Freelance CFI – You’re a “Business!”

Thanks to Dave Wheeler for this article (expanded from a Facebook post) He is an ATP pilot with ASEL, AMEL, and SES. He holds all of the CFI certificates and ratings for airplane, and instrument. He also has the gold seal attached to the CFI certificate and is a four-time Master CFI. Total time is just a bit north of 14,000 hours with just short of 12,000 as CFI. Dave has owned three different flight schools throughout the years, buying the first one in 1978, a Grumman Pilot Center.  As aside, Dave got his ATP just to go through the process, as he never wanted to fly for the airlines.    

When you acquire that precious initial CFI certificate you are not only approved to teach flying, you have become a “business” (allowed to legally collect money for your services) and there are new “privileges and responsibilities” far beyond just flying. Here are a few pointers for the new CFI who is putting out their shingle to offer flight lessons to the public for the first time (as opposed to teaching for an established flight school). This is a new adventure that requires some training and information to succeed (and avoid economic peril)  “Going into business” is a great adventure and a learning experience that demands new skills and responsibilities and involves much more than just being a great CFI.

Among the many surprises and “learning opportunities” is business licensing. Where I teach, you will need a state business license, as the state collects sales tax. To collect the tax, the tracking vehicle is the business license number. So, we must collect the tax from the customer and pass it through to the state. Here it is call Business and Occupation tax, or B&O.   Depending on your business it may be collected monthly or quarterly. The state decides that for you based upon your application, and the dollar amount you specified as anticipated income. Then, depending on where you live there may be county and/or city taxes too. Here (by the way, “here” in my case is Washington State) the state collects both city and county tax and forwards it to the respective agency. Then there are other taxes that you pay to the state for whatever reason.

Once you are licensed, be sure to check with the airport upon which you desire to teach. More and more airports are adopting a Minimum Standards Document that spells out what you need to do to conduct business on their soil. In my case, I started out with one airplane and just me. I was listed as a freelance CFI (and it applies to A&Ps too) and needed to prove airworthiness of the Cherokee 140 I was going to use, and prove that it met their insurance requirements. I was going to be a “Through the fence” operator, so I convinced them that my office would be my motorhome that I would park outside next to my tie-down spot.

As a funny example of what you can learn, I got one of those big green signs from Sporty’s that says “Learn to Fly Here” and hung it out to attract business. Little did I know that there was a separate “Sign Requirements” document with which needed to comply. Sign came down. Once the state and airport are happy, you need to think about a business plan. How are you going to run your business?

Since you are now competing for customers with any inside the fence FBOs (and they are not going to be happy with since you are “poaching” their customers) and other businesses that are going after the customer’s hard earned dollars. If you think about it, you are in competition for recreational dollars with the local golf course, dive shop, and bowling alley, the movie theater, etc. The product you are selling is not so much flying but also “challenge and adventure”. So this is where you may want to look to hire some professionals to assist in your marketing and business plan. Like many unfortunate others, I did not take this route, but learned the hard way through the school of hard knocks. Though a professional, aviation-savvy CPA and attorney may cost some money, you save from the pain and heartache that every misstep costs. Their professional fees (like yours) are worth every penny.  In my case, I was going along fat dumb and happy, selling flight instruction, building my business, paying my taxes, and several years into the business I got a nice letter from the state department of revenue saying they wanted to do a B&O tax audit. I called one of my customers, a CPA and asked his advice and his first sentence was “Do NOT let anyone from that office onto your property!” Wow, OK. Why? He explained that they will not only audit your books, but your premises as well. He said that if they see a magazine lying on your table they will want to see where you paid the tax on the magazine. If you buy something for “resale” meaning you will pay the tax when you sell it, not when you buy it, they will want to see that paper trail.

Just like every other emergency in aviation, where the test comes first and the lesson and learning follow, I got smart quick. I put the CPA on retainer, and took my records to the CPA’s office and they did the audit there. They actually found that I had paid too much sales tax on a computer that I purchased out of state and I ultimately got a refund. Not enough to pay the CPA, but still…worth it and “lesson learned” (hire a professional!) Getting really comprehensive and “CFI specific” insurance from a professional (like SAFE offers) is another essential first step in business. Though you may not have assets to worry about starting out, all your future earnings are also be legally attached so professional CFI insurance is money well spent!

That is enough for today, but in a future issue, I’ll talk about some of the other things you will face as a freelance CFI.

