CFI Improvement: Becoming A CFI Professional!

It is amazing our aviation industry has survived at all with the well-documented 60-80% drop-out rate we experience during initial flight training. Imagine how healthy general aviation could immediately be if we could just cut that drop-out rate in half. We could instantly reinvigorate aviation with more excitement, customers, airplane gatherings. How many dreams have we ruined and how many motivated people have we disappointed because we do not teach them well and carefully manage their expectations?

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AOPA Flight Training Study

The common misconception, (that has become a pervasive excuse) claims the primary reason people quit flying is due to excessive cost. This is false. A massive and very scientific study by AOPA clearly reveals that the disappointing “quality of instruction” is actually the most frequently mentioned and persistent issue among dissatisfied aviation consumers. They are not getting expected value for their dollars. We have failed to provide the experience they walked in the door for; organized professional instruction geared toward their needs and schedule. A golf pro, personal trainer, or even your car mechanic all cost much more per hour than a CFI, but people engage these people and continue that relationship because they obtain enduring value…it meets their needs.

The active competition to aviation are mostly all the other ways to have fun. And while most competing recreational activities do not require our level of skill and training (and thus have a lower barrier to entry) don’t forget humans value achievement and  mastery, the essence of successful aviation. People who drop out in aviation desperately want to succeed, we just fail to correctly manage and maintain their motivation and expectations to help them achieve their goals. An organized syllabus with clear communication and defined sub goals is a great starting point. Understanding and valuing the customers needs is also critical.

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Click for wonderful (but dated) Ralph Hood Video

To be more effective and successful, a CFI not only needs the aviation toolkit but must also thoroughly understand human relationships. To provide a quality educational experience we must comprehend and engage our customer on a personal level, motivating them with professional and  honest educational content. I personally think teaching flying is much more about human interaction and psychology and less about molecules of air and Greek letters. A book on relationships (suggested by Nick Frisch in our SAFE Instructor Resource Center) might be the best place to start growing as a CFI. I would personally recommend To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink. A great majority of human interactions in every sphere involve “selling” in the larger sense: influencing and motivating others to  change and embrace new ideas. Running a successful flight school largely involves aggressively “selling” both fun and safety while simultaneously empowering people to achieve both with aviation tools.

AOPA Flight Training Study
AOPA Flight Training Study

Certainly every new student coming into a flight school or engaging a CFI wants to learn to fly. The AOPA study reveals they also want an organized course of instruction that meets their expectations as a professional. Though they certainly need to learn aerodynamic subjects and skills, they also need to understand and embrace the bigger picture; how they will use aviation in their lives and achieve their goals of challenge and adventure? They must also be inspired to become life-long learners and pursue excellence to be safe (and not merely “wiggle the stick”)

I would encourage every CFI to spend time to learn their student’s specific motivations and fulfill their unique needs. Though studies reveal that 65% of students entering flight training are pursuing aviation for recreational purposes, almost all are taught like they will become airline pilots. Most of our young CFIs are directed toward the airlines but the majority of their students are pursuing recreational flying. We often forget that achievement and enjoyment are essential motivators and the original reason most of our clients pursue aviation. Also, we often neglect social and personal engagement which is an incredible motivator keeping learners involved and training.

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Not all students want to fly for the airlines!

