Right Seat Dictator: “CFI Bully!”

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.

Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

11 thoughts on “Right Seat Dictator: “CFI Bully!””

  1. Turn on any national news station and you will be subjected 24/7 to politicians telling us in an unending repetitious train of talking heads “What we have to do IS”…………
    No solution; just the constant telling us about “what we have to do”.
    Solving the CFI problem is actually quite similar.
    Those of us who are serious flight instructors have always known what the problem is. I for one, after 60 years being concerned with keeping people alive in airplanes have seen the “problem” up close and personal and I can tell you the answer is not a simple one.
    To sum it up in a simple skinny one has to realize that endless tutorials espousing correct pedagogy for flight instruction won’t solve a damn thing. God knows I’ve written these until I became blue in the face.
    Tutorials on how to be a good flight instructor help for sure but they don’t address the underlying issue and that issue IS……………..
    As long as the industry allows the CFI rating to be used as a path to build up time for flying positions totally unrelated to flight instruction that rating will attract a VAST amount of applicants who have absolutely no interest in flight instruction other than to use the rating for personal purpose……….and to put it bluntly…….that AIN’T conducive to quality flight instruction .
    NOTE; this is not to say that ALL those who seek the CFI rating to build time are necessarily bad flight instructors. But it DOES mean that a certain percentage of those entering the CFI field are not motivated or incentivized toward teaching people to fly.
    I remember the first time I climbed into an airplane with a student. I remember “feeling” the student’s excitement at being in a plane for the first time with the objective being to FLY that airplane. I can see his face in my mind’s eye even today as I write this. I recall thinking as we taxiied out to take off, ” I want to make this guy a better pilot than I am”, and I want him to enjoy every minute he’s in this airplane with me”.
    And this isn’t bull I’m throwing in here for effect. I actually felt that way.
    I’ve tried to pass on this feeling to every CFI I ever trained. You have to actually LIKE teaching to be a good CFI, and therein lies the rub.
    I only wish I could interview every person wanting the CFI rating and have the power to pass or fail the applicant. I can truthfully say we would have a better flight instructor community were I given that responsibility.
    But alas my friends, that will not happen. As I sit here writing this there are people out there dreaming of an airline position getting ready to take the CFI examination. They will answer the right questions, cross the right T’s and dot the right i’s. They will fly the airplane and satisfy the examiner, and they will start work tomorrow as a CFI. And lo and behold…….as they are walking out to fly with their first student they will be thinking,
    ” The first thing I have to do is establish for this guy just how good I AM at flying this airplane”.
    Another instructor on the ratings path and one more student who will be short changed by the system.
    Dudley Henriques

    1. Dudley – totally agree – strange process that is, unfortunately, not going to change in the near future.
      With existing video recording technology, there’s no reason flight schools can’t monitor the CFI’s conduct in the flightdeck.

  2. Those new CFI that have bullish behaviors, when they will progress in their careers will be also bullish Captains.
    CFI training should pivot around two points: Leadership and Knowledge, often who is lacking one is weak also on the other.
    A true leader will nurse his/her students. A CFI without a student is like a car without petrol, it should be addressed from day 1 of CFI training.

  3. David:
    Another thoughtful opinion piece. Thanks.

    I read the prior article that motivated your comments. I was struck by how this timebuilder CFI posted a continuous derogatory monologue, likely much like his previous diatribes… YET NO ONE WHO VIEWED HIS POSTS OBJECTED.

    Who was this CFI’s online audience? What motivated that audience to accept his incredible vitriol as acceptable? As a minimum the timebuilder CFI urgently need serious counsel. Given his outrageous behavior and demonstrated inability to overcome his own vicious lack of both empathy and competence, termination was the best option.

  4. Being a CFI is only peripherally about flying. Being a CFI is about teaching, coaching, and mentoring. To be a good CFI requires that the student’s success and well-being are the primary focus of the CFI/teacher. I tell my new students, “We are a team. Your success is OUR goal.” If a student has a problem, it is MY problem. Once the CFI is in the SERVICE mindset, the rest comes together pretty easily.

    1. Thank you Rod, “educating the consumer” is a great strategy seldom promoted aggressively in aviation; we need more of that. The focus on “character” (especially honesty and compassion) is far more important than abstract CFI credentials like hours and honors when “shopping” for a good educator. Your “10 questions” from the video are great. I would like to spread them widely (with your permission of course). The condescending attitude of the recent accident CFI seems increasingly common in our accelerated training market.

  5. Thank you, Dave. I do appreciate your comment very much. Do what you’d like with it. I’m just happy someone read it.:)
    Rod Machado

  6. This accident made me wonder, should the CFI rating also have a stipulation that the person “Be of good moral character” as the ATP requires? Not saying that it would prevent anything but it is a thought.

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