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Gov. Shutdown Effects on Aviation

This political showdown has given both “sides” a megaphone to voice political viewpoints. Avoiding all this hostility (please?), the effect on aviation – and especially flight training – is increasingly damaging as this shutdown continues to deepen. The unified controller and pilot unions have cautioned that safety is and major airports are experiencing slowdowns. My company had two charter jets grounded waiting for RVSM approval – not coming since FSDOs closed – but fortunately the reg. now has changed allowing ADS-B to serve for separation.

As far as FAA testing goes, PCI (CATS/LaserGrade) is advising everyone that you can take a FAA knowledge test but the results will not be recorded by the FAA (so no good until the guvm’nt gets rolling again).

“Valued PSI Customer, we have been authorized to resume FAA Airman Knowledge Testing. However, please be advised that processing of results will be delayed until the FAA resumes normal operations.
Thank you for your understanding.”

It is theoretically possible take that newly printed paper test result to a DPE and manage your practical test entirely with a FAA paper 8710-1, sending it directly to the FAA in Oklahoma City. That should work if you have a DPE willing to work the paper. But unfortunately, your actual plastic certificate will not be issued until the shutdown is over though and you are on a 120 day temporary that will expire.

An FAA 8o6o-4 temporary certificate  is only good for 120 days so your privileges expire after that day- no plastic will be coming from FAA Registry. FSDOs are closed so no extensions after the 120 day duration will be available. If your IACRA submission was entered *before* the Dec 22nd shutdown and approved you can log-in and extend your privileges by logging into the FAA website here. But with the loss of FSDO services, if your temporary never got into the queue in Oklahoma City, your privileges will expire when the 120 day temporary expires!

The FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where controllers go for training, is closed which is unfortunate at a time of critical controller shortages. The FAA Aeronautical Central Counsel office is closed and unable to issue opinions, delaying aircraft registration for certain types of trusts and businesses until the shutdown ends. And the FAA’s medical certification branch is closed, meaning pilots will have to wait until the shutdown is over to receive their medical certificates from the FAA if they have a special issuance.

The Airline Pilots Association has written to President Trump asking him to end the shutdown in the interest of aviation safety:

and a more recent letter is now available cautioning the impending safety and slow-down concerns:

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is holding a rally in Washington today to ask government to end the shutdown and work on a separate political solution that does not jeopardize aviation safety:


That is the story as far as we know now, let us know *YOUR experiences* and thereby help others through this difficult time?  Feel free to share your (aviation) stories and concerns here. Please do not vent about your political viewpoints here (social media works for that!)

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Wright Brothers Character Lessons

You may think it strange that I would talk about the Wright Brothers in a column that is meant to provide safety and training tips to our SAFE members, but I believe we can all learn a lot from examining their lives and personal work ethic. The Wright Brothers did not let lack of education or lack of financial resources stop them from pursuing their dreams of flight.

The Wright Brothers did not graduate from high school (which was not uncommon in that era), but in spite of this, they were willing to do whatever it took to gain the knowledge and skills they needed to create first a glider and then a motorized flying machine. Not only did the brothers spend time reading about previous attempts at flight by other inventors, but they also experimented with kites and small gliders to better understand the principles of flight.

In spite of many setbacks, including several flying accidents and lack of money, the Wright Brothers never gave up on their goal to develop an airplane. This singlemindedness (i.e., total dedication to purpose) is likely why the Wright Brothers succeeded while Samuel P. Langley, their contemporary, failed. Langley was focused exclusively on becoming rich and famous with his invention while the Wright Brothers were focused on building “a flying machine” that would have practical application for the world. In fact, Orville and Wilbur were so dedicated to their goals that neither brother ever married.

Finally, the Wright Brothers learned from their mistakes. The fact that they had been bicycle mechanics and “tinkers” all their lives taught them how to study a mechanical problem and design a part or appropriate “fix” to solve the problem. While designing an airplane wing was certainly more challenging that repairing a bicycle, the process was the same: (1) study the problem; (2) come up with potential solutions to solve the problem; (3) apply one of the solutions; (4) evaluate the outcome. If the solution applied didn’t solve the problem, try another solution, but don’t give up. Doing these four steps over and over again to first develop their glider and then the 1903 Wright Flyer took infinite patience as well as dedication of purpose.

In the book The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age (2003), authors Dr. Tom D. Crouch and Dr. Peter L.Jakab concluded that the reason the Wright Brothers were successful and so many other inventors were not was because of the Wright Brothers “inventive methodology.”  Essentially, this same methodology is still the basis for aeronautical research today.