For aviation to be successful our CFIs must also embrace a larger role in our community and understand their job goes far beyond teaching students. As professionals, we are not just “teaching flying” but also necessarily acting as “aviation ambassadors” for our whole community. CFIs are the public face of General Aviation and our role also involves teaching at career days in the local schools, participating in EAA Young Eagle events, and building the larger aviation community (not just hours). CFI professionalism requires personal dedication and perseverance as well as creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. As Bob Wright points out in the SAFE Instructor Resource Center; “Beyond initial FAA certification, there is clearly a gap between the minimum FAA certification standard and what customers and employers want instructors to know and how they want them to perform in the real world. This need clearly calls for some kind of professional accreditation of instructors that would be voluntary but would clearly improve their credibility and employability in many flight instruction venues.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 11.26.42 AMThe AOPA Flight Instructors Field Guide to Flight Training is a wonderful tool to start a journey into this larger world of aviation student needs and motivations with checklists and worksheets. It opens up a new understanding of human relations that is essential to the success of a professional aviation educator.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 1.21.21 PMThe Master Instructor Program enables and requires exactly this larger professional perspective that leads directly to greater success and higher wages. Accreditation as a Master Instructor requires participation in professional organizations, community events, educating in the community as well as publishing in professional journals and newspapers. Even if you are going on to the airlines this kind of expansive understanding and professional accreditation is exactly what future employers want to see. For those staying in the instructor ranks, master certification is essential resulting in greater professional and financial success. For those of you who run flight schools, SAFE now has an institutional membership (at a lower rate) to get your staff involved and on the road to CFI professionalism. Please pursue excellence as an aviation educator. Both the aviation industry and your students deserve and need this level of professionalism.  Joining SAFE in our mission of building aviation excellence is a great place to start this initiative. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

 

 

CFI Improvement is Necessary: 911!

Improving CFI competence and professionalism is the key to increasing our student retention rate, rebuilding aviation and creating safer pilots. Our whole industry will benefit!

I think all honest pilots will confess that every new certificate or rating means we have only the basic “starter kit” or “license to learn.” If you are like me you are shocked in retrospect by how little you originally knew (and they let me do all that stuff!) This is especially true for the flight instructor certificate (but unfortunately very few seem to act that way or seek improvement). Teaching anyone the essential skills of aviation should be approached with the greatest humility and care. So many things can go wrong both in the immediate present but also with the latent habits you create (or not). I believe both our depressing student drop out rate in general aviation and also our continually miserable safety record could both be greatly improved if we could increase the level of professionalism in our Aviation Educator ranks. This is a key mission of SAFE.

As a 141 chief instructor running a flight school for 25 years (which included being a DPE evaluating the “finished product”) I have witnessed great and wonderful moments but also every form of CFI abuse and defect. I confess to some serious incompetence and arrogance myself when I first earned my CFI certificate. “Wow, I’m a CFI…the government said so, it must be true” At the time we had that amazing FAA instructor manual we quietly called “good dog, bad dog” (because of it’s totally behaviorist approach to “training” ..not education!) Fortunately the handbooks have greatly improved and in my case I had two very important influences early in my career that made all the difference and for which I shall be forever grateful.

FTaward2012One positive influence for me was a demanding chief instructor and mentor John “Stick” Stickle. He was alternatively kind and sharing and also imperious and unyielding on technique and safety.  The other essential influence was the guidance and inspiration from Greg Brown’s amazing book “The Savvy Flight Instructor” and the associated Master Instructor Program developed by Sandy and JoAnn Hill (Greg was the their first Master Instructor). It’s unfortunate but you really don’t start out “amazing” (or even “good”) in the CFI world and improvement doesn’t come without effort and feedback. You are granted the “starter kit” in the 8060-4 (temporary) and have to work and learn every day if you want to improve.

StickandChampSavvyCFIIt is very easy to fool yourself into a self-satisfied, god-like incompetence (you can find one at every airfield). Inherently trusting students tend to worship even the most incompetent CFIs. It is essential to keep learning and challenging yourself to raise the bar and get better.  I highly recommend a mentor who is honest and caring to test and improve your skills and technique. If you are not able to work with a locally senior instructor, SAFE is retooling the mentor program (up and running soon). Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 1.21.21 PMParticipation in the Master Instructor Program is also essential if you want to keep your skills sharp and gain ground in the world of aviation education. We will discuss CFI improvement more thoroughly in future articles. The flight instructor is the essential source  for aviation student retention and superior instruction will result in fewer accidents.