must be “compassionate coaches” not “dictators in the right seat.” Parenting is an excellent preparation for a CFI, but it certainly takes more than 10 days (and we also see many people who are terrible at that pursuit)
Rod Machado has been collecting “CFI horror stories“ for years on his platform. New learners do not realize they can (and should) FIRE their flight instructor if they do not have their best interests in mind.
It’s better to spend three years looking for a good instructor than spend just three minutes with a bad one. Rod Machado
Recent “CFI Hour-Builder” Accident (NTSB)
The “hour builder” CFI has been the target audience for our SAFE CFI-PRO™ program for the last five years. This vital intervention is offered to flight academies to inspire excellence and elevate a new CFI from “good to great.” CFI-PRO™ provides a whole range of savvy skills that go beyond the basic toolkit supplied in FAA training. CFI-PRO™ is the “Missing Manual!” Many of the habits taught and reinforced while passing the FAA Practical Test actually need to be unlearned (micro-managing the controls and the radio) for a CFI to be an effective educator. These habits are harmful and counterproductive and part of the reason why 80% of people who start flying never complete their certificates. (See AOPA Flight Training Experience) This study clearly identifies emotional intelligence as an essential educator skill.
20+ years ago, the Orlando FSDO created the CFI Special Emphasis Program to address continuing “preventable” accidents in their district. The FAA required every CFI in the FSDO district to return to the mother ship for an additional day of ground instruction. With just this simple intervention, ORL FSDO reduced instructional accidents by 60% in two years and 70% in the following years. In addition, I am sure non-measured metrics like quality of instruction were greatly enhanced. SAFE CFI-PRO™ gratefully drew a lot of content from this very successful program.
Orlando FSDO; CFI “Special Emphasis Program!”
New flight instructors need careful oversight and mentoring. Another tool from SAFE is the newly reorganized CFI Mentoring Program now available to ALL CFIs on social media: SAFE Mentoring Connector. We have just added over 30 senior CFIs (and DPEs) to the roster of Mentors to provide free help and advice to new CFIs (and those training for their CFI certificate). Join this group and help improve this current situation. Dealing with eager and ambitious new CFIs will brighten your day. Fly safely out there (and often)!
See “SAFE SOCIAL WALL” For more Resources
Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education. Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our newly reformulated Mentoring Program is open to every CFI (and those working on the rating) Join our new Mentoring FaceBook Group.