In summary, we as SAFE members (aviation educators, flight examiners, and pilots) should take the life lessons to be learned from the Wright Brothers to heart: learn what you need to know in order to succeed in whatever endeavor you set your mind to; be patient with yourself and with the process (whatever it may be); never give up on yourself or on your dreams. If you have a dream to become the best flight instructor you can be, or to fly your airplane to Alaska, or to get a seaplane rating, do at least one thing this week to bring you closer to your dream. To quote another famous aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Wishes and dreams do not come true without action and determination, so it’s time to take that first step in turning your dream(s) into personal goals in the New Year.

Note: This article was previously published in the December 2018 issue of PROPWASH, the official newsletter of EAA Chapter 517, Inc., in Missoula, MT. The article is reprinted with permission of the author.

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CFIs Are Not All Equal: CFI-PRO™!

Previously published in the FAA Pilot Examiner Quarterly (shared by permission) Here is a unfortunate story of a “Rusty CFI” (not current teaching though probably very current in his biz jet). DPEs see cases like this too often- where the well-meaning CFI was not up to speed. New CFIs need mentoring, non-current CFIs need refreshing (a FIRC every two years is not enough).

Here is a scenario that happens much more often than you would think…  A commercial pilot is blessed with a great paying flying job with a lot of down time.  (Well maybe not that part) Anyway, the lucky one…we will call him “Stan” has not been an active flight instructor for more than ten years. Nevertheless, he dutifully renews his flight instructor certificate by completing an online Flight Instructor Re-fresher Course (FIRC) every 24 months. He then goes to Sheryl his local DPE and pays her an administrative fee to review his application and FIRC graduation certificate and renew his certificate.

One day our hero Stan is polishing up his Beech Debonair. He is approached by one of his hangar neighbors at the airport who asks if he can train his 16 year old son for his “pilot’s license” in their family Cessna 120.  Stan decides “well… I haven’t used the certificate and some time, maybe I should give back to the aviation community”. He reluctantly takes on the eager new student and agrees to train him free of charge.  Having not been active for a while, Stan is not aware that there have been significant changes since he was a young instructor building time to move to the airlines. Not only that, he has never instructed outside of the confines of a 141 flight school. When he was teaching with the school he had a syllabus and other more senior instructors to check his paperwork; bounce questions off of; and help keep him out of trouble.  Our student…“Junior” reports for his first flying lesson the following morning and Stan sits down with him to chat and make sure that he is ready to begin flight training. Junior is ahead of the game and went to an AME and got a second class medical. Stan looks at the medical and notices that it is on a white piece of paper but it doesn’t say “Student Pilot Certificate”. He remembers from his FIRC that there was a change in the regulation….”Uh… let’s see…. yeah that’s right, the AME no longer issues student pilot certificates and I just have to put the endorsements in his logbook instead of on back of the certificate.” They discuss the first lesson, do a preflight inspection and go out in fly.

Junior is a quick study and Stan decides to solo him after only about 8 hours of dual flight instruction. He makes an endorsement in the “boiler plate” section in the back of Junior’s logbook and sends him on his way around the pattern. After three perfect “three pointers” he congratulates Junior with a ceremonial douse with a bucket of water and cuts his shirt tail for this momentous occasion. –

Soon they are working on the cross-country and night portion of training and Junior’s subsequent solo flights go well. Stan always looks in the back of the logbook and signs the boilerplate endorsement that most applies to the flight that Junior is doing. Soon he has flown off all the solo and dual time required and has completed his Private Pilot Knowledge test and Stan deems him ready for the practical test.

Junior goes into IACRA and registers for an account and begins to fill out an application for a Private Pilot Certificate Single Engine Land. He has no problem with it until he reaches the section “Have you ever held an FAA pilot certificate?” He thinks “Well yes… I have a second-class medical; but where is that certificate number? He asks his instructor. Stan scratches his head, picks up the phone, and calls one of his co-workers who flight instructs regularly. Through the conversation, he finds out that the paper student pilot certificates he once knew are now a plastic card. Stan’s heart leaps into his throat realizing his mistake. He tells Junior to log back into IACRA and start and new application for Student pilot and Stan approves it.  Two weeks later, Junior receives a notice that his temporary student pilot certificate is ready in IACRA. Stan, then has junior finish his application for private pilot and calls Sheryl, the DPE to make an appointment for Junior’s practical test.

Stan prepares Junior for his test and wants to be a good instructor so goes to the appointment with him to make sure that Sheryl has everything she needs to start the exam. They meet at Sheryl’s office early in the morning. She first reviews the aircraft log-books and all appear to be in order. She then looks at Junior’s application and begins to look at his pilot logbooks. She checks his student pilot certificate, which has an issuance date of just a little over two weeks ago.  She also notices that there is not a tailwheel endorsement.

“Stanley, I’m sorry but I cannot accept this application.” Sheryl Says…

“Why not?” Asks Stan.

“This temporary student pilot certificate was issued a 2 weeks ago…and on top of that, Junior doesn’t have a tailwheel endorsement.” Says Sheryl.

“Well, I did all the training. I can put the tailwheel endorsement in there now.” Says Stan.

Sheryl explains. “Stan, that still wouldn’t make the flight time valid. He didn’t have the tailwheel endorsement required to act as pilot in command and he didn’t possess a valid student pilot certificate when he conducted these solo flights. I’m afraid all of his solo time just doesn’t count.” Unfortunately, for Stan and Junior, Sheryl is right. She confirms this when she calls her POI to see if there is any way they can move forward. So…What happens at this point?  Who is responsible? What are the repercussions?

It was an honest mistake but legally, there could be enforcement action against both!

Stan and Junior and probably at least a re-examination ride for Stan. The FAA would also require Junior to re-fly all of his solo flights that were made without a valid student pilot certificate before he would be eligible for a private pilot certificate. Junior also would have to bear the expense.  A student pilot hires a qualified instructor to provide a safe environment for them to learn. Above all, the instructor must be a professional. They must have an understanding of the learning process, a knowledge of the fundamentals of teaching and an ability to communicate effectively with the student pilot. They must also have a thorough knowledge of aeronautics, regulations, and possess a keen attention to detail.

Before soloing a student 61.3 states that “No person may serve as a required pilot flight crewmember of a civil aircraft of the United States, unless that person has in their physical possession or readily accessible in the aircraft when exercising the privileges of that pilot certificate.”

In this case it would be a temporary student pilot certificate issued under §61.17 Most prospective students essentially know little if any about regulation. It is the duty of the flight instructor to educate students about the certificates and documents required when they begin their flight training.

The responsibility falls upon the instructor to make sure that they meet all the regulatory requirements when they are going to operate an aircraft solo. The flight instructor must also administer a pre-solo knowledge exam that includes applicable sections of parts 61 and 91. One of those questions should be… “What documents are required to be in your possession when acting as PIC on a solo flight?”

DPEs see mistakes like this all too frequently. It is SAFE’s mission to elevate the professionalism of aviation educators. We do this through resources, training, and mentoring; Join SAFE and pursue excellence in aviation. If you are in training and have a bad CFI do not hesitate to “Ditch the Duds” or “Fire Your CFI.” Get a CFI-PRO®

Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App gives every CFIs the necessary guidance for pilot endorsements and pilot experience requirements right on your smartphone. This app facilitates smooth CFI+DPE teamwork.

Join SAFE for more tools and to resources for greater educational professionalism. Your membership supports our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)!

Stan should have taken the initiative to re-search the regulations a little closer. When he looked at Junior’s Medical certificate, he was unsure but assumed that he knew the answer was that he did not need a student pilot certificate based on a vague recollection of his FIRC training. When you assume anything, you can assume trouble. A review of the regulations or a call to his local DPE or FSDO Aviation Safety Inspector would have cleared this issue up before it became a serious problem.

Seasonal Safety: SANTA!

In keeping with the holiday spirit, I thought I’d use this specially created instrument approach procedure (IAP) chart that Jeppesen put out a couple years ago for the North Pole for this blog article. Although the chart is clearly a figment of someone’s imagination, it still can be used as a teaching aid in explaining the six basic parts of an instrument approach chart.

Click this image to open a full pdf version in a new tab!

            All IAP charts have the same basic layout.  This means that certain information always appears in the same location on the chart with a few exceptions. 

The information at the very top and at the very bottom of the chart is referred to as “marginal data.” This would include the name of the approach, the airport name, and latitude and longitude of the airport.  In the case of this fictitious approach chart, the name of the airport is Santa’s Workshop International.  The name of the approach is North Pole Village RNAV (GPS) Rwy 18.

The second section is called the Pilot Briefing Section.  It is imperative that the pilot review this section of the approach chart prior to flying the approach.  It is especially important that the pilot review and understand the prescribed missed approach procedure.  This section also can contain notes to pilots such as “Reindeer and Elves in vicinity of the runway.”  This section also contains the frequencies the pilot will be using in the order of use.  For example, on the North Pole Village approach chart, Center frequency is shown as 122.8.

The third section on an instrument approach chart is called the Plan View.  This section contains a diagram of the entire approach procedure as viewed from overhead (i.e., top down).  The Plan View can also contain special information such as “Temporary Procedure.”

The fourth section is the Profile View.  This section contains important information about altitude and distance.  For example, on this approach chart, the distance from the outer maker to the missed approach point is 5.0 statute miles and the glide path angle is 7%.

The fifth section is called the Minimums Section.  This section looks like a table with the information broken down by aircraft category and type of approach to be flown.  On the North Pole Village approach, if two or more reindeer are out of service, the pilot can only fly a straight in localizer (LOC) approach down to a minimum decision height (MDA) of 500 feet MSL.  Also, if Rudolph and radar are available, the pilot could make a circle-to-land approach with four different minimums shown.

The last section on most instrument approach procedure charts is an airport diagram that normally appears adjacent to the Minimums Section.  However, since nobody actually knows the real location of Santa’s Workshop International, no airport diagram is shown on this chart, which was created by Jeppesen in 2013.

When I was working on my own instrument rating 40+ years ago, I can remember being very intimidated by the approach charts because they contained so much information.  However, once I became an instrument instructor and had to teach my students how to use these charts, it became much easier to understand and properly use the information provided. 

My best advice to any instrument-rated pilot is to spend as much time on the ground as possible going over your IAP charts because trying to figure out something you don’t understand in the air could become problematic.  Also, there is actual value in sitting in an armchair with your approach chart in front of you and simply imagining yourself flying the approach.  Our mind does not discriminate between things we actually do and things we “simulate” or rehearse.  I used this technique when I was in Army flight school working on my helicopter instrument rating and it really paid off for me. When the flight examiner took me to two airports the day of my check ride that I had never flown instrument approaches to except in my mind, I totally nailed the approach.   From that day forward, I’ve used “armchair simulation” with all of my instrument students to help them learn to accurately read charts and cement the procedures in their mind.  Please give this learning technique a try!

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Fly SAFE; More Fun!

Wishing you a warm and happy Thanksgiving! Here are some (not often consulted) words from the new FAA Advisory Circular 61-98D on flight reviews – excellent reading! The FAA specifies regulatory minimums for certificates; we all need to do better to be safe – and CFIs need to lead this initiative by modeling and inspiring aviation excellence.

Pilot Proficiency: Studies have shown that LOC usually occurs when pilots lack proficiency. Conditions exceeding personal skill limitations can present themselves at any time and can occur unexpectedly. In this event, the pilot should be able to avoid being startled, make appropriate decisions in a timely manner, and be able to exercise skills at a proficiency level he or she may not have maintained or attained since acquired during initial training. This makes personal currency programs and proficiency training essential.

Personal currency programs serve to develop and maintain pilot proficiency by promoting attributes such as aeronautical knowledge, aeronautical skill, and ADM. These attributes collectively determine the degree of aeronautical ability a pilot possesses. Highly proficient pilots are better able to avoid or manage an in-flight emergency in a safe and efficient manner. Consequently, the GAJSC recommends that pilots place emphasis on their specific proficiency needs by including training that may exceed regulatory minimum currency requirements.

Traffic Pattern Operations

LOC accidents often occur while pilots are maneuvering at low altitude and airspeed, such as in an airport traffic pattern. Pilots should adopt, and flight instructors should promote, training programs designed to reduce the risk of  GA accidents in traffic pattern operations. Flight instructors should provide training to mitigate the three areas of highest risk involving maneuvering an airplane in an airport traffic pattern. The first area is the risk of a departure stall; the second area is the risk of LOC if attempting to return to the field after an engine failure on takeoff, and the third area is the risk of LOC on the base to final turn.  

Flight instructors should emphasize training that ensures that pilots of small single-engine airplanes depart in coordinated flight at the best-rate-of-climb speed (VY ) for normal takeoffs, and maintain this speed to the altitude necessary for a safe return to the airport in the event of an emergency.  Flight instructors should train pilots of single-engine airplanes not to return to the field after an engine failure unless altitude and best glide requirements permit.  Accordingly, flight instructors should provide training that emphasizes the correct speeds at which light twin -piston aircraft depart the runway.  Flight instructors should emphasize that a departure at the best-angle-of-climb speed  (VX ) is used for obstacle clearance and short -field takeoff procedures.

Flight instructors should also emphasize the risks and potential consequences of climbing out at speeds less or greater than what is required for a particular type of takeoff. Flight instructors should train pilots of single-engine airplanes not to return to the field after an engine failure unless altitude and best glide requirements permit a safe return. Therefore, flight instructors should not routinely train pilots to make a 180- degree turn from a simulated engine failure while climbing. However, this training should occur at a safe altitude.  A critical part of conducting this training is for the flight instructor to be fully aware of the need for diligence, the need to perform this maneuver properly,  and to avoid any potential for an accelerated stall in the turn. It is essential for a pilot to know the altitude that will be lost in a 180 -degree turn, in the specific make and model  (M/M) flown, if and when a pilot considers turning back to the departure airport at best glide. During the before-takeoff check, the expected loss of altitude in the turn, plus a sufficient safety factor, should be related to the absolute altitude at which a turn back may be attempted.  In addition, the effect of existing winds on the preferred direction of a turn back should be briefed.

Flight instructors should also teach pilots to reject an approach and initiate a go-around when the pilot cannot maintain a stabilized approach. The GAJSC  recommends that pilots and flight instructor s emphasize stabilized approach and landing proficiency and conduct stabilized approaches as a standard practice. Flight reviews and IPCs should emphasize evaluating a pilot’s ADM,  departure skills, and ability to establish and maintain a stabilized approach and landing, while applying effective crosswind techniques to avoid the risk of  LOC when maneuvering in an airport traffic pattern. Effective scenario-based training, emphasizing ADM, departures, and establishing and maintaining a stabilized approach to a landing, reduces the risk of LOC in an airport traffic pattern. Many of the principles discussed in this paragraph apply to multiengine aircraft, but do not apply to single-engine operations in the multiengine airplane. Flight instructors should emphasize the correct speeds at which light twin -piston aircraft are operated in the traffic pattern and provide training in response to an engine failure in a variety of situations.  

Excellent guidance! Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

“Know-Do-Consider” to Build Savvy Pilots!

The heart of the new Airman Certification Standards is risk management. This essential wisdom was added to the limited PTS focus of skill and knowledge in 2016 to form the complete pilot experience of “know, do and consider” – knowledge, skill, judgment. These factors dynamically determine the safety of every flight. This new flight training initiative was driven directly from the aviation accident data. These numbers reveal over 80% of accidents result from human failings – usually bad judgment and flawed decision-making. Refining and improving judgment is a difficult, ongoing and never-ending challenge. It involves the internal battle within every pilot each time we fly; balancing utility with safety – often what we want against what is possible and sensible.

The primary methodology for training and testing risk management is the creative use of scenarios. Since flight training is necessarily conducted in a very limited environment of geography, weather, and equipment, the instructor (and later DPE) must mentally transport their learner into new and challenging imaginary situations to build and improve the decision-making skills that result in safer outcomes. Thought we train in one small area and  climate, we should theoretically experience a broad range of challenges. One additional advantage of this method is the safety benefit of failing in the mental arena rather than a real airplane; no one dies in a table top scenario! The best aviation educators are masters of creative questions and scenarios.

Simulators provide a deeper and more realistic version of scenario training (as well as enabling specific skill/drill procedure training), allowing an imaginative educator to more realistically transport their learner into all kinds of challenging environments. Each new scenario requires a different toolkit of skills, knowledge and judgment to prevail. The additional advantage to simulators is creating these “learning opportunities” without adding the expense and inconvenience inherent in a gas-powered, gravity-challenged devices. When learning occurs in this manner we are all safer!

The use of scenario-based training in general aviation became accepted and popularized though the availability of realistic full-motion simulators for the GA market – largely Redbird. SAFE’s original Executive Director, Doug Stewart, developed the Pilot Proficiency Project with Rich Stowell and created an ingenious catalog of masterfully crafted scenarios deployed on the Redbird Simulator. These original scenarios now number over 30 and are featured every year at Oshkosh in the Pilot Proficiency Center. This SAFE

project was the first nationally recognized use of scenario-based training in aviation, focusing largely on decision-making and risk management. Expanding this further, the SAFE Pilot Training Reform Symposium in Atlanta in 2011 led directly to the  FAA/industry partnership that resulted in the ACS.

We are lucky there are so many wonderful tools now available to foster personal improvement in risk management. This has become the accepted industry standard of aviation safety training. These are also valuable for aviation educators to employ as resources in flight training. The FAA Risk Management Handbook is the official source document from which many other documents flow. This is cited frequently in the ACS. The Aeronautical Decision Making chapter in the FAA Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge is also a solid resource for pilots seeking excellence or educators working with learners. The FAA has a dedicated page of CFI scenarios to help jump start your imagination and help you create your own. The EAA Pilot Proficiency website has a comprehensive catalog of scenarios for the Redbird [here]

Thanks for reading and please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment and continue the dialogue. If you feel inspired, please contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there!

And Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

FAA “License to Learn!”

There are some critical misunderstandings – and lots of unfounded “tribal knowledge” –  regarding the pilot examination system. CFIs and flight school owners sometimes approach a DPE after a checkride with surprise and ask “you tested [this person], and they passed, so why can’t they land in a crosswind?” Well clearly because this is not on the test!  (Does anyone read this book?) If  the FAA wanted to assure crosswind capability in the ACS, this maneuver would be required to be demonstrated. Instead it says: “If a crosswind condition does not exist, the applicant’s knowledge of crosswind elements must be evaluated through oral testing“.  And just about every applicant finds a nice blue-sky, calm-wind day for their evaluation (didn’t you?)   But I totally agree with the flight school – based on accident data and experience – crosswind capability *should* be part of every pilot’s mandatory tool kit. But clearly, the responsibility to create the total, capable, safe pilot rests with the aviation educator not the DPE

In many other areas also, the FAA’s DPE testing system represents only the “minimum viable product” of pilot performance and competency. The FAA has left the creation of a safe pilot to the CFI, with the DPE only testing the very basic “required elements.” DPEs are strongly counseled not to deploy “a higher personal standard” or an attitude about “what a pilot should really look like” on their evaluations!  These “creative” FAA evaluators are (rightfully) removed from the DPE pool. But I can assure you, every pilot examiner is elated when an applicant exceeds the standards and demonstrates superb skill, knowledge and judgment. The superior pilot applicant is what all of us >should< be trying to create in flight training (this goes beyond the ACS). As far as I can tell, the official FAA evaluation or “check ride” was designed to be a perfunctory and redundant “check”  of the CFIs training of an applicant. The checkride should only be an operational filter, or a second opinion to intercept a potential safety problem.

Understanding the FAA testing process in this manner also clearly argues against the practice of sending a problematic and unqualified pilot applicant to a DPE to “see how it goes.”

Imagine if this poorly prepared applicant happens to pass the FAA checkride; they definitely will not be safe or truly competent.  In such a case, both the CFI and the DPE have failed to assure the ACS standards (and the future safety of this person and their passengers). CFIs and DPEs have to understand this process better and work as a team to create safer pilots. And even for a successful new pilot, we have to honestly embrace the time-honored advice every new certificate or rating is “a license to learn“.

One last point to remember is the DPE usually has less than two total hours in the plane to run through a rigorous  set of maneuvers and evaluate a whole catalog of knowledge and judgment elements. The recommending CFI, by contrast, has 40-50 hours of time with this person and must be the true arbiter of excellence. DPEs are also strictly forbidden from handling the controls to demonstrate or teach from the right seat during an evaluation. The current FAA guidance on this point is very clear and has led to the removal of many DPEs. You will not find any “added value” imparted during a flight test from the senior aviator in the right seat; that is FAA policy!

Your input on this issue is certainly welcomed here in the comments (and by the FAA at this e-mail). I know there are professional aviation educators who think the ACS and some of its requirements are too stringent and restrictive; “we are making aviation too expensive and difficult.” This could be an indicator that we are at a good point of compromise (and everyone is equally unhappy)? The real news here is ultimately, the professional aviation educator is at the heart of aviation safety and assures that every pilot is thoroughly trained and safe. Fly safely (and often)!

See you at Sun ‘N Fun A-85/6. For SAFE members, enjoy a free breakfast gathering on Thursday at 8am; at the Sunset Cafe.

Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE


Command Your Technology For Safety!

Our amazing modern technology provides all kinds of enigmatic choices and challenges for directing our lives. “Smartphones” and “digital assistants” increasingly suggest or determine our every action unless we consciously intervene and take charge. Especially for pilots, taking charge and commanding our relationship with technology is essential if we want to fly safety. A little history here provides some important lessons.

Click for detailed FAA Report on TAA Safety

Do you remember all the promises that “technically advanced airplanes”  would dramatically reduce our GA accident rate? This was like a “magic bullet” in the 1990s when the first “glass panel” aircraft were coming onto the market. The promise everywhere in the news was that we would be “saved by technology.” This seemed logical given the incredible precision and quantity of information suddenly available to pilots previously depending on some pretty sketchy analog devices. With digital accuracy and data, we would be able to better see and avoid weather and supposedly never run out of fuel. But our tricky human interface largely defeated many of the benefits provided by the new technology and the same accidents are still occuring with depressing regularly.

The paradox of technology is that precisely because we have more accurate data,  pilots can reduce their planning margins and cut it even closer to the edge. In the case of fuel, we can plan tighter on time and with live weather depiction in the panel,  we often navigate even closer between storm cells. The root problem is a lack of pilot judgment. By training or by nature, pilots are mission driven and often aggressively “optimize” and thereby decrease their safety. Give us humans a sharper tool and they will shave the safety margin ever closer. The difference between what we are able to do and what we should do for safety still escapes many pilots. Clearly the challenge for aviation educators is teaching wisdom, not wi-fi.

The ACS focus on judgment and robust risk management has made a huge and important difference in the flight training and testing world. I see this as a CFI and DPE and hope we see an impact soon in the safety statistics. But because this initiative is still so new to general aviation, the benefits are still only slowly making their impact upward into the aviation charter world. I actually clearly remember the very first time I had a young co-pilot initiate his own risk management plan before a challenging flight. I thought I would fall over in gratitude. He had clearly laid out the challenges and his risk mitigation planning just like a student on a flight test- – funny how that initial training works. Modern technology in the panel provides amazing tools; perfect location mapping, real-time weather, fuel status down to the last drop. But all this will only yield increased safety if we have a “thinking monkey” operating it with a clear vision of the larger safety concerns.

A student logbook from a flight test; so good to see “personal minimums” recorded.

Another challenge provided by our amazing new technology pertains to legacy operators; pilots with years in the air, importing this technology into their flying. There is far too much reliance on autopilots and GPS with operator skills deteriorating rapidly and dramatically. Many formerly wonderful old-time pilots have become unapologetic “technology managers” driving planes in a mindless fashion. As we become “programmers”, the hand flying skills we once all depended on to be safe are no longer available as a back-up.

In the 135 charter world proficiency is enforced every 6 months in FAA-required training. In the GA world the proficiency mandate falls to the aviation educator. I highly recommend the new AOPA “Focused Flight Review” as a tool for educators. The dedicated team at AOPA, in collaboration with SAFE and other incustry players, has assembled a wonderful resource library for inspiring pilot proficiency. And this is useful for training at any level, not just the flight review. Teaching this syllabus injects risk management and judgment into the world of legacy operators who often never encountered risk management in their initital training. Too much technology magic can defeat a once proficient pilot quite rapidly. Expand your flight envelope with hands on flight training, fly safe (and often)!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Honoring the “Head Masters”

Please join us in honoring JoAnn and Sandy Hill, the “Head Masters” and creators of the Master Instructor Program at AirVenture (Oshkosh) this year. This amazing husband and wife team has done more to enhance aviation professionalism than any two people, from the development of the Master Instructor program in 1995 to the revitalization of the GA Awards Program and development of SAFE. You are welcome to participate in this reunion and share your stories and memories (RSVP). The event starts at 4PM in the Oshkosh Terminal Building on Thursday, July 26th. If you cannot attend, please log into this form and share your thoughts here for a memory book for the Hills.

The Master Instructor Program was built on the widely accepted educational axiom “a good pilot is always learning”. “Accepting average” and settling for “good enough” are recipes for developing complacency and diminished skills. Built on other professional models of accumulating “Continuing Educational Units” the Hills realized unless we are actively and eagerly pursuing excellence on every flight we usually are developing “right seat rust” and complacency. As pilots, we are only as good as our last landing; there is no “safety inoculation” from historic hours (especially when we are just “talking a good show”)! The Master CFI program

Though as CFIs  we preach “continual learning and training” to other pilots, it is, unfortunately, not commonly embraced by the “aviation physicians”! And there is no magic badge in “CFI” that makes us immune to the inevitable slow decay every other pilot and professional experiences. Continually embracing the “challenge of excellence” is the necessary antidote to maintain a sharp edge and continue to grow as a pilot and educator. “Right seat rust” is a sad reality in flying and it is occurs both in flying skills *and* educational methods.

After developing the Master Instructor Program, it was a natural step for the Hills to revitalize and improve the FAA’s National GA Awards. This program recognizes the best flight instructor, maintenance technician, and FAA Safety Team Representative in the country at Oshkosh.  Under the guidance of Sandy and JoAnn this program got a new level of organization, respect and recognition nationally. Not surprisingly, many of the award recipients are previously recognized Masters.

Please join us at the Oshkosh Terminal Building 4PM on Thursday the 26th of July and honor Sandy and JoAnn Hill for all they have done in aviation. Log into this Google Form to RSVP or leave your memories for them.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

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